31 October 2006

Well it's Halloween in France (and everywhere else too, I guess) and I'm eating pumpkin pie for breakfast. It feels like the day after Thanksgiving – wake up, ignore the cereal and head straight for the desserts.

I found out yesterday in class that Sciences Po had cancelled all classes for today. Tomorrow they're cancelled because it's Toussaint and a national (religious) holiday, but today I'm not sure. I think there was something political going on, but I didn't pay that great of attention.

So it's Halloween and there are no classes officially until Thursday (although I never have Thursday classes). The Association Sportive of Sciences Po is throwing a huge Halloween party at a club on Rivoli tonight, which I think is a combination of a shout-out to all the international students and just a really good excuse to have a party. The sports association kind of reminds me of ASUW, if the officers were allowed to spike every function.

Partly because of Halloween this week is feeling more and more like a shout-out to America. For one, Christina is on a week-long Toussaint vacation (no such thing for us Sciences Po students) from the University of Nantes, so she's been chilling here since Friday. She left this morning for two nights in Brussels with another friend from UW (I thought I had classes to attend today and tomorrow) and the two of us are meeting in the Barcelona airport Thursday morning.

Saturday was Amelia's 21st birthday – so anticlimatic in France where you can drink when you're 16 and buy alcohol at 18 – officially. There are the same-old "don't serve alcohol to minors" signs up in all the bars, but it's not like anyone's going to stop you here if you're underage. You can drink your illegal alcohol strolling down the street if you want, and nobody's going to say anything.

So Amelia's official birthday was Saturday – the three of us decided to forget the fact that we all could have legally gone out on Friday too, and went for a Seattle-style 21 run. Well as "Seattle" as a 21-run can be that takes you through the Marais and around Place de la Bastille. We've all been craving good Mexican food basically since we've been here, so we combed a few guidebooks and found a restaurant that was actually recommended. It wasn't bad, but nothing like what you could get in the States. It's funny because I never thought I would miss food from the U.S. while living in France. It's not like I miss the Red Robins and the Oreos, but I miss the (inexpensive!) diversity of food available. If you live here, you'd better damn well like steak and croissants.

Au bar sans nom.

Sunday the three of us spent the day wandering Paris, eventually ending at the top of the Arc de Triomphe to look at the lights of the city. It was really beautiful, and so funny yet perfect to be seeing it with two of my best friends from Seattle (in the midst of the 15 groping couples). Most of the time I feel adjusted to the fact that I live in Paris, but it felt a little weird to be at the top of l'Arc de Triomphe saying, okay "See the statues on top of l'Opéra? Now look right, that's where I live." I feel like I shouldn't be able to look for my home from the top of the Arc.

You can kind of see the ghost of the Eiffel Tower behind us...it was a lot more spectacular not through a camera.

Afterward Christina and I found this store remarkably like a Sweet Factory (bad decision!) and made ourselves sick eating stale candy in the movie theatre where we'd gone to see "Last Kiss," Zach Braff's second movie. It wasn't bad – the relationships seemed pretty authentic, but I think he needs more practice to hone his talents.

Yesterday I had class all day, but in my free hour I went to seek out "The Real McCoy," the American import grocery store near the Eiffel Tower. The products featured included 8 euro boxes of Pop Tarts, 7.5 bags of Ghiradelli chocolate chips, 2.5 can of real Diet Coke (I'm pretty sure I'm going to cave and go back for one), 6 euro jars of Skippy Peanut Butter and 5 euro cans of pumpkin pie filling. After spending 9 euro on 15 oz. of pumpkin and 12 oz. of condensed milk, C, A and I were ready to recreate the U.S.A.

Yeah, this condensed milk? Five euro. So worth it.

We only encountered a few problems – for one, you can't buy U.S. style pie dough – they have dough for tartes, but it's really light and kind of turns into a croissent when baked. There are no ground cloves available here, so we had to grind our own with my mortar and pestle – it worked okay, but eating clove chunks in your pie is not incredibly appetizing. I also don't own a pie plate, but we made do with an oval casserole dish and the croissent-y crust. The combination of these factors made us a little apprehensive about the quality of our finished pie, but it turned out amazingly delicious.

Somehow the casserole dish and my tiny oven that sits on the counter worked together to create evenly-baked magic. The crust was not quite pie crust, but still delicious. It was the best pumpkin pie Paris could have given us. It's actually probably better that we couldn't create a completely American pumpkin pie in Paris – if it was too authentic it would have made us too homesick. Instead, we were quite thrilled with our pumpkin...casserole. So thrilled that I just finished off the last piece for my breakfast.


•• Still don't have my appereil back. All photo credits go to Christina's camera.

28 October 2006

I’ve been spending a lot of time traipsing back and forth over various bridges these days. This is due in large part to the fact that Sciences Po is a 15 minute walk from me on foot and across the Seine from my apartment (the metro is not direct and takes at least 25 minutes).

I usually traverse Pont Royal when I’m heading to school in the mornings. My route takes me straight down rue des Pyramides, between the jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre and straight across the bridge down rue du Bac on the rive gauche. On the way home from school I walk straight up rue des Saints Pères and across Pont du Carrousel, which leads me straight through the glass pyramid-filled courtyard of the Louvre.

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of Pont Royal without me looking like a fool on it:

I’ve also been spending a bit of time on Pont Neuf with my art class, which connects the Eastern façade of the Palais du Louvre with the tip of Île de la Cité and the 6ème arondissement. Every bridge has its own character and history – I think there are something like 36 of them. There’s the sunset bridge, the romantic bridge, the make-out bridge, the political activists’ favorite bridge and probably countless others that I haven’t yet picked up on.

Pont Neuf is supposedly the best make-out spot in Paris, but I’m not sure I believe it. The name means “new bridge” which is kind of funny because it’s actually the oldest bridge still standing in Paris. According to my art history professor, it was named such because when Henri III started building at the end of the 16ème siècle it was the first bridge to be built without houses and buildings on it. This was supposed to present an unobstructed view of the Louvre so the citizens of Paris would be sure to never forget who held the power.

Pont Neuf and its alcoves:

I think it’s supposed to be a good make-out spot because it’s lined with little alcoves and benches, but in my experience it’s more the bridge where you’re most likely to be sexually harassed. Rather than couples stealing kisses in the alcoves, they’re filled with obnoxious guys yelling at every girl who passes them. It was on Pont Neuf where a particularly hairy guy who was probably older than my dad asked, “You want me to give it to you?”

A much more romantic bridge can be found just to the west of Pont Neuf – a pedestrian traffic only bridge called Pont des Arts. On any nice day (and some not-so-nice ones too) the bridge is filled with couples having picnics or bottles of wine. At times it’s hard to walk across, the bridge deck is so filled with people in love.

Pont des Arts is also often the site of political statements. Right now the architecture students at l’École des Beaux Arts are angry and protesting because they don’t have enough space to learn in – according to the fliers they’ve strewn around the city, there are something like 11 classrooms for the 1.300 students in the program. Last weekend they set up these sculptures built out of cardboard boxes in protest. Unfortunately for them, it started pouring rain just a few hours after they’d set up, and the boxes were mush by early afternoon.

Passerelle Solferino is a favorite bridge of the few street runners of Paris – the bridge has a normal deck on top (pedestrians only), and underneath it has a long flight of stairs arching up from water level to the bridge deck and back down to water level on the other side of the Seine. A popular running route (as popular as a running route could possibly be in Paris) is to lap the jardin des Tuileries, then run the Solferino stairs to the rive gauche, and run along the Voie sur Berge. On weekdays, this is dangerous because the street is a busy highway with no sidewalks, but on Sundays the street is closed to cars, and this is where the runners of Paris can be found. (Though I still haven’t determined whether people run on any other days of the week here).

Passerelle Solferino is also known as the sunset bridge, because this is where crowds of strangers come together every evening to watch the sun set behind the Grand Palais. Watching the sunset-watchers from my spot on the right bank of the Seine (preferably with friends and a bottle of wine) is one of my favorite things in Paris.

Grand Palais

I don’t think I have a favorite bridge yet, but I’m still looking. I have about 20 more that I’ve never set foot on, so I’ll need a little time to assess before choosing. So far though, I rather like Solferino.

25 October 2006

As it’s been more than two weeks since I last did any laundry, and I really didn’t bring that many clothes to France with me to begin with, I’ve left with a rather bizarre assortment of vêtements to wear these past few days.

Luckily, I’m in Paris – I’m beginning to understand that as long as you look like you put a bit of conscious thought into what you’re wearing, you’re good to go. The city is a capital of fashion, no doubt – but “fashion” is such an all-encompassing term, and Paris is such a diverse city that à la mode is more of a state of mind. What seems to be important here is having respect for clothing and style – less important are the clothes you wear or your personal style.

This is why I haven’t worn my North Face fleece since landing at Charles de Gaulle, and why I’ll only wear my hooded sweatshirts for running or sleeping – having a “scrub” day here seems almost disrespectful. Not to mention the fact that I’d look like an idiot (and be instantly recognized as a tourist) in a hooded sweatshirt here.

