France, Part 1
May 21, 2012
In a few short days, I am going to France. That sounds crazy to read, but the decision is made. My company is holding our developer offsite near Lyon starting June 2nd and after that, I will be in Paris for a few weeks, staying with this guy David in NE Central Paris on a street called Rue de Menilmontant. It was a place I found on AirBnB.com.
I’m ditching all my things for this adventure and it scares me that I’m not scared. The weightlessness makes me feel like a ghost that can slip between cracks and see things others can’t, unnoticed. But I guess being a ghost has its disadvantages–I’m forgotten and no one notices me. I don’t really have anything that I’m leaving behind, though. So I’m free. And I’ll never have to look back on my life and say, “I didn’t do that.” Because I did.
I’m doing this because I need to know what it’s like to feel like I know nothing and only have room to grow. I want to see what removing myself from every single one of my comforts does to my personality. I want to know who I am apart from any constants in my life. I want to show the world that I’m flying, I’ve landed, and … I’m here.
June 2, 2012
Right now, I’m in a plane heading to Toronto. So far, everything has been a disaster, but my spirits are high. First, I was refused a boarding pass because I didn’t have a return flight. The woman was a bitch about it too, claiming to put a warning on my passport. I have no idea what that actually means, if not just complete nonsensical idle threats. I had a pass issued finally with the caveat that immigrations in France may not let me pass. To get around that, I sat in the terminal in Portland, got online, and bought the cheapest return flight I could find that passes through Iceland for September 1st, just to get an itinerary. I’m obviously coming back, but I don’t know where I will be so it seems stupid to have a return flight from an airport with no guarantee of being in that city.
Everything is a little scary right now. When I thought I wouldn’t make this flight, I thought, “And now I have nowhere to return to.” And I was afraid because I realized that one tiny misstep could completely fuck me up. Chris’s flight had already boarded and I was just kind of left lingering in confusion, not letting myself make too big a deal of anything because I knew whatever happened, I’d have to get it sorted out one way or another, but it felt like a heavy deterrence. I texted him, but I knew he wouldn’t see it once he was out of the US. Everyone is going to France and here I was, stuck in Portland. I didn’t want that one moment to set the tone for everything from here on out, to hear nothing more than a series of people telling me what I can’t do when all I want is to be liberated and free.
June 4, 2012
I am in France right now. In a small village called Les Sauvages, near Tarrare, which is about an hour from Lyon. The past couple of days have been weird. After the weird passport issue, I wasn’t sure how to deal with the prospect of inevitable jet lag, so I thought I’d sleep on my second flight, but only got about 4 hours total, so I don’t know if I’m actually adjusting or what.
We were supposed to meet people arriving around the same time and travel in groups, so the first person I see is Sergey. I’m yawning and my bag is taking forever to come out. He’s standing over to the side waiting for me an awkwardly long time. But soon enough, there are about 10 of us all standing in the train station waiting to catch the first train out. I realize in these brief sleepy moments that this is the first time Chris and I have been around coworkers while we’ve been dating… and aside from Luka, we haven’t told anyone just yet about us, so I don’t know how to act towards him.
Everything was very surreal and dream-like. 8 of us sat by each other in one of the passenger cars speeding through a foggy countryside. My eyelids occasionally peeked open and I’d see to my left a herd of cows and then off to my right Martin and Yury with their heads tilted back, sleeping. It was 9AM. We were all tired, regardless of where we were coming from.
After getting to the train station in Tarrare, there’s two groups going back to the “camp.” I go with Luka, who had driven up from Croatia. Up the winding roads through the village, the car is going very fast. I haven’t been in a car since Perú. In Portland, I am all about my bike and the MAX. As the car inches around a very sharp, dangerous turn, Luka points at a bunch of arrows at the turn and makes a remark about each one being someone that died there or something to that effect.
The “camp” itself is a series of 3 buildings in Les Sauvages that normally hosts children. There is a main building which has a kitchen, media room, and an upstairs of several rooms with bunk beds (I’m fortunate this time because marketing and product marketing came along and so I have Toby as a roommate, even though I really don’t know much about her). Then there is a conference room building where we all spend most of the time. And then there is my favorite room in the entire camp, the shed which is completely unlocked and has all sorts of inane shit in it like an accordion and a giant stuffed cock.
The format of this is much like the last one I went to. We do pair-programming and then two hackathons. The hackathons are awesome because we end up building some really cool shit. It’s funny to think though that I am here and now this is a part of my story. When I am 80, I will remember the time I wrote a bunch of PHP with like 40 guys in the French countryside.
Every time I come to one of these work things, however, I feel a lot of internal tugging to adjust myself to fit in with all the guys I work with. Being the lone woman in the development team is, as much as I try to ignore it and not call attention to myself for my gender, in person it sometimes becomes a minor hindrance, and I realize the burden there is on me, not them. But I refuse to use my gender as a crutch. Sometimes it’s not about my gender, but just who I am as a person. People seem to know me for being jokey. I’m the “vulgar” one. I have no sense of shame. I’m fartprincess. I’m bonerland. I’m sexhaver1984. That’s my persona and that’s how these people know me. But… I’m Aimee. And even though I’m quiet, I have this really loud personality that most of these people don’t know of me. And I don’t really know how to temper it. It feels manic in some ways. And although I sense people like me… it bothers me that I can’t seem to break through myself and let people see me. I give people sneak peeks of who I am and I know people know that there is a lot of personality going on beyond what they’re seeing.
