Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
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Paris, France
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December 31
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Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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www.alysasalzberg.com
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A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out www.alysasalzberg.com.

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JUNE 14, 2012 12:33PM

In the Cards

Rate: 21 Flag
 
 
A few weeks ago, a calm Saturday afternoon turned into a frantic search.  We threw clothes out of armoires, rifled through files of documents, pulled pockets inside-out, desperately looking for a single laminated card.   The fact that the boyfriend had somehow misplaced his UGC/MK2 cinema pass (which allows you to see an unlimited amount of movies in most Parisian cinemas for 20 euros a month) wasn’t unusual – but as it became more and more likely that it hadn’t just been lost in the apartment, I found myself getting furious.  I yelled at the boyfriend, then stormed out and went to see “Moonrise Kingdom” on my own.  (Not that the boyfriend minded much -- Wes Anderson movies aren’t really his cup of tea.)

After an hour and a half or so of young love, scouts, quirkiness, and beautiful cinematography, the movie ended and I headed home.  I’d already started reflecting, on my outraged way to the theater, that maybe my reaction had been a little too strong.   Now I took up the thought again.  I wasn’t just annoyed that the boyfriend can’t keep track of his things.  And I wasn’t particularly disappointed he’d had to miss this movie, since I’m pretty sure he would have muttered “What the fuck” or something all the way through it.  There was more to what I was feeling: Losing his cinema card would mean he’d have to replace it, and that would mean the bright blue card with his decade-old picture would change.

The photo on my boyfriend’s movie pass was from a time long before I knew him.  His hair was short and his cheekbones were sharply defined.  There was a steely look to him – maybe because he felt he had to be like that, a young man who’d never wanted to come to the big city, now forced to live in a cramped studio apartment and work unforgiving hours and overtime at a bank.  

He’d signed up for the cinema pass because he got it at a discount price through said bank.  But he worked so hard that he was too exhausted to take much advantage of it.  One day, a co-worker told him about a good way to get motivated about it – and maybe meet girls (all the girls he’d dated lately had been ill-fated office romances, with awkward results) - a site a lot of Americans used, called Craigslist.  My boyfriend went online to browse through Activity Partner ads there, hoping to find someone to practice English and to go to the movies with.  Still broken-hearted after his last breakup, he wasn’t particularly looking for romance.

Across the ocean, I was getting ready to return to Paris, and putting my heart back together after the first man I loved had shattered it with the sudden destruction of a bullet fired through a china vase.  I wanted something new in my life.  None of the people I knew in France were big film fans, so I decided to post an ad on Craigslist Paris for someone to go to to the movies with - it would be a great way to meet people and make some new friends.

Whenever I’ve loved someone, I’ve had vertiginous moments of wondering what would have happened if he had done something just slightly differently.  What if my boyfriend hadn’t gone onto Craigslist a few days after I posted my ad?  We probably would have never met.

Six years ago, my boyfriend's movie pass was in his pocket as he walked towards the UGC Danton Cinema, looking carefully at the crowd out front to see if he could spot the American girl he was going to meet.  

We still don’t know where the card has gone.  I contacted the last movie theater we’d been to, and they didn’t have it.  It  hasn’t turned up in our apartment – not even in some disastrous wash load, having been deeply stuffed into a pants pocket -- a fate often met by the boyfriend’s coins, receipts, and so on.  In the end, he had to get a new card, with a new picture.  The card works fine, of course, and that’s the important thing – that all these years later we can still go to the movies together.  

But now, just as I’ve gotten used to this change, it’s time for another one. 

This spring has been a hard one for me, financially.  Today, as I sat down to figure out how I could make the most of this month’s pay, I realized that I may not need my Carte Navigo.

A Carte Navigo is a subway pass.  Unlike some other cities’ subway passes, you can’t just put money on it, though; you have to purchase a week, month, or year’s worth of transportation.  Because I work part-time, and because I sometimes have students cancel lessons, I realized that it might just be cheaper for me to buy individual Metro tickets instead.

But while this could mean an enormous amount of money saved (by my calculations, it would cut my monthly transportation budget more or less in half), I found myself grappling for excuses to keep the card.  I remember when I first got it, how I felt like it was a mark of permanence.  At turnstiles, I didn’t fiddle with it like you would with a ticket, but smoothly slid it over the scanner.  I was a Parisian just like any other.  

Giving up the Carte Navigo won’t negate that, of course.  But it’s hard to let it go. In the end, this reluctance may all be for the best: when I got home from work a few hours ago, I sat down and went back over my calculations, and realized that while it does indeed make sense for me not to use the card in certain months, most of the time it’s still a good deal.  If I’d only been thinking about the money, this might frustrate me.  Instead, I sort of feel relieved.

