Posts Tagged ‘Dinner Parties’

This was perhaps the most beautiful weekend yet during my stay here in Paris. Despite the distant rumblings of the evil Icelandic volcano Ejafajallajökull — not really — the weather was absolutely perfect all weekend, with blue skies, warm breezes and high but comfortable temperatures. Just like at UNC, the population of the city seemed to triple as everyone remembered how it nice it feels to just walk around and be content in the warmth.

I did some of that, too, but mostly, I sat in my kitchen, with our cat, working on articles, papers and reading assignments that are due before I leave for break on Thursday. Of course, SciencesPo waited until just now to give me actual work to do. Lovely.

Friday, the day of my long-awaited exposé, was beautiful and wonderful and all the above, and I had a lovely run in the morning before heading over to school to prepare for my group’s presentation on opera in the 19th century.

When we got together, it quickly became clear that some of us — one of us, really, and it wasn’t me — had not the done the work the others had done, making our conclusion rushed and kind of worthless. But it didn’t matter, because the professor didn’t seem to care. He listened attentively as we spoke, taking very few notes but nodding appreciatively as we spoke.

But, immediately after I had finished my portion, he rose one of his crazy, expressive hands — this guy is really lanky and very very French — and asked if he might add something just now, because he had nothing else planned that day and if he spoke just then, it would make a lot of sense thematically.

He then proceeded to speak, at great length, about the wonders of the Opéra-Comique and the works presented there, taking time to play considerably long pieces of music as examples and occupying the better part of a half-hour.

(A note: a traditional SciencesPo exposé is supposed to last 10 minutes, max, plus question time from the prof and class. Meaning that, in a group setting, each person speaking 10 minutes means a half hour total of presentation time. Our exposé, with the professor’s additions, lasted the majority of one entire hour.)

Having satisfied his urge to speak, the professor then let the last member of our group speak, making sure that me and the other member of the group had a chair to sit on, since we had stood for a very, very long time. It was all very strange, but I’m pretty sure we got a good grade because the professor seemed to enjoy himself, and he smiled a lot during our talk. I think.

Friday night saw me at a dinner party with some friends, where we all ate much bread and onion soup and drank much wine and had a rather unusual literary reading, of sorts. You see, these friends live in the apartment of an American ex-pat writer, who specializes in, well, erotic fiction. Apparently it’s some good stuff — award-winning it would seem — but it’s still erotica. My friends found a trunk full of erotica collections featuring her work, and we all took turns reading selections out loud.

It was a peculiar, uncomfortable and rather eye-opening experience, but we all left feeling rather giggly and much closer as friends.

Saturday, I spent the entire day in my kitchen, working on one of two papers due in the coming weeks before the end of term. With my trusty sidekick Flocon the Cat, I managed to finish one and start another, also finding time to send in some of my French cultural reporting assignments, too.

After a brisk run along the canal and up to Pére-Lachaisse, I joined some friends for a showing of “Les Aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec,” a French period action-comedy-adventure film.

This was the first time I’ve seen a full-length French movie without subtitles, so I was very proud that I understood almost all of the movie. However, I think the plot is worth mentioning for its absolute absurdity.

The movie, directed by French film giant Luc Besson — I know he’s big because he was mentioned in one of my high school French text books a while back — is based on a series of comic books about a feisty, early 20th century journalist/author/adventure seeker named Adéle Blanc-Sec. She goes on epic quests and solves mysteries and stuff — kind of like a French, female version of Indiana Jones.

And like the most recent incarnation of Indiana Jones, the Adéle Blanc-Sec movie was really ridiculous. Adéle’s sister is brain dead from a tennis-related hat pin accident — she fell on a hat pin and it pierced her skull from back to front — so Adéle goes to Egypt to try and find the mummy of  a famous doctor so she can bring it back to life and make it save her sister.

