Thursday, September 28, 2006

A New Day

Well, in my now-absent post crowing about our visa, I mentioned that I would give more details. We've gone through a lot of stress to get this baby, so Jube and I feel very relieved right now. We first began the process back in March, when we decided that I really wanted to go back to grad school.

When I came back to the US to attend the graduate recruiting days here at ODU, I mailed everything off to the Vermont processing center. About 2 weeks later, we received a favorable decision from the Department of Homeland Security, and 2 weeks after that we got a letter saying that our case had been forwarded to the Embassy in Paris. Everything was on schedule for an arrival in the US in August or September.

We waited for another month or so, with no word from the Embassy. I had started my summer job in Nice, and Jube had started his vacation, when we received a letter from Homeland Security saying that they had either reversed their decision or reopened our casefile. It didn't explain why or specify whether we still had any chance for the visa. I was pretty upset! I cried and cried, and Jube had to console me (I still feel bad about this; I mean, the visa was for HIM, not for me, and I'm sure he felt just as sad and confused as I did). My mother did lots of research for us, calling immigration lawyers and trying to get in touch with the Department of Homeland Security. We finally discovered (through our own initiative, with no help from the government) that a new law* was signed last year, coming into effect January 1, 2006. DHL had 2 or 3 months to change the forms to comply with this law. Well, they didn't manage to have the forms (which I downloaded electronically) corrected by the time Jube and I applied. Through no fault of our own, we hadn't answered the two (and a half) new burning questions required by the new law. The advice from the immigration lawyers was contradictory and confusing, but one woman gave us a really useful tip: to FAX the Embassy with our questions. Every time we faxed them, we received a phone call or a quicker resolution of our problem. Of course, I can't be sure that this was because of the FAXes, but it felt like it. The Embassy told us we were one of twelve couples in France who were having the visa process delayed because of the new law.

Anyway, Jube finally received the appointment for the visa interview last week. He went to the doctor, who checked him out and found him lacking in one vaccine, quickly administered. The next day he headed to the Embassy, where he was asked a few questions about my family, his family, and Norfolk, and they said he'd receive the visa in the mail in a few days. He has it now, so he can come to the US at any time! Now the question is, one way ticket or round trip? The round trip tickets are apparently much cheaper, but would that be strange for entering the country as an immigrant?

In any case, I am thrilled that he will be able to make it by our planned wedding date (November 5) and I'm trying to be busy finishing up homework before he gets here. I just can't wait to have some company in my little apartment!

*I basically agree with this law, since it is focused on the problem of mail-order brides (anyone remember that CSI episode where the Russian girl was killed by her husband because she wanted to exercise her rights and divorce him? Yeah, this law is against that!).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Social? Tu parles!

Oh MAN! Little did I know that going out on Friday would be an all-night enterprise!

I left my house around 7 with my friend Willie. We went to Kilmer's house, where she had prepared lasagna and salad for us, along with homemade blueberry wine. We had a great dinner and then talked for awhile, lounging around her condo (her roommates were gone, so it was all for us!). After awhile she suggested we go to a local bar, Harry's. (Kilmer has an eye for local dives. The first time we went out with her, for karaoke, she found the seediest bar ever, called the Dockside. It will forever be known as the Darkside--and we need to pay it a visit, soon!) Harry's was full of marines and sailors. Willie did the best he could to protect Kilmer and me from their assault techniques, and was unfortunately followed into the bathroom where a so-called marine asked him to introduce us. Another sailor, Reggie Love (I'm permitting myself the use of the actual name he gave us because I think it was already a pseudonym), bought us a pitcher of beer and told us that the other marine was in the Taliban. Oh, Harry's! What a place!

After Harry's closed, we went to ihop, since Willie was feeling like a midnight (or 2:30am) snack. I think everyone who closed out a bar decided to go too, and we had about a 10 minute wait for our table. After chowing down on French toast and pancakes, we decided to call it a night and went outside to drive home. Unfortunately, Kilmer had parked Willie's car in the Home Depot parking lot, which was patrolled by a "predatory" towing company. We walked across the street to withdraw money and were approached by a "private taxi." Kilmer promptly told him where to shove it, and he left when she threatened to call the police. I had the taxi dispatch number programmed in my phone from my trip to the social security office, and they sent one over right away.

We paid to get Willie's car back, and on the way out Kilmer gave everyone the finger. "Willie," she said, "Just give that guy the bird, okay?"

"Sure," he said wearily, flashing the doit d'honneur at the owner of the company. Right then Kilmer stopped at a stop sign, and Willie begged her to get away before he came after us. Of course, we were the big loser, because we lost about $115 combined on our little trip to the towing company. I finally got home at about 4:30am.

This wouldn't have been too bad, except that my dad was coming to visit me on Saturday! He told me he would arrive about 12 or 1pm, so I dragged myself out of bed at 10am to clean and shower. When he hadn't shown up by 1:30, I called him. "Oh, I'll be leaving within the hour," he told me. Either he was cleverly pretending he had never told me he'd arrive by 1pm, or I'd misunderstood the night before and he'd told me he'd leave by 1pm. It's probably the latter . . .

