JBAF: October 2007

October 1, 2007

I had an interesting little excursion this last weekend. I had planned on making it completely spontaneous so I'd have a fun adventure to write about, but unfortunately, it wasn't a whole lot of fun. I kept a little journal throughout, and during this blog post I’ll insert excerpts indicated with some “quotation marks.”

It started out at the train station. I bought a ticket to Marseille, because that's where the main trains run through. My ticket said 12:40...  1:30, still no train. Huh? I go ask the guy inside who speaks English: Oh, that's a bus, not a train. You can take the next one at 2.

Oh, okay. I buy a ticket at a train station and somehow get a ticket for a bus; whatever. So I take the bus to Marseille and then buy a ticket to a place called Cavaillon because it sounds like there could've been a castle or something there way back in the day. Anyway, I get a ticket that tells me nothing: what train, what time, blah blah, so I go find another English speaking employee guy (gotta love the easy ways out) and he tells me take the one headed in the direction of Avignon (another big station like Marseille). I look at a map of the tracks and it looks like you just on hop on the train going in your general direction and get off at your stop.

So I get on the bus… Sleep a little, and write a little: here I sit in a nice, smooth, French train riding to a city called Cavaillon… The gloomy clouds above make the green fields and trees I’m passing glow, along with the wild sheep and random lakes I’m seeing.  Here are some random cottages in the fields, a river, a warehouse, a trashed trailer park… There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the beauty of either nature or man. Living in France, all I can ever think about when looking at an old cathedral or field like this, is what it must have been like back in the Medieval or Renaissance eras, when the legends and stories I’m so fond of were being spawned.

Oops, I miss my stop. Why? Because they don’t utilize the scrolling marquee in each car that could easily read out the name of the next stop for the travelers listening to the new A Wilhelm Scream album at full blast in their headphones, instead of calling it out in a quiet French voice of which few people can hear (or understand). I feel somewhat guilty listening to my American punk music here amidst this beauty, but then I realize I wouldn’t be here without it, so I pay my respect to the lyrics that opened my eyes… I’m passing through a forest-y type set of mountains, and am beginning to worry if this random destination game was a bad idea. It looks like it will rain, and if somehow I don’t end up at a city, I may be sitting on a rock in the rain all night. I have enough caffeine with me to get me through a sleepless night without problem, but it’s the matter of the lack of activity that will get to me. Hopefully, with the patience living in France has grown in me, I will be okay. I hope it does not rain. The girl across from me has a scarf over her face as she gets off. Wonderful… Merde. There’s nowhere to even walk if I get out right now, it’s all trees!… Music off while I gather my wits and think. It’s almost 5pm, and if I’m not mistaken the trains don’t go all night, so I need to figure this out. I could go back, but that’d be a waste of the money I spent getting here if I don’t even get to see a city. So forget that. If anything, I can sit on a bench at a train station all night. I have food, pen, paper, vitamins, books… I’ll be okay…

I get off at the next stop instead, thankful that the conductor didn’t decide to check tickets, at some place I forget it’s name. Sur D’isle Something Long Something. It was a nice little small town with a Center of Town, which is what I wanted since I planned on staying up all night. I walked around and checked out the town, but I realized I wouldn’t have enough to keep me occupied until the train station opened. So after a round or two or walking through the small town, I headed back to the train station and got a ticket to Avignon. Another castle sounding place and familiar sounding as well.

I arrive in Avignon and walk around a bit: I thought I’d found the one place more ghetto than Marseille, but then left the train station area and found that it was a nice town, actually. I heard quite a bit of English on the walk over to Centre Ville, which discouraged me since I left to immerse myself in French. I walked around for a bit, as all the stores were closing, and realized there would be very little, very little indeed, for me to do on a Sunday afternoon when all the shops were closed for their Christian rest. I know I wouldn’t be able to study having had no sleep, so that means I have to study my French tonight, isntead. I bought some bread, nutella, and jam for when I need sustenance (or just something to do) later in the night.  There was a movie playing at 8, called “99f,” so I decided to buy a ticket- 6.50euros, a bargain! I thought it’d be a comedy, but I was very wrong.

