niveau cinq, here we are

mai 29, 2010

1. i’ve vaguely planned to skip class one night. but i find myself heading there from work, by inertia – even this thursday, when i was running late (one of the cooks had an accident, it was a slightly hectic afternoon even for a thursday, people running around like headless chicken) i got out of the forum after 5.30, and…where was i gonna go? i had obvious answers, less obvious ones, i had a bit of a pressure to write at the back of my mind…could have walked in the park, or got a sorbet/coffee in a cafe and tried to write…but then i went to the metro stop. oblivious. book in hand.

2. things i do/have done during class: writing cards. reading the newspaper/book. rereading a draft. looking up words in the dictionary. drinking coffee – i can’t go through 4 hours without coffee. i can’t go through a thick 4hour wall of ANYTHING without a coffee probably. but mostly, when i come to think of it, in all honesty, i primarily do this: speak french with people. do exercises in french. i think the goals are being met. i’ve been a member of the school system for so long, it’s with relief that i plunge into the slavery – there’s this class to go to. things will add up in time. i’m going.

3. and yes, i am the best in my class, at least technically. one explanation for this might be that i asked to be placed one level below? maybe but who cares. as long as i don’t score 100% on grammar and dictation for this level, and especially speaking-wise, as long as there are people in my class more fluent and more at ease with the language than me, even with erreurs – i am in the right place. of course i have to be aware of, and try to get amusedly detached from, my competitive obsession. it’s… never come in useful, except for massaging my ego for 2,5 seconds and then immediately awakening me to shame. nobody cares that you can spell almost correctly, carmen.

4. on niveau 5 we still have textbooks, and my classmates mostly know eachother already because some have been together through levels 1-4. so it’s a classic ‘new kid in class’ scenario. except they’re not kids. and this is not school-school. it’s the, honestly, hard school of living, etc. people come to classes from work. people work making shoes, making blinds for windows, cooking, making wrappings for presents, driving moving vans. people yell at each other in spanish over desks. people complain, ask and answer basic questions, are kind to each other, help you change your banknote, keep you a spot in the coffee line. offer you popcorn. save handouts for you. i’ve never felt unwelcome or uneasy here – i’ve felt at points overwhelmingly sad.

5. before april ’10, i hadn’t felt an immigrant in canada. go figure, i actually, legally, am not : i’m an immigrant wannabe, at most. but the wannabe part is important.

6. my french school is not everything i’d wanted, not what i’d dreamed. the first two days i was choked with fury against the anglos…for being so blatantly absent. componence of my class: 90% hispanic. one russian girl. one neo-zeelander who came here to be with her quebecois boyfriend. (after one month of classes, and walking home with her because we live close, i’ve still NEVER heard this girl, caro, speak english. in this sense, maybe my french school IS  what i’d dreamed.) somebody suggested that maybe francization is only for non-canadians, but it can’t be true, because my friend sonia z. took these classes 4?5? ys ago. it’s that they can’t be bothered. honestly.

7. we speak french at breaks. and after classes. if i met one of them in the street, hell if i met one of them in calgary, we’d speak french. it’s like swimming and then realizing if you tried to touch the ground now you’d drown. the conversational things i found out about these people, i got them through our mutually imperfect french. some of them don’t even have the english as a possible crutch. THAT is brave. working as a dishwasher when you have a whole load of degrees is not brave. i repeat myself.

8. so, no love and gushing passion, but maybe i am past that age after all. i respect my francization course, admire how it’s helping people, like and admire and respect my classmates, and try to work with it in my way. boring, i know. my prof said in about one year , if i get the pesky equivalences solved, i could teach french in a centre like this. they need teachers – and i can understand why.


something borrowed, something blue

mai 18, 2010

1. cynthia has a blue sofa, in the livingroom space, right under a narrow window. i always think of it as primarily „why we could possibly entertain the idea of having guests over”, i.e. the place is tiny but that is where i’d sleep if i had to give my bed to someone. it’s a short sofa, a two-seat, but satisfyingly soft and has big arms so i’m sure something can be done about that, with the help of a pillow and a couple of blankets. anyway, i’ve pretty much taken over the sofa, i.e. when i’m not in my room i’m there (err, it’s literally a two steps’ distance, but okay) with my laptop or my current book or the annoying weekly „voir”. you like the sofa?, cynthia said – i got it from someone for free.

it’s probably pretty old, not battered really, but well-worn, in a good way. there’s a splash of droplets of …glue, i suspect, down the back. the color is intense and at the same time sort of warm/calm. hey maybe it’s turquoise really, not pure blue anyway, and it’s not like i’m an expert in these things. my story about this sofa is that i’m painting it.

