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Posts Tagged ‘Metro’

It was late, and I was tired, and I generally do not like to take the metro past midnight, even on a weekday — it gets all funky, and you can never be sure how drunk your fellow riders are: happily buzzed, or pushed to the limits of belligerence?

But I wasn’t that far from home, and I of course prefer the funky metro when given the choice between that and walking the windy streets of late-night Paris.

I was waiting on the quai of the always-useful line number 4 after transferring from the 8, and nearby, a man was playing Yann Tiersen — read: stuff from “Amelie” — tunes on his accordion. He was actually pretty good, and I do love me some Yann Tiersen. I felt bad that I didn’t have any spare change to give him — he was good, but not 2 euro good.

He had set up a little personal band shell by the portal to the quai of the 4, complete with signs — in multiple languages — relaying the power, beauty and skill of music as an art form. Clearly, this guy was a professional busker.

(A quick side note: in order to get official permission from the city of Paris to play music for money in the metro stations, you actually have to get a permit. They only give out a certain number of permits per station, and there apparently is some sort of audition process to obtain a permit. Granted, there are clearly some people — those who play their music on the trains themselves — who ignore this regulatory procedure, but the lengths the Parisian government goes to recognize and regulate this busking process is really fascinating.)

Anyway, with Yann Tiersen playing gently in the background and the train coming in 3 or 4 minutes, I had time to look around. I noticed a woman, in all black with a bright, multi-colored plastic shopping bag, passionately dancing in front of the accordionist. She wasn’t twirling, or jumping — if you’ve ever heard Yann Tiersen, you’d know that that kind of dancing is hard to do to his music, unless you twirl and jump in 3/4 time — but rather, she was intently clapping, stomping and shaking. It was kind of captivating, in its way.

I found it interesting that this couple would work together in this manner — the dancing woman was fascinating, but I wouldn’t call her skilled or anything, or at least, not as skilled as the accordionist — when suddenly, the train arrived and the in and out exchange of passengers began.

I watched as the dancing woman shared some words with the accordionist — what was said, I don’t know — and then wandered over to the train. She got in the car behind mine, and gingerly took one of the many folding seats in the front section of the car.

It became clear that this woman, with her colorful shopping bag and peculiarly delightful dancing, was just another late-night passenger headed home on the metro. She heard the music, thought she’d take part, and started to dance.

Sure, you could argue that our friend in black was probably not all there. You could argue that it was just another crazy out taking part in a world that sometimes doesn’t even want them to take part; I couldn’t tell if the accordionist appreciated her Martha Graham-influenced tribute to his music or not.

And yet, all craziness aside, I found the entire moment terribly beautiful in its oddity. And it really was the entire moment. If the woman had stayed on the quai and kept dancing, I would have just written it off as another desperate couple looking for change in the metro. If she had disappeared, I would have thought similar things.

But she didn’t do either of those things. She picked up her polka-dotted shopping bag, nodded to the accordionist and perhaps her invisible crowd of adoring fans, and headed on home on the same metro as me, in a car just behind my own.

Call me sentimental or overly cinematic, but this anonymous and public display of music appreciation put a satisfying smile of wonder on my face.

May we all have the chance to do something similar in our own time.

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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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Today was the big day.

I finally got my PasseNavigo, the easy-to-use and affordable metro monthly user’s card that allows me to freely travel on the extensive Paris Metro without troublesome and expensive paper tickets!

Well, actually, today was also the official start of my classes here at SciencesPo and the real beginning of my term here in Paris, but the Metro pass thing was pretty exciting too. I even rode the metro rather unnecessarily back from a place not too far from the 10th just to use it and try it out — it works.

But the main excitement of my day was that this day, the first of February, was my  first day of class.

The way my schedule here at Sciences Po works is very different from my schedule at UNC. Most classes only meet once a week, for two hours at a time, so well I have at least one class every day and two classes on Tuesdays, I only actually total up to 12 hours of UNC-type class time.

Monday features an early-afternoon lecture on “Media In Transition” by Peter Gumel, the director of my journalism program here and a pretty accomplished journalist in his own right. Today was mostly an introductory lecture, talking about the general scope and themes of the course, his expectations of us and the general plight of the media — read “newspaper” — industry.

We were also introduced to our course Facebook page — rather than Blackboard, we are using Facebook to post assignments — which began the slow descent into eerie familiarity that continued for the rest of the course. Even though I was on the top floor of the main building of one of France’s most renowned and unique  institutions of higher educations, it felt like many other college courses I’ve already taken.

It might have been partly due to the fact that the course was taught in English — Peter is from the UK — but that was only part of it. The structure, the student participation — or lack thereof; it seems that few students bothered to read the four posted articles for the first class, or rather, they didn’t want to make it known that they had done so — and the overall mood of the class felt distinctly like home.

But even in this home-like setting, there were a few noticeable differences. To start with, the international makeup of the class far surpassed the makeup of most UNC classes. Students from France — mais oui — the States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, China, Hong Kong and more lined the large classroom. That, too, was different: the “amphitheater” was like a big classroom where the lecturer just talked at us — despite his own wishes otherwise — making it a weird mix between UNC’s small, personal classrooms and big, impersonal lecture halls. It was too big to be intimate and too small to be anonymous, which had a decidedly unsettling effect.

On another, semi-UNC related note, they too have student elections here in France. And just like at UNC, loud election supporters line main campus buildings and meeting spaces, encouraging passerby to vote for their particular student federation or proposal or initiative. However, it is worth noting that the elections here hinge more on issues like “Listen to us or we’ll strike” and “French and English aren’t the only languages spoken here” rather than on things like, “Don’t Build That Bridge” or “Let’s Get Involved on Campus and Volunteer and Stuff!”

Granted, tomorrow will be different. I have a French language course and another lecture on media — this one on media and politics — a smattering of reporting labs on Wednesday and Thursday and a real, live French-language sociology lecture Friday night, meaning that my term here will probably be a mix of several kinds of pedagogical styles.

Unfortunately, my courses don’t really seem to take up the time commitment that I want them too. I don’t feel obligated to walk across the city to save metro costs anymore, thereby cutting down on time necessary for a visit to campus, but two hours a day isn’t enough. Maybe I’ll have a lot of homework. Maybe I’ll start exploring more. Maybe — and this one is not a maybe, it is a must and a will and I am already planning on doing it this weekend — I’ll start exploring food markets and buying interesting and fresh ingredients and making hearty, tasty meals like last summer.

But one thing is certain. Whatever I do now, I have my Navigo. So I’ll be taking the metro. Which is a good thing.

“You must take the A train
To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem

If you miss the A train
You’ll find you missed the quickest way to Harlem

Hurry, get on, now it’s coming
Listen to those rails a-humming

All aboard, get on the A train
Soon you will be on Sugar Hill in Harlem” — Duke Ellington, “Take the A-Train”

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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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