Monday, October 24, 2016

Living in France - a long post

I have read some idiotic and not-quite-accurate blogs about living here so, maybe it's time I wrote just a little but about my experience so far here in France. I touched on it a bit in this post (with French language errors):

I came here in the summer of 2014 to meet my now husband for the first time face to face. We had been online friends for 8 years before we met in person (a story for another time unless you already know me) and then moved here in January 2015. However, since I didn't have a long-term visa yet, I spent 3 months in Colorado with friends between April and July. I returned back here in July where I married my wonderfully amazing French husband and I am now in the settling process after a year and a half-plus.

I live in a town named Massy. It's a suburb in the Ile de France region about 10 miles from Paris. I live in an apartment near a decent supermarket, a great little street with 2 boulangeries (one better than the other!), a boucherie and a couple of wine caves. I am close to all public transportation and since I no longer drive here, this is trés nécissaire. Comme je suis ici vers 2 years, I can talk about the pros and cons and also the realities.

First off, yes, I live near Paris and it IS a beautiful and very cool city. I adore the architecture, art and culture and look for the most artsy arrondissements I can find but I am not in Paris all the time for enjoyment. I now work in many of the arrondissements so I am seeing more of the real Paris and taking in the ones I prefer to see more of.

However, like any major city, it is expensive to do a lot in there so when I do go in, it's for very specific reasons. The trains/subways are, in my opinion, similar to the ones in Manhattan. You have crazy rush hour, too many people, problems CONSTANTLY with the RER-B (my main train line) and the exhaustion one feels after your 2-3 hour daily round-trip commute (depending on where you have to be). Since I am still learning French AND trying to sort through static announcements, I generally have no idea why a train has suddenly stopped and won't move again for 10 minutes or so. Anyway, if I do not have to go into Paris, I am relieved.

So, living here in of itself is easy for me. I don't see that many cultural differences but it's the little things that I am amused (and sometimes annoyed with).

The 13:00 lunch hour:
At 1pm (13:00 since the French use the 24h clock), EVERYONE goes to lunch. Almost everything shuts down and if you have an appointment with, say, an administration-related thing, at 14:00h, don't think you will be taken at that time. You see, some of the lunch hours here last 1 1/2 hours. One of my préfecture appointments was between 12 and 2. We got there at 12 and at one, they closed their windows and went to lunch while we waited! Also, if you are not hungry for lunch until 3, don't think you can find a good place to eat at because almost all restaurants and brasseries (France's version of a diner) close for 3 hours between lunch and dinner. There are BK, KFC, McDs and Starbucks but...blech.

The Food:
Ah, yes the French are all about their cheesy, fatty, creamy, gooey, greasy tradition and I love that about them. I am of Italian descent, and I feel the same with Italian food. However, when one is trying to watch their weight, there is only so much you can do, especially if you are not rich. Yes, there are vegeterian options hidden in the supermarkets and some over-priced organic shops in Paris but overall, you have to try to find things that are healthy without breaking the bank and that is hard. In fact, you have aisles in the supermarket dedicated just to the cheese. And how I ADORE le fromage. Thankfully, we do not eat out often at all, so I cook and I try to keep things on the healthier side even if we do have cheese and bread on our table every night. Still, there is the indulgence of tartiflette, cassoulet, and many other pork/duck fat related delicacies. Chicken and turkey sausage doesn't really exist and there are ingredients that are strictly American that one can not find here (unless you go to the exclusive and ridiculously priced "American" shops in Paris) so it's been a challenge to eat "well". 

Family Matters, Childless Couples Don't:
France centers everything around the family. If you have children, you get all of the benefits and compliments France has to offer. In addition, a childless married woman (and who knows? Maybe childless women in general) are looked at very differently. It's not very obvious but it's there. It's also one of the first questions doctors, new acquaintances and even employers ask - "do you have children?" And if you say no, you get looked at funny. And here's an interesting and annoying thing - you can get diapers and other family-related things in the pharmacy but feminine hygiene products? No, not really.

