mercredi 28 janvier 2009

The Euro and the Metro

So, you know what is a really cool way to start your day?  After hearing an alarm clock go off at 7:30, you hit the snooze.  Five minutes later, same.  So, then you put the alarm under your blanket so it is muffled...and you repeat the snooze deal about four more times.  Eight, you get up and get ready, walk to school, and get put in the "salle verte" (green room) with several other students for your first day of intensive French language class.  Are we five, or do we also have to color code the mailboxes?  I think numbers work internationally just fine...

Anyhow, our teacher, "the lady with the big hair", or Domenique, was so nice and smily that early in the morning.  The class was not as compliant, as we sat there with morbid faces looking either like we might die or that if we could produce fire with our eyeballs, that we would burn the building down.  Though the content was neither difficult nor challenging, I am pretty sure the word boring came to me several times.  How many times have I learned the past tense, yes...EVERY form of past tense?  Once a year for about 8 years, so I think I am OK to talk about my past.  

The class was a little awkward, as to be expected, with everyone nervous to make mistakes.  Well, I don't really care if I make mistakes because that is the only way one truly learns.  My first question I was asked, I answered incorrectly.  My only critique of this course is that I know my weaknesses and so I would like to work on certain things.  Also, we found out we will be translating (ok, not bad), but we will not be doing any oral work.  Am I not in France to ameliorate my ability to do just that?  I was a little disappointed.

After two hours of this, and mind you, I did not have watch to actually monitor the time passing so I felt two years older by 11, I got to return to my apartment until 2.  I was excited because I planned on doing an hour of yoga, showering, eating own activities at my leisure.  During my sun salutation, I had the pleasure of turning around to see two French men standing in my door watching me.  What the hell?  I shut the door.  Well, apparently Carol (and we all know Carol as the RA who loves duvets), scheduled an appointment for maintenance without notifying me or my roommate.  They were here to fix the closet door, which when moved right or left, fell off.  I thought the toilette that is always running is more of a dire problem, but I was obviously wrong.  

Back to yoga.  It was nice to do something challenging for my upper body as walking is the primary form of Parisian exercise.  I went back to school for a session on "psychological" adjustment, basically a time to complain if something is not going perfect.  I just sat there and really didn't have much to say.  The man in charge asked me if I was, no...I just think this is stupid.  I did enjoy however walking around the area of Paris where our one school location is situated.  We found new boulevards to explore and more crowded areas to frequent.

Yesterday, we had totally irrelevant meetings (yes, even more of them).  I understand though...IES wants to cover their butts just in case and from stories, I cannot blame them.  Fortunately for the smarter half of the population, we will be just fine.  Don't take "the drug of the rape" in fear, French children are raised in fear...Way to inspire my confidence Bertrand!

One new adventure though was last night.  Katie and I took the metro to the 17e arrondissement where we met another student, Alex, for dinner.  Sitting at a cafe that Picasso was said to have frequented, we shared some wine and stories.  We laughed a lot because Alex got locked in the bathroom and tried calling us each about three times...but we don't pay attention to our phones, so we had no idea.  We decided to eat dinner elsewhere and started to wander.  Up the street (in my new boots, I was getting a blister on my left ankle, so that was pleasant), and back down because it was a dead end...keep going.  Is that guy peeing while four hundred people walk by?  I look in a shop window, hardly paying attention to all of the bright lights and crowded sidewalks, and see lingerie.  Nice.  

Then  I look up and read the blaring neon signs "Rebecca's Palace."  Oh, what's that?  That's my name...wait, it's a whorehouse.  Yes, we got to walk down what I would call the Red District of Paris.  Sex houses, strip bars, "exotic dancers" (or another fancy name for stripper), and again, was interesting.  Katie and I told Alex that he would be staying close by until we were safe near normal people.  We stopped off at a little restaurant off of the main street.  After ordering and bantering with the garcon, we all ordered.  Indian food!  Man, gotta love it.  Katie got a French sandwich (I tried it and it was good), and Alex got rooster (I did not, in fact, try this).  We were served by a cross dresser who smiled and loved that we were American!  Sweetness, I liked him!

