Thursday we had no classes because of la greve (the strike), which unsuccessfully "shut down" all of the metros and other public transportation systems. According to my own survey, French people like to have excuses to get out of work. This would also include our friend Alex's famille d'acceuil (host parent) Jacques. Chez Jacques sounds pretty sweet, but we've also discovered that even the mildest of colds will cause a Frenchman to call off sick. That being said, our professors canceled our classes and moved them to Friday morning, all for naught. Uncool, IES, uncool.
Friday, Katie and I bought our train tickets for London! My first trip to England, so expect updates after Valentine's weekend. Around two, we had our friend Laura over for some lunch--traditional French lunch, of course. Three hours later, we were finishing with our crackers and jam (the new favorite snickity snack -- this is an expression I've heard Katie use more than once...). So, it was six and we decided to get around to go out.
Bad idea. Being girls, we didn't actually leave until "ten-ish" to head to Montparnasse. Here, we got in line for the Redlight--what looked like a young and happening place. The true reason we headed here was because it was going to be FREE.99 (mine and Katie's favorite expression and words to hear = gratuit/libre). It costs some of the guys with us 20 euros, then you had to check your coats and purses. Most of the people with us paid to get in, got pissed about the high prices, and left. However, Katie, Laura, and I had made several friends in line with us and so we decided to stay and hang out with some local French chicas! This club was darkly lit with red strobe lights and tables on a second level in the back. We stayed near the bar, though we had no cash to buy any drinks. After about a half hour, the club picked up and the dance floor was full of intensely dancing people. Oh boy...
After dancing for a couple of hours, I realized I had no idea where my phone was. Great Becky...way to lose your phone in a foreign country in a ridiculous club that was probably named after the Redlight District. I tried to leave (there were bouncers at the dance club entrance and the door to the building), but bouncer #1 would not let me through. I told him that I just wanted to go and I sneakily slid through his grasp to the other side of the fence. I looked back for Katie and Laura who were stuck talking to two Frenchmen that had tried to dance with us. Katie was smiling stupidly at Frenchie #1, who was intently telling her that her eyes were like the sky and that he was certainly 23 years old. "Can I take you out, clubs aren't the best place to meet people," he told her. She just smiled and shook her head: the safe bet for all Americans in any situation (I use it often in awkward circumstances). Of course, she was rejecting him and he had no idea...poor bloke.
The bouncer realized that I had made a foxlike escape (that is, sly and "ruse"), so he took my shoulders and placed me back on the other side of the gate. Back to square one. After another hoard of under-dressed females distracted bouncers #1 and #2, we slid through and up the stairs. I felt somewhat out of place in my black turtleneck and appropriately belted pants, nevertheless, we had success! I got my coat, felt my phone in the pocket, and left for Boulevard Brune. Probably not going back to Redlight any time soon.
So, on to Saturday. Katie went jogging at Marie's, so I stayed at our delightful apartment (which I now am starting to call home) to do some yoga and BUTTS AND GUTTS. Good old PSU fitness to spice up a Saturday morning. I'll be honest though, it was nice to feel sore and get a little workout in. I then proceeded to tour the Latin Quarter alone, buy sweet postcards that I ended up losing, and discover several attractive bar locations. I am more of a live band/pub kind of girl, not the French techno rave (though we all have our moments). I met up with Katie and Marie at Les Halles, an underground shopping plaza, where we made our most important discovery yet.
The Waffle Factory. I've found out the path I will take for my business career (Kelly, are you listening?). I know that with careful planning, under the table recipe exchanges, and international chef friends, we can start our very own French dessert enterprise in the States. Why hasn't someone done this before? They are SOOO good. We both got the Waffitine with nutella (a thin waffle cut in half and smothered with the delectable chocolate/nutty nutella, then put back together to form a waffle sandwich of heavenly goodness). I am actually sure that this is the best thing I have ever tasted, or it might tie with the family apple pie recipe...it's close.
We returned home to get ready for another night out, hopefully with more success than the previous attempt. Meeting up with Alex at Cite, on Ile-de-la Cite, we walked to the Latin Quarter to the first bar I had discovered earlier that day. Caveau des Oubliettes -- La Guillotine Pub -- was a cute, old-fashioned pub nestled on the corner of Rue St. Jacques that actually had a guillotine inside. Sweetness. I tried the special that night with cinnamon (not my favorite, but new for me) while Katie tried it with vanilla and Alex played it safe with beer. The atmosphere was great and I had a clear view of the large razor blade that was known for its "compassionately" quick ability to bestow death to its victims. I know that one person (Beth) understands my fascination with this invention, which I decided was a good topic for a Russian essay last Spring. Maybe one day, when I have not slept for weeks, I will be stupid enough to post the translation of this particular essay. In the meantime, Beth, you can laugh.
After a bit of chatter and rearranging my pant legs in my new boots (again, bought my first pair of real, Italian leather boots), we departed for the next experiment : The Piano Bar. Let's just say, this is my favorite place I've got out to in Paris, so far. The ambiance of the bar, combined with the talented pianist doing renditions of famous American songs, suited my tastes. The female singer at the piano's side was also not bad and was a soulful, scratchy-sounding singer (but very talented nonetheless). I enjoyed some coronas while sitting next to a table of young professionals from Iceland (speaking Icelandish) who were extremely jovial and enjoyed conversing with Americans! We "chilled" out at this bar until two and left to catch the last metro back to the 14e arrondissement.