You see, there’s a scientist in Paris who has discovered the secret of life after death — mainly, bringing dead things back to life. But unfortunately for Adéle, the scientist first tests this power by bringing to life a pterodactyl — or rather, making a pterodactyl egg in a museum hatch and release the sleeping dinosaur inside — which then proceeds to terrorize Paris, killing government ministers and causing panic throughout. For this, the scientist is sentenced to death, meaning Adéle has her work cut for her if she wants to use the scientist’s magic abilities to revive the mummified doctor — who actually is an engineer…but that doesn’t matter because everything works out in the end (well, the professor and his pterodactyl die, but no one really seems too concerned by that). And there’s also the slight problem that Adéle’s enemies somehow get her to take a vacation on a little cruise ship called the H.M.S. Titantic…and the screen fades to black.

As you can guess, the script for this movie was inspired by several different comic books, all crammed into one unnecessary but still wonderfully amusing movie. The best parts of this movie for me were being able to understand almost all of the dialogue and being able to identify the Parisian locations used during filming.

Sunday was an epic brunch at Breakfast in America — a satisfying yet not total substitute for Sundays at Weaver Street in Carrboro, North Carolina — and an afternoon in the Parc des Buttes Chaumonts. I now find myself in my kitchen again, eating grapefruit and trying to force myself to write this paper.

It’ll happen. I’m extraordinary like that.

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So, I have this thing — some might rightly call it a complex — about being a tourist.

While I do enjoy traveling to some extent, and while I continue to preserve every young writer’s romantic fantasy of hitting the highway à la Kerouac’s “On the Road”, I just don’t like the feeling of being obviously out of place that tourism engenders.

I wrote extensively on my feelings on the tourist side of Paris in an earlier posting, but my thoughts are essentially this: Paris is a museum city, a dead city remembering the lively excitement and creative spark that so animated it in the late 19th century, the early 20th century and the middle of the 1950s and 60s.

So, with the arrival of my parents for a week long tour of the city, I had the opportunity to try and figure out how to play tourist in a city in which I had no desire to do so.

Seeing my parents was absolutely wonderful. Even though we endured roughly the same amount of time between parent-child reunions last spring, I was only a 12 hour drive and a quick phone call away that time, making the distance seem ever so much slighter than the ocean and continent and time zones that separate us now.

Together, we had a lovely week, exploring the city that I have come to know fairly well. We went on long walks, ate delicious meals and drank good wine every night.

Saturday, after some difficulties in locating them in the massive Place de l’Opèra, we dined in the tiny and tasty Chez Prune, a café on the Canal St. Martin. We then split for a while, reuniting for a light dinner of bread, cheese, strawberries and wine at my house. My parents got to meet both of my roommates, our cat, and my landlord, which was very strange, considering that weeks often go by without me seeing any of these people.

Unfortunately, my landlord took both my month’s rent and my dear friend Flocon with him when he left Saturday evening, saying that the spunky cat had another job to do in a neighboring apartment. I really miss him, and I think this separation will do us both good. I never realized how nice it is to have a cat waiting for me when I come home until he left.

Sunday was Easter, and we had a small lunch together in L’Atmosphère, another café on the Canal, followed later by my award-winning Easter Dinner. The menu was as follows:

  • Savory tart with pears, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and rosemary
  • Balsamic and honey-glazed salmon served over whole grain rice
  • Baguettes
  • Pecan-Carrot Cake with Marscapone-Cinnamon Frosting
  • Various Wines
  • Coffee

Except for the salmon, I had never prepared these foods before, so making them for Easter Dinner was a big risk on my part. And it paid off handsomely, if I do say so myself.

Monday was Easter Monday, a strange holiday that seems to be the French version of Good Friday, so we wandered around the city, visiting the Jardin des Plantes, picnicking in the Jardin de Luxembourg and having a delicious dinner in the Café de la Petite Bourgette, just around the corner from my apartment.

Tuesday, the parents took a long and epic walk through the Jardin de Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées, ending up at the Arc de Triomphe. I was in class, so I could only hear their reactions afterwards. They were impressed by the grandiosity of the city and its monuments.

