Posts Tagged ‘French’

Two years ago, when I first wandered around the weird and hilly streets of Brussels / Bruxelles / Brussel , Belgium — have to include the French and the Flemish spellings in there, in true Belgian fashion — I was pleasantly surprised by the charm and grace of a city so often called “boring,” “ugly” or “unfortunate” by the international press, reporting from the city to cover the European Union’s administrative arm based there.

I loved the odd, overlapping architectural worlds of 18th and 19th century northern Europe classicalism and mid-1970s international brutalism, lining the cobbled streets of the capital city of an imaginary country created for European political neutrality. I loved the people, then as now embroiled in a political crisis of looming devolution threatened by a complicated language-based system of power sharing between regions and parties, and yet still constantly amused by their king, happy about your visit to their country and ready for the next glass of beer.

So I was rather surprised when the train pulled into the station at Bruxelles-Midi last week after a short and rolling trip through the French, Walloon and Flemish countryside and I found myself face to face with a simple and undeniable fact: Brussels IS ugly. Brussels IS a ridiculous city. NOTHING seems to be happening here late at night / in the middle of the day / ever, really. I could NOT have spent the six months I spent in Paris here, a choice which I had originally  pursued when I made the decision to study abroad in the spring of 2010.

It was a remarkable discovery. I reflected on the conditions that could have made my first visit to Brussels so magical — its status as the first French-speaking, non-German European city I had ever visited at that time — and I decided that six months in Paris was the right decision.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this second visit. As the first part of my summer opera adventure in which I would be staying with someone I didn’t know — Huzzah CouchSurfing! — I was looking forward to meeting new people and being somewhat self-suficient again. And the production of Verdi’s “Macbeth” that I saw at the La Monnaie / De Munt Royal Opera House was perhaps the most exciting and captivating performance of the summer thus far.

My perfectly accommodating couch surf host, Damien, lived in a pretty, residential area south of the city center, close to a lively Portuguese / student / cultural area and a lovely series of ponds and parks, making for nice evening walks, afternoon reads in the sun and early morning runs.

My days in Brussels were spent as such: wake up early, shower and eat, leave the apartment by 8:20 — Damien had to go to work and only had one set of keys — spend three hours in the café down the street with delicious, cheap coffee and free wifi, wander into the city center for lunch in a park or the Royal Gardens or on a terraced café patio, visit some sort of historical site and then wander back “homeward” for whatever evening activity I had planned.

Those included: dinner by the pond, “Macbeth” at La Monnaie / De Munt and a thank you dinner chez Damien in which I made the now-famous / infamous rosemary fig tart of wonder — sans figs, unfortunately.

In between this obviously “busy” schedule, I also had time to drink a lot of coffee, read two books, including a rather interesting discussion of urban growth problems written by Eliel Saarinen, the architect who built my high school, and see “L’Illusioniste,” the latest film from French-Canadian director Sylvain Chomet, who also just happened to direct my favorite movie — and the background for this webpage — “The Triplets of Belleville.”

“L’Illusioniste” followed a similar format as that of “Triplets” : little to no talking, angled and odd old-style animation, lonely old people helping sad young people reach their potential, wild music and fat family pets — in this case, it was a rather vicious yet ultimately lovable magician’s white rabbit.

It was a lovely film, albeit a sad one made even sadder by the fact that I saw it alone in Brussels in the middle of a lovely late June afternoon, but it was a nice way to spend a lazy day in Belgium.

I also tried — and failed — to set up a meeting with members of OperaEuropa, a Brussels-based European cultural organization that coordinates Europe’s opera scene. Clearly a perfect and obviously relevant match for this intrepid research student, but the director was out of town and his assistant was out with some debilitating illness. I’m still trying to pick their brains via email, but it was rather unfortunate that a choice opportunity like this to sit down and talk opera with some people who know the business well.

But that sad scheduling failure did not prevent me from seeing “Macbeth” at La Monnaie / De Munt, which — as stated above — was the best thing I have seen thus far on this trip, and a truly relevant example of modern stagings of classic opera at their weird and wonderful finest.

According to the program I purchased — in French AND Flemish, for your reading pleasure. Attention Readers: If you ever wanted to read the Italian libretto of Verdi’s “Macbeth” in silly, sing-songy Dutch, come find me. I have that libretto for you — the production’s controversial and avant-garde Polish director decided to stage the work along a “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder / Apocalypse Now / Modern Cultural Failings” type line, resulting in a visual overload of artfully placed thematic clues, omnipresent video installations and creepy, porcelain-doll-mask-wearing child-witches.