This is also why I could get away with throwing together the dregs of my wardrobe into one mish-mashed outfit and feeling totally normal going out in green cargo pants tucked into brown boots, a purple tee-shirt, a black zipper sweater and a grey wool scarf – that’s the other thing, there’s a lot of mixing of black and brown among the über-fashionable here. As long as you look like you gave it a little consideration first, you can pretty much wear whatever the heck you want.

There are a few things though, that no young Parisienne (or American poser) should be without these days. Combine them any way you like, but make sure you have at least a few of these staples.

• First and most importantly – your skinny jeans. You need at the minimum one pair of dark denim skinnies (coup cigarette is okay – there’s no need to look like you’re wearing jean-patterned spandex) and one pair of black. Flares are just not where it’s at these days, and in the cold and rainy fall weather, skinnies are actually a lot more practical – at least you don’t come home with your pants soaked from the hem to the knee from stepping through puddles all day.

• Next you need a pair of boots (into which you will be tucking your skinny jeans). Any color is really okay, but brown is the current popular favorite – and as I mentioned, black and brown go together quite happily in Paris, so it’s cool to wear them with your black jeans. Flats are the most popular option for walking around the city, but heels are good too – just steer clear of anything too high or too Western – the last thing you want to do in Paris centre is look like your style icon is Jessica Simpson.

• You also need a pair of ballerines – ballet flats (not rain-friendly!). Repetto is the preferred and most authentic marque, because they also provide all the ballet shoes for l’Opéra, but only if you can afford to drop 120 euro on a pair of flimsy (but oh-so-beautiful) ballet shoes. Every other shoe store in the city will offer an acceptable alternative. I will confess that I have a pair from Repetto – but they were last season’s color on super sale at Galaries Lafayette, so I can look like I actually belong in the 2ème arondissement without having to match all the Chanel-clad mamans for spending.

• A pair of high-top Converse All-Stars is also a must – to be worn with style, not for bumming around in with jeans and a pullover sweatshirt.

• Tights are important so you can wear skirts and dresses through the change in seasons. Not so much the footless tights that have been so popular at home, though you’ll see them once in a while. Footed tights are less busy-looking and thus much more chic. On the subject of footless tights, the distressed miniskirts usually paired with them are not cool here. I feel like a hillbilly wearing my cropped jean skirt, even when I pair it with my dark tights and boots. Ripped up denim is a big faux pas – not chic at all.

• Instead of your destroyed jean skirt, try a sweater-dress. Yep, a thick woolly sweater cut as a mini-dress and worn belted with tights and either ballerines or boots. The more of a Frency-French waif you are, the cuter you’ll look.

• For a coat, you’ll want either a leather jacket if your style is more hip, or a trench if your style is more classic. Since I have neither, I go with the Eddie Bauer down vest and the “I like to go camping” look.

• Parisian girls keep their hair in either long gorgeous waves or short and chic cuts. There’s no shoulder-length or in-between here. Their eyebrows are perfect and their hips are…well…nonexistent.

• Slung around these teeny tiny hips are big belts – the most popular on the streets is the D&G leather and bronze. Go for the Dolce & Gabbana if it’s in your budget, but if not, knock-offs abound on every other street corner. A tip – anyone who knows D&G will be able to spot a fake in a second, so if you go that route, wear it with some attitude please. With a good sense of humor you’re impervious to judgment.

• For style street cred, you need a pair of headphones snaking down from your ears to your bag – iPods aren’t particularly big here, so an MP3 player of any mark will do. It’s important to keep the actual player in your purse or pocket so you have your hands free to surf the metro. Even if you’re a big fat faker and the headphones lead to nothing but the inside of your purse, you’ve achieved the “I’m Parisian, I know my way around the city and nothing’s can bug me” look.

• The final and most important wardrobe staple is an infinite number of scarves. Pashminas, wool shawls, sparkly patterned scarves, may they fill your closet diversely and numerously. The scarves are the single most vital addition you can make to your wardrobe. You’re probably going to be sporting one every day (if you’re really into the “I’m Parisian” façade, so make sure you have a good variety.

It’s easy to just buy the trendy basics, but it’s important to wear them with flair. This might depend on your arondissement, your budget or your personality. Yes, each neighborhood has a trademark style (at least according to an article I found in French Elle). The 9ème and 10ème arondissements host the edgy rock-chic look, while the 3ème and 11ème are bobo chic. The 18ème and 19ème are ethnic chic, and the residents of the 8ème and 16ème value les grandes marques – Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Dior, etc. The real fashionistas lurk in the 6ème and 7ème, and those of us who inhabit the 2ème are apparently fresh and hip.

I’ve exhausted my tips for autumn 2006 – go forth and be French. Updates to come for winter and spring and summer.

• By the way, black nail polish is just as big here as it apparently is in the U.S. If you are chic (or wish you were) your fingernails have got to be jet black.

•• I just got this email from one of the Franco-American associations at Sciences Po. I thought it was pretty funny:

" Transatlantique, l’association franco-américaine de Sciences Po, anime la vie étudiante en favorisant :
- les rencontres entre étudiants des deux continents
- les débats d’idées sur des thèmes US
- la promotion de la culture et des arts Américains
- …and some good ol’ American fun !

* Au programme *

• avec nos soirées et nos happy hours, retrouvez la fête au rythme Américain. This year, Sciences Po is the hottest party university !
• événement inédit à Sciences Po, notre American Week vous fera vous sentir chez vous : l’esprit « college » avec brownies, barbecues … and so on …

Share moments, share ideas, share a drink …

and find new French friends !

Ce message et toutes les pièces jointes qu'il contient sont confidentiels et établis à l'intention exclusive de ses destinataires. Toute utilisation de ce message non conforme à sa destination, toute diffusion ou toute publication, totale ou partielle, est interdite. Si vous recevez ce message par erreur, merci d'en avertir immédiatement l'expéditeur et de le détruire. Sciences Po décline toute responsabilité au titre de ce message s'il a été altéré, déformé ou falsifié ou si son émetteur a falsifié son identité ou son statut au sein de Sciences Po. This message and all attachments are confidential and intended solely for the addressees. Any use not in accord with its purpose, any dissemination or disclosure, either whole or partial, is prohibited. If you receive this message in error, please immediately notify the sender and delete it. Sciences Po shall not be liable for this message if altered, changed or falsified or if the sender has falsified his identity or his statute within Sciences Po."

I'm not sure if this is meant to entice the party-hearty Americans or what, but I'm pretty sure Sciences Po is not particularly famous for its apparent status as the "hottest party university." The sports association throws some pretty wild ones, but still.

24 October 2006

It’s officially become fall here. I started to pick up the clues when the weather took a sudden change for the colder and my daily Seine runs began to lead me through crunchy piles of red-gold leaves. Boots, scarves and trenches have become the daily uniform, and the men who sell trashcan-roasted corn on street corners have traded their cobs for chestnuts. Yes, it’s fall in Paris.

It’s also October 24th – a Tuesday and the two-month anniversary of my Parisian invasion. I guess it’s time for a check-up. A month ago R and I were still living near Gare de l’Est in the September apartment. We were in the middle of the stage d’integration at Sciences Po and while I had at least secured my nanny job, neither of us had any clue what our years would bring.

Tired and overwhelmed on our first day in Paris:

Good thing we brought these guys:

Now we’ve made it almost to November and we both have places to call home, French bank accounts (complete with bank cards that read Mlle before our names), cell phone plans and (almost) our cartes de séjour (they’re being processed). We have classes and homework (!) and R finally bought her bike. We're settled – or at least further along in the settling process, and Paris and I are pretty much in love.*

I have a courtyard:

Two months feels both long and short – I feel like I’ve lived here forever, but when I look at the calendar I feel a little uneasy. I’m still waiting for the “out of my element” part to happen. Where’s the culture shock? Why haven’t I been lost and confused and homesick and depressed? Of course I’ve had bad days here – getting mildly accosted on the Champs Elysées wasn’t exactly a highlight of my year. Neither was losing the first apartment Rachael and I wanted, or having nobody to hang out with last Wednesday.

Bad days are nothing though – there are plenty of bad days in Seattle. What I’m waiting for is that wild fear – that “what am I doing here,” and “how am I going to survive for an entire year?” Maybe that fear will never find me – or maybe it will. Maybe two months isn’t long enough to estimate anything – maybe I’m still on my honeymoon with Paris. According the study abroad orientation held at UW last spring, the four-month mark is where it’ll get a little rocky.

Holidays and anniversaries can be rough for newlyweds – and I’m about to hit two pretty significant ones. My three-month mark happens to fall directly on Thanksgiving and four months will be Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving is going to be particularly rough – it’s been my favorite holiday for years and I can’t imagine it without Camp Indianola. All of my parents’ friends singing and dancing and cooking in the kitchen, the stormy beach, the circle of guitar-playing dads plus the musically-inclined of the younger generations. The knitting high school girls, the Kapla blocks, ‘Nola Ball, the pies and salads and bread and mashed potatoes, staying up late playing nertz and pick, the Johnny Appleseed song and how incredibly, disturbingly dirty the floor of the main lodge will be by the end of every evening. Thinking about missing it makes my heart hurt a little.