He finally got to my apartment at 6pm. We headed out right away to the No Frills Bar and Grill where we had some great sandwiches, and then went to the movie theater to see Little Miss Sunshine, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After we had gone to bed, Dad's phone rang at 11:30pm. It woke me up, and I heard him talking in the other room.

"I think you have the wrong number. [pause] Oh, Joey! Well, Joey, are you okay? [pause] Where are you? [pause] Well, all right. Have a good night, Joey." My father is a teacher and a chess coach (for a few elementary schools), and one of his former students decided to get drunk and call him up! Although we felt kind of bad, it was hilarious.

On Sunday morning we went to ihop for breakfast, and then picked up some important items from the hardware store to put together my bed (the frame and headboard have been separate ever since I moved in). We also picked up a new bike from my friend's house and then Dad headed home, leaving me tired, lonely, and with a ton of homework to finish.

Friday, September 15, 2006


I've gone out with my friends for the past few weeks. I went to karaoke one night, to an Irish pub the next, and finally to the "graduate hangout" on Tuesday evening. (I think they call it a graduate hangout because it's on campus and right next to campus security . . . since the undergrads stay away anyway, they're being market savvy.) Then I met with a group to talk about a project last night, and I'm going to another friend's house tonight. I told Jube about all of this over the phone, and he said, "You've been pretty social these days!"

Well I guess I have! I've been especially social if you compare it to our normal routine, which consisted of eating dinner with each other and then watching television, with perhaps one weekend a month spent with Other People. Maybe it's being back on a university campus--there are just more people around who all want to go out, so why not band together? Maybe it's because I don't know anyone in Norfolk, so I have to be proactive about meeting people. Or maybe it's because Jube isn't here. Eating dinner and watching TV becomes kind of sad and lonely when you don't have anyone to cuddle with (or shout at to turn down the guitar).

The reason doesn't really matter, but I'm glad I have things to do outside of homework. I think that would have driven me crazy by now!

Monday, September 11, 2006

5 Years Ago

5 years ago I was a sophomore at Wittenberg University. I woke up 10 minutes before I had to be at my campus job, so I got dressed and hurried to the library, just across the lawn from my dorm. When I arrived, there was a television set up in the library lobby. I didn't really understand what was happening, even when my boss told me, "They hit the Twin Towers--but they haven't fallen down yet! That's American engineering!" About twenty minutes later, they set up a big screen projection in the audiovisual center, and all of the library workers went to watch the news, where we saw what had happened to the pentagon. Then the towers fell.

I still don't think I understood what had happened. I went back to my dorm and tried to call Jube, who was living in Montpellier, but I couldn't get through. All of the international lines were busy.

The day after, all of my professors wanted to talk about it in class. I just wanted to get on with learning Spanish and reading American literature. A quick panel was set up for that Thursday with some political science professors, and it was packed--but didn't explain anything.

I think I finally understood how much the attack affected me--who knew no one there, who only saw a few images on the television, who had been to New York for one weekend--a year later, in France. Belle-maman called me downstairs to watch the television, where they were showing the preview of a documentary filmed by a Frenchman about the attacks. I suddenly began crying and ran upstairs to Jube's room. His family followed, apologizing, telling me "We thought you would want to see it."

When I see all of the made-for-TV movies, the WTC commemorative coins, and the special editions of shows like Extra being filmed at Ground Zero, I don't know how to feel. The immediacy has worn off, but I still don't think that our grief should be exploited for television ratings. So last night I turned the television off after the US Open, which took place in New York and was the best tribute I could think of: continuing our lives with the pursuit of excellence.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


When I lived in France, I used to say, "Oh, the television is so much better in America!" I watched my friends' copies of Sex in the City, caught every episode of CSI I could, and hardly ever watched a French series. When I got back to the US, I was excited about watching The Office, after managing to catch a few episodes from a friend's iPod, and seeing all my favorite crime shows in VO (the original language--that would be English).

Well. For all of those American expats still living under the delusion that "American TV is better," I'm here to set you straight. I'm not saying that French television series are better than American series. I didn't watch very many of them, and I didn't exactly like them (except for a few episodes of Les enfants de la tele, which I adored for the outtakes, Star Academy--of course!--Fort Boyard and all of the American reality series with French participants, like The Bachelor). But, I loved watching all of the American network series I'd missed, like CSI, Without a Trace, and Law and Order. All of that, for free!

You might be saying to yourself, "But those are free in the US, too! We have network television!" Hmmm . . . unless you live in the middle of a city and pull out the bunny ears, you don't really get many channels. I know this because I only have three right now (four, counting the infomercial channel), and I live pretty much in the middle of Norfolk. After 2 years in France, and counting on 5 very clear channels that didn't show exclusively soaps in the afternoons, American TV is a big, big shock.

