Jumping over the lazy dog

or, taking the bull by the horns.

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.

Filed under: All things French, Around the world, Close to home, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , ,

Green, like Kermit and grass.

I just returned from a screening of The Age of Stupid, part of the Festival International du Film d’environnement, a week-ish-long event in Paris (for you English-speakers, there’s a little British flag in the top right that translates the page to anglais).  I haven’t spent much time on this blog writing about “serious” topics, like the environment or sustainability.  That’s not necessarily because I don’t think about them, because I do, and certainly not because I know nothing about them, because 50% of my courses addressed sustainability at one point or another. But it just hasn’t come up recently.  That is, until now.

I saw an article in one of the Metro issues this week about the affair, and thought I’d give it a go.  I was particularly interested because I saw they were screening Food, Inc., a film I’ve been wanting to see for a while. More about that film in a minute, first I’d like to mention that they have screened (rather, will have screened) 100+ films during this event, documentaries and fiction, feature-length and shorts, all of which address our present and future as a species and a planet.  Basically, there’s something for everyone, even an animated film for the 4-8 year-old crowd.  Start ’em early.

I saw two of the films aired today, because they seemed the most interesting and happened to best fit my schedule (er, I wanted time to actually work on my grad school stuff today?).  The first was Food, Inc.

A smart farmer and giant corporations that mysteriously keep mum. What's not to like?

The title of the film is pretty accurate: it’s a documentary about how the source of our food has transitioned from small farms to big corporations, and the resulting mistreatment of the animals, workers and consumers.  But it’s not just another PETA film, though if you’re squeamish and like little chicks, you might want to cover your eyes for some bits. I was impressed with the film on a couple of points:

  • Story-telling: the documentary interviews characters that are memorable and presents their stories in a compelling way.  One of the individuals, a farmer who grows free-range everything, from chickens to cows to pigs, and has an impressive vocabulary, is interviewed as he slaughters chickens and packages them for sale.  It’s all done in an open tent, and the farmer notes the irony that conducting this work in fresh air is considered dangerous by the FDA as it can lead to contamination of meat (through air-borne particles).  The film then goes on to remind the viewer of the previous interviewees, a chicken farmer who wore a mask to wade through a throng of hobbling hens to gather the ones that had died during the night.
  • Art direction: the film is divided into chapters, of sorts, with catchy headings (that I can’t remember, but I remember they were catchy at the time) done in an artful way.  Oh, here’s an example: when talking about a veil concealing the source our food, the heading first reads “evil” then rearranges itself to “veil.” Subliminal? Not so much.  Point taken, though.
  • Art direction 2: there are bits of the film that are animated, that read almost like graphics from WIRED, reworked in 3D and talking about food consumption rather than the next big gadget. I thought they did a good job integrating these animated bits into the overall visual and narrative fabric of the film.

The other film I watched, The Age of Stupid, is along the lines of The 11th Hour, or Al Gore’s little number, An Inconvenient Truth. Except instead of a straight-up documentary, the team uses a fictional narrative arc to tie the stories together.  An old man, in 2055, looks over “archival” footage from 2005-2008, pondering the inability of the human race to save itself from global warming, thus “committing suicide” and resulting in global devastation.  I found it a bit contrived, but I liked the stories the arc allowed the director to tell: an African village abandoned by Shell and its government, the “not in my backyard” approach of individuals to wind as a power-source, an 80+ year-old guide who still takes tourists and his grand-children for treks in the Alps, even as the glaciers are melting away…

Here's the old man, and the images on the screen are the contrived plot. But the point of the film is a good one...

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself was the information I gleamed from the Q&A with the director and producer after the screening.  One of the question-askers noted the film was quite alarmist, at a time when the public is being bombarded with “be green or be dead” propaganda, and asked the director why she didn’t take a more gentle approach.  The director, Franny Armstrong, noted that they had considered two endings, a positive end, where humans fix the problem, and a negative end, where they don’t. They decided to keep the “nightmare” approach, as opposed to the “I have a dream” approach, because, in the director’s words, “We’re not at a crossroads, we’re at a point, on a path we’ve been on for over 100 years.  We’ve got to turn the whole ship around.”

I even got to ask a question. I was curious, since the film included documentary footage from around the world (Mumbai, New Orleans, the Alps, England, Africa) and spoke specifically about the large amount of emissions made by the airline industry, how the crew kept their carbon footprint low while filming.  The producer answered my question, saying they commuted using trains as much as possible (flying as little as possible), used eco-friendly supplies in the office, were all vegetarian, etc.  For the film’s premiere, they hosted a multi-national satellite event, based in London. Celebrities arrived on bike or in electric cars and walked down a “green carpet” to the screening area, where the projections were all powered by renewable resources. It was the largest film premiere in history, and it produced only 1% of the emissions you’d expect from a Hollywood-sized premiere.

