Europe

Volunteering at the American Library in Paris

by Jackie D on March 14, 2017

American Library of Paris“In my world there would be as many libraries as there are Starbucks.” -Henry Rollins

Whenever I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve gotten a library card within a month of arriving. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve found apartments so quickly – you need an address in order to get a library card, so my apartment searches have always been intense and urgent. Plus, you know, it’s nice to have a place to live.

In Chicago I didn’t visit the library quite as often as I usually do, but I had too many other places I wanted to explore: the Art Institute (I had a yearly membership, and honestly the Art Institute was basically my library for my entire first year in Chicago), new museums, new cafes, new neighborhoods. I also found a used bookstore and a Goodwill where I could get books for very cheap, and I devoured about a book a week during my regular commute.

In New York, the library was one of the only things keeping me sane. I stopped by on my way home from work at least once a week to trade out an old book for a new one, or more often to see how many books I could carry before I broke my back. In retrospect, this may be where all of my back problems began.

I even got a new library card when I moved from one part of Los Angeles to another, because Santa Monica thinks it’s special and it has its own library.* In Santa Monica’s defense: the library‘s audiobook selection is actually not bad.

In Paris, I was momentarily outraged to find out that you have to pay a monthly FEE for your card at the American Library; however if there’s one place I never really mind throwing my money at, it’s the library. They do good things. They deserve money.

Plus, this library offers a volunteer program similar to that of Housing Works in New York. As with Housing Works, I will be helping out mostly with events that the library holds each month (readings, lectures, even a wine tasting later this month).

In Housing Works I was also helping in the cafe, and even though this meant that sometimes my entire shift evolved around washing dishes and cleaning counter tops, it was still often the best part of my entire week: to walk into a shop full of books at the end of a long day at work, to be around other people who love to read as much as I do, to clean and wash and actually use my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard all day.

It’s a fun crew at the library — mostly Americans, and I imagine we all feel a similar sense of relief to spend a little part of our weeks surrounded by other people who are as far away from home as we are.

And when I exit the library at night, it’s such a strange feeling — to go from being inside this place that is so familiar and so comforting to me, with its American accents and silly thrillers and the classics I’ve seen lining so many different library shelves; and then I suddenly step outside and look up and see the Eiffel Tower RIGHT THERE, literally hovering over the library, a sight that is still so surprising and so bizarre to me.

When I was younger I thought that maybe I would never get to see the Eiffel Tower in person even once, let alone once a week. I’d thought that maybe it would only ever be one of those things I read about in a library book.

*I realize that the reason Santa Monica has its own library and city hall and everything is because it’s technically its own city, but I prefer to think of it as a petulant child.

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Day Trip to Lille

by Jackie D on February 21, 2017

lille jackie travelsMy family has never really been a big “vacation” family — yes, we have taken vacations, but they were always fairly close to home. When I was growing up we’d head to Cleveland every summer to visit my dad’s side of the family, and it felt just more like a normal part of life rather than a vacation (but in a good way). That’s just what we did in the summer: we went to Cleveland and we got to hang out with my grandma in her metallic-floral-wallpapered condo and swim in the indoor pool down the street and visit my aunts and uncles with their adorable dogs and giant mid-western yards and enjoy the more small-town vibe that we never really felt at home in LA.

So when my mom and dad visited me in Paris last year, it was kind of a big deal. We are not foreign country people. Well, I am, obviously. And when my mom and sister visited me in Paris this past week, it was again a big deal. It’s so strange to see someone you know so well in a city you’d never expected the both of you to end up. I said this aloud to another longtime friend who visited me this same week — “Is this the first time we’ve been in a foreign country together?” — and we agreed it was somewhat bewildering.

Anyway, the Paris portion of the trip was great (more to come), but one of the highlights for me was the day we left Paris for Lille. I’d never been, and my mom wanted to see a part of France outside of Paris. Lille is only an hour by train from Paris, and my mom and sister proved that this is the perfect amount of time to power-nap. (I, meanwhile, was Instagramming the train ride for work. We all stayed true to character, pretty much).

lille jackie travels lille jackie travels lille jackie travelsLille is technically a city (apparently there are like 100k people who live there) but it feels like a little town — the streets are narrow and cobblestoned, and the architecture is somewhat Belgian (it made me think of Bruges). There are quaint little chocolate shops and boutiques lining the streets around the main square. We found a book market in the old Stock Exchange building, and there were two parks that look like they are probably a lot of fun in better weather.

