19 December 2006

Today Paul asked me what color the number seven is to me. I guess I surprised myself a little, but he was completely unfazed when I answered immediately with “yellow.” But why would he have been? He was expecting me to answer with a color, and I came through.

I love hanging out with that kid – he’s so incredibly smart and genuinely loves learning new things. We have the most fun and random conversations, and he’s completely riveted when I regale him with tales of the Donner Party, or Black Widow Spiders.

He has a continuous stream of questions popping into his head, and, being seven, has absolutely no hesitation in posing each one to me. From what color I think Thursday is (purple), to how many electronics I have in my house in Tacoma (um, a lot, I guess?), to a description of my favorite day ever (the day in kindergarten when I got to go home early because I had tied my shoelaces together during story time, only to find out that my lost American Girl Doll had been found, and that I’d won a Beauty and the Beast coloring contest all in the same day. It’s a warm memory for me).

Check out this pony from the window of BHV – the disturbing part is that it's a real stuffed pony:

These rabbits are no less authentic:

Sometimes the more pressing questions on his mind are what kind of food Wilbur likes best (peanut butter and cheese), or if I know any words in Korean (Kamsahamnida, thanks Dad), to my favorite taste in the world (cilantro), to how I feel about Sundays (I love them), or whether I am in love with anybody right now. No matter what I answer, as long as it’s not an “I don’t know,” he’s satisfied and moves on to other more pressing queries.

I thought these guys were awesome. No ladder? No matter.

I think out of everyone, P is the most like an actual little brother of mine – at least banter-wise. He tells me that my sunglasses are ugly, and I tell him that I’m trying to trick people into thinking I’m a movie star. He wants to know if it’s true. I say of course, and maybe they’ll think he’s famous too, since we’re together. I tell him he’s stinky, and he tries to gross me out by eating boogers.

We are constantly trying to outsmart each other – him trying to escape into the upper reaches of his bunk bed without me confiscating his Gameboy, and me of course, trying to confiscate the Gameboy. We take turns reading Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Tom-Tom et Nana, and compare our thoughts after each chapter. He tries to catch me with unfamiliar French vocabulary, and I outsmart him by knowing the words (he’s seven years old – we have similar vocabulary skills).

Sometimes P tells me about the girls he “loves” at school, and in turn wants to hear about every boy I’ve ever dated. He asks me each day for gossip about my brothers, and always wants follow-ups on the stories I tell him – he’s anxiously waiting to hear whether Ben has bought new earrings yet, and when Noah plans to take his driving test.

I found my neighborhood on the little model Paris in the floor of the Musée D'Orsay:

And my building!

We’re also constantly teaching each other. I taught P how to play Mancala and about the joys of Legoland, and in return, I learned the names and biographies of each character in Spongebob Squarepants. I know how to say “You suck!” (T’es naze!) and that French ados say tu peux me re-phone for “call me back,” and P is finally beginning to understand what I mean by constantly referring to things as “sweet.”

We really just have a lot of fun together – whether we’re singing “Jingle Bells” to Georges to get him to fall asleep or playing one of his practice songs as a duet on the piano. For a seven year old, he has a great sense of humor. He mailed E a brilliant fake letter from their feared and detested Grandmère that he came up with completely on his own.

Chère Ella, je t’écris cette lettre avec amour. Je veux te dire que ma radio ne marche plus, et je ne suis pas du tout contente. ~ Grandmère

Dear Ella, I send you this letter with love. I want to tell you that my radio no longer works, and I am not at all happy. ~ Grandmère

The greatest part of the prank was E’s reaction: “Grandmère has completely lost her head!” She bought the entire thing, and the fact that it was conceived by her seven year old brother tickles me to no end. P is pretty twisted for such a young age.

Is it weird that my favorite person in Paris is still in CE1 (like second grade)?

16 December 2006

Chanukah began yesterday at sundown. I was curious about the holiday in Paris after hearing stories about French Jews unable to broadcast their religion, and the huge amounts of security around all the temples on Yom Kippur.

Chanukah is not actually that big of a holiday, though. I think I was more into doing something celebratory than even Rachael was – we were originally going to make latkes with a few friends, but we postponed until Monday evening in favor of checking out a new bar.

Christina and I met Rachael, Thomas (French) and Ricardo (Spanish) near Saint Germain, where we left to walk to the smallest, most crowded, smokiest basement bar I’ve experienced in Europe.

This place, Chez Georges is wildly popular. We made our way past the bar and down a tiny set of spiral stairs into a brick cellar no larger (and possibly smaller) than my apartment, to find five seats at a wooden table. As we sat down, we congratulated ourselves on finding seats, which, according to Thomas, is a near-impossible feat.

Within five minutes of sitting down and ordering a bottle of wine, in walked three people I know from classes at Sciences Po. Over the course of the evening I probably ran into ten to fifteen people I know, which is a pretty rare event in a city as populated as Paris.

For a while we all sat around the table, just drinking our wine, talking and slowly asphyxiating from the clouds of cigarette smoke. Think about it – a teeny tiny brick basement room with only one exit and no windows – there’s nowhere for the smoke to go but into our lungs.

At about 23h, the place started to pick up. Soon the room was completely packed, with ten people crammed at each little table, and the minimal amount of standing room packed with couples and groups holding their bottles of wine and glasses. Meanwhile, the smoke cloud became denser and denser with each breath we attempted to draw.

After a few hours and many bottles of wine, the crowd was ready to dance – a difficult endeavor in such a small endroit. No matter, dance we did. There were people on tables, benches and chairs, packed in the center of the room and lining the twisting staircase to the rez de chaussée (rdc, or ground floor).

Normally, I wouldn’t expect such a dank and polluted little cellar to have such a powerful draw, but this is Paris – the people (patrons and bartenders) are friendly, the wine is decent and the music is eclectic, which is a sure recipe for success.

The playlist slid from an Elvis medley, to swing music, to thirties slow-dance music, to half an hour of Beatles songs, to Klezmer Music, to Judy Garland and around and back again. There’s something slightly unreal about standing in a packed mob with your arms around Parisian strangers while everyone sways together, belting “Let it be” at the top of their lungs.

It’s even odder when the same group grabs hands and begins to dance in a frantic circle, singing Hava Nagila in a smoky basement on the first night of Chanukah with approximately five people of authentic Jewish faith are present in the circle. It’s so surreal that the only solution is to join in with the singing, embracing complete strangers and pausing between songs to make toasts (being sure to always look into eyes of the person you're cheering – lest be cursed for seven years with a variety of complaints).

Despite the cough I had upon waking up this morning, the red wine drips on my shirt from last night and the horrible bar smell radiating from my coat and scarf, it was definitely a good night. Hava nagila! And happy Chanukah, of course.

14 December 2006

Sitting here in my apartment, with a cup of tea, the heat blasting, some really warm socks, and no homework to work on, I’m finally starting to relax a little. The past two weeks have been ridiculous, work-wise, but now (with only 4 more days of school before break) I can breathe again.

Yes, that's Notre Dame peeking through the tree.

Beginning December 3rd, most of the work of my semester began to pile up – over the past 10 days, I had a presentation and analysis of current events and projects of the European Union, an exposé (basically a speech) on Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Bara, a fiche technique (basically a report), a debate, an essay for my French class and an exposé for my French politics class.

It was a stressful beginning to the month. Today though, I have only five classes (and one final essay) standing between me and Christmas vacation. Of all the work that piled up, my French politics exposé was by far the worst. All of the projects required considerable work, but once I put the work in, I was quite satisfied with the result.

It's Christmas time in the city

This exposé though, Combien de gauches dans la vie politique française aujourd’hui? (Or, how many leftists in French politics today?) really terrorized me. It wasn’t so much the subject (which was pretty awful, I do admit), but the fact that for this particular class, my entire grade for the semester is weighted on this one exposé. That’s a lot of pressure riding on my analysis of the shock of 2002, Lionel Jospin’s political failings and the ultragauche (extreme left) in France. This was the exposé that I devoted my 21st birthday to, that I stayed up until 5am three nights in a row working on, that I’d practiced so many times I had it timed to the minute (exposés may NOT exceed 10 minutes).

Despite my knocking knees, quavery voice and flub of one of the post-exposé questions posed to me, my professor thanked me with a smile and a “Vous avez bienfait.” (You did a good job). Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my work, as I had to return home after class to complete an essay for my French class Wednesday.

Today is Thursday though, and I am feeling pretty good. Somewhere in the middle of all my researching and note-taking and typing in French of the past couple weeks, I began to notice a few bizarre things about myself. Or, the amount in which I unwittingly conformed to France over the past three and a half months.