It was actually a great commentary on advertising and such in the corporate world, drug use, and overall bullshit your life will eventually steep into without some care and thought. I wish I knew French cinema better- it was almost like a French Fight Club or Requiem for a Dream, but not at all. Very amazing visual effects and some amazing ways of visualizing drug trips. The cocaine trips the director visualized were incredible, I’d never seen anything like them in film before. They were probably even more intense to me than everyone else in the audience because I didn’t really know what was truly going on for a majority of the film. I obviously got the jist of it, the message, and all that, but I’m sure it had some amazing dialogue that hopefully one day I’ll understand perfectly. When the main character did LSD, that was something else. It went from blurry live action to almost animé, cartoon style, back to live action, to some other style… It was insane.  You see him run over people, knock cops off their bikes in the cartoon, but then you’re not sure if it actually happened when it goes back to the live action… I honestly can’t explain it, but I would have to say (without any real experience to lean on) that was the probably the most accurate visualization of a hardcore drug trip I’ve seen in a film before. The LSD trip was even better for me afterwards (again), because when they explained it (in French), I still didn’t know what really happened! It made it quite a mystery to me.

After the first, very very sad ending that had me in tears, the credits stop and an alternate ending plays! Much more happy and much more encouraging, and we basically see what the main character has learned and blah blah. It also had me in tears. So the movie ends, and I walk outside. And guess what? It’s pouring rain! Fantastic, said I.

So then I went to a bar to kill sometime. It was very awkward being without friends, drinking Perrier, writing in a green notebook that says “Mr. Nice Guy.” Oh well. They started playing dance music and dimmed the lights so I left. I forget what I did then… Oh yeah, I went to McDonalds.

Buying a cheeseburger and McFlurry allowed me to kill about an hour and a half until they closed. The guy spoke English too, wonderful.  I turned my cellphone on at this point, because I felt I was owed some human contact since it was raining and this was not going to be a fun night. I call my friend Holly and explain to her all that happened and she looks at the train station website- One goes to Marseille at midnight!

Well, only according to the website. That train decided not to run tonight, I guessed. I stayed there for a while and bought a ticket straight to Aix on the TGV for nine in the morning. I walked back to the city to where I saw a bum sleeping in a dry area, and made camp. It was light, somewhat warm with no wind blowing in, and dry. After getting off the phone with Mom, I wrote some more.

(I did look for a Hostel or cheap Hotel, I wasn’t letting myself just bum it out so I could feel sorry for myself… But I couldn’t find the Hostel and the hotels were all like 60euros for the night, and that wasn’t worth it since I wouldn’t have even been able to hang out and watch TV or something throughout the evening. I knew I’d be fine not sleeping a night, it’d been done before.)

Well, now we have thunder and lightning, too… Just seven more hours to go…

Then something somewhat interesting happened between 1 and 4 AM: It’s 4am now, just five more hours to kill. I was laying down, chilling, drawing, reading, eating nutella and baguette, trying not to sleep, when some black guy came up to me and asked me something about sleeping. I told him I didn’t live here, I was waiting for a train, blah blah, it leaves at nine. He said something about 3 hours that I didn’t quite catch, and then said “bonne chance” and left. Whatever. Then like 10 minutes later he came back and told me to come with him to his place until 4; the hour at which he had to work and when the train station opened again. I said ok (he wasn’t very threatening) and he lead me to his place.

He told me how he liked Avignon, he was from Madagascar, and he was a security guard. Inside his flat, he had four kittens and basically nothing else. A bike, a bed folded against the wall, a desk and a table. He told me he was a Muslim, so he couldn’t have dogs or something. I assumed he was a serious Muslim by the simple way of life he seemed to live. He didn’t say much… I tried starting conversation with the few things I could say, but it didn’t get very far. I sat there playing with his cats for a while until he said it was 4 and the train station was open and he had to work. Interesting hour I spent.

