Monday, February 16, 2009


My level of France retardation spiked this past week with a series of events that left me googling "loss of brain cells"....

French class, take 3.
After two disappointing rounds at Alliance Francaise last year, I was able to sign up for super cheap French classes through the mairie. I have learned not to cheat my way through placement tests and I showed up the first day to learn that after a year in Paris, I am now qualified for level 2. YES! I can say all sorts of things now but my major problem remains...I still don't understand one word anyone says to me. I am 100% convinced now that I am either an asshole who doesn't listen or I actually do have a learning disability. My class is held in an elementary school and I felt the butterflies as I squeezed myself into the tiny, tiny desk and looked around at the 30 other adults. I fought a sudden urge to yell "CAN WE ALL GET THIS OVER WITH!!? MY NAME IS DANA AND I JUST WANT YOU PEOPLE TO LIKE ME, OOOKAAAY??!!" I add "Tourette's" to my internal "to google" list and I wondered if anyone else is afflicted with childhood holdover anxiety disorder.

Our first lesson is to turn to our neighbor and interview them. Where he/she is from, what they do, how long they have been here, etc. After your neighbor interviews you, you are to present each other to the rest of the class. OK, no sweat, I think. I turn to my neighbor....Jonas.
Where are you from?
I write DENMARK.
What city?
Can you spell that, please?
OH! DRESDEN, DENMARK I carefully write.
OK, age?
24? No, 26 he corrects.
Oh, right. I knew that one. (Note to self: brush up on numbers 1-10)
OK. What do you do?
Physicien, he says.
DOCTOR, I write. Wow, they must have really super advanced med school in Denmark, I think. OH those Danish! So efficient and so very smart too!

We finish our interview and the teacher begins calling out names to present. I smile as my name is called and stand proudly to announce my new neighbor. I got this in the baaaag. My very first words to the class, I am ready to make an animated and friendly first impression...

"I present to you....JONAS! (I gesture grandly to him). Jonas is a DOCTOR from DRESDEN, DENMARK!"
Silence. Blink. Blink. Something is clearly wrong as I look around at the puzzled faces. My teacher asks me to repeat, please?
"Jonas is uh.....a doctor....from.....Dresden...Denmark...he is Danish..." Jonas taps my leg and quietly and politely informs me he is actually a physicist from Germany. I feel the blood drain as I search wildly for something to say, in French, something...ANYTHING to save me from this horrible display of inadequacy. I try and muster my shattered self confidence.
"Ha....ha...uh...just now...what FUNNY! I think he say Denmark....I hear Dresden...what is reason I am here!"
I awkwardly sit down and concentrate on making my face turn back to white from purple. I can't even look at Jonas, the physicist from Germany. Or the rest of class for that matter. I pray someone else will make a similar mistake..."Maria is a FISHERMAN from CANADA!"...."Antonio is an ASTRONAUT from KOREA!"....aaaanything.
But no one does.

I have been searching for a good lotion for my winter dry skin. After carefully scouring the shelves at the pharmacy, I see a picture of a baby on a giant jumbo size bottle. OH! BABY lotion, perfect! After slathering this on my body every night for two weeks, I notice my skin is getting progressively red and bumpy, I frequently wake up in the night itching and I am developing some sort of skin condition on my feet. I take a closer look at the bottle again and realize there is actually an English translation on the back.
Baby soap.
It's soap.
I have been slathering myself in soap for two weeks wondering why I am itching and why my morning showers are particularly frothy.
It's because it is SOAP.
Not lotion.

I made some Vietnamese food yesterday. Chopping the hot pepper for the sauce, my nose itched and while scratching it, I accidentally shoved a bunch of hot pepper seeds up my nose. The fiery burning quickly spread from my nose to my throat and I spent the next hour making "freaked out cat with a fur ball stuck in throat" gagging sounds, praying to god that the neighbors weren't home.

Just trucking along, as usual.

Friday, February 13, 2009


It has arrived. My dance pop music video homage to French boys....

In the middle of making my album, I got tired of producing sad songs so one night on a lark, I wrote a dance song as a joke called French Boy. An homage to my inner francophile. I played it for Jeff Byrd, my co-producer and he flipped out. Said we had to produce the track. I sighed, said "but it's just a JOKE" song...he persisted so we made a rough cut of the song. My filmmaker friend Corey Tatarczuk heard the track and flipped out. Said we had to make a dance video. So we started working on the storylines. Ninjas! Breakdancing! Girl fight! First thing we needed....some real live French boys. I convinced FB and his friend they had to star in it by telling them all they had to do was walk around all day smoking and looking French. It quickly spiraled into a three day 12 person crew shoot at Princeton University and Institute For Advanced Studies (Einstein's academic home). The result is my most favorite video, shot with the help of my friends and forever ingrained in my head as "that magical weekend".

This is for all you French boys out there.
This American girl totally loves you.