In France, we do not double-space our fiches and essais. Everything is force justified rather than aligned-left. Titles of books, movies, institutions, and anything else with a multi-word designation have only the first letter of the first word capitalized – everything that follows is lower-case. Example, Droit constitutionnel et politique by Olivier Duhamel (who happens to be one of my professors). Oh yeah, and everything’s italicized.

Last names are always capitalized to avoid confusion and usually come first, GRIFFIN Halley, but not always Halley GRIFFIN. Sevens and Z’s are always crossed, and ones are never just vertical lines. We underline important points with rulers (although that might just be us nerds at Sciences Po) and we never omit zeros from dates. January 5th, 2006 is always 05/01/06, never 5/1/06.

None of these things are that odd individually, of course – the strange part is how easily and unconsciously I’ve adapted them. They’re all just simple differences in style – and being that I’m across an ocean from the schools where I learned to write papers it makes perfect sense that the styles should be different. It’s just interesting how naturally they’ve integrated themselves into my American style – which isn’t so American anymore, apparently.

I keep imagining next year and wondering how long it’ll take me to shake all the French out of my schoolwork. Christina will have the chance to reintegrate before I do, since she’s flying home for good next Thursday, so I guess I’ll have to hear about it second-hand.

C is staying with me for a few days and we spent the afternoon at a marché de Noël outside the Pompidou center. We were wandering around, casually drinking paper cups filled with cinnamon-y and delicious vin chaude, and we stopped to look at some artwork by a typical, if unusually scruffy-looking street artist. He looked at our cups and asked, “C’est du café?’ (Is that coffee?) When we informed him that it was in fact hot wine, he winked, said, “Yesss, al-co-hol-ic? Moi, je préfère la bière.” He then opened up the pocket of his dirty coat to show us an open bottle of beer for him to surreptitiously swig in between ripping off tourists with overpriced mediocre paintings. That’s Paris.

It hasn't snowed here yet – well, except for the dusting of sparkly plastic that's coating the Champs Elysées.

08 December 2006

Paris was a mess this morning. I woke up at about 7h this morning to the sounds of my building collapsing under the pressure of the wind.

Once I’d actually been awake for a few minutes, I came to the conclusion that my building was not actually being blown over – but it definitely being assaulted from every direction.

My apartment sits under the Northern eave of the building, and my windows are all positioned at a 45 degree angle. When I looked outward, I felt like I was in a carwash – buckets of water being thrown at the glass. I attempted to open one just a crack and one arm was immediately drenched.

I spent most of the morning dreading the moment when I would actually have to bundle up and venture outside to go to class. Most of the time I love the fact that I can get to Sciences Po faster on foot than in the metro, but today I wasn’t feeling particularly thankful.

When it starts raining in Paris, the souvenir stands suddenly all stock these very large blue Paris ponchos.

Unfortunately, I had an exposé to present in my art history class today, so no freak wind and rainstorm was going to be a legitimate excuse for skipping class. I waterproofed (read: Seattled myself) as best as I could, with my North Face, my REI raincoat a waterproof Timbuktu bag and my trusty if already falling apart cheapo umbrella from H&M.

Then I was ready to venture out into the storm. I thought maybe the wind would be a little less intense once I made it down to street level, rather than the top floor of my building. I was wrong.

I felt like a member of the riot police as I joined the ranks of soggy Parisians battling their way down avenue de l’Opéra. We’d position ourselves carefully, looking directly into the wind and pouring rain, force our umbrellas open and begin stalking down the street, umbrellas held out directly in front of us.

This picture (from the pompier protest a few weeks ago) comes from BBC’s week in pictures. Yeah, that was me trying to walk to school today.

After a few blocks, we began to realize that today was not a day for umbrellas.

The face full of December rain proved to be less of a hassle than battling an umbrella through Paris. In the courtyard of the Louvre, I put my umbrella back up – the wind was extra strong in open spaces. It sheltered me for about….half a second, before flipping inside-out.

That’s when I officially gave up on the umbrella and instead walked backward through the courtyard. A few older ladies saw me doing this and chuckled at first, but once they got a face full of the wet wet wind, they were ready to adopt my technique.

My backwards walking technique made much more sense than chasing this around:

Throughout the rest of my walk to school I grinned at fellow soaked Parisians. Each one of us was soaking wet and disheveled with an umbrella tucked under one arm, even as the rain continued to drench us. Everyone wore the same hapless look that said, "I just had to give up on the umbrella."

We all eventually gave up.

For the rest of the morning, the trash cans of Paris continued to fill up with battered and broken umbrellas. Then, around 14h30, the sun broke, and it became a beautiful French day.

The evidence remains, though.

••• In other news, Rachael and I RSVP'd for a talk by Vice Premier of Israel, Shimon Peres at Sciences Po. It's scheduled for Monday morning and should be pretty interesting.

06 December 2006

Sciences Po has been a bit of a hub of chaos lately. Not only has there been an unexpected crackdown on security (we can now only enter the two buildings through one door on rue Saint Guillaume, and not before showing our i.d. cards), but this week is the 75ème birthday of the Association Sportive.

At Sciences Po, there’s the BDE (Bureau des Elèves) which is kind of the technical French equivalent of ASB or ASUW. Aside from orientation though, they really don’t do much. During the regular school year, parties, events and performances are planned instead by the sports association, who are generally pretty good at what they do – at least the party planning aspect.

It’s thanks to our friends at the AS that we’ve had the opportunity to attend at least one party a week (always on Wednesdays). Now that we’re nearing the holidays, they’ve upped the tally to include weekly cocktail parties along with the big blowouts – i.e. tonight’s AS birthday celebration.

Halloween, for example, was an AS party:

As far as planning anything else goes…I’m not so sure that I’m impressed. This week, the 75ème celebration was supposed to be full of events showing off, what else, the sports association. We’ve been getting emails for the past two weeks detailing the events – photo exhibits, parties, sports classes and dance demonstrations. The dance performances were supposed to be salsa, modern, capoeira and l’hip-hop, organized by the teams and their teachers (yes, technically we’re a hip-hop team).

My teacher (Florence “Flo”) decided to do it like an open class – have everyone (who didn’t have a conflicting class) from the two groups come in to Sciences Po this afternoon and take a class with some pieces we’d already prepared. I thought it sounded fun, so I rearranged my nanny schedule a little bit so I could participate. We’d been getting reminder emails all week from the AsSp, and I think everyone (the coordinators, Flo and myself) assumed that at least a few hip-hoppers would show.

We were wrong. I arrived in the Penîche (the room just past the entry hall of Sciences Po, through which everyone who enters the building has to pass) at 14h20 to find Flo setting up speakers with two girls from the AS. I was the first and only student there. We waited and waited, but no one else from either hip-hop group showed up. The sports association girls were in a bit of a panic because there were huge posters everywhere advertising this hip-hop demonstration, and spectators were beginning to hear the hip-hop music and meander through.

At about 14h40 (ten minutes after we were supposed to start), we figured out that no one else was coming. Flo and the AsSp girls were having a harried French conversation about what they should do about the people waiting to see some hip-hop, the fact that I was all alone and they didn’t want to put me on the spot and whether they could quickly recruit some random students to take part. This last bit was clearly desperation speaking – once you know a few Sciences Po students, you know that they’re not going to be jumping over each other to throw off their pea coats and book bags and break it down.

Finally Flo walked up to me with a look on her face that said, “I know you’re going to say no, but…” and asked if I thought we should go ahead and start. What they obviously didn’t know is that I am the kind of person who enjoys being put on the spot. I love performing in front of a crowd, whether or not I was planning on busting out a hip-hop solo show that day. Of course I said yes.

Since the idea of a demonstration class was clearly not going to work, we instead put together a combination to perform over and over. It was so fun. We usually move a lot slower in class because most of the other students don’t have any previous hip-hop experience, but today we were under pressure. The combination was fast-paced and so fun to dance, and we got to throw in some of the break dancing moves we’ve been working on in class.

With just Flo and I working the dance floor – er, great hall of Sciences Po, we didn’t manage to recruit any students to dance with us – but we did draw quite a crowd. There were two boys (one French, one from Michigan) who’d been homeworking in the Penîche and a little old lady from the Secretariat’s office who were our most appreciative audience members. The three of them watched us for the entire hour we performed, even though we were doing the same combination over and over again as people milled through. We shook it up from time to time by entering the room in creative ways, or adding some freestyle break dancing to the end, but it was really repetitive. Even so, those three stayed until the end – when we got a big cheer upon finishing our final poses in our final run-through.

