Posts Tagged ‘French’

Nothing really significant happened to me since that party on Friday night. I mean, really, I slept for 24 of the past 48 hours. It was much needed sleep and I definitely will be full of life tomorrow, but right now I just feel like I had a most unproductive weekend.

I did manage to go for a run everyday, and finally buy more groceries — most shops are closed on Sundays here in la belle France — which in itself was a major victory. I also did a lot of reading and cooking and relaxing, so I guess while lacking sheer productive output, this weekend was a much-needed rest after a busy week.

I’m now plotting out several lazy — and inexpensive — day trips in the city for my week of nothing, the kind of day trips where I won’t have to spend any money and I can see interesting things without wasting the whole day. If the weather stays grey rather than rainy, I might head over to Père la Chaise, the big cemetery in Eastern Paris where many famous people are famously buried — Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, etc. — and maybe go to the Musée d’Orsay later on in the week, because I think it is free for students with a carte d’etudiant — of which I now proudly an owner, 200 euros later.

If anything, I might just go the cafés in this quartier, order a cup of coffee, and read and write and watch people as they walk by. There’s a great little café called the Liszt close to my apartment, and the Gare de l’Est area nearby has a lot of big cafés that are perfect for people watching. I have 4 or 5 days to kill. Why not do something interesting? And cheap?

I also might try and find Parc aux Buttes Charmantes tomorrow morning on my run. I tried today, but I just couldn’t find it and got lost. Fortunately, when you use a canal as your landmark, it’s hard to get really lost. I’ve found that if I use significant landmarks on my runs here, I’ll always find my way home. Things like La Bastille, la Place de la Republique and the Canal St. Martin are all large, noticeable things that both I and other random pedestrians know, so I am ever lost, I will just ask where these things are and head that way.

I do feel sorry for that woman who stopped me earlier this evening for directions in my friend’s neighborhood. While I might look like I know where I’m going, I really have no clue.

I think that’s the key to Paris. Pretend like you know what’s going on, and even if you don’t, no one does, so you can all pretend together.

It’s like one big game — there was even an elaborately staged puppet show on the metro this evening, complete with keyboards and music and speakers and everything — of imaginary fantasy. Sometimes I don’t believe I’m in a real place.

But I have 4 days this week, and 5 months after that, to really figure things out. Then maybe I won’t have to pretend anymore.

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I really wish I could explain why I found myself in a university building in the south of Paris listening to a Ska Band play covers of “Gangster’s Paradise” last night at 1:30 a.m.

I mean, I could explain how I got there: I took the infamous RER, the oft-on-strike high speed rail system that connects the center of Paris to its sprawling and sometimes tense suburban ring. While the ride there was uneventful, I did happen to come across the end of a riot/fight between the Paris police and some teenagers in the Gare du Nord. Mustard Gas was used, so my eyes looked really great when I got off the train in the suburb for the fête that I was planning on attending there.

Things just seem to happen here, and they are louder, weirder and blunter than anything I have ever experienced at home. Sure, I’m still very much in western culture — the above mentioned Ska Band played a really rousing version of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” at one point — but it is a different variety of western culture that it will take some getting used to.

My day was long, as many seem to be here. Finished off our final methodology class with a lively discussion of Hannah Arendt. Newly emboldened by my evening the night before, I spoke up for once, feeling like I both understood and could find the words to explain the argument presented by the philosophic texts we were reading.

Then, I made the unusual choice to walk home from school — I don’t live close to Sciences Po — because it was a pretty day and I had no other commitments. It was a good choice. I walked through some parks and gardens and odd neighborhoods, and eventually found my way back to the 10th and my apartment. I will have to do more of that kind of purposeless wandering in the coming week. Paris is laid out in such a way that that sort of thing is almost encouraged.

After a quick run, I took the metro to visit my friend Victoria in the Jardin de Luxembourg. She and I went to high school together back in Michigan, and she’s here for the year at the Sorbonne. It was so wonderful to see her — it’s been a while — and it was great to know that I have another old friend here in the city when I need some sort of comfort.

She and bought some crepes from a crepe lady in the Jardin that is really very friendly and who calls Victoria her “amie Americaine”. We decided we would speak French to each other, and it was awkward seeing as neither one of us is fluent at all, but it was fun to have someone to speak bad French with. We watched some old men playing a traditional French ball game — kind of like bocce, but more French, with a lot of precise tosses and funny little French men in hats smoking pipes — and then agreed that we would definitely meet up regularly during the text term to awkwardly speak French to each other. Apparently, there is a bar somewhere in the city whose theme is “Medieval France,” complete with costumes. We are going there, without a doubt.

