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Posts Tagged ‘Running’

Hello loyal blog readers! I know that many of you have been coming here in the last few weeks, expecting glowing, exciting reports from the summer opera trail.

Well, up until last Monday, the only thing you would have read would be my impressions of my brief and chaotic return to the States (lovely, quick and overwhelming) and reports of my incessant jet lag out of my decision to make said return home (probably one of the worst travel decisions I have ever made in my life — this is why I don’t like / don’t know how to travel).

BUT

Now all that changes. Here I am, on the floor of my friend Victoria’s lovely apartment in the 8éme arrondissement of Paris, getting ready for another week of opera exploration and viewing.

Monday night, I bid goodbye to my parents after a whirlwind weekend in Metro Detroit — MOTOWN AND THE 313 GET IT —  and got on what I am going to call the smallest plane I have ever been a passenger on and travelled to not scenic and not lovely Newark, New Jersey, where I awaited my flight to Heathrow Airport in London, England.

Flying into Newark, one cannot help but feel bad for New Jersey. Not only is it a state that everyone loves to hate, it also is right next door to New York, a state and city that is breathtakingly magnificent — it is the Empire State, after all — making the lousiness that is New Jersey all the more apparent. Newark’s airport? Passable. Newark’s skyline? — especially when compared to the staggering skyline that is downtown Manhattan Island — Pathetic.

But I was on to bigger and more European things. I landed in London early Tuesday morning, and groggily wandered through British customs — incredibly Hellish, by the way. I do not recommend flying into England unless you absolutely have to — and took the famous London Tube to meet John, my roommate from my first two years at Carolina. He is staying the city studying British approaches to Imperialism, so he generously offered to let me stay with him during my brief sejour in London — by offered, I mean, I begged him and kind of forced him to accept my request.

Even though I was completely exhausted and felt the need to take an unforeseen four hour nap, I managed to force myself to go for a jog through London, running by Kensington Palace and through Hyde Park. I have to say that, after fiveish months in Paris, I was not prepared for the casual, comfortable sprawl of British parks. French parks are carefully coifed, delicately maintained and full of fierce and furious gardiens, who make sure that visitors don’t use the park in an incorrect way — i.e. walk on the grass or touch a flower or something that disturbs the natural beauty of le beau parc parisien. London? Pish posh. You want to walk on the grass? Go ahead! You want to touch a flower? Hell, pick the damn thing. It’s a park! Admittedly, as a result London parks did seem a little less polished than those in Paris. But it was a wonderful and a good thing to do after flying all day and night.

We then went to a Thai pub — literally a traditional British pub that served Thai food in the back under an awning of fake flowers — with John’s British and Australian roommates and some Carolina friends in town for the summer, and wandered around expensive neighborhoods in Kensington.

Wednesday was my big opera day, so naturally I slept most of the morning. Hooray jet lag! I woke up in the early afternoon, dressed in my very best, and prepared to walk all the way to Covent Garden, taking time to wander though a beautiful and eerie cemetery — albeit one where people were LITERALLY SUNBATHING SHIRTLESS AMONG THE GRAVESTONES — and along the surprisingly tidal Thames River.

It was a great walk, and I got to see both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which were at the moment hosting the wonderful weekly Prime Minister’s Questions Session, but it turned out to be a little too far for my 5:00 meeting with the communications director of the Royal Opera House, so I hopped on the tube and rode the last couple of stops to Covent Garden.

Unlike Paris, the London Opera House is tucked away in a weird little alleyway. Granted, it’s big and impressive and beautiful and all that jazz, but it’s hiding in the corner when the Paris opera houses are huge central gathering places — one even has a major metro stop named after it.

The communications director was wonderful, and he gave me a fantastic start for my project. We talked for over an hour, and he gave me some great reading material about the Royal Opera House’s annual budgets and projects and audience outreach efforts. I ran out for a quick dinner alone — in a French restaurant, of all places — and returned for the 7:00 curtain of Bizet’s great “Carmen.”

