Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

Oh la, Loire!

France is not a very big place. It’s smaller than Texas by 8,000 square miles, but has a variety of terrain, food and accents to rival the entire United States. During my three trips to France, I got to nibble away at the expansive culture by seeing Paris (the Big City), Provence (the South), Bordeaux and Lyon (small cities), Carcassonne (almost Spain), and most recently, the Loire. Or should I say, there where many a French noble hath laid his head.

The Loire Valley is famous for two things: chateaus and wine. The Brit and I got our fill of both in the four windy days we spent there earlier this month. And we did it all without a car!

First stop, Blois.

We stayed in Blois for the first night, in a rather sketchy hotel, where the concierge insisted we were married, even if we hadn’t had a ceremony, because being in a committed relationship was the equivalent of being married…let’s not get me started on his logic (or lack thereof)…point is, Blois itself is a quaint town, with a charming castle and nice views. Not at the top of my list of places we visited, though the brick portions of the castle took me straight back to Place des Vosges in Paris, one of my favorite places in the world.

One thing Blois did well was a sound and light show that projected images directly onto the Chateau's walls. It was in French, though...so bring a translator.

On day two we left our bags in the hotel, while we hopped on a bus to see two chateaus, one more famous (and beautiful) than the other.

Ah, Chambord.

Chambord was everything I imagined it to be. Enormous. Incredibly beautiful. Drowning in history. Did you know it once housed the Mona Lisa during WWII, when the French (smartly) decided to move the Louvre’s contents to keep them away from a certain mustachioed Nazi?

Cheverny wasn’t as beautiful. Which is why I don’t have pictures. But, right outside Cheverny, the Brit and I did a quick wine tasting of the local offerings, two whites, a rosé and a red. Incidentally, before this last stay in France, I wasn’t a fan of whites or rosés…a couple of picnics in the springtime cured me of that nonsense. Rosés and whites are perfect spring picnic basket fillers.

We spent that night in Tours, in a very charming hotel, a polar opposite of the one we’d just left. Our concierge guided us to the only street open for food on a holiday, and we had one of the best meals I’ve had in France – all local food, all exquisitely prepared and presented, and accompanied with a local red. Mmm.

The next day, we wandered around Tours for a while, and the chill forced me to buy a coat. I had no choice. Eventually, we took the train out to Chenonceau, where I slightly overestimated the amount of time we’d need at the chateau. It’s quite small, but it certainly does deserve a photo. It reallywas a blustery day (I should’ve bought two coats), and I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but the chill sent us running to take the train back to Tours.

Chenonceau floats on water. Oh, and it's equally beautiful on the interior.

The next morning, the Brit and I made a fateful decision. We did not want to take the train, and we did not want to take a bus, but we did want to visit chateaus. So, we rented bikes.

I had not ridden a bike in over 11 years. My last bike was stolen when I was 10, and for every year I didn’t get a new one, my fear of falling off a bike grew exponentially, until I was convinced that the expression ‘like riding a bike’ would never apply to me. Turns out, the expression isn’t as easy as it sounds (who would’ve thunk), but after several start-stops and almost getting run over by traffic, I managed to stay (mostly) on the bike for the 50 miles (I kid you not) we rode that day.

On bike, we visited Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau. Villandry has beautifully sculpted French gardens that, in my opinion, rival those of Versailles. Azay-le-Rideau has a more quiet charm, set on water in the midst of English gardens that make you believe you’re in the middle of a fairytale, something along the lines of Beauty and the Beast, but after the Beast becomes a prince.

Sure, Villandry's chateau is nice. But the gardens are much nicer.

Okay, so in this picture, Azay-le-Rideau looks a bit more ominous than I might have described...

Did I mention we biked 50 miles to get to these two chateaus? Here’s proof.

The first part of the ride was beautiful - flat roads, green and yellow fields, blue skies dotted with white puffs of cloud...

