Dec 21, 2009

2009: The Cliff Notes

Jan/Feb:
The Boy leaves. He puts in cameo appearances a couple times over the next few months, which just makes it worst. My cats try to distract me from the sudden emptiness of the flat. I get staffed on the Nightmare Banking Project, where I have the great privilege of getting yelled at by my client on a daily basis. It's cold in Paris.

March/April:
Turns out my cats (along with my lifestyle, my cigarettes, and Pluto) have been making me sick and I end up in the emergency room. After an extended hospital stay, I'm forced to give up my cats and my cigarettes, and Pluto is no longer a planet. I go back to work. Bad move. I get a haircut. Good move. I'm still staffed on the Nightmare Banking Project. I start using this blog as an escape mechanism.

May/June:
I go to New York and cry through most of it (despite N's best efforts). I go to OBT training and cry through most of it (despite Buddy's best efforts). Apparently it all has something to do with my lungs but I don't remember what.

July/August:
I go to work in London. I get much-needed rest and medical attention. I get even-more-needed time with fabulous girls, a Pilates instructor obsessed with my "horizons", and an old "friend". I get very little sunshine. Michael Jackson dies and all of a sudden "Smooth Criminal" is cool again.

September/October:
I make the important decision to leave consulting. I make the even more important decision to start writing a novel. I fall in love. I run a lot. I make long road trips in a Twingo. And some in planes and trains, too.

November/December:
I get my heart broken (I guess some things go full circle). I realize I have very, very dear friends and it's important to spend as much time with them as possible. I keep running. I wonder if the shoe-obsession-thing may actually become a problem. I leave my beautiful apartment. I reach the 50-page mark on the novel. I make lots of travel plans for 2010.

***

So there you go. My year in a nutshell. Good things, bad things, attempts at greater self-awareness, life-changing moves, boys, shopping, words and champagne. I dedicate a far better 2010 to Houston Hottie, Ozzie Chick, N, and the rest of you who made me smile in 2009 when I didn't want to (and yes, also to the Boy and Wentworth).

Dec 17, 2009

Snow falling on Paris

I moved out of my haven today. In the snow. (Two sights that made me smile on this otherwise painful occasion: teenagers sledding in front of the Pompidou and a snowman on the Boulevard Sébastopol).

To commemorate comme il se doit this sad day, please allow me a moment of melancholy and maudlin sentimentality as I list the top 5 things I will miss about my apartment (half a David Letterman ode to the dearly departed, if you will).

1. The 600 year old wooden beams above my head, for making me feel so young by comparison.

2. The flashes from tourists' cameras outside my window, for making me feel like a movie star.

3. The pencil height markers the Boy and I put up there ages ago as if we were kids (mine about halfway to his) for making me feel... well... tiny.

4. Diana, the very affectionate English bulldog from the shop around the corner, for making me feel cuddle-worthy.

and

5. The stunning, gritty imperfections of the neighbourhood, for making me feel like I was home.

Dec 10, 2009

Hello world, it's me, Res

You know when you get that craving for chocolate? Try as you might to take your mind off it - pop the TV on, re-read that paragraph you've been going over for the past 20 minutes, scrub your kitchen floors (actually, I never do that) - the craving just won't go away. It follows you around, nagging, it consumes you, you become tense, tetchy, close to actual, physical pain.

It's been happening to me lately. But not chocolate (I almost wish it was chocolate, at least I could damn the waistline and give in to the supermarket to make myself feel better). No, it is contact I crave. With humans. Who are not on my television. Or in my book.

Physical contact, for one. I'm a touchy-feely kind of gal (there's that American side, again), and I need to hug, hold hands, cuddle, kiss, play little-spoon-big-spoon, anything to make me feel like I'm connecting with someone. Diana the dog from the shop downstairs is obliging with the occasional embrace, but she belongs to someone else. I'm worried I may start molesting people in the metro soon. Which would be unseemly, and I'd probably get arrested. Or my ass kicked. But I suppose that's contact...

And I also crave virtual contact. Phone calls. Mail (bills and advertisements don't count). Emails. From anyone, really, I don't mind. It would be nice if the people I sent flatshare requests to wrote back to me. Or if someone sent me a Christmas card. Or just called to say hi and to see how I'm doing.

Don't get me wrong. People do call. They even drop by sometimes. Some friends have been particularly good at keeping me connected to the outside world while I procrastinate here alone in my apartment, living the "writer's life". But the problem is, the craving has gotten so intense that five minutes after one phone call, I'm already waiting for more. I click refresh on my email account over and over again. I check my mailbox three times a day. Every hour I look to see if my phone is still working. I try to make friends with people in the supermarket.

No wonder writers have a history of losing their minds. It's only a matter of time before I become once of these crazy old women you see wandering the streets all dressed up in their finery with crazy hair and makeup accosting Christmas shoppers. If one of those shoppers is you, I beg you, won't you stop for a chat?

Dec 6, 2009

Let's be done with 09

After the birthday doldrums, it was time for the levity and cheer of a winter wedding in Brussels, providing me with a much-needed break from myself (with the help of a little champagne and a lot of INSEAD friends).

It also meant another round of having to explain what I am now doing with my life. To a roomful of people who, like me, sweated tears, blood and euros to earn their MBA and, unlike me, are actually using it. And yet, everyone I meet seems enthralled by the idea of packing it all in and writing the novel. They don't seem to think I'm insane, or selfish, or immature, or naïve, or any of the million other adjectives that spring to my mind. So why is it that I do?

And do they know how hard it is to answer the well-intentioned "how's the book" question? Well, to be honest, after reaching 12,000 words, the book's in a bit of a slump. So much so that I wake up some mornings seriously doubting whether another word will ever get written. It frightens me. And yet I want to write, I love to write, and I love this book. But somehow, it isn't happening right now. I could blame it on the imminent move from my beloved Marais-nest, but really swine flu, climate change, or martians would be equally valid excuses.

Fundamentally, what I'm suffering from is a great big giant bout of self-pity. I assure you, dear friends, I find it almost as exhausting as you do.

Dec 2, 2009

Oh Lily, did you have to?

Worst possible song to listen to on your birthday:

When she was 22 the future looked bright
But she's nearly 30 now and she's out every night
I see that look in her face she's got that look in her eye
She's thinking how did I get here and wondering why

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

She's got an alright job but it's not a career
Whenever she thinks about it, it brings her to tears
Cause all she wants is a boyfriend
She gets one-night stands
She's thinking how did I get here
I'm doing all that I can

It's sad but it's true how society says
Her life is already over
There's nothing to do and there's nothing to say
Til the man of her dreams comes along picks her up and puts her over his shoulder
It seems so unlikely in this day and age

- Lily Allen, "22"

It's a good thing I've got Ozzie Chick to take me out, fill me with champagne, and help me remake the world.

Nov 26, 2009

32 things

It's my birthday soon. I'm turning 32. And yes, that is my real age.

In order to help you feel included in this magical celebration of my birth, here are 32 things you may not have known about me (unless you are my mother). In no specific order.

1. When I was 5, I played violin for the King of Belgium. These days, I wouldn't play violin for a deaf person.

2. For the first two years of my life, I lived in Waterloo. Yes, I also think that's funny sometimes.

3. Until the age of 17, I never wanted to study law. I only went to law school to spite my parents, which sounds odder than it is. Five minutes into my first class, I was really glad I did.

4. When we moved to France, I was so upset my father had to promise me a horse so I would agree to talk to him. I never got the horse. I talk to my dad anyway.

5. I've had three jobs. I have quit four times. Each time, I didn't have another one lined up. There's a reason some people think I'm completely irresponsible.

6. When I was 4, I ran away from home with my best friend to go on an adventure after magically putting my mother to sleep with a strawberry toothpaste potion. We turned around when we got to the witch's house.

7. Four out of my five cats have had names starting with M. For some reason, I believe names starting with M are lucky. Although I can think of at least 3 ex-boyfriends whose names started with M so maybe I'm wrong. My real name doesn't start with M.

8. I like to make lists. Obviously. It is only one of the many ways in which I am slowly turning into my mother.

9. If I had been a boy, my parents would have named me Nicolas. Initially, my mother wanted to name me Sophie Charlotte. My grandmother vetoed and for that I will forever be grateful to her.

10. I am the tallest female (tied) on my mother's side of the family. I you knew me, you would realize how funny that is.

11. When I was 9, I was a published poet in the US. It is possible that will turn out to be the pinnacle of my writing career.

12. When I was 4, I made up a story about a little girl who falls in love with a boy who lives in a violin case. I didn't write it down but somehow I still remember it. I don't remember a thing about a trip to Athens my parents took me on a year later.

13. I have had the same diary since I was 10. It has Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph in it, next to Mickey Mouse's.

14. I had seen Patrick Bruel, Michael Jackson and U2 in concert by the time I was 14. I try not to be embarrassed by that first one. I can't remember the last concert I went to, which is sad.

15. I can't think of a single really close friend of mine who hasn't lived in at least two countries. I have lived in four and I feel that's not enough. (If you consider yourself a friend of mine and have only lived in one country, please forgive me, you're probably the wonderful exception that confirms the rule.)

