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Posts Tagged ‘Paris Metro’

It was a strange day, involving much napping and several hours of breakfast eating.

But it was a rather lovely day, too. Plus, a girl in my Music and Politics seminar thought I was a real French person, which was fun.

I woke up, feeling really rather awful — maybe it was one of my weird “Saturday Morning Sicknesses”, only this time on a Friday, or maybe it was the dread I was facing for having to pay my rent that morning — but I was really hungry, so I slowly ate my usual breakfast during a prolonged period of the morning. I would eat a few spoonfuls of yogurt granola, then lie down on my bed, then try again, then lie down on my bed, etc. etc. It was not the most efficient way to eat breakfast — it took me about 2 hours — but it stayed down, and I felt decidedly better after having finished and showered.

Paying the rent? Not so much fun. But that had to get done, too, I suppose.

Then, eating lunch while walking, I wandered down to campus for my final class of the week, the looming French lecture on “La Musique, la Politique et la Sociabilitié” (Exactly what it sounds like) in one of my favorite buildings on campus — they have one of the better coffee machines there.

I found the room, and another student waiting for the same class, and we awkwardly spoke to each other in French. I asked her if she knew the professor, and she said she did not. I replied that I was the same, because I was an exchange student here for the term.

And then the wonderful thing happened.

“Oh,” she said, still in French, “I thought you were a French student.” She, it turns out, is an exchange student — for the year — from Mexico. We bravely entered the class together, at least one of us feeling just a little more French in doing so.

The class was a grab bag of students from exchange programs and Sciences Po in general, making it clear that I wasn’t the only non-native French speaker present. But for the most part, I could understand the delightful and amusing professor, as he rattled off details of his musicology history and his academic career.

It would appear that this course will be, as its title suggests, an exploration of the intersecting worlds of music, politics and sociability. We will all be presenting various topics in small groups — I’m in a group with my new Mexican friend on opera! — and just pretty much having a musical kind of a time. We even finished the first class yesterday by sampling some recordings of select virtuoso pianists.

It, like the rest of my classes here, will be a truly enjoyable experience, I am sure.

I wandered back home, taking time to go to the huge shopping center close to the center of the city in order to buy a novel for my French class — not available in the independent bookstores down by Sciences Po, which was sad — and then bought two loaves of bread to bring with me to the dinner party I was planning on attending later that evening.

A friend from Chicago in my welcome program here was the host, inviting about 14 students over — all exchange students this term — to her lovely apartment by the Seine for a little bread, cheese, wine and French Soupe a l’Oignon. Everything was delicious — including the strawberries, madeleines and whipped cream for dessert — and a few of us decided to go for a post-dinner walk along the Seine down to the Eiffel Tower.

We sat under the huge iron structure, looking up at the pretty sky and the soaring monument to 19th century French engineering.

And then we called it a night.

Oh, I also got stopped by the National Police at my Metro station at Gare de l’Est. They were closing the station for the night and decided that I, with my satchel and pea coat, looked like a drug carrying type of guy.

Obviously, they were wrong — although I did make sure to warn them that I had needles in my bag, as I am a diabetic — and they let me go. It was a strange experience, and I’m not sure why they singled me out, but maybe it’s because they thought I looked really French.

I think I’ll just go with that one.

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I ride the metro a lot.

And I mean, a lot. As we have learned, I could easily walk to and from Sciences Po’s campus on the other side of the river every day, but when I have mornings like I had today, where I slept a little too late, ran a little too long and walked a little too leisurely with my lunchtime baguette, it’s nice to know that all I have to do is hop on the number 4 at Gare de l’Est to quickly be at school.

But I wish that my trips could be a little more beneficial, or at least have a greater amount of need to warrant them. Except for two class Tuesday, I ride the metro mostly just once a day — down there for class and then back home two hours later. It’s kind of excessive, but that’s how they set up classes here. Most courses only meet once a week for two or even three hours, so the rest of the time is basically up to you to figure out how to fill.

I spend a lot of this time reading, and wandering around and cooking, but I hope that all these warnings of Sciences Po making its students “trop debordés” (too overbooked/busy) are actually correct. I would absolutely LOVE to be debordé. Ça me rendrait heureux.

These last two days were relatively similar. Started my day with breakfast and some news reading, had a simple lunch, took the metro to Sciences Po, attended a reporting/journalism class — one on basic reporting, one on reporting techniques for French culture,  both appear interesting and informative — came home, went for a run (well, today I ran in the morning), made dinner and thought about my evening.

Yesterday, the dinner party gang and I went to see “Cabaret” with Liza Minelli in a nifty little theatre near Place St. Michel. It was really kind of unnerving — I’d never seen the movie, and I found Joel Grey to be just a little bit scary — but in all a good time.