And if you want actual proof of the distances, here’s Google to the rescue (keep in mind, these are the more direct routes…our path was a bit more meandering…). The second half of the ride was a bit more tenuous, as we were pedaling on a ridge with headwind that blew us to a stop several times…but we made it back to Tours, and after much deserved hot showers and carb-loaded dinners, we passed out in our charming cream sleigh bed.

That was the (exhausting) end of our Loire Valley trip. The next morning the Brit and I packed our bags and dashed off to Paris to grab the Eurostar to London, where I went to the beach. Sort of. But that’s a story for another post.

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Filed under: All things French, Around the world, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

She’s alive!

Since February, I’ve:

  • been to India and back
  • had two short stays in Horsham and London
  • had an even shorter stay in Bordeaux, and a slightly longer stay in Marmande
  • spent an afternoon burning up in a hammam and sipping delicious tea
  • wandered around Paris discovering new parks
  • succumbed to H&M’s silky soft dresses
  • tripped and fell in front of a cafe-full of lunch-goers, horribly scraping my (still-recovering) knee in the process
  • said sad goodbyes to two of my favorite Assistantes
  • and heard back from all four graduate programs…

…and that’s why I haven’t written in this blog.

A quick round-up of travel expeditions results in these photos:

The primary purpose of my trip to India was to visit my grandmother. And there she is!

While visiting, I got to sit on this porch and watch beautiful sunsets over the Nilgiri Hills.

(Sunsets like this one, for example.)

I also got to soak up some sun and rest my eyes on some of the local flora.

...and take pictures of a naughty smile.

London was a quick trip to drop off my portfolio with Heatherwick Studios and check out their Rolling Bridge project. The portfolio drop-off didn’t lead to much, but the bridge was pretty cool in person, and I created this short video of it unrolling by shooting in paparazzi-mode on my Nikon.

I went to Bordeaux to visit a friend from VT who’s also doing an English assistantship. I felt very Parisian as I wandered the streets, thinking to myself, “Oh, wow, they’re so relaxed here. There aren’t any cars…it’s like I’m out in the country…” Which, all things considered, Paris is certainly not hectic when compared to New York…but when compared to anywhere else in France, it seems to be pure chaos. And when we got to Marmande, even Bordeaux seemed a bit too urban…

I spent my afternoon in Bordeaux wandering around old alleyways, getting yelled at by prostitutes when I wasn't even trying to take their picture. This presumable John was on the prowl at 2PM. Early to bed...early to rise?

Bordeaux also had some really cool textures, and I got a bit carried away taking pictures of door knobs and stonework, which is why there aren't awe-inspiring shots of Bordeaux's reknown monuments).

This was a bridge with an architecturally interesting form...and an unnecessarily strenuous climb.

As for stuff around Paris, I’ll try and go for a more detailed post later, with more pictures, of course.

And I didn’t forget the last thing on that list: remember back in the day, when I was stressing about my applications to Pratt, UC Berkeley, Yale and Harvard? Well I got into all of them! Now, I’m stressing about which one to choose. They’re all pretty expensive, though some are giving me a bit of financial aid…my heart is leaning one way, but I won’t say anything until I’ve done my choosing – and that’s soon! You (and I) will know by April 15, so look out for that Big News on this blog in the next week!

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The downside of up.

I might have mentioned this before, but I love Paris. I love the cobblestones  under my black boots and the crisp wind whipping my trendy scarf as I cross the Pont Neuf. I love the hot chocolate at Angelina’s and the occasional treat of Ladurée macaroons. I love being able to walk to the Louvre on Friday evenings for a quiet afternoon with the Masters.

I am not so in love with my job.

