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Posts Tagged ‘Sleep Depravation’

I am no longer homeless.

It wasn’t easy — well, I’ll be honest. It was a whole lot easier than I thought it was going to be — but I am now the proud resident of a flat share in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

(You might be wondering about the early time stamp on this post. Once again, I couldn’t really sleep — although I slept a ton last night, I may have only slept for like 3 hours tonight, I’m not really sure — but that mainly may have been from my being both excited and nervous, which are not good conditions for sound sleeping)

Yesterday was a most wonderful day. It was really beautiful here in Paris — sunny skies and mild temperatures — so I went for a long run in the Bois de Boulogne and in the 16th. It was pretty enough that I would have liked to take as long a run as I did intentionally, but I got a little lost, so the run ended up being longer than I originally planned. I wasn’t too worried though, because I can use the Eiffel Tower as a landmark and find my way back to John’s apartment. When your landmark is the tallest structure for miles, you can’t really complain.

After an afternoon of reading and lounging about, I prepared myself to meet my friend Zeina, a girl from Ohio who went on my Outbound Bound trip in the Sierra Nevadas nearly two years ago. It’s hard to comprehend that that trip was so long ago, but in the interim so much has happened — I’m a sophomore in college, I’m 20, Zenia graduated from Ohio State, she’s living in Paris working in a bridal boutique — that I guess I really can believe it.

It so great to see a familiar face in a foreign city. I was a little worried I wouldn’t recognize her, as the only time I’ve really spent with her was outside in the wilderness, and we were both dirty and poorly clothed at the time — a real touchstone of the Outward Bound Wilderness experience — but when she appeared on the sidewalk outside of the Rue de la Pompe métro, I instantly knew it was her.

We rode the métro to the stop suggested by the landlord of my potential — now permanent — Craigslist-sourced apartment in the 10th. It seemed like a nice neighborhood at first glance — nice shops, pretty cafés, people walking around — and the building in question was at the end of a little side street.

Out front, a tall, pretty woman was smoking nervously — another prospective tenant, I would learn — and inside a little lobby was the landlord, “J.” (still don’t know his name). The woman out front was apparently from Argentina, in the city to study dramatic art. She, J and I waited around until 5 after 8 for some other person who was supposed to see the apartment too, but he never showed up, so J took us outside to the big wooded door that led to our potential apartment.

Let me take a little break from my narrative to say that this apartment was EXACTLY what I thought wanted to find for my semester in Paris. It’s a little kooky and completely unconventional, but affordable and safe and sure to be a fun time. Plus, there’s a cat. So, WIN.

J took us inside the place, which is small, but with high ceilings and a lot of skylights and on the first floor with a garden complete with flowers and bushes and a table “to smoke or have dinner-type parties at” (J didn’t speak the most eloquent English, but he was fluent enough for me).

The kitchen is shared between my room and two other similar set-ups rented by two 30something Frenchmen — a TV producer and an architect who were sadly not present during our tour — whom J assured us “were the best kind of people to live with who like the clean”. There was also the aforementioned cat, whose name was something I can’t pronounce in French, but who was very lovable — he let me pet him on the stomach, which J assured me was special for cats — and also a big fan of this tiny grass-like plant that J had brought for his upset stomach.

I, too, like living in the clean and eating plants, so I’m sure we’ll all get along swimmingly.

J then opened a glass-paned door into what looked like a bathroom and invited us all in. The Argentinian woman decided then she didn’t want the place, which was a win for me, because I already knew that I really did want.

The room, as I quickly saw, was not just a bathroom, but also a bedroom.

It’s hard to describe, but I’ll try. You walk into a tiled room with a shower and a rather large palm-plant — the care and keeping of which is apparently part of my rental contract. J explained: “You just water it when you take showers.” I have to take a shower every two days, otherwise the plant will die, and I’ll be held accountable. I have to make sure I don’t get any soap in the plant. Also, if the plant grows too large, I’m to tell J, so he can cut off the excess and put it somewhere else in the apartment. Sure enough, 3 other plants — the shower plant’s children — were scattered around the apartment’s kitchen area. I don’t know why there is a plant in the shower. I didn’t care. I loved it.

From the shower, one then continues on to the sink and the toilet and a small cubby for clothes and luggage and such. Above said cubby area, accessible by a small wooden staircase, is a desk area and a bed.

So, it’s all one room. All of it.

Enough for me. I’m just one person.

I told J I wanted the place, and we agreed on terms and a 4:00 pm signing this afternoon. Zeina and I thanked J and the the pretty Argentinian woman — thank goodness she thought it was all to weird to rent – and wandered off into the mild Parisian night to have dinner and meet one of her American friends who was an au pair in the city.

I could say more about my night, but it was pretty simple after that and I’m really pretty tired. I have to get ready for school and such.

Just know, dear readers, that I am not homeless. I’ll move in later this week, I imagine. I’ll explain more later, but I have to shower, and if I don’t want the plant to die, I have to make sure that I’m used to the idea of daily showers.