I stuck around to talk to Flo for a while afterwards, and she thanked me for being willing to perform half-solo in front of all of Sciences Po at a moment’s notice. I assured her that I loved every minute of it (I really am just a big fat show-off), and she told me she actually wasn’t surprised that no French students had turned up to take part in the demonstration. The French are so reserved, she told me, they don’t put themselves into situations they’re not in control of – unless it’s a meticulously choreographed spectacle taking place in an actual theatre. The funny thing is, Cassie said the same thing when I told her about the afternoon.

On my way back from the impromptu spectacle d’hip-hop, I found my passage blocked by yet another protest march.

When I first arrived in Paris, I was fascinated by manifestations in the streets. Actually the word manifestation doesn’t really make much sense here in English, but in French, it can describe a protest, march, rally or other demonstration.

My first protest:

I witnessed my first Parisian protest march in August, just a few days after arriving in the city. It was a demonstration against France’s (and Sarkozy’s) immigration policies, and I was pretty enthralled, taking photograph after photograph to document it. I saw my second march barely a week afterwards, and my third a few days after that.

I’ve probably been privy to some kind of protest every 10 days since landing at Charles de Gaulle. If it’s not immigrants and sans-papiers, it’s architecture students, université students, or pompiers (firemen/EMTs). Today it was a performing arts union.

I used to stop and watch each protest for a few minutes – at least long enough to find out what the demonstrators were trying to accomplish. Now I roll my eyes thinking, “yep, I’m in France,” and hurry to the other side of the street before my route home is completely blocked. Strange the things that I accept as day-to-day life here.

••• Paris has book vending machines. Only 3 euro for La Metamorphose or Petits Grains du Bible...

04 December 2006

About halfway through the ballet I leaned over to Amelia to ask, “the swans aren’t usually men, are they?”

No, the swans in the ballet Swan Lake are generally female – that’s the whole point of the story. Prince Siegfried falls in love with Odette, a woman under a sorcerer’s curse – swan by day, woman by night. At least that’s how it went down in the original Bolshoi Ballet version in 1877.

The Swan Lake A and I saw today was no traditional Russian ballet. Tchaikovsky was still the composer, and there were indeed swans, but other than that, it was a completely modern ballet.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake debuted in 1995 in London and immediately generated rave reviews. In addition to its three Tony Awards, it apparently became the longest-running ballet on London’s Broadway. (And yes, it is the same version of Swan Lake featured at the end of Billy Elliot – furry pants and white-painted bodies included).

Théâtre Mogador

Amelia and I had both really been looking forward to seeing the show, so I made sure to complete enough homework yesterday that we could just have a fun Sunday. The ballet wasn’t until 15h, so we took a walk around the jardin des Tuileries and stopped for a glass of vin chaud in one of the little cafés in the park. On this rainy and windy Sunday, it was a lovely break to drink warm wine with cinnamon with a good friend from home and watch cold and wet people through the windows of the café. From there we headed up rue de la Paix through place Vendôme to the Théâtre Mogador (located behind l’Opéra Garnier).

Rue de la Paix is decked out in white plastic decorations for the holidays:

Being that we are cheap and students, we were only able to bring ourselves to spring for the cheapest of tickets. Our forty euro a piece secured us seats in row XX in the very back corner of the theatre’s balcony. As I completely forgot yesterday to ask Cassie for a pair of opera glasses to borrow, A and I arrived at the theatre hoping to be able some.

When we handed our tickets to the usher, however, we were informed that “le balcon est fermé aujourd’hui.” (The balcony is closed today). We were directed instead to the orchestre, where we found ourselves with seats upgraded by about 65 euro. We were close enough to see the sweat dripping down the backs of the swans (yeah, not sure that was such a bonus). The opera glasses proved to be entirely unnecessary.

The star in the balcony is where our tickets instructed us to sit. The star in the orchestre section is where we actually got to sit.

Despite some initial confusion about the lack of female swans, and the fact that the ballet was set in Britain today (supposed by some to be a kind of satirical commentary on Charles, Prince of Wales and the rest of the current monarchy), A and I were both riveted. Oh, it was so good.

And we had a very good view (except for that one guy's head):

After the show A and I went to diner at my favorite Arrmenian restaurant on rue Mouffetard, then walked back to my apartment via all of the best Christmas lights we could find. It was a good day.

Lights on rue Mouffetard.

02 December 2006

Two days into December, and this city is ready for the holidays. The air is crisp, the Christmas markets have sprung up in streets all over Paris. The vin chaude is hot and delicious in the jardin des Tuileries, and since the first of the month, Christmas lights have been lit up all over the city.

The department store windows are full of stuffed bears and toy trains and Christmas stockings and presents, and the patinoire (ice skating rink) is busily freezing in front of Hôtel de Ville (open for business beginning on Tuesday).

Windows of boulangeries are filled with bûches de Noël, and the entirety of rue de la Paix is lined with fake white Christmas trees on pedestals.

Oh yes, Paris is ready for Christmas. So am I.

Last night R and I went to a really fun bar in the 11ème arondissement, before meeting a group of friends at a jazz club near her apartment. We were tipped off by her brother, who spent the year before last living in Paris, that there exists a bar near metro Ménilmontant where the purchase of a drink guarantees you a table and a free dinner.

Feeling a little skeptical, we decided to check it out. The bar (Tais) is a laid-back and funky café, filled with twenty-somethings eating and drinking to a soundtrack of Toots and the Maytals. We found ourselves a piece of bar to lean on and drink our bières blanches while we waited for a table to open up. After maybe ten minutes of sipping, we were directed to our table where we continued to sip our beers and wonder if R’s brother had been pulling our legs.

To our delight and surprise though, after maybe twenty minutes of chilling at our table, we were given plates, knives and napkins, without having seen a menu or ordering anything. The guy who brought our plates disappeared into the back and returned with a steaming platter of couscous, a meat dish to eat with it and a bowl of stew to pour over the entire meal. Not only was the food delicious, but our bill was only 6 euro – the cost of the two girl beers.

We left Tais feeling satisfied and thrilled with our new favorite bar, but somewhat confused. What kind of business can survive giving everyone free dinner every night? I guess some parts of Paris will always be kind of mysterious and magical. Don’t question it – just enjoy the couscous.

These are going to be an odd few weeks in Europe as my apartment becomes home base for everyone whose program is ending. Anyone who’s not staying the entire year is getting ready to go home sometime in the next two weeks. The UW’s Comparative Literature Paris program ended yesterday and Amelia’s host mother couldn’t keep her for the few extra days until she flies home, so she’ll be bunking with me for a few days, with the possible addition of her cousin for one or two of them.

Next week I’ll host Christina for a night before she heads off to Switzerland, and I’m keeping her luggage for the week until she returns to Paris to fly home out of Charles de Gaulle. People I know in London are packing and getting ready for regular life again, and even my friends back in Seattle are hustling to finish their work before the quarter ends.

I feel like I’m some kind of rock in the middle of all the chaos. Things are changing and ending all around me, and I’m just here. I’m turning 21 in a week, but it’s not of any consequence in Europe – besides, I’ll have such a ridiculous amount of work that I probably won’t even bother celebrating. Two of my best friends are heading back to their normal lives this month, with me as their jumping off point, but nothing’s changing for me. Work as usual – my semester isn’t even over until Valentine’s Day. And it’s about to be 2007, for Pete’s sake. Funny how my home base for all of this has shifted to somewhere in the deuxième arondissement of Paris.

So much chaos, and none of it is mine. I think I’ll just keep living on, listening to my Christmas music, enjoying the lights that decorate the city and eating my free couscous.

Happy December!

•• Amelia and I are going to Swan Lake at the Mogador tomorrow afternoon! I can't wait – my mission for the day is find someone to borrow binoculars from...our seats are in row "XX," no joke.

29 November 2006

Paris, sometimes you scare me a little.

There isn't a lot to update – since I've been sick, I wake up, go to class, do my homework and go to sleep. Today though, I happened to walk home a different way and found something a little disturbing.

Yes, those are actual stuffed rats. Hanging from traps. In the window of a business on rue des Halles. Right next to a popular boulangerie.

The rats kind of make sense, because it's the office of an exterminator/pest control business...but still. The sign translates to: Destruction of Harmful Animals

Here's a closer view of the dead rats. The sign in the middle explains that these were all sewer rats that were actually trapped and killed by this business around the Forum des Halles in and around the year 1929. Apparently they had them stuffed...and kept them.

27 November 2006

Of the three months and three days that I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve been without my camera for more than half of it. Today, seven and a half weeks after I dropped it off, I finally got to pick up my fixed camera from the Vilma Canon specialists in the 20ème arondissement.