16. I have no idea which language I dream in. I think only people who speak one language ever ask that question.

17. Like the true little fake American that I am, I secretly love malls. My absolute favourite one is in Stamford, CT, just because that's where I went as a kid. I haven't been back since so in my mind it's a mystical palace of pre-teen 1980s consumerism. (PS: I have recently discovered that someone in or near Stamford reads my blog. Whoever you are, hi!)

18. Sometimes I purposefully make life hard for myself, like deciding that every single chapter in my book will have a rather complex structure requiring me to write two stories at once. Or deciding that I will find 32 amusing anecdotes about my life to share with you.

19. I do not have an accent when I speak French. I do not have an accent when I speak English (although the Brits will disagree with me on that one). I do have an accent when I speak German. Which infuriates me.

20. The books I have read the most often are probably Lolita by Nabokov and La Nuit des Temps by Barjavel. If you haven't read one or either of those, go do it now. Go on. I'll wait.

21. My mother's name and my real name start with the same letter. I like that about us. I've decided that if I ever have a daughter, her name will also start with that letter. It's a tricky letter, though, so she might end up with a weird name and require years of therapy to stop hating me.

22. I am obsessed with Tiffany's. Obsessed. As in, I would turn down Cartier. Audrey has a lot to answer for.

23. In a movie of my life, I would want Natalie Portman to play me. Or maybe Sophie Marceau but she'd have to brush up on her English.

24. You know how all little girls go through that phase where they think boys are yucky? I never went through that phase. And we can see how well that's turned out.

25. I get cabin fever if I live in the same place for more than a couple years at a time. Even the old US/UK/France rotation is getting boring. My dream is to find someone equally insane so we can move around constantly and raise lots of unbalanced children together.

26. I once became completely infatuated with a cello player because of Dvorak's Cello Concerto. The second movement, to be precise.

27. When I was growing up in the US, I was that kid that always got picked last for sports teams in gym class. Always. It has a lot to do with me having absolutely no hand-eye coordination. Which is why I now run. The psychological scars from childhood remain, though.

28. When I was born, my mother thought I looked like King Kong. Because I was hairy and had really long fingers and toes. Not because I was freakishly tall with a penchant for blondes and skyscrapers.

29. I have never seen any of the Godfather movies. After 15 minutes of the first one, I got bored, turned off the television, and went and did something more exciting like wash dishes or proofread a legal brief. I have no regrets.

30. I don't like oysters. Which is a shame because I'm oddly attracted to the concept of the oyster bar.

31. Sometimes, when I can't sleep at night, I wonder if maybe I shouldn't be out there employing my remaining neurons doing something useful like saving the world or at least a couple polar bears, instead of amusing myself writing a silly love story. But I like amusing myself. And silly love stories.

32. This is probably the most outrageously self-focused, ridiculously unwarranted act of exhibitionism I have ever performed in my life. Except for the very fact of having a blog in the first place, of course.

Nov 22, 2009

Les jours qui passent

There are days I can't stop smiling, I walk through the streets humming to my ipod as passer-bys give me strange looks, I feel like I could conquer the world. I make important pronouncements, set ambitious targets, run like the wind and fill page after electronic page with words that sound to me like delectable, melt-in-you-mouth candies. There are days when Christmas is in the air, where I lift my head and welcome the rain and feel surrounded by love even if I'm walking alone.

And then there are the other days. Days when the hours pass and barely one paragraph has bled onto my screen. When the phone stays quiet and the inbox empty. When I wander from the kitchen to the bedroom to the sofa and back again and can't remember what I was looking for. There are days when the sun can't reach me and the loneliness is dark and oppressing and the future too uncertain to feel real.

Night after night, when I go to bed, I have no idea what kind of day tomorrow will be. But every morning, as soon as my eyes open, I know. The way you know when you first set eyes on a boy you will love even if it breaks you.

And usually, in either case, there's nothing you can do to change it.

Nov 19, 2009

Forever a J

The good thing about exponentially increasing the number of hours one stays awake, is one has lots of time to make lots of plans. Especially if one is a planner, like yours truly.

Some of the plans, concocted in the dead of night while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling rather sorry for myself, are best not acted upon, or shared in these pages.

But some of the plans are totally fabulous.

First, there are lots of plans for the coming chapters of my book. Many of which will be stealing unashamedly from real life (my own and whoever else's I feel like borrowing from). So this means the writing is going well and I feel confident today. Doubt be damned, my book is going to kick some serious New York Times Bestseller List ass.

And then there's the slightly more fool-hardy plan of running the Paris half marathon in March. Almost a year to the day since I was hospitalized for... well... not breathing. Poetic, isn't it. In honour of that anniversary I'm also raising funds for a respiratory disease charity, but you will be spared the link here since it has my real name on it!

Anyways, I started the training today in the absolutely stunning Bois de Vincennes. How is it possible that I had never been there before? I feel truly embarrassed. It was beautiful, sunny, full of pretty horses and there's a rather nice-looking castle there too. Although to be fair, by the end of the 11 or 12-odd kilometers I couldn't care less about the park or the horses or the castle or anything else really other than my rather painful thighs. Ah well, almost four months to go. It will be fine. I think...

Nov 16, 2009

Desperately seeking Morpheus

Oh God. I need to sleep. I can't remember the last time I had a restful night. Has it been days? Weeks? Too long. My nerves are shot, the bitchiness factor is at an all-time high and it's all I can do to keep myself from painting the world in a thick layer of black acrylic.

And why am I unable to drop into a peaceful slumber? Well, the book isn't helping. Every night I write and rewrite chapters which I will have forgotten or discarded by sunrise. Words words words. It's enough to drive anyone insane, even if you're not the prince of a small rotten country. And then there's that tumultuous heart of mine, which cries in pain and confusion and demands attention every time I try to close my eyes and forget it's there.

So I stay awake. Night after night. Slowly losing my sanity.

Will someone please take me out of my misery and come bash me over the head with something heavy? (I've always been partial to the cartoonish charm of the frying pan, myself.)

Please?

Nov 14, 2009

Black cats and running hats

Friday the 13th is usually a good day for me. In an ironic, backwards sort of way (much like my life), those days tend to bring me luck, good news, and happiness.

Yesterday's version was a bit of a mixed bag. Actually, to be completely honest and quit the sugar-coating, it was completely f***ing awful. One of those days you want to erase straight off the calendar, going at it until the paper rips and your fingers are sore. But the day did end with good friends and a cocktail, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Today was a quiet, studious day, a large part of which was devoted to recovering from the night before (I said Friday ended with a cocktail, I never said there weren't several others that preceded it). And writing. Lots of writing. I am now ready to move on to Chapter 4 and, the abominable first chapter aside, I'm pretty happy with what I have so far. Which means there are two chapters I like. So yes, I'm not dancing the happy dance yet, but things could be worse (it could be yesterday again).

In other news, tomorrow is the day of the big run for Houston Hottie and I (you knew she had to be around somewhere; where there is any kind of silver lining in a crisis, there is Houston Hottie.) Anyways, tomorrow is the day when the two of us brave the wind and the rain and the brimstone of Hyde Park and run our little socks off for 10 whole kilometers. Watching the ever-receding backsides of 950 runners ahead of us...

But as they say, it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you look good in your sweatpants that counts.

Nov 6, 2009

Lost in the field

Doubt.

It's an ugly word. In English as well as in French. Say it out loud. Go ahead. "Doubt." It's a word without any redeeming qualities. It's thick. It falls flat. It doesn't even have a kick to it to make up for the ugliness.

I've been writing for several weeks now, and I haven't even made it to the 5,000 word mark. Worse, the first couple thousand of those sound hollow.

Wentworth says I need to find my "left field". But what if I walk around in circles for months and never find the left field? What if I only have talent enough to write a very-much-middle-of-the-field book? What if I don't even have enough talent to do that? Could this decision that felt like the most liberating, truest decision of my life actually be a colossal mistake? Should I have stuffed my lofty ambitions, stuck to playing around with this blog as a hobby and found myself a nice legal job? "I want to write for a living." What kind of 30-something post-graduate idiot says that? And then follows up with it?

Hopefully this will all feel better again in the morning. Because when it does feel good, it feels amazing. Like being Superman. Only without the unattractive underwear. Maybe all I need is a good night's sleep and I will find my faith (a.k.a. delusion) again. I know I left it around here somewhere.

To Sleep

I'm drained. Driving across Europe in a Twingo will do that to you. All I want to do is sleep. And yet.

Crisis of confidence, meet Res. You two will be spending quite some time together, as she tosses and turns under the covers.

It turns out that when you finally catch a glimpse of "Everything You Never Knew You Always Wanted", it doesn't look quite as sturdy as you imagined. In fact, on closer inspection you begin to wonder whether the whole thing isn't actually made of out of paper-thin glass. Glass that is very likely to shatter into a million sharp pieces as soon as you get your clutz' hands on it. Especially if you have my hand-eye coordination.

So what do you do? Do you leave it there, eternally just out of reach but at least intact and still beautiful? Do you keep edging forward, very, very carefully, droplets of sweat appearing on your brow and quivering above your upper lip as you hold your breath? Or do you just smash the damn thing on purpose, just to relieve the tension and stop the agony once and for all?