It won’t be hard, of course, but just in case. I haven’t made the formal acquaintance of the plant, but it seemed like a happy sort of plant, and I’d hate to kill one of my new roommates because I don’t feel like bathing.

Death by lack of personal hygiene isn’t fun for anyone involved.

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I have not yet verified the claim in the title above, but judging by the exterior of said bread-making establishment, and the rather posh neighborhood in which this so-called “Au Bon Pain” found itself, what I’ve written in the title is probably true.

I wonder if the owners of this bread shop know they have a cheap American cousin on full massive deployment in the United States. I wonder if they would change their name if they knew.

Today was a strange day. I really didn’t sleep last night, thanks to my 13 hour slumber fest the night before —huzzah jetlag— so around 7:00 a.m. I decided to get up and start my day that never really ended.

I should mention that John, the UNC alum who graciously opened his home to me this week, came home last night as planned and took me out to a tasty little French café, where we dined most excellently. We exchanged life stories — although his involved a most considerable amount of globe hopping (Greensboro! Eastern France! Chapel Hill! Hamburg! Chevy Chase, MD! Frankfurt! Paris! — and discussed how I might find housing in the city. I wanted very much to stay on in his incredible apartment, but I know I need to find my own space and not wear out my welcome.

Here’s a quick thank you to the past cousins who laid the groundwork for my stay with the Watson-Blackwell clan: some oboe player in the early 2000s and Eva Archer, ’11/’12 — thanks for doing exactly what I’m doing, only at an earlier date! You’ve made the beginning of my term ever so much easier!

But I digress. On this morning in particular, I went for a run along the Seine and through its environs, and almost ran across the bridge that leads one to the Champ de Mars and the Eiffel Tower — almost — but I decided that particular fun bit of Parisian tourist life would wait for later. I’ve seen it before, and from a runner’s perspective the quai of the Seine  was a much more interesting route than a park under a tower.

After eating some lunch, I worked up enough courage to walk down to the nearby Place Victor Hugo and buy myself a French mobile phone. I was really terrified that I would horribly embarrass myself with my silly efforts at speaking other languages, and this fear kept me from the store until about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon.

But magically, IT WORKED. With minimal pointing and a whole lot of 9th grade French vocabulary that never seemed necessary until just today, I now have a French mobile phone all my own — I asked the very helpful saleswoman for “un petit portable avec un prix assez petit” (a small phone with a price just as small). It’s a Nokia some such number or the other, and it is charged with little charge card tokens you can buy at corner stores and tabacs. Plus, it doesn’t cost anything if someone calls me or sends me a text. Hopefully I make friends with some phone-happy French college students, who really enjoy calling other people and not the other way around, because, as we all well know, I am very frugal —read: cheap.

That momentous event successfully carried out — I even got to check it off in my planner’s To Do list! — I then decided I might go for a walk across the city to see what kind of neighborhood Sciences Po likes to hang out in.

Let me just say, it was cold and rainy today in Paris, a combination I’m told to expect for the rest of the winter here. I am exhausted and have very limited shoe and sock options. I should not have gone out in the rain, thrusting aside however inactive I would have been staying in.

But out I went, crossing bridges, jumping puddles and dodging umbrellas carried by hurried, chic Parisians. The appeal of the Watson’s apartment, lovely though it is, wore off a little when I found myself on Rue de l’Université for more than a dozen blocks. This apartment is nice, but what it is not is close to the place where I’ll be spending the majority of my time here. Point noted.

Sciences Po is located in the 7th arrondissement, a charming little neighborhood home to the famous Latin Quarter and the Assemblée Nationale. Outside the Assemblée complex, a large group was protesting something rather loudly. At first glance, I thought they were protesting violence against and killing of “cops,” which is a fine and noble goal of course, but a closer look showed they were in fact protesting the deaths of Copts, or Christians in Egypt. From their yelling and massive signage, it would seem that the current Egyptian government doesn’t like the Copts very much.

Their cause is of course justified if it is true, but I just wasn’t sure what the French Assemblée Nationale could do about it. It’s almost the equivalent of group of, say, Roma gypsy people picketing the Canadian Parliament for their mistreatment pretty much everywhere. Both legitimate angers, both appropriate responses to the frustration of seeing loved ones killed for their ethnic or religious background, but completely beyond the scope of the respective national governing bodies.

They could have just picketed the Egyptian Embassy, as I’m sure it was around there somewhere — I walked by the Mexican, Romanian and Taiwan embassies this afternoon, in addition to a Lebanese restaurant and a Cameroonian travel agency. The diversity here is staggering — but at any rate, the French police were out in full force, looking sort of bemused. Looking, well, French.

Sciences Po is in a series of old mansions and Haussman apartment complexes, so the outside was really not that exciting, especially in the rain. But I found it, which was worth an afternoon of shivering and wet clothes. It got me out of the house, which isn’t even mine, and forced me to be the faux Parisian I aspire to be.

I even gave some American tourists directions to Saint-Germain — maybe they thought I was French? — only because I had just passed it myself going the other way.

I found home again, changed clothes and sent some Craigslist emails before cooking dinner. I’ve decided that I’m only making commitments to Craigslist ads that agree to meet me in person and show me the apartment in question. I am not sending money by Western Union — I really wouldn’t know how — and I am not waiting for you to get in town. Either in person, or out of a deal. I know better than to demand anything less.

My hopefully solid lead is tomorrow evening, after my afternoon with an Outward Bound Sierras alum in the city. We’ll soon know if my search for a home has just begun or is in fact ending quickly with a big win for the visiting team.

John got home late, replete with a yummy French bakery gift celebrating the Epiphany . I politely devoured my share and decided to call it an early night. I’d read, but I’m too zonked. I am going to GET on this time zone, whether my body wants it right now or not.

My favorite thing of today was hearing a little old French woman use the phrase “qu’est-ce que ce que ça”, one of my most favorite French expressions of frustration. It doesn’t really translate, but I suppose the best possible translation comes close to, “What in the hell is this?” Today’s lady in “qu’est-ce que ce que ça” question seemed to have forgotten the code for her apartment building’s door pad.  Judging by her expression, I bet it was the landlord’s fault. That bastard. But it was still fun to hear the language used in a real-life scenario by real life people. I’d be wondering the same thing were I that little old lady: “What in the hell is this shit?”

French is all around me. With any luck, I’ll scoop some of it quickly and carry it around with me always. That’s always the hope.

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So, I am here. In Paris. Finally.

I am really rather tired, and I must apologize if this post seems a little tangential and ever-so-slightly off. I couldn’t really sleep on the plane — the very French, very prepared man seated next me built a little sleeping fort out of his coat and made it rather hard to find a comfortable position on my aisle side — and once I landed, I had to do some quick navigating to find my way to the apartment of the UNC alum with whom I am currently staying.

And I must say, it is rather comforting — and confusing — to look out the window of this room, covered in UNC basketball posters and memorabilia, and see the graceful 19th century architecture of Baron Haussmann. It’s a collision of two very different worlds, all within my frame of vision.

My voyage here was fine, despite the lack of sleep. A quick hop from Detroit to Philadelphia, and then a delayed but rather empty flight from Philadelphia to Paris-Charles DeGualle, a bus ride on the “Car AirFrance”, a walk of several blocks with my luggage and an awkward conversation in French with the landlord of this building convincing him to let me in — apparently my hosts neglected to tell him I was coming — ended with me here, typing away as Karl, the French-speaking housekeeper, does whatever it is he is doing in the next room over.

I had to apologize to Karl. While my responses to his questions and helpful suggestions may only be simple affirmatives like “yes,” “thank you” and “perfect”, I really can understand everything he is saying. I told him this in my fractured French, and he smiled. It’s interesting how we automatically assume that lack of verbal ability means lack of understanding. I hope both of these skills improve while I am here — kind of the reason for me being here, after all. I could have stayed at Carroll if I wanted to just learn about journalism. What I want is to be fluent in French. A little journalism is also fine. But mostly French.

If the two combine, I have no complaints.

The most startling thing about being in another country, I’m realizing, is discovering all the simple little changes that differentiate that country from yours. Sure, there are big changes — language, architecture, cultural attitudes, etc. — but there are subtle changes, too.

The way people carry themselves on the street. The way the children’s play area is designed in the airport lobby. The way signs are written, and public announcements explained. Even the symbol to cross the street   — which, as a warning note, is tricky here in Paris. There isn’t a warning countdown, or blinking red hand. The symbol switches from boldly striding green man to cautious and immobile red man in a matter of seconds. The cars soon follow. You have been warned — all these things are slightly off from what I am used to. It’s truly a symbol of how far away from home I am.

But I’ve noticed other odd things about France. As I walked down Rue de la Pompe (yes, that is the name of the street), I composed a short list of things that the French, or rather, Parisians, seem to really care about, as well as an accompanying list of things about which they don’t really give a shit.

(A note: this is based on one exhausted-American’s walk from Porte Maillot to Place Victor Hugo in Paris in January. It is not meant as a universal description; rather, it is a list of things noticed.)

Parisians Like:

1.Scarves

2. Boots

3. A combination of the above that results in looking remarkably, painfully stylish.

Parisians Don’t Really Seem to Like:

1. Immigration Formalities (I spent a month on my visa application, but that didn’t matter to the stamp-happy customs guy)

2. Customs (I have a bag full of insulin and tiny little needles. No one seems to be concerned about this)

3. Wide traffic lanes (The bus ride here was rather scary)

The lists might get longer.

I might even have a post towards the end of the term made of solely of the likes and dislikes of modern Parisians, based on my keen observations. Get hyped.

For now, I am going to probably eat a little something and then take a much-needed nap. It’s 1:30 — or rather, 13:30 — here, and not 7:00 am, so I should be asleep anyway, according to my internal clock.

I might go running later. Or I might sleep. Or eat. Or wander around the city. I just have so many options.

I think sleeping, with its lovely friend eating, is winning out.

But I’m here.

Et tout va bien.

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