I’m technically in Paris as an English teaching assistant. Sometimes, however, it feels as though I’m in Paris as an under-paid, under-trained, under-worked disciplinarian. Here’s the situation:

Two times a week I take on a batch of 15 sophomores and attempt to do fun things like play a speed-dating game or watch clips from American TV shows to learn slang. And I’m quite enthusiastic about the lessons I plan – I try not to do anything that I wouldn’t have considered fun when I was a sophomore learning French at Salem High School. That might actually work in American classrooms, where students are relatively disciplined and stay quiet while the teacher is speaking, even if they sulk when assigned any tiny amount of work. But oh no, not in a French classroom (the film The Class comes to mind).

The problem occurs both because of students, and because of the system under which I am supposed to be working.  First, let’s deal with the system.

  1. I only see these students every other week. Sometimes, they have tests, so I might not even see them that regularly.
  2. Their presence is mandatory, but I do not know the names of the students to be present beforehand. So I cannot take roll, and therefore cannot punish students for absence.
  3. The students are not graded based on their performance in my class. They, in essence, have no motivation to attend nor to participate, and therefore they don’t.
  4. During orientation, I was not made aware of my rights as an instructor; for example, I don’t know the protocol for when a student is tardy and claims to have been at the nurse’s office. When I ask for a note, they shrug and feign incomprehension.

I cannot imagine these students are deliberately malicious. They are talkative and I perceive them to be disrespectful, but perhaps that is because their teachers let them to speak among themselves in class, and I, as an American, see that as impermissible – a cultural difference. But the fact of the matter is that when I do reprimand students for disruptive behavior, they simply talk back and refuse to do their lines, or put down their head, or accept responsibility for their actions.

I’ve spoken to teachers about protocol, but it seems there’s not much I can do. I can send the students to the CPE, essentially to the principal’s office, but I’d rather not. Surely there is a solution to keep them  in the classroom and to engage them in the activity – positive reinforcement, rather than disciplinary action.

A few of my readers are teachers, high school teachers, in fact. What do you do when your class is rowdy, shows up tardy, or refuses to participate? How can I make my activities more engaging or enticing to adolescents? Is punishment the only answer?

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

Bonne Année!

The French tradition of being allowed to say “Happy New Year” to anyone you meet for the entire month of January is one that gets old, quick. Say, for example, when you’ve met the same person for the 5th time, and their enthusiasm for the New Year does nothing but remind you that you never made it past day one of your resolutions.  On the other hand, it means I can get away with wishing all my readers Happy New Year on January 23rd, and, since it is technically only the second time I’ve “met you” in 2010, you can’t be terribly annoyed, yes?

If you’ll recall, I jumped right into 2010 with the last post, but before Ye Old Year was kicked’th out, there was some Christmas revelry and London-visiting, news of which has yet to make it to these digital pages. And, as you can imagine, it’s quite difficult to cram three weeks of fun into one tiny little blog post, so we’ll take it a week (or so) at a time…

Captain’s Log. Week 1 (or so) of the Holiday expedition. Paris, France.

Trouble on the horizon

It’s not a story-worthy adventure unless it starts with some technical troubles (so that later on, when the Captain regrets forging on despite the tiny leak-producing crack which has now become a full-blown canyon, the tech support guy in India can say “I told you so.”). Our technical troubles coincided with those of thousands of other travelers trying to cross the English Channel on that fateful December weekend. Through BBC articles and Facebook updates, you can piece together our story: Eurostar trains stopped in the Chunnel. Travelers trapped for hours. Eurostar authorities apologize for snow-induced delays. Travelers scheduled to travel over the weekend re-routed to Monday and Tuesday trains. Tuesday travelers (i.e. the Brit) urged to not travel unless necessary.  The Brit arrives at St. Pancras at 06:00 on a Wednesday morning. Eurostar authorities maintain that travelers should avoid travel and that tickets will be handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. The Brit queues in circles (sounds more French than British). Acquires ticket a few hours later and boards Paris-bound train. More weather-related delays on the tracks. Wilting Brit arrives at Gare du Nord at 14:30. Nap ensues.

Jours de fêtes at the Grand Palais

An indoor county fair in the winter. The French sure seem to have somethings backwards...