Aye, there's the rub.

Now someone pass me a valium.

Nov 3, 2009

Of Love and Literature

I'm sorry boys and girls. I've been out frolicking in the countryside, enjoying my new life of love and freedom and literary treats, and I've just been leaving you by the wayside, haven't I. How very selfish of me.

But you have to understand. This is it! The life I've always wanted! It's finally mine! (Please refrain from calling forth unsavoury images of Gollum, or those seagulls in Finding Nemo.)

And so Newly Minted Res has been busy. Seeing her friends. Even in the middle of the day. Whenever they need her, really. And travelling on the weekends to nurture a young but promising love affair. And writing, re-writing, erasing, tweaking, and generally tearing her hair and heart out over the pages of that young but promising novel of hers. Basically there's lots of nurturing. So much so that one day I may be able to graduate onto a pet. Possibly a goldfish.

But I digress. This was supposed to be an apology. I'm not terribly good at written apologies. I find the teary-eyed hug technique to be so much more effective. (I'm irresistible when I go in for the teary-eyed hug, no matter how unforgivable I've been).

So instead of an apology, let me offer a gift. Of the latest two books I've read which were absolutely incredible, and the one I'm reading now which promises to be just as good (there's another thing I've been catching up on besides love, liberty and happiness: reading. It is possible I've died and gone to Res heaven. And I don't even miss the Blackberry one little bit.)

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: don't be put off by the title, or the epistolary form, this book is a treat, like a toffee that keeps getting better as it melts in your mouth. Irresistible.

2. The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett: imagine if the Queen did nothing all day but devour novels. Are you smiling yet? You've only just started.

3. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak: it's not just the premise that's left-field, but the style as well. And the result is bewitching.

Notice that all three books are about... books. There's a sign there, I think.

Oct 14, 2009

Mise à jour

After a prolonged absence partly caused by not actually having any time to spend in my beloved city, Res Ipsa's Paris has now been updated.

It was a dark and stormy night...

The novel has begun. Though only a very little bit. Because unfortunately that consulting malarkey has not yet entirely finished and putting together slides on the future of the banking industry is sort of cramping the flow of my creative juices.

So let's just say that, if my novel was one of those wooden barns you always see American people building in inspirational Lifestyle movies, I've just barely nailed the first two big beams together.

But spirits continue to run high. Like any other job, "Writing" was also bound to have its tough bits, so I've decided not to worry excessively if the words don't flow onto the page as quickly or as smoothly as I might have hoped. They will get there. Eventually.

In other news, has anyone else noticed that we appear to have travelled from the golden fields of Indian summer to the frozen gates of hell in the space of 3 days?! What is up with that? And where is the global warming everybody's been promising us? I want my money back! That, or a trip to somewhere warm and sunny. Rephrase: a trip to somewhere hot and tropical. Maybe even sweltering. Sometimes I feel I may have been born in the wrong continent.

Oct 8, 2009

The Second Coming

Like an unfurling caterpillar, or Nessie's lesser-known tiny sibling, I am slowly emerging from the muckety-muck that has been 2009. And boy does it feel good.

These are what my days look like now.

8:30 AM: iPod posing as an alarm turns on. I smile, wrap myself up in the duvet like a pig in a - well - duvet, and scrunch up my eyes as my toes start wriggling to the tunes.

9 AM: Curious to see if the sun is shining, I stretch loudly and luxuriously across the entire span of my massive bed before hopping over to where I keep the caffeine.

10:30 AM: Having had my fill of the morning news, coffee, and email, I walk the 2 minutes to my gym to sweat profusely on the treadmill watched only by a small battalion of über-gay men in snazzy tight-fitting outfits. Running makes me happy. Running is my Everest. Considering that back in March I was in the hospital and unable to walk all the way to the bathroom without wanting to curl up and die next to my oxygen tank, the fact that I'm now clocking in at 7km fills me with an unsurpassable sense of pride and accomplishment. Hey, everything's relative.

12:30 PM: Right. Time to cook some lunch. While singing to myself. Because it makes the veggies more tender.

2 PM: This is when I begrudgingly admit that I am actually still employed by BM, open up the dreaded work laptop, and hammer out a few slides with some fun banking-related inanities on it that I don't understand. But as long as I align the boxes and choose my colour scheme carefully, I figure no one will notice.

7 PM: Okie dokie, work day is done, now I get to play! So what shall we do this evening? Dinner with friends? Movie? Early night with a good book? A meet-the-author event at the library (that's right, I have now met Petite Anglaise)? Wine tasting? The possibilities are endless.

And then there's all the other stuff. Weekends away to the four corners of Europe, visiting friends and seeking adventures. Walking across Paris to see how the rest of the city is doing. Daydreaming about renting a flat in Havana à la Hemingway. Preparing to lecture my former INSEAD professors (seriously). And the book.

Because there is a book, of course. Or a foetus of a book, at this stage.

But more on that another day.

Sep 29, 2009

A life less ordinary

Squeeze

Yesterday's post serves as the perfect example of why I should never press "publish" in the middle of the night, when I can't sleep and I'm feeling sorry for myself.

Because I just end up looking for excuses and blaming hapless passerbys. Like that guy. Yup, I'm talking to you, buddy.

Let's get something straight. I know exactly what I want. If I were so inclined, I could laboriously describe in excruciating detail, every little molecular component that comprises what I want.

Knowing what I want is not the problem. The problem is that getting what I want is not entirely dependent on me, and the bits that are dependent on me are scary.

Which means that what I need isn't advice. What I need is to get a grip.

Right.

Anybody got a grip I could borrow?

Sep 28, 2009

Te adhibe in consilium

When you're in the throes of your second mid-life crisis (or the continuation of the first, depending on how you look at it) there is one thing you can be certain of: you will get lots of advice.

Like this.

Dad: Don't quit your job. Wait, you already quit your job? Then hurry up and get another job.

Mom: Get married. Have kids. Drive safely. Stop buying so many shoes.

Best friend no.1: Always date more than one boy at once. Start your own company. Then hire me.

Best friend no.2: Write poetry. Open an inn. Give me your shoes.

Best friend no.3: Write a screenplay. Move to California. Become a blonde.

Most recent date: Sort yourself out. You're a mess.

... you don't say...

Sep 23, 2009

Day 3

So what does one do when one is enjoying one's first week of freedom after having quit from a premiere consulting firm?

Well, first, one avoids answering the phone. Because one is employed in France, and one has to give three months' notice, which means that technically one is supposed to be working. Ouch.

True, I could have asked to be relieved from my notice period, but three months worth of paychecks is difficult to forego if you're Res and have a) an overpriced apartment and b) a slightly problematic shopping habit.

And so I got staffed this morning (yup, you guessed it, it has to do with banking...) But I made sure I accurately "managed expectations" and ended up spending the entire day in my neighbourhood shopping - I mean, walking. Not bad for a day's work. Let's see how long I can pull this off.

Also on the to-do list today was to give notice on the afore-mentioned overpriced apartment. The apartment I love more than anything that I've managed to get my grubby little hands on in the past year. The apartment that is so unbelievably cool it actually makes people put up with me just so they can be invited to see it. The apartment that I have barely spent more than 72 hours in since May.

By Christmas, this beautiful apartment and I will be parting ways. Come January, who knows where little Res will be resting her little unemployed head? Another smaller, more affordable apartment in Paris? Back in the burbs with the parents? Or in a beach hut somewhere in Jamaica? (You never know, some Jamaican boy with a beach hut might be feeling generous... In fact, if you are such a boy, can I just mention that I am relatively tidy and come with my own coffee machine.)

Sep 22, 2009

Et Dieu créa Stephen Fry

I adore Stephen Fry. Absolutely. Adore. Him.

One of the highlights of my life is when I ran into him in Oxford. Literally. Little Res was young and innocent(-ish) in those days, a perky and pesky 19-year old thing pretending to be a grown-up and having champagne cocktails at Oxford Uni student union. Très cool. Except that I was there celebrating having placed very respectably in Oxford's inter-varsity debating competition. Suddenly much less cool. Of course, nerd is the new chic, so whatever...

Anyways, there I was, champagne in hand and just bubbling over with sparkling, intellectual banter when the clumsy chubby girl inside of me performed an intricate and altogether graceless manoeuver which caused me to smack straight into a tall, large man's belly.

The belly of Mr. Stephen Fry himself.

While I don't recall being able to mutter anything more witty than "Oh", I truly feel that we created a strong personal bond that day. In fact, if Stephen was into short French chicks with American accents, he would clearly fall madly in love with me, propose and father all 12 of my impossibly clever children.

Which is why I'm VERY upset that no one told me that Stephen Fry has a blog...

So here it is. Enjoy. And tell Stephen I say hi.

What a difference a day makes

It was 11:02 on Monday when she countersigned. The final act. The thing that sealed it.

At 11:03 I was a free woman. Sort of.

To be perfectly honest with you, the whole experience turned out to be rather anticlimatic. I wasn't expecting a marching band, or fireworks, or a giant Mexican wave, but a hug would have been nice. A couple of "woohoo girls". The perfect pop of a champagne cork. Something.

