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Posts Tagged ‘Père Lachaise’

Well, it’s finally here. The final — almost — week of classes at SciencesPo for the term has started, and although I have a few makeup sessions next week, I am virtually done with class in France, with only two finals — one on May 27 and the other on June 3 — standing in the way of me and my European opera adventure this summer.

Research papers written, classes attended and grades distributed, it’s hard to believe that the term is over so soon — not thinking, of course, of my friends back in Chapel Hill, who are already moving out this week as they take the last of their spring term finals.

But just because the academic side of my term abroad is winding down, doesn’t mean I’m running out of things to do. In fact, this past weekend was one of the most exciting and interesting I’ve had yet in France.

It started out on Friday, when my friend Dana and I had a lazy Friday evening in which we moved her things from one room to another — her landlady is moving in with her — and ate a a delicious batch of eggs and hash browns. We ended the night by watching old Nickelodeon shows and realizing how they are much funnier in memory then in repeat reality, and then decided to meet the next day at Place de la Republique for the Fête du Travail.

The Fête du Travail — known in the States as May Day — is a big party for the left-wing/labor forces in France, Europe and most of the world except America. In Paris, the celebration involves big parades of workers’ syndicates, left-wing parties and anarchists marching between Place de la Republique and Place de La Bastille, demanding retirement rights, higher wages and similar such things.

Mostly, though, it’s just a big, old fashioned protest-party. Whole families come out to dance with Turkish and Kurdistan Communist groups, as  anarchist radicals rub shoulders with leaders of the main French left-wing political organization, the Parti Socialiste. Food vendors sell delicious sandwiches and the cafés were full to bursting.

Dana and I decided that it was really neat that the left wing factions in France are strong enough to have a day just to themselves for celebration and peaceful demonstration. We also noted the relatively low police presence, and realized that the United States simply doesn’t know how to have demonstrations that are just for demonstrating’s sake.

Soon, we grew tired of the craziness, and decided to head over to somewhere a bit quieter — the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Père Lachaise, a world famous cemetery in which such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and some random clown from the early 20th century are buried, was on both of our Paris Bucket Lists — or, the series of things we feel we must do here before the term is over, now the end is in sight and we both have fallen in love with the city.

Together with Dana’s friend Charles, we wandered around for a few hours, relishing in the silence and quirky charm of the place. Narrow, named avenues wind past stately oaks and through rows of stoic gravestones and family mausoleums, ending sometimes in epic monuments to former Russian countesses or maybe the French writer who penned Aesop’s fables. It was a lovely antidote to the chaos of the fête du travail, and Dana and I finished our Saturday eating cereal for dinner and watching “The Jungle Book” in my apartment.

Sunday was sunny, so I went for a great run along the canal, and when I came back, I got to meet my new roommate, the current inhabitant of Djelloul’s old room. Her name is Elissa, and she is a young architect from Barcelona, Spain. Already, I feel that we are great friends.

It’s funny — in the few short days that Elissa has lived in our apartment, I already know more about her and have talked to her more frequently than either of the two guys with whom I have lived for almost four months. She’s funny, and gracious, and interesting, and has a really fascinating job with an architecture firm currently competing for a contract with the French Defense Ministry to build a super-secret, underground computer terminal in the countryside outside of Paris.

Best of all, she isn’t a native French speaker, so even though we only speak in French to each other — she insisted her English was laughable at best, and I wouldn’t want to speak in English, anyway — the conversations are animated and enjoyable, because neither one of us has to worry about our little grammatical errors. We both make a lot, but we both understand each other just fine, and I realize that having someone to talk to at home besides Flocon the Cat has made me a much happier person.

Back to school was back to school, so not much to say there, although today I did go to a fantastic coffee shop written up by the New York Times with a friend — I say coffee shop and not café because it really felt like a San Francisco hang out and not a French café — where we shared great conversation and what I am going to call the best cup of coffee in Paris. I will definitely go back again, and soon, and often.

Plus, this evening Dana was nice enough to invite me to a fascinating conference/lecture at SciencesPo given by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian who served as the Secretary-General from 1992-1996 until the United States forced him out for his inaction during the humanitarian crises that so characterized the mid-1990s, spoke mainly on the subject of Africa in the 21st century. He didn’t really have too many new things to say, but he was really interesting, and I enjoyed that the whole conference was in French and I listened and understood everything like it wasn’t even a big deal. Cause it wasn’t, of course.