Every relationship has its ups and downs though – and every bad bit is obliviated by all of the very very good bits. Being able to jet off to Munich or Barcelona for a long weekend. Living three blocks from Coco Chanel's apartment and seeing l'Opéra from my window. Directing lost American tourists (and some lost French ones too!), having to explain to everyone I meet that no, I don't live near the White House. Buying my bread at boulangeries and running through the Jardin des Tuileries. Owning a Louvre membership. Owning an electric fan called "The AIr Force." Nutella.

Posing like statues is also important to happiness.

Having a healthy relationship means being willing to compromise – hey, I miss good spicy Mexican food – but today I was the first customer for lunch at L’as du Falafel (I was there at 11:45 between classes, and nobody eats before 13h here). This meant that my falafel was made fresh while I waited – I actually watched them ball up the dough (? Paste?) and fry it before filling my pita. It was the best falafel of my life.

And yeah, maybe I miss my dance girls in Tacoma – but I love love love my French hip-hop class. We had some more people join last week, so I’m no longer the only one who’s ever danced before. Today though, we learned a new piece to Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous Girl” (ha!) and midway through dancing it out, Flo stopped the music and had me come to the front to perform it (solo!) for everybody else. I probably should have been embarrassed (a normal person would have been), but I’m really just a big fat show-off so I felt special instead. (Yeah, I would probably have thrown stuff at me.)

What, I don’t have as many friends here yet as I do in Seattle? No matter, I’ve got a Georges who loves me (he can now recognize my footsteps and starts yelling for “Ollie!” as soon as I come over in the afternoons), and I’ve got Paris. Maybe we’re still honeymooning, but two months is a pretty solid foundation. There was no champagne for our anniversary (it’s a school night!), but we did celebrate with a crêpe nutella-banane (from who else but my favorite racist crêpe man). It was delicious.

* I’m pretty sure that Paris is a girl – a dark-haired one, very skinny and very chic.** It took me a while to decide on the gender of the city, but I think I’m definitely right – and I’m definitely harboring a pretty massive girl-crush. I think Seattle, on the other hand, is an outdoorsy guy – definitely wearing khaki shorts and hiking boots. I haven’t quite gauged what Tacoma is yet though.

** Yes we actually do refer to things as “chic” here. Like instead of “Oh, you look cute today!” it’s, “Oh you look so chic in that outfit!”

*** We found all these weird hooded (for cleaning? repair?) statues at Versailles. We didn't realize the pictures were so reminiscent of Abu Ghraib until after we'd taken them. This one is actually kind of scary.

22 October 2006

As cool as it is just to be living in France in the midst of the 2007 presidential campaigns, it's even cooler to be living and attending school in the political center of the country.

Every week the Sciences Po newsletter informs us of more opportunities to immerse ourselves in French politics – and because we happen to be studying in the right city, some of those opportunities are really really cool. This weekend for example, Cité de la Reussite hosted a series of debates with themes pertaining to the upcoming elections and the current political scene in France.

The cool part was that one debate featured Nicholas Sarkozy and the other featured Ségolène Royal. And, thanks to my Sciences Po connections, I managed to score a ticket to the Ségolène debate this morning. I would have been really interested to attend the debate with Nicholas "George W. of France" Sarkozy too, but there were only 300 places available at each one and billets were disappearing with record speed.

The debate was held in the grand ampitheatre of la Sorbonne, and as I walked up to the building I passed through some really diverse crowds of people. There were scruffy-looking young people (who would have fit in easily at UW) passing out pamphlets in favor of Ségolène, FBI-style security guards at the doors and groups of political folk in suits standing around in small clusters. As I don't have a printer, I couldn't produce a paper copy of my e-ticket, so I just brought my computer with me and showed it to the security guards. The guy who checked mine apparently thought that was cute, because he winked at me and told me I was very organized. Yeah, I don't know.

I got to the debate pretty early so I was able to score a prime seat, but even so, there wouldn't have been a bad one. The grand ampitheatre is still small enough that a seat at the way back would have provided a fine view of the people on stage. The way the debate was set up was more of a question and answer session. Ségolène had a seat on stage and there was a host sitting with her who asked the bulk of the questions. There were also 5 young people representing different arondissements and suburbs perched on stools on each side of the two chairs who had prepared questions to ask about different policy issues.

The really cool thing is that they also took questions from the audience. I obviously was not about to stand up in front of the France 2 camera crews and ask a question in my accented French, but the point is that I could have. That's what I mean about opportunities here. The fact that if I felt like it, I could find an occasion for a little tête-à-tête with the possible next president of France.

Sitting in the ampitheatre it became really clear how much the people love Ségolène Royal. And I can definitely see why. She's poised and pretty with the kind of presence that invokes a great deal of confidence from the French people (and the American exchange students...) When the event's host first walked onstage to introduce her, the cheering and applause at the mention of her name silenced him for several minutes. He finally managed to regain the crowd's attention by reminding us that if we shut up and let him finish, we'd actually get to see her. Sitting 15 metres from Ségolène Royal and getting to hear her speak was way cooler then seeing Lindsay Lohan would have been (who is the current object of R and my pathetic celebrity-stalking attempts).

For the most part, everything she said was appreciated by the audience. She's really been working hard to present herself as a candidate of the people, and took pains to make points like "Moi, je n'ai pas peur du peuple. Au contraire, je les respecte." (Me, I'm not afraid of the people – on the contrary, I respect them.) The one thing the audience didn't like was her answer to the final question – how to deal with the violence and riots in the banlieue.

She gave an admirable but idealistic response about finding ways to show the underpriviledged youth from impoverished suburbs that they can succeed and become l'avenir (the future) de la France. When she stopped without outlining any specific solutions, the audience actually began yelling. The young guy next to me was bouncing around like he was about to run up onstage, yelling "Mais quelles mésures? Quelles mésures?"

This topic is particularly poignant because next Friday is the first anniversary of the electrocution deaths of the two young guys from the banlieue, supposedly killed while running from the police – the event that kicked off the riots and car-burnings of last November. Actually, the past couple weeks have seen several foreboding incidents in the suburbs of Epinay-sur-Seine and Clichy-Sous-Bois. Riots, vandalism, attacks on police officers all seem to be leading up to some kind of climax that may be reminiscent of last year's destruction. According to a few papers, there have been rumblings in some suburbs of how best to "celebrate" the anniversary. Once again, I wish wish wish that I had my camera.

After the debate, I spent a few hours wandering around the Louvre, then window shopping along rue St. Honoré – host to the flagship Chanel store and Coco Chanel's apartment, located right above the store. Place du Palais Royal is always fun on sunny days (and some not-so-sunny ones too) because the inline skaters come out to play. Today there was a guy skating around like an Olympic ice skater, doing leaps and spins and axel-type jumps. Half an hour disappeared before I even realized that he'd hypnotized me.

I also went to see "The Queen" with Helen Mirren, because it's been getting rave reviews from the French press. I was hesitant to see it at first because it seemed so tactless coming out not quite a decade after Princess Diana's death. The movie itself was actually really really good, but I felt uncomfortable watching it. It's a movie that would probably have been even better given another 10 years of distance. It was just hard to separate the movie from reality – seeing Helen Mirren playing Queen Elizabeth II onscreen and thinking about the fact that the actual queen is probably chilling in a palace just across the English Channel from me right now. The timing just isn't right, and it makes the movie kind of awkward. Good, but awkward.

••• So a friend of Cassie's saw Dustin Hoffman shopping about three blocks from my building, and Lindsay Lohan is supposedly also trotting around Paris right now – all these famous people are supposedly orbiting right around my neighborhood and I have yet to see any. I am the worst stalker of all time. R and I couldn't even muster up the balls to stroll into the lobby of the George V hotel and peek around – we were too scared. (The George V, along with the Ritz in Place Vendôme, is where anyone who is anyone rich or important stays when visiting Paris).

•••• Funny Georges story numero deux: The other night I was reading books to Georges and he somehow found this incredibly dry book called "Herbs for Cooking and Health." He plopped it down on my lap and refused to let me read anything else. The weird part is that we made it through 20 pages of "frequent picking will allow your basil to flourish..." before he got distracted, and we could probably have made it through 20 more if it hadn't been time for dinner.

19 October 2006

Officially noted: Everything is better when you have friends.

As thrilling and fresh as living in a new city on a new continent; going to a new school; speaking a new language can be, and as bored as I think I would have been this year in Seattle, it's rough to start over with nothing.

I cleared all the projected hurdles during the first few weeks I was in Paris – getting lost, shopping at grocery stores filled with unfamiliar food items, getting used to speaking French every day, searching for an apartment, jet-lag, life. Throughout the hard times, R and I just kept reminding ourselves that it would get better, we'd get used to the city, find a place to live, adjust to being Ameri-transplant-Parisiennes.

What I should have considered (but truthfully didn't give much thought to) was that getting used to living in a new city, in a new country, on a new continent, in a new time zone, is not a one-time event. It's an ongoing process that will probably never be completely tied up.

Now that I have the metro figured out, I only need my street map a third of the time, I know my way around the supermarchés and I have a place to call home, there's a whole new set of adjustments to be taken into consideration. For the most part, there isn't much that really jars me. In fact, most of the little differences tickle me rather than befuddle me, and I soak them up.

