Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Big weekend: a multi-national play in four parts.

The last few days have set a wonderful tone to what promises to be a memorable holiday season, in spite of the weather-related train and plane frustrations.  It all started Friday evening, when an Italian student of mine asked me to join him and his friends on an excursion to a Jazz concert…

Act I: The Italian Lesson

Technically, there were two Americans, one French woman, and five Italians present, but since the latter outnumber the former two, we’re giving them Act I.  In any case, it was truly a lesson in the differences between French, Italian and American ways of life.

First, tempo.  Tempo when walking, that is. Americans, I find, tend to be the speediest bipeds I’ve met, especially those from NYC. But even Virginian walkers will lap a Frenchman every so often.  Parisians come second in the speed-walking contest and Italians…well, they’re so leisurely in their pace the tortoise lapped them not once, but thrice.

Second, expatriates. I asked one of the Italians his thoughts on living in Paris, versus his time in Italy. One thing he noted, that many texts on French culture will support, is that the French aren’t exactly friendly.  It takes a while to squeeze yourself into a French friend-circle, and even then, things like swinging by the Jones’ on your way home aren’t done: you really should call and schedule that visit.

Third, jazz! The band was apparently part Italian, and the concert was in the 10th (right around the corner from the Indian district) and we ate Turkish food right before, so it was a right multi-cultural experience. The guitar player looked like Bret (from Flight of the Conchords) and the other American and I couldn’t help but snicker every time we caught a glimpse of his shaggy hair. The music itself was smooth, enjoyable, a bit of flute, some sax, percussion, and a mellow bass.

We ended the night with a stop at Rue Mouffetard, for some mulled wine and late night conversation at La Contrescarpe, whose cozy decor didn’t quite match the thumping techno music played over the speakers.

Act II: The French Lesson

On Saturday I took some time to visit another museum, le Petit Palais, which was built for the 1900 world fair and is the little sibling of the better-known Grand Palais. The latter gets to host big events like the Paris Fashion Week.  The former houses a small but nice collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, has impressive architecture itself, and is free, to everyone.

After wandering through the collection for an hour or so, I took some time to sketch (as I promised I would try and do more often).

Detail from the entry dome at the Petit Palais.

View of its famous spiral stair from below.

That evening, I went to see a movie with one of my French students, in French.  I’d been complaining about how little French I actually spoke, since most of my courses were English courses and my friends were all Americans…and that I wanted to go see a French film but was worried I wouldn’t understand a thing! So she suggested we go together and discuss the movie over a drink, which is exactly what we did.  After a bit of window shopping along the Champs-Elysées  (window shopping because I’m not sure I can afford to spend €200, also known as 1/4 my paycheck, on a 3″x4″ LV wallet), I met her at the UGC Charles V. We then wandered through the Christmas markets, grabbed a cup of vin chaud (to keep both our insides and our shivering fingers warm), and caught a glimpse of the light show at the Eiffel tower.

The film is about a young boy, Oscar, who has terminal cancer. The "dame rose" is the only woman with whom he agrees to speak during his last week. Yes, it's a sad movie. Yes, I teared up (more than once). And yes, I understood most of it, even without subtitles (though when they spoke really fast, it was from visual clues, and a slowed-down replay in my own mind).

Act III: The American Lesson

Yesterday, a Tech classmate of mine who’s doing the same program as I am, but teaching near Bordeaux, came up to Paris. She had a flight back to the US this morning, so last evening the two of us met up with another American friend of hers, wandered around the Latin Quarter, did some window shopping, and had a generally good time comparing notes on living in France, being American (i.e. not French) and general sillyness. I had my first fondue in France, both cheese and meat, and my first raclette, and chased that down with a delicious crêpe nutella banane and a mug of caramel tea.  We dropped my friend back at her hotel which was a bit closer to the airport – and that meant taking the RER B. Like usual, there were issues with the train, we had a random train-change because of technical errors, but made it to the hotel and back just fine.

Encore: The French Lesson, Reprised.

This afternoon I had an incredible pasta lunch at Pizza Positano, near Odéon, with a French girl I know from studying at Fontainebleau.  We then wandered around the Marais, catching up on our adventures and ducking into an architectural exhibition or two, and making me faire travailler (work on) my French.  It turned out to be a 4-hour French-only conversation, the most French I’ve spoken in one-go since getting here.  I was pretty tired by the end of it all.

As a side note, we were tempted by a free taster at Starbucks, and wound up going in and ordering the real thing – whoever comes up with their lattes is an incredible genius: drinking a noisette caramel (hazelnut caramel) latte is getting pretty close to heaven.

Advertisements

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music and Mayhem

As I’ve said before, I have four hours of sophomore-level courses every week.  But because of the way the timetables work in French high schools, I don’t see the same kids every week.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have two groups that I see every other week (one half of the class on week A, the other half on week B), and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have two groups that I see regularly (same kids, every week). So it gets a bit complicated in lesson planning, to remember which kids did which lesson. Luckily for me, they talk to each other about my class.  So when I did a rather successful session on American popular music for Week A, the students in Week B insisted we go over the same material. What did I do that was worth of extra-curricular discussion? Well, let me tell you. (If Malcolm Gladwell can use leading questions, so can I, n’est-ce pas?)