I’m not sure what the Christian world is supposed to have against Muslims anymore, because so far the nicest people I’ve met on this trip have been Muslim and nicer than any Christians I’ve met, to be sure.

I buy a sandwich, and write some more of the short story I started at some train station earlier….

7h30… So close, yet so far. Ephedrine + Caffeine = me right now. Drinking coffee at Irish Pub in station. Fell asleep in 3 minute intervals on bench outside in front of the trains. Excited to get home. Not excited to walk from TGV Station to Centre Ville.

Now, Holly claimed that her friend Katie lived near the TGV Station in Aix and it wouldn’t be too far of a walk to town; no more than an hour. The buses were closed on Sundays, so this is why I had chosen to go to Aix instead of Marseille, because I wouldn’t be able to walk from Marseille to Aix. But that’s coming up.

Some old man from Morocco started talking to me on the bench. He thought I was German or English because of my accent. He asked me some questions and he talked very clearly and slowly so it was nice actually understanding him. He told me something about my ticket to Aix that was completely wrong… But I wasn’t about to argue with him.

So I arrive in Aix via the TGV. The TGV is the highspeed train going all throughout France and some other parts of Europe. It was very very fast and very very smooth. I begin to walk alongside the freeway to get to Centre Ville (the cab driver said 35euros to get there- I don’t think so), when Holly calls me and says there’s a bus that goes from the station to Centre Ville 10 minutes after each train arrives- even on Sundays! So I retrace my steps the mile or so down the freeway I’d walked, and found that bus and took it back. By the time I returned, I was basically hallucinating from being so tired. I managed to make it home and take a shower before lying in bed for about two hours before not being able to sleep anymore. Weird how that works. I was very refreshed.

So that was my adventure for Saturday and Sunday. It wasn’t a lot of fun, but go ahead everyone- tell me how I still learned something and it was still an experience. Now I know to do a little planning beforehand, yes.

It’s now Tuesday around 5pm… I have football practice soon and I am very excited to workout and take my supplements that finally came! As me and Dad discussed after speech classes, other people are realizing that this is my passion as well; even my roommate from Senegal who I am going to teach how to lift can tell I am really into it, even though he doesn’t understand all the things I say when talking about it.

I also have 460euros to turn in for football. They can’t take credit card numbers for deposits, only checks or cash, so until I get my checks from my bank in a few weeks I have to give them 300euros cash for the deposit and get it back once I get checks. My coach is a real nice guy and I understand him very well. Not sure if it’s because I already know all the vocabulary he uses (same exact words as in American football just said with the French accent… it’s pretty funny) or just because I’m getting used to hearing him talk a lot. I guess I’m starting left Offensive Guard working in at fullback or something, and we haven’t really done defense yet. I can tell they already have their team picked out from last year except for a few positions, so I won’t take that from the French kid playing fullback who is SO into it. He reminds me of so many of my friends I played football with, like Freshman year. I feel like the older, jaded kid who doesn’t really care and doesn’t really know why he’s there, either. But I’m making friends, hearing lots of French, working out with barbells, and walking a total of about 6 miles there and back twice a week. It’s all good.

I’m also getting a little depressed since we don’t have school this week. Mom, you couldn’t have said it more correctly way back when: I get depressed when my routine ends, or I don’t have a routine. It’s really weird how fast and soon it hit me, too. But it’s okay. Writing this five page story made me feel productive again, I also went to a café and studied some of the French I’m still shaky on for the placement test we have Thursday morning. I also will be typing up the short story I wrote this week, so that’s good too…

I also decided to make my major French. I talked to my “academic” program advisor and she said I’ll be taking 34 units here altogether. One needs 36 upper division units in French for the major; 4 of those units go towards 1 of the 2 lower division classes I still had/have to take, and 4 more will go towards the second class. Which means as long as I rank into at least level two, I’ll be getting 26 units towards the major this year. Long Beach has a thing, though, that for language majors you must take two years of another foreign language, so on top of the two or three French classes I’ll still have to take, I have to take either 3 more semesters of Spanish or start fresh with something like Italian, which I think I’d rather do.