Instead I lolled around the office for a few hours, doing nothing in particular. For fun, at lunch, I went up to the cafeteria to shock people but despite the brief shadow of jealousy that passed over their features before the stern looks of disapproval returned, I tired of that quickly.

And yet, something was bound to happen. I could feel it. This was an important day, dammit, this was the beginning of the rest of my life. The moment I would be able look back to and say "ha! there it is! right there!"

So I started small. A smile. A spontaneous date for a harvest weekend. A writing partner. Macaroni & cheese and a glass of red wine.

All in all, a not too shabby way to top off the day I quit my job.

Sep 16, 2009

Et Dieu créa la femme

There is an art to procrastination. And I am currently perfecting it. So quiet, please. I'm concentrating.

In the course of my artistic endeavours today, I watched CNN's "Revealed" on my favourite designer, Diane von Furstenberg. Now 63 years old and effortlessly glamourous, without the slightest surgical alteration, Diane had this to say on the subject of aging (I'm paraphrasing):
"I loved my life, I would hate to have any of it erased."

I thought that was nice. Then again, if you're Diane von Furstenberg, life must be pretty sweet anyway, wrinkles or no.
Fortunately, if you can't be her, you can at least wear her dresses and hope to channel a little timeless chic that way (which is what I'll be doing at the wedding this weekend; careful, boys!)
So ladies, repeat after me:
Feel like a woman. Wear a dress. (And some outrageous heels. And sexy lingerie. And maybe some dangly earings. And mascara. And - damn, it's hard work feeling like a woman, where the heck are my sweatpants?)

Sep 15, 2009

C'est la rentrée

That's it. Summer is over. Yes, yes, I know, officially there are 7 days to go, but let's not kid ourselves. The miniskirts and flipflops have been stuffed in the back of the wardrobe, the black trouser suits thrown on, it's only a matter of time before we start singing bloody Christmas carols.

[excessive whining redacted by censor]

As far as vacations go, however, mine ended on a definite high, complete with great spying adventure reminiscent of the Cold War in the company of the James-Bond-esque Wentworth. A man whose greatest claim to fame is to be the only person alive today to have been punched by a cat. God only knows why he's not in the Guinness Book.

And so the fearless Wentworth and I embarked upon a quest across the Iron Curtain to locate, approach, and photograph the house my mother was born in. In a bizarre turn of events, on the way we encountered various members of my family hundreds of miles from where they were supposed to be, were practically rendered deaf by church bells, shrank by at least 8 centimetres, were fed flaming aluminium swans and attempted to break into a hotel. And I would tell you more about all those things but then I would have to take you out back and shoot you.

Suffice it to say, the mission was a success.

And now I have a few other things to sort out.


Sep 8, 2009

Everybody say Ohm

So I went to the Tuileries yesterday afternoon and got picked up twice in the space of 20 minutes. Twice! It's not like I was even wearing anything special (jeans and a T-shirt, nothing to write home about, really). I guess it's that soft scent of dying summer in the air that sends these boys' hormones all a-flutter. Hey, I'm not complaining; though I did decline both the coffee offered by straight-to-the-point gentleman no.1 and the "verre" offered by chatty Rémi, my second suitor.

And I'm telling you, it's a good thing the sun is shining, I'm still on vacation, and I appear to be attracting men who have nothing better to do than to wander around the park in the middle of the afternoon, because otherwise I'd be spending my time battling furiously to repress the onslaught of a major anxiety attack. As it is, I am teetering on the border of mild hysteria with a dash of melodrama and a sprinkle of self-pity.

There are several perfectly good reasons why this is happening which I won't get into for the moment (and no, it's not menopause) but it's threatening to take the fun out of my vacation. Especially when I've promised myself I wouldn't shop (new Aubade underwear and a few T-shirts from the Gap don't count as shopping).

So I'm sticking to a strict regimen of green tea (totally zen, right?), sunbathing (vitamin D, very good for zen-ness) and my first Parisian pilates session tomorrow morning (there's a zen master in me just dying to get out and say ohm).

Totally. Sorted.

Everything. Is. Under. Control.

Breathe.

Sep 3, 2009

Itsy Bitsy Res

I've been feeling rather introspective lately (or as The Analyst puts it, "philosophical", which I like because it makes me sound clever rather than self-obsessed). I've noticed that generally when people have no idea where they're going, they start looking back, as if the past held some kind of a clue. And it might.

So I looked back.

And found this photo.


This is Res when she was a baby. You can tell because it says "baby" on it. In case you were going to mistake me with a small sea otter or a large loaf of home-baked bread.
In fact, this is the first ever picture taken of me, on the first ever day of my existence. If you look really closely, tilt your head to the side and squint a little, you can sort of see the lawyer/consultant/frustrated writer that I would grow up to become. No?

So let's see if we can find some clues.

Personally, I think I look pretty fat. And rather sleepy. Maybe this means I should move to Spain where people eat and sleep all the time (no offence to my lovely Spanish friends). Except I don't speak Spanish.

I also have those long, skinny fingers stretched out as if I'm reaching for something. Or playing a piano. Maybe I should learn to play the piano (damn those 18 years of violin lessons).

Also apparent is my rather disastrous taste in clothes and lack of eyebrows. Both of these problems have been fixed by now, though, so I think we can look past them.

Right, well, that wasn't terribly useful. Unless I am actually supposed to be a Spanish-speaking, piano-playing, fat, eyebrow-less person.

Which could be right, but then there's this photo, which clearly indicates I have a hidden passion for sheep (oh dear)...

Sep 2, 2009

Marcel, Bernard, James and Res

The Americans are a pretty cool bunch. With the notable exception of a certain former President, and despite what the rest of the world thinks of them, they're generally quite clever and have invented lots of useful gadgets like the telephone and the ipod and electricity.

But when Americans want to be really cool, they steal stuff from the French.

Like Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (originally Claude François' "Comme d'habitude").

And kissing.

And then there's Le Questionnaire de Proust, which was first stolen by Bernard Pivot before getting knicked again by James Lipton for Inside the Actor's Studio. Maybe not quite as cool as kissing, but also a fun way to get to know someone.

So here are the 10 things you always wanted to know about Res, using the Lipton version.

1. What is your favourite word?
In French, catimini. In English, serendipity. Apparently I like words that end in an "i" sound. Makes them sound happier.

2. What is your least favourite word?
In French, meuf. In English, grunt. But to be honest, if used in the right context, all words are great. It's not their fault some of them don't sound as pretty.

3. What turns you on?
Kissing (I'm not French for nothing). Dancing. Someone who looks me in the eyes. A boy who lightly places his hand on the small of my back when we're crossing the street. Hold on, was I supposed to pick just one?

4. What turns you off?
Vulgarity. Violence. People who have no passion.

5. What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of the cello. I'm serious. It's beautiful. Also the sound of someone who whispers 'I love you' and chokes up a little when they do it.

6. What sound or noise do you hate?
Yelling. Especially if followed by the sound of someone throwing something at my head.

7. What is your favourite curse word?
Saperlipopette. But to actually use: Putain de Bordel de Merde. 3 for the price of 1.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
More like what profession wouldn't I like to attempt... OK, seriously though, novelist. Less seriously: stand-up comedian, ballerina, cellist, Christiane Amanpour, Coco Chanel, someone who gets paid to hike all over the world (what would that be called?!)

9. What profession would you not like to do?
Is it bad if I say consultant?! Hmmm... cleaning lady. Already painful enough cleaning after myself. And arms dealer. Or pimp. Or banker. Not that those things are the same in any way.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Come on, everybody's waiting to throw you a big party! Champagne's on me!

Good day sunshine



The sea's at a balmy 27°C. The pool at an even balmier 29°C. The sky is turquoise blue. The air smells like lavender and eucalyptus. I think there's a pretty fair chance I've actually died of swine flu and gone to heaven. Which is totally fine by me. I'm even feeling good about my muscles aching from the hike yesterday. The only thing missing are my girls (and boys). Though the parents are pretty cool too. (si si, je vous aime!)

Aug 31, 2009

The Nine Lives of Little Miss Piggy

It's the last day of August, 2009.

I'm recovering well from my little bout with H1N1, thank god, and after two days of supreme crankiness and feeling like I'd been repeatedly bashed over the head with a baseball bat (hence, the crankiness), I'm relaxing by the pool in the south of France.

One year ago today, I was in Paris, packing my satchel for my first day as a BM consultant.

Two years ago today, I was in Fontainebleau trying to understand the Swedish textile market of the 1960s and wondering how I was ever going to survive Finance and Accounting and still find the time to pick up my next crazy theme party outfit. (Speaking of which, I'm going to an INSEAD wedding in a few weeks where we have all been asked to wear pink. The craziness never stops.)

Three years ago today, I was in London, crafting headache-inducing arguments which managed to intertwine tenets of Shari'a, Texan and international investment law all at the same time (because clearly those all have so much in common. Who needs international peacekeepers, when for the right fee highly-paid lawyers will happily prove that Israelis, Palestinians, the Taleban and Rush Limbaugh in fact all agree?)

The question is, what on earth will I be doing one year from now?

Aug 29, 2009

And this little piggy went...

You won't believe it.

Three months.