While we are talking about pharmacies:
Over-the-counter meds do not really exist. Sure, you can get Doliprane (Tylenol's equivalent) and some placebo-type stuff but to get something of substance, including cough syrup, you need a prescription. If you have just a little cold but it's enough that you need something, you HAVE to go to the doctor if you want decent meds. On the up side, prescription costs are extremely low. I don't think I have paid more than 4€ (approximately $5) for one prescription. I imagine if you have a serious illness, the cost would be higher but I remember needing to buy iron pills and getting any vitamin supplements in the US are a fortune compared to the 2€ a month I spent here.

Santé, Politics and Sports, Not Sex:
And with pharmacies and doctors comes santé (health). This is one of the three topics that are mainly discussed in length about and what the French society likes to focus on. Politics and sports are the other 2 main topics of conversation and all three are revered on a high level, all the time and with such passion. There is a popular misconception that the French are so sexy. Well, yes they are but it's subdued. Sex is NOT openly spoken about, except with your significant other and even that can be very modest and conservative. Jokes about sex are rarely made openly and,'s just not spoken about in general conversations. This is something I don't get at all, especially because of the aforementioned idea that ooh la la the French are all about sex.

French Administration:
What can I say? That is something that I have read online that IS accurate. I am very thankful I am married to a French person because I can't imagine what I would have to go through if I wasn't. This is difficult enough. I am baffled at the amount of paperwork - I mean PHYSICAL paperwork they ask for each time you do anything legal here. You need to show proofs of things, you need to provide physical copies and for me when we went for our marriage paperwork, I had to have professional translations made AND copies of the translations. A wonderful article has gone viral online about how France is one of the first countries to really bog down on plastic but they don't understand how important it is to save trees, apparently.

Another thing that I don't understand. In the US, whenever you go into an official government building, not only is Spanish a second language spoken, but most signs are in multiple languages of the world. Here in the biggest immigration organization OFII, and even the préfecture, there are no signs in English and most employers don't speak it either...or at least they are afraid to try. Athletes playing against France from other countries (and France's athletes) speak English...why don't immigration departments?

It also seems that the fonctionnaire never communicate with each all. I have received emails from different people in the same office with different responses to the same question....or the "I don't know" can come up as well.

French are afraid of speaking English:
This is the common denominator. I have met many English-speaking French but there are ones that CAN but are shy and afraid to try. I suppose I can understand that but if I am in my own country, I would be comfortable making mistakes in another language. Maybe that is me. And again, in government offices, it should be mandatory to have some level of English.

Side note: shop signs, posters, movies, TV English, so it exists here. It really does!

De-bunking the myth that the French hate Americans...sort of: 
This is something very important to me and I can easily empathize for the French. I have witnessed Americans in Paris. I am referring to the vacationers, not the ex-pats....though there are some of those that I fear are of the same mentality. I don't know but maybe I am weird for thinking that if I am going to a foreign country for a vacation, maybe it would be in my best interest to at least learn enough of the language to say "hello", "goodbye", "thank you" and "where is the bathroom?" The Americans I have witnessed here, don't even try. What's more is this strong sense of entitlement that they can do whatever the hell they want because, after all, if they are on vacation in Paris, then they should be treated like royalty. They also feel, as I wrote above about not understanding why so many do not try to speak English, that they ought to but not in their minds. They will rudely ask the person helping them "well, why don't you speak English?"

My husband and I were in a créperie once and there was an older couple ordering their food and of course, this was in one of the more touristy areas so English was spoken by the servers but the couple were so rude and didn't even say "please" or "thank you" in any language and made some remarks about the French! I then witnessed this several times while out with others as well and inside a few shops. Sure, there are some rude servers, usually in cafés and brasseries in the tourist areas, but overall, it's not the case. Lastly, when we were on our honeymoon, we were on a bus to the Normandy beaches coming back from there. In front of us were 2 American students that were talking about the French in such a mean way and I just shook my head and asked my husband, "do they know that there are English-speaking French and maybe some others that can understand everything they are saying? Do they care? Ugly Americans indeed.