Well that’s it for now/the last week. Sorry the updates are getting more and more sparse, but at least they’re long, like this.

October 11, 2007

Hey all, I'm still here. School has started and I ranked into level 3a (out of levels 1-5, a-f). They expect you to look at the schedule they have and just go to the classes you want no sweat (they don't babysit you) but if you miss one class, you fail. So it's kind of weird. I missed my phonetiques class already... There were three to choose from: I went to the first, and halfway through someone said unless you were in 3c or 3f you couldn't stay because this was the only time it fit in their schedules. The next two classes were yesterday, Wednesday, and I completely forgot about going to the only one I could make it to since we had to go to Marseille for a medical appointment to get our carte de sejours (I'm in parfait santé).

Anyway, I love my teacher.. I feel very at home and comfortable around her, she's funny, and she lets me leave early on Tuesdays to catch the bus so I can go workout before football- she loves exercise!). I'm supposed to take a Photographie et Literature class tomorrow morning- my only class on Friday, 8am- and then a France and the European Union class on Monday (missed it this Monday, hope it's not a problem), and a translation and/or writing class also on Wednesday (again, had to miss them because of Marseille: big problem). Doing all this will basically make my French major complete upon returning to Long Beach, only four more classes.

I have no idea when I get the internet at home, it's supposed to be next week but no one knows.

I started training my roommate (from Senegal) how to bodybuild... Or as close as possible with only dumbbells in a little flat in France. I'm excited to see how he turns out, starting from scratch. It's hard getting him to eat as often as he needs to, because as he put it, Senegalese people only think about eating when they're really hungry; no other time. I told him that will not be the mentality he needs to bulk up. It's fun training him because I'm learning bodyparts in French and I get to practice using verbs and vocabulary I normally wouldn't use in any other situation, except maybe football practice.

I've been pretty homesick, no lies, and am getting pretty sick of the French in general. One big thing that's been bothering me: it's obvious that everyone spends hundreds of euros on their outfits and hours getting ready every morning, yet I walk around a country full of cigarette smoke and bread eating, because that's what's cool. To me, it's such a waste and it's so silly. I would assume you'd value your body and health more than how you want to be portrayed in public by no one who even knows you. I always feel fantastic after a nice shower and dressing nice (or as nice as I dress, anyway) and running errands through town until I breathe in the cigarette smoke I may pass by. It totally makes me feel lousy and I can't imagine how they all feel. Interesting. There's your cultural thing for the day, dad.

Anyway, I have to head to class. I will try to write a longer post sooner or later with some more stuff I'm... feeling about culture...?

October 16, 2007

Here I sit at my dining table, after four days of convincing myself to get going and progress towards getting something done again. We got the Internet; thus resumes our old lifestyles, with unfortune. I tried to take a step back from this happening mid-last-week when my cell phone ran out of credit. Time to slow down; I didn’t want a cell phone in the first place: why, to call other Americans?  I’m happy to say I ended up using it to make a few friendships of the French and Senegalese sort; however, I can’t brag that the majority of my credit went towards that.

I started what I’ll call my second step, first official step, into bodybuilding… Again… Such a fantastic feeling, doing it correctly. Not living in the dorms gives me the chance to time the eating of my own meals, of which I can prepare to my dietary needs. The living in France thing presents some issues such as frequent temptations towards bread and goodies and  expensive meat prices, but I feel that this is making my routine that much more challenging and self-fulfilling. I’ve found the oats, I’ve found the whole wheats, brown rice, and cheapest ground beef. I’d found the pull-up bar, I’d found the parks, I bought the dumbbells, and now I’ve found the weight room and the twice-a-week cardio in the same place; along with an emotional outlet I’ve been away from for two years now, and the opportunity to make friends my own age in an environment I’ve completely forgotten about.