“There are a lot of statues,” my mother said. She’s right.

We had a picnic dinner in my favorite place in Paris, the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, and retired to my apartment for coffee and carrot cake.

Wednesday was more walking for the parents — this time, around the islands of the Seine — and more class for me, followed by a visit to a famous café in Montparnasse — Le Select, home to Picasso, Hemingway, and others — and then on to a dinner party with friends and friends’ respective parents.

As a group, we poor ex-pat students decided it would be nice to show our visiting parents how we spent a lot of our evenings here in Paris. Also, it was nice to show them that we actually had real friends here.

Thursday, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower for pictures with our local hometown weekly, The Milford Times, and then returned to the neighborhood for an elegant and absolutely superb closing dinner at the Hôtel du Nord, a little café-restaurant on the Canal. It was fantastic, and we agreed that I should probably find the money to go there again at least once while I am here in Paris.

Saying goodbye to my parents, it was hard to believe that the week was over. As strange as it was to have them here in Paris, it was also a real delight.

They brought three of my favorite things with them: Peanut butter, good food, and unconditional love.

As spring continues to blossom here in Paris, those are three things I could certainly get used to having.

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As you might imagine from the title, the last few days have been up and down. One might say my days have been as erratic as the weather here, which is currently below freezing and showing rather pathetic signs of warming up. It is, however, sunny, which is a win.

Small problems, small victories.

My weekend was rather uneventful. I was a homebody on Saturday — with the exception of a glorious run to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont — and Sunday I went to the American Church in Paris with Victoria. It was a traditional service — sans actual denomination, although it leaned towards Presbyterian — and we both felt very American and very much like children in church again. Afterwards, there was much plentiful and FREE American style coffee.

We then headed off to the student brunch in the south of Paris, which was cheap and tasty — cereal, bread, pastries, yogurt, milk, orange juice, potatoes, eggs, coffee and more for less than 3 euro! — but we had to battle it out with hungry French students for food and for a place to sit. In the end, it was worth it, and we left full and happy.

Small problems, small victories.

School started up again on Monday, as it is often wont to do, and I can honestly say that I was glad to get back into my somewhat regular routine. Classes were interesting, and the sky was blue and sunny, albeit a tad bit cold.

Monday evening, my friend Matt from Carolina got in on the train from London, where he is spending the majority of his spring break, watching football (British football that is) matches and wandering around aimlessly. His visit was sort of spur of the moment, but when he got off the train, I realized how nice it was to see a familiar face from my regular life back in the real world.

We made dinner for ourselves and for some friends of a high school friend — the people who introduced me to the first batch of French people here — which was delicious (mac and cheese, only the fancy and elaborate kind). I also made butterscotch, which everyone always loves.

Tuesdays are my busy days, and yesterday was no exception. French class in the morning — where the clock is always mysteriously stuck on 4 o’clock, exactly — followed by a quick stop in the library to begin the book check-out process and then lunch and Media and Politics class, concurrently.

You see, you aren’t allowed to actually go into the stacks in the library here. You fill out a little form with the book number and title, scan it into a timestamp machine and give it to the people behind the circulation desk. They then send someone into the stacks for you to see if the book is there, and bring it back after a period of oh, say, 45 minutes. When I explain the American university library system to French people, they are stunned.

The short of all of this is that the book I wanted for my paper on the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. United States (the Pentagon Papers case) — called “Nixonland”, a book which we used in my favorite history class last term — was checked out, even though the library’s database told me otherwise.

My difficulties continued when I went to my French bank to attempt to deal with a problem with my account. Let me just pause a minute here and explain something. I opened this account in January. I chose the BNP-Paribas student option, because they have some sort of deal with French universities in which they give you free money for being a student and opening an account with them, so I had to give them my SciencesPo student ID. Which I did. In January.