Returning home, I made myself dinner and cleaned up my room a little. I met Xavier, my other roommate, who seems like a really nice guy. Apparently, the fact that all three of us were there was a weird coincidence that won’t happen too often.

I then decided to put on my pajamas early and stay in for the night.

And yet, when my new French friends texted me to come out to the big party in the suburbs, I somehow managed to get dressed again and pull myself out there.

I could describe it more, but just know that it was a very strange experience. I had a pretty good time, speaking French and such and trying my best to make the awkward small talk that I can’t even do in English that is so requisite at these kinds of parties.

We stayed until 4, and then rode the night bus back into the city. It was weird to see how many people were still out that late. Like most major cities, Paris never really sleeps, and when the residents prefer to party until 5 a.m. when the metro reopens rather than cut short their nights out, you can get the general picture.

Today, it is raining. I got up at 2. We’ll see what I end up doing.

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I must apologize for the delay in postings. I’ve been really rather busy and I’m über tired, but I figured that I might write a short update this afternoon while I wait to go running in the rain.

It’s been an exhausting couple of days. I moved from the charming and posh 16th arrondissement to the working class and funky (but still nice) 10th, and my arms hurt from carrying my luggage across the city on mass transit. Since I did the same thing in San Francisco last summer, I was prepared for the inconvenience, but it still was not fun.

I also started classes, of a sort. The Welcome Program started Monday, with a hastily-thrown together production by the many offices of the SciencesPo International Affairs Office.

I could bore you with all of the details of the inanity that took place just then, but instead I’ll just say this: I missed CTOPS. Carolina’s welcome program may have been stupid, but boy, was it polished. You left that thing knowing EXACTLY what was expected of you at Carolina and what you needed to do to start out the year.

This program? Not so much. But I DO know that I have to fill out a lot of forms and get a Carte d’Etudiant, which costs 200 Euros — basically an glorified ONECard — which will then allow me to finalize my French bank account— I opened one recently — which will then allow me to get a NaviGO Pass for the Metro system, saving me time and money in the queues.

At the same time, I will also need to fill out a Carte de Sejour, which will allow me to stay in the country for longer than 3 months, which is necessary for my program. However, no one seemed to offer anything further other than the sheer statement of the need.

Vive la France.

On Tuesday, we started a methodology class to help us learn how to learn in France. My class is in French, and I can understand it, but it’s still really hard for me to respond. My pronunciation is getting better, I think, but I’m so nervous all the time that I can’t speak quickly enough to say what I really need to say. It’s rather frustrating. Hopefully this will change with time, but it also means I need to speak more, which is hard right now.

I think the French education system and perhaps La France itself can be summed up in the fast-talking and svelte instructor’s assessment of the end-of-year dialogues required in some discussion sections.

You are given a bibliography of texts to read for the term for most subjects, but you aren’t expected to finish the list. You just pick a few, and then hope you picked right. But, according to the instructor, the end of the year discussions are supposed to cover what you didn’t read.

“You must,” he explained, “make it seem like you know everything on the bibliography, and familiarize yourself with the possibilities of the topics there, without actually having done everything suggested on the list.”

So basically, you have to fake it.

Vive la France.

There was a student welcome dinner at a traditional Alsatian restaurant that was very tasty and a bar night that seemed like a bust early enough that I left — the metro turns off REAL early here, you know — and then this morning I got real lost, in the rain, and ended up buying a map of the city at a Presse Kiosque — which I should have bought many days earlier — and I arrived late for my class this morning, which made the instructor upset.

It made me upset, too, because the discussion today was incredibly esoteric and oh so very much à la Française. Le sigh.

But there have been bright spots. I met a pair of students here for the year from UNC and their roommate from UC-Berekely, who all seem like lovely and friendly people. Plus, they are a big resource for me in navigating all the junk I have to do for the beginning of the term.

I also had coffee today with a UNC alum from 2001, who works at the American Church of Paris. It was lovely to meet yet another Tar Heel in the city, and she offered consoling words and advice to make my stay here easier. She came to Paris 3 years ago having little knowledge of the French language, and now she’s conversationally fluent, so that made me happy. I have 6 years of study behind me, so soon the door will unlock and I’ll find my inner Français. I will definitely look her up again for coffee.

Now I’m out to go for a run in the rain along the Canal St. Martin, as I am too far from the Seine or any park to do otherwise. Hopefully I don’t get lost.

Vive la France…or vive le moi, if only so I can keep going strong.

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I have not yet verified the claim in the title above, but judging by the exterior of said bread-making establishment, and the rather posh neighborhood in which this so-called “Au Bon Pain” found itself, what I’ve written in the title is probably true.