The set most closely resembled an American middle school gymnasium, and the costumes, rather than from any particular period, included such winning outfit ensembles as army jackets, fish-nets and high heels — this was on a man — and elegant, mid-60s British royalty formal attire for the titular Scottish would-be king and his conniving Lady.

The work is flawed in parts, likely stemming from its unusual and convoluted status as a Scottish legend told by a English playwright and subjected to the standards of mid-19th century Italian opera, but it is usually highly regarded as a true Verdi masterwork, and some of its arias and larger group numbers — including the haunting Act III Macduff aria “O figli! O figli mei!” — are well-known throughout the world of classical vocal music.

La Monnaie / De Munt ‘s production relied heavily on obvious recurring motifs, including Macbeth’s clear insanity, his wife’s instability and greed, the fatigue and fog of war, film noir, Vietnam, chess, the supernatural and white trash. In a surprisingly moving opening bit, a man reads a letter — in English — about coming home from a gruesome war zone to his beautiful wife. A closer inspection in my program revealed that this letter was, in fact, a real letter from a Vietnam soldier in the 70s home to his wife in the States. It was a but much, sure, but it worked, like so much of the extremely high concept, high art production.

In a lesser production, these elaborate visual elements might have overwhelmed and distracted, but in this particular one, they absolutely worked. The vocal cast, including an always off-stage and ever-powerful chorus, was phenomenal, and the leads were a revelation. The best example of this came at the end of Act I, when Macbeth, his Lady, Banquo, Macduff, Malcolm and their respective servants lead the chorus in an a cappella group mourning session for the fallen King Duncan.

It was an eerie, moving and powerful moment, and I’m not just saying this so I can italicize things and use complicated, art criticy type words. The whole house was virtually silent, and the vocal tension was so stirring and so beautiful that I swear I heard the audience collectively catch their breath when faced with such a powerful musical moment. It was absolutely wonderful.

Macbeth and his Lady were also fantastic, singing their roles with complicated psychological nuance and skill, and Macduff / Banquo / Malcolm / the servants were great, too. The whole thing was just that great, and it probably would have been that great regardless of the complicated visual imagery shoved down the audience’s throats at every spare moment. The fact that these visual choices were so disturbing, arresting and yes, meaningful was a lovely side bonus.

I could say more about the reasons was this production added much to my summer research goals — the full house on a Tuesday, the theatre’s interesting status as the only opera house funded by the Belgian national government as opposed to regional governments, the theatre’s recent controversial and provocative stagings of other classic works — but I’ll save that for my final report. Mostly, I’m just in awe of the great work of art that I was fortunate enough to see last week.

I’m in Berlin now, getting ready to take in both the operatic drama of Beethoven and also of the German national football team, playing Argentina tonight in a tense quarter-final game.

Brussels may be an ugly, funky and strange city. But it gave me an evening of such power and beauty, that I can forgive it for all of — or most of — its failings.

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So, it’s been a week since I last updated this blog. And while I do mean to cut down a little on my blog posts — the once-daily regimen of earlier in the term just can’t happen anymore — I never intended to move to once a week posts.

But this last week was some kind of busy. What, with schoolwork, visiting Germans and the full onslaught of spring weather here in Paris, I had a hard time finding space to squeeze in a quick update. Eventually, it just got to the point that I decided a full report this morning would be better than a few tiny dispatches from the field during the week.

Monday, after my idyllic run through springtime Parisian streets to class, I went to the dinner party gang’s house to make Gypsy Soup for dinner, a favorite recipe from Molly Katzen’s incredible veg-head tome, the Moosewood Cookbook. The soup went over well — although I did get a rather nasty blister on my left middle finger — and we had quite a lovely evening together.

Tuesday, I didn’t have class in the afternoon, so I went back to the dinner party gang’s apartment to plan our spring break and steal/drink some of their delicious, French-pressed coffee. After much cajoling and convincing, I gave in and purchased a ticket to Valencia, Spain for 7 glorious late April days on the Mediterranean beach. All things considered, it isn’t going to be a terribly expensive trip — especially if my girl Merkel keeps delaying a Greek bail out, driving the Euro down a little bit everyday — and I think it will be good to have a relaxing week by the sea. In the warmth. With friends. In a country where everything is cheaper than here in Paris.