The opera was pretty wonderful. They did so many things right — the fast-moving Act III, the brilliant Michaela, the quietly serious Carmen — but also did a lot of unnecessary things, too — a live donkey and live black stallion, a not so brilliant Don José, weird rock climbers in the mountains in Act III. It was a great time, and “Carmen” is perhaps the work I know the best out of the 6 that I will see this summer, so I was very happy to get a chance to see it live in such a historic and beautiful setting.

After two more days of London wandering, including trips to the fabulous Tate Modern Museum and the exquisite Kew Gardens in Greater London, I boarded the Eurostar to Paris and returned to that place that I thought I was ready to leave: Paris, France, my home for the last five months.

It’s great to be back here, but I’ll save that for the next post. Until then, my dear readers, know that I am safe, happy and living a life full of beautiful music. This is what summer is meant to be.

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Everyone loves visiting Paris.

Or at least, that’s what it seems like. I’ve had three rounds of visitors here in the City of Light since my arrival in January, and each one has told me pretty much the same thing about their initial impressions of the city:

Oh how lucky you are to live here!” or “I’m absolutely in love with this city!” or “This is the most wonderful city…how can you ever be bored or unhappy here?

Hmm.

If you recall, my opening few weeks here in Paris weren’t the best few weeks of my life. Yes, I found the city breathtakingly beautiful and truly relished the chance to live a life à la française, but I had a hard time adjusting to that very same idolized daily life in that very same romanticized city.

I think that those who visit the city — including maybe my parents, who arrive at Charles DeGualle International Airport on Saturday morning — have a fixed image of Paris that they come here to live out. They are informed by the innumerable images of the city they see in films or read about in books, and for the most part the omnipresent French tourism industry has done a good job in preserving that kind of sugar-glazed, one-size-fits-all experience in the center city.

You want to see the Eiffel Tower? WHAM there it is. You can even climb it! You want to go into the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa? SLAM come on in. You don’t even have to see the thousands of other works on display — you probably don’t know them, anyway. You want a crêpe? BAM eat one, here, there — everywhere in the city. Same for baguettes or Berthillon ice cream or croissants or traditional French cuisine.

The other side of the city, the real living part — that’s not entirely on display, and most tourists don’t care about it, anyway. They come to see Paris from the movies, and that Paris is there for them the moment they walk out of one of the city’s six train stations or pull their luggage from the airport bus.

But I’m not a tourist — I live here — and my impressions of the city are based on repeated, varied views. I see the city just after a snow storm, in the morning after a light rain fall, in the evening when spring seems to be finally descending.

I see it as a resident, and my view wasn’t always so rosy. Things here in France are nuanced and often inconvenient, and require a certain kind of stubborn persistence that I may not have been born with.

Even more, my own touristy impression of the city the first time I visited it two years ago was far from rosy. I admired the architecture and the melodious language of the inhabitants, but I came in the middle of la saison morte — the summer months when most Parisians with sense flee the city in advance of the onslaught of foreign tourists. So the Paris I saw then was a shell of its usual glittering self.

Life gets easier every day. I dive into school, French language, my friends, cooking, running, exploring the city, reading, living — and I gradually forget why I was ever unhappy here.

But the memory lingers. So, when every happy guest tells me how lovely my city is, I agree — knowing how long it truly takes to get to know the city in all its real, rough and quirky charm.

(As a side note, I was graced by the presence of some lovely old — and new — friends from Carolina who are studying abroad this spring in Sevilla, Spain. We shared dinner, wine and conversation for four delightful hours on Saturday night. It was great to see some old friends from the other side of the Atlantic, especially over a delicious meal.)

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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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I was already running a little late. And today, the 4 metro — the easiest way for me to get from my neighborhood in the 10th to SciencesPo in the 6th — was unfortunately broken.

Well, not broken. There was a problem with another train a few stations down the track, and the problem would be fixed “sans accune delai” (You don’t need a translation there, I hope).

Apparently, this wasn’t enough for most of the other passengers on the crowded train at midday. People started pouring out of the train cars and pushing their way to another line, hopping to catch another train that would take them closer to where they wanted to go.

