Monday, November 16, 2009

Paris 7 and les Benoist-Lucy

Well, hello, there!

Here are some pictures from a typical Monday in Paris, including what seem to be the first host family pictures on this blog (they don't all wear berets and striped shirts!)

A little bit of Paris 7 Didérot, my Parisian university. Well, some things inside the library that were interesting. I was supposedly studying this afternoon (shhhhh!).

These stairs are SO bizarre. I can't figure out what their deal is! There are like two intertwined, but they both seem to go to all the floors... I don't understand.

Here's another picture, for clarification. (If it's possible). Maybe it has something to do with it being a converted flour factory?

I don't know where they come up with this ad campaign, but it is SO WEIRD to see in France! I mean, do they really understand the iconography of this image? Or is it just cool and trendy because it's American/English?

And a few pictures of my host family, that my REAL family has been after me for months to take and email around. We had mussels tonight, with potato chips! Actually tasty and kinda classy, not trashy. The chips absorb the crème very nicely.

Philippe and Agathe!

Me on the left, Guilhem in the middle, and Philippe again.

Oh, Guilhem.

 All done!

Dessert. France is classy like that.

This was his reaction after his mother said he had three girlfriends at once, and his sister said that since his 26-year-old brother Aurelien's married (and his wife is pregnant), he's going to be the next one.

And finally, Rimbaud!

Hope this gave y'all a bit of insight into what dinner with a host family (and fake studying) is like!

À bientôt,

My Portrait Of Paris

If I could take a snap shot of Paris, I would not be able to capture just one image. And by snap shot, I mean an image that would describe the Paris that I see through my eyes, the city of light, of love, the place that never fails to inspire me each day that I am here. Paris is life, Paris is love. I do not exaggerate. There is never a day that finishes, where I do not feel that illuminated joy in the bottom of my soul that says, "I'm glad I am here." And at the start of each new morning, as the coffee brews in it's tiny-espresso cup form in the kitchen by my room, I smile and say to myself, "hmm, I wonder where I'll go today...."

I have begun, so I think, a sort of love affair with the city. I have left it three times while I've been here to go on trips to foreign cities or neighboring towns. And each day when my bus or train pulls me back through the royal gates, I think, "how I am happy to be home".

The realization that I love Paris set upon me last night as I listened for the hundreth time to the rumble of the metro four floors and some odd feet beneath the ground. And I mused upon the events of the evening. I thought of dressing in my Parisien-friendly heels to go meet our school's President for tea. I thought of the classiness of our afternoon-meeting with her and the fact that we were following a Smith-tradition by having tea, but tea in Paris with the President is different than tea in Northampton on a Friday. There were platters of the oh-so-good madeleines and dew-drop fruit candies served in wrappers. There was tea seeped through a strain and the ambiance of the Parisien dusk. The air was not too cold and the wind outside was friendly. And we chatted and mused on the wonders of our Parisien lives here and we came together as a group in Paris with such ease that an outsider would have thought we had been here for longer than three months. That is because so long as we have been is Paris, it has become a part of us just as we have become a part of it.

I love Alex's reflections on what it means to truly be here, not as a tourist, but as a habitant, an intellecutual muse, a young woman with the world at her fingertips. I agree that it is the small things that count, the things that are mundane, even. I love taking my metro line 5 to my metro line 7 to Reid Hall and watching the passengers as they talk and read, and listening to the children who talk excitedly with their parents about things they have done and places they'll go. I have begun to become a Parisien because I love to people-watch. And I love to every Tuesday and Thursday go to my favorite Boulangerie Eric Kaiser a block from Reid Hall and recieve my demi-monge baguette, warm in the inside and crispy around the edges, and think, I love to eat this bread and be in Paris doing it. And on the way back to Reid Hall between my classes, I love to dodge the path of several pigeons whilst a small dog takes its Madame for a walk on her way to tea with a copine. And these small peices of Paris, the pigeons, the dogs and their pea-coat wearing owners, all these things bring me joy.

Pars, je t'aime. I've said it once and I'll say it again and I won't stop saying it, not even after I leave. I love the way I can lift my head from my reading and follow the last strains of light out of my apartment down the worn rues to work my way towards the sound of the five-o'clock bells that ring from the towers of Notre Dame just ten minutes outside of my appartement. And once I get there, I won't go into the majestic Cathedrale, but I'll stand outside and marvel at the beauty of this place, and by this place I don't mean just the cathedral, cloaked in shadows and light in some spots, but the trees around it that stand above the rues and next to the winding Seine. I mean the petit Cafés with their crèpe stations and nutella bars, next to the boutiques with their antiques and patterned cards, past the musiciens who smile even when they haven't earned a sou. There are simply so many images I could use to describe Paris, Paris at 5 o'clock, Paris at night, Paris at dawn, Paris at mid-day, Paris whenever. I have found myself by degree more and more attiré by these images which describe Paris and these images that are like the brushstrokes of a Manet painting: not one of them can stand alone, but each of them are necessary to create the whole image of a portrait so wonderful, and so original, the world open's its eyes to observe.

But by bit, I am beginning to find myself here, and I am beginning to paint a portrait of my life as I would have never imagined it, were I not here. And more than anything, I have the people to thank for bringing me to this realization because it is them, with their openness and their charm, with their social grace, their reverence for antiquity and their hope for the future, who have led me to this spot of recognition with myself. I thank the people and their monuments and the work they have done to welcome Americans like myself by leaving the doors to their city open for the curious and leaving their wet-paint brushes out for the artists who are ready to paint.

This is what I have to say on a Monday afternoon as the last light of day fades and those Cathedrale bells begin to ring once more.

May each and every one of us who are here excite in the ringing of the bells! And may each of use never fail to paint our own portraits out of some or of all that this glorious city has to offer!

What is your Portrait of Paris?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


AHHHH! why is this blog so confusing for me! i don't know how to write on it, but maybe this will show up. I don't really like the idea of blogging (which is why i'm so late in writing something) because I feel like most the stuff i'd blog about is personal; but i guess it's a way to remember things and remember this year.
One idea that i'll contribute to JYA Smithies: i think it really is good to make french friends. Just from hanging out with the few friends i have a Diderot, if i go to a party or a cafe and even just listen to them (although talking is good too) i can tell my french has improved. And because it helps your understanding of french culture, it just makes it easier to live in Paris.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

in september, i saw l'orchestre de paris perform gustav mahler's symphony no. 3. at about an hour and a half, it is regarded as the longest symphony in the standard orchestra repertoire. the concert took place at la salle pleyel, ligne 2, metro ternes. smith's orchestra played mahler's 3rd at the end of last semester, so i was excited to hear it and indulge in a bit of nostalgia. naturally, as much as i love performing and being surrounded by the sound, it is wonderful to simply sit back and enjoy the music without having to worry about missing an entrance or botching up a difficult passage. (though at times i did find myself becoming nervous when i knew something particularly tricky was coming up.) during the pause after the first movement, i was amused to discover that the seemingly contagious, group release of suppressed coughs is not just an american phenomenon. (i also couldn't help but wonder if anyone was dispersing little bits of swine flu virus throughout the hall...) the completion of the finale was met with enthusiastic applause and shouts of "bravo!" (but no whistling, which is considered rude, as madame miquel informed us.) i lost track of the number of encores which were signaled by a continuous, rhythmic clapping from the audience.