I wonder if the owners of this bread shop know they have a cheap American cousin on full massive deployment in the United States. I wonder if they would change their name if they knew.

Today was a strange day. I really didn’t sleep last night, thanks to my 13 hour slumber fest the night before —huzzah jetlag— so around 7:00 a.m. I decided to get up and start my day that never really ended.

I should mention that John, the UNC alum who graciously opened his home to me this week, came home last night as planned and took me out to a tasty little French café, where we dined most excellently. We exchanged life stories — although his involved a most considerable amount of globe hopping (Greensboro! Eastern France! Chapel Hill! Hamburg! Chevy Chase, MD! Frankfurt! Paris! — and discussed how I might find housing in the city. I wanted very much to stay on in his incredible apartment, but I know I need to find my own space and not wear out my welcome.

Here’s a quick thank you to the past cousins who laid the groundwork for my stay with the Watson-Blackwell clan: some oboe player in the early 2000s and Eva Archer, ’11/’12 — thanks for doing exactly what I’m doing, only at an earlier date! You’ve made the beginning of my term ever so much easier!

But I digress. On this morning in particular, I went for a run along the Seine and through its environs, and almost ran across the bridge that leads one to the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower — almost — but I decided that particular fun bit of Parisian tourist life would wait for later. I’ve seen it before, and from a runner’s perspective the quai of the Seine  was a much more interesting route than a park under a tower.

After eating some lunch, I worked up enough courage to walk down to the nearby Place Victor Hugo and buy myself a French mobile phone. I was really terrified that I would horribly embarrass myself with my silly efforts at speaking other languages, and this fear kept me from the store until about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon.

But magically, IT WORKED. With minimal pointing and a whole lot of 9th grade French vocabulary that never seemed necessary until just today, I now have a French mobile phone all my own — I asked the very helpful saleswoman for “un petit portable avec un prix assez petit” (a small phone with a price just as small). It’s a Nokia some such number or the other, and it is charged with little charge card tokens you can buy at corner stores and tabacs. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything if someone calls me or sends me a text. Hopefully I make friends with some phone-happy French college students, who really enjoy calling other people and not the other way around, because, as we all well know, I am very frugal —read: cheap.

That momentous event successfully carried out — I even got to check it off in my planner’s To Do list! — I then decided I might go for a walk across the city to see what kind of neighborhood Sciences Po likes to hang out in.

Let me just say, it was cold and rainy today in Paris, a combination I’m told to expect for the rest of the winter here. I am exhausted and have very limited shoe and sock options. I should not have gone out in the rain, thrusting aside however inactive I would have been staying in.

But out I went, crossing bridges, jumping puddles and dodging umbrellas carried by hurried, chic Parisians. The appeal of the Watson’s apartment, lovely though it is, wore off a little when I found myself on Rue de l’Université for more than a dozen blocks. This apartment is nice, but what it is not is close to the place where I’ll be spending the majority of my time here. Point noted.

Sciences Po is located in the 7th arrondissement, a charming little neighborhood home to the famous Latin Quarter and the Assemblée Nationale. Outside the Assemblée complex, a large group was protesting something rather loudly. At first glance, I thought they were protesting violence against and killing of “cops,” which is a fine and noble goal of course, but a closer look showed they were in fact protesting the deaths of Copts, or Christians in Egypt. From their yelling and massive signage, it would seem that the current Egyptian government doesn’t like the Copts very much.

Their cause is of course justified if it is true, but I just wasn’t sure what the French Assemblée Nationale could do about it. It’s almost the equivalent of group of, say, Roma gypsy people picketing the Canadian Parliament for their mistreatment pretty much everywhere. Both legitimate angers, both appropriate responses to the frustration of seeing loved ones killed for their ethnic or religious background, but completely beyond the scope of the respective national governing bodies.

They could have just picketed the Egyptian Embassy, as I’m sure it was around there somewhere — I walked by the Mexican, Romanian and Taiwan embassies this afternoon, in addition to a Lebanese restaurant and a Cameroonian travel agency. The diversity here is staggering — but at any rate, the French police were out in full force, looking sort of bemused. Looking, well, French.

Sciences Po is in a series of old mansions and Haussman apartment complexes, so the outside was really not that exciting, especially in the rain. But I found it, which was worth an afternoon of shivering and wet clothes. It got me out of the house, which isn’t even mine, and forced me to be the faux Parisian I aspire to be.

I even gave some American tourists directions to Saint-Germain — maybe they thought I was French? — only because I had just passed it myself going the other way.