No matter that the projected time in which it would be repaired was only three weeks. The fact that I actually expected it to be ready by the estimated date is a testament to the fact that I really haven’t been living here that long – I should have known better.

This is France, after all. I suppose I’ve only lived in five cities in my life, but out of the five, Paris is by far the most filled with red tape. My experience trying to have a simple repair done on my little camera is an apt example of how ridiculously difficult it is to get anything done in this country.

Even if it's annoying...Paris is pretty for Christmas:

The saga began in October – on the fourth of the month, I dropped my Canon. I’ve dropped it before, but I either dropped it from higher than ever before or it had simply had enough abuse. As soon as I picked it up from the floor, I knew something was wrong.

When I pressed the power button, the lens sputtered, zoomed halfway out, then a quarter of the way back in and the error message “E18” flashed in white on the black screen of the camera. At this point I’d only been living in my new apartment for a few days, and I didn’t have Internet access yet.

To try and figure out what was wrong with my camera, I wandered around my neighborhood with my laptop open, trying to pick up an unsecured wireless network. I finally found one in a small park a few blocks away from my building, and settled down on a bench to peruse the Canon website.

From their site I learned that the E18 message meant that something was blocking the zoom lens (and from Wikipedia, I learned that maybe I got off easy with my free repair). And that there happened to be one authorized Canon repair shop in the entire Île de France region.

I wasted no time in bringing my camera to Vilma, which I remained quite optimistic about, even throughout the 40 minute, three metro transfer trip it took me to get out to their office in the 20ème.

I had a really interesting time trying to communicate to the woman checking the repairs in what exactly was wrong with my camera – the vocabulary to describe the functions of a zoom lens wasn’t covered in any of my French books in school. Finally I gave up and resorted to gesturing at the camera saying “E18, E18.”

The Vilma employee understood immediately, and checked the camera in – I didn’t have my warranty with me, but she assured me that they’d begin work on my camera and I just needed to drop off my garantie as soon as I could locate it. I explained to her that it would half to be mailed to me from the States, but that was fine, she said. The work on the camera would take three to four weeks to complete.

I was a little surprised at how long she thought it would take, but figured they’d overestimate the time a little and I could expect my camera back before the end of October. No such luck.

My mom dug the warranty out of my bedroom at home and mailed it to me the very next day. When I brought it to Vilma about a week after I’d dropped off my camera, a different employee was working the desk. This one spoke English and he explained to me that they had not been able to commence work on the camera without the garantie. They’d need three to four more weeks to work on my Canon, and would email me when it was ready. At this point I was really frustrated – especially since Christina and I had been planning our trip to Barcelona and I was no longer sure I’d have my camera back in my possession by then (as it turned out, I didn’t).

A few days after dropping off the warranty, I received an electronic bill, estimating the work on the camera at around 200 euro and asking if I was in accord with paying it. Knowing my camera was under international warranty, I ignored the email, figuring it was a mistake.

Maybe a month later (a week or so into November) I received the same electronic bill, this time with a note demanding a “oui” or “non” if I was going to comply with the work agreement. This time I responded to the email, saying that my camera was under warranty and was not supposed to cost me money.

The email I got back told me not to worry about it, they had my warranty and I wouldn’t be charged anything. Reassured, but still agitated without my camera, I continued on with my day-to-day business.

This brings us up to last week. At the beginning of the week, I received the bill yet again. I responded this time saying that I agreed to the work, but not to paying, since my camera was under warranty. This time I received my reply via telephone.

The woman who called informed me that I still needed to drop off my garantie at Vilma. This time I was really confused. I explained to her that I’d already given them a copy of my warranty, that the guy I’d given it to had assured me that the repair would cost nothing and that I’d been waiting for my camera for well over a month. The employee told me she’d speak with her coworker and hung up abruptly.

About ten minutes later I received another email that said nothing but “votre appareil sera reparer” (your camera will be repairing – yeah, it’s not even sensical French). This was really driving me nuts, so I sent them an email back saying something along the lines of “Okay, it will be repaired, but when? I’ve been waiting for more than a month.” No response.

Friday night I spent a good portion of R and my Beaujolais walk griping about the incredibly frustrating game I was playing with the employees of Vilma. We came to the mutual conclusion that the most productive thing I could do would be to show up there on Monday (today) in person and ask them what on earth was going on.

This was my plan until I checked my mail Saturday, and found a letter telling me that my camera was finally ready. I was thrilled, but still annoyed. For one thing, the letter was postmarked November 22nd – a day before I’d received the phone call and emails from Vilma. For another, they’d told me I’d receive notification by email – if they had emailed me when it was ready, I’d have had my camera four days ago.

These are my feelings on the whole annoying ordeal:

I was so sick of dealing with this place and so excited to have my camera back that I skipped my vie politique lecture this afternoon to pick it up. I feel like I’m put back together again – it felt like a piece of my arm was missing, to not be able to document everything funny, interesting, bizarre that I saw throughout my days. I feel like I lost two months – two months in which I saw a lot of people wearing red pants and white shirts.

It doesn’t matter anymore though – I have my Canon back in my own hands, and I have another life lesson about the joys of dealing with anything in France under my belt. Vive la bureaucratie!

* Those jerks also changed my camera language into French. Good thing I can already speak it.

26 November 2006

Sometimes the nights when nothing goes according to plan end up being the best nights out. Sometimes they end up stinking, like the night we couldn’t get into Le Queen because of the shoes Rachael was wearing (who knew the bouncers would have such hatred for orange flats?).

Sometimes though, you come home at the end of the night knowing that the adventure you had was way more fun than whatever you’d originally intended to do.

Last night, for example. R and I had both had long, obnoxious weeks and both ended up having had too much homework to do anything for Thanksgiving, so we were looking forward to doing something fun Friday night.

I headed over to her apartment around 22h with a bottle of the Beaujolais Nouveau where the plan was to make dinner then head out to a bar or club to unwind with a lot of dancing.

When I got to her building, however, R didn’t answer her doorbell. When I got through to her cell phone, I found out that she was indeed inside the building, but was locked out of her apartment. This is bizarre because she had a key – it just wouldn’t work in the lock.

I should probably mention that this was a replacement key. I’m not sure how she managed this, but a few weeks ago, R somehow flushed her apartment and building keys down the toilet. She was too embarrassed to confess what really happened to her landlord and when she told him they were lost, was informed that a replacement set costs 200 euro. This seemed like a ridiculous price, but having keys to your apartment are kind of a necessity, so she paid for new ones. Without a key she was having to leave her door unlocked when she left for the day, and when she got home used a chair to barricade it (many French doors can only be locked from the inside with a key).

In the week that she’s had the replacement keys, R managed never to actually have to use them (i.e., her roommate was always home too) until last night. Apparently the landlord copied the wrong set.

So there we were, in the hallway of R’s building, with a bottle of wine, a giant Nine West bag (mine) and a bulging backpack (hers), and nowhere to go. We left a message for her roommate, for another guy in the same building and for a guy from the Sorbonne who’d invited us to a party.

This is a pretty typical evening – note the crêpe and the bottle of wine.

With nothing to do but wait, we went to a kebab restaurant around the corner from R’s apartment. Our food was delicious (the owner made fresh frites for us), and we stalled for as long as we could, since we hadn’t had any phone calls yet, but eventually we had to stand up and pay.

By that time, we were the only customers left in the restaurant. Besides us, it was the owner and two of his friends – three dad-aged men. One was Turkish, but I’m not sure about the other two.

As we were paying, we chatted casually with the men, who were nice (if difficult to understand), and they ended up inviting us to stay and let them buy us glasses of wine. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, and they didn’t seem to be hitting on us, so we said okay and sat back down.

One of the friends bought the first round, but after that the owner got excited about playing the host and brought us plates of appetizers and wine refills for the hour we lingered. As random as it was, it ended up being really fun – we spent the entire time talking about politics: The immigration issues in France, the image of the United States abroad and how none of us felt the Monica Lewinsky incident was at all relevant to Bill Clinton’s ability as a leader.

At midnight we decided it was time to check if Vita had returned, so we thanked the men and were invited back anytime for free kebabs or drinks.

Vita hadn’t returned (or called) yet, so we borrowed a bottle opener from one of Rachael’s neighbors and settled down with the Beaujolais in a corner of the hallway to watch a few episodes of the Girls Next Door.

At 12:40 (ten minutes after the final metro) we finally got a call from Vita – who informed us that she wasn’t actually planning on coming home at all. She had multiple parties to attend and it was easier for her to crash at a friend’s apartment. Our only real option was to head back to my apartment – else R would have nowhere to sleep. There’s a noctilien bus that leaves Bastille at 10 past every hour and runs along Rivoli, so we decided to just pack it up and hoof it with our bottle of wine.

