Au Revoir Paris!

July 6, 2010

I should be in bed, since (in theory) a taxi will be picking me up to drag me kicking and screaming to the airport in just 5.5 hours, but I couldn’t bear to just go without writing one (last?) post from my funny little Paris apartment. So welcome to a photo gallery of my last day à Paris

The Rose Bakery, where Jane and I had breakfast (I forgot to take a picture of her...and the scones)

Reason #583 that I will miss Paris...girls on scooters

Lunch with Laura, Caroline, and my French sister Ariane at PG's

Publicity shot with the man himself!

Planes over Saint Chapelle

Saint Chapelle-downstairs

Saint Chapelle-detail

One of the restored windows

Saint Chapelle's floor

The Rose Window

Relief from the balcony

This was where I ate my last Berthillon with Laura

It wouldn't be Paris without me having to deal with a 'fermature exceptionelle' at the post office when I really needed to mail all of my heavy books home...

Dessert (while one of 3 anyways) at the Florimond where Laura, Caroline and I gorged ourselves on incredible French food

My last photograph in Paris

I can’t just leave you all with no recap of my year, so if all goes according to plan, à bientôt!


The Wedding

July 5, 2010

What’s the best possible way I could have spent my last weekend here in France? At a French wedding of course!

When I met France last summer and heard about her oldest brother Alex and his financée Clarisse I never imagined I would actually be at the wedding, but last weekend that’s where I was! I was touched and incredibly lucky that France and her wonderful family invited me to spend the weekend in their home and attend the small civil ceremony (the larger religious ceremony will take place in Paris in October) at their beautiful country home.

Things started out a little bit hectic on Saturday morning, since the planned afternoon in the garden was put on hold because of torrential downpours! Despite the rain and the stress we made it to the ceremony at the Mayor’s office at 11 AM, and after we walked to the hall belonging to the Mayor’s office which Gaspard rented out just two hours before the wedding started (!).  We ate everything that wasn’t dessert (we’d left the desserts at home in case the weather cleared up later) and I had a nice time talking to France, Loïc, Gaspard, and many of their friends.

The weather cleared up, and then the fun started! Gaspard and some friends set up the tents and brought out the flowers before we all arrived, and Clarisse’s friend Stephanie brought out all of the to-die-for pastries she’d been working on all weekend for the dessert table-made with fruit from the France’s family’s own garden of course!

We had the best afternoon. The flowers were gorgeous, the dessert was incredible, the boys looked so handsome in their uniforms, Clarisse looked just beautiful, and everyone went out of their way to be nice to me, ‘l’Americaine’!

Afternoon activities included eating lots of sugar, drinking champagne, attempting to ride a unicycle, lounging on blankets, playing badminton and croquet, and talking talking talking in French, which was great for me!

That evening the party continued with a sausage barbecue, rugby, cherries, Johnny Cash sung by Alex’s friend Benjamin, and later that night hours of hysterical laughter during karaoke  on the patio-featuring French songs from the 70’s and 80’s performed by loud unruly groups of guests!

It was so much fun, so much French, and the perfect night! I even managed to get take a candid picture of the siblings (Alex, France and Gaspard) all together…

Sunday France and I slept late, but when we woke up we were very active! A group of us went for a walk through the forest, and then France and I played badminton while we waited for lunch. As soon as lunch was over I went with France to the stables where she keeps her horse, and I even rode for the first time in at least 5 years!

After riding we met up with Clarisse, Alex, Gaspard, Loïc and the rest of the group for a lazy afternoon by the river. We didn’t have swimsuits and it wasn’t deep enough to swim but we just waded around and relaxed on blankets in the grass. I did get a little sunburned on my arms though.

That night we had another wonderful meal outside under one of the tents, and Loïc and I stole a few bags of the delicious cherries in France’s backyard to take back to Paris. We ended up eating half of them on the train because they were too good to resist. France’s family was so sweet and welcoming, they were wonderful to me, even giving me presents as I left! Christine also sent me home with the typical wedding favor-candy coated almonds all wrapped up with little tags saying ‘Alex and Clarisse’.