Three months I survived working in London.

And on the morning of my departure, on day one of what feels like a seriously well-deserved vacation, what do I wake up with?

Yep.

That's right.

I've got the swine...

Which means this post is now being written from my bed back in Paris, where I sit in semi-delirium completely incapable of sleep despite an early morning departure for the south of France tomorrow.

I don't think I've ever been so dehydrated in my life. Or more inclined to rail against "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." You bet it's outrageous. It's a downright disgrace.

But I'm under strict instructions not to write any depressing blog posts and to "keep it light." I also need to prevent the parentals from panicking and calling in the CDC.

So, dehydration, burning throat and unbelievably sore... everything... be damned, I will take it on the chin and keep smiling as my nose turns progressively more snout-like and my skin takes on a pinkish hue.

Oink.

Aug 27, 2009

It's time

The curtain will be coming down on Res' Summer of Fun in London in less than 48hrs. It's only been one little season (and to be honest, it wasn't even much of a "summer") but it feels somehow momentous. Like I should be standing back and taking stock.

Hmmm... Things still a bit blurry from over here, maybe I need to stand further back.

So here are the lessons I think I've learned:
  • When a very large sphere the approximate size and shape of the planet collapses onto your head, it is a good idea to let other people help you out.
  • If you're too stubborn to figure that out on your own, severe illness and the menace of impending death can help.
  • Re-prioritizing does not mean the last 10 years of your life have been a massive waste of time.
  • Not re-prioritizing means the next 10 years probably will be.
  • Friends are the bomb. Really.
  • Friends who stick around when even you can't stand the sight of yourself particularly so.
  • A Cadillac is not just a shiny, over-sized, gas-guzzling American car, but also an instrument of torture.
  • Said instrument of torture gives you really nice abs. Eventually.
  • Taking a chance on someone can be fun.
  • But never trust anyone with your clothes.
  • Making an effort to be healthy pays off.
  • But good food and good wine are allowed. And the odd margarita.
  • Jude Law is an excellent actor.
  • And yes, also hot. That does not make me shallow.
  • Worrying about what people think of you when you're dancing along to your ipod in the street will turn your hair grey.
  • Chances are they think you're cool.

Aug 25, 2009

It's not easy being green...

(courtesy of WE photostudio)


Saving the planet is all the rage these days. But what's a girl to do once she's bought the Prius, filled the pantry with an impressive collection of re-usable shopping totes from every supermarket chain known to man and switched the jacuzzi over to solar power?
The answer is simple. Go back to the basics. Try eco-dating.
Men, much like plastics, are re-usable. Especially if it's been a while and you can't really remember the first time around anyway. And just think about all that time and energy saved not having to trawl through entirely unsuitable prospects at the latest chi-chi club in South Ken. I mean, who has that kind of time after 30?
True, eco-dating won't do much for reducing your carbon footprint. But it will keep that little black book from flowing over.
Editor's note: Thanks to M for providing much-needed posting ideas in the midst of the Great Summer Writer's Block of '09

Aug 19, 2009

There are just some days when...

Possibly the best silly news story in living memory.

In fact, it's so good, I have to include a few choice morsels here:

Man Hurt Himself To 'Avoid Work'

Fiscal depute Jim Craigen said: "He was making his way to work and didn't really much fancy going. He therefore removed a razor from his pocket and repeatedly dragged it down his face. He also picked up a boulder and struck it off his head and repeatedly hit himself on the head and body."

And the punchline:

After the case, Reid said: "Looking back, I should have just phoned work and asked them for the day off."

Indeed.

What I did on my summer holiday

My fans (all two of them) have of late expressed their disappointment at my failure to regularly upload some witty, cutting remarks on the state of consulting, London weather and my fed-up-ness with men. What, you think blog posts grow on trees?! You think it's easy to find some new, clever way to say my job basically consists of writing "leverage" in different colours on slides, it's raining in London (although strangely, not today) and, well, I'm fed up with men?

Well, it's not, OK?! Sometimes, I have writer's block. Like now.

But since the children must be fed their greens, here's "what I did on my summer holiday", in bullet points, à la consultanese:
  • I haven't had a summer holiday yet
  • I have, however, had a couple weekends away
  • First, I went to Lake Garda in Italy (insert schematic representation of lake surrounded by mountains)
  • This allowed me to spend some quality time with former INSEAD classmates (insert INSEAD logo and think-cell chart on value of networking)
  • They are both consultants too
  • One of them jumped in the lake with his blackberry (pause for dramatic effect)
  • Last weekend, I went home to the South of France
  • I spent two days with family and friends
  • I ate well, and slept, and saw the sun
  • I was happy (ERROR MESSAGE: Powerpoint is unable to process)
  • Next steps...

And in other news, it appears that when faced with the possible end of the world as we know it, Americans vote based on height. Oh good. Nothing to worry about, then.

Aug 12, 2009

How'm'I doin'?

When I was a lawyer, we had performance reviews. Sometimes. When the partners could be bothered. And they typically went somewhere along the lines of: "You're billing 30% above the 2400hr target. That's decent enough. You still have a job. Do better next year, though."

Consulting therefore came as a bit of a shock. Here, feedback is the maître mot. Of course, there are the bi-annual reviews, and the end-of-project evaluations. But there are also the weekly team "how can we be better" sessions, the extra bonus-round one-on-one "tell me what's wrong with me" sob-fests and my personal favourite, the "immediate feedback". Yes, in consulting, yelling at a team-member who has just screwed up and cost you hours of work and condemned you to a late-night dinner of plastic-tasting sushi under painful neon lights is not called "bitching", it's "feedback". As in: "Hey, here's some immediate feedback. You're a dummass and I hope you get fired. We cool?" I love it.

What they don't tell you is you can get completely hooked on feedback. You start craving more and more of it until, like a junkie strung up on heroin, you are completely incapable of functioning without it.

And so, in my weekly 7am pilates session, I now find myself harassing my poor instructor like a needy 3 yr-old: "Is my navel getting closer to my spine? How about now? And is my ribcage soft enough? What about my horizon? Am I stretching my horizon in the right direction through my knees? Tatiana? Hello?"

Aug 7, 2009

Elsinore

Houston Hottie is right, of course, there are lots of fun things to do in London when it's raining (like I said, just pretend it's November and you'll be fine). In particular, London has a fabulous theater scene, which can be enjoyed rain or shine. And that's lucky, seeing as four girls-about-town had to make their way to and from the Wyndham last night in a downpour of Noah-esque proportions.

The ensuing damage to our collective footwear was worth it, though, as we sat through the 3+ hours of Hamlet in a trance, progressively falling in love from our seats in the 4th row. Now, I've always loved Hamlet (I remember that beat-up paperback copy I found under a chair at summer-camp when I was 10 and, not realizing I was still a bit young for near-suicidal, tormented young men, read the whole way through). But to be honest, I was mostly pretending to go see Hamlet so I could drool over Jude Law.

And yet, within minutes, I was so mesmerized I forgot to drool. Jude's performance is magnificent, matched only by the imposing set and creative lighting-work. My fellow swooners were surprised, but I always knew you had it in you, Jude (wink). (Sadly, the performances of a couple other cast members left a little to be desired, which was only made more starkly obvious by the fact that, as Hottie put it, "once Jude left the stage it was as if someone had turned the lights off.")


So, deluge notwithstanding, a very good night out.
Still, I must admit I'm hopping around the office with glee this morning (well, not right now, obviously, it would be hard to type) as I count down the hours until a lovely little airplane airlifts me out of here and off to sunny Italy for the weekend! Sunshine, here I come!

Aug 4, 2009

Brolly

Some of you may know that, in a previous incarnation, I actually lived in London. Including over a couple summers. Summer has always been my favourite time to be in London (and England generally), just because there are so many fun and wonderful things to do here. And once again, my generosity of spirit has led me to share them with you now (in no specific order).

Fun and wonderful things to do when in London during the summer:
  • Have a pub lunch at one of those long wooden tables on the sidewalk
  • Take tennis lessons in Hyde Park
  • Go running in Hyde Park, or Battersea Park, or Regent's Park, or... (you get the idea)
  • Have a picnic in one of above-mentioned parks
  • Pay a quid to sit in an uncomfortable beach chair in one of the parks (there's a bit of a "park theme" here...)
  • Go see some outdoor theatre or opera or concert
  • Stroll along the Thames
  • Head up to Cambridge and go punting
  • Go walking in Richmond
  • Drink Pimms
  • Stand in the middle of the street with a pint of lager (apparently that's considered acceptable behaviour here...)
  • Laugh at the funny English people with bare midriffs and painful-looking sunburns

Fun and wonderful things to do when in London during the summer and it rains every damn day:

  • Pretend it's November
  • Get the hell out of London
  • That's it.

Aug 3, 2009

Not-so-foreign

It's one of those (many) funny things about me that, no matter how well-traveled and adventurous I feel I am, no matter how highly I rate novelty in my life, the familiar has always had a very powerful draw. So much so that I worry I may be boring.

Which explains why I am sitting in a corporate flat only a few blocks away from my old apartment. Why I still have brunch at PJs 5 years later. Why I know that bit of King's Road and the section around the Bibendum like the back of my hand, but can't tell my Charlotte Street from Hoxton Square. Why it's entirely possible for me to have a crush on someone for 10 years running.

