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 curtains...wait...is 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.  Finally...it 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.

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