Thursday, September 25, 2008

SEPTEMBER MORN.....9 MONTHS

I'm in my last season of firsts.
My last first fall in Paris. It will be 9 months ago tomorrow that I left New York. I love September morns here. If it could just always stay like this forevs.....the sun, the warm afternoons, the slight chill in the air at night but only enough to make a hot toddy that much better. I know the drear is around the corner but in the meantime, Neil Diamond has been rocking my world. I highly recommend walking along the Seine and fake crying to this song nonstop ad nauseum.
video

Monday, September 22, 2008

LA DEFENSE, THE FINAL FRONTIER - SHIRLEY AND NANCY PART III

After helping Shirley up the 68th staircase of the night, we stand there huffing and puffing and I have a look around. Here we are in the middle of the giant plaza by the giant arch I vaguely know about. I only have a moment to think "ohhh, this is pretty" before Shirley takes off in a different direction exclaiming....

SHIRLEY: OHHHHHHH! I recognize that big thing! (points to arch) We've been here before! Vincent the tour guide took us here and said something about that big thing!
ME: (catching up to her) Great! Do you know where your hotel is from here? (they both point in different directions).....sigh....ok. (think, think) Can you SEE this arch from your hotel?
SHIRLEY: Yes.
NANCY: No.
ME: OK, just take a good look around. Look at the different buildings and angles. Does that help you remember anything?
SHIRLEY: The tour guide DEFINITELY said something to us about that big thing right there.
ME: OK, but are you RECOGNIZING anything about your HOTEL location maybe?
NANCY: Ah just don't know. Maybe ah have been here at some point.

Pointless. I give up and we head back to where there is a taxi station. My heart leaps as we walk up to the first taxi driver. But before I can even get to him with the address given to me by Benoit, most helpful security guard ever, Nancy rushes up to him to exclaim....

NANCY: WE NEED TO GET HEEEEERE! (points to piece of paper that says Hotel Mercure, 3 rue de Fontanot, La Defense...note that there is no Q in Mercure) HEEEEERE! DO YOU KNOOOOOOW HEEEEERE? (pointing pointing pointing)
TAXI DRIVER: (looks at piece of paper) No. Thees no here. Two Hotel Mercure. Go across that way (points in general direction) and there ees one.

Uh, ok.

I intervene again and find out in French from the taxi driver that the address is apparently completely wrong and that there are in fact at least two Hotel Mercures. My heart sinks and for the first time, I just don't know what to do. Nancy is still asking the driver "WHYYYYYY? WHAAAAAAT? Ah just don't understaaaaaaaand! Vincent GAVE this address to Benoit and he wrote it out!" as though mentioning the Spirit tour guide and the security guard at Conforama will somehow magically make the taxi driver suddenly understand bad directions and know where we want to get to. I tell Nancy it's over. Done. We have to come up with plan B. Nancy spies a Hilton Hotel right in front of us...
NANCY: Ah'll bet they have a bar in there and they speak some English.

Nancy is now making sense to me and the thought of a drink is growing more appetizing by the moment. Hotel Hilton here we come. One rolling cart, four bags and now three lost tourists enter the lobby. Shirley sees a piano and as she now knows I am a singer, she stops and insists I sing them a song. "Well, you're a lounge singer aren't you? Play something!" Ok I am just not feeling up for breaking out in song. No ladies, this lounge singer is grabbing the bull by the horns here as I have had it with any further distractions. I'm doing it My Way from here on out. "No, we are going to the front desk. Let's move."

We roll up to the reception area and I ask the young guy behind the desk if he could look up the Hotel Mercure for me. He has just started working there and has no idea where 3 rue Fontanot is. I ask him over and over to please just google it. Nancy pipes in with a "JUST GIVE US THE NUMBER!" as I try to speak in French to them. I smile my best "I am really really really trying to stay super friendly" smile and ask him again if he could just google it. He directs me to a woman next to him who also has no idea what the address is I gave them and also knows nothing about any Hotel Mercure. She tells me there is an old man who works there who knows every street in the area but he doesn't start work for another 10 minutes. OK, I say, we'll wait. And we wait. And wait. Another hotel employee tries to find the Hotel Mercure and also comes up empty. I begin to wonder what exactly is on the mystery screen that they have been looking and looking at behind the desk as I could have googled this half an hour ago and already had the number.

