jeudi 26 février 2009

Is there really a "tapisserie" in Bayeux?

Although you probably have forgotten who I am or what the hell I'm doing in Paris by now, I've decided to reintroduce myself with a recapitulation of my last few weeks, complete with biting sarcasm and juicy details.  It has been three weeks since my last blog, so I apologize if my short term memory loss affects the quality of my story-telling though I will try my hardest to recall what has been going on.  Donc:

We'll start with the week following our return to Paris, from London, which involved hours of recovery for our poor, swollen feet (and I literally mean, quite swollen).  Katie and I took two days to ourselves, and class of course, to ignore the city bustle and stay  in.  Wednesday we journeyed to the Cluny Museum, a hidden morsel next to Sorbonne that houses art and tapestries from the Middle Ages.  We were to visit the museum with the intent of discovering the differences between Occidental art and Islamic Art, though we were disappointed to find only several pieces originating in Cordou.  We did, however, enojoy the Lady and the Unicorn (which apparently has many sexual connotations and comes from an unknown origin).  Up close, one can observe stitching patterns that modern technology cannot duplicate and wallow in the wonder of the Dark Age's women who sewed this masterpiece.  The next night, we decided to go out after a three hour dinner (or so) with Laura and Chiama.  

The Auto Passion it was.  The only bar in Paris that is designed for "bikers", or their version of bikers...We sat at the bar, as it is cheapest to do so (you pay more if the waitress has to make the effort to come to YOUR table), and were officially the only women in the bar that were unchaperoned by men.  Sitting and sipping our beer (clarification:  my beer, her cider), we glanced to our left where an older man was trying to play matchmaker and get us to talk to this young gentleman, who apparently spoke English.  The young man looked like a deer caught in headlights, and we were just as repulsed by the idea that we shook our heads and said, "No thanks."  When I left for the restroom, the old man badgered Katie to talk to this poor man until the bartender had to step in and tell him to "Mind the ladies;" Actually he said to leave us alone, that quote would be more expected in a city like London.  Just as I returned, a group of older men (like, my father's age) offered to buy us drinks and we politely refused arguing that we were on our way out.  But as we put our coats on, we were offered drinks from the guys on our left at the bar, who were much younger and less creepy.  What was going on?  We couldn't get a free drink for five weeks...we've been paying ridiculous sums of money to enjoy one or two drinks in a bar, and now in one night, we're getting mauled from every angle?  Free.99...How could we resist?  Enjoying beer with two brewers from Barritz, we talked to the younger gentlemen until they took their leave, whereupon the older men reappeared and offered us champagne.  We decided to accept and be kind, smiling and crossing our legs at our ankles to maintain a sincere look at lady-esque behavior.  Of course politics came up (the infamous question of, "Did you vote?  For Obama?"), and I always, when drinking, take this as an invitation to open my mouth and not shut up for about a half hour.  I apologize to those who are ever around me when and if this happens.  After the bill of 189 Euros came and one of the men paid, we were ready to take our leave back to the Marechal.  Unfortunately, fate would not have it that we ever get the chance to enjoy a smooth escape.  I was offered a free show in New York from a man with "a lot of money," to which my answer was a laugh and a tug on the arm from Katie.  We walked very quickly to get home, finally unchaperoned.

Friday we returned  to IES to watch Casque d'Or for our film courses, a wonderful French film made in 1952 by Becker, which includes a very surprising ending.  I won't give it away, but I hope that this compels you just a little...Afterwards, we got ready for a dinner at Chez Papa with Amaresh and his friend from London, James.  Dinner was incredibly scrumptious and authentic, including a bottle of red wine, brioche with egg, cheese, and vegetables with a salad that included spices, potatos, ham, and a lite oil seasoning.  I am definitely taking my friends there when they come to visit.  Quite tight, space-wise, but that is one of the reasons for which it is authentically French.  We then visited one of my newer favorite bars, the Cluny Bar in the Quartier Latin, which included live music composed of one acoustic guitar and one electric...two Frenchmen (not bad, not bad), and a plethora of music tastes that suited my tastes and needs.  I do say, I prefer the natural sounds and eclectic talent to the incessant beats of techno that move the chair you're actually sitting on every time the bass hits.  Thanks for the introduction to the bar Amaresh.