i sat in a row of single chairs in the balcony, giving me a lovely view of the performers, but a very limited view of my fellow concert-goers. it was pretty isolating. when i'm not inside of the orchestra, i enjoy the simultaneously private and shared experience of being part of the audience. interestingly, la salle pleyel also offers seating behind the stage which allows the audience to face the conductor.

the different ways in which i've experienced this music made me think about how i will experience my time à paris. i hope that while immersed in my everyday life i will be able to remove myself enough to have a sense of perspective, understanding the implications of a year in a foreign country and making the most of it. granted, i didn't really need mahler to remind me of that. i've sort of been freaking out about it on a daily basis since i got here. as has, probably, every other junior abroad. so, bonne chance, everyone. and let me know how it goes.

musings on the metro system

Yesterday, I saw a spray-painted metro train. The whole thing, spray painted, outside, inside. Whoever did it is my hero. It was on the 6 line. The colors were vibrant, neon. My camera had just ran out of batteries, and I cursed myself. I either felt happy or about to have an epilepsy attack. The mood inside that car was optimistic. Once I got off, however, the rain touched my face again.

Almost every time I get on the 9th, I lose at least 1 euro to an accordion player. They tug at my heartstrings when they play "La Cumparsita" or Piazzolla (which, you know, kuddos for achieving that).

I live far from everything. I must take the metro/rer everywhere. There is only one bus that goes by my house, which takes me to Odeon. The metro is a big part of my parisian life. I have a love/hate relationship with the metro. They should really start running lines over the night, at least on the weekends. The noctilien is really not recommendable. Strange faces live there.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Soup for the Soul

I want to be more than just a tourist here, I want to be more than just a tourist here.

Almost every time I am out, walking around Paris, I think this to myself. I think this while I'm out with my friends speaking English (sorry, Rob) when I go to the same places that I always go to for lunch...It has become my little mantra to remind me that I am here for a year, and don't want to be like every other americaine here.

So, in efforts to evade this, I am going to start volunteering at a Soup Kitchen, or a Soupe Populaire as a means to ground myself here. I'm excited to be a part of the city that no tourist will ever see, and really do something for the community here.

...wish me luck!

No longer a tourist

During my first month in Paris, I felt guilty every time I forgot to bring my camera somewhere, every time I stayed home with my host family rather than going out, every time I spent an hour doing homework rather than exploring a museum… I was constantly chastising myself, saying, “You’re in Paris! Make the most of every single moment you have here!” But after over a month of trying to pack “the most” into every second of every day (and being upset with myself when I felt like I didn’t succeed in doing so), I realized that I hadn't really made any progress in my quest to get to know the city.

I realized that the point of being abroad isn’t to visit every quartier, every monument, every bar within the first month just to be able to check them off my list and prove to myself that I’m taking advantage of my life in Paris. The most valuable experiences for me so far have been the 4-hour Sunday lunches with my host family, the afternoons spent in cafés reading my course material, the strolls through my neighborhood with my host dog… I’ve realized that every time I do something that some would consider mundane, or, if nothing else, simply ordinary, I feel much more connected to my life in Paris than I do when I snap a photo of the Sacre Coeur or the Obelisk. Paris is truly starting to feel like home to me, and that is not thanks to the number of monuments that I’ve visited.

My parents are visiting me this week, and my mom immediately wanted to know what museums to visit, what sites to see, where to get the best view of the Eiffel Tower. I let her consult any guidebook or tourism brochure to find all of the above, and instead I told her where to find the best crêpe in Paris, which movie theater has half-price admission on Tuesdays, the best day to visit my favorite open-air marché, where to find the best selection of used books, which restaurant has a breath-taking mural on the ceiling, and which contemporary art museums always have free admission. I’m finally starting to get to know Paris in the same way that I know Northampton or my hometown of Keene.

To me, “taking advantage” of living in Paris doesn’t involve visiting the Eiffel Tower every day—I’ve felt most connected to the city and the people in it when I simply allow myself to live life here, without the pressure of a list of “Paris must-sees” that disconnect me from my real life in Paris and make me feel like a tourist.

Friday, October 30, 2009


I've never lived in a city before. Even though I am reassured that Paris is a safe place by lots of people, I get the shivers when I walk home alone at night sometimes, even if my neighborhood is probably among the safest in Paris. Maybe I'm paranoid, but in my experience, better to be paranoid than to be naive. So my advice for walking around Paris after midnight, don't gawk at people, wear something that doesn't bear all, be around people you know, and speak french! Every time I've been approached negatively it's because I'm speaking English. Just use your judgement. Don't go home with that cute guy or girl at the bar the first time you meet him or her. Don't talk back to someone who is harassing you. And don't drink so much you don't even know what arrondissement you are in. I don't want to chide you all, I just want to give some advice.

I have no limits in Paris. I can go out whenever I want, I can be with whoever I want. Its not Smith though. You can walk back home through downtown noho at 3 in the morning and you might see one person, and they will say goodnight nicely. In Paris, you walk home at 3 in the morning and you have men walking next to you trying to get you to sleep with them or calling you une sale pute. Being abroad is fabulous, but don't forget the things that could happen if you let yourself go too much! Think of the repercussions, we are women in a city we can't control...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sophie, could you hand me the knife? Wine and jokes about the apple bread with ham. And oranges. Did you guys see that movie? The White Ribbon? Oh lord, don't see it. The violence was inexcusable. I finished my sculpture! and Really, Sophie, just take your time over there. Podcasts and Brushes on the metro, staring at a woman in white dreads. Men in superhero masks in the hazy 9 degrees Celsius. Scaling stairs of the kilometer-long Bibliothèque Nationale mountain, between the book-tours and the city-light-shimmering river. The stairs make lines toward the horizon. I didn't forget my keys again, thank god, and the cat tears toward the kitchen and the food bowl when the door clicks. Hi, Virgule, it's nice to be home.

Home. That was Paris tonight. Rob asked us to write again, now that chapter one, "the Romance of Jet Lag," is over. But the city just felt foreign during the first phase. To run past the Venus de Milo (and the millions of tourists) in the Louve because I know I can see it later, to successfully make appointments in French over the telephone, to laugh at the jokes in my sculpture class, to realize there are many more beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe than Notre Dame de Paris, to know people, to be fast in the metro and get asked directions — that's way more romantic than snapping a picture of the Eiffel Tour.

I have a life here. A life in a beautiful city. A city named Paris.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little more than a month after arriving in Paris, I hopped on the 2h15 Eurostar train to London, where I spent a long weekend exploring and visiting with some family. Two days after getting back, I headed back to the train station, this time for an almost 14 hour night train ride to Berlin.