An older man approaches me, takes one look at the name and the address on the paper and tells me that the hotel I am looking for is actually in Nanterre and I can take the RER A train there. Nanterre. Really. As in, not in Paris. No way. I am not putting these ladies on another train to nowhere. They will take a cab. I thank him profusely. Still no number from the mystery/I no google screen so I decide to stalker dial Vincent the tour guide over and over and over until he picks up. I dial two times, three, four....I begin to hate Vincent with all my soul as I get his voicemail over and over and over and over and over.

Then, at last, he picks up....

VINCENT: (frantic voice) ALLO? ALLO?! (massive static and voices and noise)
ME: Yyyyyeah. VINCENT. HI. You don't know me but I have the women from your Spirit tour that you left behind at the Louvre. Yyyyyeah...I found them in a store totally lost and VERY upset. The address you gave the last guy who called is TOTALLY wrong and we are now in La Defense at the Hilton. I need the number of the correct hotel please.
VINCENT: ALLO?! Ahhhhh, oui, bien sur. D'accord...I am on ze RER A (train) weeth the rest of ze tour and I....NONONONONONONONON zees ees NOT zee stop! Do NOT get off ze train here!!! ALLO? ALLO?!! Attends.....NON! STAY ON ZEES TRAIN! OK ZE NUMBER EES 01 58....
Click.
Dead.
Suddenly I cannot possibly be mad at Vincent. After two more calls, I finally get the entire number of Hotel Mercure, call and get directions and a correct address. It is, in fact, in Nanterre. I write everything down for them real big and clear. Nancy spies the hotel bar and invites me for a drink. I want to but it is 10pm now and I have to find my way back to the metro with my wilting lettuce and get home.

NANCY: Aw your husband must be worried sick about you. You go home. We'll take a cab downstairs. Dana, you are just an angel.
SHIRLEY: A real ANGEL.
NANCY: Thank you so much for getting us here. We'll send you the pictures.

I kissed them goodbye on each cheek. As I walked out the door, the old man who helped me asked where the other ladies were so we cold catch a taxi. I told him I didn't really know them and was just helping them find their way. I asked if he could keep an eye on them, he smiled and I rode the subway home with a grin on my face.

Thank you for the random ride through Paris, Shirley and Nancy. I had a wonderful time and yes, you did get to see the "real Paris." I hope you made it home ok.

xo Dana

Sunday, September 21, 2008

BOTTLE WITH THREE STRAWS - SHIRLEY AND NANCY PART II

One rolling cart, four bags, and two lost American tourists in tow, we roll out the door of Conforama in search of the 1 train. As we left the store, I whispered to Benoit, the most helpful security guard ever..."um, Chatelet metro....a droit et a droit, oui?"
Yes, he smiles and I try to hide my frantic look at the map to see which way this La Defense place is that I have never been to but am now apparently the designated tour guide for. I am carrying Shirley's bags for her, she waves her cane at me and says...

SHIRLEY: I feel great! We should walk! My pill kicked in!
ME: Oh yeah? What pill is that?
SHIRLEY: My Vicodin.
ME: (pause) Vicodin. You're on Vicodin right now?
SHIRLEY: For the pain. I feel GREAT. Let's walk!
NANCY: Let's get a drink. Ah don't drink but today ah feel like drinkin'. Let's get a bottle.
SHIRLEY: And two straws!
NANCY: THREE straws!
ME: Uuuuh...well Shirley, I don't know how smart drinking while on Vicodin is....
SHIRLEY: I feel great! Let's stop and get a drink!
ME: Aaaaaactually....let's just get to La Defense first before it gets dark, OK ladies?

As the last sentence comes out, I grab Shirley's arm and yank her back to the sidewalk before she walks into oncoming traffic on very busy Rue Rivoli. At this point I realize I should just settle in because it's gonna be a long night. Shirley's popped up on painkillers and Nancy has a sudden urge to get trashed. We reach the first subway entrance and make the long descent down several flights of stairs, through hallways and down some more stairs only to find....the entrance doesn't take tickets, only swipe cards. Shit. After apologizing profusely to them, we have to make our way back UP all the stairs and across the street, all the while Nancy and Shirley telling me how their grandchildren will never believe this adventure of theirs.

"Betcha this beats the Pope, EH???!!!" I ask.
Silence.
Ooooookkaaaaaay....note to self...nix nay on the religious talk with conservative Christians. I gotta get to La Defense. And FAST. It's getting dark and I don't know when Shirley's painkillers will wear off.