For example, it's impossible to buy lined notebook paper – that's okay, I'm starting to appreciate writing in graph. During the first minute of any class (at Sciences Po, au collège or école maternelle, according to Zoë and Ella), students pull out their notebooks and loose-leaf paper for note-taking and set their pencil pouches (!!) at the front of their desks. Yes, the pencil pouch – not that bizarre in itself, but the weird thing is that no student would be caught in class without one. Stored in the pouches are pencils, pens and miniature rulers (!! again) for underlining important points with the utmost of tidyness. After a week of merely being entertained at the pouches, I went out and bought one – why not? They're useful, and when in France, right?

Maybe it's more that I've become accustomed to the fact that there are differences (hundreds of miniscule oddities every day) than that I've become really used to living in France. Either way, the fact is that for the most part, I'm used to life here.

Last night though, I had one of those moments that really jarred me – and for the first time was really achingly lonely for Tacoma-Seattle and everyone I know there.

Since arriving in Paris, I've never had a shortage of people to hang out with. I know a few people from Seattle (R, Amelia, Sarah, etc.), and I've met my share of Sciences Po people and other Parisians. Making friends (or not being able to) has never been something that's concerned me, in Tacoma or in Paris. I tend to find that if you don't worry about it, there will always be people around to hang out with – which is true. What I never remember to think about is that it takes time to turn friends into really good ones.

Last night there was another Sciences Po party, this time within walking distance of my apartment. R and I were supposed to go together, but she's sick (yet again) and had to bail. I ended up getting stuck with her ticket, and spent most of the day trying to find someone else to go with me. I must have called about 8 people, and not a single one could go. I realize it was a Wednesday night, and their reasons made complete sense – they were too tired to go out, or they had classes on Thursday. I understand. I know it wasn't me, and it's not that I don't have any friends – but it was kind of a shock to be sitting alone in my apartment realizing that I didn't have a single person to go out with. So different from the UW network.

In Seattle, I probably would have gone out anyway, and assumed that I'd find someone I kind of knew to hang out with. In Paris, everyone I know is still on the level of those "kind-of-know-them" acquaintences at UW. If none of my Paris "friends" could go out, the implication is that I would not know (or even recognize) a soul at this Sciences Po party. I ended up not going and feeling kind of lame and bitter all night.

It's a harsh change, to go from having 7 or 8 people you are really really close to and spend tons of time with, and plenty of people you know well enough to hang out with if you need to, to having no really close friends. My network has been drained to 7 or 8 acquaintences and not much else. People I'll hang out with once in a while, but don't feel that comfortable calling too often. It was a pretty lonely realization.

Actually, it was a pretty lonely night.

But today, as always, was a new day. There are only a few girls in my hip-hop class, so we've bonded more than is probably normal for two dance classes. One of them, Sonia, was really excited to meet an American to practice her English with, so we decided during class on Tuesday to meet every Thursday mid-morning at Sciences Po to get a café and croissant and practice our language skills. Today was our first day, and we spent half an hour talking about everything in French, then switched to English for half an hour. It was so unbelievably nice to have a girlfriend just to sit and talk to for an hour, rather than someone to chat with during class or an outing.

I was already in a much better mood as I went to leave Sciences Po and as I was passing through the penîche I ran into Ana, another girl from my hip-hop class. We took the metro to class together on Tuesday, and she's one of the first people I've really clicked with as more than a possible acquaintence. We stopped in the middle of the foyer and talked about random anything for probably 40 minutes without realizing it, and decided to hang out this weekend and celebrate nothing in particular – life, I guess.

This was another one of those jarring moments – the counterpart of Wednesday night's. I don't think I completely understood why I felt so lonely on Wednesday until I realized that I had a new friend today. I never realized what I was missing until I had it again.

When you have friends, it's hard to completely get why they mean so much to you. When you're lacking in girls (or guys), life is rough. All the little things just feel tougher without a good buffer. So phew. Thanks to Ana and Sonia, I feel like things are looking up again, when I didn't even know they'd been looking down.

•• It should be stated that I'm not sad and I'm not lonely in Paris – I just had a lonely moment realizing that I missed my girls in Seattle. I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing my emotions – all I generally feel here is pretty darn pleased with my situation.

••• The rumors about French boys being quite romantically forward are proving to be pretty accurate. Even two-year old Georges has already tried to remove my pants. I was getting him ready for a bath yesterday and he apparently thought it would be really fun if I got in with him. I didn't quite realize what was happening until I looked down and he was very frustratedly working on the top button of my jeans. Once he'd realized he had my attention, he grabbed my leg and began pulling me toward the tub, shouting "Ollie, là! Ollie, là!" (Needless to say, I did not bathe with him).

17 October 2006

The daily task of supervising Paul(7)'s piano practicing has, by default, fallen to me. While Cassie makes dinner for the kids (and sometimes me), P and I head downstairs to the piano, where I typically entertain Georges while listening to P run through his exercises.

Tuesdays I have my hip-hop class and arrive to nanny half an hour later then usual. Because of Cassie's super-mom efficiency, P was already done with his homework when I jogged in the door at 5:30, so the two of us got a headstart on practicing before G got home from preschool. P had a new song to work on (disturbingly titled "Indian War Whoop" or something equally un-p.c.) and was having a terrible time with it. It's a complicated tempo with about four hand position changes and half in staccato. This could have been P being an airhead, but he had no clue what "staccato" mean and no recognition of its symbol. I'm a little concerned that his private teacher hadn't explained this to him, but I magically remembered and gave a pretty good explanation/demonstration, or so I would like to think.

Because I had no wiggling G to deal with, I actually had a few minutes to concentrate on what P was trying to do. His hands were a mess and he was getting really stressed out, so I asked if I could try to figure it out for him. I sat down at the piano and played the whole song. To an unknowing reader, this may not sound like much, but I had no clue until today that I still knew how to sight-read. I gave up on the clarinet (ohhh how I hated band) after 8th grade, and my few years of piano lessons had ended years even before that. I don't think I've actually looked at a piece of music since then.

Awww, Parisian band kids!

For these reasons, both Paul and I were pretty astonished. Well, I was astonished for those reasons – he was astonished because he'd catagorized the new American nanny as the one who "likes to do sports" (i.e., I run and dance), not as the one who "knows how to play the piano." The au pair I replaced was training to be a "master harpist" or something, so to a 7 year-old, the musician au pair and the sporty au pair were two completely seperate entities.

Once I'd realized I could read the song and recognized all the notes and most of the symbols, I also knew how to explain it to Paul. This is when I got to impart my staccato knowledge, and I pulled a lesson on notes and octaves somewhere out of a back corner of my brain as well. We ran into a little confusion because instead of "c-d-e-f-g-a-b" going up the scale, the French use "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-si-do." (I know we have the do-re-mis too, but we tend to use the letter names in the U.S.) Yes, "si" instead of "ti," whiched caused undo stress for Paul everytime I asked him about "middle c." Once we'd straightened that out and established that "middle c" and "do moyen" were one and the same, we got into quite a productive practice.

P usually shoots through his exercises and starts fidgeting at about the five minute point, but tonight we held each other rapt for at least half an hour. I think Cassie was quite surprised when she came downstairs and found us practicing "Indian War Whoop" as a duet. I think she had a musical/sporty nanny cleavage in her head as well. Ha, we sound like the "Spice Nannies" or something. Musical Nanny, Sporty Nanny, Bad Nanny (yes there was a bad nanny), Weird French Fry Nanny, Muslim Nanny, etc. Maybe we'll unify as one super band some day.

Anyway, it's a trivial thing, but I was pretty excited about my latent (rusty!) piano skills. I'm going to take advantage of this yer and practice while I can – I'll be learning alongside Paul at any rate.

In other news, Christina and I just bought our tickets to Barcelona for the Toussaint vacation. I'll see her for the few days she has to stay with me before she flies home in December, but other than that, this is probably our last hurrah for a long time. It was nice how I only had to say goodbye to half my friends in August. December is going to be a tough month though, once I'm actually all alone over here.

•• I feel like an invalid without my camera. If it's not back in my arms by Barcelona, I'm going to cry.

••• All I have to say to this sign is...I don't believe you!!!

There's a shifty (and unsupervised) character. Look at him...he's just waiting for me to give him privacy so he can go nuts pooping all over the sidewalk.

•••• I just liked this name:

16 October 2006

This weekend I continued with the theme of creating Seattle-in-Paris. My main tools for this operation were two of my best girls and former roommates, Christina (who is studying fall quarter studying in Nantes and Amelia, who is doing the UW Comparative Literature program for two months in Paris. (Her school is actually only about 3 blocks from Sciences Po).

As I had to nanny off and on throughout the weekend, things were a little more complicated then they could have been, but Christina (who stayed with me) and I ended up just leaving my apartment key hidden for eachother outside my door. Don't worry, since my door opens off of the abandoned former maids' hallway, no one comes up the stairs. It's me, three doors that lead to old chambres de bonnes (rooms where maids would have lived) and a communal bathroom at the end of the hall. Luckily, as I am in a renovated chambre de bonne, I do have my own bathroom inside my apartment.

After retrieving Christina from gare Montparnasse, I left her with Amelia and I ran to my art history class. It's actually a Sciences Po class, but the séances are held in the l'ENA building. I hadn't realized that's where they were until I arrived for class, and after hearing about the l'ENA controversy basically since I've been in France, it gave me a nerdy thrill to step inside.