So we are waiting for tomorrow, a day when Paris will be essentially useless.  Everything is shut down for a strike organized by unions and government workers.  The postal service, the metro, buses, and more will shut down in an attempt to rationalize with their government over "what 10 Euros can buy."  Let me elaborate.  Parisians feel that goods and services are becoming too expensive and that what you can buy for 10 Euros is decreasing.  As an economics student, I would love to just memo over one word:  recession.  

I know, brilliant.  All I know is that the dollar is now about .73 instead of .67 to the Euro, so I am sadly, happy about this!

lundi 26 janvier 2009

Le Promenade à Ile-de-la-Cite

Rick Steves...the true love affair of Paris.  My roommate's relationship with him has been thus far, perfect.  He says all of the right things, takes you to the right places, entertains you with his witty humor and enlightening insight, and he never disappoints you.  He is the travel expert for Europe and indeed, his recommended historic walk of Paris did not disappoint. 

We started on Ile-de-la-Cite; where Notre Dame, La Conciergerie, and Sainte-Chapelle sit.  Going through the church is almost unreal and several images of the Disney's Quasimoto appeared in my head.  The flying buttresses, gothic arches, and cement carvings of gargoyles literally take your breath away (cliche, I am aware), BUT in my defense, there is nothing that can prepare you for the site of such a historic undertaking as that of Notre Dame.  Underneath, we toured the Roman crypts left from thousands of years ago and read about the destruction of thousands of Roman homes in the renovation of Paris into what you see as the historic and grand version.

We walked across the Pont de Palais, a bridge that takes you into the Quartier Latin.  This section of the city is renowned for its young student life and boutique shopping.   I bought my first Italian leather shoes, a pair of black boots, so I will finally fit in the the Parisian culture.  They were on sale, as right now is "solde" season, so I was urged by locals to buy anything I wanted now.  

We walked back through Ile-Saint-Louis through narrow streets by cafes and patisseries, that if I had no self-control, I would have overtaken.  The aroma can be smelt from blocks away and the crepes are to die for.  Walking by each boulangerie, I have to look the other direction or my jeans will not fit in a month!

I did, however, with Marie and Katie (my roommate), go to a small Brasserie on the right bank where I indulged in a crepe-a-sucre and a small choco.  It was delicious and too small, but this probably explains the size of French women.  I am almost glad the food is so expensive and that I have to walk miles to go anywhere.  

C'est la vie, je divine.

dimanche 25 janvier 2009

Life with Frenchman, Living on Baguette

Anyone who travels to France, let alone Paris, understands the role of cuisine and "baguette" in daily life.  I arrived in Paris last Tuesday morning, bright and early, and traveled by taxi to my first Parisian hostel.  Let me just say, a taxi is just not the same experience.  Was that a Mercedes?  A BMW?  A woman cab driver?  Yes, my first woman cab driver in a Mercedes was wearing a suit and opened the door for me.  Not like New York City...

After checking into my hostel, which I would recommend highly to any traveler abroad, I left to the Rue Voltaire for a five hour long walk to nowhere.  Passing through markets, I was intimidated to practice my first words of French in the bustling environment of fast walkers and arguing Frenchmen over the price of "les poissons et les fruits de mer."  So I just kept going.  

Although I made it back without a word of conversation with a Native aside from the occasional "bonjour," I was pleased to feel exposed to the culture.  The hostel was alive with traveling students from all over the world and several Australians and I shared a beer.  The inauguration was coming soon...

Sitting in an internet cafe underneath St. Christopher's, I watched with about fifteen foreigners, all of us foreign to France, as the first African American was sworn in as the president of the United States.  The security guard, a black man, ran over and hugged me.  Obama's speech gave me chills and I admit to several tears.  It was not only that I was joyous over the occasion I was experiencing (and I will never forget sitting in Paris, explaining to the fellow viewers the different policy changes Obama intended to make and what was going on in America), but there was a feeling of nostalgia that swept through the entire atmosphere.  

The bar under the hostel (by under, I mean the first floor of the hostel) was an "Obama-rama" with discounted "buds", which were quite popular that night.  I was proudly American.