Saturday we had a quiet day just outside of Paris proper, with Marie.  We caught up on The Office and stand-up comedy.  The rest of the weekend passed without much to note about (same old, same old).  

The following week I taught my first yoga class for IES, where I was paid 3 Euros per person to teach a one hour class, hot and over-crowded, but I cannot even explain how happy I was to finally do this.  It felt great and I slept wonderfully that night.  We also bought our train tickets to Normany this day, so my mood was good and prospects were looking quite nice.

Later in the week, Katie and I took a morning trip to the Musee d'Orsay, where we utilized our student IDs that attest that we are "Histoire d'Art" students and that means, free.99.  We toured with our date, Rick (have you heard about him yet?), who showed us the impressionist works of Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, and my favorite, Van Gogh (pronounced Van Gog in France).  We will definitely be returning here, so expect more comments.  The ballroom is hidden, lovely, and looks over the Seine.  Perhaps it would make a good location for a wedding reception in a million years (or when Hell freezes over).

Friday, Katie, Amaresh, and I departed at the crack of dawn for Normandy, a trip that I have been long awaiting.  We took a train from St.Lazare to Bayeux, a small town where we would spend one day commuting to the D-Day beaches before heading to Mont St. Michel.  In the town, we dropped our bags off at the bed and breakfast, Le Petit Matin.  It is owned by Pascal and Antoinne, the cutest of men who keep the place homey and adorable.  Our "Rose" room even had teddy bears and bedtime stories.  Walking to the bus for our excursion to Omaha beach was quite entertaining as the town seems to have some kind of fascination with this tapestry.  They have sign upon sign pointing to each other to guide you to the center of all life and creation (for these people, at least), called the Bayeux Tapisserie.  This is a tapestry that was created to tell the story of Guillaume le Conquerant to the illiterate French people who lived nearby.  It runs about 100 yards and is composed of roughly 65 scenes depicting William's invasion of England and his coronation as their king.  Well, I guess it's nice to see about once, without a school of French students learning English in front of you (answering questions in a packet about the tapestry that is LITERALLY right next door to them), but we had no such luck.  What should have taken about 20 minutes turned into an hour and twenty minutes of starring at stitches and a 1000 year old linen.  

After a turbulent bus ride to the American Memorial Museum at Omaha Beach, we toured the museum and walked through the American cemetery (which is home to over 9300 white-washed grave stones) along the side of the beach.  The weather fit the mood, somber, cool, windy, and just enough sun to make it beautiful.  It was weird, you know, to see this place that is so remote today, so calm, that displays an ambiance of tranquility, but to know that over 90,000 soldiers gave their lives for the idea of freedom not only 65 years ago.  It gives you chills to know that these men left home, unaware of what they were to encounter and to give back a country they didn't know and to a people they didn't know (and who would come later to criticize Americans for our excessive adoration of liberty).  Funny how things change.  The people in Normandy, though, remember and are friendly, extremely so, and called our soldiers "their liberators," which made me smile.  The beach was gorgeously blank, just a small beach with small tides ebbing against an endless skyline.  We walked back to the bus to return to Bayeux.  This bus ride was even more fun than the first one, with speed bumps and sharp turns taken at record speeds.  Needless to say, I was feeling unwell upon our return so we returned to Pascal's for a little R & R, but for me, a good time to lay and read.  That night we dined at l'Assiette Normande, where we indulged in traditional specialties of Normandy and arguably, the best cidre in the country. 

That night, we went out to a small pub where I was to experience my first Calvados.  Like cider, but beaucoup times more alcoholic, we received little glasses that smelled quite potent.  One sip and a small fire in my stomach started to burn (I would not be cold on the walk home tonight, I thought).  It was a good thing to try, but I will probably not order this again as they serve it warm and if I am to drink any liquor straight, I will be taking it on the rocks (which generally goes against customs here in France).  We ran into some guys we had met on our way to the beaches, American studying in Barcelona, only to bar hop (mind you, this involves one hop up the one street with the two main bars in town and all 50 people who go out on Saturday) to Pub Fiction.  As we walked in, there were tables with swings as chairs (I wanted to sit at one SO badly, but they were taken) and drinks named after famous movies.  Since this was the first bar that had pitchers, we ignored the cheap cocktails and like Americans, had massive quantities of beer.  Though we thought we could escape without paying for one of the pitchers, we were caught mid-hustle and forced to pay.  Oh well, nice try anyway.