We finally make our way onto the crowded subway train. Neither one of them has ever been on a subway in their lives and they are busy snapping pictures of me, having me snap pictures of them. Shirley whips the video camera out...."WAVE DANA, WAAAAAAAVE!" The looks from other passengers range from incredulous, hate, pity, fear and straight up laughter. I make Shirley sit down after she insists on trying to stand, cane in one hand and video camera perilously perched in the other.

ME: Shirley, seriously. SIT DOWN.
SHIRLEY: I feel GREAT!
ME: I AM SERIOUS. SIT. DOWN.

After a long ride, we finally reach the last stop and I audibly gulp as we get out and all I see are endless stairs leading into a GIANT station. I cannot let them see me sweat. But this place is HUGE and I cannot see ANY exits, much less signs for taxi stations. But Nancy spies something much more useful....the liquor shelves behind the counter at a Monoprix in the station.

NANCY: Let's get some vodka!
SHIRLEY: And THREE straws!
ME: Um, OK, you want me to buy you some liquor now? Uh...maybe we should find the taxi stand?
NANCY: Let's get a bottle!
SHIRLEY: And THREE straws!

I am clearly not in control of the ship anymore as they head straight into the Monoprix, walk right past the huge line of people, right up to the cashiers who are ringing up other orders and exclaim slowly and loudly for the whole store to hear...

NANCY: WE WAAAAANT A SMAAAALL BOOOOTTLE OF VOOOOODKA, OOOOKAAAAAY? A SIIIINGLE SEEEEERVING BOTTTTTTLE, OKAAAAAAY? NOOOOT A BIIIIIIG BOTTLE. DO YOU HAVE SMAAAAALL BOTTLES? PETEEEEEEEEEET BOOOOOOOOTTLE?, OOOOKAAAAAAY?

I stand behind them with my mouth hanging open. This is actually happening. The cashiers look at them like they are insane which, is clearly beginning to dawn on me that maybe they actually are. But they are MY two insane tourists and I try to intervene.

ME: How about a small bottle of wine instead? See? They have those small bottles there.
NANCY: Oh no no no, ah don't drink waaaaahn.
ME: OK, well, it's the big bottle of vodka then or nothing.
NANCY: Well ah am certainly not drinking awl THAT vodka!

I manage to shuffle them out the door, convince them that looking for a taxi might actually be a better idea as I see the station is emptying out into a ghost town and this is clearly no place for a lost tourist at night. We finally find an exit only to find steps steps steps in every direction. I stand there not knowing which way to go and just before I lose my cool, a woman approaches me and tells me in French that there is a taxi stand up the steps to my left. I thank her profusely and we make our way up to what I think is going to be my saving grace.....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SO MAD I COULD SPIT - SHIRLEY AND NANCY PART 1

I left the house on Monday with my rolling cart that I travel with each day packed to the brim with everything I need for my three personas. My 65 books for French class, my boxing gloves and clothes for Savate and my CDs and flyers for music. Just another rolling overachiever in Paris. As I left, I spied my camera on the table and thought "Oooohhh, I should take it."
"Nah, I'm just going to classes today, I'll never need it."
"Wait, just cause I thought that means I should actually take it but now I know I am not going to take it and I also know I will somehow regret it but here I am leaving anyway."
And out the door I rolled.

After an uneventful French class, I tried to roll my way onto the subway at St. Michel. I have never seen it so packed to the brim with people and after me and my cart got violently pushed off two trains, I decided to screw Savate class and go couch shopping instead. Little did I know what this twist of fate would bring.....

PLACE: CONFORAMA FURNITURE STORE, NEAR THE SEINE RIVER
TIME: 6:30PM

I roll into the store and am browsing the couches that are next to the front door when two women enter the store, disheveled and distraught. They barrel up to the security guard. Enter....

NANCY (American, from Texas, 65 years old, bright pink shorts and matching top, heavily made up and a name tag that says SPIRIT TOURS: MY NAME IS NANCY!

SHIRLEY (American, 81 years old, from a Denver suburb, wearing a cream travel suit with matching visor, cane in one hand and large video camera circa 1990 swinging from the other)

NANCY: Sir, we need a phhoooown, OKAAAAY? We are lost, lost LOST and we need you to make a phown cawl for us, OKAAAY? Our tour bus left us high and dry at the Louvre, we have been walkin' for HOURS now, I crossed that rivah 'bout four times, I have NO idea where in God's name we are and we need some help....right now! I am just BESIDE myself!