Last week — the first week of March, mind you — I got a call from the bank, explaining that my student ID card has the wrong birthdate on it, or rather, it doesn’t match my passport birthdate. You see, the French — and the rest of the world in general, methinks — write dates as “day/month/year” and not “month/day/year” like we do back in the states. So, somewhere along the line, I must have made an error in filling out the student card registration form, because my card says I was born March 9, or, 9/3/1989.

(So I just had a fake birthday yesterday. Holler.)

The ever vigilante folks at BNP wanted further proof that I really did go to SciencesPo and that my birthday was September 3rd, 1989 and not March 9th. I explained to them last week that, since SciencesPo was on holiday, I would have to wait a bit. Which was fine with them. (I mean, they had already waited more than a month to tell me there was a problem, so what was another week, right?)

In digging through my piles of official papers and things, I discovered a “Certificat de Scolarité” that the UNC Study Abroad Office gave me right before I left campus in December. It basically just says, “Hey people reading this, this kid is really a student at SciencesPo. And also, he was born September 3rd, 1989, in case you were curious. Cheers.” For some reason the dates on the paper are written in American format, unless of course the French have discovered a 25th month (the date in the top right corner is 11/25/09).

But there’s a very official looking stamp on this paper, so I thought it would suffice. I brought it in to the bank first on Monday afternoon, but they told me they needed my passport — a copy of which they already had — so I had to come back yesterday, as I do not usually carry my passport around with me for safety reasons.

Yesterday I returned, and much confusion ensued.  First, the woman at the front desk had no idea what I was talking about. Then, she disappeared with my information and passport and went to talk with one of her superiors. She came back and told me everything was cool. Which was false, and I told her as much, reminding her of the phone call I had received from someone in the office. The woman then disappeared again, for longer this time, and returned with all my stuff.

“You need to fix this date thing with SciencesPo,” she told me, pointing to the birthdate on the certificat de scolarité. “This date doesn’t mean anything to us.”

“Oh,” I said. “But you see, this paper is written in American-style date format, as evidenced by this corner date here. So I’d imagine this is correct then.”

“No,” she told me. “We don’t write dates like that here in France. This means nothing to us, I don’t care if it is inversed. You need something else.”

Okay, I’ll admit, this afternoon was just a big fail. No small wins at all. But I am at the point where I just might give up this bank account quest. So, that could be construed as a win. Maybe.

The evening was one big win for all. My French class had our first — of hopefully many — “dîner de conf”, or “class dinner” at our professor’s lovely apartment. Everyone brought food to share, and the professor provided wine, cheese and bread.

It was a truly delightful evening. I simply adore my French prof, and the class is a fantastic mix of students from many different countries and academic backgrounds. We had a delicious meal of random dishes — including my own contribution of my famous fatoush (FATOUSH!) —and had lively and interesting conversation in French. I truly hope we can do it again soon.

Matt is still asleep right now, and I need to get him up and going so we can have a picnic in the Jardin de Luxembourg before my class today. He leaves tonight on the Eurostar to London.

Life may be a series of difficulties and successes, but hopefully my life is headed more towards the “success” column and away from the “difficult” one.


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I admit that I have rather limited experience with the Atlantic Ocean as a destination. This is partly because I come from the Mid-West, and well, let’s face it — we don’t do oceans there. Lakes, yes; oceans, no.

But when I finally decided to make a move on my first out of class story assignment for my Writing About French Culture class, I decided to hop on a train, go somewhere I didn’t know, and write about the experience.

I chose Trouville-Deauville, a seaside resort about 2 hours from Paris proper, and the experience was absolutely lovely. It made me feel like I was back in Mackinaw City — touristy  shops, closed out-of-season hotels, kitschy food shops galore (crepes here, not fudge) and an endless expanse of water just beyond the shoreline. Except of course, this particular expanse of water was one of the world’s largest bodies of water, and not the Straits of Mackinaw.

My day began early, as I took the metro to the Gare St. Lazare, one of several large train stations in Paris allowing residents to come and go as they please to wherever they might please. After a two-hour train trek, including a quick transfer in a town whose sole existence as a stop seemed to be to allow train passengers to switch between lines, I found myself in Trouville-Deauville, a sleepy little resort town in the Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy) departement of France.