The next day we got up for the most delightful breakfast and conversation with the men of the hour, Pascal and Antoinne.  Coffee, croissants, jams unlimited, and fresh yogurt, we talked about Obama (briefly, but we had to), Mont St. Michel, and our previous day of travel.  Afterwards, we departed for the other part of the trip that I had been long awaiting:  Mont St. Michel.

Located just off the coast of France, connected by a temporary causeway, we rode up to the small town (with only about 30 permanent residents and 400 temporary Asian tourists).  Now we finally understood why Antoinne walled this Chinatown and told us to skip right to the top.  I mean, I definitely wanted to buy the Jamaican souvenirs, Barbie toys, and Pirates of the Caribbean skulls.  To my disappointment (this is some of my well-tuned, biting sarcasm), we walked up steep staircase after another to the top of the "hill" (is that what I am supposed to call this incredible mound of dirt that has been turned into a artistic piece of history?) to find the Abbey.  Again, those damn "Histoire d'Art" cards came in handy and we got in for free to tour an Abbey that defies explanation.  It is built on the top of the island and cascades down the sides of the hill, making the inside of the church quite uniquely laid out.  My favorite part was the west terrace where we could see the English Channel, flowing water with individual rivers and shallows filled with quicksand.  We conversed over how we thought that quicksand would be a rough way to go (as in death, if you couldn't guess).  After the Abbey, we dined at a small restaurant overlooking the water and enjoyed crepes just next to the part of France that invented them.  We also tried their specialty cheeses, Pont l'Eveque and Camembert.  We then walked to the bottom and along the causeway so we could get a good view and about 50 pictures of the island in all its glory.  Another beautiful day and a trip totally worth the hassle of difficult transport.  

Last night, we hosted one of the guys from Barcelona (Tony) who has an earlier flight back from Paris to Spain than his traveling companions.  We decided to go back to this Auto Passion bar, where Katie and I had already had an "interesting" night out only to step it up with an even more interesting night.  I've found the translation (one "semi-official" translation) for the word creeper: pot de colle.  They are everywhere, so I figured it was time for me to know what to call them.  We sat near the DJ at the only table large enough for the four of us, with me facing the bar.  How lucky!  There was a man starring me down, conversing with me through the air (not the right person to flirt with me through the air, that role has already been taken by someone ELSE!), who decided to tell my male friends that I was a "fille charmante" and they should take care of me tonight.  Amaresh told him to fuck off.  We also were SO lucky as to have front row seats to a strip show.  Katie was the closest, so she definitely won big time.  A slinky blonde who probably weighed about 80 pounds and whose face looked like it was painted on, strolled around dancing for men in none other than her bra looking contraption and a sheer black skirt (that of course was showing her ass cheeks as she moved) and "hid" her black thong.  Then the chair was placed next to our table and a lucky man (who willingly volunteered!) was seated down for "his" dance.  She sat on his lap and moved up and down in a disturbing recreation of sex, put his head between her legs, and even put her hands down his pants...we laughed and avoided eye contact.  Soon though, she was talking to us and my eyes opened so wide as to indicate how surprised I was that she was conversing with us while her ass what in this guys face (and my creeper at the bar was smiling the whole time and trying to get my way buddy, I am avoiding you too).  We backed up to give her more room.  Soon though, she stood up this pathetic man and surprise! started to undress him.  We didn't know both of the them were working for money like this.  His shirt was off and his pants around his ankles...she turned his back to the crowd and pulled his underwear into a wedgy, then smeared lotion on his buttocks.  Soon her excuse for a skirt came off, then the top (to expose quite fake breasts), and there were more legs in the air, bad dance attempts, and at the finale, she took a peak down his briefs, gave him a small pout, and shook her head questioningly as if to say, "where is it?"  He just threw his hands up, palms towards the ceiling, and probably muttered, "buf!"  Just when you think things are going to be relatively normal for one day or even one night...BAM, you get slapped right in the face with blonde strippers and creepers.

What a city, what a city...

lundi 16 février 2009

The Tower of London, Katie, and Myself:

MIND THE GAP! And, wait,...Usher,...what?