For me, these travels were the first time I had truly traveled alone – all by myself on the way there and back, figuring out where I was staying all by myself, where and how I was going to feed myself, what I was going to see, etc. I was worried before leaving that I might be lonely or that I might not have fun being all by myself. And, it certainly was a little nerve wracking to sit on the train on the way over to London thinking about staying at a couch surfer’s house (a guy that I had never met before) and it really wasn’t fun at all to arrive in Berlin and get absolutely soaked in the rain about 30 minutes after arriving (at least it would have been more bearable if I had been with someone else!).

But, overall, both trips were fantastic. I came away feeling like my eyes had been opened. Paris has been one experience, but it is not all of Europe. And, it’s one thing to hear about how life is different elsewhere, and another to experience it. I learned that I am totally capable of taking care of myself in a foreign city, and that one of the benefits of traveling alone is that you have the complete freedom to do exactly what you want, when you want, without compromising with other people. For me, that meant fitting lots of things into the very few days I had in each city. But, in both cases, I came away feeling like I had gotten a breath of fresh air.

Two months into Paris, as much as I love the beauty of the city and the amazing opportunities it provides, I find it can be cold, exhausting, and more than anything else, conformist. I hope that these are only my initial impressions, but my travels gave me a welcome break from these experiences of Paris and a reminder that other cultures and ways of life exist only a few hundred kilometers away.

The people I met in both London and Berlin were so friendly – from the tour bus guides that I asked directions from, to the sales people that I discussed the New York/Boston commute with, there was an openness and an ease that I have yet to discover in Paris. In Berlin, especially, I got the distinct feeling of it being a young city, one in which people still feel that they have the liberty to experiment with their physical representation of their identity and one in which its residents feel that they have the power to shape their city.

Part of my very positive experiences in both cities were thanks to my couch surfing hosts. London was my very first couch surfing experience, and a wonderful, wonderful introduction to the community. As Jonathan, my London host described to me, in so much as it is a leap of faith, couch surfing helps restore faith in other humans and is a welcome change to the “stranger danger” mantra we so often hear. Within 20 minutes of meeting Jonathan, he had given me keys to his wonderful flat in Canary Warf. Sophie, my host in Berlin, took her entire Sunday afternoon and evening to show me around the city. In both cases, couch surfing allowed me to connect with somebody in a way that wouldn’t have been possible unless I already knew someone in the city. It was a guaranteed connection into the life of someone who lives there, with very few expectations put on the relationship.

At this point, I am excited to be in Paris and to “profiter” as much as I can from what is here. But, more than anything, I am excited to be in a new continent in a place with easy access to many countries, cities and people and to be at a time in my life when I can take the time to travel.

A few photos:

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin..
The gardens at Heaver Castle, outside of London

The Houses of Parliament in London

and if you want to check out other photos I've been taking, I post them at:

When I knew I'd made the right choice studying abroad....

I felt I had to share this gem:

I'm taking a class on the Romantic Apocalypse at the Sorbonne, which is divided into three parts, the discussion section in French, the discussion section in English, and the 100-person lecture. The lecture generally tends to be interesting, but kind of irrelevent to the books themselves; the professor herself said that the lecture is pretty much to give context for the four books we're reading and, to that end, has been lecturing on Revelations. She finally finished that today and gave us a brief list of works influenced by the notion of the apocalypse as revolution which, you guessed it, included Les Miserables, a novel of which I am inordinately fond.

After pointing out that Hugo called himself Saint John in another poem, that Hugo wrote the work not only to comment on the vast social inequalities of his society and the ideal New Jerusalem that would be a New French Republic, Madame la professeur asked the room at large if we remembered "ce magnifique personnage, Enjolras", the gorgeous, golden-haired (Hugo goes deliberately out of his way to say that the handsome Enjolras said something and cannot keep himself from mentioning Enjolras's hair whenever Enjolras appears) leader of a group of revolutionary students and Hugo's living symbol of the logic of the Revolution. The professor then proceeded to lecture at length about his similarities to the angels in Revelations.

She actually did not finish telling us the rest of the list of works featuring the apocalpyse as revolution because she spent too much time talking about Enjolras's hair.

I kid you not.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

5 helpful hints for the liberal arts major studying abroad

Things I Have Learned The Hard Way At the Sorbonne:

1. The History TDs (discussion sections) start after the CM (lecture). This is the exact opposite of the French Literature courses. No one will tell you this, or pity you when you become hopelessly lost.

2. The Sorbonne works on its own lines of logic. For example, the course offerings for French Literature are not in the French Literature hallway. They are in the Philosophy Hallway, because, apparently, whenever you are looking for answers you ought to turn to philosophy.

3. The bookstores near the Sorbonne will always be sold out of the books your professor strongly urges you to read/ form the basis of your literature course. is a better bet. If a book is sold out both on and in the six bookstores you visited on Saturday, it is better to just give up. The professor will, in the next TD, absent-mindedly remark that the book she assigned has been out of print for the past year and she will send out an e-mail with a scan of the book.

4. If there is no one on your floor in the evening, while you are laborously copying out the course offerings no one thought to post online, chances are you have been locked into the Sorbonne. Head south for what I believe is a subterranean passage that leads to various lecture halls and the only unlocked door. This is the only way out, not that any of the guards will let you or your fellow bewildered students that.

5. Not all the staircases let you get off on the next floor. A staircase can take you directly from level one to level three for no easily discernible reason aside from malice.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Best Sandwich Ever

It was somewhere between 2 and 3 am on the nuit blanche, and a few of us were ready to call it a night since things were getting crazy in the streets. But first we needed serious sustenance. We tried to find a falafel place in the marais, but they were all closed! Failure. So we headed over near boulmiche since there are little stands all over. And then we found it. The best greek sandwich money could buy. It was perfect. Meaty, onions, cucumbers, yogurt dressing, and perfectly seasoned french fries in a pita! I highly recommend this hole in the wall. If you go to rue st. Andre de beaux arts from the St. Michel entrance, it is the second greek sandwich place on the left. Only 4 euros. Heaven.

Friday, October 9, 2009

green paris

there is literally quite a lot of green. as cities go, paris seems to be well treed (an invented but necessary word). but there's also the other kind of green, the kind that signifies an ideology, a lifestyle, a cultural movement, and a guilt complex capitalized on by corporations. paris, although it has its overlapping highway moonscapes (out somewhere i don't really have to look at them), warm car exhaust winds, and lots and lots of pee (which definitely counts as a pollutant, if only to one's nose), feels pretty clean for a major metropolis. here are some reasons why:

>two-button toilets: yes, that is the technical term (not really. i think the technical term is dual-flush). fairly simple math: small button is for small flushes, big button is for bigger ones. but, having grown up in extravagant america, it took me a while to figure this out. just think how much water they save (in case you don't want to do it in your head: about 2/3 of what is used by a regular toilet). and they're everywhere.

>carbon taxes: they're not in place yet, but sarkozy has said that over the next year taxes on the emission of co2 will be put in place. let's hope.

>timed hall/stairwell lights: because people forget to turn them off, and then polar bears die.

