In First Class

My roommate warned me about Condor – that apparently they try to gain money by making their passengers pay to watch anything past two or three channels on TV, and that the meals were very basic, and anything past the default foods cost extra money. So I had brought extra food just to be prepared for this ten hour trip from Portland to Frankfurt. However, to my positive surprise, they decided to upgrade me to first class; maybe there weren’t any seats left in the economy class. Of course all the warnings from my roommate were no longer applicable.
I entered the airplane, and found my enormous seat, where the legroom was such that I couldn’t even reach the seat in front of me!

Not that I’m complaining! Just before sitting down, my “bench-mate” who looked to be a young guy, perhaps some entrepreneur arrived and sat into the seat next to the window. For a while, I fidgeted around trying to decide what to put in the overhead compartment, and what to keep around me, then sat down. Soon enough, the guy next to me and I started talking, and it turned out that he was also one of the last ones to drop his bag and check in – perhaps the reason for being upgraded, because just like me, he wasn’t excessively rich, infact he was just a student.
The rest of the flight passed with us laughing at the enormity of luxury that existed in the business class – the complexity of our chairs, the lights, large tv screen, armrests, thickness of the blanket, etc… Dinner started with an appetizer, then a main course, of which we had the choice of a catfish on a bed of rice and steamed spinach, beef with soft potatoes, or a vegetarian pasta dish. Then a cheese plate with wine, finally dessert of crème brulee and strawberries with crème. Finally let’s not forget the tea/coffee to finish with. In laughing and eating for a while, it became clear that we had a lot of things in common, starting with the fact that we were both of two cultures – he German/Greek and American , and me of Hungarian and American descent, both of us with dual citizenship. It took about two and a half hours for us to finish all the food, at which point we realized that we were pretty much halfway through the flight and that everyone else had long since scarfed their food and were sleeping nearly horizontally in their first class couches. After watching a movie under “romantic” reading lights, I fell asleep.
It was his gentle nudging that woke me up, I think in the middle of a violent dream that I don’t remember, but I was a bit embarrassed because I couldn’t really formulate real sentences for about a minute, ironically being winded by sleeping, or perhaps waking up. Of course, it was the steward in the aisle who pretty much directly asked me what I wanted for breakfast, but had to ask me twice as the first time all I heard was just some noise; maybe my ears were still asleep.
Of course, it took us once again twice as long to eat breakfast as the rest of the passengers, the jokes about how ridiculously excessive the service was in the first class continuing. Normally I don’t take photos of food, but this time I did, IMG_4671
aiming the reading lights in the direction of the neatly arranged pieces of food, quickly snapping the photos before the steward passed by again asking for the 10th time if we wanted another glass of wine or
After landing, the guy and I exchanged phone numbers and email addresses – it sounded like maybe we’d reconnect after getting back to the USA, maybe to do a bike ride or other active thing. At least I’d ask him some suggestions for when I go to Berlin a bit later on. It was fun to experience the space of the rich with someone else, and spend about 1/3 of the flight slowly enjoying the food a luxe, bite by bite.
We passed the border guards pretty quick, both using our American passports. Afterwards, we parted, him finding his friend to pick him up, and me, to find the next flight to Toulouse. Not a bad start to my trip 🙂

Leaving Toulouse

It is easy to leave someplace I don’t fit in. But leaving someplace where you are loved and part of the crowd, have laughed a lot, learned a lot, and met some amazing people.. it is quite the opposite.
My plane was scheduled for an 18h05 departure, and I had not packed anything yet the morning of the flight. However, I got everything together in 2 hours, to be able to enjoy my flatmates’ company for the last couple hours. They prepared lunch for me, put on music, and danced to it with the windows open.
At 10h00, I met with an elder lady I taught Hungarian to the last month, and upon us taking a photo together, she asked me if I had a ride to the airport. I was prepared to take the bus, but she insisted on taking me, so we arranged for her to pick me up at 15h30.
When the time came, my two flatmates and I hopped in the car, the third flatmate to come meet us at the airport from work. After checking in, we had about half an hour to spend together.
This half an hour will remain with me forever.
My Spanish flatmate had brought his guitar; on our way up to the observation hallway on the 2nd floor of the airport, I got a call from another friend, wishing me a good trip, expressing his sadness that he couldn’t see me the night before. Once up there, he took out his guitar and began playing. We sang along with him as I experienced the most bittersweet goodbye of my life. Three amazing young men as my entourage, wishing me all the best for the future, filling me with feelings of true friendship. I will miss them dearly, as well as my one flatmate who couldn’t make it due to some previous engagements. Thank you all for your kindness, sweetness, and love during my stay in the most amazing city of cultural diversity I’ve ever seen.