I found home again, changed clothes and sent some Craigslist emails before cooking dinner. I’ve decided that I’m only making commitments to Craigslist ads that agree to meet me in person and show me the apartment in question. I am not sending money by Western Union — I really wouldn’t know how — and I am not waiting for you to get in town. Either in person, or out of a deal. I know better than to demand anything less.

My hopefully solid lead is tomorrow evening, after my afternoon with an Outward Bound Sierras alum in the city. We’ll soon know if my search for a home has just begun or is in fact ending quickly with a big win for the visiting team.

John got home late, replete with a yummy French bakery gift celebrating the Epiphany . I politely devoured my share and decided to call it an early night. I’d read, but I’m too zonked. I am going to GET on this time zone, whether my body wants it right now or not.

My favorite thing of today was hearing a little old French woman use the phrase “qu’est-ce que ce que ça”, one of my most favorite French expressions of frustration. It doesn’t really translate, but I suppose the best possible translation comes close to, “What in the hell is this?” Today’s lady in “qu’est-ce que ce que ça” question seemed to have forgotten the code for her apartment building’s door pad.  Judging by her expression, I bet it was the landlord’s fault. That bastard. But it was still fun to hear the language used in a real-life scenario by real life people. I’d be wondering the same thing were I that little old lady: “What in the hell is this shit?”

French is all around me. With any luck, I’ll scoop some of it quickly and carry it around with me always. That’s always the hope.

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I set my alarm for 8:23 a.m., Paris time.

It went off at 8:23 a.m., Paris time.

I turned it off at 8:23 a.m., Paris time, and didn’t wake until 12:15 p.m., Paris time.

I slept for 13 hours.

Granted, all that sleep was really necessary. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t really sleep on the plane yesterday, and I stayed up until 11:00 p.m., Paris time, in order to better acclimate myself to this time zone.

I wouldn’t say I’m completely over jetlag, but I’m getting there. I think.

After my resounding victory in waking up this morning — or rather, this afternoon — I had a little breakfast, having finally discovered where the Watson-Blackwell family keeps their cereals and other such dry goods. Most importantly, they have mounds of delicious, quality coffee beans and a coffee grinder. Needless to say, I made myself a tasty pot to go with my yogurt and granola. They also had one last grapefruit, which I ate.

In French, grapefruit is “pamplemousse,” which makes me love the fruit even more than I already do.

I then read the paper a little — there are lots of journalism-centric words in French that I’m just now coming across, but I still can understand it, which makes me happy — and lounged about a bit.

Karl came back to check up on me, and we discussed basic things —  the weather, where he is from (Martinique), the crisis in Haiti, the weather again, only in Detroit this time — and he wished me a pleasant weekend.  During our conversation, I tried to tell him I slept for 13 hours – treize heures in French — but I may have told him I only slept for three hours — trois heures in French — or at least that’s what he might have heard me say. My French skills are going to have to undergo a most rapid improvement if I wish to get by here in the city of light.

After Karl left, I decided to go for a run in the Bois de Boulogne, which is just over a pedestrian bridge a few blocks from this apartment. It was very pretty, albeit rather muddy and overcast, and I enjoyed running through the city. It felt like I wasn’t a stranger here, because I was running on busy streets and seemed to know where I was going. It felt good, I suppose, and I hope I’ll eventually feel that way on a regular basis, and not just when I’m running.

Since then, I’ve just been reading and continually checking my email. I sent out emails to about 20 Craigslist ads for room sharing in the Paris area, and I’ve heard back from a few. Some seem too expensive, some seem rather sketchy, and some are too far away from the city center for me to even consider, but one, in the 10th arrondissement of the city, seems to fit both my budget and my geographic needs. I’m set to visit it Sunday night, so I could have permanent housing as soon as next week! Let’s hope, or espérons, si tu veux.

Several times today,  I considered going out for a walk, but I let my fear of having to interact in French get the better of me. I told myself that running was enough, and I’ll work on further French exploration later this weekend.

John, the UNC alum who owns this apartment, is supposed to be getting home in about an hour or so, and he promised to take me out to dinner. It will be nice to finally meet one of the people who have so generously opened up their incredible home in Paris to a complete stranger, and having some tasty food that I didn’t have to throw together myself will also be lovely.

Tomorrow, I imagine I might get a French mobile phone, and maybe go for that walk that I delayed today. John is supposed to be here all weekend, and hopefully he’ll be able to help me procure a phone and maybe even a bike (!), but mostly I just want him to help explain Paris to me.

I’ll figure it out on my own, of course, but some guidance is always welcome.

Well, I’m headed back to my reading — en Français, mais oui! — but expect more from me soon.

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