Speaking of football, I’m pretty pleased with it. I was thinking of asking my coach to move down to D-line (dad) because it’s been too long since I’ve played linebacker and I absolutely kick ass when I play D-line during the team drills; I’ve mastered it persay, however then I think back to my new beginning in the life of a football player. I have a new opportunity in a new country, with a new nickname (Jordan pronounced like a Frenchman, as opposed to Urby or whatever they called me in high school), with new friends, new defenses and offenses, and a new language, why not a [somewhat] new position too?  Linebacker’s been pretty fun, and my old timidness when it came to hitting at full speed is fully diminishing with all the full on tackling drills we do during practice that we didn’t do at Saugus. I won’t be able to practice this week because of a little leg injury that happened to me today, but the “more worse” thing is that I can’t play in our first game, because that’s when I’m scheduled to visit Barcelona. Bah. The coach said it wasn’t a big deal (nothing really is, in France) and that Barcelona is beautiful. The travel agency said it might be impossible to get me my money back or towards another trip, so whatever.

My friendship with my roommate has been growing as of late, and I’m learning a lot from him. He speaks to me in English and I respond in French. He encourages me when I tell him how I feel about my American accent (I don’t think I do one thing right) and tells me that native French speakers understand me completely fine, the thick accent isn’t a big deal. He agrees that the Chinese accent is a lot more difficult to comprehend, not just to us Americans learning the language.  He’s having difficulty wanting to bulk up with the supplements I bought for him (cost him a pretty penny) because he doesn’t want/can’t eat as much as is required… Every 2-3 hours, eggs, oats, etc. He says Senegalese people eat well. They don’t eat for convenience sake, he told me as I mixed oats, protein powder, and peanut butter to make a protein bar for him to eat the next day during school. He says how his mother who lived in America for a time commented on the frequency of our eating habits. It seems to me he looks at it like a bad thing, which I guess explains the stereotype so many have of Americans; but after him seeing how serious I am with my eating regiment, I can tell he’s beginning to look at it in a different light. I told him that it’s just a cultural thing… We eat, instead of smoke. If we’re blessed to have the food available, why not? Gluttony vs… Anything, really. A weird topic to think about, it’s hard to say where I’d stand. I eat to make sure I don’t go catabolic on the inside, and that everythings working smoothly. I could careless how my chicken, eggs, or oats were prepared. I don’t notice the taste difference anyway… “One day, I’ll come to visit you in United States and we eat dinner, and your mom will make l’avoine!” (l’avoine is oats/oatmeal) was his funny comment he made on the frequency I eat oats everyday.

I moved up from 3a to 3c in school, because my teacher whom I loved noticed I was a little bored and didn’t want me for that. The 3b students were somehow less proficient in every possible way than anyone in 3a, so I told the teacher those exact words and she said, “how bizarre… check out 3c this afternoon…” So my day of school that was supposed to be nonexistent aside from the 2 hour elective I had the option to attend turned into 6 hours of nonstop grammar. Blah. I like 3c a lot, I’m struggling to keep up which is just where I’d like to be.

My roommate is basically my best friend right now. I’m so tired of the same stuff from Americans. I’ve branched off from essentially everyone three or four people… Three of which are 27, 28, and 30 years old. Odd how that works. One of them is a sculptor with her BA in art from Long Beach that brought along her 8 (or so) year old. I wasn’t sure of what the story behind her was until the other night, when she explained she had the savings from her pieces to live abroad for awhile until she could figure out a new way to work and wanted to bring Angus, her son, around the world. She figured the easiest way was to declare herself a student again so it would be called studying abroad.. Right. She would have gone to Florence if she would have known Italian wasn’t a requirement school-wise (the same as myself). That explains why she doesn’t really care about what class level she’s in; she said she’s here for him.  He’ll be fluent in French by Christmas, I guess. I think that’s the life; going wherever she wants, teaching her son new languages, getting to do what she wants with her life and actually making money from it. Maybe one day.

