29 June 2007

It seems pretty fitting to me that my last experience with Sciences Po was confusing, horribly planned and exasperating. Monday afternoon I had my last final of my junior year of university and my year abroad at Sciences Po– Grands débats de l’Europe en crise.

The European Union by itself is a daunting subject for non-European students – even the exchange students with EU citizenship in my classes are often confused and frustrated. In my EU class fall semester nearly half of the students were Americans – something that amused our German, Dutch and Polish counterparts to no end. But why are you taking this class, they wanted to know – and after a few weeks of class we were asking ourselves the same question.

After studying the European Union for a while, you begin to notice a pattern. Even if you have no idea what to study for a three-hour written final on Europe in crisis, you can bet it’ll come back to one of a few things. As long as you make sure to read a few choice articles about l’élargissement et approfondissement (enlargement and deepening) of the EU, something about the institutional crisis stemming from the rejection of the proposed European constitution and formulate an opinion about the European identity crisis, you’ve got your bases covered.

My final was Monday afternoon, and though our two midterms for the class had been open note I had no idea about the final. A few hours before the test I went to my and Anna’s usual study spot of La Croissanterie on Saint Germain to buy sandwiches and pastries from the waitress who looks like she’s suffering from a severe case of leprosy – as in, weird sores all over her body. By 13h30, the time I needed to leave for my exam, I still had no idea whether we’d be allowed to use notes, so I was carrying all of mine around with me in my giant Nine West bag.

I also had no clue where my final was being held, so the first order of business in the Sciences Po penîche was to consult the bulletin board. All international students were in amphi Emile Boutmy, where at least a hundred students were milling around trying to find their assigned seats. Everyone else seemed to think this was an open-note test, so once seats had been found everyone began stacking piles of notebooks, loose leaf paper and French-langue maternelle dictionaries on their desks.

A few minutes before 14h one of the test proctors took the stage to inform us that the test would, in fact, be closed note. This announcement was met with a wave of groans and protests from students who had based their studying (or non-studying) on the idea that there would be notes to consult for precise dates and figures. One particularly upset girl from Sweden who was in my conférence raised such a stink that one of the proctors went to the Sécretariat to phone the professor. Five minutes after 14h, she was back to announce that we could use our notes, and since we were now five minutes behind, we’d get an additional three minutes at the end of the exam (nobody quite understood how that was supposed to add up).

The next big flurry came around as we each received our exam subjects and began to read. According to this piece of paper, we had three hours to write four essays about four big crises facing Europe. In addition to the expected élargissement and institutional crisis questions, there was one about the budget (a subject I know nothing about) and another about the Franco-German relationship. Realizing that left us about 45 minutes for each essay, the room was again filled with groans and the flustered test proctor ran outside to phone the professor for the second time.

The time was quickly ticking away, so with the exception of the one loud Swede, we all started scribbling frantic outlines for four essays.

Okay, did the past two enlargements toward central and oriental Europe through the EU into crisis? Ummm, no, but the speed of the enlargements did. Talk about the history, the Schuman declaration, the aims of enlargement, then the problems facing the EU today – TURKEY!!!

Next, is the Franco-German couple outdated? Yes, but it’s still important. Talk about the history of the couple’s importance in European construction and integration, don’t forget to mention the specific partnerships between Giscard-d’Estaing and Schmidt and Mitterrand and Kohl.

Right then, the budget. Uhhh, I’ll come back to this one.

Okay can the current crisis facing Europe be resolved solely by reforming its institutions? Ha! This one’s like a trick question – the institutional crisis is just a symptom of much deeper problems. The real crisis comes down to the question of European identity and the future of the EU, not resulting problems with its institutions.

Okay now back to the budget. Uhhhh….

At that moment the proctor returned to inform us that there was a typo on the subject paper – we were actually supposed to treat just three of the four subjects. Phew, there goes the budget. This was again met with groans all around – one fewer essay to write is great, but not if you’ve just wasted half an hour outlining four essays and planning the next two and a half hours around them. Again the Swede was up in arms, but by this time the proctors had had enough. It was time for us to settle down and write our exams, and they’d appease us with ten extra minutes at the end.