Well we ended up deciding not to take the bus. Instead we stopped at a little epicerie for some snacks (chocolate cookies and two chocolate bars, ha!) and had a great time wandering through Paris with our wine and chocolate. We stopped at Bastille for a while to watch the breakdancing guys who bring a boombox out every weekend and dance all night for donations.

Holllllla for 2am crêpes!

These guys have the potential to be a lot more than street performers – they are really really good. I love watching people dance who really know how to move – it kind of inspires me. Watching the guys last night I had a hard time keeping myself from running up and busting a move along with them. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t, because though I probably could have pulled out some hip-hop moves, I would kill myself trying to do crazy poses on wet ground while supporting myself with one hand.

The whole walk was just really fun – drinking Beaujolais and checking out the tacky (and some not so tacky) Christmas decorations that have sprung up all over Paris. (To balance out the Christmas, R sung me some Hanukkah carols and I did my interpretation of a Hanukkah carol dance along the sidewalk beside her). I’m really going to miss living in a country where you can drink wine straight from the bottle walking down the street and not get arrested. We eventually did make it back to my apartment and to bed, but with fond memories of the evening and plans to eat free kebabs at our next possible convenience.

•• Apparently French kids have their own shortcut online language. Instead of “I’m hungry 4 a hamburger,” they’ll say “Je n’aime pas 7 chose.” The number 4 for “for” in English, the number 7 for “cette” (this) in French. I thought it was funny – Ella taught me.

••• Aussi, I'm finally sick for the first time since I arrived in Paris. Cassie warned me that I'd probably get really sick this year because I don't have the right antibodies to fight French germs...and I rightfully should have gotten sick since I was living with Rachael the walking disease for a month and a half, but I never did. Until now. Why could my body fight off the germs radiating at me from sleeping in the same bed as Rachael for a month and not the germs from little Georges? Actually, the cause is probably the fact that Rachael was never so proud of her boogers that she felt she needed to gift me with them. Georges, on the other hand...

23 November 2006

So not only is it Thanksgiving, but it’s the three-month mark of when I left Tacoma. It’s surprisingly anticlimactic so far.

When I walked out of my building to run a few errands this morning, I could have sworn I smelled a turkey roasting – but it couldn’t have been. Today is just a regular day in Paris – plus they don’t really eat turkey here. It’s all about the ham on this side of the Atlantic.

I thought I’d feel sadder, but I’m not really. I’m far enough away that it’s not bothering me so much. The more pressing thought on my mind is concerned with the exposé I have to present on Monday. When my group was assigned to the topic “Pourquoi peut-on dire que l’Union européenne est ‘un objet politique non identifié?” (Why could you say that the European Union is an unidentified political object?) Our professor started chuckling and told us we’d need her help for this one.

An OVNI is a French UFO, so the question refers to a play-on-words made by former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors – we’ve figured out that much, but this subject is still a doozy. I’m meeting with Alex from Germany at 14h to get some more work done.

Since my mind is completely stuffed with the Council of Ministers, federalism, OVNIs, the three pillars of the EU and other really confusing facts (to a girl who didn’t grow up as a citizen of the European Union), I haven’t had much time to think about Thanksgiving, or the fact that I’ve been living in France for a quarter of a year.

I guess that means it’s time for my three-month check-up. I’ve got to admit though, I don’t have a lot to report. September was pretty busy, what with arriving in France, apartment hunting, beginning orientation at UW, going to Munich, finding an apartment to sublet for the month and interviewing to become an au pair. October was pretty crazy too, with moving into my new apartment, Rachael finally finding a Russian roommate and a new apartment, beginning real classes at Sciences Po, making more friends and experiencing French Halloween.

This picture is a pretty accurate representation of Thanksgiving with my family. Actually, every holiday.

November though, where did it go? I feel like I was reflecting on my first two months just a few days ago. I guess it started off in Barcelona, then after a weeklong vacation from classes and a few horribly awkward boy situations all my real work started – and now a month has gone by without me realizing it.

You’d think the time would slow down once I got into a steady routine – classes, nannying, running, hip-hop, homework, grocery shopping and taking care of an apartment – but instead it seems to zip by even faster. I don’t mind though – fast or slow, I’ll take the routine.

I love traveling around and having crazy European things happen to me, collecting wild stories to tell – but I’m also loving the day-to-day Parisian life. Now it’ll be December in a week and all I have to report are boring everyday life things. I need a haircut and I’d really like some chocolate right now. I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping (don’t bother being impressed – you’d do it early too if you had to deal with international shipping). I’m finally going to see James Bond this weekend and I’m almost out of milk. Just life – not really grandes choses.

Later today, after I work on homework for a while, grimace at my scraggly hair, buy some milk and locate some chocolate, I’ll eat some pumpkin pie with the nanny kids. There are a few things going on for Americans in Paris today, but I’m not sure I want to bother with them. A student potluck could be fun…but it’s not my Thanksgiving. Instead I think it’ll end up being Rachael and I with a bottle of wine and a corny movie. Maybe we’ll get around to talking about what we’re thankful for, if we feel like it.

In case we don’t get around to it tonight, here are mine: I’m thankful for Paris – thankful that I decided to really do this for a year, and thankful for the way it’s all worked out. I’m most thankful for the family I’ve found here – I’m still technically the hired help, but I’m starting to feel more like the fun American cousin. I’m thankful for my apartment (and the fact that I don’t pay the bills so I can turn up the heat as high as I want!! R’s thankful for that too, because she and Vita try to avoid high heating bills by keeping theirs turned down low).

I’m thankful for everyone I’ve met in France and for the fact that Christina and Amelia are living in the same country as me for a few more weeks. I’m thankful that my aunt is coming to Paris in three weeks and that she’ll be staying in a hotel about five walking minutes from my apartment.

Mostly though, I’m just thankful for my friends and family. Isn’t that what everyone’s thankful for on Thanksgiving? It’s really a holiday to appreciate the people you love – although they deserve to be appreciated every day of the year. If you’re thankful for your family and friends, show them – don’t wait to appreciate them on holidays or whenever it’s particularly convenient for you. If I had a way to see everyone I loved right now, I’d do it in a second.

Happy Thanksgiving!


••• I’m also thankful for nutella banana crêpes. That is all.

22 November 2006

Every so often I find myself missing the most random parts of the Northwest. I miss running in at Point Defiance when I need to work out, I miss cheap ethnic food when I need to satisfy a craving, I miss affordable Starbucks coffee when I’m feeling stingy but needing a caffeine buzz, and I miss my family and friends whenever I think about them. Those things aren’t random though, and they certainly weren’t unexpected.

You can bet that Americanos don't cost three whole euro at this Starbucks...

No, the weird moments are when I catch myself daydreaming in class and stop to consider the bizarre subject of the fantasy. I’m not ignoring my teacher to fantasize hot dates with sexy French men – I’m picturing myself driving up South 38th Street (T-Town).

I actually have a lot of these daydreams, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I took the time to think and figure out why. Of course I miss Proctor (T), but Paris is filled with cute streets with coffee shops, Italian restaurants and toy stores. I miss the U District (Sea-Town) too, but there are college students and homeless people all over Paris. I miss Ruston Way (T), but the quais of the Seine are perfectly acceptable substitutes.


What I really miss (and really never expected to) are the things that are impossible to find substitutes for in Paris. South 38th Street, for example. It’s ugly, it’s trafficky, it’s strip mall-y – and there’s nothing like it in all of Europe.

One of the first things you start to learn living in Paris (and never really stop learning) is where and how to satisfy your material needs. One-stop shopping doesn’t really exist here (the closest exception being the Monoprix), and different districts have sprung up around the city as different types of businesses cluster near each other to rob each other of as much business as possible.

Rue Saint-Honoré is great if I need to stock up on expensive labels and do come celebrity stalking. The Champs Elysées is perfect if it’s a Sunday and it’s one of the three sole areas open for business in Paris. Any street is good for a boulangerie (bakery), boucherie (butcher shop), fromagerie (cheese shop) or cave aux vins (wine shop). Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is where to buy furs of any kind, rue des Rosiers is falafel central, and rue Condorcet is where to get hooked up with a professional camera (or corresponding equipment).

Any street in Paris can be useful depending on what I’m looking for – unless what I happen to be looking for is a place to drive through a car wash, donate some clothes to Goodwill, eat lunch at Arby’s, stock up on discount sporting equipment (Big 5), get a tattoo (Tsunami Tattoo) and buy oversized boxes of Cheerios and a year’s supply of paper towels (Costco) in one fell swoop.