French are rude?
Extending what I just wrote. Yes, like any other person, there are rude people here - in banks, in administrative buildings, some servers but you know, I don't usually encounter the rude French often (ok, in my bakery there are a few but they are rude to other French as well). What's more is that when I speak French, the best I can, I have been told they were impressed by how much I know and how well I can speak. Secretaries in doctors' offices for one, have told me this. I have also received a lot of help and have met some very nice people. I am modeling more now in ateliers/schools and even the ones that do not speak much English are very happy and appreciative of me and I am told that. So, if the French are rude, I blame the Americans above. ;)

On to a different subject just for a moment. There are more taxes here that I am aware of than in the US. People who rent apartments get charged a renter's tax once a year that is either equal to or more than one month's rent. There is also tax if you own more than one TV and you have to declare that....I don't really remember how they find out if you do, but they can find out. The tax on a receipt is different too including a 20% tax that I am still not 100% sure what it all means.

At the moment, if you work a conventional job (this excludes me), you are responsible for your own income taxes. There are a few taxes that are take out of your salary but the majority is not so once a year, you declare your income and then 3 times a year, you are hit with huge amounts to pay. This is all supposed to change with the way it is done in the US but that might cause other problems here.

If you work a full-time job, it is illegal to work any other jobs. Period. It's in the contract. If you are caught working another job, you can get into trouble. With me, what has happened is even more complicated. As a model in the US, I was considered self-employed and depending on the school, I would either receive a W2 (they took taxes out automatically) or a 1099. It's kind of the same here but as an auto-entepreneur, I had to get a number, similar to a tax ID number for only some schools of which I have to provide invoices for, as if I am an actual business. I suppose I am but it's handled very differently in the US and I think I have a lot more administrative work cut out for me. Welcome to the NEW world of modeling nude.

There are other details that I can't think about at the moment, but to sum up my feelings for living here, I can say that I love it here. I have the right combination of similarities and differences, thrown in with romance. Of all the realities, there are only really a few that are difficult to handle at times and learning the language is, for me, the biggest hurdle that I am doing my best to get over. In the year and a half of learning, I do know more.

Je peux parler, ecrire et lire. Je peux comprendre plus mais pas assez mais j'essaye chaque jour. Je voudrais continuer avec un autre formation de langue mais je ne peux pas pour le moment donc je ferai que je peux partout. Quand je travail, je suis dans un endroit ou j'ecoute et je parle. À chez moi, je parle avec Gilles et mon beau-frére aussi.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The value of a photograph, complaints and ramblings

I am at a place with my work that I don't know what I am doing anymore. There is too much imagery that crosses my eyes everyday that it's fogging up my judgement and influencing my work in a negative way. I want and need to escape it and just be honest with my work once again. And with my thought process always comes the self-doubt and the question of why I am still making photographs in the first place. It's in my gut that I need to do this but why and who cares?

The subject of the value of a photograph has been spoken to death about in my circle but I think I need to just write it out for my sake.  Maybe it's a diversion or procrastination or maybe writing this will help clear my head a little to make room for new ideas.

Traditional photography - film, development and print are true art forms. You can do a lot of altering of images just by adjusting exposure, using different chemistry and times developing film and playing around with print exposures..all hands get wet,  pun intended. One can make the same print 10 times and there will almost always be slight variations making the images "more precious" in the eyes of the fine art world especially now as these materials are harder to purchase.

Digital photography - with a photographic mindset, exposure changes and filters can alter the image in the shooting process. One can use traditional methods of changing light and color as well with diffusers and such. Then we have Adobe Photoshop to take our images and go wild with them, if we want. We have different papers and inks to create the final image but in the end, the physical print is more easily reproduced, making them, in some way, "less precious"and definitely less expensive.