I decided to follow suit, and jumped on the 7, which doesn’t exactly go to the 6th, but comes awfully close.

While on board, I consulted my ever useful Paris Pratique map, and discovered that the best thing for me to do in order to make my 12:30 class was to get off at the Pont Neuf station, run across the Louvre courtyard, hurdle over the Pont du Carrousel and run up Rue des Saints Pères to Boulevard Saint-Germain, where I would soon after come to the main SciencesPo building and my Media in Transition lecture.

I did this, sprinting in my tight, slightly-heeled Royal Oak, Michigan Salvation Army purchased dress shoes, feeling good but growing increasingly worried that some as yet unforeseen traffic problem or red light or slow-moving Parisian child would prevent my perfect, on the go plan to get to class from actually succeeding.

I did get to class on time, albeit a little sweaty and a tad bit ruffled.

But as I sat down, catching my breath and opening my school bag, I reflected on what I had just done.

In order to make my afternoon lecture at one of the best universities in France, I ran through the outer courtyard of the Palais du Louvre, sprinting past I.M. Pei’s controversial glass pyramid with the Arc du Triomphe just on the other end of the forced persecutive.

I dashed across the River Seine, glistening in the early spring afternoon sun and playing games with the reflection of the Notre Dame to my left.

I hurried up Boulevard Saint-Germain, dodging students and smokers and tourists alike, and made it to class on time.

It suddenly dawned on me that, despite my old ennui about my term here and my homesickness and my seeming poverty and my worry about grades and procrastination and declining work habits and future concerns and all of that wretched business, it is simply impossible to be truly unhappy in this city.

No matter how lousy things might seem, I am in Paris. So things can’t be that bad.

And they aren’t.

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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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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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I had a rather relaxing weekend, something I realize I truly needed. I needed two days to sleep, to laze about, to eat good food and have nice runs and enjoy the almost-spring like weather here.

And that’s exactly what I had.

I started off Saturday with a long and leisurely solo breakfast, followed by a visit to the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) for a free photography exhibit with the dinner time gang, replete with images of my absolute favorite artist, Marc Chagall — turns out Izis, the photographer in question, was a big fan of Chagall — followed by an equally long and leisurely lunch.

But the lunch was not long by our choosing. You see, as a very astute article in the BBC pointed out just yesterday, customer service here in Paris is virtually nonexistent. In order to obtain our food, our coffee, even our check, we were required to perform elaborate and difficult maneuvers — it was almost as if the waiter didn’t want us to leave.

Granted, this is quite different, and at times more welcome, than the traditional American idea of waitstaff — hover around until you are finished and then throw you out in favor of incoming customers — but you want just want to leave, the welcome feeling of being left alone wears off rather quickly. I am actually pretty sure that our waiter’s shift ended in the middle of our marathon meal, leaving us with completely new garçons to deal with to obtain our dessert coffees and final check. It was quite the meal time ordeal.

We then headed off towards one of the biggest shopping districts of Paris, searching for “la saison de soldes” (Sales, illegal here in France except for very specific periods of the year) and find them, we did. We also found most of Paris.

The stores were an absolute ZOO. It was impossible to move, and the lines at the cash registers snaked around the outside of the store multiple times over. I think this shopping atmosphere must be a truly Parisian thing, because I can’t even imagine this kind of chaos in New York. It was a true migraine in motion.

But the evening was lovely, as we made a carrot-honey soup and garlic bread dinner together and cozied up to watch “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”  — both movies of which the majority I have largely forgotten — feeling fat and childish after the end.

Today, I went on a brisk and refreshing jog in my favorite park, and then headed out to the Musée des Arts and Metiers for a school assignment, meeting up with some friends in another part of the city for a quick lunch.

Then, it was off with another friend for dinner and a scooter ride, and back home for a quick edit of my next Daily Tar Heel column — see it tomorrow here! — before drifting back off to sleep in preparation for another busy week of school work and French-ness.

Stay tuned, mes enfants! Restent ici!

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