If Sciences Po was founded to train the future elite leaders of France, L'ENA, or L'École Nationale d'Administration is the entity that has the power to turn the elite of the elite into actual leaders of France. For anyone who wishes to enter French politics, (the French equivalent of) undergraduate studies at Sciences Po, followed by (the French equivalent of) graduate studies at l'ENA. After graduating, énarques are ushered into leadership positions reserved especially for them. Dominique Villepin is an énarque, as is Ségolène Royal. So is Jean-Baptiste, my nanny family's dad – he's actually not only an énarque, but an X (Polytechnique grad), and he went on to found his own investment bank.

Despite the intimidating immeuble, my art class is definitely going to be my most chill. It's taught by a professor who spends half her time at NYU and half at Sciences Po (it's my only class in English), and I can already tell that it's going to be really really good. I've never taken any kind of art history before, only physical art classes, so I didn't know what to expect, but I think it'll be really interesting. And what better place to learn art history then in Paris? On Friday we're meeting at 8h (instead of our usual 14h45) at Palais Royal (behind the Louvre) to take a walking tour of artistically important areas of Paris.

Saturday afternoon I had to babysit as usual, so after hanging out with Christina and Amelia for a while, I let myself into the big apartment at my scheduled 14h arrival time. When I walked in the door, Cassie took off with Paul, told the girls to do their homework, and Jean-Baptiste took off into the kitchen to bake a tarte aux prunes (plums). This left Alexi and I in the living room to "get to know eachother" for an entire hour and a half, until the family finally left at 15h30. It was a pretty obvious set-up, but Alexi turned out to be really nice and we managed to pass the time together with minimal awkwardness. I'm still not completely over the oddness of the whole situation though. Especially after nannying tonight and hearing, "Didn't you think Alex was cuuute?" all night long.

I feel like X's and Pôtistes are kind of supposed to be rivals, but we're all in the same elite squadron...or something...we'll see what happens the next time they try to set up the two Americans in Paris.

12 October 2006

This morning I woke up and for the first time really missed Seattle. I always miss the people of course, but as far as cities go, Paris has been doing a rather good job of pleasing me so far.

I think I was sad when I woke up because it was raining and drizzly – peering through the window over my bed into the endlessly grey sky, I could have easily been looking at the sky over Seattle (although apparently, it didn't rain there today).

As a result of the homesickness, my mind managed to transform Paris into the Pacific Northwest for me, just for one afternoon. I spent the entire day doing Seattle-girl things, and didn't realize it until the wet grey light was nearly gone.

Shout-out to Seattle!

In Paris, even if you spend the day doing laundry and errands, you manage to remain very chic doing so. In Seattle, sweatpants are my automatic uniform for laundry day, but here I tend to conform to the city and end up in my last clean jeans and my cute shoes even for grocery shopping.

Because I woke up today intending to run immediately, I put on my typical running outfit of yoga pants, running shoes and my T-Town (Tacoma) sweatshirt (because of the drizzle). The running was inevitably postponed until after the errands, so in true West Coast fashion I trotted around all day in my workout clothes.

My good friend (and last year's roommate) Christina is coming to stay with me for the weekend, and I am so excited about my first houseguest that I wanted to clean and go shopping for all kinds of tasty things to ply her with. Christina, however, is a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, and it can be hard – especially in France – to find things she can eat.

Yeah, this girl's coming tomorrow!

I'd heard rumors of a store called "Naturalia" that sells organic products, so I walked over to Les Halles in the 1ème to check it out. I almost fainted with joy when I walked inside – just when I'd been missing P.C.C. the most, I found a perfect subsitute in a most unlikely location. I actually had fun buying things like yaourt en soja (soy yogurt) and herbed tofu – things I would never buy even in granola-green Seattle.

I tried to convey my elation and sense of being at home in Naturalia to the clerk, but he responded with a very confused look. I guess you have to have experienced the PNW to really understand what it's all about.

After paying, I headed back toward the 2ème, my recycled shopping bag full of not only soy milk, but organic vegetable chips and organic dark chocolate-dipped rice cakes – hallelujah for Naturia. I'm trying to wait to open them until Christina gets here tomorrow, but they're staring at me from the corner of the kitchen.

As I was waiting to cross rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré I spotted the little fleet of biodiesel cars that wheel around Paris emblazoned with slogans like "Je suis bíologique!" (I'm organic!) This isn't the first time I've crossed paths with the biodiesel crowd here, but on Seattle in Paris day it couldn't have been more perfect.

Before dropping off my groceries at home, I swung by the American bookstore (right across avenue de l'Opéra from me) to buy (finally!) American Vogue. I'm not discriminating against French Vogue – I buy that too, but it takes me about five times as long to read the articles. I paid twice as much for it as I would have in the States, but I don't care. It was like a treasure burning through my Naturia bag the rest of the way home, just begging to be cracked open.

Before I could settle down with the Vogue though, I still had to get my run in. Still drizzling, I enjoyed a Seattle-style rain run down to Montparnasse and back. As the day could not possibly have been complete without a stop-off at Starbucks, I splurged on an overpriced café americano on the way home.

It was, typically, overflowing with American tourists, but I didn't care. The shop around the corner from my building is progressive enough to fill carafes of nonfat milk on the sugar/milk bar. (Not all French Starbucks offer this – the last time I was in one, the options were cream, half and half or whole milk). Again I'd paid twice what I would have in Seattle, but with one sip I was transported to the parking lot of the Westgate Starbucks, on my way home from running the Point Defiance trails with Wilbur (the dog).


After stopping by the corner boulangerie to pick up a chausson aux pommes (basically an applesauce-filled pastry), I was officially back in Paris – but it was nice to have a little vacation.

••• The Franco-American nephew of Jean-Baptiste (whose family lives in America) is spending all year studying at École Polytechnique (nicknamed "X" for some unknown (to me) reason), the engineering and math equivalent of Sciences Po. He lives elsewhere in Paris, but will be spending the weekend at Cassie and Jean-Baptiste's. In the preparations for his arrival, there has been a lot of very blatent hinting that he and I should probably fall in love and get married.

It's perfect, apparently – we're both from America studying in Paris, him at X, me at Sciences Po. We're apparently both intelligent and nice, and he is, selon Cassie, "just adorable." I think this all started as a joke, but in the middle of one conversation this evening, C, Z and E were getting more and more serious about his and my compatible qualities. I don't even know this guy yet, but I'm sure I was beet red.

Alexi (oh yes, Alexi) will be over tomorrow, so I guess that's when we'll find out if the Toulouse family's grand dreams of a union between their American nephew and American nanny will ever be realized. As it is, I've been hearing about this guy for so long I hope I can introduce myself without turning red and running to hide.

11 October 2006

My disturbing encounter of the day was made even more bizarre by the fact that the person who caused it was honestly trying to be nice.

Tonight is the first night R can spend in her new apartment, so after nannying I had the wine guy at Monoprix pick me out a nice bottle of Saint Emilion, threw some plastic glasses into my bag and hopped onto the metro to christen her new apartment. She's now living in the 11ème, which is a mostly nice "bobo" area with a few sketchy bits (like any part of town, really). When I exited the metro, an older gentleman with a pipe saw me consulting my map and immediately knew I was American.

He was quite excited to practice his English on me and share stories about his trip to California several years ago. After consulting my map, he informed me that he'd lead me to where I needed to go because I was a girl, and according to him, there are "dirty people in the street."

He got me to the corner of rue Léon Frot and rue Emile Lepeu, but would not believe me that there existed a passage Gustave Lepeu a little further up the road. Finally I managed to convince him that I'd go look for it myself, that I'd be fine and he could go on with his evening. I thanked him, and he removed his pipe from his mouth long enough to say,

"Be careful, there are a lot of Arabs around here."

I stared at him for a minute, but he was completely serious, so I just waved and continued up the street. It was a little unnerving.

Anyway, Rachael's apartment is kind of hilarious at the moment. I arrived at what I thought was number 7, but there was no address on the building. There were also no names on the interphone outside, and since she'd mentioned that the building was currently under construction, I assumed that had to be it. I had to call her since the interphone was set up, and she came all the way downstairs to manually unlock the heavy front door.

The second I stepped inside I started laughing. The floor was bare concrete spattered with paint. There are clear tarps, dirty pieces of carpet, electrical wires and assorted hammers and drills strewn everywhere. The lights are just lightbulbs dangling from the ceiling. She led me upstairs to her apartment, where we had to step over a toolbox to get inside.

She and her roommate Vita are apparently the first ones to move into the building, because the construction is contintuing all month. They currently have no electricity (or hot water), except for a tiny generator lighting a few lamps in the living room.

Except for the fact that they're living in a construction site, everything is pretty perfect. Their apartment is brand new and completely furnished – complete with brand new Ikea dishes and cookware. They have tables and lamps and curtains and a futon for the living room. In fact, all they have to buy are mattresses or futons for their own rooms and they're all set.

Their street is also very quiet and cute, with boulangers, restaurants and fromagers lining the adjacent rue Léon Frot. With the exception of racist old men wandering the street and trying to impart their bigotry on young American girls, it's a very cute little area.

