Posts Tagged ‘Picnics’

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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It’s been a pretty good week — the weather shuffled between early spring warmth and sudden rain storms — and I’ve actually had a considerable amount of homework to do.

Between picnics by the Eiffel Tower on the Champs de Mars, a dinner party with Victoria and delightful spring runs along the canal, I’ve had a busy week.

But today, I’m going to talk to you about my progress in the French language.

It’s clear that I’ve improved since my arrival here in January — I can understand almost everything that people tell me in the store, at the bank, in class, etc. — and I finally finished Camus’ “La peste,” a book which I already read in English translation but really needed to be read in French to be fully appreciated.

The other day on the metro, a woman interrupted my reading of said existentialist novel to inquire how I could listen to music and read at the same time. She asked if I was French, and I said no, but we kept speaking in French anyway, which was fun. I think the advent of springtime is making people more friendly.

Last night, I accidentally locked myself out of the apartment while heading out to meet a friend for dinner, meaning that I had to desperately call my landlord and roommates and ask for help. They didn’t respond, but when they finally did later in the evening, I successfully had multiple phone conversations entirely in French — which is a difficult thing to do, let me tell you.

Even later, I went to a party with a Canadian friend from the journalism program, and the other party-goers were a random mix of French, Canadian, American and Spanish university students. Conversation switched rapidly from French to English and back again, but all the while, many French students told me that I spoke French really well.

One even said that, judging by my hair — getting rather long now — and clothes — brown jeans, grey sweatshirt and multi-colored scarf, indoors — and lack of discernible accent, he originally took me to be French.

Which was kind of a wonderful compliment.

And I got back into my apartment by midnight, too.

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