One month Anniversary

My camera took its final breath last Saturday, so I won’t be posting any more photos until I get a replacement.

So, to post a quick update without the aid of photos, I will write about my week briefly. This last week of September included:

-Getting use to the routine of my classes and doing homework (oh, that’s right, the reason I’m in Paris is to study)

-Visiting the exposition “Paris: Vue par Hollywood” for the second time. The exposition, although poorly executed with missing “fiches” (I have no idea how to say this in English.. it’s the card under/near the display that describes what you’re looking at ?)  and a floor plan that makes you feel like a mouse trapped in poorly designed maze, it was actually pretty enjoyable. And the exposition did inspire me to watch a bunch of Audrey Hepburn movies including Funny Face.

-Eating sanduiches chez Eric Kayser

-Drinking a lot of hot tea in order to warm up in this apartment where it’s 10-15 degrees colder than the temperature outside

-Reading A Moveable Feast and having the privilege to visit or know the addresses that Hemingway describes/ visited/ lived at.

-It’s getting more and more easy to speak French but I don’t know if that’s really an improvement; just because I can speak a little more quickly doesn’t mean I’m speaking coherently and without grammatical mistakes. And I know there’s no way to improve my French but to practice and communicate often but I have a feeling I’ve fallen into a dangerous zone of perpetuating my own errors of grammar and conjugation.

-Exploring new streets and neighborhoods. This is the one thing that has contributed to my continually and slowly growing affection for Paris. I have to admit that as much as Paris has been refreshing, intriguing and lovely to look at, I have not really been in love with the city or felt too attached to it (and I still don’t. New York still reigns supreme). However, I just recently started to genuinely warm up to it when that internal map and sense of direction, all inside my head, began to get more detailed. It’s a process of becoming familiar with boundaries and neighborhoods that eventually leads to my being able to orientate myself in a large city.

The concept is personal and difficult to explain, so I might try to write a post on it but for now all I can  say is that it’s the feeling of comfort and familiarity that goes with knowing that the shop that sells hot chocolate to die for is near my school, which is on the way to the vintage shop where I love to window shop, which is not too far from the quality sandwich shop, which is only 2 blocks away from one of the best spots for gelato.

-I realized that I am really irked by something things commonly found in Paris[ian culture]. Or maybe it’s because they are so common that they irk me. This list will continue to grow but so far it includes:

a) Les Sacs cabas by Vanessa Bruno. If I  walk 2 blocks I can be sure to pass at least 5 girls with this bag. I just don’t understand how it’s come to be so popular that women, from 7-70 years old, carry this ugly sequined bag that’s just, in my opinion, an overpriced version of something I’m sure the Children’s Place once sold for $20. Since it’s not practical, sophisticated, nor well-designed, why are Parisians so taken with it?

b) The phrase “c’est pas pareil” (It’s not the same/ it can’t be compared). This phrase irritates me because it’s often uttered when I’m trying to make an argument or a comparison to explain my point of view. Once it is uttered the debate is over, my point has become invalid and my opponent somehow won the debate all because “it’s not the same!”.

c) … I don’t want to be too hard on Paris so I will end this list with: Pigeons.

until next time,

S.

Le Regard

Well this hurts. I had written a long and lovely post but one way or another it got erased. I will try my best to recreate it:

Before arriving in Paris I had collected an arsenal of cautions, tips and addresses from American, expat bloggers and from my friends who had recently returned from their year in Paris. Some of the advice was what seemed to me like common sense (don’t stare at someone unless you are hoping to give them the green light to start a conversation with you) and some of it was unexpected and pretty helpful (careful where you step, Parisians are notorious for not picking up after their dogs. The metro in Paris does not run 24/7. Do not order a café au lait in a café; that’s only a drink you have at home in the morning), but all was shared with the intention of helping me adapt to Paris as an American student who has a conversational grasp of the language (at best.)

And so now I cannot tell if it is due to this year and a half long period of preparing myself and familiarizing myself with the cultural and social habits of Parisians or the fact that the Parisian culture is not unlike that of New York City, but I am disappointed to say I have had very few issues adapting myself to the Parisian lifestyle. Compared to my classmates who have spoken about their issues acclimating to Paris and the anxiety they feel over the unfamiliarity of it all, I have yet to feel severely overwhelmed. Which is definitely a good thing but I also have to admit that I am a bit disappointed that there isn’t a great and remarkable contrast between the Parisian and New York culture. After I had spent two years in the safe, comfortable and charming community and town of my college, where the worst thing that could happen to me would be finding out that the dining hall had run out of the plain yogurt that I ate every morning, and I was hoping I would be awakened and bouleversée by all the social oddities of Paris.

There was one thing I was anticipating and had prepared myself for but hasn’t been an issue: I had been told that Parisians love to stare. This is, for me, very untrue. Not only on comparably so, but also in absolute terms.