And why tonight I'm heading out to my absolute favourite restaurant in London, L'Etranger on Gloucester Road. To which I have already been half a dozen times (once I even got the sommelier's number...) And where I already know what I will order (the foie gras, the lamb and aubergine, and the chocolate trio) because I've ordered it practically every other time I've been there.

Is there something wrong with me? Does it come with age?

Well, never mind. Even if it is some kind of premature form of senility, it comes with glamorous Texan company and small fireworks for my tastebuds, so I'll take it.

Jul 31, 2009

My friends from Mars

I've had a surprisingly productive week. As if last week, and the tumultuous weekend, somehow had a cleansing effect on me. With renewed energy, I managed to slog though 5 client interviews, over a dozen brand new powerpoint slides, one intense pilates session, a run in Hyde Park and many, many kilometers of walking. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

I have also been quite busy preparing for a date. And what began as a rather anodyne attempt to get myself out of the house has now turned into a full-blown comedy routine, with friends and co-workers getting actively involved.

On the girl side, it's been mostly about using the event as an excuse to go shopping (as if I ever need an excuse to go shopping). I suspect, however, that the girls' participation will increase threefold as soon as the date is over, through the lengthy and intricate debriefing process.

It's the boys that have provided the most entertainment.

First, there was the venue advice. One by one, they came to me to disclose, in hushed tones, the name of their "favourite date place". With a wink and a smile they deposited address after address as if bestowing upon me the Crown jewels themselves.

Then came the big-brotherly concern. The enquiries into the young man's background, professional qualifications, references and intentions. The stern requests to review any available photographs, no no, not out of girly curiosity, but to check that he had the "right kind of look about him". Right.

And finally, today, an entire oenology course conducted via messenger with my lovely OBT "El Culinary Genius" Buddy in Madrid.

Buddy: So, have fun tonight.
Res: I will.
Buddy: What kind of wine will you have?
Res: Ummm, I don't know... why?
Buddy: You should have a wine you really enjoy.
Res: Uh, ok, how about... white?
Buddy: Which one?
Res: Ummm... a nice one? The Boy liked Sancerre. Maybe that one?
Buddy: Sancerre sucks. I thought you were French. What's the matter with you? Are you some kind of retard?
Res: Well...
Buddy: What do you like? Dry? Fruity? Tall? Short? Kick-ass? With a bitchin' sense of humour? [or something to that effect]
Res: Huh?
Buddy: Here. Read this. Memorize it. Get back to me.
[Sends over large amounts of info, that reads like an instruction manual for the Hubble telescope]

[Long pause, as Res' eyes pour over the screen frantically]

Res: Ah. Graves. I've heard of that. That's quite nice, eh?
Buddy: Yes. You can have that.
Res: Ok. I always thought it was called "Graves" because it was a serious wine.
Buddy: [groan...]
Res: But it says here it's because it's gravelly.
Buddy: Yes.
Res: Not the wine, though, I hope? Because I wouldn't want any crunchy wine, would I?
Buddy: [pat pat]

Jul 29, 2009

Snout


Saw an article in Courrier International today about a new strain of swine flu that is Tamiflu-resistant. This is not a good sign for London, where the piggy virus has already cut through large swathes of the population (including half my team).
Mostly I just really like the picture, though.

Jul 28, 2009

Res Ipsa's Paris Updated!

Catch the latest seasonal recommendations on Res Ipsa's Paris.
And enjoy the fact that you're actually in Paris right now rather than rainy London like some people...

What's with the smiley-face?!

I don't know if someone put Kool-Aid in my latte recently, but I've started feeling positively cheerful. Bordering on chipper. And since I've never shied away from expressing my deepest, darkest winters of discontent on these pages, I figured my obligations as a balanced, objective reporter of my life required me to disclose my present state of contentment.

Trouble is, it's not quite as fun to write about.

"What on earth happened?!", I hear you cry (the role of "you" this evening is being played by my pesky inner voices).

Well, fundamentally, I think that after a while all those people who care about me and went out of their way to cheer me up finally wore me down. Even my steroid-fuelled "reds" were no match for the outpour of hugging. I'm telling you, hug me and I'm a goner.

So, if you want to see more lengthy lamentations and litanies of fury, send over something annoying and hug-retardant like swine flu and I should be back to my old self in no time.

Jul 25, 2009

A la semaine prochaine

This has been a strange week. There were some nice moments (my induction into the bendy world of pilates, courtesy of Houston Hottie; meeting a fellow blogger over a lovely Korean meal) but also a lot of really painful ones (Death and The Boy: should be a play title, or maybe a Schubert symphony).

All in all I'm glad I made it through in one piece. More or less. Next week should be better: Legal Soldier is coming back from Afghanistan on leave, and I might pick up some plane tickets to an Italian reunion. Wipe the slate clean on this shitty week and start a new one.

This evening was rather special, though. While I had pretty much decided I would be spending the evening in a foetal position on my sofa, listening to the sounds of the wedding party from the restaurant below, my dear Ozzie friend managed to rouse me from my stupor and drag me to.... Paris Plage. It may come as a shock but I had in fact never been to Paris Plage before, having always felt too busy to go visit what I assumed was some kind of over-crowded, dingy tourist trap. And a lot of it probably is. But we managed to grab dinner at an ad hoc crêperie, our little table snuggled right up against the river with an amazing view of the sun setting over the Ile de la Cité.

So my choices were topping off a miserable week by crying myself to sleep, or drinking rosé with a friend on the river. I think I made the right choice. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Jul 21, 2009

Tic toc

6 am: Alarm rings. It's that annoying Antelope ring tone from the Blackberry, since I don't have my cool "wake up to your ipod alarm" from home. I mumble onomatopoeic curses and hit snooze.

6.10: Ditto.

6.20: Again.

6.50: Oh shit. I should really get up now.

7 am: Comfortably settled on the 1970s sofa watching BBC Breakfast on a 1980s television, with a bowl of Special K (that nice one with the red berries in it) and a similarly-sized bowl of coffee. My brain isn't completely awake yet but, from what I can tell, the news looks bad. And rainy.

8 am: Yes, I can confirm, it is raining. This is annoying as it appears I just missed my bus.

8.20: Where the hell is the bus? My new shoes are getting wet!

8.30: This is actually one of my favourite London things: riding a double-decker bus. Now if only that American woman sitting opposite wasn't so bloody shrill.

8.50: OK, so I'm a bit late this morning. The good thing is no one in this office knows who I am so I'm pretty sure they don't care.

9.30: Having fun proofreading some slides now. Aligning a couple boxes. Making sure it looks like we can spell. There we go, my value-add for the day is done. Time to call Mom.

10.30: Team "problem-solving" session. Basically this is when the partners glance at a couple slides for 30 seconds and tell us we're full of shit. Except we already knew that.

12.30: Lunch, i.e. overcooked rice trying to pass as paella and a brownie (or two) in a stuffy, windowless room. A woman at my table is conducting an in-depth analysis of the financial crisis. I wonder what she's on.

2.30 pm: Client call. I do my cheery, friendly bit where I actually act like a human and for which I have become a bit of a legend around here. I let my teammate do the content stuff. The client is happy and tells us he's now going off on a 6-week holiday. I'm literally green with envy. Maybe I need some fake tan or something.

3.30 pm: I start writing this blog post. What?! I'm entitled to a break...

Jul 19, 2009

Amicalement votre

Dear London,

I'm back. Did you miss me? Somehow I don't remember it being so cold when I saw you last. Ah well, you were always one to pull off a chill in the middle of July. I suppose it's part of your charm.

It's nice being in the old neighbourhood again, far away from the dangers of your whizzing-cabbies-center. Your quiet streets and locked-up gardens (very Frances Hodgson Burnett) are more my style.

Like you, despite my contemporary exterior I am a creature of habit and tradition. On Sunday, the classic brunch at PJs with the girls, where after 5 years I still always have the eggs florentine. The casual saunter past the shop fronts around the Bibendum (oh wait! shoes!) and the boy-talk over fruit cocktails on Fulham.

Of course, it's your French quarter I love. Don't be offended, you can take the girl out of Paris but...; well, you know how it is.

Let's you and I stay friends.

Love,

Res

Jul 17, 2009

Putting my house in order: Introducing Res Ipsa's Paris

So maybe breaking up the Definitive Guide to My Little Corner of Paris wasn't such a good idea. All those wonderful pearls of wisdom could get lost in the oyster-farm of my messy life, if I'm not careful.

To avoid this cataclysm, I have gathered it all here, and will continue updating it for your visiting pleasure.

On a totally random note, why does wisdom always come in pearls? Why not sapphires of wisdom, or diamonds of wisdom, or little cherry tomatoes of wisdom?

Jul 15, 2009

L'étendard sanglant est levé

After I left the doctor's office this morning, I held a little parade of my own down the Champs Elysees. In my mind, passers-by cheered as I brandished my double tall skinny latte. In reality, the air was filled with pungent horsey-ness and people gave me strange looks as I walked around in the baking sun in my fleece. Can't seem to get warm, lately.