Plus, the night of our return to Paris, we have tickets to the She & Him concert, which will be a lovely, but not completely satisfactory, makeup for the missed Joanna Newsom concert in Durham this month. But I can’t hate too much, because Zooey Deschanel is a true delight, and I can only imagine how much her gleeful energy will be doled out in generous portions when she is on a brightly lit stage in front of me.

We then spent the afternoon in the Jardin de Luxembourg, fighting the scores of other sun-starved Parisians and tourists for the green metal lawn chairs scattered around the park. As the resident runner of the group, it was up to me to dash around La Grande Fontaine, scooping up empty chairs as they became available. Needless to say, by the time I left to go home to run and do homework — sort of — we all had a chair.

But Wednesday is when the real fun started. Tim, an old German exchange student from my junior year at Cranbrook, flew in Wednesday night from Berlin, where he is spending his year of public service looking after old West Berlin shut-ins. I haven’t seen Tim since the summer after my senior year, when we had a reunion of sorts in Munster with our other German chum Friedemann after Friedie and I backpacked around the continent.

And yet, when he got off the OrlyBus, it was like it had only been a few weeks. Granted, we both look a little older, and a lot has happened in both our lives since that year at Cranbrook and that late summer day in Germany, but I instantly knew that my weekend with Tim was going to be a good one.

Plus, Tim was quick to let me know that even though this was his first time in Paris — which surprised me, considering that he is from Dusseldorf, has spent considerable amounts of time in the UK, and will be a student at Cambridge next fall — and he hadn’t seen anything yet, he didn’t want to do the touristy things. He wanted to see MY Paris, the Paris that I lived in.

Which suited me just fine.

We had dinner at Breakfast in America, which was tasty good, per usual, and bought a bottle of wine to split and catch up over in my apartment. Tim loved my neighborhood, and the funky weird vibe of my apartment. Also, Flocon, our cat, loved him, and in turn seems to like me a little bit more now. Go figure.

Thursday, I took Tim to the St. Germain neighborhood by school, and he wandered around while I had my French reporting class, where we finalized the details for our culture feature stories. I will be working on a story on the Ciné du Réel documentary film festival at the Centre Pompidou — more on that below — which I am very much looking forward to.

Since Thursday was such a pretty day, we walked back to my house, passing through the Jardin des Tuileries, the Grands Boulevards area, and everything in between, speaking snatches of French as we walked. Tim hasn’t studied French in a year or so, but he still is really good at the language, so it was fun to have another non-native speaker to mumble incomplete French thoughts with.

That night, we went to the dinner party gang’s house Thursday night to make my famous French toast and scrambled eggs dinner. It was a huge hit, and we left fat and happy.

Friday, we picnicked in the Jardin de Luxembourg, pausing for my class in the evening. We then joined up with Claire of the dinner party gang for a film at the Ciné du Réel festival, which was lovely.

I had to get my press accreditation, which I managed to successfully do all in French, and the helpful (!) women at the press desk were amused with my obvious excitement.

“This is your first press accreditation, isn’t it?” one asked gently. When I responded in the affirmative, she smiled and said, “Well then, this is a big moment for you!” And it was.

The press accreditation — thanks to my French reporting prof —  allows me to see any and all of the films for free. Meaning that I probably won’t get much homework done this week. Maybe.

We saw two interesting short films, and then headed back for dinner and cards at their apartment. A truly successful, evening, indeed

Saturday was the day of walking, with us visiting my favorite park — Buttes Chaumont, of course — heading down to the beautiful Musée de Rodin — where the grass was closed off, or “La pelouse interdite” as the signs helpfully indicated — and pausing occasionally to speak French with each other, still returning home for tea.

By Sunday, I decided that, even though Tim didn’t want to be a tourist — and truly hadn’t been — one can’t come to Paris and not see La Tour Eiffel up close. So we bought a picnic lunch from a street market — complete with an absolutely delicious pistachio macaroon — and found a bench in the Champs de Mars on which to eat and people watch in the shadow of the towering symbol of la France.

By the time Tim left Sunday evening, I realized that not only had I spent the weekend enjoying the company of a good friend, I had also spent the weekend enjoying Paris — pointing out things I liked about the city, telling stories about my time here, taking my visitor to secret spots and boasting of things I loved about the place.