I spent the day wandering along the beach, hiking up narrow hills, eating delicious pastries, drinking tasty coffee, writing, reading and generally being alone and pensive. It was my own, personal, one day vacation of sorts. Forget euro-tripping. I went to the ocean today. And it was splendid.

Looking across the water, it was fun to imagine that just beyond the horizon was my home in the states. I quietly said hello to all of you back there, so if you get a funny little tickling around your ears in a few days or so — that’s my voice finding you and making itself known.

I have a pretty good idea of the direction my story is going to take — the voyage out, the sea, the climate similarities, the quaint town, etc. — and I even talked with a little old man on a bench while I ate a pain au chocolat and he smoked a cigar.

“You know,” he told me, stubbing out his mini-cigar, “I will smoke this 3 times while a cigarette smoker will smoke many, many cigarettes. I am quite useful like that.”

“Ah,” I told him, “How nice.”

“You smoke?” he asked. I told him no. Soon after, he figured out — by my lack of smoking and my unusual accent — that I wasn’t French. Story of my life in France.

But this trip to the sea was the perfect end to a lovely week. I had a great dinner on Monday with two Cranbrook friends and my Outward Bound friend — odd reunions/meetings over honey-balsamic salmon, baguettes and butterscotch — and another delightful dinner on Tuesday with some SciencesPo friends — balsamic butter pasta, baguettes, and more butterscotch (!) — and a movie night.

Tuesday also saw me going to the Palais de Justice with a friend to watch a circuit court hearing for one of her SciencesPo classes. It was a strange event. The lawyers and judges in France are required to wear long, black robes and a funny little white ascot tie thing — I kid you not. The entire effect is rather odd, aside from the fact that the panel of three judges asks the questions and not the lawyers. I think maybe the robes are meant to instill confidence and authority, but for me, an outsider, they inspire laughter and silliness.

Wednesday was homework shut-in day, while Thursday was another lovely day, with me playing baby sitter for my friend Lauren from Cranbrook days, in town visiting Victoria. We wandered around the city, eating falafel and visiting a delightful store called “La Maison du Miel” which is, as it says, a house of honey.

And what honey it was (we were given a free sample of the French forest honey that Lauren bought for her parents). I didn’t buy any, but you can be sure that I will return there soon to purchase some of the delicious, tasty spreads.

Thursday night saw me taking part in perhaps the strangest night out of my young life. You see, there’s this bar close to the Place de la Bastille called “Les Caves” — roughly, “The Caves/Basements/Dungeons” — and it has the unusual and distinct theme of “medieval dance hall”.

Victoria and her French friends are real big fans — she’s been at least 6 times, including a visit on her 21st birthday in the fall — and they all have their own costumes. I did my best, and managed to look relatively pirate-esque, if not like a gallant knight of yore.

For a moderate cover charge — and an additional costume rental, if you aren’t Middle-Ages inclined — one enters Les Caves and heads downstairs to the elaborately constructed dungeon.

And it really is a dungeon. A well-lit, happy dungeon with no prisoners and a well-stocked bar, but still a dungeon. While sitting down in our booth, I had to move aside a rather large ball and chain hanging on the wall next to a lit torch.

After we all enjoyed our various medieval beverages — spiced wine, mead and other such treats, some in actual drinking horns — the band started up and we all headed over to the dancing hall, where bagpipes, flutes, drums and other musical delights awaited us.

Now, these dances aren’t any dances I knew. But somehow, there was a rather large group of what appeared to be “regulars” of Les Caves who knew all the dances and then some. The dances varied — some were simple line dances, where everyone held hands and moved back and forth around the room in a snake-like twisty pattern — and some highland jig and jumping numbers that were too fast and too complicated for us newbies to try.