i.e. i’m making a picture/painting of ‘our’ blue sofa. cynthia had canvas and colors, and she paints, so whatever. we started this painting session thing together at some point last month, and i’m three or four sittings in, so now, in a very post-anything gesture, we hung the not-really-finished painting on the wall above the sofa. i do like it. i like having to mix my blue with a bit of yellow (i told you maybe it was turquoise? no??) and i get color all over myself. there are lots of thoughts i’m letting myself drift into while at it : about art vs. copying vs. whatever; how we choose our subjects; how my drawing/painting parallels my writing process. how in my picture it’s a sunny day, with the sofa empty, light washing through the window and the leaves of a plant suspended above it, luminous almost fluorescent. how it looked like that almost from the first, with only tiny details adding up…and i still don’t know what more to do to actually get it finished.

2. i saw a blue bag in a shop window and wanted it for about three weeks before i bought it. for people who don’t know, i used to buy my bags from secondhands, or just ‘get them’ from people, that kind of hand-me-downs. i have used a lot of bags in my time (necessarily big to fit all my books and manuscripts and papers and occasional forza flakes:) and kilos of apples or, sometimes fatally, yogurts etc. yay teaching, and yay being an essential migrant once i’m out of the door) but i think only one was a serious/bought new bag that i liked. and i bought it on a shopping trip with my mum, so it doesn’t even matter.

anyway – i’m not a backpack person, i can’t make it work. maybe it’s the traditional in me, =/or some subconscious wish to imitate mum well, at least in this one tiny aspect. handbag, medium to big pretty classic looking, medium length handles, zippers, compartments. all i have for excitement in the bag department is color.

this one is a FaFa bag. i mean i couldn’t care less about brands and stuff, but it’s probably an improvement from chinese store merchandise on comm. drive – yes? no? i window-shopped so much within my first month in montreal, when i had no place-job-money…i saw it in a store by the metro peel entrance, in les cours mont-royal, and it was on sales or something. 40 bucks. i do ocasionally spend money on objects-that-are-not-food, but the predominant thought was, why? it was just so random. just something beautiful, but not even extravagant enough, staring back at my greed and my lack of decision-making skills.

i bought it out of my first big paycheck. it was a sunny day off, with nothing special to do. i brought it home and hung it on the handle to my closet door. you know, „i have a real bag now” – as if it’s a step towards having real pants, interview clothes, a real job, a personal dentist, an esthethicienne, holidays skiing somewhere, going out for dinner at least once a week. no i don’t feel (i still don’t feel) i’m missing out on anything, but sometimes i just get so tired to count/calculate every damn cenne.

but since i still have to count my money (daily; automatically), i’ve introduced the „blue bag unit”: my normal work over schedule/week = 0,5 blue bag; or: now i earn 7 or 8 more blue bags/month than i was in vancouver; my tax return money = 6 blue bags. i would pay 1,5 blue bag for a dress this summer, but that’s as far as i’d go.


feminism 101: questions

mai 3, 2010

soooo i wash dishes in a restaurant, okay? lemme tell you about some things i’m thinking of on the job

so i went to apply, one month ago already. while waiting to be interviewed i talked to a girl who works there as a cook. she said, ‘honey, apply as a server, they don’t hire women as dishwashers here. and anyway you’re too beautiful’. (i mean yeah, if server was my dream job maybe i could see how washing dishes would be below me. i am choosing to solve this pride issue by going for the lowest possible position.)  [carmen’s commentary to her last sentence: „that’s what she said.”]

so i got hired.  yeah i’m the only girl dishwasher in the whole joint. i work with men at the dishwashing machine on the night shift and/or i work alone, but surrounded by bussboys and cooks on the day shift. the only other woman in there, sometimes, is the girl cook i mentioned above. yes there are a lot of hostesses etc, but they just pass by, ocassionally scrunching their noses.

now for my 2, related but distinct, problems: 1) as a woman, i am physically weaker than men; 2) as a woman, i am apparently someone who men will at some point try to approach (which i still don’t get, but alright). THERE IS NO EQUALITY. NO PRETENCE, NO SEMBLANCE, NOT ANYTHING OF EQUALITY. i don’t understand how the various undercurrents that function in these places balance eachother. i’m just trying to stay out of trouble (with moderate success so far) and do my job (ditto). except it’s not like any other job, forget that bullshit. i should know how it’s different from teaching, and i’ll expand that to office jobs – as for academia…shrug. it’s because it’s a physical job.

(why am i even talking about this?)