Tonight, I might meet up with another UNC friend for coffee or something. There’s a big Sciences Po party somewhere tonight — actually, if Facebook serves me right, there are probably 2 or 3 ScPo parties — but I haven’t been very lucky with those in the past, so I might just call it a night or find something else to do elsewhere.

I wish things were more exciting here. This weekend I’m supposed to go on a Vespa tour of the city with a French friend (!), and I’m planning on going to a traditional French marché on Sunday morning with another friend to find ingredients for our proposed gypsy soup — thanks be to Molly Katzen, “The Moosewood Cookbook,” and my parents for uniting me with that lovely soup recipe — so I’d imagine things might get more exciting soon.

I have one more class to visit — my French seminar on music, politics and society — and it will most likely be very scary. I’m hopeful. Things have turned out pretty nice thus far.

Let’s hope they keep going.

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I suppose the title of this post needs some sort of explanation.

You see, I was on my way to school this morning — courtesy of my wonderful new metro Navigo Pass! — and I was two stops away from the station closest to Sciences Po, when suddenly, one of the ubiquitous Parisian metro hustlers started in on his personal version of the same spiel.

There are a variety of approaches to the Parisian metro hustling gig. Some players have a loud monologue they recite, often with great intonation, rhyming schemes and theatricality, telling of their money problems and difficult lives and asking the passengers politely for a little help in the form of money. Others actually play music, be it the accordion, the guitar or the pan flute, playing for a small amount of time and then wandering around the car, thanking anyone who donates to their personal charity of one.

(It is worth noting that this second example can’t help but make me think of my time as a Coldstone Creamery Ice Cream Scooper Extraordinaire, when we would sing for tips but more often got tipped to NOT sing, much to the added benefit and pleasure of everyone involved)

I’ve even seen a puppet show — that guy may just have wanted to do a puppet show on the metro to see if he could, I didn’t see any ostentatious hat or collection bin, and he was really, really into his puppet thing — and one guy the other day asked all the women on the car to marry him, praising his qualities as a potential husband and passing out his cellphone for people’s numbers. When no one accepted his hand in marriage, he asked for financial backing for his fledging career as a stand up comic. He was actually pretty funny, I must say,  but I still didn’t give him money. I don’t have enough to give.

But this morning’s metro hustler was so delightfully odd that everyone on the normally stoic and serious metro couldn’t help but smile, and it really put me into a good mood that lasted the whole day.

This guy, probably in late 50s or 60s, in a traditional, make-shift homeless guy ensemble, came on the car and announced that he was going to share a gift with all of us — his musical gift — and he only hoped we could be appropriately thankful afterwards. But he didn’t seem to have any instrument readily available. What would he do?

Then, holding up a plastic shopping bag — which aren’t illegal here like in Germany — he declared, completely deadpan, “Et maintenant, la musique de le sac en plastique,” or “And now, music of the plastic bag”. He then proceeded to play some sort of improvised mouth-harp-harmonica thing, amplified and transformed by the limits of the grocery bag he placed over and around it.

The song he played — some romantic, French-sounding number — was rendered comically brilliant by his plastic bag. No one knew what to do. Some people glared, as they are wont to do on the metro when the hustlers get hoping, but after a certain point, the complete earnestness in which this little old man went at that plastic bag made everyone chuckle quietly to themselves and exchange glances, as if to say, “Yes, together we are experiencing the hidden musical sounds of the plastic grocery bag. How perfectly charming and altogether unexpected.”

This adventure put a positive spin on my day that just kept on humming. I started my French language class today, which terrified me at first. I’m in the fourth and highest level of French language instruction here — a classification arbitrarily chosen literally by looking at a chart online and deciding that I would be okay in this level — and I’ve heard tell that level four is scary.

But it wasn’t. My professor, a little, lovely French-Swiss lady, is absolutely wonderful and a true delight, and the class is full of interesting people from a diverse set of backgrounds — several Americans, several Germans, a Brazilian, an Italian, a Mexican, a Norwegian, a Brit — making French really the only language all of us can truly communicate in.

The course will be just as I wanted it to be — a book read as a group, presentations on daily news items we find interesting, a few creative essays — basically just a bunch of Francophiles hanging out and loving on the French language. We are also having a dinner at the end of the term at one of the student’s apartments, where everyone, including the professor, brings a traditional dish from their family’s menu and shares with everyone else. The professor promised to bring wine, cheese and bread, like any good French woman.

Feeling positively cheery, I successfully ate lunch while walking and drinking a coffee and made it to my next class, again on the top floor of the main campus building in the same room, yet accessed by a door suggesting it was a different room. Yes, this was confusing as it sounds.

The class, a large lecture on Media and the political will that controls and influences it, looks to be really interesting. Even on the first day, when we had a basic overview of the theoretical underpinnings of the course, we began a fascinating discussion on whether or not the press was free in China — it isn’t, of course — brought on by a Chinese student’s insistence that the professor’s suggestion of murdered journalists in China was perhaps an exaggeration.

