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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More tales from the city

This post actually predes the ones about my trip to Loches. I wrote it but didn't get a chance to post it last week.

It is Saturday night. I am in the living/dining room after a delicious dinner cooked by Laurent, Marina, and Hasha. Laurent is one of the only ones patient enough to work with Marina , and it is a pleasure to see how he interracts with her. He is such a kind and thoughtful person. And he and Hasha have recently paired off, as have Miryam and Gorka. And Pablo and Irene were a couple even before they arrived here, which it took me a while to realize. I wonder where these relationships will go, if anywhere, after the project ends.

The only problem here tonight , which is a big one, is that I am not supposed to be here at all, but rather at my old college friend Marie’s house for the weekend, about three hours to the south of Paris. But when I got to the train station I discovered that there were no more Eurail pass tickets available. So much for the ease and convenience of a rail pass. The woman at the ticket window, very nice, explained that they only reserve a certain number of tickets for pass holders. So I made a reservation for tomorrow am instead. I’ve called and left Marie messages, but haven’t heard back, and am afraid she didn,t get them and went to the station. Not sure how far the train station is from her house. But I feel terrible.

Meanwhile, the house is in full party mode here. It’s 10 :30 and I have a feeling things are just warming up. Paul is at the bar with rum and coconut milk, and, I think, whipped cream, and some kind of drinking game is going on with lots of cheering and picture taking. I’m being an old fogey typing away here in the corner. And since I wasn’t planning to be here, Gorka and Miryam had planned to use my little room for the weekend. I don’t mind, except that I have to get up early and it might be hard to get any sleep anytime soon.

Let me backtrack and talk a bit about Marina, which I had done before but then lost when I lost the internet a couple of days back and hadn’t saved what I’d written often enough, I guess :

Marina is an 18 year old French member of the group. She has some behavior problems, and is very unfocused and uncontrolled. It is very hard to be patient with her, and she gets on most everyone’s nerves. There is a very positive side to her, too, in that she is very enthusiastic, often gleeful, about just about everything. A couple of days ago she was particularly wild and was driving us all crazy. At lunch, Laurent brought the situation up, in Marina’s presence. It was difficult for him to do, and very uncomfortable for everyone, and I can hardly imagine what it must have felt like for Marina. She does seem aware of her difficulties, and relatively okay talking about them. It came up that she had forgotten to take her medications, and she said she would make sure to remember. We’ll see. Meanwhile, I interviewed her yesterday for the FDH blog, as I have been everyone in the mosaic group, and found out some interesting things by talking a bit more to her. But she is still driving me, and all of us, crazy.

It is a part of these volunteer organizations’ philosophy to incorporate people with disabilities into the programs, which in theory I very much support, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. When I volunteered in Romania a few years ago, there were two Italian volunteers with Down Syndrome, along with their chaperone. Neither she nor they spoke a word of English, and it first seemed like it was going to be a real challenge to communicate with them But by the end of the project, they were communicating just fine with everyone, and especially with the children. I would say it was a valuable experience for everyone.

Last night after dinner most all of us went to an art exhibit that Paul knew about, about grafitti art. Paul is a neighborhood worker, and speaks caringly and proudly about « his » teenagers. Two of the teens, who hang out with us frequently, came with us to the exhibit. On the escalator on the metro, Gorka apparently turned around to give Mirjam a kiss. But it wasn’t Mirjam, but one of the boys, who was behind him, and whom he actually kissed ! I unfortunately missed the event. But Gorka and the teen were both rather embarrassed, and Gorka had to put up with an awful lot of kidding the rest of the evening.

The exhibit was quite interesting. It was actually several hundred spray paint cans, each individually designed by, I assume, a grafitti artist. They were from all over the world, including most of the countries the volunteers are from. They ranged from very abstract designs to several that had crocheted covers, to ones that were crushed and/or made into different kinds of shapes. The only thing that puzzled me was that decorating a small can seems the antithesis of the broad strokes of grafitti art.

After the exhibit Paul said he wanted to take us to « his » bar, which was in the same neighborhood. We walked a few blocks, past quite a few bars, to Paul’s bar, the name of which I didn’t get or don’t remember. It had a Carribean ambience and was owned by folks from Martinique. ’

I asked Paul for a suggestion of a special drink. He said « planteurs » and it took me a few seconds to realize he was talking about planter’s punch. I did order one and it was indeed good, served from a huge and unusually shaped punch bowl . After I gave four or five people a taste, they ordered a liter, which the bartender served from the punch bowl into a plastic liter juice bottle. Definitely unpretentious.

One the way home we passed quite a few small bars. The quartier was lively but not rowdy, actually had quite a nice feel to it. Paul said the neighborhood is known for its small inexpensive bars and music of many different kinds. It is his favorite part of the city and he hopes to sell his apt. and buy something in that area, around Oberkampf metro. I was surprised to hear he owned his apt. He said he doesn’t need a lot of money to live on, and has been saving money since he was fifteen. He’s 27 now, but can’t make too much as a community worker. I know his current building was designed by Eiffel, but is in an area of business workers where he doesnt feel comfortable. Of course my immediate reaction was to think I’ll buy your apt ! I didn’t say it to him though. Yet.

Well, I suppose I should write something about the mosaic project. It continues to go well, and I am not only enjoying it but feel really lucky to have the opportunity to learn these techniques. I think everyone in the group feels the same way. One of the volunteers asked me today to ask Giselle if it would be possible to come back and study with her . Giselle basically said that she was already too committed to too many projects. It just made me, all of us I think, realize how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.

We have finished the first of the seven panels, and are close to finishing the three others we’ve been working on. But we still have three more, and only one week, to go. It is important to all of us to finish by the end of the project, and some of us may wind up working extra hours next week, I would be willing to, and so would Natalya, not sure about the others. But I think one way or another we will get it done.

Today we grouted the finished panel. It was fun to do, and really satisfying to see it done. Giselle put colored grout on a wooden panel, and we laid the tiled piece with the netting background on top. She used two colors of grout, a green for the lower part and gray for the upper. She said they would lighten and blend at the transition as the grout dried. I thought it looked wonderful already. The grout totally changed the look of the piece.

The best part was pressing the tiles down, causing the grout to ooze up between. Then we gently sponged the extra grout off the tiles. Caress the tiles, said Giselle, gently, like you would caress a man. Next week we’ll give the tiles a second cleaning, with alcohol.

My writing just got interrupted by Pablo’s birthday celebration. He turns 20 today. (Saturday, it’s just after midnight). Eider and Prune(it means plum in French) baked him a cake and hid it from him all day. They brought it out and we all started singing to him, in Spanish, English, French, Korean, Armenian, Russian. Only problem, no Pablo. After six languages someone went to wake him up.

Well, time to sign off. No sign of things winding down here, although some people are talking about going out to a bar. Gorka and Mirjam have very nicely given me back my room for tonight. Although I was planning to just sleep elsewhere, I am very grateful, because it is unusually wild around here tonight. Marina hardly stands out in the crowd.

Bon nuit !

Conversation tidbit from the dinner table a few days ago:

Monika (Czech R. ) Who make this ?
Natalya (Russia) I
Monika : You give me recette.
Natalya ;( chuckles) I improvise.

The funny thing is that this is probably a typical conversation ; I just don’t usually notice the broken but wonderful English.

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