>density: paris is small. as such, it has an incredibly efficient public transport system, the possibility of walking places, and less far for cars to travel as they go on their merry, planet-killing way.

>vélib: bicycles, for almost free, everywhere. i personally hate riding bikes. but as a general practice of the parisian population, i have to give it a (green) thumbs up.

everyone know those online tests you can take to calculate your ecological footprint? if not, go take one:
the reason i mention this is that if you click on the u.s. as your residence, your footprint is automatically much larger than if you click on europe but all other entries remain the same. and now you know why!

p.s. i've left things out. if anyone wants to share more, please do.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Frog and the Princess

I got a job! Yay! I am working at the Frog and the Princess; it's a British/American style pub near metro St. Germain de Pres on Rue Princess. I am a waitress and bartender and work about three days a week for 8 hours at a time. They brew beer on site and have five of their own types of beer, ranging from a dark beer, to a beer with a ginger twist, to my favorite which is called Maison Blanche. It's definitely a college style bar. We have student night on Tuesday where all drinks are happy hour price all night long. Friday and Saturday are so packed that you have to push your way through heaps of people in the bar to get anywhere.

I am loving it so far. I work with 5-6 Brit's, 4-5 frenchies, one kid from Morocco, and one other American. The people are really nice and a lot of fun to work with. I am seriously picking up a british accent from hanging out with all the brits though.

We close at 2am each night and then clean until 3am. After work we hang out at the bar until 5:30am when the metro starts running again. If we reach a certain amount of sales in the night we get free drinks. If we reach the bronze level = 1 free drink, silver = 2, gold = 3. Yay free drinks at the end of a crazy shift is very enjoyable. Also we get a meal every shift we work for free and the food is good and not french which is refreshing. Don't get me wrong I am loving french food, but every once in a while I just want some nachos or a burger and french fries. Also, they pay for 1/2 of my NaviGo every month.

Come visit me at work and I will pour you a beer or mix you a cocktail! I work on Saturday (10/10) at 9pm next.

French Castles and Characteristics

Hello all!

Just wanted to spice up the blog with a couple of pictures and an amusing link.

The other weekend, we took a trip (organized by the Club International des Jeunes a Paris) to the chateaux de la Loire (a river), which included Blois, Amboise, and Chenonceau, where you can (respectively) murder protestants, vacation as a child-king, and keep your Italian mistress.

If any of y'all reading out there are interested by Leonardo da Vinci, architecture, or the Renaissance, here's a picture for you:

It's the staircase Leonardo designed for Francois Ier at Blois, when he left Italy to basically bring the entire Italian Renaissance movement to France at the bidding of his good friend (or, "good friend," according to some) the king.

And, what better place to meander and gambol as the young Francois Ier than the incredibly high towers of Amboise? (Next to which you can find da Vinci's gardens).

Chenonceau, the castle given to Diane de Poitiers by her lover King Henri II, is absolutely gorgeous. Though, this image is sporting some changes made to it by Catherine de Medicis, the queen, after her philandering husband died and she kicked out his mistress.

And, just in case you were worried that we are all taking things too seriously here, thinking about art and history and architecture all the time, it should be noted that we also had a rather lovely wine-tasting that weekend, ate at a fondue restaurant, and then (those of us that were wandering the streets speaking in English, which is apparently bait to young Frenchmen) got invited to a spontaneous party under a bridge in the city of Tours, where we discussed Flight of the Conchords, French curse words, and the folie of theAmerican drinking age with young French people.

And finally, here's a link to "Stuff Parisians Like," which is hilarious and, as far as I've learned so far, pretty damn true. It's in English, don't worry! I haven't read all of them yet (I try to actually DO my homework here so I'm not wasting my time) but some of my favorites so far include: "Last Minute Flaking," "Macarons Laduree," "Winning Conversations," and "Doubts."

Because, as much as I love Paris, sometimes you have to take a step back and chip away at that pedestal. And, if you're feeling a bit homesick, it's better to laugh at all the aspects of a foreign place that are driving you batshit than to complain about it, which won't do anything but earn you annoyed glances of your peers.

Monday, October 5, 2009

So Rob doesn't unregister me from my courses (not that im registered yet)...

I've been rather skeptical of this blog but having read some of the posts I am very impressed. I found this blog and would like to share it with you! I've found some really cool spots so check it out!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

limnality, schlimnality.

So, while sitting on the nice long bus ride home from the Loire, I was considering what we're doing here: here in Paris, away from our 'normal' lives for a year. And I have been saying this for a while, but it doesn't really seem real yet. Not just yet. I've been thinking back to arriving at Smith freshman year, and it was the same then too. Summer camp, that's where we are. We're living at an extremely chic, expensive, overnight camp...aka Paris...where we haven't done any real work, and where are only real engagements are excursions.

And the only problem with this is, that we don't really have a home yet. Yes, I know, we have living quarters, but it's not the same. It doesn't feel like my space, my city, yet.

However, on this bus ride back, I became overcome with the great joy of coming back to Paris. Though we were just gone for a little more than 30 hours, it felt longer, and I missed Paris, our home. Where I knew places to eat, streets to walk on, and things to look for. So, slowly I'm realizing that Paris is becoming our home. And though it's slow, it's a work in progress.

Monday, September 28, 2009


On Saturday night (at a rather spiffy Best Western in Tours), my friends had gone out to a bar and I decided to stay in and listen to podcasts. I watched a 4 minute piece called "moments" from a favorite publication of mine called "radio lab." It asked the question "How do you define a moment?" Really. Exactly. What is a moment? The entire four minutes flipped through a montage of "moments," never more than two seconds, in which normal people did normal things. Baby, eating, sad, splashing in puddles, happy, working, etc. Nothing profound, but endearing and well-filmed.

The question stuck. Moments are bizarre and special and difficult to define. Interestingly, in the English language, a "moment" is usually quick - a snapshot - like in the short. In French, a "moment" is the full length of an occurrence. For example, if you talked to your friend for "a moment," that could mean you had a brief chat, or it could mean you spent the entire afternoon in deep philosophical conversation. I personally like the French usage better, because in fact, our lives are not made of quick, individual snapshots. They are series of related occurrences of varying lengths. But I digress...

The short about "moments" led me to a realization. Bear with me.

The meaning of life is a complicated issue. What interests me more than that infinite abyss is the question, "how is meaning measured within a life?" I'm sure everyone measures the meaningfulness of their lives in different ways. Some don't at all, some measure by piety, some by having children, who knows. But moments are something that we all use as a measure of meaning in our lives. The thing we remember at the end of our lives is a scrapbook of the best, worst, and most important moments. Photographs are important to us because they represent physical relics of moments long past, which can only exist through memory.

I was never quite sure why I wanted to go to France so badly, or study abroad at all. This whole thing about moments has helped me clarify. Trying on a new culture, doing new things and going new places leads to more intense, more profound moments. It creates memories which will be stronger and longer lasting (like minty fresh gum!). When I am 80, the walk from Talbot house to class on Smith campus will be less less memorable than the walk along the Seine I take every day to get the Metro. Rollerblading to work in San Mateo, California will have been completely forgotten, but rollerblading in a brigade of 15,000 in the night through the streets of Paris is something I will never forget.

