Thursday after class, Katie and I toured the Paris Catacombs, which house the bones of over 6 million people. We arrived a little disoriented (we always exit the metro from a new "sortie") and entered with an hour to get through hundreds of meters of underground tunnels that are overheated and humid. In darkly lit tunnels, we got to walk by femurs and skulls from the dug up graves of the 1700s and 1800s. No flash (I was yelled at yet again)...well why not? It's not like they're making an extraordinary effort to preserve these bones. I kept thinking, what if I trip and knock them over? It's bound to happen to someone in these dark, stinky, damp tunnels with extremely slippery, mud floors.
Called in for yet another office meeting...luckily not Bertrand though. Just trying to rent a movie, I was asked to stay and meet with several of the ladies who work in the office. One of the women working for IES is a single mother whose engagement with a local orchestra is becoming rather complicated. I have been asked, and on the spot I have accepted, the role as the American babysitter to a five year old French girl. Her name is Alissa. In return, I will be getting two four course French meals a week...which I have already tasted and attest that these are indeed excellent meals! Although I was not thrilled about being asked or feeling as though I had to accept this request, after meeting Alissa and experiencing the dinner at Marie's, I think that this opportunity will definitely present its advantages. I was able to practice my French with Marie and Raphael on Tuesday and on Thursday, while alone with Alissa, I realized that it will be challenging, humbling, and effective to learn from a five year-old. I might even start to enjoy it, though I shudder at the idea of commitment. As babysitter, I have the duty of either singing a song or reading a story to Alissa before she goes to bed...needless to say I opted for the story. No way in hell I'll sing and damage the perfectly good eardrums of this innocent little girl. "Pick your story Alissa," I said stupidly as I waited at the stairs. Why would a mother buy a five year-old a book about pangea, techtonic plates, natural disasters, and climate change? How do you explain those concepts in English to a child, let alone in a foreign language...especially when the child cannot always understand your accent? We ended up reading about the mating patterns of wolves. Interesting evening.
Friday, my roommate and I signed up for what we had originally thought was a free lunch at a restaurant, Atelier Guy Martin. Upon arriving, we were dressed in fashionable plastic aprons and taken up two flights of stairs to a modern and pristine kitchen. We were to prepare our own lunches, learning the art of cooking and preparation from a French chef. I was glad to get the recipes before leaving, as the lunch was delicious and that much better because I had seen it through its stages of production. Though the souffle was prepared for us beforehand, but not cooked, we were able to get a quick 101 on the art of true French souffle-making. However, we did get to watch them rise in the oven and inhale the scent of freshly baked chocolaty deliciousness. I can say that I've never had any meal quite like that and the experience was definitely unique.
After finishing lunch, Katie and I returned to Pere Lachaise where we had been cut off by an angry French guard days earlier as dusk had approached. Apparently, the cemetery closes as the sun sets...but if you ever consider visiting, know that their idea of sunset is much different than ours. We were able to visit the graves of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Frederick Chopin, Haussman, and Jim Morrison (and more, obviously). Though it was relatively unexciting to simply look at gravestones, the walk down hundred year-old cobblestone streets allows sufficient time for reflection on the lives of those few famous who are buried in adorned monuments (I want a grave like theirs...but then, I don't really see the point). 70,000 dead people are buried in this cemetery and there are more gravestones set up in remembrance of victims of the Nazis as well as WWII.
Saturday, Katie and I departed for Reims (pronounced Rantz), which is located in the region of Champagne just west of Paris (yay, something lighthearted again!). Rick had such a treat in store for us...We started by trudging in the rain to the Museum of Surrender (the opposite direction from the train than the rest of town), only to find out that it was closed for "construction." We soon found out that the entire town was fond of construction and that scaffolding was the new trend in small towns outside of Paris. Great, turn around and my feet are already starting to get wet. So we walked back towards the few main streets to find the 3Brasserie restaurant that Rick recommended. We found it pretty easily and sat down at a very tiny table next to the stairs. Apparently the stairs were bad luck as pretty much every person who passed our table in a hurry to the toilet fell up the stairs. We were guilty of laughing at them. We both order the cheap (12 Euro) plat-du-jour, which was a deliciously tender steak served with dry, unsalted fries. We had an appetizer of pretzels, a side of bread, a pichet of white wine, and a small dessert tray (with expresso) all under this 12 Euro dining excursion. Excellent deal, I'd recommend it to anyone! I also enjoyed the brasserie's amber beer, brewed in a vat right across from our table.
We then proceeded, back in the rain with our shared umbrella, to the Reims Cathedral. It is somewhat reminiscent of Notre Dame, only in the fact that they are both representations of gothic architecture and both have the rose window surrounded by two bell towers. These bell towers are actually completed (unlike Notre Dame's). Humbling though it may be to walk a hundred fifty feet under stone ceilings built hundreds of years ago by machineless human hands, there is not much to say other than that I was impressed.
We waited at the line 1 bus stop to catch a ride to our champagne tour. We arrived at Martel after an unnecessary walk around the block, where we waited in an awkwardly silent lounge with several other couples. Looks like we were a date without even knowing it. Emmanuel (mentioned by Rick!) was a kind and understandable tour guide, patiently explaining the old techniques used by Martel (one of the only Champagne brands still family owned--three brothers, wonder if I can meet one?). After our forty-five minute walk through the caves, we returned to the boutique where we indulged in the tasting of three different champagnes. I enjoyed the traditional brut and Katie enjoyed the demi-sec champagne.
We then returned back to Paris on a rather short train ride, though the wait at the gare seemed to take forever (perhaps it was because we were sitting next to the glass doors that kept opening and letting in drafts...). Regardless, a successful day for me.
Sunday was slow as Katie departed for Tours where her friend Marie lives. We went to the market on Rue Daguerre and I bought fresh raviolis stuffed with vegetables. I also bought my baguette and pain au chocolat at the boulangerie. I spent most of the day having secret wars with other tenants for the washer and dryers on the first floor. Surprisingly a lot of technique and strategy had to be referred to in order to complete all of the laundry in an efficient manner.
Hopefully, next week will pass without too many bumps as classes are starting and I have to practice my run to Sorbonne so I am not later than necessary on Tuesday. Friday, Katie and I are off to London, so expect updates and many exciting stories.