We met up with that French friend of mine from an earlier post, who now merits a nick-name, having two blog-mentions. Let’s call her Bleue. Bleue and her boyfriend, Norm, met the Brit and I at the Grand Palais, where we wandered around under its enormous steel-framed glass arches soaking up the sights and sounds of an indoor fair. A bit too scared to try any of the truly crazy rides (my mind spins fast enough by itself, thanks, I needn’t have it spin on multiple axes) we did have a go at the bumper cars, or l’auto-tamponeuse. We then wandered down the Champs-Elysées (always a sight to see, but more-so with all the Christmas lights), did a twirl around the giant ferris wheel, la Grande Roue, at the Place de la Concorde, and then hunted down dinner. Well, not literally, but we did try one recommended place, only to be told it was too busy. So we wound up at our second choice, which turned out to be not so bad at all.  At le Tambour, I had my first taste of rabbit (lapin in a mustard-y creamy sauce) and a French wine called Saumur, which is right up there with Brouilly in my books now.

Dinner and a movie (or vice-versa), Christmas-style.

My family has always gone to the movies for Thanksgiving and over Christmas. It’s one of the few times we’re all in the same place, and there’s usually a blockbuster that everyone can agree on. Well, everyone but my Mom, whose vote doesn’t count because she’ll fall asleep in the theater no matter what movie we go to. So in proper Raja-family tradition, the Brit and I went to watch a movie on Christmas Eve. I was surprised the theaters were open, as I thought the French would take any opportunity not to work – but I suppose there are some French people who fancied going to the movies over the holidays as well, and the poor folks had to work at the caisses anyway. We watched Avatar, in 3D (with the cool tech-y looking glasses, not the fake paper ones). Now, a movie review in three parts: not too thrilled with the plot, somewhat impressed by the 3-D, somewhat more impressed by the world-making. It catches your eye while your watching it, but falls flat in retrospect.

Since we couldn’t participate in my family’s (now) tradition of going to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner and White Elephant gift-giving, we decided to borrow the Brit’s “Christmas dinner” as best we could. I had only recently gotten approval for using the oven (which wasn’t as complicated as Mimi made it out to be), and so was a bit wary about preparing an entire bird, and for only two people. Instead, we put ourselves at ease by purchasing dishes from Picard and reheating them in the oven. Which sounds not so tasty, until you realize that even frozen French food is better than some fresh-made American food. And then we slept. Here are some images of our coma-inducing meal (or meals, as the leftovers lasted us through the weekend).

First course: tomato soup, baguettes and turkey, mushroom and foie gras-stuffed pastries.

Main meal: Indian-style jumping potatoes, some more baguette, mixed vegetables, two types of chicken and green beens wrapped in bacon. Tossed down with some more Saumur, of course.

Dessert: Chocolate ice-cream logs sprinkled with nuts. We were so full, we could barely finish these off!

Dessert: Chocolate ice-cream logs sprinkled with nuts. We were so full, we could barely finish these off!

Sleep and other escapades

The rest of the Brit’s stay in Paris included plenty of sleep, many more movies (I couldn’t believe he’d never seen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!) and a bit of venturing out into the chilly weather. When we dared to face the brisk Parisian breeze, we did things like queue for an hour to ice-skate for 40 minutes at the Hôtel de Ville, or wander around looking at Christmas decorations, or walk six miles in a day to explore the Parc de la Villette and the adjacent St. Martin Canal (which, by the way, is beautiful even in the winter time), or go visit a swish pedestrian bridge and take silly pictures with statues in a park.

Me, ice-skating. Or rather, standing precariously in the way of rink traffic as the Brit tries to quickly snap a shot with my overly-complicated camera.

Huuuuuuge tree at the Galleries Lafayette. It was at least 4-storeys tall!

The Brit in front of the planetarium at the Cite des Sciences, by the Parc de la Villette.