There are  some photographers that combine the 2 processes. They shoot digitally, creating digital negatives that they print in the wet darkroom and some even go as far as to print using very traditional techniques, like wet collodion printing and these are more sought out and even more precious than a silver gelatin print.

So, here I am with very little income and a Canon 40D that my best friend gave me because I lost my Nikon digital in a divorce and do not have the money to shoot film with my beautiful Nikon FM2 (or even with my Holga!) I do not have a high end printer yet but I still must shoot and create images.

What do I do?  I create and then they stay on my external hard drive until the day I can print them or have the money to have them printed, which is something I have never done in my photographic career. I have put in a lot of effort in the shooting process and even more effort in Adobe Photoshop taking the years I learned photography and art and incorporating it all into the image. So,when I do print them, what will they be worth? If I make a pigment print from an Epson printer on an acid-free paper such as Hahnemuhle or Canson, will my print be worth less than a wet collodion print? Why? My efforts are just as valid, I think. My image can be just as strong. In fact, I have seen some traditionally printed work beautifully done with the most boring of images, however, if it's a platinum or wet collodion print, it will mean more in the fine art world....but why should I care or worry about that myself? It's almost a fact if I want to succeed in selling, I suppose.

Then, let's go off topic a little and talk about dates of work. In this time, we are always looking at the next thing and the next. I have a body of work called The Divine Journey that I created over the course of almost 6 years but it's 2 years old now. If I keep promoting that work and trying to get it exhibited, will I be told the work is old? I almost feel pressured to having to create something every year. Perhaps that is my own self-imposed thought?

So what has this post taught anyone reading it? Ha ha ha. Well, I suppose it sounds like I am just complaining and I should just stop worrying about what is going on in the fine art photography world and make work. True enough. However, I think any fine art photographer reading this post will at least relate to my thoughts on some level and can commiserate with me. I would love to read your comments on the subjects.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Relationships and Love for Convenience

I was watching an old episode of the TV show "Friends" the other day. One of the main male characters was complaining about how he met the perfect woman but she lived 2 hours away - so so far away. I then read a LiveJournal comment from an online friend of mine about how he is on an online dating site which has been failing as he gets many people contacting him from other countries and that he is not about to get a green card to date someone.

These are really interesting examples of how people meet and fall in love with each other. Do people really fall in love with someone who happens to live nearby or is it just convenience? Sure, he/she seems great but is it possible that somewhere in their subconscious that the need to look for someone "perfect"  doesn't go beyond his/her backyard?

Please, do not get me wrong. I am guessing this is the majority of our society unless you meet in a university, peace corps or some other unconventional way but the norm seems that we don't want to look for someone somewhere far.

I had many relationships in my life, including a first marriage to all men that were local to me. Looking back at all of them, I can say that I wasn't in love with any of them but that I settled because one - I thought that was the best I could do and two - they were close. 

Having a long-distance relationship is far from easy though but I think the idea that your soulmate could possibly live in another state, another country should open people's minds a bit. 

 I met my dearest husband online 10 years ago but with absolutely no intent of love or relationship more than friendship. He was in France and I in New York also. I was married to someone else during that time and was living a different life. I traveled overseas only once at that point and I didn't see more than the life that was in front of me. I was also never interested in living in France (England and Ireland yes but no other country). So, how does someone like me end up living in France and marrying her soulmate? It was easy for me. No, not the journey I had to take (and am still on) to be here, but the decision. I knew. My grandparents and many older, wiser peers I have met over the years told me that when you meet the right person, you just know. I always thought that was BS or at least that it would never happen to me, but it did and I am blessed to have finally found him.

So back to the question at hand - if that is indeed the case - knowing when you have the right person - why do so many people base it on distance and convenience of location? What if you *think* on a conscious level that it is, but in reality, your soulmate is in Asia, England, or even 2 U.S. states away from you?

And maybe it's a fate thing..maybe none of where the person is from matters...either way, it is possible to look beyond your fence to get what you want when it comes to love.