Once I decided I'd walked long enough for it to qualify as exercise, I headed home, curled up on the sofa and proceeded to ignore the rest of the world as I consumed an entire season of Bones DVDs (N and P, I blame you for planting that thought in my head). There's just something about blood, gore, and barely concealed sexual tension that really works to take your mind off things. Have to find something else to do for the rest of the week, though, or my eyeballs may fall out of my head (and because they haven't released the next season yet).

Fortunately, tomorrow I get to interrupt my sick leave to go to the office for my performance evaluation. Yippee, just what the doctor ordered. At least it will get me out of the house.

On another note, seeing as I've done a lot of complaining lately, I was reminded that I had once, long ago, made a resolution to regularly list five things I'm happy about. Never one to shirk from a challenge, here are my five things:

1. I've gotten warm fuzzies from lots of people who care.
2. It's sunny.
3. David Boreanaz.
4. I have perfected the art of scrambling eggs and am now officially the world's best potential girlfriend.
5. I'm still not smoking.

Jul 11, 2009

Talk more about ME...

For years I have been obsessed (well, maybe not obsessed exactly, maybe more like "recurrently titillated") by accounts of foreigners in France. Especially Paris. I blame Hemingway.

In particular, I love it when foreigners explain the mystery that is the French(wo)man and his/her unique vision du monde. I'm not being ironic, I do actually find it eye-opening. In fact, I have a little project sous le coude that is not entirely unrelated to this issue. But more about that later.

So after the NY Times' Guide to the French, I bring you culinary author David Lebovitz's "15 Things I'd Miss About Paris If I Moved Away" (go read the detail on his blog, you'll love it):


1. The dorky sense of fashion (prevalent in a slightly older segment of the population)

2. The lack of wacky diets and exercise freaks (we love carbs and fatty cheeses)

3. Vélib' (Res confession time: I still haven't tried it, being more of a (fabulous) shoe on sidewalk kinda girl)

4. Les jeunes hommes with impossibly small waistlines (well, ummm, actually I prefer my men not to be thinner than me...)

5. The brusque-ness (yes)

6. The sense of humour (sometimes)

7. The butter (especially if employed in the making of a croissant)

8. The cheap (and drinkable) wine (obviously)

9. The lack of beating-around-the-bush (or "turning around the pot", as I like to call it; goes with the brusque-ness, if you're thinking something, just say it!)

10. You can get anything you want by flirting (in fact, sometimes the only way to get what you want is by flirting; consider it a rite of passage)

11. The volatility (for those puritan Anglos who may not have heard of it, it's called "passion"; the Spanish will know what I'm talking about)

12. Dining in restaurants (especially with cheap and drinkable wine)

13. Cafés (toujours)

14. Cutting in line (what line?)

and

15. The bakeries (ok, now I've gone and made myself hungry)

Now it's your turn. If you're a foreigner in Paris, or used to be a foreigner in Paris (interpret that how you wish), what are the things you'd miss?

SPF - Apologies for the fromage



Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
- Baz Luhrmann

I know you've been hurting, but I've been waiting to be there for you...
- Nigel Swanston, Tim Cox

Jul 9, 2009

Alpha-ville

I've always worked in a male-dominated environment. In fact, I've mostly grown up, studied and socialised in male-dominated environments as well. Sometimes it feels like my environment is so male-dominated, that even the girls are guys.

When I say male, I don't mean just physiologically having all the right bits, or being loud, brash, football-loving, beer-drinking hooligans (though sometimes they are). No, when I say male, I mean alpha-male.

As in:
Emotions are for pansies
Abuse just makes you stronger
I make all the obligatory, PC noises about work-life balance but balance is for pansies
I bring my blackberry into the delivery room
I'm on a conference call when I go into surgery
I show up to work straight from my mother's funeral
I eat pansies for breakfast

Now I have been called an "alpha-bitch" in the past (at least once that I know of, and probably several times behind my back) but in reality I'm just a big girl. It's a chronic condition, but one that's been getting more acute with age. Now I cry at work. Regularly. For stupid reasons like getting yelled at, dumped by email during a meeting or being severely sleep-deprived. I also get sick. Like now. When that happens, I end up stranded in bed with my mother's chicken soup, feeling utterly useless. And none of my team's cheerful "relax and get well soon" emails are making me feel any less useless.

Maybe I'm not so good at the alpha game. I'm pretty sure the alpha-males never feel useless. And they never get sick. Getting sick is for pansies.

Jul 5, 2009

Letters

I finally wrote a letter to my friend M today. That's post-worthy for two reasons. First, because when I say I wrote a letter, I actually mean a letter. Not a facebook message. Not an email. Not a skype-text. An actual letter with a piece of paper that I scribbled on myself, with a pen, before putting it in an envelope, licking it shut (I'd forgotten that tangy, unpleasant taste that envelopes have) and popping a stamp on it. A real 1990s experience.

The second reason for posting about my letter to M is he's the one who upped and left his law-firm life, decided to use his legal skills in the service of his country and is now at some undisclosed location in Afghanistan. This is not some big, beefy guy who enjoyed playing wargames on his Playstation and decided to try out the real thing. This guy is your typical, 30-something slightly unfit lawyer (or he was, anyway; the latest pictures seem to suggest that becoming a soldier is even more effective than shelling out for a personal trainer).

In any event, there he is, in some hot, arid place where people who don't know how incredibly funny he can be have decided they don't like him and are employing their best efforts to blow him to pieces.

Given those circumstances, I found the letter-writing a bit tricky. What do you say to someone whose daily life is now mostly filled with trying not to get killed? What exactly is the right tone? Is there an etiquette book that has a chapter on "writing war letters" that women in the 40s used as a handy reference text?

Well, M being M, and me being me, I went for funny. Hopefully that was the right call.

* * *

For fun, a few words from Emily Post on the subject of letter-writing, published in 1922:

THE ART of general letter-writing in the present day is shrinking until the letter threatens to become a telegram, a telephone message, a post-card... to-day people don’t care a bit whether they write well or ill. Mental effort is one thing that the younger generation of the “smart world” seems to consider it unreasonable to ask—and just as it is the fashion to let their spines droop until they suggest nothing so much as Tenniel’s drawing in Alice in Wonderland of the caterpillar sitting on the toad-stool—so do they let their mental faculties relax, slump and atrophy.

And to close, Ms. Post's invaluable counsel...

Of course the best advice to a young girl who is impelled to write letters to men, can be put in one word, don’t!

Jul 1, 2009

Grand Place

One of the bizarre things about this job is sometimes you come to, give your eyes a good rub, and realize you're in a completely different city than you thought you were supposed to be in.

Today, that city is Brussels.

This morning, I once again got a 7am Eurostar, this time from London to the land of the Manneken Pis for a meeting. One meeting. One day. Return to the UK scheduled in time to hit a birthday party in the evening.

But over lunch, somewhere in between my leak soup and the overcooked spaghetti, plans changed and it was decided we would stay overnight. So here I am. Spending the night in Brussels before another big client meeting tomorrow. And having packed.... absolutely nothing. (Think about that one for a while... There you go... Not ideal.)

On a positive (and rather ironic) note, though, this hotel wins the prize for nicest hotel I have stayed in in the past five weeks (out of five). A particularly big hit with me are the Magritte prints in the bedroom and the Tintin figurines in the bathroom. Two Siskel and Ebert thumbs up for the Amigo.

Jun 30, 2009

Seen on a wall in London


Stream of Un-Consciousness

Gaaaaarrrgghh - Damn alarm - Have to get up already? - Why's alarm so loud? - F***... really loud now, what's going on? - Hold on, that's not the alarm - That's the fire alarm - Why is the fire alarm on? - Is it already 5am? - Do I need to catch my train? - Wait, no, I'm in London already - Fire alarm's still on - Maybe I need to get up? - What time is it? Midnight? - OK, getting up now, have to go evacuate - Wait - Maybe shouldn't go downstairs in underwear and flimsy pj T-shirt thing - How about I put on the bathrobe - And hotel slippers - Why are hotel slippers always so big? They should make small hotel slippers - On second thought, might look a bit strange if I go downstairs in the bathrobe - OK, putting on sweatpants and fleece now - Keep the slippers, though - Do I need to take anything with me? - God, that alarm is loud - Don't know what I should take with me - Hey, how about the Blackberry? - OK, out the door now - That large man in a pink shirt is saying something and pointing - Ah, right, fire exit, thanks dude - Hmm, it's actually quite warm outside - Taking my fleece off - Oh wait, am only wearing flimsy pj T-shirt underneath - Keep fleece on, then - Wow, loads of people down here in bathrobes - They look a bit silly - Those other people must have come from the bar, they look really nice - I look like shit in my sweatpants and fleece - But better than those people in bathrobes - God, I'm tired - Hey, look at that, I took my Blackberry with me - How about a little facebook status update - Still really tired - Oh, the firemen are here now - Wonder if there's actually a fire - Not sure the Blackberry was the right thing to save, come to think of it - Why don't I use it to take some pictures, though, that will pass the time - OK, this isn't fun, can't we go inside now? - Really want to be in bed - Seriously - Let me back in - Now.