The French have this love of competition, specifically, intellectual competition.  They have several TV shows, some similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, and some that go way beyond what we expect Americans to know, including games where you solve word and number puzzles in seconds to advance to the next round. So I thought I’d play a music game – no, not musical chairs.  This one’s called “Guess the Decade!” and the students have to do just what the title suggests.

I began the class with an overview – we listened to samples of music from the 50s to the 2000s and studied their lyrics.  Then, I divided the class into two teams, usually boys versus girls.  That gets the competitive spirit going. I played 30 second samples of random music, and they had 30 seconds to decide, as a team, what decade they thought the song belonged to, and write their answer on a piece of paper; the winning team (there could be two, of both guessed correctly) received 10 points.  For an extra 5 points-a-piece, they could guess the song’s title and artist.  I had a mix of songs and artists I thought they’d know (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “Y.M.C.A”) and was sometimes pleasantly surprised when they recognized the artists I thought they’d struggle with (Frank Sinatra – only one kid knew who that was, but good for him!). Class got a bit rowdy, of course, and I even had a teacher come tell us to settle down – but, for once, they were rowdy in English!

For the last week of school, I stuck to the Christmas theme and did an exercise to get them working on multiple tenses. They had a few minutes to write before they presented their answers to these two questions: 1) What was the best present you’ve ever received? and 2) If you could get anything for Christmas, what would you like to get? For the first, some kids couldn’t remember any present they particularly liked (I had a hard time believing that, and heckled them with questions until they said something like “Money” or “My PSP”.)  For the second, I had a range of responses, but most kids seemed to want either a new computer or a phone.  Some kids wanted money to travel, one girl wanted a house in every country and another wanted to have some actor’s babies. Good luck with that one, Santa.

As usual, Chuck Norris won the (unstated) Make-Amrita-Laugh game. His ideal present? “I want Chuck Norris to be my bodyguard.” Then, when a student teased him, saying “You looooove Chuck Norris!”, he responded with “No. Chuck Norris loves me.”  We have a winner!

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , ,

Long time no see.

So it’s been a while since I last posted, and that’s because I’ve been out doing things and writing papers and finishing applications and practicing drawing and all good stuff that I just haven’t had time to write about! But now the majority of my graduate applications have been submitted (save for the architecture-specific portion of my Berkeley application), and my scholarships are almost done…so in this little breather time I have, I thought I’d update you guys on what’s going on in Paris.

First, the important bit: today, it snowed! Before I came to Paris, everyone told me it rarely snows (if at all, a few flakes in January), and that I’d have to face a dreary wet winter full of freezing rain.  Well, November wasn’t all sunshine, but I continued to hope for a fluffy white December, and here it is! A couple of inches stuck to the ground, and for proof, here’s a shot of what I’m henceforth calling my backyard:

I'm not sure where exactly the body of water in the center of the gardens begins...and I wasn't planning on testing that out with my extremely un-winter-friendly suede boots...

In other news, I paid a visit to the Musée Rodin the other weekend. Some of the roses were still in bloom, and a couple of yellow leaves were clinging to the trees in the garden; I could see why people recommend this as one of the gardens to visit in Paris. I will definitely return in spring, when all the flora is in its full glory.

As for the museum itself, well, it’s a very small museum. That said, I’m particularly fond of its stairs and the arch-topped colonnade in the entry area. The pieces showed Rodin’s process, both in the technical (an exhibit displayed the step-by-step making-of one of the sculptures), and creative (multiple iterations of the same theme). Seeing The Kiss in person amplifies the eroticism of its tangled limbs and contrasting curved and angular forms. Even if it is cliché, it’s one of my favorite sculptures, and I’m probably going to go back to see it again, get a few more sketches in.

Speaking of: to prove that I have been sketching (though, to be honest, not every day as I hoped – but come January, I’ll have all the time in the world to put my pencil to paper…), as I was saying, to prove that I have been sketching, I will now show you two sketches. I did more than these two, but if I show them all now, who’ll review my sketchbooks with me when I get back?

This one's from one of the sculpture atriums at the Louvre. I unfortunately didn't write down the artist's name...

A drawing from the 'Hanako' bust at the Musee Rodin. I'd just like to note that sculptures are much easier to sketch because they aren't as fidgety as humans.

Next up: the last two weeks of school before winter break…

Filed under: All things French, , , , , , , , , ,

I’m renting from Kanye West.

