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Posts Tagged ‘Friends’

Today is yet another religious holiday here in France —meaning closed shops, empty avenues and general public bliss. Granted, I no longer have school in the first place, so holidays here don’t really affect me any more beyond their frustrating tendency to close grocery stores on days in which I desperately need food items (like today), but I will give the French a break. It’s a beautiful day, and it was a beautiful weekend and everyone loves a holiday.

My weekend was a kind of holiday itself, as my dear friend Allison arrived on a train at the Gare du Nord from London, where she is taking part in a UNC Maymester summer program, studying theatre and education and generally being British. I haven’t seen Allison since December, and this was the first time we have spent time together outside of Chapel Hill, so it was absolutely fantastic to have another visitor with whom to enjoy the flawless spring weather here in Paris.

Our weekend was lazy and lovely and full of fun excursions. On her arrival Thursday night, we shared a delicious and très français dinner of ratatouille, citrus salad, baguette, wine and a fantastic strawberry-asparagus tart with our fellow Carolina scholar, Char. The food was great and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Friday, I had to finish up my third day of opera research at the Médiatheque Mahler, so I deposited Allison in Parc Monceau, where she caught up on some assigned reading and enjoyed French people watching. We then headed off to the Champs-Élysées, where we took pictures of the Arch de Triomphe and wandered in and out of fancy-looking stores. Dinner was a picnic with friends in the Jardin de Luxembourg, followed by a trip to the Tour Eiffel for photos and gawking. So, it was pretty much a perfect, touristy day.

We decided to visit the Musée de Louvre on Saturday, heading there in the early afternoon and wandering around the rooms in the less-popular wing before braving the sweaty hordes in the Italian art wing. We then prepared for our epic picnic date in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont — something I owe Allison from a botched date attempt at a school banquet last fall — which was tasty and elegant and a true delight. Later, we met up with some of my friends for wine and conversation on the quais of the Seine, just underneath the shadowy and towering Notre Dame.

Allison informed me before she came to Paris that she had a few things she needed to see: the Tour, the Louvre, a baguette and Versailles. While I had seen and done and eaten most of those things, I had never been to Versailles, the epic and monumental palace of the former Kings of France, located just outside of Paris proper. So naturally, it seemed that now was the time to go. With Char and an elaborate picnic lunch we purchased from a market by the Tour — including a ridiculously delicious apple tart — we boarded the train and headed out to Versailles.

The lines were very, very long and the people very, very sweaty and high in number. Part of this comes from the weather — it was a legitimate 80-something degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Paris — but part of it just stemmed from the palace. Inside was beautiful — the Hall of Mirrors, the galleries, the chapel, the fantastically elaborate meeting rooms and salons — but our favorite part was the park and gardens that stretched out behind the chauteau for miles upon miles of boundless, perfect green.

Hedge mazes, lagoons, canals, fountains, guest houses, statues and more tumble outward from the back of the palace, arranged in perfect geometrical shapes and patterns. We spent a few hours in the park, stopping in hidden cafés in hedge mazes, walking along narrow paths and marveling at the endless green that encircled us everywhere we looked. It was a magical end to a magical weekend.

With a hearty hug and a happy smile, I sent Allison back to England this morning, with both of us looking forward to August in Chapel Hill.

But I’m still here, and my time in Paris is not yet over. True, my rent is up in seven short days, and I only have two finals and three weeks separating me from my summer opera adventure, but I plan to use this stretch of flawless spring weather to truly enjoy the end of the chapter in my life called Paris.

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To be able to cook is a most valuable skill. It can make you friends. It can make you dinner. It can make you happy.

And yesterday, for me, it made me feel just the slightest bit French, for maybe the first time.

It was, again, a long and weird day. I discovered that I could take Metro Ligne 5 completely from the station at Gare de l’Est to the station at St. Germain-de-Près, which is right next to Sciences Po. No transfers, short walks and a speedy metro means a very quick morning commute. I left my house at around 8:30 for a 9:00 session and got there with 10 minutes to spare. Good to know I can run late and still be on time — not that I’m planning on that at all for this coming term.

Methodology was once again a little frightening, but it is very interesting, and I think I’ll be decently prepared for the expectations of my professors here, which are markedly different and much more driven on a personal, subjective level than in the States.

Afterwards, I discovered the joy of LaVazza vending machine coffee. Really, it’s that good. You put 50 centimes in — that’s right only one half of a Euro — and pick the type of coffee drink and the level of sugar you want. Push the button, down a cup drops and in goes the fresh and tasty coffee — black for me, but if you get sugar the cup includes a tiny stirrer — and then it’s yours to drink. Needless to say, I had probably 4 throughout the day, finding the machines everywhere on campus.

I paid 200 Euros for my Carte d’Etudiant — a glorified UNCOne Card — and made some account corrections at my new French bank,  then meandered down to the Ecole de Journalisme, where we were supposed to have a meeting, I thought. I thought wrong. It was NEXT Thursday, so I waited around there in the basement writing my first DTH column — coming out Monday, folks! Check it out! dailytarheel.com — and then soon discovered my error. Je fais beaucoup de petits erreurs ici en France, bien sûr.

On the way home, I discovered a large indoor farmers’ market just down the street from my house. The food is good and plenty cheap, so I know where I’m going to get my veggies and cheese and such from now on, or at least until the markets outside open for the spring.

But now, the Frenchiness sets in. I had arranged to meet up with Yousef, a graduate student at Sciences Po who is friends with one of my friends’ friend at Yale — I know its confusing. I have a friend who goes to Yale, and his friend at Yale has a lot of French friends, Yousef among them, so he gave me his contact info for guidance and friendship and housing search help and all that fun kind of stuff — to have some coffee or something.

We decidedly went with the something else.

We met at the Place de Bastille, a crowded place full of smoking teenagers and confused tourists, and walked to a student center so he could print some stuff for a local queer youth group he is involved in at Sciences Po. Then, we met up with one of his friends to go to a French Feminist Meeting in a public meeting hall on the other side of the city. It was crazy and radical and wonderful and I could understand most of the meeting, although it made me really tired.

As we were leaving, a very vocal woman grabbed my arm firmly and thanked me for being a brave and noble man in a world that is hard for women.

You know me. I try.

Then, we met up with some more people to discuss a conference Yousef was planning at Sciences Po around the topic of being openly gay in the French workplace — or “outée” — with some businessmen in a café. Throughout all of this, I listened attentively, barely speaking and holding on to the stock phrases I heard to keep my head above the flow of conversation.

But the best part was that I could understand it all, or most of it, to be honest. I was lost a little sometimes, and couldn’t take part in the debates and discussions, but I could follow, which was the most exciting part.

Then, we went back to Yousef’s apartment and I made Yousef and his roommate and a friend omelettes, with roasted apples and hazelnuts and feta cheese. Apparently, they don’t cook, so I got to wow everyone with my imaginary and supposedly creative cooking abilities.

As I cooked, I slowly found myself joking around with everyone, talking about general conversationy things — things that I could and would say in English, normally, with my old friends — and I got this huge boost of confidence. They all complimented me on my French and understood everything I said, and I was pretty much the same for them. It was great.

They all told me that I was a fantastic cook and that I had to return “tout de suite” or I’d be in trouble. Which was nice, because many people have told me it’s hard to make French friends while here studying for the term.

I took the last metro home, and on the way back, I couldn’t help but keep a publicly indecent smile on my face. I was so happy to have French friends, with whom I could speak French. I know I’ll see them all again, and maybe when I do, I’ll feel even more French.

Mais oui, c’est très genial, ça. Bien sûr.

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