My head wheels around as I am stunned into silence. The guard smiles, pulls out his cell phone and tells them of course he will make a phone call. I make myself conforama on one of the couches and listen to Nancy spill their story to the guard, as loud and dramatic as possible. Shirley stands vacantly smiling next to her seemingly enjoying herself. I wish I had some popcorn. So....Nancy and Shirley are on a Spirit Tour Catholic pilgrimage with 75 people following the Pope around Europe for three weeks. Nancy's friend Suzanne wasn't feeling too well at the Louvre so Shirley let her borrow her wheelchair for a while. While they were leaving the Louvre, Shirley was walking slow with her cane so Nancy stayed behind a little to help her. When they got outside, the two Spirit Tour buses were gone...they left them there with no money, no Spirit, no idea where they were and only the telephone number for the tour guide. They proceeded to wander around trying to find the buses and ended up getting completely lost.

NANCY: I am TELLIN' YOU, I am so mad I could just SPIT! I got left behind last night too and I had to pay 50 euro to take a cab back to the hotel. Sir, what is your name?
GUARD: Benoit.
NANCY: Weeeell, Benoit, here is the card for Vincent our guide, ah suppose he won't pick up his phone now but I just don't know what else to DO! You'd THINK they would do a HEAD count!
SHIRLEY: No use crying over spilled milk. (camera swinging next to her)
NANCY: Shirley, I am TELLING you they should have done a HEADCOUNT! My LORD!
SHIRLEY: No use crying over spilled milk.

Benoit calls the tour guide but there is no answer.

NANCY: Ah HAVE to sit down a minute, my head is spinning! I am so MAD!

And with that, the two women plop themselves down on the couch directly across from me. Nancy announces, "We should say a St. Jude raght now, Shirley. Oh Lord, do we need one. A St. Jude would do us some good." As they start to pray, I cannot hold it in any longer.

ME: Are you two ladies lost?
NANCY: Whaaaaah YES we ARE. Are you Freeeeench?
ME: No, I'm from New York.
NANCY: You're from New York CITY?
SHIRLEY: I was there once in 1952.
NANCY: I am just BESIDE myself, they should have done HEAD COUNT!
ME: What's the name of your hotel?
SHIRLEY: There's an M and a Q in it!
NANCY: I don't really know and I left without any of the papers today. Maybe M-U-Q....no wait, M-U-N-Q...
SHIRLEY: There's a Q! A Q!
NANCY: ...M-Q...then something something...maybe an E in it
ME: Uhhh, ok. I could call my husband and ask him to google it. (I dial) Yeah, hi, it's me. Um, I need you to google MUNQ Paris Hotel ok?....Don't ask why, long story...Nancy, what part of town is it in?
NANCY: The NEW part.
ME: Uh, ok.....(into phone) um, does the NEW part of Paris mean anything to you? Yyyyyyeah, I know.

FB finds nothing, I tell him I'll explain later and hang up just as Benoit gets the tour guide on the phone. He gets the hotel address from him (Hotel Mercure near La Defense) before Nancy grabs the phone away to yell into it "VINCENT. I AM PISSSSED raght now. You left me AGAIN and I am NOT spending another DIME to take a taxi. I spent 50 euro last night and that's 75 dollars! You send someone right now to come get us!"
SHIRLEY: Let's walk there! I can walk!
NANCY: Vincent! I am serious! (listens) Well why not? OH! (she hangs up phone) He said no he couldn't and I am NOT taking another cab.
SHIRLEY: I can walk! Let's walk!
BENOIT: You could take ze metro.
NANCY: Can't the Police come and get us?
BENOIT: I don't zeenk zey will do zat.
SHIRLEY: Let's walk! I can walk!
ME: Shirley, I don't think you can walk to La Defense. That's like, REALLY far.
SHIRLEY: I can! Let's walk there!
NANCY: We are NOT walking there! Okaaaay, let's take the metro.

At this point, I realize there is no way I am letting these two ladies get on the metro alone with name tags and swinging video cameras to find their own way to the outskirts of Paris with no clue. I lie to them and tell them I am going the same way and will show them onto the metro. As we leave Nancy tries to slip Benoit a $20 bill.