We took a coffee break at a little cafe on the corner and went up to the second floor to sit by the window and people watch. It was technically an English cafe, not a French one, but whatever — best people-watching views ever.

We found a chocolate shop called “The Blue Cat” (I think they are referring to the Russian Blue breed of cat, the breed of my darling late kitten), and we took a quick 1-hour bus tour of the whole city (spoiler: it goes through Old Lille and New Lille — new Lille is kind of blah, old Lille is adorable).

lille jackie travels lille jackie travels lille jackie travels lille jackie travels lille jackie travelsThe day of our trip happened to be Valentine’s Day. This is my fifth (!) consecutive single-girl Valentine’s Day, and I have to say that they have all been pretty good. I love Valentine’s Day, single or not, because I think it’s basically a whole day of watching people act like they do when they are greeting loved ones at the airport after a long trip.

Plus, this year I got candy hearts that say “Fuck Trump!”  I don’t usually eat candy hearts, but I will gladly do so if the Resistance calls for it.

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French Lessons: Bad Days

by Jackie D on February 17, 2017

Jackie DesForges Petit PalaisYou will have bad days where you can’t remember the right word for anything.

I’ve never had to tell myself something like this before. I’ve always been able to find a word — or, more likely, thirty words and several commas — for whatever it is I’m trying to express.

When you’re normally pretty great at words and you’re trying to learn a new language, the good days feel normal and the bad days feel BAD. The good days feel normal because you expect to be good at it — you go into class with confidence and maybe even (dare I say it?) excitement. Class! Homework! You are great at these!

But when you have a bad day, you’re almost indignant about it. You thought you knew that rule. You never mess up that type of conjugation. The rule must be wrong, not you. ALTERNATIVE FACTS!

I had a bad day last week. I’d been so proud of myself before I arrived at class that day because I’d been taking the initiative to do some exercises in my workbook BEYOND what had already been assigned, because I am forever the annoying kid in class who does things like that, and because I find the workbook exercises very soothing. I think maybe they are my version of sudoku.

But when I got to class, I couldn’t remember the word for anything. Every time I tried to guess the gender of a noun, I was wrong. Every time I was sure I had just said a sentence correctly, it turns out I’d used the completely wrong article after the verb, and these are errors that tourists commonly make, so I knew I sounded completely like a tourist. My pronunciation was off, I was forgetting conjugations I already knew. It was 90 minutes of straight mistakes.

I’m usually fairly gentle with myself when I’m trying to learn something new. This is because I’m not a fast learner — I was one of the last on my volleyball team to learn how to overhand serve after what seemed like countless hours of swatting volleyballs at the garage door night after night; I often pre-studied for study groups in high school and college because it takes longer for me to memorize dates or get the hang of certain concepts.

But language has always come so easily to me. I got straight A’s in Spanish in elementary school and straight A’s in French in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad grade in an English class because if I had, I might have thrown myself off a bridge — I’ve also always been quite adept at melodrama, which I guess is its own language in a way.

But now, on my bad days, a French toddler could better express to you my weekend plans than I could.

It’s humbling and frustrating at best; it’s reduced me to tears in the bathroom once, at worst. On my bad days, it feels like I’m never going to reach a point where I can call myself fluent in French. On my good days, it’s comforting to remind myself that I probably already know much more than I think I do.

And anyway, on my bad days, these feelings of frustration allow me to rage-eat these coconut cookies I recently found at the grocery store near my apartment, so at least there’s always that.

(Speaking of coconut and mistakes: once I tried to say coconut in French, which is noix de coco, but I accidentally said nuit de coco, which means night of coco, and so now if I ever become famous and make a terrible celebrity perfume, you’d better believe I’m calling it Night of Coco)

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