In short, having Tim here reminded me — or rather, made me aware — of how much I have come to truly love Paris. Sure, there are problems sometimes. I am homesick sometimes. France isn’t the most welcoming of countries, it’s true.

But having Tim here, and seeing his obvious delight with the city and my life here, really just pushed me over the edge. I love it here. I’m glad to be here. Really.

I’ll leave you — after this massive post — with some thoughts from storied film maker Albert Maysles, part of the team that produced the legendary cult film “Grey Gardens,” detailing the lives of Big and Little Edie Beale, living in splendid squalor in a decrepit Long Island manor home.

Maysles, who was in Paris for the Ciné du Réel festival and who I was lucky enough to see speak after a showing of “Grey Gardens” on Sunday evening, told the audience that he often was criticized for filming these supposedly “crazy” women. He is often accused of exploiting their story for his own benefit, he said.

“I respond, ‘Well, they’re just like everybody else, only maybe more so,'” Maysles said.

I’m aiming to be more so, too.

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Now, see here, I haven’t stopped being a nice person. I’d still like to think of myself as a generally accommodating, polite and civil person who, while sometimes prone to holding grudges or getting crabby, usually can solve problems in a constructive  and complete manner.

But this whole cooking struggle is just beyond me.

Today after class — which was a highly interesting and delightful session about pitching stories to editors, with a perfectly lovely guest speaker from France Today, a tourist/travel magazine for Americans interested in France — I had to call Jonns, my landlord, because I had accidentally locked myself out of the apartment while headed to the mailbox to check the day’s deliveries.

While we exchanged keys and pleasantries, I explained to him my troubles with my upstairs neighbors and the cooking.

“Oh them?” he said, surprised. “They’re crazy. Completely crazy. Especially her. Don’t worry. Keep cooking. You are allowed to cook in your own kitchen.”

I smiled at that, but I explained to him how nice the old man had been the other night, and how I sometimes used a lot of garlic in my cooking.

“Oh you like garlic?” Jonns said. “Me, I don’t use spices in my cooking. But keep doing what you’re doing. Fry garlic at 6 in the morning, if you want. It’s your kitchen. They can’t stop you from cooking. The guy before you in the apartment liked cooking Chinese food — now that smelled.”

True, I’m not cooking Chinese food. Jonns let me into the apartment, patting my back and wishing me a good day.

“Don’t worry a thing about this,” he said. “You aren’t doing anything wrong.”

I knew it, but I just wanted some affirmation from someone who would have some authority, even if it was only as the awkward and unusual man who owns my apartment.

I went for a wonderful run in the post/pre-rain warmth of the afternoon — getting the always appreciated “runner’s nod” from a fellow runner along Boulevard Richard Lenoir — and came home to check email and plan my weekend. Even though it’s now winter break — and everyone is either doing a crazy continent trip or going to the mountains to ski — I have a lot of things to look forward to, including a trip to the Opèra Comique, several dinners with friends, some homework, a book to read, walks to take, runs to run and other such things.

I built up my hunger until about 7:00, and then went down into the kitchen to make a tasty omelette. Eggs are great, because they don’t take too long to cook and pack a bunch of protein. Plus, I love omelettes.

I made a three-egg omelette , with olive oil, granny smith apples and cinnamon, which I covered in plain yogurt and served with a tasty baguette. I know it sounds weird, but apples in omelettes are really good. You should try it sometime. Plus, these granny smith apples were surprising tart for early spring.

I finished my meal, thoroughly satisfied with my efforts, washed up, and went upstairs to read the news and do some other internet-ish things.

It wasn’t too long afterwards when there was a rather loud and angry pounding on the front door. Now, I realize it could have been anybody. It could have been one of my roommate’s angry ex-girlfriends — who might show up sometime, he warned me off-handedly — or it might have been a very enthusiastic charity worker doing post-dinner house calls for Haiti relief efforts.

But I knew who it was. It was my good friend from upstairs. Not the gentle little man, but his wife or friend or neighbor, the lady of the rolling eyes and red hair.

I didn’t answer the door. I didn’t have to. She knocked one more time and then was gone. Granted, I didn’t leave the house after that and probably won’t leave again until tomorrow morning, but I’m pretty sure she’s not hanging out in our vestibule, waiting for me. I hope.