Here goes: 

My roommate and I decided to take a weekend trip to London where we planned all sorts of excursions based upon the recommendations of none other than our Rick.  I feel like Katie might have said, "none other than our Rickity Rick," as she is becoming increasingly more notorious for her "expressions."  Sometimes she says something I have heard before, in the depths of my memory I can recall traces of these idioms...But sometimes, this is far from the case.  I will come home with a whole new vocabulary and pronounce "open" as "ompen."

I digress. Let's start with the night before we left.   I headed to Marie's apartment to watch Alissa, whereupon I quickly ate my dinner (which was delicious and full of vegetables that I have never heard of), and gave Alissa a Valentine's Day treat.  Five minutes later, in the middle of my intensely descriptive rendition of Valentine's tradition in the U.S., Marie returned only to inform me that her practice had been cancelled.  Great, I had spent 25 minutes walking there in the rain, and now, I get to turn right around and go back.  At least I got a free dinner (I wasn't mad or upset, just distraught).  My roommate and I packed and prepared, telephoned home, organized our plans for London, and finally went to bed.  About an hour later, we were both laying in our beds staring up at the ceiling and wondering why in God's name we couldn't sleep.  One thirty?  You're kidding...Two thiry...I'm not shitting you, I just wanted to fall asleep (we were both exhausted).  Not, how about some Sex and the City to spice up a dull, sleepless night?  Good idea Katie!  Four (or so) episodes later we dressed and headed to the Metro at 5:30 so we could catch our 7am Eurostar train.  

I got to sit with a very attractive couple who had just about the most adorable baby I've ever seen.  Ever.  I rode the train in silence, listening to my iPod and reading an amazing book (thank you Beth), The Dress Lodger.  After arriving, I decided that I love London right away.  Just after exiting the terminal we had (EXTREMELY) attractive men in black tie walk up, get down on a knee, and offer us free (free.99 remember...) white roses.  They get 100 points (if I had a logical point system, I'd explain it here.  Seeing as I don't, just consider 100 a very high reward).  Then we got free Pink Lady apples, a good snickity snack to wake us up.  You know, an apple will wake you up more than a cup of coffee.  Although I know this fact, I highly deny it due to my continuing passion and love of caffeine-rich coffee.  

We got to our hostel and decided that we were not actually in London, though we were literally in Zone 2.  It was called Journeys and was in the most remote area of London called Kennington on the Northline.  We arrived (shared a room with some French girls who were living in London and working as waitresses and the lady who cleaned the building, who had her own bed in the corner).  We doubted that she actually worked there though as the building was quite dirty (not like cockroaches and mold, just...the carpets could use a shampoo...that's all I'm saying).  She also went to bed at 6pm (sounds fun).  

Right away we headed to the London School of Economics so I could tour the campus and get information, as the offices are closed on the weekends.  I very much enjoyed this park of our trip, as I am considering this school as an option for graduate work.  I also enjoyed the Economist's Bookstore, where I bought three books for the price of two (Kelly, you would just love this store).  We then proceeded towards the center of London, to a small market called Covent Garden.  Let me say, this is like an addiction for those who are weak-willed.  Bustling with friendly people and decadent smells, we were lured into Benjamin's Cookies where we indulged in the most delicious of treats: chocolate cookies.  We sat at a small picnic table in the patio watching a man on a unicycle entertain a crowd of passerby tourists.  I mistakenly put my cookie down to take some photos and pigeons hoarded our table trying to steal my precious treat.  NO way that was happening, I would punch them all in the face before I let them steal it.  We moved on to the market shopping, where I was again stupidly enthralled to the point that I spent 75 pounds on a bracelet.  In my defense, it has a silver, Victorian Irish pendant on vintage sage-green leather.  I love it.

We then worked our way to the British Museum and then back down towards Covent Garden to go to Belgo Centrale for dinner.  In case if you are reading this and taking notes (not that I believe any of you are nerd enough to do that), please understand that I loved each and every restaurant we went to.  None were too expensive and all were authentic.  We then went to Black Friars on the Thames for a night out at a small pub (in a sidestreet) called the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.  There we engaged in conversation with two British guys and had several pints (they could hardly believe a girl could stomach a pint), but I just thought that was ridiculous.  Guy and Mike were nice enough and pretty harmless (I am pretty sure I could have beaten either of them up, if I had had a reason).  