I know this isn't S. 38th, but I didn't happen to have a picture of the ugliness.

I mean, I don’t generally ever have a need to do all of those things at once – even when I’m in Tacoma with a car and access to them, but it’s nice to know that I could if I wanted to.

And what if I need to get my nails done, overeat at a pizza buffet, trespass in Tacoma's speculated mafia hang-out (El Toro, you know it), get my tires changed and buy really scary Chinese food for one dollar? What will I do? There’s no equivalent of Pearl Street (T) – and definitely nothing here that scares me quite as much as the “Wok on in” sign at Sars Marketplace.

I also realize that this isn't Pearl...but I have limited access to pictures of Tacoma over here!

Plus, sometimes a girl just really needs to see those weird light-up blue plastic sculptures on the Glass Bridge (T) to feel properly at home. Sure I can gaze at the glass pyramides of the Louvre – but sometimes the only pointed structure I want to see is the hideous metal (yet somehow quilted-looking) hot shop of the Glass Museum (T).

If I had made a list of things I was positive I wouldn’t miss before I left home – most of the ones I miss the most now would have been on it. I’m sure it’ll be the same for Paris when I leave – everything I hate now but that makes Paris what it is: The horribly-planned streets and resulting horrible traffic, the ridiculous amount of red tape required to accomplish anything, the irresistible and always regrettable temptation to buy (absolutely disgusting) euro-a-bottle wine.

There are only two things that I can say with certainty that I won’t miss about this city: The pee smell that pervades every sidewalk of the city and the dog poop that coats them. Although, I never expected to miss the Tacoma Aroma before they cleaned up the tideflats either. It's not that I really miss smelling it, of course – it’s just…Tacoma).

I think Tacoma is beautiful.

•• P.S. I really miss driving a CAARRRRRR!!!

••• I love hearing authentic French-speakers pronounce rue Sainte Anne. It's one street over from my building and it sounds like poetry. Ohh I can't get over how much I love it! It sounds like no two other words could ever go together as well as these two. When I was here in high school my host mother Bernadette told me of a previous exchange student they'd met who had loved the word for stars. Les étoiles. It's my Sainte Anne.

19 November 2006

Whenever I pause to think about it, I’m always surprised at how easy it is to switch back and forth between French and English. Before living here, I’d expected it to be a lot more difficult keeping my languages straight. When I stayed with a French family in Royan during a summer in high school I spoke French the entire time. I remember speaking to my parents on the phone and answering them with “ouais, ouais” without realizing what I was saying.

It’s a little bit funny to me that living alone in Paris I end up speaking as much English as I speak French. It’s always English with my au pair kids, although I switch to French sometimes with Georges because he gets confused about which language he’s supposed to be speaking, and I speak French with Irma the housekeeper.

It’s always French at Sciences Po, except for certain times working in groups with other international students. For the most part students from other parts of the world learned English before they learned French, and we accomplish a lot more work speaking in English.

In stores, restaurants and museums it’s always French – when I first got here I felt like I was really obviously an American, and people would answer me in English when I tried to speak to them in French. Since August though, I’ve become much more comfortable speaking casually and familiarly (rather than with the perfect grammar and high tenses we practice in school), and I think I’ve started to blend in enough that while people know I’m foreign, they can’t immediately place me. I mostly get mistaken for being Spanish or Italian (i.e., the Franprix guy from yesterday) – though once someone assumed me for Irish.

With friends, it just depends. I always speak French with Sonia (French) from my hip-hop class, but with Ana (Portugese) it’s always English. I speak French with Alex (German) and Anna (Polish), my partners in my European Union class, but I always speak English with Rubens (French). There was no specific decision involved in any of these cases, it’s just whichever language we happened to start speaking the first time we met, I guess.

A French-Moroccan, a French-Algerian and an American:

My art history class is taught in English and my professor is from NYU, so we speak to her in English and do anything official for class in English. Because the majority of the class is French though, we speak in French to each other (even during class), and any emails to the class mailing list are always in French.

I obviously speak to Rachael in English, except when we’re hanging out with her roommate Vita – Vita is Russian and doesn’t speak any English, so it’s French only when she’s around. Last night Rachael and Vita had a party (kind of a late housewarming) and all night conversations were switching between Russian, English, French and Spanish. There were people who spoke French and English only, people who spoke Russian and English only, people who spoke Russian and French only, and an infinite number of other combinations, so you had to feel out every new person who joined a conversation.

But disco dancing is the universal language (moves provided by my dad):

I walked home with a boy who is Franco-Español, but who speaks excellent English. During the forty-minute walk we spoke the whole time in French-English-French-English, and the conversation was surprisingly fluid. As long as you’re comfortable in both the languages you’re speaking in, it’s pretty easy to get by like that. For the most part, the party was an odd mélange of French and English, French being a common language because we’re all living in France, and English because it’s a language that everyone educated over here feels that they have to learn.

An incredibly unattractive picture of an American girl and a Franco-Español boy:

If you are European and you’re interested in politics, business, teaching, anything that involves speaking to people, you have to be able to speak English to secure a good job. It’s one of the first things you’ll be asked in a job interview, and you have a very slim chance of going far in the business world if you can’t speak at least some English.

It’s fun hanging out at Rachael and Vita’s apartment because Vita lived here all last year, and she has a big group of Franco-Russian friends. Rachael has been kind of passively tapped into the Russians-in-Paris community, and goes with Vita to Russian film festivals, to hear Russian music and to hang out with other Russians living here.

Two Brits, two Frenchies and a boy from Lebanon:

I, on the other hand, have been tapped into the mixed (Franco-American) family community. My au pair family has a social circle of half-and-half families, many of whom employ American nannies, and I’ve been rotating through the American-nannies-in-Paris circuit. Ella takes dance classes at l’Académie Américaine de Danse de Paris, and as I do homework in the lobby every Monday evening while she’s dancing, I’ve been getting to know even more Franco-American nannies, moms and dance teachers. At the Académie, I speak French with half the nannies/parents I meet, and English with the other half.

I answer my phone with “Oui, hello?” because I never know who might be calling me. Even with all the switching back and forth between languages, I haven’t found myself getting confused. I think it makes it easier on my mind that I always know where I’ll be speaking English and where I’ll be speaking French. My au pair kids have the same system. Growing up in a bilingual family is confusing, so to make it as simple as possible, they always know exactly with who and where they’ll be speaking each language. They speak English at home except to their father and Irma. It’s French at school, and for Paul and Zoë it’s French with their piano and guitar teachers. Ella speaks English with her flute teacher and at the Académie, but her dance teacher speaks a crazy mix of French and English to accommodate the different students.

“One two, trois quatre, cinq six, seven eight!”

I really do love speaking in French. It really is fun to speak in a language that's not your own – I feel like I'm figuring out a puzzle everytime I have a conversation with someone.

••• The third Thursday of November is a special night every year in France, because it's the official release of the Beaujolais Nouveau for the year. There were parties in the street all night with people drinking the new wine. Every year there's a different taste to it, and this year it's supposed to be "gout de banane." Yeah, banana-wine. We had a bottle last night to try it out and it was actually really good – and actually kind of banana-y.

18 November 2006

There are some times that a girl just really does not want to be hit on. During a work-out, for example, or by the 16 year-old boys working at the University Place Trader Joe’s. Anywhere her father (or brother) is also present, and anytime she feels particularly unattractive. Doing her Saturday morning grocery shopping with no make-up on and dirty hair, for example, is one of these times.

You know, I normally do my grocery shopping at the Monoprix on Avenue de l’Opéra. Yes, it’s more expensive than a Marché U or an Ed, but it’s so convenient. It’s like the Target of France, and the closest I’ve found to one-stop shopping in Paris. Imagine Target, but with a boulangerie and a wine department, and you’ve got the Monoprix. Plus it’s open late! Well, it’s open until 22h on weekdays, which is a good two hours later than any other grocery store in the area. Oh, how I miss 24-hour grocery shopping.

It is kind of pricey though, which is why I decided to be smart today and go to the Franprix around the corner from me in the opposite direction. Usually I do my shopping after nannying in the evenings (when most stores are closed), so Monoprix is the default, but since I was out and about during normal store hours, I figured I’d be thrifty with my milk and green beans (and coconut yogurt, which I discovered in the fridge downstairs while I was babysitting last night and fell instantly in love with).