It isn’t incredibly brave of me to ignore this woman, especially when I know that I’m in the right. I mean, even if I did cook terrible-smelling food every night in huge quantities, I would still have the right to cook in my own kitchen, albeit a right slightly pushed to the edge by my choice of spices.

But I’m not cooking crazy things, as I have already said. Tonight, I even decided to cook this omelette because I thought eggs and olive oil and fruit would not make a particularly pungent excursion out into the communal foyer.

Yet, my efforts appear to have been for naught. So I’m not trying anymore. Yes, I will lay off the excessive garlic. Yes, I will open the window when I cook.

But I will not avoid cooking because the people who live above me have exceptionally acute noses and particularly strange — and rude — suggestions to make to their neighbors.

This could very well become a classic battle of the wills, with us passively fighting it out until I leave here in June. But I’m not worried. Every building needs a delusional nearby tenant, especially buildings in Paris.

So if you come by 10 Cité d’Hauteville, keep your nose open. If it’s dinner time, I’m in the back, cooking up a storm. Just come quickly — the neighbors might get in.

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I suppose the title of this post needs some sort of explanation.

You see, I was on my way to school this morning — courtesy of my wonderful new metro Navigo Pass! — and I was two stops away from the station closest to Sciences Po, when suddenly, one of the ubiquitous Parisian metro hustlers started in on his personal version of the same spiel.

There are a variety of approaches to the Parisian metro hustling gig. Some players have a loud monologue they recite, often with great intonation, rhyming schemes and theatricality, telling of their money problems and difficult lives and asking the passengers politely for a little help in the form of money. Others actually play music, be it the accordion, the guitar or the pan flute, playing for a small amount of time and then wandering around the car, thanking anyone who donates to their personal charity of one.

(It is worth noting that this second example can’t help but make me think of my time as a Coldstone Creamery Ice Cream Scooper Extraordinaire, when we would sing for tips but more often got tipped to NOT sing, much to the added benefit and pleasure of everyone involved)

I’ve even seen a puppet show — that guy may just have wanted to do a puppet show on the metro to see if he could, I didn’t see any ostentatious hat or collection bin, and he was really, really into his puppet thing — and one guy the other day asked all the women on the car to marry him, praising his qualities as a potential husband and passing out his cellphone for people’s numbers. When no one accepted his hand in marriage, he asked for financial backing for his fledging career as a stand up comic. He was actually pretty funny, I must say,  but I still didn’t give him money. I don’t have enough to give.

But this morning’s metro hustler was so delightfully odd that everyone on the normally stoic and serious metro couldn’t help but smile, and it really put me into a good mood that lasted the whole day.

This guy, probably in late 50s or 60s, in a traditional, make-shift homeless guy ensemble, came on the car and announced that he was going to share a gift with all of us — his musical gift — and he only hoped we could be appropriately thankful afterwards. But he didn’t seem to have any instrument readily available. What would he do?

Then, holding up a plastic shopping bag — which aren’t illegal here like in Germany — he declared, completely deadpan, “Et maintenant, la musique de le sac en plastique,” or “And now, music of the plastic bag”. He then proceeded to play some sort of improvised mouth-harp-harmonica thing, amplified and transformed by the limits of the grocery bag he placed over and around it.

The song he played — some romantic, French-sounding number — was rendered comically brilliant by his plastic bag. No one knew what to do. Some people glared, as they are wont to do on the metro when the hustlers get hoping, but after a certain point, the complete earnestness in which this little old man went at that plastic bag made everyone chuckle quietly to themselves and exchange glances, as if to say, “Yes, together we are experiencing the hidden musical sounds of the plastic grocery bag. How perfectly charming and altogether unexpected.”

This adventure put a positive spin on my day that just kept on humming. I started my French language class today, which terrified me at first. I’m in the fourth and highest level of French language instruction here — a classification arbitrarily chosen literally by looking at a chart online and deciding that I would be okay in this level — and I’ve heard tell that level four is scary.

But it wasn’t. My professor, a little, lovely French-Swiss lady, is absolutely wonderful and a true delight, and the class is full of interesting people from a diverse set of backgrounds — several Americans, several Germans, a Brazilian, an Italian, a Mexican, a Norwegian, a Brit — making French really the only language all of us can truly communicate in.

