Monday, November 29, 2004

Here we go again

After class this morning, I turned down our alley like I usually do, unlocked the outer gate, headed up the steps of the back deck/fire escape... only to discover that our back door was propped wide open. No, it wasn't robbers. It was two workmen from the management company, one on the ground and the other perched on the counter, with a utility knife in one hand which he was about to plunge into the wall above the sink near the ceiling.

"There's another leak," he grumbled. "We have to cut open the wall."

I just nodded.

After many groans and what I can only imagine was a long string of Polish expletives, they realized they had to pull the entire lower bank of cabinets, sink and all, away from the wall.

"We do that now," one guy said. "Is that OK?"

What else could I do? I nodded.

Amazingly, as I write this everything is back in place, our wall is freshly plastered, and the only evidence of their having been there is the displacement of all the junk we had on the counter before. But it sounded like whatever was going on inside that wall was bad, real bad. And of course that's the second time in about as many weeks that a major pipe has busted and water has gushed forth. This time, luckily, none of it ended up in our apartment. I just hope these puppies hold for the rest of the winter. It hasn't even really gotten cold yet.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Big Chill

It looks like winter is finally heading to Chicago. We might even get some snow today...

Of course this would be the morning I decided to take Baker running on one of my favorite routes along the lake. I told him the view was spectacular. And as always, it was; it's just that it's hard to appreciate the skyline when a wall of wind has planted itself right in front of you. The waves were so big on the lake that they were crashing into the seawall and spouting up like geysers, sending a nice shower of spray onto us. When we finally crawled our way up to the designated bridge that led us back west over Lake Shore Drive, the entire right side of my body was numb.

But this is nothing, I'm sure. I mean it was still above 40 degrees. Tomorrow, the day of our Turkey Trot, the high is only 35. I just hope my taste buds thaw out in time for dinner.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Level of Life

Today I was interviewed as part of a teacher's evaluation process (hers not mine.) Even though I was just the guinea pig, it was still nerve wracking to sit down in a room packed full of French teachers (who were all observing this woman who was being evaluated) and hearing the scratching of their pens every time I said anything. I think the deal was that they were going to ask her how she would have instructed me on what I had done incorrectly and evaluate her on her ability to hear mistakes in a student's oral expression and to correct them. But still, jeez. If ever I felt put in the spotlight, it was then.

At one point, I did crack a joke (in French nonetheless) and I got a pretty good laugh from the room. I wondered how to say, "Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week" in French. Anyway, upon leaving, while the head evalutor was filling out my cute little certificate proving I participated in this whole business, he praised my French. I scoffed. "No, no," he said. "You're at what we call 'the level of life.' You can basically communicate in any situation you need to."

I just wonder who came up with that oh-so-specific term and what exactly the other levels are. I suppose chugging along at the level of life is better than the alternative, so I'll take it.

Monday, November 15, 2004


It's not often that I feel like a foreigner, especially here in the U.S., but if you've read some of my recent posts you might notice that I've felt more like a newbie these days, kind of the odd man out in a certain sense. And last night was no exception.

This weekend was Dewali, the Indian festival of light. My roommate organized a gathering at our house, and over 25 people poured into our normally-large-seeming apartment, rendering it much smaller and more narrow than it's ever been. We sat on blankets on our living room floor for the worshipping ceremony, or the puja. One person explained some of the stories and traditions behind Dewali and we went around the room, introducing ourselves. My other roommate and I were the only people here who weren't Indian.

As much as I enjoyed the evening, learning about the holiday, listening to the bhajans (the chanted or sung prayers), and especially eating the food (chick peas, naan, samosas, and sticky sweet candies made with ground nuts and dried fruit), I couldn't help but find myself reeling a little from the feeling of being so utterly apart from this group. Almost everyone there had grown up celebrating this holiday. It was like they had a collective set of memories that I had no access to. I could barely pronounce the names of the deities on the sheet of paper we passed around to tell the story of the festival. It was all completely out of my realm of understanding.

But how else do you learn? If I could go back, I'd do it all over again. In fact, I'd probably push myself to ask more questions, to expose myself even more completely as the uninitiated, ignorant, and unworldly person I am. I look with envy upon people who seem to relish being the foreigner, soaking up all they can get of the new experience by thrusting themselves into places they've never been before, clamoring around and demanding explanations and information. I usually prefer to sit back and observe, always fully conscious of my conspicuousness.

But I was there, I watched, I played a role, however small it was. I helped set up, clean, and I contributed a set of Christmas lights. I met some incredibly nice people who willingly welcomed me as an outsider at their special celebration. So it's worth it, to reel a little.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Cow Tipping

What's even better than watching Amherst beat Williams at Pratt Field? Watching them win in a sports bar across from Wrigley Field, surrounded by yellow-hat-wearing, bloody-mary-drinking, EJ-Mills-booing Williams alums.