I finished my test with three minutes to spare and no time to correct my hasty French, but I’m not complaining. As long as I pass I’m happy – and besides, now I’m officially on summer vacation.

24 June 2007

For weeks I’ve been hearing about the nanny kids’ upcoming fête de l’école (or, school party). At l’école Notre Dame de S.R, and other primary schools throughout France, it’s traditional to throw an end-of-the-year party for the students, parents and neighborhood. What a fête is traditionally comprised of is unclear, but at S.R the kids put on an annual show for their parents and neighbors before everyone sits down together to eat, drink wine and champagne (of course) and celebrate the coming of summer.

Though I’ve been hearing about this spectacle for weeks, my understanding of it was pieced together from the little bits of information sporadically offered to me by P and E. Last year was so much better, E would complain. I was a dame de la cour. (A lady of the court). This year, P was proud to be a grand prêtre, whatever on earth that was, and E was devastated with her teacher’s choice to dress the entire class as people-sized mushrooms.

As far as I could gather, it was going to be something straight out of The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever – a motley assortment of boys in weird feathery hats and like dresses, but for men (P’s description of his own costume), animals and fungi prancing around through the streets of the 1er arrondissement.

On Wednesday there was a meltdown because the mushrooms were all supposed to wear white shoes, and E was going to ruin the show in her palest green Bensimons. There was stomping, door-slamming and coercing of a friend’s mother to call and convince the nanny mom of the necessity of a new pair of white Bensimons, but in the end, green it was.

On Thursday, I was completely befuddled as P sashayed around the kitchen island, giving me a sneak preview of his part in the spectacle. It’s going to be so weird Halley, he told me, swaying back and forth with his face and arms raised toward the ceiling. I’m the grand prêtre, well okay, actually there are two of us, and WE come down the steps first next to Tintin. Then we do this. And he twirled once more around the island, waving his hands spastically above his head.

On Friday I finally looked up grand prêtre, and didn’t become any less confused. A high priest? P is a high priest dancing with Tintin, and E is a mushroom – what on earth kind of show was this going to be? It all became clear later that evening when E finally chanced to mention that the entire spectacle was dedicated to Tintin. Georges Remi, or Hergé, as he was popularly known, was born at the end of May in 1907 – the spectacle wasn’t at all the wildly disorganized grab bag I’d imagined it to be. It was a celebration of the creator of Tintin’s would-be 100th birthday. All of a sudden everything made sense.

On Saturday, P asked me to please come see him dance down the steps of the église as a grand prêtre. Also on Saturday, E asked me to please avoid the neighborhood at all costs – apparently dancing as a giant paper-mâché mushroom is not exactly a ten-year old girl’s dream role. Unfortunately for poor E, I’d been hearing about this spectacle for so long that I couldn’t resist. Rachael and I carefully scheduled our workout group around my date with the schoolchildren of S.R.

Bright and early this morning, C and I found ourselves leaning against a police barrier on the rue St. Honoré, awaiting the end of messe in the church and the beginning of the spectacle. Leaning against the railing next to me was an elderly Parisian lady with a large SLR camera. She gave me a big smile when I arrived and asked, Vous aussi, vous venez chaque année? Vous semblez trop jeune d’avoir un enfant dans le spectacle. (Do you come every year too? You look too young to have a child in the pageant). I explained that no, I’ve only been living here for a year but that I babysit for children in the show. She was delighted with my explanation and assured me that we wouldn’t be disappointed.

By 11h30 the street was packed with parents, priests and neighbors as we all anxiously awaited the appearance of the children. Class after class danced down the church steps, dressed as space explorers, alligators, senioritas, forties ladies, mushrooms, Tintins (there was at least one Tintin for each class) and yes, grand prêtres, before they left to parade through the neighborhood. Turns out P was an Incan priest, in a feathered headdress, a shiny golden robe and piles of bracelets and necklaces. E was indeed a giant dancing mushroom, and green Bensimons or no, I’m quite sure that no one was focused on her feet.

22 June 2007

So on Tuesday, the other boy I’ve been waiting on for five months arrived at Charles de Gaulle – my newly graduated brother Ben, who arrived with his notgirlfriend Ali. My apartment is filled to the brim with four people occupying a living room, kitchen and mezzanine and I’m starting to get an idea of what a task it would be to provide for a family of four.