I want to avoid sounding narcissistic but the fact is that in New York City there is not a single day that I can leave my house and walk outside without being catcalled, whether it’s just a hello, psst psst or another verbal comment, or the silence that goes along with being stared at. Every time I pass by a group of young guys, construction workers or people hanging outside a bar, I instictively brace myself for their comments or their stares. It’s not pleasant but it is something that I have come to expect and accept, since it’s generally harmless, because the effort I would have to put in to stop it isn’t worth it.

However, in Paris, where I had been warned about those “randy French men” and how Parisians love to stare, this hasn’t been an issue. And it’s not that I miss being yelled at by strangers, it’s actually a relief, but it is unfamiliar. At first I spent a brief period thinking I was just too ugly for Paris. But even if that’s true, I have come up with some other theories:

1. The city is full of attractive and well dressed women so you have to be a perfect 10 to be garner attention.

2. The well dressed and perfectly coiffed men are playing the same game I am. After all, they didn’t spend all that time getting dressed in the morning not to be noticed and they’re definitely not going to look at you first. Whoever is the first to look at the other person is not only admitting their interest but their inferiority as well.

3. On a normal day there are 100 high school girls in a 5 block radius that are dressed better than I am.

4. With a pace that is a near jog and New York-trained poker face, I come off frigid and unapproachable.

5. Parisians are, in effect, less rude than Americans/New Yorkers

There is one demographic that loves to stare at me: French women. I don’t know if it’s because they are checking out my outfit or trying to figure out where I hail from ( on certain days I am evidently UN Parisienne since I fail to adhere to the uniform that is strictly black, gray and/or dark purple during months that have an R in the name).

But for all that my New York roots has blessed me with, it has also rendered me insensitive to vowel sounds and that is something that will keep be very much StaceyL’Americaine. That is, until my Phonetique class knocks it out fo me.

À bientot,

S

Man down

Paris has got me down. This week has been highly unproductive, comparatively as well as on absolute terms. And instead of studying for tomorrow’s exams, I am going to add to my low productivity and write this post. But I think it’s important I take the time to remind myself of how crappy Paris can treat its inhabitants (as well as let you all know that not everyday is full of buttery croissants and picnics under the Eiffel Tower.)

Monday arrived, passed and was relatively pleasant: I went to Pere LaChaise cemetery and wondered around, had some meetings at school, made small talk with a French woman on the street whom I had asked directions for a certain patisserie, had a marvelous croissant experience at said patisserie, I also tried the famous Berthillion ice cream (I chose two flavors that were recommended to me, chocolate and caramel, and not the ones I knew I would love so I can’t really rave about the ice cream yet..) and wandered around my neighborhood. To top it off I had an amazing dinner of mussels in a curry sauce (my favorite over rice.

Then Tuesday arrived and, garçon, what a contrast. Not only was it grey and rainy, but I accomplished nothing that day. I tried twice, one two seprarate occasions, to find my Paris university with no luck (The directions which I found online and double checked were wrong.. somehow..?). I then tried to go to the Musée d’Orsay but the line was enormous and even went across the street and down the block. I only realized why after I arrived at the Louvre: The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays so every tourist, student and their mother went to d’Orsay on Tuesday.

Wednesday I tried to register for my classes at the Paris University, that is, in person like it’s 1995. After 4 hours of being confused, babbling like a moron, getting lost and having to wait for the workers’ 2 hours lunch break to be over with, I only successfully registered for 1 out of 2 of my classes.

Today, I am successfully enrolled in my classes (5 in total: 2 at Paris VII and 3 at my college in Paris) and was feeling like things were finally in place. I then rewarded myself with a trip to the Musee d’Orsay where I only had to wait 5 minutes in line before getting in and got to see some superb paintings. After that, I was on a roll and headed over across the bridge to Les Arts Décoratifs to see, once more,  the Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs exhibition. Lastly, I decided to head over to the Marais and search for a crêperie so I could eat my first crepe in Paris.

It took quite a few hours to find the perfect crêperie if you can believe it. And just 30 minutes before my reservation I went to the ATM only to find out that I wasn’t able to withdraw money from my account. I can’t tell you the reason at the moment as I haven’t a clue why but I know that it isn’t my fault and that someone in their bureau made the mistake of freezing (?) my account.

Luckily I was with a friend who spotted me some cash so I was still able to enjoy one of the best crepes I’ve ever had (the one it rivals is a crepe i had on one of my last days in New York).

Hopefully next time I write I will not only have good news but more interesting stories to tell. For now, I’m trying to see howI can spread 5 euros to last me nine months.

à bientôt

S

My Past Few Days in Photo

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It wasn’t mine!