It took me about…two minutes in the Franprix to remember why I like to buy more expensive groceries – the employees in the chi-chi stores don’t hit on you (we had to stop shopping at the Ed near our September apartment because there was an employee who would not leave Rachael alone). I was casually checking out the prices of paper towels when a young employee (who turned out to be the manager) walked up to me, asking if I needed help picking out a good bottle of wine or anything else. I thanked him, but I was just interested in regular groceries today and I started to walk toward the cereal.

This employee, whose name is apparently Christophe, continued to follow me around the store asking me questions for the entire time I was shopping.

“Aha, vous venez d’Italie, non?” (Aha, you’re from Italy, right?). When I told him I was actually American, I was met with the typical response: “Ah! George Bush.” I nodded and smiled and kept on my way, but Christophe had apparently decided that we’d been small-talking for long enough, and started asking me out.

He wanted to go out to a bar tonight, or to brunch tomorrow, or dinner if I couldn’t make it to brunch, and if not that, we could go out one evening next week. I told him I was really busy this weekend with homework, and that I didn’t own a telephone (a pretty obvious lie, but I thought it would deter him a little), so he informed me that I would have to call him to make this date.

He told me to follow him back into the manager’s office where he gave me a business card and instructed me to call him tonight. “On verra…” (we’ll see) I told him, pocketed the card, quickly paid for my groceries and escaped.

It’s really annoying actually, to be trying to quickly accomplish something to I can go home, take a quick shower and get started on this scary éxposé I have to present on Monday, and not be able to because some grocery store employee would rather parade me around to his employee friends saying, “Elle est belle c’est demoiselle, non?” (She’s pretty, this girl, isn’t she?). It’s not flattering, it’s just obnoxious.

It wasn’t until I got home and began unloading my groceries that I pulled Christophe’s card out of my pocket. I’d been expecting some kind of Franprix manager card, but no. Apparently this guy is a customer harassing grocer by day, and DJ Scoop by night! “Ambiance 100 percent guaranteed.” I don’t know what he expected, but I am not going to be calling him unless I need music for a party.

At the least, I’ve got another card to add to my tally – I didn’t even have to work for it though, so it’s not as special. For the guys reading this: The tally is kind of a running score all girls keep. There’s never a winner declared, it’s more of a personal victory thing. The number of business cards you manage to collect is like a measure of your skills – and you never throw them away (you may lose them, but never purposely trash one). It’s like notches on a belt…except to keep track of all the obnoxious guys who hit on us. Guys here kind of throw them at you though – I’ve acquired a small pile from guys I pass on the street and chat with just long enough to tell them I’m on my way somewhere else and can’t talk to them.

Anyway, now that I’m properly irritated and apparently can’t shop at the Franprix anymore, it’s back to old Monoprix for me. It’s my own fault really, my loyalty should have never been in question.

*** Apple Cup today (errrr, tonight/early morning here, since the kick-off is 12:45 Paris time). GO Huskies!!!
I timed myself walking today – it takes me between six and seven minutes to make it from my apartment door to the security checkpoint at the entrance of the grande pyramide du Louvre. The deciding minute hinges on how long I have to wait to cross Rivoli, and whether I’m listening to my work-out mix or my mellow playlist on my iPod as I walk.

This was one of the odd-weeks when my art history class meets at the Louvre, rather than our typical classroom in the ENA building on rue de l’Université, so that was my occasion to time myself. I love being part of one of the art classes that spend hours in the Louvre, far from la Joconde (the Mona Lisa) and the Venus de Milo, analyzing paintings that are visited by those who really care about them, not just by tourists on the Louvre light tour (you know, the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, Venus de Milo – the celebrities of the museum).

I had a group presentation to prepare for today, and although I was a bit under-prepared, it was fun analyzing Jean-Siméon Chardin works for my class. It was odd though – because it’s an elective taught in English and mostly taken by French students, I had to consciously slow down my speaking and eliminate any colloquialism or particularly long words. It reminded me of speaking to the Ladybugs (preschoolers) at work this summer – you have speak very clearly to get your point across. Actually I find myself doing that a lot here – anytime any non-Anglophone wants to practice their English on me, so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

Having to prepare a real presentation for the first time was a little shocking – so far I’ve been sliding through this semester doing absolutely nothing. It’s mostly because of the way my exposés and débats are distributed through the semester, but also because I've turned into kind of a slacker this year. It's just – who wants to sit inside and read books about the 5ème Republique when they could be roaming around Montmartre, or relaxing in the jardin des Tuileries?

Although I’m going to have to start cranking out the real work soon (this weekend, in fact), I definitely slid right through my presentation on French genre painters. I’m starting to get the feeling that my professor is a little nuts. Most of my classmates live in fear of her, never knowing when she’ll be in a sadistic mood or a delightful one. She raged at and belittled a girl in the class who’d missed a day because she’d misread the syllabus (and didn’t know where to meet us), but when I told her I was skipping a day of class to go to Barcelona, she said bon voyage and she’d see me the week after.

Today during our presentation, she glared at and shushed a group of Japanese tourists who were discussing the paintings near us “too loudly” while she was trying to listen. Fifteen minutes later the discussion of Jean-Baptiste Greuze was halted while a middle-aged man in a backpack and the loudest sneakers any of us had ever heard squeaked his way through the room, and she just laughed and said something about how much she loves being a teacher.

There are a few (maybe three or four) of us who don’t have to live in fear – for some reason, Professor S.C. tends to give us smiles over evil eyes. I don’t know how I became one of the special few, but she seems to like me and keeps cutting me special breaks. We had papers due the week I was in Barcelona, so I left a copy in her box that she apparently never received. It’s now more than two weeks late, and she said I could turn it in again with no penalty. Another girl who missed class and had a friend turn it in for her (only a few days late), though, got a lecture about responsibility, and her grade on the paper is unsure. It’s unfair and completely nuts – but it plays well into my “I have better things to do in Paris than homework” attitude.

Unfortunately, that attitude’s day has come. Starting with my art presentation today the onslaught of actual work has begun. I have at least two important projects (éxposés, débats, essais, etc.) due each week from now until the vacances de Noël, and these really can’t be coasted through. Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it – see, I really do come off as a big nerd.

•• I found much cheaper Swan Lake ballet tickets at Fnac, and I think Amelia is going to go with me!

••• I saw the movie Babel last night – it was really really good. It struck me as pretty ironic that I was watching it with all the subtitles (for Japanese, sign language, Spanish, etc.) in French.

14 November 2006

Today walking down the street with Ella, she mentioned that during the day's sports class her teacher had pointed out “someone famous” to the students.

“I think he works at Dior? You know, that fashion place? John something. Gallani?” John Galliano. My 10-year old charge had seen John Galliano working out in the jardin des Tuileries while she was there to run with her sports class.

Being 10, she was pretty thrilled to have seen a star of any kind, whether or not she’d have been able to recognize him on her own or given him a second thought before school today. I was maybe even more excited than she was.

“Galliano?! You saw John Galliano? In the Tuileries?!” I think it tickled her even more that my own reaction was so pronounced, and she was proud to be able to offer up a few more tidbits. He’d been there with his personal gym teacher and was doing “some kind of weird arm exercises.” That was good enough for me. Actually, just knowing that I live in the same city and work out in the same park as John Galliano was good enough for me.

Actually, I’m not surprised that Galliano works out in the neighborhood right around my building. Apparently in the Paris version of Monopoly, rue de la Paix is Boardwalk. Yep, I’m living in the blue corner of the Monopoly board – and I somehow got out of paying rent or owing luxury tax. So far anyway.

Even living in one of the poshest neighborhoods of Paris, I still have no evidence to prove the conception that Parisians are aloof, rude or stuck-up. Maybe I just haven’t met any of the mean ones yet – people are just nice to me here. Yes, Parisians tend to be reserved – but reserved doesn’t automatically translate into stuck-up. Everyday I meet more people to disprove the stereotypes.

This morning on my way to class, I was waiting to cross Quai Voltaire through the typical wild French traffic. The pedestrian light was green and beckoning me across the street, but the onrush of speeding vehicles was making both me and an older man waiting to cross from the other side hesitate. After a minute, he stepped into the street holding his arms out to the cars and smiling and nodding at each stopped driver as he went passed.

I smiled at him when he passed each other in the middle of the street, and he smiled back saying, “Avec un sourire, on peut reussir à tout.” (With a smile, one can succeed at anything). As nearly corny as the moment was, I felt that an inspirational message from a stranger was an excellent way to start my day, and I continued on to Sciences Po.