The course will be just as I wanted it to be — a book read as a group, presentations on daily news items we find interesting, a few creative essays — basically just a bunch of Francophiles hanging out and loving on the French language. We are also having a dinner at the end of the term at one of the student’s apartments, where everyone, including the professor, brings a traditional dish from their family’s menu and shares with everyone else. The professor promised to bring wine, cheese and bread, like any good French woman.

Feeling positively cheery, I successfully ate lunch while walking and drinking a coffee and made it to my next class, again on the top floor of the main campus building in the same room, yet accessed by a door suggesting it was a different room. Yes, this was confusing as it sounds.

The class, a large lecture on Media and the political will that controls and influences it, looks to be really interesting. Even on the first day, when we had a basic overview of the theoretical underpinnings of the course, we began a fascinating discussion on whether or not the press was free in China — it isn’t, of course — brought on by a Chinese student’s insistence that the professor’s suggestion of murdered journalists in China was perhaps an exaggeration.

I then returned home, lazed about, had some tea, went on a nice run at Parc des Buttes Chaumont — quickly becoming one of my favorite places here — in the rain, and then went to the farmer’s market to buy some potatoes and other veggies for my winter veggie roast.

It was frustrating when I couldn’t properly ask for sweet potatoes — a word which I thought I knew but the man behind the stall did not, prompting his descent into English (Just because I don’t know all the vegetable names, doesn’t mean I don’t speak your language at an adequate level, buddy. I’m in level four, after all, you know) — but I managed to get some good chèvre and make a truly filing and warm sweet potato, tuber, onion, garlic, herb and cheese bowl for supper, complete with a fresh baguette. I truly do need to cook more elaborate meals like this one, because I’m now prepared to go to sleep happy and full for the first time in a while.

Tomorrow, a reporting class, leftovers from tonight’s dinner (!) and perhaps a visit to the Cinema Action-Ecoles with my dinner party gang, where we hope to see “Cabaret.”

But things — besides my finances — are looking up.

And besides, if I really need money, I know about the musicality of plastic bags now. So I’ve got that going for me.

PS Also saw two men peeing in public today on my way back from the market, making the total of Public Parisian Pees now 7. I will continue to keep a running tally, as I do not think these two fine gentlemen will the last I will see relieving themselves in public.

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So, I really am a student of la belle France. For this semester, I have dutifully paid my fees, bought my carte d’etudiant and filled out all the requisite visa forms in triplicate — exactly like they asked me to do, even if when presented with said forms, the consul office in Atlanta seemed not to care about my hours of work.

That means, of course, that I am un vrai etudiant français — and as such, thus subject to all the perks and benefits, including FREE ADMISSION at the vast majority of the vast collection of vast museums here in Paris.

I had kind of suspected this — the websites for some of the bigger museums kind of indicate if you try hard enough, even as a foreign exchange student you get the same thing — but I wasn’t sure until I went to the Musée D’Orsay with Jean-Baptiste, a French friend.

But, as you might well know, two of the things I love most in this world include things which are free and things which are French. Et, voila, I am there. So, to start, today was a pretty good day.

I ran early in the cold — I wasn’t going to get up and do it, as the rain on my skylight over my shower/plant nursery/bathroom/general living space indicated the ugly weather outside — but I’m really glad I did. It felt really refreshing and made me wake up. Runs do that sometime.

I then made the not so long trek — do I really need a metro pass? (YES) — down to Sciences Po to purchase my course pack — with enough money today! HOORAY! — and then spent the rest of the day there, reading in various buildings and pretending to be studious until the time to meet Jean-Baptiste arrived. Classes start Monday, by the way. They do. I’m sure of it.

Then it was off to the Musée d’Orsay, for a lovely afternoon of impressionism, art nouveau and other such wonderful things. It was a lot of fun to walk around the museum with a French friend, speaking in French and talking about art. When I spend time with the French gang I’ve randomly assembled, my French improves a lot, but it still hard to fully express myself. It’s a process, I know, but I really love to talk — you are reading my blog, after all, so you know this — and not being able to fully use all the right words is incredibly frustrating.

Additionally, I tried to explain a complicated argument presented in a recent article in “The Believer” that concerned the democratization of art museums and the ensuing commodification of high culture into easily digested, smaller culture pieces. This was not a good idea, and not easily explained in a foreign language in which I am not yet completely fluent. At times, we all make poor choices.

We got coffee, talked a little more, and then I left for home to meet Victoria, my American friend from high school, for dinner and a movie.