1) i get paid by the hour. everyone does. i do the same work my male co-workers have to do. except it soooo does not take a scientist to figure out that it’s unfair. because either i will take longer to complete my shift, or i will work less. i have been, am, doing my best, and am in good health and can lift and carry and push and maneouver things, yay me. and on a couple of days i solved the timing discrepancy by having lunch break ONLY AFTER i punched out, although i had the right to include my break in my working time. it just seemed the right thing to do. now how to stop that from bothering me, though?

2) i get helped. i mean, being helped is not new for me. an air of innocent cluelessness/ out-of-placeness will elicit help from people. help from men who ask for your phone number at the same time as they mop the floors for you…a little different, oops. and saying oh, that’s kind of you but no, nope, no way in this world you’re getting anything in return but god’s eternal grace…is not entirely satisfying, neither does it entirely solve the problem. no matter how upfront i am, i will still coast on my gender/(looks? oh god) as much as i’m coasting on the payment system.

so the feminist solution would be to find a job that can be done by a woman? i’m asking sincerely, not maliciously. because i think what actually attracted me to the idea of dishwashing is its purely physical component. (i told someone i didn’t want to be a waitress because i refuse to smile politely at people who haven’t earned it.)

but it’s also a bit like my stubborness re: living in north america. i want to do what i can’t do. i want it bluntly and obsessively. it’s not a matter of growth, personal development or becoming, or being yourself. i want things that i am stopped from having, by my gender, place of birth etc. like, BECAUSE  i am a peasant romanian i want to be a hipster. BECAUSE i am clumsy and have been declared lazy throughout my childhood etc i’m having a spike of craving strength and deftness.

and i’m going through the motions. i’ve been going through so many motions these days/months, remodelling my life to this incredible extent. i just keep in mind that some of my aims are of the kind that lead to shortcircuit.

but some days it’s fun, and some people read and label what’s on display – in the good way, i mean. one afternoon while i was yelling at the frying pans and singing leonard cohen out loud,  one of the cooks, erik, suddenly : „carmen!” -„what!” – „you’re still a girl.” – „well, yea…” – „don’t change!”

no worries there.


weather report (4 seasons in one week)

mai 3, 2010

people: this city is craaaazy.

so i wake up on tuesday, right? april 27. i’d worked the previous night, and walked home from mont-royal, pleasant spring weather/normal if a bit windy. hahaha i look on the window and do a double-triple take. SNOW coming down like apocalypse, nah not really: snow just coming down gently, steadily, like the most natural thing in the world. it had been falling for some time, okay it was noon, lay off my sleeping patterns, and settled down in a pretty serious way. i think i screamed. cynthia was home bc she’d canceled her morning appointment, so we just moped around the house having late brunch and whining about global warming. then she went out to work, it was my day off so i went to the buanderie (for me the buanderie-frequenting is a solid weekly ritual wherein i  catch up on women’s mags in french and chat in french with the soap lady about how i STILL don’t know how to use the machines). surprise, it wasn’t really cold. i mean what do i know, it has to be sort-of-cold for the snow to not melt, right? but the whole thing looked somehow cheerful in its ridiculousness. in the evening cynthia came home, got herself some movies and chocolate and refused to leave the house again, so i went out alone to see a tiny music show. (it was a stalking job: i’m trying to convince this serbian-russian girl ksenija to become my friend. sssh.) in the dark, and still snowing, it looked a bit like a storm – windier than daytime, and especially from inside of a ‘bulgakov’-like bar, with ginger cinnamon tea, listening to voices+guitar. also it got slushy and annoying as i returned home and it must have kept going waaay into the night.

fast-forward through the week, the next day the snow was almost gone except some patches in the shade, and 15 degrees and sunny. back to sunglasses and dresses, then yesterday a very sudden, brief and energetic rain, summer-like. then today i did absolutely nothing (but made 2 phonecalls) because i was free and we had food (yesterday i cooked my first chicken! and i got a dedication from cynthia on the radio, on „whadaya want from me”- „elle tripe sur adam, le chanteur” she told her DJ friend, and i squealed to confirm). anyway, today. so in the evening i thought i’d go out for a walk and because i knew it was warm i thought i’d change from my leather jacket to the lighter one. hahahaha so i got out in t-shirt+jacket and you don’t even know how quickly i got back inside. IT IS LIKE A SAUNA. ok, 27 degrees, yahoo says, but fuck that, it’s humid and it was hard to breathe. ok, back out in a tank top, and after about half an hour, i.e. at 8.30 it actually became bearable, then pleasant. right now i’m inside on the sofa but i can see the people downstairs sitting on their balcony with candles/drinks. if i go into my room i can even hear them, and i’m under the distinct impression that they’re having a heart-to-heart, so there. (i. on the other hand, am a bit pissed, bc i was trying to meet someone for lunch and due to my fucked-up daily schedule we can only make it 2 weeks from now. whatever, montreal – what-ever…)