I think one of the reasons I get so frustrated with tourism, or the whole Paris experience in general, is that I think, "This is supposed to be important. This is supposed to be special," when it doesn't feel profound. I think when I look back next year, and recount the moments, then they will become important. I also think I'm rambling.

Conclusion: I need to sit back and relax, stop worrying about the profundity of each moment of my life here, and let the important moments come out as they happen, naturally. Moments are to be appreciated in the future. Simply living is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Best Glace en Paris

One of the things this city has to offer, which I feel is constantly being forgotten among the countries love for bread, cheese, and wine, is their glace, which by no means has an equivalent in the States. Ice cream in the states is often too heavy and in some regions resembles custard more than ice cream. However, here, the glace is so light and yet full of flavor, making it quite easy to consider getting a second round. The only way I can really describe it is the perfect medium between a sorbet and gelato, it has just the right amount of weight and cream associated with gelato but also has a sorbet’s crispness.

My favorite place so far is Berthillon, which known for having the best glace in Paris and a prime location behind Notre Dame on the Îsle-Saint-Louis; its hype does not overshadow its product. For weeks, Rachel and Eve kept telling me about how incredible the glace was, and its true, it is simply the best. Plus its always fun to see which flavor will be offered the day you go, I personally am still waiting for the legendary Pistache to show up on the menu. However, I recommend the chocolat noir, nougat de miel, or frambroise.

The first thing I noticed was the pigeons. Yes, even the pigeons are better in Paris. They're fatter, cleaner and walk with a lot of attitude. They aren't really afraid of you either, unless your a kid chasing said pigeons on the playground. They've flown really close to my face and I've felt the air from their wings. They're starting to gross me out more now as I get used to them, but I'm sure when I go back to the US I will miss these pigeons.
Everything is smaller. Maybe it's just my family, but I eat yogurt with what I would call a "baby spoon". I'd feed a baby with this spoon. Milk baffles me. My family drinks a lot of it but they buy 5 cartons a milk because they're all so small! The milk comes in opaque cartons, which I find unsettling for an unknown reason. The milk we buy is labeled, "Demi crème", and this, to me means that it's half and half. It's not. I'm most confused by milk because we buy it in packs of 5 or 6, like the way you would buy gatorade, and it's not always cold. We don't refrigerate it right away. I could be misinterpreting, but that is my view on milk so far.
People don't walk as fast here, which is both comforting and frustrating. There's not a rush rush atmosphere here like the one you might find in New York. My 17 year old host sister wakes up at 7 on the days she doesn't have class until 10 just so she can ease into the morning and amble to school when she feels like it. That is completely bizarre for me. My host family laughed at me and said I was like the last American girl they had because I always sleep till the last moment and rush out during breakfast. So, it's nice to be in a place less stressed and freaked out all the time, but also frustrating when you get caught behind people walking like they have no where to go and you're late for class.
I haven't exactly figured out how to be comfortable here yet because I'm used to coffee to go (which does not exist here besides Starbucks) and the parks still kind of intimidate me because they're so beautiful, but I know there is a comfortable side of Paris and once I wiggle my way into it I'll wonder how I ever lived without it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Today I came down with the flu passing through the Smith JYA Paris program the exact day when (tant pis) I had an audition for voice lessons. Semi-delirious and achy, I not only mistook the time of the audition, but lost the address, my way and my sense of direction. I managed to get there an hour later, but fortunately for me, the teacher was really understanding and very sweet about letting me vocalize and sing for her, even though I was late, ill and (by that point) mildly hysterical.

I have to say, as much as I love the French language, it is at its best when sung. It's hard to do the nasal vowels when your flu has knocked off the top of your range, but there's something about singing in French that feels extremely decadent. Italian to me feels very pure (all those very pure, non-diphthong vowels) and English very comfortable (it's my first language, after all!), but there's something about singing in French that makes me feel like I've wrapped my vocal chords in Lyons silk. I and another student sang Dome Epais, a beautiful duet that one may recall from the British Air commericials of the 1990s. French Romantic composers really knew their stuff. I mean, you have to go Baroque to get your diva-trills in, and to Mozart to be simple and clever all at once, but you can't top the French Romantics for sheer beauty of tone. They understood their language and crafted the notes around it so carefully it's a pleasure to sing it.

I'd like to say that getting to sing that duet cured my of my flu (music being the food of love and feeding a fever, a melange of aphorisms that really did make sense in my head this morning, when I was hopped up on French Tylenol) but, alas, it hasn't. It's made me extremely cheerful because hey, it's another aspect of the Beauty That Is France, but Rob has still banned me from going out in public, lest I spread my contagion to everyone else. Fortunately for me, I now have Dome Epais to sing until my flu takes my voice away altogether. If you can't marvel at the Gothic masterpiece that is Notre Dame, or see the arm-less beauty (Venus de Milo) at the Louvre, getting to sing Dome Epais isn't a bad alternative.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This past weekend was the weekend of "Patrimoine," which roughly translates to "heritage." A lot of museums and atéliers and private residences of public officials (like Sarkozy) are open to the public. So, Ella and I tried to participate in such cultural treasures, but instead, we found this:THE TECHNO PARADE!!!

It was probably the best surprise so far in France. Absolutely hilarious, with really fun music, thousands of people in the streets drinking G-d knows what. It was a side of Paris we had been missing out on and I am SO glad we found it.
It was just a huge parade of ten or so trucks representing various DJs/radio stations (I think) that play various types of techno, which is much bigger in Europe than in the US. Also, check out these guys dancing on top of the bus stop! Trop fort!
The night before this parade a couple of us had visited some lesbian bars in the Marais and been kinda disappointed, with the bars and also with how heteronormative Paris seemed to be (come on, we may be in France, but we're still Smithies!), but this whole environment completely changed that impression. Of course Paris isn't Smith. I wouldn't want it to be. But I was starting to worry that I was going to be disappointed in Paris' queer culture, but I realized that I was just in the wrong places.