How funny to be so tied to a small rectangle of plastic.  When you think about it, though, cards do sort of define us – maybe French residents more than some others.  All French citiznes have a carte nationale d’identité (national identity card) that they're supposed to keep on them at all times (though they don’t always).  As an immigrant, I have a carte de séjour – an ID card that shows I’m allowed to live and work here until next February (when I’ll have to get it renewed…again).  French citizens and residents also have a carte vitale, a green or green-and-yellow card with a microchip that’s used to identify us as recipients of the state healthcare system.  

Then, of course, there are your other cards: credit cards, office ID for some, a library card.  In my wallet I also have cards from several restaurants I like, an organ donor card, a laminated card with a listing of emergency numbers (I have no idea why it’s so hard for me to remember them), my brother’s old business card, my movie pass, a discount card for our local supermarket, and even a Subway Sub Club card (helpful hint: If you’re in Paris and love Subway, you have to ask for the card and/or the little stamp things each time; I think they don’t want the entire population to know about them).  Although these cards don’t say everything about who I am, they do offer a glimpse into my everyday life. And the photos on them are also memories.  Here’s me as a college student on my movie pass, here’s me about four years ago, beaming over my new job and the Carte Navigo I’m about to get, here’s me a few months ago, trying to sit up straight in the photo booth for my carte de séjour picture.    

In this nondescript wallet, here are the years I’ve lived, loved, and worked in Paris.  When I think of it that way, I guess my reactions to the boyfriend’s lost cinema pass and giving up my Carte Navigo don’t seem so dramatic.  

Of course, that these cards can so easily get lost or be put aside also reminds me that we have to let go sometimes. And sometimes, that’s not such a bad thing.  The boyfriend’s new cinema pass is a really lovely shade of gray-blue, and the money I’ll save by just buying Metro tickets certain months, could be used for something really important.  Change can be good - even if, like the renewal process for the carte de séjour - it isn't always easy.

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How do you feel about the cards you have?
I have had the same cards in my wallets.. yes wallets for years. Everytime I look at my Quebec birth certificate I remember where I was born. Everytime I look at my credit cards I feel I should let go but change is hard. Still have a ticket from the MOntreal Metro though from 1971..:)
HUGGGGGGGGGG
LOVE this! In fact I just wrote a rant about cards this very morning to a friend.

MY IDENTITY CRISIS:
I have just moved to Austin after a devastating year of moving and upheaval, following a sad divorce from a twenty-five year marriage. Nuff background, back to cards.

I want to LIVE here. I went to get my TX driver license. apparently I need an SS card (who knows where that is with all this upheaval), ANd a passport ( have it, but why do they need both since I had to show my SS to get passport?), proof of TX insurance (strangely not delivered to my friend's house. Is the postman sending stuff back to sender?), and bills to that address ( postman problem again), AND I need to have my license plate first.

I went to the license plate place around the corner. One hour line JUST to get info on what docs I need to get THAT! No fliers up front with the list. Receptionist stares at me blankly as she keeps stuffing envelopes.

SO my new identity is on hold while I search for my proof of my old one.

I had no idea I could get a carte de sejour. I thought I had to be an EU resident to live and work there. If I don't find my SS card, perhaps I should try Paris!
What a great way to meet someone! I love it.

My favorite picture of me is a bank ID card from when I just turned 18, was getting my first checking account and heading off to college. It's how I still picture myself really, even though it resembles nothing of the woman in the mirror.
My library card is my most precious card.
My state "food stamp card" is a necessity.
My photo id from the motor vehicles is a sometimes thing.
my medicare card, my other VERY VERY IMPORTANT
cards like my social security card & birth certificate..

and then there are all those f-ing cards the supermarkets
give you, and demand at checkout. They keep track
of me. Tell me in every receipt how much i
have saved.


someday it will be like this: scan something, a chip
in a card or in your flesh , and they will have ALL CARDS
to choose from. even if you are buying canned chili.
your bank card will be in that chip, that once scan.

Fastforward & your medical info will be in a chip, to scan.

These cards are simply the nascent primitive
precursors of what is to come.

it will be good in a way. some may say, "they will know too much"
and i will say, from experience, that the bored civil or medical
servant can't give less of a damn , except about
well, like how many movies you seen &
that you can get into this one.

moonrise kindom? got bruce willis & harvey keitel
sounds like a kind of romeo and juliet thing.
Linda, I love what you wrote about your birth certificate. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who keeps old Metro tickets! I have some from my New York days, and also from the first years I was in Paris - including Carte Orange tickets, which are no longer made...sigh....