The stage is Toulouse

Yesterday’s show put on by the city’s circus community and some amazing art directors, was probably the best I’ve ever seen in my life – the way they transformed the city’s most well-know square (Place du Capitol) into a stage, where the actors were on the outside, and audience on the inside, parades with people walking on stilts, juggling all sorts of things, kids riding on unicycles, a crowd of performers marching with balloons the size of a WV beetle (or even bigger), and some other things that are just simply too incredible to explain in words. In one of the towers erected on the periphery of the square, an amazing DJ filled the city with booming music to which the thousands of spectators pretty much had the coolest dance party. Not to mention the fireworks, naked people covered in paint (females as well as males), huge, three story high wheels of rainbow colors, dude on top a pole, mastering 6 hoola-hoops at once.
This event made me think ever more: I will miss this city and all the fresh ideas they come up with, all the young, open minds, creativity, visual awesomeness, and the fact that one absolutely does not need a car to survive.

Face of Tomorrow

Today I had a lot of fun, met over 100 people, and helped an open-source project all in 1 and a half hours with the help of a couple of friends. It took place at the Capitol square in Toulouse.

In this 1.5 hours, the goal was to take photos of 50 men and 50 women between the ages of 16 and infinity in order to create an average face of Toulouse, which will be executed by the artist Mike, the owner of the website “Face of Tomorrow“. He has already taken the average of large cities around the world such as Sydney, Australia; Florence, Italy; Amsterdam, Netherlands; London, UK, etc.

We ended up asking probably around 180 people in order to get 100; overall, people were very open-minded and curious about the project.

Among people that we ran across were men with dreadlocks, members of two bachelor parties, one where the soon-to-be-wed male was wearing a red dress and a black bra and a blonde wig, the second where the bride was wearing her underwear and bra on the outside of her clothes. There was also a larger group of Asian tourists, some of which agreed to have their pictures taken. Overall I think we got a very diverse collection of people.

I used a bamboo stick as a monopod because my tripod is sitting in my closet in the USA, and advertised for Vibram 5 fingers by wearing mine out. Originally I intended to use them as attention-grabbers, but ended up talking about how much I like them, and where to buy.

Afterwards, I was in a great mood from a successful organization of a fun project and grateful for the great friends I have that came out and helped me harpoon people on the street. Here is one of them:

The photos have been created, but for some reason aren’t online. However, I have a copy, so here they are:

Male ToulouseanFemale Toulousean

Le Voisin

Morning after the party, I come downstairs, make a hot chocolate, and survey mr. mess grinning at me from every corner of the apartment. Slowly, my flatmate appears, complaining of a headache, and that he doesn’t want to clean… two minutes later, a girl of whom I had faint recollection of seeing last night appears out of nowhere. Apparently she got “tired”, found my other (currently absent) flatmate’s bed, fell asleep unaware of the latter 3/4 of the party that went down the rest of the night. I wonder to myself: are there any other hidden corners of the house where people fell asleep, not realizing that they have comfortably curled up on a hard stone floor that hasn’t been washed since 1975?

The three of us are in the kitchen, me washing dishes by the window, the other two at the table. All of a sudden, we hear someone banging on the door. My flatmate and I look at each other with eyes wide open, and mutter the same word: Le Voisin. Regardless of the fact that my flatmate doesn’t speak french, that is the first word that popped in his head at the sound of fists threatening to break down the door. The girl looked at us curiously: why would you know it’s your neighbor, and why is he banging on the door?

He knocks, bangs, holds the ringer for 30 seconds multiple times, then after about 10 minutes of us pretending to be not home, his upper body appears a meter from me in the window in the kitchen (we live a story above ground floor), mouthing the doors: OVRIR LA PORTE, pointing towards our door.. HOLY SHIT. I nearly break the dishes, and move away from the window to behind the table. We’re scared shitless, why would we open the door? Maybe he has a club with him or a knife, or something.. This is when my female flatmate comes downstairs, looks at us with fright; who is banging, and why? We start telling her it’s the crazy neighbor, when he appears again in the window. This I know not because I see him, but by watching the girl’s face, as she was the only one left in plain view of the window. Covering her mouth, her eyes frozen with fright, she wispers: I’m scared, he’s stark mad! I don’t wanna open the door! So we collectively decide to go out there together..

Of course we know the subject is going to be about the “exorbitantly loud” party we had last night. To be frank, I believe this retiree has nothing better to do than lay in bed at night, waiting till the clock strikes 11:30pm, then strains his ears to see if he hears anything from the corridor common to all of us living in the french-style apartment house.

In fact, the we kept the music to a talkable level, keeping people in the room farthest away from the corridor, and when they came to complain, we turned off the music and left the house so that we leave the neighbors alone.

And as the cherry on top, we received a letter today seemingly from the landlord, but we discover by clearly different handwriting that it is in fact not the landlord, but the neighbor who has forged the landlord’s signature.

And this isn’t the first time this neighbor has done total “conaries”, complaining about bikes in the building to us that aren’t actually ours, coming to say that we parked infront of his garage (it wasn’t us again)… I think we shall take all the VELO toulouse bikes from the rack in front of the apartment and park them in front of his door. Or better yet, park my flatmate’s car in the entrance way. No bike, no problem, eh? Or shall we ask my coloc who works at airbus to borrow a helicopter or a small airplane to park in front of his garage.

Next party we’ll ask people to come up on a ladder from the window. Yeah right.