I never knew how much milk four people will go through in a day, or how many boxes of cereal. I wake up in the morning and along with planning our touristy activities for the day, I have to decide what we’ll be having for dinner and when I’ll be stopping at the grocery store to pick up the extra groceries. It’s not only meals that are constantly occupying my thoughts – I’m so used to my alone in Paris schedule that it’s kind of a shock to suddenly have three people relying on me to entertain them, organize them, show them around, take them out and make sure they’re having a good time.

I love switching into tour guide mode and I love having visitors. I also love when friends have visitors – since I’m always willing to show people around or go play tourist, I end up hanging out with a lot other peoples’ friends. As fun as it is, being a tourist is exhausting – going going going all day long, trying to squeeze in every last Parisian thing, not wanting to miss one single art museum or pain au chocolat. Leading people around I turn into a tourist by default, and after only three days I feel like I need a vacation.

The whole thing is made more complicated by the fact that I’m in the middle of finals at Sciences Po and I still nanny every day. Tuesday afternoon was my four-hour written final for Comportments, attitudes et forces politiques en France et en Europe, so Conner had to haul himself out to the airport to meet B and A. Wednesday morning we got up and headed due North toward Montmartre, with the requisite detour for my favorite pain au chocolate on rue des Martyrs. We met Anna at place du Tertre and spent the day wandering around the 18ème, posing for cancan pictures in front of the Moulin Rouge, exploring the little streets around Sacre Coeur, and finally climbing to the top of the basilique for a dramatic welcome-to-France view of the city. Then I had to babysit, so I left B and A to hang out with Conner and Anna for four hours. After work, I met everyone back at my apartment to make them dinner and get dressed up to go dancing at Favela Chic.

Thursday was more of the same – we left the 2ème arrondissement in the morning for my “posh” tour of Paris, down the rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, past the Élysée Palace, down the Champs Élysées for a few blocks, then along the swank V of avenue Montaïgne and avenue Georges V. By the time we reached the Palais de Chaillot to check out what I believe is the best view of the Eiffel Tower, it was time for me to leave to babysit, and we split up once again. As it was Fête de la Musique, after I finished babysitting Anna and I took our visitors to the steps of the Institut de France and fed them a picnic of baguettes, salmon spread, saucisson sec, four kinds of cheeses, pears, Orangina, Nutella and rosé wine. We spent the night wandering through the Latin Quarter dancing listening to bands play everything from swing music to Nirvana to the Rolling Stones.

Today I’ve been nannying since 8h – so I had to leave a list of suggestions for B, C and A. I sent them to the Catacombs this morning, the Louvre is free for jeunes under 26 every Friday evening and we’re meeting back up tonight to cook dinner and make plans for tomorrow. We’re hoping to get spots at a cabaret for tomorrow night, Sunday we’re going to check out the Paris jazz festival, Monday I have my last final, and maybe sometime soon I’ll get to take a nap. Visitors are great – but so is sleep.

19 June 2007

Another day, another drama in my building. The last big shocker was the late-night graffiti vandal who surprised us all Friday morning. The latest comes in the form of a series of neighbor-to-neighbor notes left posted in the middle of our mailboxes.

Most university students in Paris right now are finishing up their examens finals and celebrating like there’s no tomorrow. In the spirit of completing their first-year exams, two roommates who live in the poor half of my building decided to throw a little party for their friends and classmates last Saturday night. As is typical in an apartment building, the girls wrote a note to all the neighbors explaining that they’d be having a party that evening, inviting anyone who was interested and apologizing in advance for the noise and bother.

As parties often tend to, this one grew and grew, spilling out of the roommates’ first-floor apartment and into the building’s courtyard and out onto rue Monsigny. Rachael, Conner, Anna and I had spent the night dancing to Hava Nagila at Chez Georges, so C and I were smoky, sweaty and exhausted by the time we’d dragged ourselves back to my building’s front door.

Just as I lifted my hand to punch in the code, the door flew open and three girls ran out, laughing and waving cigarettes. As we entered the courtyard we found maybe 20 young people milling around, smoking, drinking and generally quite enjoying themselves. C and I were waved over to join the group, but we were aching for a place to lay down, so we just waved back and went upstairs to sleep. My apartment’s windows face the courtyard on the other side of the building, so that was the last we heard of the party – until we went to do laundry Sunday morning.