The weekend was better than I even hoped, and I was glad to eat lots of French delicacies (escargot and Camembert…nobody believed that I was American after they saw me willingly eating snails and stinky cheese!) and of course it was wonderful to have one last opportunity to speak almost exclusively French.

And as hard as it is packing and preparing to go home, I think deep down I’m ready to be back in the States. The French countryside sure is beautiful though…

A bientôt!

Fête de la Musique

June 26, 2010

Parisians welcome the first day of summer by creating a huge citywide music festival. This idea is so cool and has been so successful that it’s now the the norm in many other European cities, which isn’t surprising. Planned performances, DJ’s, African drumming parades, and impromptu street performer performances make the city hum, pound, and vibrate around (in certain places) every corner.

We were unfortunately still suffering from an unusual cold streak, which meant that there were fewer performers than usual and we were dressed in multiple layers, long pants, and thick scarves, but we still went out to see what we could find. As you can see from the pictures, Laura and I started out by joining Caroline near the Louvre. At first we didn’t hear much music, but the light was perfect for photographs, so Laura and I got sidetracked. But it was worth it!

In the distance we could hear music, and as we walked in that direction we realized it was a DJ playing for a party on the lawn of the Louvre. There were young people everywhere, sitting on blankets or running through shrubbery maze, listening to current and past American hits.

After arriving at the Pyramid we found Caroline, who showed us through the glass a classical concert taking place! We couldn’t go inside, because there were too many people, but with our ears pressed against the pyramid we could just make out faint musical sounds.

We gave up on the Louvre after that and headed towards Châtelet, and that’s when we heard a lot more music! The fête was really going on the rooftop of the Châtelet theater, but the party looked exclusive, so we wandered down side streets, stopping when we discovered a booth selling the fuel of any late night adventure in Paris: The Haribo Stand.

After selecting our favorite candies (peach hearts are the best, but for sheer entertainment the Smurfs are a must) we continued to wander. We were passed by a parade of African drummers dressed all in white. We saw bars packed with people listening to performances inside, and we discovered a small drum circle complete with dancing French hippies.

It was after this that we ran into the most entertaining performance of the night. A band was playing American songs while French people danced Le Rock in the street-some of them smoking and some of them barefoot. Only in France do those activities while swing dancing seem normal. We were in for a treat though when the band started playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Billy Jean’ -and it sounded like French Muppets with colds. We couldn’t stop laughing, because they didn’t know the words, they only knew approximate sounds, but the vocals were clearly out of range and the result was horrendous enough that we wondered if it was a joke. But when the song kept going, and the French people kept dancing, we realized that nobody besides us knew how awful it was, so we decided once again to move on.

At this point Laura and I were tired, and as we walked to the metro we were fortunate enough to come across a young singer-song writer who could actually sing, even in English (unlike the ‘Billy Jean’ killers). It wasn’t that late when we finally got home, and Caroline headed out to find a Jazz Bar, but I decided that one real Nuit Blanche was enough for the year. Plus, it doesn’t feel much like summer when you’re wishing you had gloves!

Luckily the heat of summer has descended on the city full-force, and I need to go enjoy it!

A bientôt!

The 2010 Falafel-Off

June 20, 2010

My Parisian professor wasn’t kidding when he said that summer in Paris only lasts for three days. The weather has been downright cold, and I haven’t been in the presence of so much rain and clouds and so little sun since my trip to Ireland 8 years ago. But in spite of the cold I spent most of today outdoors with food and friends, which really wasn’t that bad…

Today was the event that we created and named the ‘Falafel-Off’. It is generally accepted that the very best falafel sandwich in Paris belongs to L’As Du Falafel in the Marais district. But a few weeks ago when L’As happened to be closed I tried another place, and I thought that it might be better. So we decided to do a taste test, and after gathering Laura, Nick, Caroline, and Jane (who I haven’t seen since first semester, but who is back in Paris for the summer!) we headed to the Marais to put three different places to the test.