ªªª My sink is fixed – Cassie asked how it was and I had to tell her the truth. It was broken!! She ended up coming up here while I was giving P and G their baths and fixing it for me – although she did concede that it was very difficult to take apart.

**** The little green arrow is pointing to the sidewalk immediately in front of my apartment building.

10 October 2006

Today I had one of the best hip hop classes I've ever taken. It was up there with the time we had the hip hop/funk teacher from Velocity Dance Studio substitute teach for my UW jazz class Freshman year, and with one hip hop class I took with Whitney at Westlake Dance Center (the caliber of which was never found again).

For some reason I didn't really expect there to be a big hip hop scene in France. That's why I brought leotards and ballet and tap shoes, but left my jazz sneakers and hip hop stuff back in Tacoma. I'm not quite sure what lent to this perception – maybe just that hip hop seems so very New York and Los Angeles, and so not Paris. We've got the East and West Coast hand signs but seem to be lacking one for Île de France. Maybe we could have a Paris-specific hip hop rivalry between Rive droit and Rive gauche...somehow that doesn't really compute in my mind.

I was both excited and weary of Sciences Po hip hop classes – somehow uppity French political science students don't seem the type to get down on the marley (a kind of dance floor). I imagined a class that would be amusing, but would probably be kind of boring, considering that the level was specified as "all" and I've been hip-hopping for plusieurs years now.

Wow was I wrong. Well, at least mostly wrong. Wrong about the lack of a hip-hop scene in France, that's for sure. I was a little more on target with my assessment of the hip-hop scene at Sciences Po – of the four girls (including me) in the class, only one is an authentic Frenchie. With her (and the teacher), there's me, a German girl and an Italian girl – a very international group, that's for sure.

Of the four, I was the only one with any prior dance experience, so I was interested to see how the teacher would approach it. I needn't have worried. Hip-hop is not like ballet. With ballet, you learn the exact same pliés and tendus at every studio from every teacher. No matter what your level of hip-hop is though, the dance is always going to be half ability, half personal style. Every hip-hop studio, class and teacher is different.

The teacher, an energetic woman in her early 40s (I would guess), came bounding into the room decked out like a P.E. teacher, in a reebok track suit and a top-of-the head, scrunchied ponytail. Her style was anything but. She managed to put together warm-ups and floor combinations that were simple enough to be followed by someone with no dance experience, and her style was so original that I wasn't bored for a second.

If the Seattle hip-hop scene is a fusion of Northwest grunge and Manhattan street funk, this class was a French twist on L.A. hip-hop. It was so fun because it was so different from any hip-hop class I've ever taken. We krumped and c-walked and did the "killing bee." It was crazy fun.

Although dance classes in the U.S. tend to be half in French because the names of all the steps are French, it was also really entertaining to take a full class in French. What might have been called "contractions" or "full-body shimmying" in the U.S. was called "La libération" by our teacher. The name is kind of perfect for the move – when it's time for the liberation, you stand with your feet facing the side of the room, but your arms and chest open to the mirror. Then you start shaking both your upper and lower half as fast as you possibly can in time with the music. Throughout this, our teacher was yelling,

"Laissez-les bouger!" Literally translated, it's "let them move." What she was referring to, was our posteriors. I also couldn't help giggling everytime I heard "Un, deux, trois, et KRUMP!" Everything's just funnier in French. And from hip-hop to plumbing...

I've been having problems with my bathroom sink since I moved in. Basically, it doesn't drain. Or, it drains, but it takes 15 minutes to do so fully. I tried pouring an entire bottle of the French equivalent of Dran-o in last week, but nada. I asked Cassie and Jean-Baptiste about it earlier tonight, and they started describing to me how you have to unscrew this bent piece of pipe under the sink and check for gross hairballs left by the previous girl. Cassie asked if I wanted her to come show me, but being a fool and not wanting to sound like a useless girl, I said no.

The problem is that I am a useless girl. The kind so useless that she can't put a chain back onto her own bike. So useless that she had to get her brother to put windshield wiper fluid in the car for her. So useless that she would try to put motor oil into the car at a gas station and have to call her dad to ask how to unscrew the cap (apparently, being a cap, you just unscrew it).

I came back up to my apartment thinking I'd finally have a working sink, but having of course forgotten the whole I actually am a useless girl thing. I got on the floor underneath the sink and managed to unscrew something back there, but whatever it is won't budge. All that happened is the pipes started to leak some really gross-looking brown water. Of course I was too embarrassed to go back down and ask, so I now have a non-working bathroom sink. I'm a little bit lost without the boys I usually ask for help – my Dad and brother for car stuff, Robb and Conner for computer stuff, my other brother for gross stuff...

I'd probably be a better ambassador of Wopeople if I actually knew how to do this stuff on my own. As it is, I might as well be in the kitchen with an apron on. Though instead of making dinner in my apron, I might be closer to being strangled with it. I guess Paris is as good a place as any to begin untangling myself.

09 October 2006

In a word, my first day of real classes at Sciences Po was...anticlimactic. After weeks of ooohs and ahhs and rumors and lectures about how incredibly hard Sciences Po would be, I was frankly almost disappointed.

This year will be far from easy, but after all the build-up, I was getting kind of curious to find out what school could be like when it's really really really hard. I was terrified, yes. Barely able to sleep last night, definitely. The fear was unecessary.

I'm not sure I believe in the idea of really hard school. School that makes you work hard, bien sûr, but I've never been faced with any work that wasn't doable with a little effort.

Walking to school this morning was every kind of terrible – with every step I psyched myself out a little bit more. Every step said "You are not on the same level as these French Sciences Po students, what are you doing here?!?!" The doubts stuck with me as I sprinted up four flights of stairs, entered the classroom and sat down. As soon as the maître (translates literally as "master," but means teacher) began to speak though, I remembered one important but forgotten fact – I really like school. In fact, I would maybe go to far as to say that when it's good, I really love school. Rather then feeling waves of doom crashing down on my head, I actually got kind of excited as we went over the syllabus. Like, excited to buckle down and do some real, interesting work this semester. Work with the added challenge of being entirely in French. The prospect kind of thrills me.

My first class of the day was a conference (something like a quiz section at UW) for my class on the Union éuropéenne et droit (law) communautaire. Meeting once a week for two hours at a time, the conferences are the basis for your entire grade for the course. During the two hour séance today, we were instructed to form groups of three, in which we would be doing all of our work for the rest of the semester.

This was at first terrifying, given that no one in the 30 person conference knew anyone else (well technically, Jessica and I have a prior connaissance. But due to the fact that we not only went to UW together, but Stadium High School as well, we were pretending we didn't know each other. Otherwise, it's just too weird to be in a class together in Paris), and we were choosing two people upon which our semester grades are going to rest. After maybe a minute of silence and furtive glances, we all went for it, and I am now permanent study buddies with Alex from Germany and Sara from Poland.

The grouping was followed by a frantic 45 minutes of choosing our work for the rest of the semester. That's right, choosing our work. We were each handed a two page itinerary that detailed the subject of every séance in the semester and told we needed to choose: 2 exposés (strictly formatted oral presentations), 2 points d'actualités (news summaries), 4 fiches techniques (four-page reports, but in a less formal note style) and 2 débats (debates). As the conference meets only once a week, there are only 14 séances in the semester, and of the debate and oral presentation subjects, some were decidedly more desirable than others.

Some of the subjects were in high demand, such as "Après les référendums français et néerlandais, la Constitution est-elle morte?" (After the referendums of France and the Netherlands is the Constitution of the European Union dead?) My group was lucky enough to snag this for one of our exposés, but we got stuck with one real doozy: "Pourquoi peut-on dire que l'Union européenne est "un objet politique non identifié?" (Why can the EU be termed a non-identified political entity?) It was slightly unsettling that the maître chuckled when she assigned it to us and said, "Je vous aiderai." (I will help you).

Even (or perhaps especially) in groups, this is a hefty workload for the semester for just one class. Hefty doesn't necessarily mean hard though. Yes it's a lot, but as long as I actually put in the hours, Sciences Po is not going to be giving me the hernia I'd expected.

My second class of the day was the Cours Magistral (like a big UW lecture) for La Vie Politique de la France Aujourd'hui, which I was actually really excited for. Rightly so, as the professor is really relaxed and funny and has written half the books assigned throughout the Sciences Po curriculum. I never knew I was so interested in French politics (though I had been really looking forward to this class), but I was rapt as we went through the five presidents of the 5ème republic. That was as much politics as we got today, because the first part of the class was comprised of an introduction/low-key quiz to see how much we knew about political entities around the world.

The one disturbing part of the class was when a girl got booed. Yes, booed. I didn't feel that sorry for her though – she's apparently a fellow American, and seems to be pretty proud of that fact. When Professor Duhamel asked someone to describe the function of the NSA, she goes, "The National Security Agency of the United States..." I think she might have been about to switch into French at this point, but she was completely drowned out by laughing and booing. This wasn't even intimidating though – I have never at any point been in danger of thinking it would be okay to try to speak English in a francophone class at Sciences Po, so that's a humiliation I don't think I need to worry about.

Tomorrow I have my Droit Communautaire cours magistral at 8h du matin! Alors! Then I have my conference for La Vie Politique, and in the afternoon I have my first French hip-hop class. I mean, "l'hip-hop."