But Lauren and I did manage to teach ourselves a moderately complicated partner dance, taking part in a lovely little number with box steps, jumps, spins and leaps. In another dance, I was made to pick up and cast aside alternating women on other side of me. I did not know these women, and I still do not, but I did throw them many, many times.

There was also a rather confusing dance where the patterns changed frequently, at one point consisting of the men and the women taking turns jumping up and yelling something about peas in French — at the time, we had no idea what we were supposed to be yelling, so we just made noises that sounded like the noises that everyone else was making.

Around midnight, we decided to call it a night — Lauren had a noon flight from Charles DeGaulle to Detroit, and I had my early morning train trip — but it was certainly a night of peculiar amusement.

And although I pretended to be skeptical when Victoria announced our plans, I absolutely loved it. I’ve even told some other friends about Les Caves, and I am certain that I will be back there soon.

Besides, I know a lot of the dances now, so I can pretend to be a regular. Although, if I ever go enough times to be an actual regular, we might have a problem.

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This weekend was pretty nice, so I can’t really complain. Nor is my title entirely accurate. I just couldn’t think of anything else to write up there.

I apologize for being absent for a few days. My continued calls for homework to do finally came true, and I found myself with a small, but necessary pile of assignments to finish or explore this weekend. So, after class on Friday, that is what I did — along with other, less homeworky things.

Friday was a lovely day. The weather was warm and clear, I had a nice run in the morning, and I met up with a girl from my French class to work on a joint project for this coming Tuesday’s class meeting. As part of our grade, we are required to give a “revue de presse” — a presentation comparing coverage of a news event of our choosing in both a French newspaper and a foreign newspaper and launching a corresponding class debate — and our presentation will be on the coup d’état in Niger last Thursday.

It’s a pretty complicated issue — the president may have already staged a coup last June, according to some, when he abolished the government and the constitutional court to guarantee himself an illegal third term of office — but we are using the coverage of the coup in both The New York Times and the French daily Le Monde to explore the idea of international press coverage of these kinds of events.

The Times suggests the possibility of a coup, without actually confirming that one took place, while Le Monde staunchly declares that a coup did take place. Now, today, no one is doubting the coup. It happened, the military took control and there is international concern over the usual grab bag of human rights violations and violence that could possibly explode in the coming days and weeks. But we hope to launch a debate on the fact that a coup, which is clearly a big deal, was not easily found in the international press — page A4 of the Times, and difficult to find in many other American newspapers. From this fact, we also hope to discuss the respective coverage of the event — coup or no coup? — to explore the responsibilities of the media in reporting these kinds of things: should they be accurate in their coverage, or the first to publish something?

After our meeting, I had my French lecture on music and politics, which was just as fun as I remembered it. We discussed important trends in Western music and political development throughout the middle ages and beyond as a lead-up to the 19th century, which is the main focus of the course. The absolutely lovely and humorous prof made us all sing, as a class, repeatedly, to demonstrate important musical tone developments.

The best part of the class is that I can understand the majority of what the professor says, which is all in rapid, conversational French. The other students, not so much — when they ask questions out loud in class, I have to strain to understand sometimes —  but definitely the prof. Which is wonderful.

Friday night saw me making dinner with a Carolina friend here in Paris for a different study abroad program  and one of her new friends, followed by a visit to the Louvre — which is FREE on Fridays for students, so WIN — and an early bed time. I like the Louvre fine, but I do find it too large to fully appreciate. We just hung around one specific wing — where I oddly ran into someone I knew from my welcome program — and agreed to come back in the future and explore the rest of the museum.

Saturday was more homework — all mostly finished by the afternoon — and a run, followed by an attempted outing with the dinner party gang to the Centre Pompidou to see the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. This group of musicians are exactly what their name suggests: an Austrian ensemble that fashions instruments out of produce. I originally thought the concert was free, but it was actually 14 euro, a fact which initially deterred us from going. I finally convinced my friends to join me, but by the time we got there, it was sold out. Which was a bother.

