Friday, October 30, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
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.
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
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. Amazon.fr is a better bet. If a book is sold out both on amazon.fr 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
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
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.
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