The next day included the exploration of Paris with fellow Australian hostel-stayers.  The top of Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Le Louvre, La Place de la Concorde...Notre Dame, Ile-de-la-Cite...Is it possible to live here without running into all of the poles sticking out of the sidewalk?  Those are for blocking cars on strictly bike and pedestrian access sidewalks.  The buildings are larger than life and words cannot do them justice, so I will give advice to either look at photos or to visit in real life.  

I moved across Paris from the 19e (19th) arrondissement to the 14e on the Boulevard Brune where I will be living for the next five months.  I met Carol and Charles, my "cultural helpers," who let me into my apartment.  White walls, white bathroom, white floors, white that light blue carpet?  Waiting for my roommate to arrive, I made the beds, unpacked (thank god, no more living out of a suitcase), and decorated the wall above my bed with pictures and memorabilia.  

After the first meeting of my new roomie and actually getting the internet to work, we went out to explore the new neighborhood.  Who knew that Paris loved "Pharmacies?"  We'll come back to those though...

Every corner has a Boulangerie or Epicerie or a Bistro with delicious smelling tarts, breads ("pain"), and other treats that I can't remember the name of.  The streets are so clean and pedestrians actually have there own time for crossing the street, unlike in the States.  My roommate and I decided to see the Champs-Elysees at night and took the Metro from our Porte d'Orleans stop to Cite and get off at the Louvre.  We walked through the courtyards to see the Eiffel lit up from afar.  We tried to take night photos, but our hands were cold and all of them came out blurry.  We walked towards l'Arc de Triomphe up the Champs-Elysees, where there were hundreds of people walking around in their chic and designer cloths.  Paris is truly well-dressed and I felt like a bum (even in nice jeans, wool black jacket, black flats...).  We stopped at the Cafe Lateral on rue de Mac Mahon where, sitting on the enclosed terrace, we could see the arc in its nightly glory.  I ordered a glass of wine while Katie had chocolat a l'ancienne (sounds fancy because it's extremely fancy hot chocolate).  We practiced our French and insisted to the waitor (or garcon) that we should speak in French and he smiled and complied.  I even got his number.

To my friends, they would be proud as I am normally reserved and never hit on men or flirt.  I have to say, it was nothing I did as Frenchmen have taken to my roommate and I and her blog has been titled something about Frenchmen and hot chocolate.  We have gotten multiple numbers from bold men who think American women will not use their brains and realize their intentions.  Luckily, Sasha seemed nice enough, but there were more to come.  On the metro, an older man who sat across from us gave me his card, though I don't think "business" was on his mind.  Did he actually think I would call?  

We laughed it off and predict it to happen again.  We thought to have a quiet night at home, but we were surprised when our neighbor upstairs on the fifth floor (we are on the fourth) rang our bell.  Mascara on her cheeks and her hand in a bright pink towel, we didn't know what was wrong.  Then we saw...blood everywhere.  She had tried to open a bottle of wine and the neck of the bottle broke off with the cork and slice her index finger deep.  She lives alone and does not speak French well.  We took her to one of the many pharmacies on the main street (the Boulevard Brune), where a pharmacist does more than those in America.  They patched her up and gave us instructions on what to do for the next week.  We spoke with the security guard while she was attended to (yes, there are security guards even at a pharmacy).  He was kind and enjoyed speaking with Americans.  He was surprised by my French, which was a compliment to my effort. has paid off to study!

Today we went with Marie, my rommate's friend who is a local of Paris, to a market in the outskirts of Paris.  This was an experience I will have to document by photo as it is relatively difficult to describe.  There is everything you could want from your local Wal-Mart, or Bon Marche/Monoprix,  at discounted prices.  Underwear, batteries, shampoo, DVDs, then the food market...Squid on ice, fish, chickens with their heads.  Not appetizing enough to get me yet, maybe in a month or two I will feel compelled to try this.  But the fruits, vegetables, greens, and sweets were appealing and I enjoyed conversing with the locals.  They smiled and corrected my errors and I bought dried strawberries (les frais) for 1.5 euros.  A nice little treat.

Tomorrow is a proficiency exam at 9am, then more orientation.  There is a workshop on meeting French people, but I think I have started off well enough and I could definitely teach the session on how to attract creepy French  men.