*** A few guidelines for wearing high heels in Paris (these are important for any Parisienne, because it is the mode here to wear your nice shoes out in the casual daytime. Yes, you will find occasion to wear your tallest and craziest heels at 11h in the morning.)
1. Don't be afraid to wear your heels! You'll stand out a lot less in heels then in flip-flops (quite the opposite of Seattle).
2. Avoid cobblestones at all cost – be aware that cobblestones are difficult to avoid in many areas of Paris, so choose your walking routes wisely.
3. Always take the escalator rather then attempting your usual sprint up the stairs out of the metro in the morning.
4. Make sure you have a good grip on something in the Metro.
5. Don't be the dork who stares at the ground while they're walking, but at least take the caution and scan the road ahead of you for stinky dog piles – yes, they are everywhere.
6. Make sure you have adequate time to get where you need to be or,
7. Make sure you have mad high heel running skills.

I was pleased to discover that I do, in fact, possess the skills to sprint through Paris wearing high heels (without breaking my legs!). I don't know how I unconsciously developed these skills, but I was quite content with them when I avoided being late to my first class of the day. I feel pretty proud of this mostly inutile skill. For demonstrations/lessons, come visit me!

08 October 2006

EDIT: Okay, most embarrassing moment in Paris so far? Actually, ever?

Massive asthma attack in front of the Assemblée Nationale. There's not much worse then being remembered to Parisiens as the American dork who almost passed out on the steps.

The worst part is, it was totally my fault for being an idiot. The moment I left my building, I could feel the asthma coming on, even though I'd prepped with albuterol. I didn't have time to run Friday or Saturday though, so I was determined to get in a long one today, and I decided (stupidly) to run anyway, and take some more albuterol when I got home.

Unfortunately, asthma doesn't work like that. You push it, it pushes back, which is why I found myself unable to draw a breath on the Rive Gauche of the Seine this afternoon. I didn't really know what to do. All I had was my iPod and a five euro bill. I had no i.d., no money, no metro pass and no emergency phone numbers of my au pair family with me. I ended up sprawled on my back on a low stone wall in front of the building wheezing for half an hour.

It was really really embarrassing. I couldn't even remember how to say "breathe" in French, all I could come up with was something along the lines of "I have no more wind." An older French man was really concerned about me, and it took me a while to convince him that I'd be fine. There was nothing he could do for me anyway, short of bringing me to the salle des urgences, and as I hadn't really envisioned spending my Sunday in the E.R., that was not my top choice.

I ended up just looking like a fool on my back for a while and then slowly walking back home. My lungs are fine, but my dignity is a little battered.

Wheezing is so not chic.


Une “nuit blanche” is the term given by the French to a night when you don’t sleep a wink – a night so crazy that you don’t return home until the sun is coming up in the morning.

For the past five years in Paris, the term has taken on new significance. Still a night with no sleep, the Nuit Blanche is now a city-wide holiday, a night when museums are open for free into the wee hours of the morning, famous endroits around the city are filled with installation art pieces, clubs throw open their doors free of cover charge and thousands of Parisians take to wandering the streets clutching bottles of wine and not coming home until morning.

The city’s mayor since 2001, Bertrand Delanoë, is apparently a rather hip and flamboyant man whose term’s primary focus has been cultural. His two big changes since becoming mayor have been instituting “Paris Plage” and “La Nuit Blanche.”

Parisians generally find this kind of hilarious but are at the same time rather proud. The post of mayor of Paris has included men such as Jules Ferry and Jacques Chirac, both grand political players, so city-dwellers here have a hard time not laughing at the big accomplishments of Delanoë’s career. Even so, these are just two more reasons why the French are culturally original, so two more bragging points are added to the list.

I guess Delanoë was originally supposed to cut down pollution and improve traffic, neither of which have seen grand improvements. Traffic is supposedly worse since he’s been around. People generally like him though, because he’s “fun.” On Nuit Blanche, he spends the night wandering the city and mingling with the crowds, even though he was stabbed on Nuit Blanche in 2002 by a delirious homophobe.

I really hope I’m not in Provence yet during Paris Plage, because stretches of the Seine are covered with imported sand for weeks and Paris centre basically turns into a giant beach party.

Nuit Blanche was adequately fun too, though R and I were a little confused about the point of it all. We went out with a group of native Parisians and basically wandered the city from 21h30 to 3h (we were too pansy to make it all night after already having had one "nuit blanche" this week) looking at weird installation art pieces. Some of it was kind of cool, like part of the national archives building's courtyard with a band playing middle eastern music and dancers, but some of it I couldn’t believe people were lining up to see.

At Théâtre du Chatâlet we waited in a 15 minute line to sit in the theater and hear a 20 minute recording of someone breathing, while colored lights shone on stage. At Hôtel de Ville, the line was probably 45 minutes to get inside, but while we waited we were serenaded by some seriously scary-sounding haunted house music. It was composed by Sébastien Tellier (apparently quite a famous French singer-songwriter) especially for Nuit Blanche, but no one could stop laughing at the weirdness of the music.

We gave up on the line after 15 minutes, but as we left we snuck around the side of the building and peered inside. There, the same music was playing while giant shiny black balls of various sizes swung around from the ceiling by clear strings. It was really bizarre, but the Frenchies we were with were excited because as we were leaving we actually saw Sébastien Tellier. I wasn’t quite as thrilled, considering I had no clue who he was before last night, but it was still exciting. (The Olsen twins would maybe have been more thrilling still).

After leaving Hôtel de Ville, we wandered around the Marais for a good two hours. Our final stop of the night was this old old courtyard where someone had projected this huge looped film of poi feeding onto one of the walls. When we walked into the courtyard, there was a huge group of absolutely silent people staring at the thrashing fish on the wall. All we could hear was the splashing, and we had to leave pretty quickly for fear of laughing too loudly.

The whole night was really odd. It was cool that a lot of buildings that are usually interdit au public were open, but I will probably never understand why we were willing to wait 20 minutes to watch five minutes of fish swimming on a wall.

We never made it down to Concorde, but apparently the entire place was lit up with a special shade of blue. R and I really wanted to see this, because according to the Parisians we were with, there’s a contemporary French artist named Yves Klein who invented a new shade of blue? Concorde was apparently lit up completely in “International Klein Blue.”
I don't get it:

All in all it was a pretty fun night – how often do you get to wander the streets of Paris with a bottle of pink wine looking at installation art? But it was cold, and I felt kind of bewildered the whole time. This was not helped by the fact that I kept getting phone calls from a mystery guy named Michel who really really wanted to meet up. Unfortunately for him, I have no clue who is is, or how he got my number – he seemed to know who I was though. I didn’t know how to get him to stop calling, so I told him I was at Concorde (I wasn't) and stopped answering the phone.

Today is a getting things done day. I’m going to run, grocery shop, vacuum and figure out how to fix my bathroom sink. Maybe this is sick, but I love cleaning in my own apartment. I just spent an hour dusting (ha! I don't usually do it, but it's good for my asthma to live in a dust-free apartment), scrubbing and vacuuming and it was surprisingly satisfying. Later tonight R and I are going to see Le Parfum at a cinéma on the Champs Elysées and do some final celebrity stalking on the last night of fashion week. Tomorrow is my first day of real classes and I’m a little bit terrified. I guess there’s nothing to do now but wait and see how they are.

•• I apologize for having no pictures of Nuit Blanche, but my camera is still way out in the 20ème.

••• Two pictures that demonstrate R and my complete inability to aim a camera. This series makes me laugh.

•••• My baby brother turned 18 yesterday! AHHHHHH! When I was interviewing for my current au pair job, I was describing all my child-watching experience to Cassie and I added (as usual), "Plus, I have two little brothers, so..." She then asked me how old they are. Somehow telling someone you have a 16 and an 18 year old brother does not seem like the most obvious way to impress your babysitting skills upon them.

06 October 2006

So R and I have officially become "les stalkers." We managed to discover that, among the many celebrities who flock here for fashion week, the Olsen twins, Victoria Beckham and Katie Holmes are all in Paris right now. We're not particularly concerned with the latter two, but all week we've been on a mad quest to find Mary-Kate and Ashley.

Because I'm a freak, I printed out the schedule of all the fashion shows this week when Mode à Paris first put it online. I've been (not-so) casually wandering (lurking) in the Jardin des Tuileries, around l'École des Beaux Arts, up and down the Champs Elysées, peering (furtively) into tents trying to catch glimpses of runways and (stalking) androgynous fashion models.

After our final class of the Stage d'Integration this morning, R and I met Hadrien (a SciPo boy who we met last year while he was studying at UW) for what was pretty much the best pizza of my year. After lunch, since Beaux Arts is just a few blocks from Sciences Po, R and I decided it was a prime opportunity for some celebrity stalking. Hadrien respectfully decline our invitation to try to find the Olsen twins, so R and I headed over to watch the set-up for Christian Lacroix's afternoon show.

Sadly, my camera is en panne (out of order) at the moment, and is taking a necessary vacation at the Canon repair center way way out in the 20ème. Luckily, the error is an easy fix, and a free one while the camera's under warranty, but that means I have to implore my parents to priority mail the warranty and receipt to me.