The next day we woke up at 7 (which was an accident I will explain in a minute) and headed off to Westminster Abbey.  We beat the entire crowd as we got there SO early.  At the end of our tour, Katie walked up to me and said, "I forgot that my phone didn't change with the time instead of getting up at 8, we got up at 7."  It was actually good that we had though as we were extraordinarily efficient on Saturday.  After strolling by the Houses of Parliament and through the Abbey, we went through St. James park up to Buckingham Palace.  We were walking down Parliament Road when the guards came down the street on stallions for the changing of the guards.  I was almost run over by a stallion and I have yet to understand how I did not see it coming straight at me.  Nevertheless, we walked up to Trafalgar Square and eventually to a small "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant for our first 'fish 'n chips' meal.  I had cod as my fish and it was quite nice, and I am not usually prone to eating anything from the water.

We walked along the south side of the Thames past the Tate Museum, the Globe Theatre, and several markets set up for Valentine's Day.  Quite adorable!

Later, we saw The Taming of the Shrew after a dinner at the Wellington (near LSE).  The play was delightful and I even had wine delivered to my seat during intermission.  We enjoyed the British humor and seeing a play written by Shakespeare in its country of origin.  After the play we went to a few bars, a pint each, to experiment.  Finally we ended up at a club in Leicester Square called The Inferno.  This is where we ran into our friend, the Usher wannabe.  What a treat.  I did however get some free drinks, which does not often happen in Paris, so it was a nice change of pace.  I got one drink for attesting that I voted for Obama.  That was easy enough.  Katie and I were sitting, enjoying the Latin music and chatting over her cider (she LOVES her cider these days) and my Long Island, and all of a sudden two men approached us.  The one with the top hat and overly tight button-up shirt targeted me, and his friend Katie.  He told me he had been watching me (which is why we had temporarily left our little nook) and I wanted to just ask, "Just how creepy are you trying to be?" but I held back.  He also told me he lived nearby, and I said, "I'm sure you do."  Time to go.  We said we had to go to the bathroom, we got our coats, and escaped.  On the way home we walked again through Trafalgar Square to find a bus and en route, I had the most delicious Subway sandwich.  I think I might have told Katie about 8 times just how delicious I thought it was.  We were in bed by 4 and up again by 9.

We left so that we could get to the Tower of London (my favorite tourist event of the trip).  The history that took place here is some of my favorite and I was beyond excited to see firsthand some of the Tudor dynasty's history.  Kelly--we will go here one day and they were selling The Tudors, which I highly considered buying.  I was so proud to take my photo where Anne Boleyn had been beheaded (by a sword, which was rare for the time)...lame, but I loved it.  We also loved the Bloody Tower where you can read about the history of torture.  After several hours of sharing an audio tour and walking through every little nook and cranny, we walked across the street to Wagamama for lunch.  I loved this little noodle shop, which had unlimited free green tea with any meal!  Free.99, again.

We then proceeded to the British Library across the river.  There we went to the Reading Room to see original copies of Jane Austens' works, Mozart, Handel, Shubert, the Guttenburg Bible, the Magna Carta, and many other documents that are simply unreal.  Dinner was at the Coal Hole, which only had two other tables.  Quite lonesome on a Sunday night, but friendly staff nonetheless.  Another classic (and award winning) English pub.  

Quite exhausted after a weekend of early mornings, late nights, and lots of walking.  My feet are still swollen, but I loved each and every minute of London and I know I will go back.  For now, I am back in Paris for two weeks before heading up to North France.  

dimanche 8 février 2009

Arret! C'est ici l'Empire de la Mort!

Dead people, dead people, food, and dead people.

Although living in Paris consists of the bright lights, the ever famous "city of love" atmosphere, fast paced motor bikes, and incomprehensible yelling, I have been enjoying the daily procession of early morning walks and incredibly busy, yet unimportantly-filled days.  We have now picked our schedules and courses for the semester and had our final academic meetings.  I was pleased with my choices and I am glad to be enrolled at Sorbonne, though I will have to squeeze a forty minute metro ride into thirty minutes twice a week.  Power walking will take on a whole new meaning.

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.  

lundi 2 février 2009


Marais - Ou Habitent les Homosexuels?

More adventures have taken place since I last wrote, which was too long ago.  Trying to recount the last several days before bed last night, my roommate and I were struggling to remember what we had actually done before the weekend (not good to have memory issues so young in life)--but we were successful after much time and deliberation!

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'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.