BENOIT: Nonononoonononon!
NANCY: But you have been so NICE to us!
BENOIT: I weel not take your money!
NANCY: But why NOT? TAKE $20!
BENOIT: Beecause I would want a person to do ze same zing for me and I want to show you zat French people are, een fact, very nice people.
NANCY: Well aren't you just a DOLL? You should get together with Dana here, she's such a pretty girl, just look at her, she's...
ME: I'm MARRIED! I told you that!
NANCY: Well maybe she has a sister or something. You give me your address, Benoit. Such a nice boy.

Benoit laughs and writes his address down for her. I decide that it is now my personal responsibility to get these two ladies back to their hotel. If my Mom and Grandma were lost, I would hope someone would help them. Someone with more than just a vague idea of where La Defense is or where to catch the 1 train from where we are. But hey, I'm all they have at the moment.
"Ladies, on y va. We're off to La Defense."
And out the door we roll......

Monday, September 15, 2008

THE ART OF FLYERING

I love flyers and I love talking to people. I especially heart giving people I just met a flyer. Little nuggets of art with some concert info on it. FB made me these awesome flyers and I have been enjoying the surprised looks on peoples' faces as I pull out my Grandma ziplock plastic baggie out of my purse and hand them a flyer for my show this Saturday. I should have some cheese bites in there too and offer a snack with that.

Unlike New York, Paris is not overrun with people flyering. I used to stand outside of shows in New York with my punk band (Stupid) and pass out flyers, homemade stickers, buttons and sampler CDs. There would usually be a bunch of other bands doing the exact same thing. It seems that culture has been moved to mostly online flyering and marketing now. Nothing beats the face to face interaction though. I can myspace people all day but I much prefer going out, introducing myself and having an actual conversation. Especially when I am trying to speak French. I gotta talk with the hands!
So here's my online flyer.
I'll be around the clubs all week though, talking with the hands and passing out more flyers. :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

AU REVOIR, LIAM

When I arrived in Paris eight months ago and began to check out the local indie rock music scene, I thought I would find many more Americans based here than I actually did. I have seen plenty of American bands pass through but I have not seen or heard of that many who call Paris their home. I met talented Californian (and half French!) singer/songwriter Liam Carey somewhat randomly when I went to see a show of his back in January. I was an instant fan of his music and we became fast friends ever since. He introduced me to Erica Buettner, another American musician in Paris working the music scene who has the most angelic voice that makes me actually stop chewing my nails when I hear her sing.

We all played a show together this summer and it seemed the beginnings of a scene of our own....and then....(drum roll).....Liam announced he is moving to New York City.

Yes, devastated I am.

Tonight he plays his farewell show in Paris before moving to my hometown, the big and beautiful New York. Erica Buettner and Stefanos (my favorite anarchist accordionist) will join him for what will be a beautiful night of songs and some teary goodbyes. It somehow seems strangely appropriate for September 11th to go listen to some incredible music and send a dear friend off into the New York horizon.

Jeudi 11 Septembre
Café Charbon
109 Rue Oberkampf, 11e (M : Parmentier)
19h00, gratuit

Bonne chance, Liam. You will be sorely missed.


xoxoxoxoxoxoxo Dana

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A+++++++

10:06AM
Yesterday
HOME

Books scattered everywhere, worksheets on the floor, conjugation book open, dictionary in other hand....
"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god...WHYYY did I leave ALL my homework for this morning!$@#....(tears welling)....I have to leave for class....
FB: "In two hours."
ME: "But I...(choke choke) have to study more and I don't understand this part and I can't show up without everything done and I have to write this chart out for myself still and I don't remember the reflexive verbs in negative passé composé and I SHOULD have studied this more last night I KNEW IT I KNEW IT I KNEW IT and now I totally SCREWED myself!!!!..."
Silence as I throw book across the room, smashing it against wall and proceed to collapse into more tears.
FB: "Dude, for real. You need to seriously RELAX. It's not high school."
ME: "YOU. TOTALLY. DON'T. GEEEET IT!!!!" SLAM.

And with that....it's back to school. My inner high schooler is easily accessible because I never worked on becoming a less competitive, sensitive, overly emotional and generally reactionary kind of person.
Why would I do that? At least I FEEL things, man.