What's more, there are tons and TONS of commercials! When I watch CSI, I'm not used to the 10 or so commercials. In France, there is only one commercial in the middle of the show, and afterwards I got another episode right away, with no break (and that's on TF1!). If I watched Without a Trace, which showed on France 2, there were no commercials at all. Besides that, I learned all kinds of French vocabulary I never would have otherwise, words like "coroner" and "q-tip."

As for the afternoons, in the US, all I can see are soap operas--until they start showing talk shows before the local news. In France, they also showed soap operas, but I could also catch some nature documentaries or interesting cultural programs on France 5. I suppose that PBS also broadcasts shows like that, but I can't tune it in on my television set. Now, I'm not saying that French TV is the best in the world--or even better than American cable (although then you'd have to compare French cable, of course, and I don't have any experience with that). But in the US, our network channels can't compare to the good quality of French reception and the low commercial time.

The worst, though, is that I can't get into my American shows as much, because they sound like they have the wrong voices!

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I haven't written much about my job this summer in Nice, because I don't think it is appropriate. I did, however, spend my first night in a hospital, ever. The kids attending the summer program were . . . well, let's say they liked to have your attention. All the time.

So when you get sick and throw up, you think you have appendicitis, and you drag your counselor to the hospital. In the US, if you have appendicitis, they rush you into the operating room and cut that baby right out! In France, as I learned, you are taken under continuous observation for 12 hours. Since we arrived at 3:30pm, that meant we got to spend the night! Oh, yeah. I slept in the room with my charge, since she couldn't speak French very well. I wasn't thrilled about it, but I'm sure it was better than leaving her alone, since we were woken at 1am to get a sonogram and again at 6am for a blood sample... and again at 8am when a whole troupe of doctors and interns walked in to practice their English and diagnosis skills. We slept on the emergency ward, which meant we got to hear a patient moaning all night long. My poor girl was really scared (and I was kind of freaked out, too!) until I heard the nurses arguing with him. He kept asking for methadone, and they kept saying no . . . "and if Monsieur doesn't quiet down, we'll tie him down!" After that we slept well, knowing that the recovering drug addict would be a bit calmer with the nurses watching over him. That night in the hospital cost 900 Euros.

I went to the hospital one other time in July. This time it was more serious, although we didn't spend the night. Another girl had an athsma attack, so we called the ambulance. I rode with her in it, and when we arrived everything had passed. We did have to wait in emergency room admissions, though, and saw a couple of people who had been in a car accident walk by us, bleeding from the head. We spent about three hours at the hospital this time, enough to see a doctor who asked if there was carpet in the dorms where we slept. And--it was totally free, since we only used the ambulance resources!

Although I didn't go to the doctor very often in France, and never to the hospital, I miss the health care. Ahhh well! At least I get cheap dental cleaning from the school of dental hygiene here at ODU!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Labor Day Weekend

I made it safely to my parents' house in Northern Virginia, after taking 6 hours to drive the normal 3 in the pouring rain. But I arrived safely and, while watching Are We There Yet?, manage to eat fondue with my mother and stepfather. Then my mother launched into Planning-the-Wedding mode, and we went to all kinds of stores, looking for invitations, shoes, wraps, jackets, and other things. The best part of Planning the Wedding has been the restaurant where we will eat. We talked to the chef last night and got to eat there, too. Nice!

Oh wait. We haven't heard about the visa yet! This Planning the Wedding session has all been on blind faith! Isn't that fun? I hope that we'll find out soon. Jube is packing and will be moving back to Montpellier this week, and I'll be buckling down on the books. Who knew that they would be so boring? As an English major, I mainly got to read really fun books, and when I wrote my thesis they were all books I chose to read! Now, reading things like "Internationalisation and Globalisation: Study Abroad in the Post-Modern Era," I realize how lucky I was (although that article wasn't too bad). But I have high hopes for the future--when I get to choose what I research! And when Jube gets his visa! I'll let you know whenever I do . . .

Friday, September 01, 2006


Before I moved to Norfolk, Jube did lots of research on the city. He still does a lot, and when we talk on the phone, he asks me to "check if those tennis courts by our apartment are free to the public." Actually, he asks me that about once a week... Before I left France, he also asked me about hurricanes. He had heard there were a lot around Norfolk. Now, although I have lived in Ohio for most of my life, I was born in Washington, DC and have visited the area at least twice a year, every year (until I moved to France). To me, "Virginia" meant Northern Virginia, and I told him that hurricanes weren't very strong when they reached Virginia. Sure, there might be a little bit of rain, maybe a power outage or something, but that's it. So when Ernesto changed course and rammed into North Carolina, I thought, "Wow, sucks to live in the Outer Banks!" Then I saw the weather map and realized, "Hey, Norfolk is right next to North Carolina!" Today, ODU is closed. That's pretty cool, because I don't have to work, but it's also very annoying, because I was going to drive up to my parents' house today. So I have to make sure that I won't die because of flash floods on my way up... Wish me luck!