The Marais is one of those neighborhoods that everyone loves, but it’s pretty great, so how can you not enjoy it? First of all, many of the shops are open on Sundays, which means that it is actually lively and interesting on the notorious day of the week when normal French people refuse to work. But other than that it has lots of little cobblestone streets, cute thrift stores, small independent art galeries (including Art’et Miss, where I worked!) delicious Jewish bakeries, and of course falafel! Top this off with all of the cool people walking around in artsy and interesting clothing and you have somewhere that tourists and locals alike just love.

But what about that falafel? While all five of us love to cook almost as much as we love to eat, none of us are falafel experts. But here are the players and our humble opinions…

L’As is the KING of falafel, the line stretches far far far down the street, and tourists bravely seek it out with frightening tenacity-“LOOK! THEY HAVE ONE! WE MUST BE GETTING CLOSE!”. If I hadn’t at least thought the exact same thing to myself before I could laugh at them, but when you read about L’As in every Paris Guide and on every Paris Food Blog, how can you not treat it like finding buried treasure?

The Sandwich: Pita, sliced veggies, warm falafel, and a creamy sauce topped off with a ‘sauce piquant’ that spice loving Caroline couldn’t refuse…it’s messy, cheap, prepared at lightning speed, and it is so delicious!

Located just across from L’As, I always looked at Mi-Va-Mi with skepticism, but I should have paid attention. After all, they have remained in business despite L’As’s world renowned name and widespread fame, and that line can’t just be overflow from L’As can it?

The Sandwich: I admit, when I first saw the fries I thought Jane had accidentally bought a Donor Kebob instead. But then I tried one, and it was delicious! The basic ingredients are the same as the L’As, but the MVM sauce was like a sweet and spicy salsa that was drastically different from L’As, but in a good way.

Chez Hannah is where I had my first “this might be better than L’As” falafel. Located just down the street from L’As, I like the red exterior-a nice contrast with the green of the other two. While the line to sit inside and out of the rain was long, the take-out line was short. Was it a bad sign?

The Sandwich: What had won me over at Hanna the first time was the hot slices of eggplant skewered on top of every falafel. It also contains a good amount of hummus, which was a nice touch. But after the creamy rich L’As sauce and the sweet MVM salsa, I found that the Hanna sauce was downright bland.

The verdict? Laura and Nick are still die-hard L’As fans, but Jane, Caroline and I thought that the salsa at MVM was just too good to pass up. As for Hanna? We agreed that the actual falafel was good, but the 3 hot slices of juicy eggplant can’t make up for a whole sandwich just begging for a better sauce. That eggplant was pretty great though…

Fortunately nobody needed sauce at our dessert location-Berthillon tastes good no matter the flavor or the weather. However, I do think it tastes slightly better when eaten au bord de la Seine with friends while waving to tourists on their Bateaux Mouches!

As for the Berthillon verdict? You already know my feelings there; all I need to say is Caramel au Beurre Salé.

A bientôt!

Today was one of those “oh my goodness I live in Paris” days.

Mental Picture # 1: I was walking home from class to the metro with sunflowers in one hand and a red box of pastries in the other, with a baguette tucked under one arm. While wearing heels and a pencil skirt, of course.

Is there anywhere else on the planet where that would seem normal? I don’t think so, and therefore I just fell in love with Paris. Again.