Toulouse: The Chicago of France

Reason for that is not because it’s cold, but it’s windy… I feel like I’m a monsoon, without all the rain. But every day, i look at my watch, it says it’s into October, but it’s still very warm. Makes me happy. While watching french TV today, I found something kind of amusing: every commercial that was advertising any kind of fattening food (kinder chocolate, McDonalds, etc) had a marquee subtitle warning the viewer that one should eat a balanced diet, and exercise enough. AHA, so that’s why the french are so skinny – they are warned at a young age to beware of fatty food. Oh and of course becoming half anorexic too..
Otherwise, I’m getting many compliments from all french people I meet that I speak french very well.. I wonder if they are just being cordial or if it is actually true. I feel like I’m getting better but it’s not progressing as fast as I’d like it to. And when I’m tired, It is very hard to pull out the language.
I start classes on Monday, with a 3 week late start in the third year of a math/statistics/information studies license. For the first week I’ll be sampling the classes, but I really like the city of Toulouse, and if nothing else, I believe the fluency of French is a huge step forward – it would make me more internationally competent with a third language under my belt. It will be indefinitely hard, of course, but if I do manage to make a living somehow, and go to school it would be a really good feeling.

September 30, 2010

The trip to France, Andrei, and Lentillac du Causse

So much has happened in the past 3 days, I hardly know where to start.. Au début, je me suis entré l’aéroport à Budapest, puis ils m’ont fait payer pour les bagages, parce que mon sac à dos était trop grand.. ça coute 22 euros.. pour la vol en Budapest à Genève, puis encore un 22 euros en Genève à Toulouse… Un début trés positive, sans doute =/. The flight from Budapest to Geneva was pretty uneventful, I was asleep for most of the time, but as we came closer to the city, we passed over some notable lakes that were so clear, if I were an eagle, I would have been literally able to see the non exisitant ray that was hiding in the sand on the bottom of the lake. There were a multitude of boats out on the lake, creating beautifully fractalic wave-shapes on the surface of the water. When I came out of the plane, and lifted my head outwards, an amazing sight met my eyes. It reminded me of Milan, all the mountains coming straight up out of the ground all around, the city laying low in the valley.

I had about four hours to waste at the airport, some of which I would have liked to go see the city, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get back in time, so instead I just went outside the airport with my really expensive bag (I was considering throwing some clothes out, maybe to the total value of about 20 euros, so I’d be able to take it aboard and lose only 20 euros not 22..) The air was very pure, but only farther away from the benches, where it was less toxicated by the constant smokers’ traffic.

Meanwhile I reflected on how I could condense my bag, perhaps roll my shirts up tighter, pull the strings tighter to make the bag appear smaller, then put it lower on my waist so that it does not poke over my head, even took out my belt to tighten it across the middle so it may perhaps fit better into that metal handbag-measure-thing by the check-in counter, and of course stuff as my of my non-duty-free objects into the duty free bag I nicked from the duty-free shop in Budapest.. Apparently you’re allowed to take an extra duty-free bag onto the plane besides your hand bag.

Of course after an hour of condensation, sweating a bit from the “weight-lifting”, I still failed to condense, thus paying the 22 euros once again.. Ah ok. Next time I will bring one underwear and my toothbrush, and wear everything else on my body. See what they say to that 😉

Once we finally took off, I took a look out my window, and was once again awed by the Alps. They never seem to astound me. These were farther in the distance, but so majestic, rising above two layers of clouds, one of which I’m pretty sure was Mont Blanc, parce que c’etait si haute, plus que les autres, avec un capuche des nouages sur le sommet.

Arriving at Toulouse, I instantly picked out Andrei, even though the only identifier he told me was “je suis tres grand, peu prés de 6 pied et 5 pouces…” He was very relaxed and extremely nice right off the bat, took my bag off the carousel, and headed out to the car. I told him I want to learn to speak french better, and so we continued in french, me understanding every third word, him listening hard when I attempted to put together a sentence.

That night, I was greeted by a traditional French dinner, one with so many courses I lost track, and a different kind of wine in a different kind of glass each time. By the time we were done, I think about 3 hours had passed, but I learned a lot, and warmed up to his wife and her two kids. They were extremely welcoming, the kids well behaved.

Next day I walked around a little in le centre-ville de Toulouse with the Andrei’s wife and the youngest son; he did not have school because it was Wednesday. I’m sure some of the photos I put online will be ones the little 5 year old took. Il était trés intelligent, et curieux.

Au fond, les deux jours que j’ai resté là, je crois que j’avais appris plus français que j’ai jamais appris pendant un semestre.

By the end, Andrei, who is a professor and also researcher in digital imaging/technology/crazy smart stuff, convinced me to consider going to school there in Toulouse, for at least a year, to at least get a liscense – or basically 1 year of “fill in” studies that I will need anyways before getting a masters in this stuff, since I only really studied two years worth of information technology at Syracuse… maybe I’ll do it; I don’t see anything negative in trying it at least, I’ll be able to speak french better if nothing else by the end 🙂

Today I finally got to near the city of Cahors (30 min outside) in a little village called Lentillac du Causse, with my host family where I’ll be making a web site for their apartment business, and if I have time, their adventure-sport business. We wasted no time in talking about it; I have started brainstorming, exploring my options. We have already bought the URL for it: