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Posts Tagged ‘Spring’

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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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 spent a majority of my weekend holed up in a secret music library in the northwest part of the heart of Paris.

Yes, that’s as wonderful as it sounds. I was a temporary visitor to the fabulous Médiathèque Mahler for a group presentation — or exposé — on the differentiation of opera genres in the 19th century for my French class on music and politics. Exposés are apparently the key piece of the SciencesPo academic methodology, although this will be my first and only one.

But opera is kind of my jam — witness: my upcoming summer research project on opera in Europe — and I really like Bizet, one of the three composers we have to cover for this project. So, I found myself in a quietly elegant reading room all weekend, listening to and reading about Bizet’s first major work, “Les pêcheurs de perles, or The Pearl Fishers.

Finding myself there was rather tricky. I had the address — a “bis”, or half number — and a general idea of what I’d find — music, books, assorted other related items — but I had no idea what kind of people would be there, or if it would be worth my time. It doesn’t help that I don’t particular like the music of Mahler.

(You see, I once went to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with my uncle. We were there to see the celebrated pianist Lang Lang, and as a young pianist myself, I was pretty excited. Lang Lang opened the concert with his trademark flare and pizazz, and I remember being really impressed. But after intermission, Lang Lang was nowhere to be found, and instead the orchestra pulled out this ridiculously long and depressing 75 minute Mahler symphony. It was well played, but so very long, and after the flash that was Lang Lang, nobody really was into the Mahler. Plus, I remained convinced they put that piece in the latter half of the sold-out Lang Lang concert to trick people into listening to something that normally wouldn’t attract anyone on its own. My uncle fell asleep. I was bored out of mind. Hence, my dislike of Mahler. I’m sure he has some great stuff, I’ve just only heard that one long and boring and poorly placed piece.)

The professor gave everybody a list of books and musical works to consult for these presentations, and strongly recommended we go to the Mahler library, so I headed up that way Friday afternoon to see what it was all about. It’s located in a beautiful neighborhood I hadn’t had the chance to see yet, just south of Parc Monceau, and the trees and flowers were all blooming in the warm spring breeze.

The street door led into a little narrow hallway and courtyard, and somewhere in the distance, someone was playing the piano. I was excited. This seemed like my kind of place. A quick buzz on the inner door and then a walk up a beautiful carpeted staircase took me up to the library, and brought me face to face with the diminutive bibliothécaire, or librarian.

After some confusion on her part — “You know this is a very specific library, for classical music study,” she told me — I explained to her why I was there and showed her my reading list. She signed me up, gave me a temporary library card, and showed me to a seat. Moments later, she had my books in a neat pile.

“Enjoy yourself, M. Andersen,” she said, smiling.

And boy, did I ever. I spent the entire afternoon poring over thick books on opera theory and the life and times of Georges Bizet. I even got to listen to a couple of recordings of “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” and follow along in the complete score. This library had EVERYTHING you could ever want in the field of classical music.

As I sat there, reading and listening — and having a wonderful time — I slowly found myself remembering what it felt like to be studious again. This term, while interesting and rewarding and all that jazz, has really been low on the academic-stress scale. Not being overloaded with work and obligations and stuff makes me feel lazy and bored and just…not right.

But these next two weeks are going to be chock full of work — this exposé, two major papers and two or three article assignments — so I felt that I needed to regain some of my old drive. Especially since the light at the end of this work pattern is a trip to Spain for Spring Break.

And surprisingly, Mahler — or rather, the French music library named in his honor — did it. I felt like a real, busy student again, with time to manage and work to complete and books to read and all that wonderful residual stress that trickles down from on high.

It felt good.

My favorite place in Paris is still Parc des Buttes Chaumont, but the Médiathèque takes a close second. I’ll definitely be back again to research for my summer project.

Its a quiet, secret place. But it is beautiful.

And I feel at home there.

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So, break has started. I know, because I have been sleeping a lot, eating well, reading much and watching a lot of “Monk” on my computer. All of these are good things, but they will not last forever — meaning today and tomorrow and beyond I must start doing more homework and other such things.

And know this, dear readers, I HAVE finished my narrowly defined reading work today, meaning that all I have left is the more tenuous and vague essay research and feature story writing, which is difficult. But that’s for the rest of the week.

Friday saw me getting break started off right, with a journey to the famous Opèra Comique, the building where Bizet’s “Carmen” first premiered more than a century ago. Along with a random assortment of American/Canadian/Egyptian friends, I went to see Hector Berlioz’s “Béatrice et Bénédict,” an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

It was a really lovely production, albeit a little strange and too fixated on the staging decision to use a “puppet show” theme for everything. Basically, there was this little English tramp man  — who also apparently wrote this adaptation, who knew? — who read things out loud in English form the original Shakespeare script, and who would then hit his cane on the stage and move about the singers, making them carry out the parts of the story that he could not. It worked, on the whole, but the decision to use the puppet theme resulted in some rather unfortunate — read, heavy thick and ugly — makeup decisions.

But the singers were superb, the story was cute — just the story of the embittered and embattled lovers and their subplot, not the complicated shaming of Hero bit — and I could understand the vast majority of the spoken French dialogue and sung French text, which was nice.

We followed up our opèra adventure with some late night café conversation, which was lovely.

Saturday was more winning all around, starting off with some reading, running and “Monk” watching and ending with some random wanderings around the Jardin des Tuileries and Montmarte and a french-toast and egg and madeleine and butterscotch dinner party, complete with much delicious wine and intelligent conversation. By the end of the night, the apartment we had chosen to dine in was full of people, and we all felt very adult and very French and very full.

Sunday was a lazy day, with me exhausting my food supplies once and for all, watching more “Monk,” meeting a friend for drinks and catching up with the Amero-Canadian bunch at a funky bar in the 5th to watch the final Olympic hockey match between the US and Canada.

The bar was overwhelmingly pro-Canada, which wasn’t surprising, but it was fun to watch the game and cheer awkwardly and proudly when the US scored. There were several large groups of slightly inebriated French people who eyed us suspiciously when we started chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” towards the end of regulation game time when Team America pulled out one final goal to force the game into overtime. That same group was quick to tell us, in French, “Tough shit!” when Canada won a couple of minutes in overtime.

But no matter. It was a winning weekend, and I spent very little money on food and entertainment, and still managed to have a lovely and all-around great time.

On the metro home last night, I discussed my feelings on the month of February with a friend. We both agreed that this past February was perhaps the fastest and least awful February we could remember, which was surprising.

Does this mean I’m actually, without question, becoming happy here? Just when things get frustrating and too too much — I owe money, the bank calls me to try but not actually succeed at explaining why they haven’t given me my account yet, I spend too much money on weekend food outings, I miss my family, etc — I realize that February was a good month, and I can only imagine that March, April and May are going to be even better, considering that SPRING is coming! And is here! And friends are coming to visit! And my parents will be here in less than a month!

Joy, joy, infinite joy.

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This weekend was pretty nice, so I can’t really complain. Nor is my title entirely accurate. I just couldn’t think of anything else to write up there.

I apologize for being absent for a few days. My continued calls for homework to do finally came true, and I found myself with a small, but necessary pile of assignments to finish or explore this weekend. So, after class on Friday, that is what I did — along with other, less homeworky things.

Friday was a lovely day. The weather was warm and clear, I had a nice run in the morning, and I met up with a girl from my French class to work on a joint project for this coming Tuesday’s class meeting. As part of our grade, we are required to give a “revue de presse” — a presentation comparing coverage of a news event of our choosing in both a French newspaper and a foreign newspaper and launching a corresponding class debate — and our presentation will be on the coup d’état in Niger last Thursday.

It’s a pretty complicated issue — the president may have already staged a coup last June, according to some, when he abolished the government and the constitutional court to guarantee himself an illegal third term of office — but we are using the coverage of the coup in both The New York Times and the French daily Le Monde to explore the idea of international press coverage of these kinds of events.

The Times suggests the possibility of a coup, without actually confirming that one took place, while Le Monde staunchly declares that a coup did take place. Now, today, no one is doubting the coup. It happened, the military took control and there is international concern over the usual grab bag of human rights violations and violence that could possibly explode in the coming days and weeks. But we hope to launch a debate on the fact that a coup, which is clearly a big deal, was not easily found in the international press — page A4 of the Times, and difficult to find in many other American newspapers. From this fact, we also hope to discuss the respective coverage of the event — coup or no coup? — to explore the responsibilities of the media in reporting these kinds of things: should they be accurate in their coverage, or the first to publish something?

After our meeting, I had my French lecture on music and politics, which was just as fun as I remembered it. We discussed important trends in Western music and political development throughout the middle ages and beyond as a lead-up to the 19th century, which is the main focus of the course. The absolutely lovely and humorous prof made us all sing, as a class, repeatedly, to demonstrate important musical tone developments.

The best part of the class is that I can understand the majority of what the professor says, which is all in rapid, conversational French. The other students, not so much — when they ask questions out loud in class, I have to strain to understand sometimes —  but definitely the prof. Which is wonderful.

Friday night saw me making dinner with a Carolina friend here in Paris for a different study abroad program  and one of her new friends, followed by a visit to the Louvre — which is FREE on Fridays for students, so WIN — and an early bed time. I like the Louvre fine, but I do find it too large to fully appreciate. We just hung around one specific wing — where I oddly ran into someone I knew from my welcome program — and agreed to come back in the future and explore the rest of the museum.

Saturday was more homework — all mostly finished by the afternoon — and a run, followed by an attempted outing with the dinner party gang to the Centre Pompidou to see the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. This group of musicians are exactly what their name suggests: an Austrian ensemble that fashions instruments out of produce. I originally thought the concert was free, but it was actually 14 euro, a fact which initially deterred us from going. I finally convinced my friends to join me, but by the time we got there, it was sold out. Which was a bother.

We did get to see the ensemble demonstrate their instrument making process, which was almost as cool as seeing them live, and completely free. We followed this up with a dinner — my winter roots dish, which everyone loved — and a small outing with some of their friends at someone’s apartment.

Missed the last metro, again, so I stayed the night on the other side of the Seine, waking up today rather late to meet up with my French partner again for our project. After a small dinner — I wasn’t too hungry today, actually — I am settling down for the evening to edit some of my papers for class and maybe read a little. I also will be going to bed early, as I was out too late last night.

I discovered today that we have winter break all the following week, so I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do. Maybe explore the city? Maybe hang out with some French friends? Maybe to London for a day? Spain? Somewhere not Paris? Who knows.

But I’m doing well, and as the weather improves, so does my overall happiness. Soon enough, spring will be here for real, and that will simply grand.

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