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Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

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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So, break has started. I know, because I have been sleeping a lot, eating well, reading much and watching a lot of “Monk” on my computer. All of these are good things, but they will not last forever — meaning today and tomorrow and beyond I must start doing more homework and other such things.

And know this, dear readers, I HAVE finished my narrowly defined reading work today, meaning that all I have left is the more tenuous and vague essay research and feature story writing, which is difficult. But that’s for the rest of the week.

Friday saw me getting break started off right, with a journey to the famous Opèra Comique, the building where Bizet’s “Carmen” first premiered more than a century ago. Along with a random assortment of American/Canadian/Egyptian friends, I went to see Hector Berlioz’s “Béatrice et Bénédict,” an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It was a really lovely production, albeit a little strange and too fixated on the staging decision to use a “puppet show” theme for everything. Basically, there was this little English tramp man  — who also apparently wrote this adaptation, who knew? — who read things out loud in English form the original Shakespeare script, and who would then hit his cane on the stage and move about the singers, making them carry out the parts of the story that he could not. It worked, on the whole, but the decision to use the puppet theme resulted in some rather unfortunate — read, heavy thick and ugly — makeup decisions.

But the singers were superb, the story was cute — just the story of the embittered and embattled lovers and their subplot, not the complicated shaming of Hero bit — and I could understand the vast majority of the spoken French dialogue and sung French text, which was nice.

We followed up our opèra adventure with some late night café conversation, which was lovely.

Saturday was more winning all around, starting off with some reading, running and “Monk” watching and ending with some random wanderings around the Jardin des Tuileries and Montmarte and a french-toast and egg and madeleine and butterscotch dinner party, complete with much delicious wine and intelligent conversation. By the end of the night, the apartment we had chosen to dine in was full of people, and we all felt very adult and very French and very full.

Sunday was a lazy day, with me exhausting my food supplies once and for all, watching more “Monk,” meeting a friend for drinks and catching up with the Amero-Canadian bunch at a funky bar in the 5th to watch the final Olympic hockey match between the US and Canada.

The bar was overwhelmingly pro-Canada, which wasn’t surprising, but it was fun to watch the game and cheer awkwardly and proudly when the US scored. There were several large groups of slightly inebriated French people who eyed us suspiciously when we started chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” towards the end of regulation game time when Team America pulled out one final goal to force the game into overtime. That same group was quick to tell us, in French, “Tough shit!” when Canada won a couple of minutes in overtime.

But no matter. It was a winning weekend, and I spent very little money on food and entertainment, and still managed to have a lovely and all-around great time.

On the metro home last night, I discussed my feelings on the month of February with a friend. We both agreed that this past February was perhaps the fastest and least awful February we could remember, which was surprising.

Does this mean I’m actually, without question, becoming happy here? Just when things get frustrating and too too much — I owe money, the bank calls me to try but not actually succeed at explaining why they haven’t given me my account yet, I spend too much money on weekend food outings, I miss my family, etc — I realize that February was a good month, and I can only imagine that March, April and May are going to be even better, considering that SPRING is coming! And is here! And friends are coming to visit! And my parents will be here in less than a month!

Joy, joy, infinite joy.

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You might blame it on the mid-20th century existentialist literature that I’m reading — in French, no less. You might blame it on the perpetually grey skies or my generally bored self or maybe just the fact that its February, and I’m from Michigan, and being as such I therefore recognize that it is currently the worst month in the Gregorian calendar year.

I’m not too certain. In fact, I’m not even certain about my current state of mind. Reading the title of this post, you might think that I’m unhappy. But I’m really not. I’m enjoying myself immensely, I’m improving my language skills and I find my educational pursuits fascinating.

Perhaps I’m a little lonely, and maybe I could fill up my waking hours with more varied things than just eating, running and cooking elaborate meals for one — sometimes two or three or even four, mind you.

But I’m feeling like I’m in a good place right now. I’m reading “La Peste” (The Plague”) by Albert Camus, a book I’ve already read in English, and it’s making me feel both French and wholeheartedly inspired.

Dr. Bernard Rieux, the heroic main character, has a lovely statement near the beginning of the book, where he decides that, despite the descending chaos of the world around him, “L’essentiel est de bien faire son meiter”, or “What’s essential is to do your own job well.” The rest will follow.

So, even though I try to live my life like that usually, I am going to use Dr. Rieux’s sentiments and help me find a greater happiness here. If I do my job — go to school, enjoy the city, live my life simply — than nothing else should bother me. And it doesn’t. And it won’t.

The last two days were pretty similar. Monday was Monday, with the media in transition lecture, a lovely, but cold run and a gathering of the dinner party gang — at my apartment, this time — for some scrumptious balsamic butter penne pasta. It was a delicious meal and a most enjoyable evening.

Also, I discovered the joy of Carrefour, the massive French supermarket chain at which I should have already been doing all of my grocery shopping. It is cheap, it’s quality is superior to many other cheap local grocery chains and they have really, really good generic brand cereal. A rather large Carrefour isn’t too far from my house, and it better believe that I will be back soon. And how.

Today was also rather simple. French class, media and politics, a chilly run, tasty omelette and baguette for dinner, followed by an evening of homework — I actually have some now! Huzzah! — and silly jazz music on the radio.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of grabbing the free newspapers in the main campus building — there are quite a few, including Le Figaro, The Financial Times, Le Monde (if you are lucky and quick), The Wall Street Journal and others. So that’s nice.

But don’t worry. I’m not unhappy. I’m not happy. I just am. Leaning more towards the happy side, of course, but mostly just pushing on forward.

Happiness is coming soon, too, I’d wager.

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