We have agreed to only speak French with each other, which is a fun time for all, including the passersby. Tonight, a man at a grocery store looked at us very strangely. We know we aren’t French. We know our accent is not great. But we are trying. And that’s enough.

We made some yummy omelettes — I need to start cooking other things soon, I think — and then walked down to a big movie house nearby to catch “La Princesse et la Grenouille” — “The Princess and the Frog”, which I’ve already seen in America, but Victoria has not — thinking it would be doubled in French. I’ve seen the bandes annonces — trailers — and they are clearly in French.

Unfortunately, we must have found the wrong theatre, because was the same sassy and sweet movie I saw at the venerable Milford Cinema One Screen in Milford, Michigan last month with my parents, only with silly French subtitles below. Really. Victoria and I laughed at some of the malapropisms displayed there more than we did at actually intended humor in the movie.

We decided the next movie or cultural outing we take will be a truly French one.

But it was a truly lovely day, and tomorrow I have more to read and run and a French party to go to — NOT in the suburbs, thanks be to the Metro — and more fun things to do. Life is improving, peu en peu.

And I’m slowly starting to love Paris.

But don’t tell Paris. I think it’s seeing other people right now.

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So, yesterday was pretty much a big win for me, in terms of things accomplished. I bought groceries, picked up a letter at the post office, went for a nice run and hosted a lovely and quasi-elegant dinner party for three friends. I even did the whole stereotypical French thing and had an afternoon, post-lunch coffee in a café just down the street.

It was a good cup of coffee; tiny, strong and perfect. I had my notebook on hand and was writing in French, trying to feel the whole atmosphere of the place, the French people, the moment, when I noticed the music chiming in overhead. It was an Alanis Morisette song.

I was in France, in Paris, in a café, drinking a cup of strong, black coffee, writing my musings in French, as the angry 90s rock-pop queen told me about all the things she was thankful for in that strained, emotional voice that made her famous.

It was a strange moment. A weird juxtaposition. I already knew from past experiences that Europe really loves American popular music, especially bad American popular music — witness my road trip in Bavaria in the summer of 2008 to a soundtrack of 80s-tastic music selections on the local German radio — but it was strange to find myself in such an iconic French moment and yet still have it feel familiar. I mean, Starbucks doesn’t even play Alanis.

It’s times like this, or the poster in the metro advertising “Pas Si Simple” (It’s Complicated), or the jazz radio station eagerly playing selections from the upcoming release of “La Princesse et la grenouille” (The Princess and the Frog, which I WILL be seeing in French); all these things show how connected this foreign place is with the home I have left.

And as I edge nearer to actual purpose here in Paris — meaning attending actual classes and having actual things to do — I’m finding certain little things more familiar and other certain things stranger than I thought I would. The French language has really permeated my consciousness quicker than I had imagined, but at other times it feels and sounds stranger than ever before.

Food here, which has mostly been things I prepared in my lovely kitchen with the help of my landlord’s cat, Flocon (Snowflake), also feels familiar, although I had quite the trip yesterday to try and assemble the ingredients for my fatoush. It is also hard to buy groceries when most of the stores CLOSE for a two hour lunch break, as mandated by the government. True story.

Given actual responsibilities and a dictated schedule, things might fall into place more smoothly. But right now, I’m in a weird, inbetween place, wandering around doing things without any end goal in sight.

I’d like to start doing something else soon, please.

“I want you to try to help yourself,” Sad Brad Smith, “Help Yourself”.

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So, today was not really too productive on my part. I got up, ate breakfast, lazed around, made french toast with my friend Zeina — yummy — and went for a nice long run.

I did find Parc des Buttes Chaumont, a magical little park in the north east area of the city complete with paths, trails, a lake and a rocky island in the city connected to the mainland by bridges and topped by a classical Greek temple. It made for lovely running, and I know that when the weather turns nice, I will have picnics there for sure.

I wanted to head over to the Cafe Liszt on the corner for some after-dinner coffee, like Jamie and I would do this summer at Cafe de Soleil in San Francisco, but it was sadly closed. I’ll have to figure out another place to get my post-dinner coffee, because I think I really need it.

In lieu of a longer post, please find here a link to my first study abroad column in the Monday, January 25 edition of the Daily Tar Heel. Enjoy!

If you can’t tell, I really want classes to start. It might give me something to actually do here. Just a thought.

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