More updates on my continuing adventures to come in the following action-packed and soon to be school-free days, but know this, dear readers: j’aime Paris, et finalement, je pense que Paris m’aime, aussi.

Look up that last part, if you really need to. If anything, I hope my blog has taught some of you out there a little bit of French know-how and vocab.

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I realize that I have not really revealed much about what I have been doing these past few days. My last posts, while perhaps amusing and interesting, did not, for example, describe the lovely faux press conference we had on Thursday in my French Culture Reporting class, nor did they detail the absolutely delicious salmon dinner I prepared at the home of my dinner party friends on Friday night.

So this post, from this spring-like, chilly yet sunny Sunday afternoon, will attempt to alleviate all of these gaps and holes in the narrative of my term here in Paris.

As indicated above, Thursday’s French Culture Reporting class focused on the art of the interview, and also featured a guest speaker, Madame Marie de Tilly, a self-proclaimed etiquette expert, who answered all of our questions on exactly what it means to be polite here in France.

It was a fascinating discussion. Madame de Tilly, a rigid yet friendly woman, described her work, what she sees as essential for the aspiring polite French person — dress well, arrive late to functions, know how to eat properly — and also how she thinks that good manners and politesse can help people “mix” in all types of society.

We were supposed to write a brief article describing the visit and what it told us about French etiquette — which I have done — and will reflect on the “press conference” next class period. I can really tell that this class will be one of the more interesting ones I take this term.

It also should be said that I made an absolutely kicking pasta dish Thursday evening: penne mixed with garlic, tomatoes and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil, butter, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, salt and other such goodies. It was spicy, savory and ever so good.

I did not have class on Friday for some odd reason — administrative duties or some such nonsense — so instead I made tentative plans to visit the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery on the eastern edge of the city. Père Lachaise is one of the most frequently visited cemeteries in the world, and it’s not surprising why: they have such luminaries as Sartre, Simon de Bolivar, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, among others. It’s absolutely gigantic, and entrance is free, so I thought I might head over there and walk around, seeing as Friday afternoon was particularly sunny, if not terribly warm.

But then, some impromptu plans with my dinner party gang arose, and I decided that it would be better to run to the cemetery in order to save time and also get a run into before heading out for the evening.

I am glad that I made this decision, because the cemetery was closed to the public due to the large amounts of ice and snow covering the stairs and winding pathways inside. I will just have to wait until it is warm to visit the cemetery. I’m not worried. It isn’t going anywhere, nor are its famous residents. I hope.

Friday evening saw me wandering around in the cold with the gang, then returning to their warm apartment, where we made a positively SCRUMPTIOUS salmon dinner, complete with a honey-balsamic-mustard glaze and sauteed veggies. We finished the evening with a round of movies — a cautionary note: “Nine” is NOT a good film, nor is “New York, I Love You” — and I accidentally missed the last metro.

It wasn’t a big deal, as there was room enough for me to crash there for the evening, and I awoke — at noon, so WIN — on Saturday for breakfast and the cold return home.

Safely ensconced in my warm apartment, I did some homework — which I finally have! SUCCESS — and waited around until my evening with Victoria, my American friend from high school. I met up with her at the tiny art gallery where she works as a part of her university’s program here in Paris, and we went off for dinner with some of her French friends.

A tasty clam dinner and a lovely café coffee conversation later — tout en Français, bien sûr! — we called it a night, agreeing to meet again tonight for dinner at Breakfast in America, the kitsch-tastic diner that serves, as its name suggests, American-style diner food.

Today, I did a little more homework, read some news online, went for a lovely run in my favorite park and had one the best croissants I have ever eaten from the luxury chocolate and pastry shop down the street from my apartment — only 1 euro! — for lunch.

I suppose you could call this a good weekend, and I imagine this week will only continue to get better. The weather is seemingly on the edge of changing over to spring, the Euro keeps going down thanks to the financial woes of Greece, Spain, Portugal and all their friends and my classes seem to really be picking up in both interest and work level.

So, things is good. Spring, good food, cheap(er) currency and interesting learning-times. What could be better?

PS Also, a belated update on the Parisian Public Peeing Count: We have passed 10 Parisian Public Peeing People. I’ve been advised to drop my count by those in the know, because apparently when the weather turns nice, I will not be able to keep track.

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