So, if you think Paris is all old buildings and tradition and sophistication, think again. Because it can also be really crazy, really loving, REALLY inebriated, and also, yes, really gay.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Enigmatic sights

If you have walked around the Tour Monparnasse at night, especially on weekends, you have probably seen her: a woman who plays speed chess on the sidewalk, in order to raise money for a trip to Australia.
As far as I can glean, she is Australian, somewhere in her 20's, and the sign that she has made explains that her mom has lung cancer and she is trying to raise money to go back to Australia and visit her. When I first saw her playing, the sign said that she need to raise 12oo euros. So she has set up a chess board on the sidewalk, and a boom box cranks out some techno at a pretty high volume, and she challenges people to speed chess matches (the sign also explains that she was a high school chess champ). She does not exactly charge people to play her, but the implicit understanding, I think, is that if you do play, you will leave some euros in the case. There are always many people watching her play, and no shortage of people waiting to play her. Part of the draw, I suspect, is playing this tall, blonde, young woman. Most of her challengers are young men, whom I suspect think they can easily beat her, since she is young, and a woman, and blond.
I've watched her play for a few minutes on several occasions, and she has yet to lose a game, although things looked a bit grim a couple of times. Speed chess is sort of mesmerizing, even if you do not like chess-- there is a sort of aggression to the game, and a lot of instinct and snap judgments. Watching these cocky guys realize they are in deep trouble is also mesmerizing, especially since in chess, if you are any good, you know you are toast well before the end actually arrives.
The story, however, has a further wrinkle. A few blocks down on Blvd. Montparnasse, in front of the Ecole des Beaux Arts, you'll find a first-rate churro and crepe stand. Next to it sits an elderly and rather sad-looking man, asking in a whisper for spare change. A few nights ago, we were walking by, and there was our Australian chess player, squatting down, holding the old man's hands and talking to him. She got up to leave, and put some Euros in his cup, and he took her hand, and kissed it again and again, and she smiled and told him she'd see him soon. And she got into a BMW station wagon, where four passengers were waiting, and drove off.
She is back at her corner tonight, playing chess, striking a blow for feminism, and her sign says she only has 450 Euros left to raise.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Older the Better. Always.

When people think of Paris, I'm sure they must think of gorgeous facades, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysees...lots of postcard-y images that Hollywood throws at us. The Paris that I think of is the one seen through the eyes of Victor Hugo. In my head, Paris is The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables, a world that does not put on a show for anyone. I so desperately wanted to find traces of that world still left in post-Haussmann Paris. Is it odd that I find Paris a litttle TOO beautiful? That's why it gives me such a thrill when I come across a little side street that looks as if no one has altered it since the Middle Ages. These streets were not designed with aesthetics in mind and I find them more beautiful because of that. I was wandering around St.Germain-des-Pres one day and I wandered into an antique book store. I always breath out a huge sigh of contentment when I enter a bookstore; I honestly can't think of anything more comforting than a well-worn book. It gives me great joy to think of all the other hands that have turned these pages before me, as if we were all joining in on some great secret. Perusing through the book stacks, I almost cried aloud when I found an old copy of Les Miserables from 1867 (5 years after its original publication.) I quickly put the book in some covert and discreet corner where (hopefully) no one will think to look. I cannot fully explain why but I feel such immense relief knowing that that book is there. Maybe it is because some old bits and pieces of Paris will always shine through when one takes the time to look.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Refuge in the City

The other day I was walking home and stumbled upon the Jardin des Plantes. It's right across the seine from where I live. It was a refuge for me. This place had trees. Many trees. I forgot I was use to having ample amounts of nature around me. I like Paris and I like large cities, but I miss greenery, foliage, and dirt roads. What can you expect? I grew up in wisconsin and my parents own a flower shop. I am used to nature.

Anyways, I am glad I found the jardin des plantes and intend on going back.

Friday, September 11, 2009

City Sounds

Every day, numerous times a day, I hear the ring of a school's bell system. Now, of course, there is nothing really interesting or strange about that, considering there are approximately 75,390 high schools in the surrounding 4 blocks of Reid Hall. But what does strike me is how much I love the noise of Paris. From my room, it is relatively room looks into the center of the building. However, the second I step onto the street, my morning walk is started off with the far off hum of traffic on the Boulevard Montparnasse, the screams of small children on the corner waiting for class, and the honking cars on the Rue Notre Dame des Champs (due to the overwhelming number of traffic jams).

While sitting in a cafe, one can hear the voices of others, listen to the different french twangs, the booming laughter of some, and the quite chuckle of others. There is the occasional passing car with overly loud electronica coming from it's speakers and then filling the street. There is the clinking of glasses and mugs from the interieur of the cafe, and the rough voices of those in it. Off in the distance you can hear the perfect example of the doplar effect with the almost continuous ringing of fire, police, and ambulance sirens. There are the noises of families, couples, and friends going about their everyday business in this country that, to us, is not yet our home.

And then you wonder, how others can walk around this unbelievable city, with their iPods and earbuds in, completely blocking out what I love so much about being here. And it is for this reason that I am trying to avoid creating my own soundtrack and instead listening to the one that is around me. Listening to the symphony of the city.

Vive la Revolution

I personally have not posted yet because we were given the instruction to write something about our first few days in Paris that made us realize that yes, we were, in fact, living in Paris. Perhaps it's a sign of a phlegmatic temperament? I hear leeches are good for it, but my knowledge of Paris is mostly limited to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, my areas of academic interest.

To me, Paris is the city of philosophes and revolutionaries, where all classes somehow mixed together to create one of the most astonishing and sweeping reforms in all history, the French Revolution. Say what you will about the Terror, the guillotine or the Jacobins, but the revolutionaries earnestly believed in what they were trying to do and believed that they could accomplish it. For perhaps the first time in history, it didn't matter where you had come from or how close you were to the local seigneur. Your potential mattered, not your family's connections. It was an odd melange of the individualism of Voltaire and the General Will of Rousseau, an astonishing display of philosophy in practice and in politics. It wasn't perfect, but I find that there is a mesmerizing sort of virtue in the fact that they tried so hard, despite the fact that all the rest of Europe wanted to slaughter them in the streets as regicides, despite the fact that there was still famine in France, despite the fact that no one could really get along and despite the fact that they had next to no chance of getting supplies for their armies. Their idealism pushed their armies, whom Napoleon, then a rising officer, called perhaps the worst equiped in Europe, to incredible victories against enemy armies of overwhelming strength and force.

Modern day Paris is remarkably berift of sans-culottes and firey young demagogues ready to leap up on tables and demand Parisians storm the Bastille, but it is possible to see that legacy everywhere. I grin each time I see, "Liberte, egalite et fraternite" written on a building and I have to laugh each time I see Danton's statue near the Metro stop in the Latin Quarter. I suppose Paris really became the Paris I studied when I saw the display on the French Revolution in the Musee Carnevalet. I saw the drums the soldiers used, I saw the flags they carried into battle, I saw the pistols that Saint-Just, the youngest and potentially most passionate Jacobin, carried with him when he crushed the Royalist uprising in the Vendee, and I saw the briefcase Robespierre used when he worked to help write Le Declaration des Droits de l'homme et du citoyen.

In Paris, there is a very real sense of not only living with one's history, but learning from it and caring about it. The French Revolution isn't, like I sometimes feel people think of it in the States, a massive, chaotic series of executions that heralded both facism and communism in its tyranny. It's a part of daily life, hidden, but present, where real people worked to try and realize their ideals.