We must have been four of the twelve or so Amherst people there, in a packed room of about a hundred, which made the victory that much sweeter. Of course I had no confidence in Amherst right up until about five minutes left in the game. The first three quarters were ugly: we turned over the ball three times and missed the extra point on the first touchdown we managed somehow to score. But it weren't over till it were over, and Amherst pulled it off.

Then we walked out into the dazzling autumn sunshine, down Clark and over to the Addison el stop, where I bet 9 out of 10 people standing on the platform would have no clue what or where Amherst or Williams Colleges were. Still, for the rest of the afternoon we were happy to float around in our little New England liberal arts college bubble, basking in the glow of an Amherst win.

We felt superior in our mascot above all because we knew Amherst had not resorted to using an animal as replacement for its stodgy, smallpox infected Britsh soldier cum founder. We even asked an older gentleman from Williams where the cow came from, and he was clueless. Tongue in cheek, I think he said. Well, I'd still rather be a Lord Jeff than a mooing, cud-chewing bovine. And evidently, cows aren't very good at football.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bumbling along en francais

Last night I went to dinner at the Medici, a Hyde Park restaurant/U of C hangout, with one of my colleagues from the French department. The atmosphere was great, the food was mediocre, and the service was lousy. I had an unexciting tuna-steak sandwich, and as I was, admittedly, picking at the last piece of the bun, the waiter came over and asked me if I was finished. I literally had to lower the bun from my mouth and look up to say, "Um, well, not quite." His timing was a little off from the get-go I'd say. We'd literally had 30 seconds to sit down and look at the menu before he asked us if we were ready to order. Again... "not quite yet, thanks."

But the dim lighting, the worn wooden booths scrawled with who knows whose names and messages, and the echoes of what sounded like a live band somewhere off in the distance made for a very cozy dinner. My colleague - who is Chinese - and I were speaking awful, awkward French to each other and struggling to translate our complaints about the cold, the workload, and the scary professors into this foreign language we've been hammering away at for the past month and a half in a desperate attempt to catch up to the native speakers in our program. She's got it worse than I do, though, since this is her first time outside of China. Not only is she studying in a foreign language, she's living now submerged in yet another. I struggled in vain to explain to her that what was in the little pot on our table was mustard. She tried it, reluctantly, and had no idea what I was talking about when I said the most famous kind comes from Dijon.

So we yammered on despite the food being pas tres bon and the conversation being pas tres courante. Last week in class one of my professors read us a quote from an interview with Samuel Beckett. "Try the first time and fail," Becket said. "Try again and fail better." My professor smiled and said, "That's what grad school's all about."

p. s. Crew team participation still under consideration. Much agonizing still to be done. Meanwhile, after expressing thoughts on situation to captain of team, captain thinks I'm crazy. Captain might be right.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

There's no "I" in TEAM

So I've gone crawling back. I just couldn't stay away. The lure of that tightly-knit group of people striving for a common goal, pushing themselves to their physical limits, becoming one, was just too strong.

Which means I've started winter training with the crew team. Why on earth would somebody decide to subject herself to the mind-numbing torture that is erging on a regular basis with only the slightest glimmer of hope that she might be able to actually climb into a boat again in the spring? Good question.

But like I said, it's that desire to be part of a team again. Unfortunately, it's hard to bond with teammates when you can't actually share the common goal: to get revenge on those boats that beat you in the fall. So who knows how long it'll last. But for today, I'm feeling pretty good about those four 5-minute pieces I did this morning, even if it did mean getting up at quarter to seven. Hey, for the rest of the team, it was a sleep-in.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

'Tis the Season

Good lord, people, it’s already November 4th. Of course I’m talking about the Christmas season! That being said, in hopes of inspiring you to run out and make sense of your boring lives by buying me something, I’ve decided to post a version of my Christmas list.

Dana’s Christmas List 2004

1. Felicity Season 3 DVD set
2. my chenille rug shipped out to Chicago
3. goggles and bathing cap
4. subscription to internet music service or gift card/certificate for certain number of songs
5. cooking lessons
6. flannel comforter cover (in sage green, French blue, white, tan color combination)
and flannel sheets (in any one of colors listed above, for double bed)
7. crock pot
8. “It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown” video
9. fleece jacket
10. nice white tee shirts

But Christmas isn’t only about presents; it’s also about cheesy music and TV specials. Of course if you know my family, you know we’ve already blown the dust off the cassette tapes and started playing carols both on the east coast and here in “the heartland.” So join me in a rousing rendition of “Hark the Herald Angles Sing,” and let’s get ready for Santa, the reindeer, the elves, and the feverish consumerism that embody the holiday spirit!

p.s. You’ve probably noticed by now that I didn’t mention the elephant in the room (talk about a double entendre.) You know, the one that’s been hanging around since early Wednesday morning. Well I’m still not going to mention it, at least until I can get some perspective on the whole thing and perhaps settle back into the state of cynical malaise in which I usually approach politics.