Friday, February 06, 2009


Come rock it with me if you're in Paris tonight.
Toi et moi. XO Dana

Thursday, February 05, 2009


Once the morning of slaughtering the pig was over, I returned after lunch to a small stone room to watch the farmers make Boudin Noir (black sausage/blood sausage). As I entered, I was a bit startled to see the head, lungs, heart and what I thought at first was some sort of cool kerchief but instead turned out to be the stomach lining hanging from the pig's head from the ceiling.

I learned that every bit of the pig is used, absolutely nothing gets wasted. The lungs are fed to the dogs, the head is used to make fromage de tete (head cheese), and the blood (with onions and herbs) is used to make Boudin Noir. The two women funneled the filling into the casings, their hands a blur a movement. The old woman here was so animated and so kind, I could not take my eyes off her as she is one of those old people whose young self shines brightly through all the wrinkles. The way she moved and especially the way she laughed, I kept glancing back at her thinking I had just seen her transform into a 20 year old girl.

After the links are all filled, they piled them onto an old sheet and lowered it into a round fourneau (like a cauldron), tied it shut and put a brick on top. The Boudin Noir then cook for thirty minutes. The smoke coming out of the pot made the whole room magical and I kept getting confused what century exactly I was in.

After the Boudin Noir was taken out of the fourneau, I was brought to another room to see the carcass, ready and splayed out for the butcher to come. The old woman taught me what every part of the pig is called. Then the butcher showed me how to cut up the whole pig. I have to say, that part was AWWWWWWWESOME. It made me rethink butchery as a possible career choice.

And last but not least...dinner.

As I sat down to eat the Boudin Noir, I couldn't help but be amazed that in 10 hours, I saw the pig go from alive to cooked on my plate for dinner. Call me naive, suburban, etc. but I just never grew up with the notion that what you eat EVER resembles an animal. I feel grateful for the chance to have witnessed the process of slaughtering an animal so that I may eat it. I walked away from the experience with a new perspective on what it really means to eat an animal. While it did not turn me into a vegetarian, I have a new awareness and a new resolve to only eat organic meat.

Once again, thank you France for opening my eyes.
And thank you, pig.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Friday January 30...
As the train left Paris behind and dipped into the countryside, I felt my stomach flutter with nerves over what I would be witnessing the next day. The pig slaughter. Now that I had no one to whom I could announce my lofty reasons, the idea was quickly losing its charm. What was I getting myself into? Because I have no reference for a slaughter and an extremely overactive imagination, I settled into my seat and for two hours dreamed up horror film after horror film starring zombie pig bloodbaths. Zombie pigs eat the horses. Zombie pigs kill the farmer. Zombie pigs stampede towards Paris.

I am shaken out of my Amityville Horror by the arrival in Bourgogne. There is something about the hills, the air, the sounds and smells that makes me feel calm each time I go there. I start to think that maybe I could actually pretend to be cool with the country life, at least enough to not barf. Or cry. It's a start. At 10PM, I embrace farm time and go to sleep in my dark little room with surprisingly no bad dreams.

Saturday, February 1...
I am woken up at 8AM by the sounds of the cows next door. I think maybe they are talking about their pig friend who is about to get the axe. Then I wonder if the pig knows. I have read they are really smart animals and I wonder if it has a sense that something awful is about to happen to it. Then I wonder if I will know the day I die that I am going to die. OK this is quickly spiraling so I decide this is not a good foot on which to start the day off. I get back in bed and do a do-over, stretching calmly and force-thinking about what a wonderfully interesting day this will be. After breakfast, the farmer from next door calls and says they are ready. "OK Dana, let's go barf up some coffee and bread" I think to myself as we walk next door....

The pig.
It was already screaming wildly when we arrived, clearly not happy with the current situation. The other animals around the area were clearly agitated as well. I had about 60 seconds tops to really look at it before one of the farmers took a sledgehammer and brought it down on the pig's head between the eyes. It was immediately knocked out completely.

The farmer made a swift cut about four inches long in the pick's neck and while the heart was still beating, the blood was caught to later make Boudin Noir (blood sausage). Unlike the oceans of blood I had dreamed up in my head, there were a few bucketfuls. And instead of the panic I had expected, I was simply mesmerized by the slaughter. A deep sense of respect and sorrow for this animal overcame me. To cry or to throw up suddenly seemed disrespectful. And I didn't feel sick, I just felt curious and sad. (I have posted a series of photos HERE if you would like to see the whole process).

It took almost 30 minutes for that pig to stop moving completely, during which it's screams got more and more faint and then finally, silence. As I watched with intense sadness as the force of life left this animal, I quietly thanked it for it's meat. After what seemed an eternity, it at last stopped breathing and the other animals in the area quieted down. I wondered if any of them would remember this moment.

The hair is then burned and scraped off with blunt knives. The pig is cleaned and lifted onto table where it will be cut open and disemboweled. This whole process was done so deftly and swiftly by the farmers that I suddenly felt idiotic in my Jessica Simpson coat and my stylish hat. I spend my days complaining about WHAT exactly? A pig just died so you can eat it. Bacon doesn't grow on trees. These people are living off the land and I'm upset I can't get good sushi delivered?
I tell myself silently to go jump off a bridge.