La Vivacite dans Une Ville si Vivante

It is 11:45 am and I am sitting in la bibliotheque with a very familiar feeling filling mon corps: intense fatigue, the sensetaion of heavy eyelids, the feeling of worn-around the edges which no amount of coffee before noon can break through. Mixed into that tiredness is an intense desire, roaring on the insides to fulfill the image I have wanted to live for so long but which seems so impossible: to be that invincible person who needs barely any sleep, who bites into the ripe peach of life to drag the juices from the very core, the nightwanderer the city dweller who lives in motion with la ville.
It doesn't help that last night I did not hit the sack until 1:30 am, which is relatively late for me. It was for a good reason, nonetheless, as along with many of my peers, I enjoyed le spectacle des feux d'artifice. But I am anything but happy at my habitudes. This is supposed to be a year sans cesse! I wish I could retain that fresh energy that one might feel on a Saturday morning after arising at 13 or 14 heures apres midi, jump to the day, have that bottled sensation of ripe zest fill me and satisfy me for atleast 18 hours apres.
Before I came to Paris, I had imagined some vivid image every time I closed my eyes before sleeping in the lackluster state of CT, of myself with champagne in hand, with glittering eyelids, clad in red gown flowing over sharp black tallons. Now in retrospect, it was pur follie, a glamorous dream that I had contrived during those moments when there are no limits to the imagination, and no place one cannot reach. But where exactly was I supposed to go? And what exactly was I thinking? On the questionnaire Rob gave us for living habits and roommates, there was a question which I answered without hesitation, my answer derived from my niave desire to be that vivacious 24-7 animal I had so imagined. The question was: "How often do you imagine yourself going out duting the week?" To that came a ready "oh, three times at least-- in the beginning. Every night once I'm accustomed."
Which may be the reason why I was placed in a family with a very darling middle-aged women who lets me and ma chere Alexis come and go when we please as often as we please. But that "accustomed" point has yet to come. I'm barely just beginning to be in the beginning (that three night a week period).
So, my fellow Smithies, seemingly tireless early birds or night owls, I have a question for you. What is your sollution? Do you feel the same way as me? Dissappointed in yourself that you are not yet that Lady in Red you had imagined yourself to be?
Last night riding home on the RER at just after midnight, we passed the Eiffel Tower and saw it glittering in distance, bright against the horizon. I sighed and thought not for the first time...if only I could be there-- limitlessly bright, glittering with intention to conquer the world of stars in a seemingly endless universe of vivacite....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rue St. Jacques.

Pretty much everyday so far I have had an epic struggle with Rue St. Jacques on the way back from the closest metro Cluny Sorbonne. This is no complaint, I love that street. Right now its my favorite street in Paris (the architecture, the student population, the little streets that have marvelous little shops and restaurants, and of course the beautiful men). I still have a lot to see clearly, but it is the road I travel on the most. Going up and down, I pass the same kids at the lycée Louis le Grand smoking in between classes everyday, I think we are starting to recognize each other. I timed my walk to and from the metro the other day, 7 minutes down the street. 15 minutes up. Doesn't seem like much, but somewhere on the length of the Sorbonne I feel like sitting down and taking a little breather most of the time. Today was the first day that I didn't even notice, fantastic. I reached the Pantheon and I was instantly realized I hadn't thought about it. So I guess that was my AH HA moment. Growing a pair of city legs.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

To be honest, nothing has left me breathless yet. I had never been to Paris, or France, or Europe for that matter, but I had no preconceived notions. Specially of Paris and Parisians, because there are so many clichés about it, I was sure none were true. And I was right. I find Parisians kind and not rude at all. I find that not everyone is dressed impeccably all the time. I find most of the food to be delicious, but not all of it. I don't think the French University system is that complicated. I love Paris so far, don't get me wrong, but it's not the whole other planet people in America make it out to be.
For now, I am just keeping my eyes and head open, looking forward to start classes and meeting new people.
I'm uploading two pictures, of food, because that is exactly what Rob wants us to do. (I'm kidding) it was Olivia's birthday last Monday, we had dinner, which was both very American and very French (and very very delicious, at Cafe Pause, at Bastille).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Paris by Rollerblade

It's hard to believe until you see it. 15,000 rollerbladers descending like a swarm of locusts upon Montparnasse, taking to the streets of Paris en masse. Police on rollerblades weaving through the group. They have special roller-brigade police badges on their arms. And me, flying across Paris with the wings of Hermes on my feet, amidst the Parisians, the monuments, the restaurants and shops, the cobblestones and cars, signaling to the right, move to the right, because there's a bus up ahead.

Tourists point and take pictures. I try hard to look cool, but I smile, because I can't help but think, "I'm one of you! You just don't know it." Then I congratulate myself for blending in. Sometimes people on balconies cheer for us, and the brigade cheers louder in return. We stop from time to time so the police can block off another section of road, and staff can move to the next set of checkpoints, to hold up traffic or direct the group around a corner. It's nice to have the time to rest and talk. And smoke and text. I manage a few small conversations.

I see the Palais du Luxembourg, the Pantheon, Notre Dame, L'Hotel de Ville, the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Galleries Lafayette, the Petit et Grand Palais, the National Assembly, l'Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, skate down the Champs Elysees and rest for 20 minutes at the Palais de Chaillot, looking straight on the Eiffel Tower.
It is beautiful. It is thrilling. It is Paris in 3 hours and 30 kilometers. It is bliss.

Friday, September 4, 2009

the most beautiful thing in paris is...

the combination of green leaves and grey stones one finds everywhere.
and the fact that every french person i have asked knows the answer to any question i have about french history.
and the tiny grotto right next to the grand palais.
and the view of the seine and the eiffel tower and a million old buildings as one stands on the pont alexandre III amidst all those gilt angels and copper-green cherubs, monuments to 19th-century sentimentalism.
and the giant pine spheres used to clean the egouts.
and the croissants, of course!
but mostly the fact that i'm here, in it, taken simple and whole by itself.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

La cuisine française

My first few days in France have been full of all sorts of new experiences, but what amazed me right from the beginning is the food. Everything I've had here has been several times better than its equivalent in the States. The French take such pride in their food, and with good reason. At the market on Place Jeanne d'Arc, I saw a vendor selling roasted ducks. As they cooked on the rotisserie, the fat dripped into a pan holding a small mountain of potatoes. The customers at the market talk with the vendors, asking "How was this prepared?" "How was this food raised?" and all sorts of questions that most Americans rarely think to or are able to ask their food suppliers. I love it.
Last night, I had grapes for the first time since my arrival. Unlike American grapes, which I find rather bland and pale, these grapes had flavor. They were deep, rich, incredibly sweet, with a thicker skin that broke satisfactorily between my teeth. I stopped what I was doing so that I could focus completely on these wonderful delicious spheres of pure grape-ness. Lovely.
A bientot!

Belleville - un autre Paris

My first few days in Paris, I kept waiting for it to hit me that I was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with months of discovering all it's winding streets and delicious cuisine. "It" being some undescribable understanding that suddenly I was across the Atlantic and definitly not on my way back to Smith for the year. I was dissappointed when, in the first 36 hours, I didn't have the expected"aha" moment. And, in the 6 days that I've been here, the realization that j'etais bien arrivee didn't come right away or in the way I had expected. Instead, there have been little moments from looking up and seeing beautiful building facades with terraces (where air conditioners are interdit!) to going for a run up Montmartre and ending up looking out over Paris at dusk that hit me as being typically Parisian and absolutly delightful.