Reality did set in. People kept bumping into me which kept almost breaking my precious loaf (‘multi-grain has just about every seed and grain you can think of baked onto the outside…it’s to die for) and the metro was too crowded for me with my baguette, box, and unwieldy bouquet which I kept trying to shift so the wet stems wouldn’t drip on my feet…and then I remembered that I lived in a 5th floor walk-up, and I had to keep my heels on since I had completely full hands, and then it struck me how warm I was in my wool sweater…but at that point it was too late, so despite bobby-pins falling out of my hair leaving my view partially obstructed, and restricted leg movement due to the aforementioned pencil skirt, I finally made it upstairs completely disheveled and worn out from the hike-did I mention that they count floors differently here in Paris and that in the States we’d refer to my level as the 6th? Oh, and of course this was the one and only time I’ve ever run into a neighbor. I was probably quite a sight so it’s good that someone was able to laugh at it!

However, I set everything down, threw open the french doors to the balcony, and once again marveled that I brought home something as lovely as all this.

And when the heels came off, the flowers were in a vase, and I was tearing into some of that precious baguette smeared with my favorite sea-salt crystal butter and real Paris honey I knew that everything was worth it.

This morning I spent a good hour reading my personally signed copy of David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life In Paris (another perk of living here) and I couldn’t stop laughing as he described all the paradoxes, dangers, and absurdities of life in Paris. Lebovitz’s description of his now home in “the world’s most glorious and perplexing city” is so so true. There are so many aspects of my life here that are just ridiculous, but in the end good bread, good butter, some flowers and a balcony are too much to be glad about.

I feel a little disconnected from the students in the summer program if I’m going to be honest. They’re nice, especially to me (the weird one out) and they’re really making amazing efforts to speak French and absorb as much of the French culture as they can in this one short month. However, I feel like my life here is so different from theirs. Most things aren’t new to me, they’re familiar. I’m on my own with Laura and with both of us paying rent, cooking, and working during the day it feels like I’m a little bit less under SBC’s wing. But it’s a good thing. I was ready. I needed my 9 months with my host family, and I miss them all a lot actually, though I think that now Corinne needs them more. I want her to enjoy them and learn from them just like I did-I’m ready to play at being a ‘real’ Parisian now.

Which is why I buy baguettes every day. Today I also splurged and got dessert, and I wasn’t even upset a little bit when the lady at the bakery claimed she’d heard me say two tarts instead of the one I am certain I ordered-something I didn’t figure out until everything was boxed up and the money was handed over. But because I only have a few short weeks to be eating apricot tarts and real Paris baguettes anyways, I just laughed and took my change. And the sunflowers…why not? They remind me of Van Gogh.

I know that this sounds nostalgic, and everything probably will for the rest of this blog. And how can it not? I am preparing to end my Junior year love affair with the world’s most wonderful city. So I better enjoy our last few weeks together!

A bientôt!

…And We Go Out!

June 13, 2010

I meant to write part 2 last night but I got distracted, so here it is today instead!

Paris on a Friday night in mid-June is just wonderful. After seeing a performance of the Cantatrice Chauve (French Absurdist theater) with SBC, I met up with Laura and Caroline for a picnic in front of the Tour Eiffel. The sun was just starting to set at 10 p.m, and the light and clouds were so incredible that we spent most of dinner photographing everything around us.

I know that I’ll be glad to go home and see everyone in July, but when you’re enjoying a French picnic between the absolutely golden Tour Eiffel and Ecole Militaire, it’s hard to think about being happy anywhere else. Paris is my own sort of personal paradise.

It was the first match of the World Cup of Soccer for France, and we’d thought that there was a big projection screen on the Champs de Mars to watch it, but it turned out that the screen was just there, and all of the people were attracted not by the game, but by the late-evening sunshine and the open lawn that we are (shockingly) really allowed to sit on. I was at first a little disappointed to miss the game, but it ended up being a 0-0 tie anyways, so I’ll just wait for the next one!

After a bit Ariane and Côme showed up with my ‘replacement’ Corinne, a really nice girl here for SBC’s summer program. They also brought along some of Côme’s friends, and everyone enjoyed themselves. We were speaking a mix of French and English, but the wine was only French of course! I enjoyed spending time with my “sister” and “brother”, who I really miss now that I’ve moved out. I can’t complain though, since living with Laura has been absolutely great! We get along really well, and she and Caroline really enjoyed spending time with my “family” and their friends.