Note on the metros...we have no idea when they actually stop running. I've heard all different assertions from French people as to the last running time, but all of them seem to be incorrect so far...I'll definitely make a mental note and a blog note when I actually discover this seemingly difficult to find truth.
We slept in the next morning until 9:30 and woke up to reserve our hostel for London. It's all very exciting for me, though boring to read about, so bear with me. I know my hostel reservation is not necessarily the most interesting aspect of my upcoming trip. Anyhow, we left right away because it was the first Sunday of the month. And that only means one thing...FREE.99. On the first Sunday of every month Paris museums and expositions offer free entry to interested folks. We made our trip to do Rick Steve's Marais walk. Again, he is quite the perfect date and up front, I'll say it flat out, he showed Katie and me a great day!
We started at the Centre Pompidou, whose clashing colors and disturbing architecture demand attention, yet while walking straight towards it, we were turning our heads exclaiming, "Alright, if by the next main road, we don't see it...let's turn around." Then we opened our eyes, looked right ahead, and laughed at our pitifulness. We enjoyed walking through the entrance without opening our wallets and stared at the blaring colors and avant-garde displays. Wondering where to start and how to locate the apparent 60,000 pieces of art, we headed for the information kiosk.
Up the tube. We went up escalier after escalier (escalator), to the sixth floor (the top floor) of the center. Other than an amazing view, this floor has little to offer. I was able to get some nice photos of the city, though one is blocked by glass, so this is a no-flash deal. We then had to take the elevators to the fourth floor, where we had a less glorious, but outdoor view of Paris. Quite nice. We entered the museum to the older section of the museum with art pieces from the 1950s through the 1990s. Some of this was stretching the definition of art, but I was able to get some fantastic pictures of some very psychedelic pieces.
To the fifth floor with more contemporary art. Dali was on this floor, so I was content. We left to head to the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial de la Shoah) where one is disturbingly reminded of the Nazi regime and how its repercussions affected French Jews during the 1940s. Quite a dreary tone to this visit, but I was able to get a photo of Hitler's phone number.
We headed to the Carnavalet Museum next -- a museum of French Revolutionary history. Again, Rick Steve's offered us a nice tour and described each room in detail in his wonderful little book. We even made friends with some Americans-turned-Brits in room 102 (La Bastille). They also loved Rick and had actually met him in Istanbul. I admit to being somewhat jealous.
This museum was a great introduction to the modern history of France (modern here is equivalent to all of America's history, other than that of Native Americans). I was impressed with the fireplaces and I would not mind moving into a house that was somewhat like this beautiful mini-palace. I would, however, want a bigger bed than the little kid hay mattresses royalty use to sleep on.
Off to Place des Vosges, a square built by the father of Louis XIII in an attempt to create a rich district in Paris. On the southeast corner, in #6, is the apartment of Victor Hugo, which we could not forego seeing. We went up to his flat and toured his place of residence where he lived when he wrote Les Miserables. Wonderfully warm and surprisingly cozy -- I was yelled at for taking photos, but I did anyway. No flash, so I'm not that horrible for ignoring Don Juan. Don Juan is the name Katie and I gave to the museum security guard in the apartment who decided it would be a good idea to talk to us for about twenty minutes. In what was a sad conversation to begin with, we managed to come to the topic of gay people in San Francisco...don't ask. Apparently, Marais is the homosexual center of Paris...according to our informant. We tried to escape asap because we knew our quality conversation was soon going to head south...and by managing to pretend interest in Hugo's portrait on the opposite wall, we accomplished this feat. Smooth.
Free at last! We walked to La Place de la Bastille -- a very unexciting obelisk that stands where the Bastille prison once stood, a place that had enraged the citizens of Paris. After finishing our date with Rick, we went to the Red Wheelbarrow, an English bookstore where we were hoping to find Rick's "Best of Europe" book. No luck, but en route, we did have luck stopping at a patisserie to buy delicious treats. I got a cookie and Katie got Pain au Chocolat et Frambroise. Both were amazing and we decided that having one treat a week was a pretty good idea anda a good method for regulating these desserts from hell (I only say that because they could really cause some problems for the weak). We are strong though...wait, are we?
So, other small happenings have been class! I have a translation class for two hours on Monday - Thursday mornings. On my walk, I get to pass very cute shops, including one that is working its way into my heart. This man loves his cat and keeps it in his sweater. Every morning we pass and he is there, smiling, and stroking his cat's head. I want to get a picture, but I don't want to be creepy. Good luck to me.
Also, Katie and I have made several mental notes as to the number of old women that buy oranges every day. It seems that lunch time there is a sudden and desperate need for citrus fruits in Paris. These old women walk in pairs of two with little bags of oranges at their sides, wearing their apparel from the 1930s. Very cute...I love it, but a little weird.
We also got our Navigo passes, a transportation pass that gives you unlimited access to all modes of getting around. We rode the tram just for fun (actually in an unsuccessful attempt to find an open grocery store, because who would have guessed, we were out of milk again). The milk here is great! I like feeling somewhat French and walking quickly through the metro lines in my fake attempt to pretend like I have somewhere important to be. I get to walk quickly, slide through the metal entrances, look pissed off at life, sit silently and broodingly in dirty metro cars...Nothing like an uplifting and optimistic start to the day.
All I can say is that I am getting better and better at escaping awkward situations...
Oh, and today, Katie and I got our second Waffitines (apple this time). They were amazing.