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.

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Oh whatta night…

This post might be better titled “All in a day’s work,” but because it’s 3 in the morning and I just got in, I thought Billy Joel was quite appropriate.  Just got in, you say? Why yes, and the party’s still going on in the streets of Paris…I’m just so old that my knees started to complain about all the walking.

But before we get to all that, a recap of my first Saturday in Paris: quite a busy one, if only in the French sense, in that I got a grand total of 3 things done today.

  1. Thing number 1: I went to set up my bank account.  It was quite simple. I had most of the necessary paperwork, and need one last paper signed before it’s all completely done.  My debit card should come in the mail in the next week or so, along with my RIB, which is a slip of paper with my bank info I need to get my paycheck deposited in the account (important stuff!).
  2. Thing number 2: I wrote a rough draft, an incredibly sloppy one that will be scratched, once again, for a scholarship application.  For some reason, I can no longer write personal statements, the ability has completely left me. So much for getting money to grad school. So maybe it should be 2.5 things, not 3…
  3. Thing number 3: I got my camera’s sensor cleaned. No more dust! This was a bit of a challenge, as I had no idea where to look for a camera store that would clean my sensor in Paris. This website came in handy, but the store the author mentions did not exist – in its place was another camera store, with a very nice gentleman who told me to come back in an hour.  So, for €30, I had my sensor, lens and body cleaned, and got to sit at the Place des Vosges while reading George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and watching little children kick up dust while playing soccer with their papas.

Now, for the night.  Dun dun dun.  The Tall One, another ETA, and I met up for dinner/dessert (dinner for her, dessert for me) where we solved America’s problems.  Turns out Mies was right, less is more, people.  Then we wandered around the city for four hours, trying to find the events described on the Nuit Blanche website, but because we had no map…it turned out to be more entertaining than planned. We stumbled upon the following images during our ambling parcour through the city.

Yes, that is a GIANT disco ball hanging from a crane in the Luxembourg Gardens. We wanted to go in to get a closer look, but there was a 3 hour wait.

Yes, that is a GIANT disco ball hanging from a crane in the Luxembourg Gardens. We wanted to go in to get a closer look, but there was a 3 hour wait.

I can never remember which bridge this is. But isn't it pretty?

I can never remember which bridge this is. But isn't it pretty?

You guys remember the Impressionists? This is why the movement started in France.

You guys remember the Impressionists? This is why the movement started in France.

Spiderman, spiderman...crossing the ocean onto French land...

Spiderman, spiderman...crossing the ocean onto French land...

Place des Vosges at night, where it's kind of creepy, but kind of beautiful.  Oh, and that's the Tall One in the red coat.

Place des Vosges at night, where it's kind of creepy, but kind of beautiful. Oh, and that's the Tall One in the red coat.

Ok, you explain this one to me. I have no words.

Ok, you explain this one to me. I have no words.

Notre Dame at night, from the Pont Marie (I believe). Now tell me you aren't jealous I'm spending 7 more months in this beautiful city.

Notre Dame at night, from the Pont Marie (I believe). Now tell me you aren't jealous I'm spending 7 more months in this beautiful city.

Finally, around 2:15, we decided to split ways and head back home…which took me about 45 minutes to walk. This is one thing I’m quickly getting used to: walking everywhere, 10-30 minutes at a time.  Oh, and eating tiny, tiny portions.  I’m going to come back to the US as a stick.  Twiggy’s back in style, didn’t you hear?

Well, I really ought to be getting to bed, because tomorrow, I’m off to the races! More on that after this break.

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