Their approach to marketing and production is quite interesting, too.  Each crew member (104 total) took a pay-cut in order to invest themselves in the film, thus earning a profit as the film earns profit, and not limiting the film’s circulation through contractual means.  To further increase circulation opportunities, the film is available for private/public screenings: that is, whoever you are, you can have a screening whenever and where-ever you want, and keep your profits. Of course, you pay a base fee for the rights to screen the film…but it’s for a good cause?  If you’re interested, check it out: http://www.indiescreenings.net/.

Well, that’s my “important topic” for the month. Don’t expect the next blog entry to be so serious – I’ve got to tell you about my afternoon with Bob l’Eponge.

P.S. Did I mention this whole festival was free, one of many free film festivals in Paris over the course of the year, in fact? I love it when a government puts money towards cultural enrichment and public education. Of course, the people that need to be convinced about the importance of sustaining our environment probably didn’t come.

Filed under: Around the world, Close to home, In the news, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sun will come out…

…tomorrow! And today happens to be tomorrow! At least when compared to this weekend. Ok, that might make little sense, but that’s probably the remnants of my fever talking.

Actually, today I feel fantastic.  And the weather concurs – it’s a beautiful day in Paris, with a smattering of white fluffy clouds, and a not-too-chilly 60 degrees in the sunshine.  So I took a small walk before meeting up with The Accomplice, The Tall One and the latter’s sister for lunch at a deliciously cute resto called Café du Marché on Rue Cler in the VIIe.  I had some more confit de canard (duck) and a gâteau au chocolat (chocolate cake) with some ice cream – I don’t think I’m going to need dinner.  The Accomplice and I followed that up with a shopping stint at a MUJI near my flat and wandered through the Luxembourg gardens to digest our yummy lunches.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some images du jour!

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

So far, I've been treated to accordian music on the metro twice. It makes me feel like I'm really in Paris. I even paid this guy, since he let me take a picture.

This is Rue Cler.  Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

This is Rue Cler. Rick Steves likes it (click the pic to find out why). It's quite nice, though not my favorite part of Paris.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

It's not a myth: the French DO actually park this close to each other. In fact, they play bumper cars quite regularly when squeezing into a parking spot.

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

A 'vitrine' on Rue Cler - the shop sells all kinds of interesting goodies, from chocolates to specialty soups...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon.  They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Entrance to Luxembourg Gardens from Odeon. They've got all these beautiful potted flowers in the park now, working quite harmoniously with the changing leaves...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

Potted plants, again. I should look up the name of this flower - it's like a big fluffy pillow I could just sink into...

A small water fountain and canal.  There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

A small water fountain and canal. There were ducks, and it made me a bit nostalgic for the Duck Pond in Blacksburg.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

I love how parks in Paris are inhabited by a range of age groups, it's refreshing to see toddlers and teenagers co-exist with the elderly, and it certainly makes for some interesting people-watching.

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

Who chases after a convict?

Granted, The Tall One isn’t really a convict, and also, granted, the fellow couldn’t know that, but do you seriously think, as a drunk/high, short, black dude, that you’re going to get three American ladies to your “very big house” in Paris at 11PM on a Monday night?

Ok, rewind.

It was a calm and totally un-stormy night.  There are whispers – no, ardent shouts – of a grève tomorrow, and even though that means I have to be  up at 5:30AM tomorrow, I decided to join The Tall One and The Accomplice on a night on the town.  Well, when our attempts to go to a Scottish pub and watch a game over a pint were thwarted, we wandered down Rue St. Denis and ended up at a very nice café by the Pompidou Center (whose plaza, incidentally, is where I was almost peed-on by a drunkard two summers ago…).

This was a good decision, at first. The waiter was very nice, we shared a pot (not quite a bottle) of Brouilly, a nice, smooth red that is slightly swishy and has a bit of a tang (like my fancy wine vocab, there?), une carafe d’eau (order this at a French restaurant if you want free water, not the pricey Evian stuff) and some jaunty conversation.  An hour or so later, the waiter comes around asking us to pay the addition he had so kindly left at our table and not so subtly attempting to usher us out the door.  Well, The Accomplice still had half a glass to drink, and we weren’t done talking about song playing in the background, so we lingered.

Bad decision.

Cue: drunk dude who speaks “a small” English.  Who plops himself down in the empty chair beside me, and proceeds to tell us about his “big house” that he shares with his sister, and how we’re welcome to accompany him back to stay in his four bedrooms.  At first, we entertained ourselves by listening to The Tall One regale him with tales of her convict life in America, where she killed a man and now has no choice but to stay in Paris.  And then we decided to get lost.

But we couldn’t. Because this Don Juan was a persistent little bugger.

