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Posts Tagged ‘Parc des Buttes Chaumont’

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, I have this thing — some might rightly call it a complex — about being a tourist.

While I do enjoy traveling to some extent, and while I continue to preserve every young writer’s romantic fantasy of hitting the highway à la Kerouac’s “On the Road”, I just don’t like the feeling of being obviously out of place that tourism engenders.

I wrote extensively on my feelings on the tourist side of Paris in an earlier posting, but my thoughts are essentially this: Paris is a museum city, a dead city remembering the lively excitement and creative spark that so animated it in the late 19th century, the early 20th century and the middle of the 1950s and 60s.

So, with the arrival of my parents for a week long tour of the city, I had the opportunity to try and figure out how to play tourist in a city in which I had no desire to do so.

Seeing my parents was absolutely wonderful. Even though we endured roughly the same amount of time between parent-child reunions last spring, I was only a 12 hour drive and a quick phone call away that time, making the distance seem ever so much slighter than the ocean and continent and time zones that separate us now.

Together, we had a lovely week, exploring the city that I have come to know fairly well. We went on long walks, ate delicious meals and drank good wine every night.

Saturday, after some difficulties in locating them in the massive Place de l’Opèra, we dined in the tiny and tasty Chez Prune, a café on the Canal St. Martin. We then split for a while, reuniting for a light dinner of bread, cheese, strawberries and wine at my house. My parents got to meet both of my roommates, our cat, and my landlord, which was very strange, considering that weeks often go by without me seeing any of these people.

Unfortunately, my landlord took both my month’s rent and my dear friend Flocon with him when he left Saturday evening, saying that the spunky cat had another job to do in a neighboring apartment. I really miss him, and I think this separation will do us both good. I never realized how nice it is to have a cat waiting for me when I come home until he left.

Sunday was Easter, and we had a small lunch together in L’Atmosphère, another café on the Canal, followed later by my award-winning Easter Dinner. The menu was as follows:

  • Savory tart with pears, caramelized onions, bleu cheese and rosemary
  • Balsamic and honey-glazed salmon served over whole grain rice
  • Baguettes
  • Pecan-Carrot Cake with Marscapone-Cinnamon Frosting
  • Various Wines
  • Coffee

Except for the salmon, I had never prepared these foods before, so making them for Easter Dinner was a big risk on my part. And it paid off handsomely, if I do say so myself.

Monday was Easter Monday, a strange holiday that seems to be the French version of Good Friday, so we wandered around the city, visiting the Jardin des Plantes, picnicking in the Jardin de Luxembourg and having a delicious dinner in the Café de la Petite Bourgette, just around the corner from my apartment.

Tuesday, the parents took a long and epic walk through the Jardin de Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées, ending up at the Arc de Triomphe. I was in class, so I could only hear their reactions afterwards. They were impressed by the grandiosity of the city and its monuments.

“There are a lot of statues,” my mother said. She’s right.

We had a picnic dinner in my favorite place in Paris, the Parc de Buttes Chaumont, and retired to my apartment for coffee and carrot cake.

Wednesday was more walking for the parents — this time, around the islands of the Seine — and more class for me, followed by a visit to a famous café in Montparnasse — Le Select, home to Picasso, Hemingway, and others — and then on to a dinner party with friends and friends’ respective parents.

As a group, we poor ex-pat students decided it would be nice to show our visiting parents how we spent a lot of our evenings here in Paris. Also, it was nice to show them that we actually had real friends here.

Thursday, we headed over to the Eiffel Tower for pictures with our local hometown weekly, The Milford Times, and then returned to the neighborhood for an elegant and absolutely superb closing dinner at the Hôtel du Nord, a little café-restaurant on the Canal. It was fantastic, and we agreed that I should probably find the money to go there again at least once while I am here in Paris.

Saying goodbye to my parents, it was hard to believe that the week was over. As strange as it was to have them here in Paris, it was also a real delight.

They brought three of my favorite things with them: Peanut butter, good food, and unconditional love.

As spring continues to blossom here in Paris, those are three things I could certainly get used to having.

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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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Really, life is starting to get busier. I have class every day of the week — well, not this Friday because of weird scheduling conflicts, but that’s a fluke — and homework assignments and paper work to fill out for the French Government, so I’m doing things.

But nothing is incredibly pressing. Nothing is sitting here on my desk calling for me immediately, demanding that I get going right away. I have due dates and deadlines and suggested end times, but nothing really pushes me on a daily basis. Except, of course, the desire to avoid spending piles of money, which is becoming increasingly easier as the Euro continues to sink, thanks to the financial situation in Greece that worsens daily. I’m holding out for a complete collapse of the Euro — think of how cheap everything will be!

So, I fill my time with running. Granted, I’m not running incredibly long distances or training for a marathon or anything like that. I’m just running. When I get home from class and look at the hours between just then and the time when I might feel like preparing my delicious yet solitary dinner for one, I realize that the best thing I can do is go for a run.

So I run. True, I’d probably run even if I had to fight to fit it into my schedule — I’ve done that in the past, and I’m planning on doing it again in the future. Running is a daily need; without running I don’t sleep well, I don’t eat as much, I don’t feel as awake and lively as I could.

I vary my runs — sometimes along the canal, sometimes up the hill to my favorite park — but the important thing is that I run. It gets me out of the house and out of the neighborhood and into the world around me. It makes me feel like I did something significant that day. It makes dinner taste better.

It keeps me going.

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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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