We did get to see the ensemble demonstrate their instrument making process, which was almost as cool as seeing them live, and completely free. We followed this up with a dinner — my winter roots dish, which everyone loved — and a small outing with some of their friends at someone’s apartment.

Missed the last metro, again, so I stayed the night on the other side of the Seine, waking up today rather late to meet up with my French partner again for our project. After a small dinner — I wasn’t too hungry today, actually — I am settling down for the evening to edit some of my papers for class and maybe read a little. I also will be going to bed early, as I was out too late last night.

I discovered today that we have winter break all the following week, so I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do. Maybe explore the city? Maybe hang out with some French friends? Maybe to London for a day? Spain? Somewhere not Paris? Who knows.

But I’m doing well, and as the weather improves, so does my overall happiness. Soon enough, spring will be here for real, and that will simply grand.

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It was a strange day, involving much napping and several hours of breakfast eating.

But it was a rather lovely day, too. Plus, a girl in my Music and Politics seminar thought I was a real French person, which was fun.

I woke up, feeling really rather awful — maybe it was one of my weird “Saturday Morning Sicknesses”, only this time on a Friday, or maybe it was the dread I was facing for having to pay my rent that morning — but I was really hungry, so I slowly ate my usual breakfast during a prolonged period of the morning. I would eat a few spoonfuls of yogurt granola, then lie down on my bed, then try again, then lie down on my bed, etc. etc. It was not the most efficient way to eat breakfast — it took me about 2 hours — but it stayed down, and I felt decidedly better after having finished and showered.

Paying the rent? Not so much fun. But that had to get done, too, I suppose.

Then, eating lunch while walking, I wandered down to campus for my final class of the week, the looming French lecture on “La Musique, la Politique et la Sociabilitié” (Exactly what it sounds like) in one of my favorite buildings on campus — they have one of the better coffee machines there.

I found the room, and another student waiting for the same class, and we awkwardly spoke to each other in French. I asked her if she knew the professor, and she said she did not. I replied that I was the same, because I was an exchange student here for the term.

And then the wonderful thing happened.

“Oh,” she said, still in French, “I thought you were a French student.” She, it turns out, is an exchange student — for the year — from Mexico. We bravely entered the class together, at least one of us feeling just a little more French in doing so.

The class was a grab bag of students from exchange programs and Sciences Po in general, making it clear that I wasn’t the only non-native French speaker present. But for the most part, I could understand the delightful and amusing professor, as he rattled off details of his musicology history and his academic career.

It would appear that this course will be, as its title suggests, an exploration of the intersecting worlds of music, politics and sociability. We will all be presenting various topics in small groups — I’m in a group with my new Mexican friend on opera! — and just pretty much having a musical kind of a time. We even finished the first class yesterday by sampling some recordings of select virtuoso pianists.

It, like the rest of my classes here, will be a truly enjoyable experience, I am sure.

I wandered back home, taking time to go to the huge shopping center close to the center of the city in order to buy a novel for my French class — not available in the independent bookstores down by Sciences Po, which was sad — and then bought two loaves of bread to bring with me to the dinner party I was planning on attending later that evening.

A friend from Chicago in my welcome program here was the host, inviting about 14 students over — all exchange students this term — to her lovely apartment by the Seine for a little bread, cheese, wine and French Soupe a l’Oignon. Everything was delicious — including the strawberries, madeleines and whipped cream for dessert — and a few of us decided to go for a post-dinner walk along the Seine down to the Eiffel Tower.

We sat under the huge iron structure, looking up at the pretty sky and the soaring monument to 19th century French engineering.

And then we called it a night.

Oh, I also got stopped by the National Police at my Metro station at Gare de l’Est. They were closing the station for the night and decided that I, with my satchel and pea coat, looked like a drug carrying type of guy.

Obviously, they were wrong — although I did make sure to warn them that I had needles in my bag, as I am a diabetic — and they let me go. It was a strange experience, and I’m not sure why they singled me out, but maybe it’s because they thought I looked really French.

I think I’ll just go with that one.

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