And even then, I feel like I have a lot to prove and defend. And even when I do something right, I worry it’s not enough–I judge myself harder than any of these people do. And yet I don’t want them to know that I care so much what they think of me, because that makes me look vulnerable and I’m tougher than that. In some way, I think that’s why I’m here though. Because I need to figure myself out.
June 11, 2012
I’ve been in France for a week now. This weekend, we were free to do whatever we wanted. Most people went to Paris for a meetup for DeviantArt or on a wine tour. Saturday, Chris and I went down A9 and A7 to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the south coast of France. We stopped in Nimes along the way because I was sick and I needed medicine. I had a real full conversation in French with the pharmacist, in which I got to describe my symptoms. I felt really proud of myself. She understood me immediately. Unlike the person at the toll booth station who did not understand me at all when I tried to explain I had lost the ticket for the toll road. What a nightmare.
As we were driving down, there was this sudden exit for something called “SPACE BOWLING.” Despite having been in this weird little camp for the past week in Les Sauvages, it was the first time I had considered differences between French culture and American culture. What if space bowling were something completely insane and the French were just holding out on us because they hate us so much? What if we walked in there and the French had somehow used research from the Large Hadron Collider to make a zero-gravity bowling alley? That’s right, Aimee. What. If. We didn’t go in though. It was closed. A total disappointment.
In town, there was a bullfighting show where all these young guys fought. It was impressive in that I have never seen live bullfighting but simultaneously kind of tame as far as bullfighting goes. Not exactly the Hemingway representation of Pamplona I’ve read about in The Sun Also Rises But there was a tense moment where one of the bulls got out of the ring and they had to use a girl’s pink jacket to coax it back in. As I sat there filming it, I thought to myself, “I wonder if this kind of thing happens like every time they have one of these events but everyone just acts like it’s tense because they don’t go to bullfighting shows with any frequency?”
We went down to the beach and there was a statue of a bull with large testicles. I touched the ballsack and a woman walked by and said “très vilain” as she shook her finger in the “naughty naughty” gesture, half-smiling, like she were my old childhood nanny who was now giving me advice on kissing boys in discotheques (that’s not really a thing). The beach was rocky and windy. There was a wharf surrounded by long rows of slippery rocks.
Everyone back at the camp had been sick all week and I had managed to fend it off until Friday. It all started with Chris, who caught it on some AirTahiti flight. I had some Fervex to help ward off the demons. That stuff has a very weird effect on me. It’s a grape powder. Someone dared me to mix it with wine but that sounded like a horrible idea that would only lead to liver damage. Fervex makes my nerves feel cold and shakey. I tried so hard to not let the illness get to me. For the most part, I succeeded, but at dinner, I was struggling.
On the way back, we went through a bunch of towns like Avignon and saw castles. One of the castles was Tarascon, which was still fully maintained and you could get up on the roof of it and see it as it sits on the Rhône. The highlight of this was the bathrooms in the castle, which often dumped into a thicket of forest 3 stories below. In one of the bathrooms, I pulled down my pants and pretended like I was constipated. The other castle, Beaucaire, was ruins. To me, this was more fun that the castle left intact because it meant more scaling walls, more climbing, more sneaking into little places I wasn’t allowed to be.
It was pouring rain back in Lyon and I was sniffling and feeling fairly effete by it all. The kitchen in the camp was serving something like roasted duck shit basted in a tepid bath of pig sweat or whatever the fuck. I mean, not really, but yes really–the camp food is pretty bad. The menu gets posted on a piece of paper that sits on the 3 kitchen tables. Every day, a bunch of us pass the paper around trying to decipher it. Most people know by now that pommes de terre are potatoes and frommage is cheese. Sometimes they serve us this meat mousse that has a clear gelatin lining on it. I’m sure the real thing in a proper restaurant is savory and quite the delicacy but here, it’s just comical and awkward and in some ways, I’m really thankful I’m a 100-pound girl who doesn’t need much to eat.
The Internet here is abysmally slow. We all are using squid proxy to help manage but they’ve shut off access to almost all social media most of the day (I slip through the cracks occasionally late at night to keep friends updated with information on how I am drinking wine from a trophy).
As I am writing this, I am sitting at a table in the conference room. I’ve mostly stayed in the same place. Behind me, Djordje sits and occasionally hits me and has had me tricked for several days thinking he’s slapping me with his dreadlocked beard. We all have these rubber ducks for pair coding. Mine has a very interesting hole on the bottom and I discovered that if I hold it against various sections of skin on my body, I can make very realistic farting sounds with it. Peter is sitting on the other side of the table. He doesn’t realize that the farting sounds are coming from the rubber duck. Occasionally, a huge look of disgust registers on his face, like he’s really grossed out but doesn’t want to say anything because it’s so awkward.
But on the whole, it’s been a good time around here and I’m enjoying it.