Swish bridge, aka the Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir.

Silly picture.

Until next time, fellow explorers, when we’ll uncover the mysteries of great Eye of London.

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What do Eminem and I have in common?

Um, well…we’re back. And, I suppose, that at times I can be a bit shady, and that once upon a time, I was slim.

These last few weeks have been incredibly crazy. Between having the Brit over for Christmas, heading up for some gallivanting in London, and then having more friends than I have fingers bustling about for a week or so after, I barely had time to finish my scholarship applications, much less blog! But…all that is now a safe distance away, and after a cozy Saturday curled up in bed with a few movies as the rain tapped on my (still-paper-snowflake-covered) window, I was ready to hit the town.  And so I did, in a manner of speaking.

Jim Haynes is the type of person with whom you feel immediately comfortable. And it’s not just the twinkle in his eye and his rosy cheeks that lend him a Santa Clause-y air: the evening he offers is a veritable gift for those able to attend. An apron wrapped around his torso, seated on a wooden stool and notebook in hand, he shook our hands with smile peeking out from below his mustache.

A bit of background info: Aussie called me with some info on an underground dining adventure, one of those “best kept secret” deals, dinner chez Jim. Every Sunday for the last 30 years, Jim has hosted thousands of strangers, people unknown to him, and to the rest of his guests. Over glasses of wine, bottles of beer and a delicious three-course meal prepared by Jim and his friends, strangers become acquaintances, and in some cases, much more.

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to meet (among others): an architect from Sydney, an interior designer from Charlotte, NC, a communications consultant from Mexico, a geo-physicist from Italy, and an immunology student from China. Dinner consisted of a potato salad appetizer, followed by boeuf bourguignon, green beans and mashed potatoes, and an apple crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert. If you wanted seconds, they were up for grabs – in both the food and the alcohol department.  Plenty of interesting conversation and delicious food, all for a small donation (small by Parisian standards, that is).

The evening was a great way to break out of my hermit-ing (understandable, after three weeks of continuous travel), and I can’t wait to go back!

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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.

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, , , , , , ,

Bob the Sponge and his Square Pants!

The French take fancy to some artifacts of Anglophone culture, and this is where their discerning eye seems to fail them. They, for example, love Johnny Hallyday, who is essentially a faded echo of Elvis in his heyday. Or, take a recent exhibition on the phenomenon that is SpongeBob SquarePants, or Bob l’Eponge as the French fondly call him.  There was plenty of advertising – you couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least one poster for this expo.  It took place, appropriately, at the Pavillion d’Eau, and was accompanied by an educational exhibit on how to conserve water and the value of tap water over bottled water.  All these little details might clue you into the fact that this exhibit was geared towards the little ones.  And it shouldn’t surprise you that The Accomplice and I found ourselves at the Pavillion’s watery door.

To be fair, the advertising I’d seen included images like these…

...and I'm a sucker for all things art and satire, so I had to check it out.

There isn’t much to say about the content of the exposition – I didn’t learn much about SpongeBob that I didn’t already know.  Though I did watch my first episode of Bob l’Eponge entirely in French, with no subtitles…in a room full of 3-8-year-olds. I felt a bit out of place, like I was back at that Fall Out Boy concert in Roanoke, where age 10 was the mode. And years of sustainability-training have taught me quite a bit about water conservation, so not much new knowledge on that front, either.  But it was a great excuse for me to take some fun pictures!

If they can spoof Magritte, so can I. The Accomplice did what accomplices do, she helped.

Had The Accomplice not been pointing and giggling, what would Bob l'Eponge have to be embarrassed about?

I really did enjoy the architecture of the Pavillon itself - these steps pass over a pool of water, and terminate in a glass floor that continues above the same pool. Pretty swish stuff.

One thing that SpongeBob does rather well is unite the youth and adults that watch the show - here, a wall of drawings by the audience. Artists represented almost every demographic.

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