Pandora - Oh that is so frustrating! You make a very good argument for why people might hold on to their old cards and such for other reasons - because it's so hard to change them into new ones, in some cases! I hope it will all work out as quickly and painlessly as possible. As for the carte de séjour, it is very, very complicated to get one. You can have one if you're a student, or if you come to France through an au pair or language assistant program (these two latter have restrictions but may be the easiest). Otherwise, there are other possiblities, but it's tough, especially after all the damage the Sarkozy administration did to immigration (hopefully Hollande's government will put things right again - there have already been encouraging signs). Despite speaking French, living here, having skills that people want (English teaching, translation, etc), the only way I was able to get a carte de séjour was by PACS'ing my boyfriend (the PACS is basically like a common-law marriage - the word for what we are in French, "conjoint" or "compagne/compagne" doesn't exist in English as an exact translation, so I prefer to say "boyfriend", though when it makes things easier, I say "husband".). It's not to say it's impossible to get a carte de sLinda, I love what you wrote about your birth certificate. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who keeps old Metro tickets! I have some from my New York days, and also from the first years I was in Paris - including Carte Orange tickets, which are no longer made...sigh....

Pandora - Oh that is so frustrating! You make a very good argument for why people might hold on to their old cards and such for other reasons - because it's so hard to change them into new ones, in some cases! I hope it will all work out as quickly and painlessly as possible. As for the carte de séjour, it is very, very complicated to get one. You can have one if you're a student, or if you come to France through an au pair or language assistant program (these two latter have restrictions but may be the easiest). Otherwise, there are other possiblities, but it's tough, especially after all the damage the Sarkozy administration did to immigration (hopefully Hollande's government will put things right again - there have already been encouraging signs). Despite speaking French, living here, having skills that people want (English teaching, translation, etc), the only way I was able to get a carte de séjour was by PACS'ing my boyfriend (the PACS is basically like a common-law marriage). It's not to say it's impossible to get a carte de séjour, but it most likely won' t be easy.
Linda, I love what you wrote about your birth certificate. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who keeps old Metro tickets! I have some from my New York days, and also from the first years I was in Paris - including Carte Orange tickets, which are no longer made...sigh....

Pandora - Oh that is so frustrating! You make a very good argument for why people might hold on to their old cards and such for other reasons - because it's so hard to change them into new ones, in some cases! I hope it will all work out as quickly and painlessly as possible. As for the carte de séjour, it is very, very complicated to get one. You can have one if you're a student, or if you come to France through an au pair or language assistant program (these two latter have restrictions but may be the easiest). Otherwise, there are other possiblities, but it's tough, especially after all the damage the Sarkozy administration did to immigration (hopefully Hollande's government will put things right again - there have already been encouraging signs). Despite speaking French, living here, having skills that people want (English teaching, translation, etc), the only way I was able to get a carte de séjour was by PACS'ing my boyfriend (the PACS is basically like a common-law marriage - the word for what we are in French, "conjoint" or "compagnon/compagne" doesn't exist in English as an exact translation, so I prefer to say "boyfriend", though when it makes things easier, I say "husband".). It's not to say it's impossible to get a carte de séjour, but it most likely won' t be easy. Still, if you really want to, never give up.

caroline marie - Thank you for sharing that memory, and the fact that this is how you still think of yourself. I often feel like I have periods where I'm the most "me" - it's such an interesting phenomenon, isn't it?

James - I agree with you about the library card being the most important. I don't know what I'd do without mine. Though my carte de séjour is tied, because without it I couldn't stay in Paris. But library cards - yes. As for the chip, at least if that is the future of all these cards, we won't have to deal with renewing them and seeing old pictures go away...though the new renewal process would probably be more painful on a physical level....oh dear..... "Moonrise Kingdom" was very good, whimsical and wistful, though for me, the best Wes Anderson movie remains "Rushmore".
It's funny how something small can trigger a deeper realization!
Fun story, my favorite is a California Drivers License, it brought a sense that I was really living in L.A.

In general, I think a card is nicer than money, less indifferent, more of a personal effort, a nice touch. Unlike money, the nice thing is that you don´t give them away with each use.
so! I HAVE to go see Moonrise! He's from Austin, Wes is. I think I would have a hard time choosing between the Royal Tennenbaums and the Darjeeling Express.

hmmm..well perhaps I should post on the paris craigslist for a PACS pal. Or Maybe I could be a governess as I don't think I am what someone has in mind for an au pair. My French accent is good, my past-tense verbs need oil, and my CELTA certificate is shiny.

haha, if Austin doesn't work out, we'll always have Paris. Bonne chance with Hollande.
This was a sentimental read, Alysa. Being a sentimental person myself, I think I understand how you felt, but I commend you on your wise perceptions and fair conclusions.