I do actually love my class this time around. Chapter 5 is my friend. My teacher is my friend and the other 8 students from mostly China who I can never understand are my friends too. They all got here between a week and three months ago and there was an audible sigh on the first day when I announced I have been here for 8 months. "Ohhhhhhhh" as I heard everyone's mind ask the same question, "Is she retarded?" Hmpf. I'll show THEM what retarded looks like. I sit front and center every day with my highlighters and my charts neatly lined up in front of me. I raise my hand for every question, even if I don't know the answer and I help break the ice with the shy students when we separate into small groups to roll play.

"OK Feng, YOU be Pierre, OK? You just won 5 million euro in the lottery, OK? 5 MILLION. And I'LL be Marie and we are at lunch so you can tell me you are leaving me for a younger woman now, OK? Tu comprends? OK GO!"
"PIEEEERE, NOOOOOOO, C'est TERRIBLE! C'est un HORREUR! PIEERE, MON AMOUR, PIEEEEEEERE!!"

My favorite exercises are the "finish the following sentence" ones.

1. Carole and Maxime have been married for three years. They leave the doctor's office, they are very happy because....

(raising hand) "Excuse me, how do say brain tumor?"
TEACHER: "Pardon?"
ME: "Actually, wait, no...how do you say boils....um, how do I explain...your skin is bad, you have infection in your arms, your skin with red circles...very big...and there is a lot of water in the circles?"
TEACHER: "Furoncle? Qu'est ce que tu veux dire?"
ME: "Oh! I want to say that they are very happy because Maxime's brain tumor is gone and Carole's boils have finally disappeared."
TEACHER: (blank stare) You certainly are.....creative. (cracks a half smile)

MERCI PROF!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

THE RETURN OF TRACY FLICK

I thought it would work.
Who needs SCHOOL?
Gross.
I've got osmosis and French in-laws.
Just open your mind maaaaan, and let the French just floooow right in...

Yeah, it flows in OK.....flows right in, hurls itself around while my brain searches for some sort of order then usually propels itself right back out while leaving a word or two behind. Most of the time the words that really help me understand the conversation....like THE or THEN or NOW.
Wow.
Deep.

I've got zero problems talking (diarrhea of the mouth since birth helps) but having 10% or less comprehension doesn't really make me a very good listener unless you are into confused faces and "Je n'ai compris pas" being repeated dozens of times. After three months of a French comprehension plateau and much internal debate, I decided to humbly accept that I do in fact, need to go....BACK TO SCHOOL.


I dusted off my books and returned to the Alliance Francaise on Friday to sign up for class. I took a month of classes there in February and all I wanted to do is pick up where I left off. Simple. Chapter 5 please. I went to the information desk, stated my query in French and was promptly told by the woman (in French) that I would have to retake the French placement test...

ME: Why?
HER: Because your French level may have changed since February.
ME: To change nothing. Wait, nothing change. My French does not change.
HER: You cannot enter the class without taking the test first.
ME: I want chapter 5.
HER: Take the test first. You are speaking French to me now. See? It is better.
ME: No, no. I do not know chapter 5. I never learn chapter 5. I want to take chapter 5. I do not want the test. It is not necessary the test. My French is same. My husband is French. I know chapter 4. I want chapter 5.
HER: Take this test to the second floor testing room.

GRRRRR. OK, fine. I am clearly not going to get anywhere with her. But I am NOT taking that test again. I already took it once and I am DONE. I march up to the second floor, determined as ever to get out of this test. The man running the testing room escorts me to a desk with the test.....(in French)

ME: Wait. I want to talk. It is not possible for me, the test. I studied here in February and I want chapter 5. I want a class with chapter 5.
HIM: But your French may have improved since February.
ME: My French is terrible. I do not understand. I want chapter 5.
HIM: You are speaking French to me right now. Take this test and we will talk after the test.
ME: No, we talk now about this test. This test that I do not take. We talk. I want chapter 5.
HIM: It has been more than three months since your last class and the policy is that you MUST take the test again.
(pause)
ME: If I take this test, I am dead.
HIM: (stops and looks at me for a moment) You will die?
ME: Yes, I am dead if I am taking this test. Dead.
HIM: (thinks for a moment and smiles) Well, we don't want any deaths here. You can start with chapter 5.
ME: THANK YOU. You are very nice.
HIM: That's what my wife says to me every night.

SCORE. My comprehension kicked into high gear in my hour of need (well, that and the fact that everyone at Alliance Francaise speaks in overly pronounced, extra slow for dummies French) and I learned that yes, you can really talk your way out of anything here. No means maybe means yes. Just threaten to die, that's all. Simple.