I’ve been reading a lot in a book that took me awhile to get into… That seems to be the case with about everyone of my favorite books, I don’t know when I’ll learn that lesson. This series (Sword of Truth, I believe it’s called), as compared to the last series I spent 6 months reading, focuses on logic, reason, and fateful understanding (is that a term?) to tell the story while getting across a very blunt message that blends in amazingly well, somehow. The last series I read (A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin) focused on new age, unique storytelling techniques I would say, as opposed to flat out this is this, that is that, go find your destiny, boy. It’s great having all the free time to just lay in bed and read, here. It’s a nice little thing to notice new things in novels when you’ve been trying your hand at writing yourself. You notice little things the common reader doesn’t. I really wish I had a bit more proficiency in French reading, just a little. I’d love to find a 12 year old fantasy novel and see if I can follow it. Maybe in a few months.

I’ve also found a great new use for all the musical instrumentals I recorded back at home. Alhessanne, my roommate, does a lot of slam poetry. A lot… In fact, he organized a huge event in Senegal with the best French slam poets from around the globe. Long story short, he’s really good at it and I think it sounds a lot better in French because of the way it flows. He sounds really cool when doing it… Anyway, we put his voice over some of the stuff I’ve recorded and he agrees it will work very very well. This gives me something else to do: make some more electronic tracks. It’s encouraging to know I can still do stuff like that without the recording equipment to record guitar and voice that I normally did.

Anyway that’s all for now.

October 24, 2007

Been in kind of a funk (is that the word?) the last week or so... I haven't been in the mood to write, learn, talk, hang out all throughout each day. Somehow I've been exploring into myself deeper based on the fact that I don't know what I'm doing here. Why am I in France for a whole year? I'm missing out on so much I could be accomplishing at home. I'm missing out on the people I could be meeting who speak the same language as me- meeting people at bars isn't the same. I'm not seeing the people I love as much as I feel I need to. All in all, it feels like a waste of time. Mixed feelings have been floating around.

So, essentially, I've been somewhat depressed thinking all these thoughts all day, until, for some reason, I finally workout: and I suddenly perk up. It's really kind of interesting, I wouldn't be blogging about it if I didn't find it so... Something along the lines of that being my hobby/passion back home for the last two years, and being in a new environment and life, this taste of... California... is what brings me pleasure. Interesting, right?

So after my teacher, among a few other Americans, asking me if everything was okay, I decided that whatever I'm depressing myself over isn't really worth it... I shaved my beard, dressed warmly, had a good workout at football, and got out there. I also bought Harry Potter (#1) in French, and it's taken me two hours to read two pages, looking up every word I don't know. It's a good time, though.

Please don't comment/e-mail/call me about this blog. I explained what I did solely for purposes of describing what certain things must mean to me in my subconscious... For your class, Dad, and for stuff that may or may not be interesting to read about. I'm not depressed, I'm not wanting to leave or kill myself, I'm fine.

Also, there is a certain music downloading website that got raided and taken down yesterday that is causing quite a stir here on the Internet. One day, would someone look back with a smile saying that they were part of one of the biggest Internet revolutions of all-time (so far)? It's interesting what government/police/prosecutors' priorities are in this world. Do some searching on Google and not only will you find a memorial site, but a joke memorial site, countless blogs stating their opinions, news sites siding with the blogs, news sites quoting what BBC and the cops said. It's really interesting to follow, to be honest. I've never seen people rallying together like this on the Internet before, and it's not even to save their own butts- they want the guy who ran the site to be OK and the logic of music downloading such as this to be reasoned with.

October 26, 2007

It looks like I can't compete in the football games until after December since I'm a foreigner. It's a bummer, but whatever. It's fun playing on the scout teams. And it's also fun to use their weight equipment.

I'm really enjoying Harry Potter in French. It's been so long since I've read this one that I know the basic story already but still keeps me intrigued enough to do all the translating required of me.

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Jordan Urbs

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