Jun 27, 2009

A Perfect Day

I woke up at 10 to my ipod, in my own bed with its satiny sheets and just-so firmness. A little after 11, I finally emerged for coffee and a bowl of cereal (Country Store, how I've missed you) while catching up on the news and my favourite blogs.

Outside, the sun was shining and it was wonderfully warm when I walked out, elbowing past the tourists taking pictures (my house has a certain notoriety) to catch five minutes with Sophie, hairdresser extraordinaire. Of course, it being the sales and all, I couldn't resist popping my head in a few shops, notably the infamous Prune which once again managed to wreak havoc on the old porte-monnaie. Don't judge me, the shoes were 40% off. And it's a disease. I swear.

Once I got the shopping out of my system (and the euros out of my bank account), I grabbed a salad and gazpacho at the Daily Monop and plopped myself down for an impromptu picnic in front of the Pompidou. This is the good life, my friends. How could I have ever considered leaving Paris?

Jun 26, 2009

Oh Goody, It's Friday

I wake up later than usual (just before 7am) feeling pretty excited about finally leaving this grotty hotel. The hotel is a different one from the one I posted about last week, and much worse, which serves me right, I suppose.

The guy comes in with my room-service breakfast (who would have thought I'd ever get sick of those?) and tries to have a chat, although it really should have become clear after 5 days of this routine that grunting is about as much conversation as I can manage before my third cup of coffee.

Once he finally gives up and leaves I turn on BBC Breakfast. This is when I find out Michael Jackson died, and it sort of throws my whole day off, to be honest. It's like realizing this is going to become one of those "Where were you when..." events, and you'll actually have to remember this dingy hotel room with those awful floral-print curtains forever.

Which explains why I'm still a bit shell-shocked when I finally wheel my suitcase into the office, but apparently no one at BM cares so I get over it and conduct yet another client interview. And I have to say, I'm pretty good at these, and by the end of the half hour Janice is putty in my hands. There's even an outside chance she might name her new puppy Res. Great puppy name.

I break up the rest of the day's slide-producing monotony with a quick Itsu frozen yogurt run, some blackberry messengering with an OBT friend, and Wimbledon streaming in the background, until it's finally time to go home. And that's when I have a serious "OH F***!" moment, as I drop my ring into the locked confidential papers bin. I burst into tears and a few minutes later there are three people fluttering around explaining how "the young lady lost her engagement ring". I don't correct them, in case it makes them sort it out faster. It doesn't. Apparently I need to wait until Monday.

So despite my eagerness at finally getting a couple days at home, I'm pretty grumpy when I climb into the Eurostar. Especially because my eternal hope that I'll meet a hot, bilingual guy in the train is once again dashed as I realize I'm seated by myself. Eurostar should seriously consider running a little dating service on the side for some extra cash, especially for its Business Class passengers. All those people travelling to and fro across the channel for work surely have lots in common, and it would make for a much more entertaining trip. Granted, if you and your date don't click, 2h15 can be a bit long, but maybe they could have an eject button or something.

I'm telling you, there's a great business idea in there somewhere...

Jun 23, 2009

Not-quite-lean consulting: A typical start

[The following is based on real events that have occurred repeatedly over the last 10 months, though some liberties have been taken for half-hearted humourous effect...]

Day 1, 9:05 AM: I've just joined the team, I'm smiling and shaking hands and desperately trying to come up with a mnemonic device to remember everyone's names. Which is when Important BM Guy tells me it would be very useful to The Team if I interviewed some people to get their thoughts on This General Sort of Thingie.

"This General Sort of Thingie...?", I inquire, hoping to get some clarification.

None is forthcoming, other than the fact that the first of the interviews starts in 5 minutes. No time for a second latte, then.

Day 1, Interviews 1-3:

Res: "Hi, I'm Res. I'm working with Important BM Guy and we'd really like to get your input on This General Sort of Thingie."

Interviewee Dude: "Well, that's a pretty vast topic, anything in particular you want to discuss?"

Res: "Well, ummm, we're just really keen to hear your thoughts on what you believe is critical when it comes to This General Sort of Thingie" (i.e., this is my first day, I have no idea what I'm talking about, please don't give me a hard time...)

Interviewee Dude: "Ah, OK. In that case [insert random brain dump here]."

Day 1, rather later than I would like: After 3 interviews, those large, highly productive neurons I was hired for have managed to identify key themes and points of interest in the quagmire of random brain dumps. So, eager beaver me types up a beautiful list of insightful questions and emails it to Important BM Guy, cc: Rest of Team, to see if we're all on the same page before the next round of interviews.

No one emails back.

Fast forward to beginning of Week 2: By now, I've conducted many interviews (and have mostly managed to stifle some very loud yawns), drafted detailed interview notes, and gone through several artistic iterations of powerpoint slides summarizing all this stuff.

Which is when Important BM Guy steps back in to the picture.

Important BM Guy: "What's this shit?" (tact not being one of Important BM Guy's key strengths)

Res: "Ummm, it's the results of those interviews you asked me to do". [sotto voce: "Dumass."]

Guy: "But it doesn't talk about Three Super Specific Never Previously Mentioned Points."

Res: "Err, no..."

Guy: Audible sigh

Res: "So.... you want me to call all these guys back and do the interviews again?"

Guy: Smirk, accompanied by one raised eyebrow.
Clearly he assumes my question is rhetorical. By now, I should know better.

Jun 20, 2009

A Week in Review

Monday: I wake up at 5am to catch the 7.13 Eurostar to London. For the first hour of the journey, I try to be good and look at colourful slides on the pharma industry. When my eyes start glazing over I give up and watch 2 episodes of Damages, trying to figure out who the Glenn Close character most reminds me of.

Bleary-eyed, I walk into my team's "kick-off" meeting already wishing the day was over. We do the obligatory tour de table description of personality type / development goals / team norms and then get to the substance. Which is when I realize everybody's talking in molecule names and I'm in big, big trouble.

Tuesday: I discover Itsu at lunch. I fall in love with Itsu. Especially that low-fat Japanese duck soup. I decide that maybe in my future reincarnation I could be opening up Itsu branches all over Paris.

Wednesday: We have a big work dinner to celebrate a team member's rise to partnership. The guy is my age, happily married, and loaded, and he keeps complaining about how he only managed to squeeze in two 10Ks and one karate training this week. This is probably meant to impress, but I can't help thinking it's sad that he feels it would be so shameful to pass for just a regular guy.

Thursday: I get into work early, after only 4hrs of sleep, because I've been asked to "get comfortable" with some scary-looking financial model the manager's decided to dump on my lap. Turns out this model, built by a small army of junior consultants with geeky engineering degrees, has several major errors in it and I get yelled at because I don't catch them all within the first half hour. Give me a break, it's not quite "Where's Waldo"...

Friday: INSEAD party time, something I've been looking forward to all week. When I get there, a friend of mine who's also working at BM tells me he quit that very afternoon. Although I knew he'd been unhappy, the news throws me because he's one of the most serious, ambitious guys I know. To be honest, I'm a bit jealous.

Later, during a tearful chat on the rooftop terrace, my friend Banker Girl tells me that girls like us are destined to remain stuck in high-status, high-stress jobs that make us miserable, because we'll never be satisfied with anything else. One third of me is sad that my friend is feeling so low, one third is worried she might be right, and the final third wants to slap her. Instead, I grab a taxi back to the hotel. Inside I'm reeling, I want to go home, and I wish the Boy was here.

Saturday: The blues (or Audrey's reds) are still with me when I wake up this morning, so I head over to the park for a run. Seeing as I haven't exercised in longer than I'd like to remember, the run does not go well, but at least I'm moving. Then I go cheer myself up at the bookstore, and pick up one of the Penguin notebooks so I can scribble this post from a nearby Starbucks. And I take my time, too, since there's a Tamil protest keeping me from crossing the street back to my hotel.

So that was my week, folks. Let's see how the next one goes.

Jun 16, 2009

Dis-connected

Part of me feels my time would be better spent writing about Iran, but it's probably best I leave that to the better-informed and focus on what I'm good at: complaining about my own, lesser trials.

Yesterday, I became a true consultant. Not because I finally cracked the mystery of the perfect powerpoint slide, but because I too experienced the joys of setting the alarm before what can reasonably be called "morning", having your fourth cup of coffee before 8am and trying to make a hotel room your home.

Which brings me to what I want to complain about: friendly but over-priced, badly designed hotels.

My current establishment is one of those places that tries too hard, with marble and gold fittings a-gogo, and a bathroom decked out in mirrors so that you can watch yourself pee from 25 different angles at once. But it falls very short on a few essentials. For example, the wardrobe could easily fit two dozen ballgowns, but has only one shelf, that I can only reach by standing on a chair. The lights are controlled by a snazzy one-touch-button gadget, which means you can't turn on the reading lamp without turning on the 10 glaring spotlights in the ceiling as well. Sort of defeats the purpose of a reading lamp, if you ask me. But what really takes the biscuit is that this 5-star hotel has somehow managed to be the only location in all of London without any cell-phone reception of any kind, anywhere.

I even tried wandering around the back staircase in my pyjamas, waving my blackberry above my head like a mobile antenna on speed. I probably looked a bit silly.