Caroline and Laura leaning in for a picture!

It wasn’t a late night, since it started raining at 12 and we were all pretty tired from our day, but it was one of the best relaxed evenings out I’ve had in a long time.

Life since then has been busy though with hand washing laundry and working furiously on my research, but I’m hoping for another picnic soon. I have to make the best of these last 3 weeks!

A bientôt!

Amadi Goes Home…

June 12, 2010

This is going to be a two-part post. I have been so busy with class and research that I’ve had nothing but that to write about all week (well, Deborah surprise visited me briefly on Thursday but I forgot to take pictures). And as fascinating as I find it, I know that most of you are probably completely uninterested in 19th century women artists from various genres working in Paris and their respective appeal, success, and connections to the United States.

So I had a ‘goodbye Amadi breakfast’ at my house in order to have something real to write about. Oh, and she’s also been an amazing friend and huge part of my junior year abroad, so she deserves it.

Caroline made freshly squeezed orange juice, I made something vaguely resembling fried eggs (our stove takes literally 40 minutes to boil noodles. Honestly 40 minutes.) and Amadi took a lot of pictures and helped with all sorts of random things. It was delicious, but the company was the best part!

We capped off the morning with a group viewing of GaGa’s new video, and then a wikipedia search to try and understand what on earth she was trying to ‘say’…we’re still confused, but it was good to have our last GaGa moment together here in Paris.

I feel like this is the true end of an era. Amadi has been here all year, and she’s been such an important part of this trip. Her sense of humor was essential at every get-together, her picture antics are legendary, and her love of Breakfast In America was truly remarkable! She’s also a die-hard New Yorker, so while we will be spending most of next year far apart, I have a great reason to visit NYC, and judging by my research it might  even be academically necessary. I can’t wait!

But even without one of my favorite people by my side, life (and my day) goes on. After a huge good-bye Amadi hug I noticed this artist drawing on the sidewalk. I snapped a photo, but it wasn’t until I looked at it hours later that I realized he’d been looking straight at me! Next time I better give him some money first I think.

My day continued but not at all in the way I’d planned. I stopped by the Centre Pompidou library in the hopes of doing research only to realize it was going to be closed for another hour. Instead of waiting and wasting research time I went to another smaller library a half hour away. Only to learn that it wasn’t going to open for another hour and a half! So I went to the Musée d’Orsay and looked for paintings by my artists before going through the book store and writing down names of books that I’ll research later. I did the same thing at the Louvre bookstore, since I mistakenly arrived 2 hours before class, but it was worth it! Paris was miraculously bathed in sunshine almost all day and the light was great for pictures!

I’m particularly fond of the reflections of light from the pyramid on the old Louvre building…

But I am also particularly fond of just about everything in Paris. Especially Parisian nights, but I’ll explain that in the next post…

A toute suite!

Summer in Full Swing

June 6, 2010

Last night I had a small ‘pendaison de crémaillère’ or house warming at the new apartment. It was a mix of Americans and French, ‘family’ and new friends, and all in all it was a good night. The weather was perfect, the breezy balcony was a hit, and all the clean-up today was definitely worth it!

My apartment-mate Laura arrived today from the U.S, I started working on my Summer Honor’s Research, and tomorrow I have orientation and a welcome pic-nic for SBC’s summer program. It’s great knowing that I have new friends for the summer, though it is sad to see my year-long friends go home.

All of this combined with hot weather and long days (it’s 10:15 and it’s still light out!) makes it feel like my Parisian summer has really begun! Yesterday’s trip to the Paris flea market where Colbert, Caroline, Alex, Amadi and I had to stop and sip limonade and diabolo menthes to escape the heat helped was such a ‘welcome to summer in your favorite city’ thing to do. And luckily the lazy lunch helped to give us all energy to burn later that night when we tried a little bit of French/American swing dancing in what is now Laura’s bedroom…

Spontaneous cross-cultural swing dancing in my tiny Parisian apartment? My friends are the coolest people ever. Vraiment.