We exited the café and turned the corner, with our friend in pursuit.  For a drunk guy, he sure was quick. I thought, at first, he was several meters behind us, but before we knew it, he was grabbing The Accomplice’s bum and The Tall One was sprinting off ahead with my stumpy legs in pursuit. The whole time, this guy is blathering on in broken English.  By this point, we’re running (well, run-walking, that awkward skip-step you take, when you’re not sure if you want to be sprinting just yet) down a relatively-major street, I’m wondering how much Karate I remember from my 3rd-grade classes and why I don’t carry pepper spray, when The Accomplice yelps, “Get into a bar!”

We duck into the first one we find, and good thing – it turned out to house some really swell guys.  Slamming the door in our pursuer’s face (as well as a swinging glass door can be slammed), we huddled by the bar, our hearts thumping and our awkward entrance gathering curious looks from the locals we seem to have interrupted.  The drunk fellow leaned on the swinging door and promptly fell to the floor, face-down, on what was probably marble. It would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared.

One gentleman took a look out the door. “Is he with you?” he asked in French.  “Non.” We shook our heads vehemently. He stepped outside with his friend and I assume had a bit of a talking to with the dude, but I was a bit too terrified to notice what he was saying.  In any case, he bought us some time and we slipped out a side-door, shouting our “Merci beaucoup!” as we sprinted to the nearest Metro stop.

In the relative safety of the underground (relative because there are definitely some creeps wandering the Metro at night), we had a giggle about our near-something experience. I know city-living is something to get used to, and man was this something. Lest I have scared you potential Paris visitors, I’ll have you know that I still absolutely adore this city, and I suppose you must take these shenanigans in stride. At the very least, it makes for an entertaining blog entry.

Speaking of, I, for one, am curious to see how this eventful night appears on The Tall One’s blog. I also find it interesting that this occurs the week I choose to discuss Halloween with my kids at school.  Now I have a real-life creepy story to share…

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

Tout Paris, dans un week-end

It’s amazing how much you can fit into a weekend. Granted, my weekends are longer than most, especially this one, since I didn’t have to work on Thursday or Friday…but all the same, I saw quite a bit in four-ish days!

Thursday morning I went to the Gare du Nord to pick up my birthday present, i.e. the Brit, to begin our whirlwind tour of Paris. After dropping his bags off in the apartment, and a quick trip to the grocery store, we headed to the Luxembourg gardens for a post-lunch walk in the park.  Our tour on Thursday included a lot of walking, we made it from the Luxembourg gardens up to Notre Dame, then down along the Seine to La Place des Vosges, then back across the Seine to Ile St. Louis (where we ate the most delicious ice cream in Paris, at the original Berthillon shop, all decked out in purples and gold), then waaaaaaaay down the Seine to the Musée d’Orsay (where we learned that I can use my teaching ID card and he can use his EU passport to get in for free – and where we spent half our time watching Asian men take pictures of their wives/girlfriends posing suggestively with sculptures).  We were really knackered by the time we left the museum, so we grabbed something to eat at a restaurant in the 5e, in a small maze of streets bordered by the Seine, Bld St-Michel and Rue St-Jaques (lots of cheapish places to eat there, in case  you’re planning a visit to the city and looking to eat well on a budget).

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there.  Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard.  Awesome, eh?

The Brit in the Luxembourg Gardens - that's the Luxembourg palace behind him, there. Basically, the gardens were somebody's yard. Awesome, eh?

The best ice cream in Paris.  Worth the money, and the wait.

The best ice cream in Paris. Worth the money, and the wait.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural invention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

The Gare is beautiful...the 1980s architectural intervention looks like it should be either a fortress or a bank, but certainly not an art museum.

Staying up late on Thursday and the subsequent late start the next morning became somewhat thematic of the Brit’s visit across the Channel. That’s not such a bad thing in Paris, where nothing opens until 10am anyway.  On Friday, as I had another training session out in Créteil, the Brit wandered around town by himself, getting into all kinds of trouble.  When I finally got back, it was almost half past seven and so we scrapped our plans to see the Eiffel tower and went to the Louvre instead (getting caught in a rainstorm along the way, so that by the time we got to the pyramids we were thoroughly soaked and my moisture-wicking socks had nowhere to wick the moisture to).  The museum was all but deserted, which meant we actually got to see the Mona Lisa (or La Joconde as the French call her) instead of a throng of Asian tourists. I must say, though, getting caught in the rain before a night visit to the Louvre is not a bad way to spend your birthday, especially for an art fiend like me!  The Louvre was followed by another late night dining experience in the 5e, this time at a restaurant where I was spoken to in Spanish twice, because I’m brown, and where the kitschy Franco-Greek themed décor was only rivaled by the 70s pop music playing over the speakers.  The food itself was quite tasty, I had escargot, duck and chocolate mousse – all good things in my book.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

The pyramids at the Louvre are impressive during the day, but exquisite at night.