I've kept all my faculty id cards, media membership cards as well as driver's licence and health care card which chance only once every 5 years. They are in a box with old passsports, etc.

R♥
I enjoyed this charming story of how you met your love in Paris. I have way too many cards and they literally erupt out of my wallet which, of course, is very disordered. I particularly hate all of the cards I have that require a pin because even though I have streamlined the number of pins I use (a no no) I am still capable of a brain freeze in critical moments. The movie looks interesting. It is only being shown in "select" theaters here, none of which are near my house. R
Across the ocean, I was getting ready to return to Paris, and putting my heart back together after the first man I loved had shattered it with the sudden destruction of a bullet fired through a china vase.

You really have a lovely way with words. And you are so right about how things like cards come to represent a feeling or a time in your life.

I still have one of my driver's licenses from another state, and somewhere, I hope, in a box, I should still have my employee ID from the Kennedy Center. I sold candy at intermission. It was one of those rare times in life when the people and the place and the goings-on sort of fit together perfectly for a while.

I also keep theatre (as in live performances) ticket stubs.
I love this slice of Parisian life written from a very personal perspective. I still have an ID card from my very first job over 35 years ago. Why do I keep it? Because it says something about who I was at that point in my life prior to being married and having children. Great post, Alysa. R
I do love to be given a new perspective on a person, place, or in this case, a seemingly trivial thing. I sometimes look at old ID cards and reminisce about my old life. I like doing that. I suppose that's why I save some of those little plastic rectangles long after they've expired.
I still have my Temple U. Student Id. somewhere. I don't know where but I know it's somewhere safe.
I just got a new bank card and my daughter grabbed it out of my hand and said, "Ooooh, pretty!" Sometimes, they are pretty. And I still have my Carte Orange from the 80s!
The world could be divided between those who liked Rushmore and those who don't.

As far as cards ..... yes.
That was a lovely story about the cinema card, Alysa. It was understandable why you were so upset by its loss when you understand the meaning behind it.

Once I thought about writing about the cards in my wallet, but mostly I would have been complaining about them. Every store now tries to talk you into a membership card for discounts etc, and I now have so many that my wallet bulges even when I don't have a cent on me. They have become a minor annoyance in my life.
Also, I'm on the same page as your boyfriend: not a Wes Anderson fan.
If you want to truly know a person,look in their wallet. wallets carry our lives around with us!

Great post!
I love the way you take a theme - in this case cards - and use it to segue thru important times in your life like a skier in a slalom. And I love the way your wit occasionally bursts up out of deadpan narrative, like this: ...putting my heart back together after the first man I loved had shattered it with the sudden destruction of a bullet fired through a china vase.
"like a bullet through a china vase"-- figuratively speaking of course. very dramatic my dear. luv those figurative phrases that are not so figurative.
I love my clergy i.d. cards that get me free run of hospitals and nursing homes ('though the reasons for taking advantage of that courtesy can be sad). I like my Metro card but (like you) I don't have to use it every day (I work 5 days per week but it's two miles from home, so I sometimes walk in nice weather). Fortunately, in NY, you can buy "per-ride" as well as weekly and monthly cards.
Even though my current job pays so poorly, I like my work i.d. card that says "Activity Director," with my picture underneath. It looks impressive.
I like my voter registration card and my library card but am not overly sentimental about them.
I wish we could get movie discount cards in NY!
Have too many cards in too many places - always leaving the one I need in my "other purse." Thank goodness most places here keep you in their computer, so they just look you up. Favorite cards? Tarot! :-)
I have not been a card carrying anything for several years now. My son, on a visit to New York a few years back brought me a money clip with two slots for credit cards... that's it! I have learned not to carry around any memories with me. Drivers license, organ donor ID and three credit cards... that's it! No photos to worry about getting stolen or left behind somewhere.
Loved the story, and take it easy on the boy friend.
R
A great post about "nothing"...and everything.
Re cards per se - I have my original Social Security card, so old it's cardboard instead of plastic. It has the magic number that it's supposed to be against the law for any outfit but the government to ask for. I have my health card that is quite old and almost in two pieces. I'd better get a new one - the new ones have photo and can be used as photo ID ... handy for people who don't have a driver's license (I do, but my daughter doesn't).