A few days ago I went to dinner at a friend's house. He lives in Belleville, a quartier that has historically been a quartier populaire with various waves of immigrants. Now there are little allies covered in colorful grafitti, cafes full of people wearing all types of clothing and restaurants boasting cuisine from all over the world. I arrived early because I still can't seem to get anywhere on time so somewhere between getting lost and exploring the quartier I spent about 30 minutes walking around. It was a very different Paris from that around Reid Hall, where everybody is hyper-dressed up and gardins and buildings are well manicured. This was a somewhat dirtier, significantly less touristy Paris where the streets felt full of people doing daily, life things. It felt good to walk around and not feel somewhat under-dressed in jeans (without heels) as well as to see and hear a much more racially and socio-economically diverse Paris. (Granted, at dinner I heard about how the quartier is being gentrified. And, indeed, guidebooks describe it as a "colorful neighborhood.") For me, it was one of those moments where I realized that I really was in Paris, a city that has all kinds of different neighborhoods to discover and explore!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why the Paris sewers matter

The visit to the sewers, was, at least from my vantage point, fascinating.
To begin with, it seems important to remind ourselves that Paris is not just a state of mind, or a fantasy, but a real place with a beating heart. Nothing quite like seeing -- or smelling-- the wastes of Paris being carried off for treatment to make that point. Les egouts are real, in a way that the Rue de Rivoli can never be.
But beyond that, the sewers matter because they embody perhaps the single greatest innovation of the last 500 years. The realization that separating wastes from drinking water mattered has had a greater impact on human life than almost anything else you can come up with. A quick glance at what has happened to life expectancy, roughly (if a bit misleadingly) captured in this chart, makes this point. While it would be unnecessarily reductive to trace all increases in life expectancy to the invention of sewers, water wells and water treatment, there is a case to be made. In the developed world, the causes of death have shifted dramatically, from epidemics and infectious diseases to chronic systemic conditions (cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc). The end of infectious diseases as a leading cause of death (and thus a limit on life expectancy) is a direct consequence of what we saw today.
There are subtle issues that the Egouts bring up, including the importance of material culture, and the role of everyday structures and objects in accounting for the rise and fall of nations and civilizations. French historians have pioneered this sort of analysis where the everyday lives of common people, and not the dramatic and elegant lives of the famous few, are the engine of social and historical change. We will be seeing plenty of Chateaux, of elaborate tapestries, of elegant paintings. They matter, but so do the egoutiers, their tools, and the life above the surface that they make possible. In short, I am suggesting that without the elaborate network of sewers that bring water in and wastewater out, Paris itself could not, and would not have existed.
And, of course, there is that famous scene in Les Miserables....

Monday, August 31, 2009

from NC to Paris

When you first get to Paris, it's surprisingly easy to forget or not truly realize in the first place that you're really in a new city, in a new country, on a completely different continent. When I was taking le Car Airfrance from the airport, I kept falling back into the idea that I was just on my way to someplace kinda new but not astonishingly so. It was like I was just going to Boston or NYC–definitely different and great places to be, but still the same country, with the same language, etc.

But after you see all the curvy streets and smart cars and signs in French and beautiful old buildings, it finally starts to hit you. And it's fantastic. The average bakery is in a building more intricate and beautiful than most of our historic monuments. And there are French monuments everywhere! But people just hang out there, reading their books, making phone calls, jogging––there were tons of joggers when I visited the Château Marly with my host family (who only went there to walk their dog).

It's just a completely different standard, but it's an upgrade.

As an example, here's a picture of some people just playing with their children in a square next to one of the oldest churches in Paris, the church of Saint-Germain-des-Près:

It's simply mind-blowing that there are millions of people that get to live in a city like this for their entire lives. And I don't say that to suggest that they don't appreciate it––they do––but because there's just no place like Paris in the US. We certainly have out own enviable monuments and buildings, but they're beautiful in a way that's not more than 220 years old or so. Coming here has completely changed my perspective on the foundations of a country and its culture, and I've only been here for three full days!

À bientôt,

Ramsay Leimenstoll
Parsons House
Comp. Lit./Jewish Studies

Nice people, and not so nice people

Thus far, Paris has been delightful. Predictable. Some Parisians are nice, some are less so. Many are happy to speak French, to help, to take their time with us. Others...*shrug*

An ATM swallowed Isabella's card today, and the woman at the bank branch refused to give her any information. Ten minutes later, we had a wonderful conversation with an older man at Les Deux Magots. He told us all about the history of the quarter, showed us where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre lived, explained the expression "gauche caviar," then gave us directions to the square where Hemingway lived. He kind and patient. He even smiled a bit.

But it is the "gentillesse" of the teenagers here that has really struck me. Mind you, my sampling is not impressive; I have talked to only 3. They are my home-stay sister and Isabella's home-stay sister and brother, who live in an apartment two floors directly over my head. Their ages are 14, 15, and 13 respectively. Over the past three days, they have been sweeter and friendlier than I thought possible for adolescents. They are polite to their neighbors and their own parents on a regular basis! They interact happily with us linguistically clumsy American girls—they ask questions about our day, they join in conversation at the dinner table, they tell us about their schools and their pets. They willingly spend time with their families on walks through the park, at the dinner table, watching movies. I can only hope all the teenagers in France are this nice.

It's good to know that teenagerism (symptoms include: slumping, frowning, mumbling, whining, resistance to interaction with other human beings and a lack of sense of humor) is an American affectation rather than a genetic component of growing up.

First Night with My Host Family

Even though I was jet-lagged, overwhelmed, and completely exhausted, the first night that I spent with my host family was incredible. After dropping off my luggage at their apartment, we hopped back in their car and zipped through the streets of Paris to a secret location to "faire un pique-nique tres francais." Within a few minutes, I saw the tip of the Eiffel Tower peeking out from behind the skyline, and my host sister revealed that we would be eating on the lawn beneath la tour Eiffel. We munched on fromage, saucisson, and baguettes, and I had my first taste of Camembert (and hopefully my last... mais on verra!). I definitely felt like a tourist, "oooooo-ing" and "aaaah-ing" each time that the Eiffel Tower lit up, but I couldn't help it -- I've never been to Europe before, so everything that I've seen so far has been completley foreign to me and just breath-taking. Afterwards we drove to la rue Mouffetard to "prendre un verre." We didn't get back to the apartment until well after 1am, but I had long ago forgotten how tired I was... it was the most amazing introduction to Paris that I could possibly imagine. I feel so lucky to be here!

Nous voila

This blog is an attempt to capture the many essences of a year abroad. The authors of the majority of the posts are the 22 women in the Smith JYA program in Paris in 2009-2010. Occasionally, the director of the program will chime in (his postings will be easily recognizable as not having been written by a 20-something woman).
Unlike many blogs, this is not intended to be an exercise in narcissism. Rather, we are hoping to create something unique, sassy, thoughtful and ultimately interesting. We will see.