Another late start Saturday had us going to the 1pm showing of Funny People at the Pathé in Montmartre.  After two hours of giggling, sniggering and snorting, we wandered past Moulin Rouge (no free show there, but wait till I tell you what we saw on Sunday) and through Montmartre towards Sacré Coeur.  Turns out there was a once-a-year festival at the top of the hill, Les vendange, a celebration of the local Parisian wine grown in that quartier.  If the stalls had been giving away tastings, rather than asking for our limbs in exchange for un goût, I might have something to report with regards to the quality of Parisian wine, though my coworkers tell me it’s nothing to write home about…but we got a good view of the city from the steps leading to Sacré Coeur, and sat for a while to listen to the Afro-French musicians singing American songs: at one point, they even had a guest singer from the audience, a girl from Spain, help them with “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  After that number, we went down to the Jardin des Plantes, got kicked out at closing time by a guard enthusiastically weilding his whistle, and strolled down to Chinatown to grab dinner with some assistants.

On Sunday we thought we’d be French and take our lunch to a park.  A brief detour to the Eiffel Tower, to learn that you cannot, in fact, purchase advance tickets, though you will be able to soon (when is soon in this country, I don’t know…), we walked (a very long walk) down to the Parc André Citroën.  Now, I visited this park when I studied at Fontainebleau in 2007, and it’s one of my favorite parks in Paris. It has beautiful proportions, the side gardens are leafy and inviting, with a balance of views to promenaders and privacy, the latter of which is what probably provoked an incident in French PDA to the extreme.  The Brit and I had slipped into one of the aforementioned small gardens to grab our lunch.  There we sat, having just consumed a sandwich jambon fromage, chatting quietly, when I looked up across the garden to see a curious sight.  It’ll suffice to say that necking in the park is one thing – in fact, an intense make-out session seems to be the default mode for couples in a Parisian park – but addressing romantic issues below the belt (literally speaking) should really be done in the privacy of  your own home.  Needless to say, after a few speechless moments, the Brit and I gathered our belongings and made our exit.  Like two teenagers, we slunk away, giggling, only to happen upon a group of boys leaning over a ledge to observe the sight we had just escaped.  Their surprised yells only made us laugh harder, and by the time we had walked across the park, we were breathless with glee.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

One of my favorite mini-gardens at the park. A picture from a few years ago, because I decided it would be more fun to hang out with the Brit than take pictures all day.

As Sunday was our six-month anniversary (now a day to remember, for sure), we went out to Montparnasse, where we soaked in Breton culture and cider, along with some delicious crêpes, at the Crêperie Josselin.  The dessert crêpe was amazing, a combination of chocolate, bananas and coconut ice cream flambeed in rum: mmmmm.  Perfect for the not-so-hidden sweet-tooth in the both of us.

I did have to work on Monday, my first day with students of my own, which was interesting in its own right and will warrant its own post later this week. I managed to wriggle out of work earlier than planned and met up with the Brit to grab dinner and Skype my aunt and uncle in India.

Monday was our last night together in Paris, so we thought we’d splurge by having a glass of champagne while taking in Paris aglow. After only 30 minutes waiting in line to purchase our tickets, we packed ourselves onto the first elevator – I say packed because the close quarters on that journey up the Tower has made quite clear to me the meaning of the phrase “like sardines in a can.” It’s a (mostly) glass elevator, and I was pressed firmly against its clear doors – a great view, to be sure, but for someone with my slight acrophobia, a somewhat terrifying experience.  Nonetheless, we shuffled off the first elevator and onto the second; within minutes we were at the top of the tower with a dazzling view of the City of Lights.  While we were taking in the sights, it seems we were a sight ourselves – a group of children followed us around the second floor and during our descent, whispering amongst themselves and trying not to look as though they were watching us, looking away and giggling when we caught their wide-eyed stares.

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower.  My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

Looking East from the Eiffel Tower. My apartment is just beyond the brightly-lit dome, before the not-so-brightly lit dome (the latter being the Pantheon).

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower.  This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

One of my professors has made it his mission to take "the right" picture of the Eiffel Tower. This might not be it, but I think the composition is quite interesting...

This morning we woke at the crack of dawn to shuttle the Brit back to Gare du Nord, and poof! at 7:15am he was gone.  It’s a strange thing, a long-distance relationship, where the highs of meeting your loved one are so quickly tugged down by your longing upon their departure.  It won’t be too long until I see him again, though, we’ve already planned a trip to Loughborough and Edinburgh at the end of the month.  Traveling the world is certainly one of the advantages of living in two different cities.

All in all, a very romantic anniversary outing indeed – it’s going to be a hard one to top!

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

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