The French are very protective of their language. Discussing the phonetic nuances of u versus ou seems to be a Parisian sport. Strangers have no qualms about correcting your incorrect grammar, and waiters refuse to serve you une café, because it’s un café. All this I knew.  But my dear landlady takes correction to a Kanye West extreme. Cases in point:

1. “That’s a good lookin’ sandwich an’ all, but y’all know that Beyoncé’s sandwich skills is better.” This one takes place barely a week into my French experience. I had been running errands all day and got home, starving. So I pulled out my demi baguette and proceeded to make myself a delicious foot-long cucumber and brie sandwich.  Which, apparently, included far too many carbs. I was instructed to remove all the sandwich filling ingredients, place them in a bowl, return one half of my baguette to the fridge and eat the bread and salad separately. She stayed to watch me do it.

2. “Hey, you makin’ your bed? Dontchu know Beyoncé can make it better?” Yes, I was making my bed, and apparently doing it incorrectly.  So sometimes, when it’s not too cold, I sleep on top of the comforter and only use the light cover. Because, you know, I don’t want to die of sweat in the middle of the night (ew, what a way to go).  But apparently, one must always use the flat sheet.  Moreover, there is a proper way to make the bed, so that entering it and placing yourself under said flat sheet at night is easy.  Never would I have known…

3. “Is 50 degrees ou’side: Beyoncé would wear a sweater.” Little did I know that moving to France meant losing the ability to dress myself.  Not only was I treated to a lecture on it “no longer being summer” and that if I continued to dress so skimpily (skimpily, as in leggings, jeans, shirt, scarf and jacket) I would catch a cold, but when I returned from my room (after putting on a sweater), she checked to make sure I really had put one on.  I felt like I was three again. But Mommy, I really did brush my teeth!

Filed under: All things French, Close to home, , , , , , ,

Applications, schmaplications

I’ve been a bit disappointed in myself lately. I haven’t had a chance to really get out and be in Paris as much as I would have liked.  And I’m blaming that on the 2 scholarship applications and 5 graduate applications I’ve been working on since I arrived in this beautiful city. But at last, the end is in sight.

A bit of background: I went into my undergraduate degree knowing I’d want to do a Masters in Architecture. I was one of those annoying kids that knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, and then stuck it out. And I don’t regret it, not one bit. Architecture has never been “work” for me, just a constant source of discovery and pleasure, ok, mixed in with some pain (for example, the frustration when those damn riser heights won’t add up to the FFL).  It’s almost hedonistic, the joy I derive from basking in Foster’s atrium, or reaching out to touch the zenith-esque corners of Pei’s National Gallery addition. There is, of course, the fun in solving a design problem and the associated satisfaction of having all the puzzle pieces fit.  But, to be honest, what keeps me coming back for more is that I am never not dazzled, impressed, intrigued, disgusted – I am never without a reaction, soit positive soit negative, to architecture. Sometimes I have to take a step back, get a breather from the chaos that seems to be inseparable from the designer’s life (thus this stay in Paris), but that break always has me coming back for more.

And here we are.  For the last few months, I have been pulling together applications for graduate programs in architecture.  This involved recreating a portfolio, since I had to include my thesis project and since each school had its own specifications, writing thousands of rough drafts for essay upon essay, and pestering faculty for letters of reference.  The first two are are pretty much out of the way.  The last one, well my deadline is in a few weeks and I have a feeling I’m going to be the one filling their inboxes pretty soon.

One thing I didn’t realize when setting out on this venture is the cost of applying to all these places and scholarships.  Around $30 to print each portfolio, $5 to mail them, $7 for each transcript, $150 for the GRE, $80 for each application…it starts stacking up.  I’d estimate that by the time March comes around, I’ll already have spent more than $700 – and that’s all before knowing which school has accepted me into their program.  Once I am accepted, there’s the first deposit, and paying to take summer courses if I haven’t been able to take care of the prerequisites.  Then, of course, there’s the cost of graduate school itself, about $50,000 per year. So, dear Reader, this post is to inform you that I’ve started a scholarship fund, for myself.  If you’d like to contribute, please send your cheque to…just kidding. Though that is quite tempting.

Actually, the point of this post is to let you know why I’ve decided to make my New Year’s resolution early. I’ve felt like my break from the art world has been long enough, and knowing that I’m living in a city that has inspired many an artist, I owe it to myself to take charge of my aesthetic destiny.  That, and I’ve been Stumbling upon some very inspiring images. I’ve always been decent at drawing, but I’m ready to take my pencil sketches to the next level. So, I’m resolving to sketch an hour every day during the week and two hours on weekends.  Gladwell thinks it takes about 10,000 hours to master a skill.  Well, I suppose that means in about 20 years, I might be nearing proficiency in drawing.  In any case, if I manage to do this for a year, I’m bound to get a little bit better.  I’m going to try and get a head start by squeezing in some sketching time this week, and I’m debating whether not having work on Wednesdays and Fridays makes them weekend days…oh, why not.  When in France…

So here’s to grabbing the pencil, and jumping over the lazy dog that was my dormant art career.

P.S. That means you’ll be seeing sketches in addition to these awesome photos I’ve been posting. Aren’t you excited?

Filed under: Close to home, , , , , ,