Sitting in my French politics class, I realized I have a mad crush on a classmate. He’s in a few of my classes, and I’ve technically never spoken to him. I think he’s actually from Washington, D.C., but he looks like such a Seattle boy that I want to run up and hug him whenever he walks into the room. Actually, he looks like an ex-cross country-running Seattle boy – which calls to me on two levels. He’s got the scraggly jeans, the hooded sweatshirts and baggy sweaters, the running shoes and the weird long cross-country boy hair with man headbands to pull it back. He’s just so comforting to look at – though once I’m actually back in Seattle, I’ll probably be desperate for a boy in tight pants and a man purse who’ll remind me of Paris.

My total beret tally for today was only two – but speaking of fashion trends, my T-Town sweatshirt has been quite a hit here. All these French boys who have clearly never seen the West Coast Choppers logo and have never heard of Tacoma, have fallen in love with my black sweatshirt. I lent it to one of them on Saturday (he was thrilled) and I have a list of orders to fill for them through my contacts (i.e. my mom) in Tacoma. The funny part is that they all want theirs to be the same size as mine – which I think looks goofily small on them. Just more proof that French boys like much tighter clothing than boys in the U.S.

•• This is a really interesting article.

In 1898, when the impressionist painter Camille Pissarro completed his haunting cityscapes of the Avenue de l'Opera in sun and rain, the street life he captured was a world of gracious boulevards, outdoor cafes with ranks of sidewalk tables and above all a sense of space. Urban, yes, but never crowded. There was plenty of room for ladies with parasols and men in top hats to wend their way across the avenues traversed by horse-drawn carriages and even more room to promenade on the broad sidewalks.

The Avenue de l'Opera today still has a gracious air, but it is crowded with cars that overwhelm the lungs with exhaust fumes and the ear with the sound of horns and the roar of engines. Motorcycles careen between cars and pedestrians, making crossing the street hazardous. The trees that once lined many of the avenues are gone, either killed off by pollution or removed as the streets were broadened to accommodate more cars, Leclerc said.

That's my neighborhood, and it's the same story throughout Paris. The streets are so crowded that people drive their motorcycles on the sidewalks to get around it. This in turn forces pedestrians into the actual streets (also due in part to the fact that Parisian sidewalks are old, and although wide and spacious in some parts of the city, they can be as narrow as two feet across in other areas), which halts traffic and just keeps the cycle moving along.

13 November 2006

After a week and a half of no classes, I’m breathing a sigh of relief to be back on a normal schedule. Maybe it was the lack of structure in my life that was making everything go so nuts – this weekend in particular.

I’m not quite sure how this happened, but between two French guys I ended up with five dates in four days. First was Thomas – he’s a masters student at Sciences Po, 23, really smart and cute and nice. He’s the one I went out with on Wednesday and Thursday and the one who triggered a panicked freak-out by kissing me.

I had to babysit late Friday night, and I was supposed to be hanging out with Rubens on Saturday night, so we couldn’t hang out again until Sunday, when he wanted to make me dinner. This left me two days to figure out how to communicate tactfully in French that I do not, in fact, want to date him.

Before dinner yesterday, we met in front of the grande pyramide du Louvre to take a walk. He wanted to meet at 19h30, which is probably a good two hours before normal French people eat, so I figured that would be the perfect time to tell him – a quick and awkward conversation and then I could escape and go hang out with Rachael instead. No such luck, unfortunately.

After explaining to T that I was sorry but I’d realized that I just did not want to be dating anyone right now (I was pretty proud at how well I pulled out the kind-of-break-up speech in French), I felt like kind of a terrible person. What could I do, though? It was a million times better to just tell him up front than to pretend that I was into dating him as long as I could keep up the illusion.

T, understandably, did not take it that well, and I was treated to a half hour lecture in French about how I had led him on. He asked how many guys I’d done this to before him, and I was getting kind of mad at his bitterness. I felt like I deserved it though, because I really should have told him on Thursday, so I let him work out his frustrations. Then he informed me that he had a three-course dinner prepared and waiting for us, and I’d be making an idiot out of him if I didn’t come over and eat it still.

The last thing I wanted to do was go have a ruined-romantic dinner with this guy, but I was still feeling like kind of a mean person so I went along with it. Unsurprisingly, it was the most awkward hour and a half I’ve spent here. He was kind of irritated still, and started drinking wine which was cool with me because it put him in a much better mood – until he started rambling about how I was a “bourreau du coeur” which I did not understand at all. It was even more awkward to listen to him trying to explain the meaning (which is apparently “heartbreaker,” or literally, “executioner of the heart”), and all I wanted was to escape as fast as I could.

I’d considered telling him that I just couldn’t date anyone seriously right now, but I don’t think that would have worked out. T is only 23, but I think he’s too old for me – he’s happiest spending a quiet night at home with a special girl and a glass of wine. That sounds nice and everything, but I’m only 20 years old and I’m in Paris for less than a year. I don’t want to spend my nights drinking wine, listening to jazz and gazing into someone’s eyes – that “romantic” stuff makes me restless and claustrophic.

Rubens, on the other hand, turned out perfectly. On Saturday night we went to see the Black Dahlia with Rachael – not highly recommended. This was a movie with a lot of unrealized potential (plus there was a really scary clown picture that was central to the plot that gave Rachael and I nightmares). Rubens and I also had lunch on Sunday (sans Rachael), and in preparation for Thomas later, I gave it to him straight. I told him I did not want a boyfriend, which was cool, because he doesn’t want a girlfriend – just “a cool girl to hang out with.”

We both love movies, so I think we’re just going to be chill movie buddies – which is exactly what I need. Just because I’m at Sciences Po and I know what I want to do with my life does not mean that I want to skip being twenty years old. I don’t want to stay in drinking wine and watching dubbed Stanley Kubrick movies every night – I want to go see the new Casino Royale with another twenty year-old who loves James Bond as much as I do and who is not going to try and romance me with a fancy dinner. (T, as nice as he was, claimed to love James Bond, but I’m a little suspicious of the fact that he’s never seen Dr. No and had absolutely no clue that the new 007 was coming out next Wednesday). I want to hang out with a guy who is not going to be jealous or offended if I ditch him to go dancing with the girls instead. All I want is chill – plus we alternate between French and English, so it’ll still be good for my speaking skills.

Anyway, after all the loose boy ends were wrapped up last night, I was kind of hopped up on adrenaline and went straight over to Rachael’s apartment. We went out for drinks and crépes and then returned to her apartment for wine and Sex and the City. I really think good girl time is the only thing that can fully heal awkward boy time, and we ended up having a really good night – mainly because we accidentally found the best crêpes of my life…hallelujah for nutella-banane.

I left her place at 2h to try and catch the Noctilien (the all-night bus), and ended up making it just in time – but only because I sprinted straight across Place de la Bastille (I wasn’t drunk, just filled with fear of missing the bus). This was a terrible idea, and I would probably have been safer braving walking alone than dashing through the Parisian traffic, but I’m alive now so it’s all good.

I still had to walk a couple of blocks back from the bus stop and there is nothing that puts me in a better mood than walking around Paris listening to my iPod. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of crossing the Seine listening to the least appropriate music I can come up with. It just really tickles me to look around at these reserved Parisians who have no clue that they’re stepping in time to “Buttons” by the Pussycat Dolls, or “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by the Darkness.

Anyway, I’m technically in class right now, listening to a Duhamel lecture on French politics, and I am completely neglecting my actual notes, but that was the complete gossip update for those of you who have been requesting it.

For my dad: I am still not in love with any Frenchmen, and I am still not planning on expatriation. Don’t worry – as romantic as these French boys are supposed to be…the grand gestures apparently do not work on me. Au contraire, they kind of make me want to run away – right back to chill Seattle.

* I finally added some Halloween pictures here. As you can see, we were in a very small majority in our costumes.

** Because so many people smoke here, it’s quite common to be stopped on the street and asked for a light. Last night as Rachael and I were walking toward rue Oberkampf, a slightly seedy-looking couple stopped us for a light. We apologized and told them we didn’t have one and started walking again, until the woman called out, “Comment est-ce que c’est possible que vous n’avez pas du feu?” (How is it possible that you don’t have a light?) We answered that we didn’t smoke and her response was, “Il faut fumer! C’est 2006! Il faut commencer tout suite!” (You must smoke! This is 2006! You must start immediately). We had no clue what to say, so we just thanked her and continued on our way, laughing for about three more blocks.

*** So the movie Step Up that came out in the U.S. over the summer is just about to hit theatres here. Because of this, all the buses and metro stations are plastered with posters advertising the movie. The funny part is that the French title of the movie is not “Step Up,” but “Sexy Dance.” The first time I saw a bus with “Sexy Dance” scrawled across its side I started laughing on rue des Saints Pères and got quite a few weird looks.