I then returned home, lazed about, had some tea, went on a nice run at Parc des Buttes Chaumont — quickly becoming one of my favorite places here — in the rain, and then went to the farmer’s market to buy some potatoes and other veggies for my winter veggie roast.

It was frustrating when I couldn’t properly ask for sweet potatoes — a word which I thought I knew but the man behind the stall did not, prompting his descent into English (Just because I don’t know all the vegetable names, doesn’t mean I don’t speak your language at an adequate level, buddy. I’m in level four, after all, you know) — but I managed to get some good chèvre and make a truly filing and warm sweet potato, tuber, onion, garlic, herb and cheese bowl for supper, complete with a fresh baguette. I truly do need to cook more elaborate meals like this one, because I’m now prepared to go to sleep happy and full for the first time in a while.

Tomorrow, a reporting class, leftovers from tonight’s dinner (!) and perhaps a visit to the Cinema Action-Ecoles with my dinner party gang, where we hope to see “Cabaret.”

But things — besides my finances — are looking up.

And besides, if I really need money, I know about the musicality of plastic bags now. So I’ve got that going for me.

PS Also saw two men peeing in public today on my way back from the market, making the total of Public Parisian Pees now 7. I will continue to keep a running tally, as I do not think these two fine gentlemen will the last I will see relieving themselves in public.

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I love urban Mass Transit. I really do. I lovingly composed a lengthy essay on American mass transit policy for my post-World War II American history class last term. I often complain about my own Detroit’s lack of reasonable transit alternatives for a city its size. I love trains. I once wrote a poem about subways.

But I do not love the Paris Métro. True, it is a lovely system, with extensive coverage of the Île-de-France metropolitan region, reasonably affordable rates and other such perks. When you meet someone in Paris, you figure out where they live first by arrondissement and second by metro stop. The metro is truly a fundamental part of Parisian life.

And as such, it creates problems sometimes. Like the times between 1:30 and 5:30 on weekends or 12:30-5:30 on the other days when it stops running. Paris is a big city. It is very walkable, but when you are tired and cold and it is late, walking home is not the first thing you would like to do when there is a large, sleeping network of trains and tracks just waiting there below your feet.

To make up for this rather sizable gap in service hours, the French have developed a variety of coping mechanisms. These include making friends close by your home, leaving parties and other social gatherings early enough to catch the last train — which is never a guaranteed thing — using taxis or making social functions last until 5:30, so everyone can take the metro when it opens again.

None of these options were available to me last night. But I suppose I knew that going into the evening.

My day was overall quite lovely. I got enough sleep, went for a good run, had some delicious croissants for lunch and made a great pasta-veggie-cheese dish for dinner. Knowing how to work our coffee machine has also been a source of daily joy.

Cleaning up after dinner, I prepared to attend the 80s-themed birthday party at the apartment of one my French friends. I got there early to set up, and we had a lovely time making the apartment shiny and tacky. It would appear that, at least according to this friend, the 80s were a time of flashy, sparkly excess. Which I suppose is correct. However, some of the decorations we hung up didn’t really have a decade time stamp — they were just gaudy and covered in ribbons.

No matter. As the party got underway, I was pleased in part by my ability to mostly understand things people said to me, in part by my successful efforts to make awkward party small talk in French and above all by the fact that the French idea of the 80s virtually mirrors that of the United States. It was the same music, for the most part — Michael Jackson, Madonna and more, with some French hits thrown in there — the same idea of fashion — tacky tacky kitsch — and the same ridiculous concept of decade themed parties that I know so well at Chapel Hill.

It really was a lovely party, and I met a lot of really great people. But I ran into trouble when I decided to leave. I had begun my evening thinking that I would leave before 1:30, taking the last metro home and sleeping by 2. However, at 3:30, I was still engulfed in the 80s-tastic excesses of the party. Which posed a problem.

Deciding to suck it up and pay for my choice to stay past the metro closing time, I put on my coat and braved the chilly Parisian night. Surprisingly, there were a lot of other people out there doing the exact same thing I was doing, and even more surprisingly, I knew my way home. I followed the river to a main area of town, and suddenly found myself tracing a familiar path back to the 10th and my neighborhood. It felt really great to know that I could wander out into the early morning, tired and desperate to be home, and still know enough about the city to find my way home.

Today, grocery shopping, running and maybe dinner with friends. Apparently we are planning to watch “Muppet Treasure Island” in French, which will be of course an excellent decision made by all.

But I don’t like the Metro. Granted, I shouldn’t be saying that as I desperately try to figure out how to get a monthly metro pass tomorrow, for fear that the Metro will lash back at my disdain for it and make my quest more difficult, but I feel comfortable enough to say it again.

The metro and I? Not such good friends.

But Paris and I? We’re getting there.

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