A bientôt!

Bienvenüe Chez Moi

June 3, 2010

Welcome to the new apartment!

Breakfast this morning with finally seasonally appropriate warm weather was not so bad! The apartment is tiny, but I think it’s just about perfect for summer. There is no living or dining room, but the little table in my bedroom has proven to work out just fine!

My summer roommate, Laura, hasn’t moved in yet, so Caroline has been keeping me company for dinner so far, and last night Amadi stopped by too! It is nice having friends right in the neighborhood, and it’s been lively so far, which makes me happy. It will be great when Laura moves in though, since I’ll have someone there for breakfast as well!

The balcony is by far my favorite part of the apartment. It’s nice having extra space for eating and once it warms up for real, possible sun bathing! The church you see is also beautiful, but the construction going on is not the greatest thing to wake up to. It sounds like a little kid just smashing away with the world’s biggest hammer! The good news is that I think I’m already adjusting to the noise level.

The best part about moving was arranging everything in a new space. It wasn’t easy, but my shelved ‘closet’ is working out great as a bookshelf/teacup display/ shoe rack. Living in small spaces is a great exercise in creativity…

As is cooking in my little baby kitchen! No oven, no room for more than one person MAX, and no electricity if you get water from the sink on one of the burners either. But it’s functional. I made something vaguely resembling crêpes last night, and it was catastrophe free, so that’s a success!

I think this is going well so far. No internet yet, but that will happen later, and until then I can at least use Sweet Briar’s internet in the office. Though I miss my 5 minute walk there, which has been replaced by 30 minutes of bus, or walking/metro.

I do like getting to know a new neighborhood, and this apartment is really close to my babysitting job, which has been useful for the past two days!

All in all, I’m happy.

But I’m also hungry and in need of lunch, so a bientôt!

This is a final look at my room containing all 9 months of its belongings. I took my stuff over to the new apartment today, and while the couple I’m renting from are absolutely wonderful, and so welcoming, I am still heartbroken that I am leaving my ‘real’ French family for the last time tomorrow morning.

In the kitchen today joking and laughing with Ariane and Côme, it hit me: I’m never again going to be able to call this apartment my home. It’s not that they’re kicking me out or abandoning me-I’m still planning on seeing them semi-frequently and my host mom has invited me to spend more weekends at the country home this summer. But I’m forever after going to be a guest and not a resident in this home. I got teary multiple times today, and this is just because of moving out; I’m not even leaving Paris yet!

There are just lots of little things that I’ll miss. My nightly after dinner talks with my host mom, Tiburce’s insistence on pushing me and my kitchen chair all the way into the table when he needs to walk past to get something from the fridge, Côme’s French hip-hop dinners, and Théophane and I’s late night or afternoon Nutella snack breaks…and what’s Ariane supposed to to when she needs to borrow my black heels (and who else in France could make me laugh as hard as she does?)

It’s a good thing that I’m moving out first before heading home to the States. I’ll have a month to get used to not seeing them every day. No more texts from all of them saying “a table” when dinner’s ready. No more taps on my door from Madame with clean laundry, Ariane asking about an outfit, Côme wanting help with English homework, Tiburce needing something from the storage closet in my room, or Théophane coming to say goodbye before running back to boarding school.

Ultimately, I am so happy that leaving them is this hard. It’s exactly what I wanted from my host family. I wanted a real family, and that’s what I have. They are so different from my expectations, and so much better! Thoughts of coming back to Paris to visit are already forming, and they’ve been so good to me that I know every time I do come back they’ll be happy to see me, each in their own different ways. I had the host family experience that every kid wants, and now it’s time to move out into the big, beautiful city to try living more on my own in the 8th. But I know that if I need it, I have a soft place in the 6th to fall!

Adieu from the l’ancien apartment, but à bientôt from le nouvel!