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La Grande Mosquée de Paris

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A fountain tucked away from a sidewalk in the Marais

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Jardin du Luxembourg; my usual spot for lunch

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Fashion Night Out, Paris, 2012

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Versailles

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The Spectacle of the Great Water Jets, at Versailles. This was one of many of the smaller fountains at Versailles that were concealed inside the maze.

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La Basilique du Sacre Coeur where I attended mass for the first time in ages.

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Yesterday was the first time i came so close to the Tour Eiffel

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Every hour, on the hour, Gustave Eiffel rolls over in his grave.

Chez Moi

I have finally finished my first week of orientation- which is just a mixture of classes of French history, politics, grammar, university life and French culture. It’s actually been very interesting and informative (I had no idea that ami(e) was only used for very close friends), but the days have been pretty long. With the limited time I had during the week, I’ll write about one part I know well but that I haven’t yet touched:

Chez “moi” and my host family.

My host family is really just ma mère d’accueil who has an apartment on the 3rd floor (that’s the 4th floor in a building in the U.S.) in the 4 ème arrondissement, close to la Seine, le Marais neighborhood and la Bastille. My host mother has traveled a lot and to many places around the world, which explains why her eclectic apartment is full of authentic souvenirs and antiques from magnets to blankets to photographs to other little artifacts. My room looks very vanilla in comparison but suits me well. I have a tv and large French style window and all those other things you would expect to find in a bedroom. My window looks out and down into the courtyard and across into the windows of my neighbors on the others side of the apartment. At night I try to see if there are any lights on or anything interesting happening, but so far it’s been disappointing. One last thing I will say on the topic of my window and room is that I detest how, on certain mornings, I can hear the cooing of pigeons and the flapping of their dirty wings.

view from my window

Personally, I think living with a host family is an excellent way to acclimate yourself to living in Paris and French culture. Not only can my host mother answer my questions about how to use a Velib or suggest a restaurant to go to, but I also think it helps to have conversations with someone who is not your French professor. It took me a while to comprehend my host mother. Even to this day I don’t always understand her. With my professors I have no problem. The difference here is that she, like every French speaker, uses slang (argot) and is speaking “real” French. Professors, I think, are more likely to annunciate and speak more clearly, just as you would speak more clearly if you were giving an oral presentation in class than if you were hanging out with your friends. And this subtle different of accent, pronunciation and vocabulary make all the difference for someone like me who has never really spoken casually with a native French speaker.

Another bonus is that my host has an interesting and extensive group of friends. She’s also someone who enjoys cooking and has made some pretty great dinners. I got to meet some of her friends and family one night when we had picnic dinner along a canal just a block away from the apartment. I think I really lucked out in this regard because, since it’s very untrue that all French families serve delicious and well-made dinners, there are some students who have to sit down to dinner every night and eat a ill prepared or boring dish with their host families.

Not I! I’ve also gotten the chance to eat some things I’ve never had before like shrimp served in their full glory (head, eyeballs, antennas), veal, fillet de sol with the bones, camembert, brie cheese (well I have eaten brie from Trader Joe’s which was imported from France and let me say, not a big difference), melon and jambon, sterilized milk (what even ?), full fat yogurt (mon dieu!) and lamb (which was the first time I ate in since I can remember and I hope I won’t encounter it again anytime soon).

A sticker on the door leading into the kitchen at my host’s house.

It’s only been a week that I’ve been living here but I am starting to feel more and more comfortable and at home. I have established routines like: waking up and walking 45 minutes to class. It sometimes amazes me that I get to pass all these significant or beautiful sights/sites just as a part of my walk home (and other times I am speeding past them because I’m so cold all I can think about is getting inside and getting warm. Yes, it’s been in the 60s in the last week of August).

On my way to class I get to walk across the Seine. On my favorite route I take the pont des Arts and pass the Notre Dame. In the afternoon I can’t help but feel superior, proud and a bit Parisienne when I get to pass all the tourists stopping on the bridge to make out and listen to the street-musicians or taking photographs of themselves eating ice cream in the Ile de Saint Louis. My inner dialogue says Yes, you’re on vacation but you’re also in my way. I live here and I’m just trying to get home. But in reality I enjoy every second of it.

Pont des Arts and la Notre Dame

My neighborhood, which has been compared to NYC’s West Village, is nothing like NYC’s West Village. I guess people make the comparison because there are cafes, boutiques and gay residents/culture (of which I haven’t noticed because I still haven’t reached the point where I can distinguish a heterosexual Frenchman from a homosexual Frenchman). My neighborhood (or what I consider it to be), le Marais, has a bunch a small streets, some are so small the sidewalk barely fits on person. In this neighborhood I get to profite from a metro stop close to chez moi, the good cafes and restaurants that are near by, a boulangerie right next door and, like I already mentioned, being a short walk away from Ile Saint Louis and the Notre Dame which is extraordinary both during the day and at night.

xx

Stacey