Most of the time I feel completely and utterly confident venturing into the world with nothing but my little Paris map book and my generally more-than-adequate French skills. There are some situations, though, that just bring me crashing back to reality – the reality that as good as I would like to think I am at speaking French, there are just some things that I have absolutely no idea how to communicate. For example, what was wrong with my camera, the fact that it's under warranty but I'd have to have my papers mailed to me, and that I wanted them to start the repair now and I'd either bring the warranty papers or be prepared to pay cash once it's ready to be picked up. After all that, I was more than a bit sweaty and flustered by the time I'd exited the repair shop without my poor camera.

As any good stalker knows, it's no fun with no camera, so R and I made a necessary detour into the nearest Monoprix to buy a disposable camera and some chocolate (always important for undercover missions). We arrived at Beaux Arts to find metal crowd control barriers and men in suits and red ties lurking around guarding the doors. Okay, we were the ones lurking, they were just guarding. Luckily, we have skills of extreme wiliness, because we made a wide loop around to the back of the building where the show was being set up and snuck in through the back door. Unluckily, the men in suits were totally prepared for our sneaky attempts, and we only made in halfway down the hallway before we had to turn and run right back out again.

After our bout of joyful stalking, R went to open a bank account, and I headed home for nanny duties. When I mentioned what R's afternoon activities were, Cassie started describing the difficulty of opening a bank account in France, and asked me if I needed her to be a guarantor. She was quite surprised to hear that I already had one, and couldn't understand how I'd managed it with no fuss – until I confessed that I'd just told them I was from Sciences Po. She "Oooohed" and nodded and immediately understood. She says it's easy to get things done as a student in France – IF you come from Polytechnic or Sciences Po. I still have trouble comprehending the reverence given to students of Sciences Po by the French – mainly because having been admitted to the International Programme is really not due the same awe. She and her husband (Jean-Baptiste) went out to dinner with friends, and I, after eating dinner with the kids, watching the Babysitters Club movie and putting them all to bed, have been reclining on their couch ever since.

It hasn't been quite a week yet, but I'm still feeling like a perfect fit here. When I arrive in the afternoons, it's just me, Georges and Irma (Ear-ma, to the French), the cleaning lady until C returns after retrieving the other children from school. The other day I had a long conversation with Irma in French while Georges was napping, and most of it was her expounding the family's qualities. "Ils sont formidables, vraiment." "C'est une famille trés gentile, n'est pas?" It's always a good sign to be loved by your cleaning lady – it probably helps that C never ever calls her as such – always, "Irma, who helps me out during the day."

I'm starting to feel like the Pied Piper of little boys. Everytime I enter the family's appartment, Georges runs toward me shouting "ALEEE, ALLLEEEE!!!" and doesn't leave my side until he's in bed. I was quite tickled when C told me G had become "remarkably fond" of me after my third day working for the family. Apparently there's a new girl at his preschool, and when C asked him what the "nice girl's name" was, he shouted "ALLEE!" and started looking around for me. It's nice to feel loved – especially living alone in a strange country many many miles from everyone I love.

Paul (7) was, I suspect, the reason I got this job, because the two of us clicked immediately last month when I met the family for the first time. The girls are great too – I got extra cool points tonight A) from Ella because my fingernails are painted black like Hilary Duff and B) from Zoë for having been to a Maroon 5 concert. It's funny, because through most of my day, I try to blend in with the Parisians, but once I start nannying, I'm as American as possible. I'm a kind of novelty for these kids, who consider themselves "so Americain" but are really very French at heart.

* I am currently sporting a trashy-looking cigarette burn about half an inch below my left eye. This injury was the result of a poorly-calculated goodbye kiss (cheek, cheek, French style) with one of the five schmabillion smokers in Paris.

** Hadrien confirmed my fears about street-runners. He tried to tell me to go just outside of Paris and run in the Bois de Boulogne or Bois de Vincennes. When I told him they were too far and I'd rather just run in the street, he just looked at me. "C'est trés bizarre, ça." Joy. I guess I'm just going to be bizarre this year.

*** I couldn't resist buying these sponges, even though they were a euro more than the others. My life is definitely rosy-er after cleaning the bathroom with pink sponges – isn't yours?

04 October 2006

I just found a park near my apartment where I get a really strong signal on three of the 26 benches. The only drawback is the bugs that keep falling on my keyboard...

It's suddenly fall here, and very cold. Two days ago I would have been too warm in a skirt and tee shirt, and today I am too cold in a sweater and scarf. Hopefully I'll get my Internet working soon, because this park is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

After a month of unstructured Parisian vacation time, I am ready to settle down and find my rhythm for the year. Although the unpredictable lifestyle, never knowing where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing next, is inarguably thrilling, it is also exhausting. Five weeks later, I could not be happier to spend a night quietly cooking myself dinner, finishing homework, reading a book in my new apartment.

And my teensy but perfect mezzanine.

(Note the futon cushion in addition to my wide bed in the rafters – come visit me! I have a really good map of Paris, nutella and French (duh) wine, and places for you all to sleep.)

Yes, my new apartment. After weeks of stress with no home, no carte de séjour (long-term visa), no cooking supplies, and a suitcase that had never been fully unpacked since arriving in August, I have a home. I never thought I’d love living alone so much. I’m taking a break from preparing my exposé (scary French oral presentations: Must be exactly ten minutes long, no more, no less, and are followed by tenminute interrogations by the professor, designed to make you think you failed completely – this discipline is supposed to make students work harder) on my third evening in my new place.

Finally unpacking

My suitcase is finally put away, all my clothes hanging in the closet or folded in the dresser. I have a street, a corner boulangerie, my own mailbox and my own name on the interphone (basically the doorbell – when someone pushes the button for “Griffin” downstairs, my interphone rings and their face appears in the little t.v. screen next to the buzzer I push to let them in). I have groceries, dishes, spices and wine, and my own sheets on my giant new bed. I have a metro stop, a laundry hamper and a shower curtain and I’m pretty much a domestic Parisian now, I think.

Yay my kitchen!

Yay my groceries!

As far as my duties with the family are concerned, I’m pretty sure they couldn’t be easier. Maybe easy is the wrong word – four kids are never “easy.” I think natural is closer to what I want to say. After years of brothers and babysitting and working at Summer at Seabury (plus my natural skills of bossiness, of course), there are few things more natural to me then being around children. In the mornings I have the choice to eat breakfast in my apartment or downstairs with Zoë (the eldest at 12 years old) before I take her to school on the metro. After depositing her in the Marais, I walk back along and across the Seine to Sciences Po. I have my own keys to their apartment, and I head downstairs around 17h each day to supervise homework, instrument practicing, dinner eating, bathtimes and bedtimes while Cassie does the same. I’m free once the two youngest children are in bed, which usually ends up being about 20h each night.

I’m pretty sure Georges (the youngest, two years old) loves me already – I held him upside-down and threw him up in the air when we first met and we’ve been best friends ever since. The older kids are warm and easy and I have no doubts about this year. Even though the family speaks English at home, I think my French will nevertheless be getting a workout. At dinner tonight, seven-year old Paul fell in love with the game “quiz the new au pair on her French vocabulary skills” and spent an hour asking me to translate “l’huile d’olive,” or “fenêtre.” He was a little disappointed that I kept getting answers right, but every now and then when I’d forgotten a word, the two girls would leap to my defense.

“That’s not fair Paul,” Ella (ten) would exclaim, “that’s like me asking you words in Spanish and laughing when you didn’t know!” And she and Z would proceed to quiz P in Spanish. It tickled me that they already wanted to be on my team, so to speak – although knowing siblings, they were probably more interested in being on whichever team their brother wasn’t.

Once I’d convinced the girls that I really didn’t mind not knowing every single mot en français, they taught me a new one: anticonstitutionnellement. This is apparently the longest word in the French language, and the kids were all thrilled to see me write out “antidisestablishmentarianism” for them. As far as the contest of whose language contains the longer word, I won – and by some twisted merit system, I think I won some extra cool points for speaking the langue maternelle with the 28-letter word. If only P hadn’t asked me to translate “cuiller” I’d still have all my cool points. For some reason, “spoon” always gets me.

•• By the way, for all you worriers – R has found herself an apartment as well! It’s in the 11ème, with a Russian ballerina comme colocatrice, and the interior is newly remodeled and completely furnished. The only drawbacks are the 1970s-style building and the not-completely-ideal location within the 11ème, but it’s close to fun fun places and completely reasonably priced. She, like me, will soon have her own street, metro stop, mail box and shower curtain. It’s a pretty thrilling feeling to have a real home at last.

••• So the UW Comparative Literature program, Fall Quarter in Paris apparently has classes in a building approximately…two blocks from Sciences Po. In fact, it’s just about square in between Sciences Po and the stand with the (maybe) racist crêpe man. Even knowing that, it was pretty shocking to run into Amelia (one of my best friends and roommates from UW) strolling, who am I kidding, A doesn’t stroll – I meant speed-walking, down boulevard St.-Germain des Prés.

The view par mes fenêtres – I spy with my little eye, l’Opéra Garnier.

And my street! The black contraption on the right is the Théatre des Bouffes Parisiens – when all of those lights are lit, night looks like day. Luckily my windows face the other direction.