Apparently not everyone in the building was quite so unconcerned by the party as C and I were, because taped to the front of the mailboxes on top of the original note was a page-long letter addressed Chères P et G. The note started out being fairly cordial, but quickly turned a bit sour.

Translated from French:
Chères P et G, congratulations for passing your exams.

This merits a party a
bit long and rambunctious, but on the other hand, for your future times of rejoicing if you would stay in your own apartment to vomit, break glass, throw out your cigarette butts, perform realistic imitations of a pig having its throat slit open, and pass out on the ground, we would be much obliged.

If this night had actually been the intimate gathering of friends you told us it would be, perhaps you would have had the courtesy to clean the common areas, at least to show some bit of respect for our building and cleaning man.

We hope you understand that we were shocked to be forced to write this letter, but we will stand firm.

F and A

I did find it rather inconsiderate that the fêtards chose to party in the courtyard, considering that ours is a building of wealthy families who like to keep a serene environment, and many apartments’ windows open onto the courtyard, but the note was a little over the top. The couple who posted it knew exactly whose party it had been, and it would have been just as easy for them to leave the note in the girls’ mailbox, rather than show it off to the entire building, but I think I’m the only one who felt that way.

The rest of the neighbors, in our building’s rather dramatic way, were quite pleased with the note. I passed more than one person nodding and tsking while reading the note, and the few I talked to were all satisfied. They kept me awake until 3h with their screaming! and As a woman alone, I was scared to ask them to keep it down – who knows what they would have done. Now really, two scholarly girls and their university-going friends are not going to harm a neighbor who asks them to quiet down – but no one in this building ever passes up an opportunity to stir up more drama.

17 June 2007

So it’s Father’s Day (anybody ever wonder about that apostrophe placement choice?), in France and in the United States. I was a little confused because of the two-week difference in Mother’s Days between here and the U.S., so when Paul was asking me all week about what color tie I thought his Papa would like, I didn’t realize I should have been thinking about my own father’s neckwear as well.

I guess I don’t usually give much thought to Father’s and Mother’s Days – they just seem like more of those endless days of appreciation. Secretary’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Day, America’s Kid’s Day, and Grandparents Day all fall on the list of days that force us to mindlessly appreciate. Mom and dad, thanks for not leaving me out with the wolves. Grandma and Grandpa, thanks for not leaving my mom out with the wolves. Secretaries, thanks for not leaving those important faxes out with the wolves. Every year the days come around, and every year we take our moms out to brunch or make books of coupons for our dads, promising batches of cookies and foot massages.

It wasn’t until this year that I found myself really thinking about what it means to celebrate my own father (and mother, but this is a Father’s Day tribute). I mean, he’s this guy whose jokes make my brothers and I groan, whose “unconscious” slips into an “Irish” accent make us cringe and whose Black Bean Cassoulet and Carrot-Orange Soup are famed throughout North Tacoma. We love him, of course, and we are grateful not to have ended up as wolf bait – but he’s always been 100 percent there for us. A good thing, of course, but we’ve been conditioned to expect it, and somewhere along the way totally forgot to thank him for making us crêpes, coming to our school band concerts and bragging to all his coworkers about his amazing children.

It happens to everyone, I think, but not everyone has the chance to find herself half a world away and realize how much she has come to rely on that constant presence in her life. I’m 21 years old, living completely on my own in Paris, in an apartment that I earn through nannying – in theory, totally independent from my parents. Except that I’m not, and I’m not sure I ever will or want to be. As long as it takes most kids to admit it, parents are smart – as old and weird as they seem to us growing up, they’ve been around the block and actually have the experience to back up all that advice we hate to receive.

When I return to Seattle at the end of this summer, it will be to start my senior year at the University of Washington. I’m going home to work for a month, look for an apartment and start planning my real life. I’ve started applying for internships for next year and the summer after that will hopefully lead me to the career I’m aiming for (journalism), and I’m at the point where I guess I’ve “left the nest.” The farther away from home I get though, the more I realize that my dad is just dang useful. He helped me through a crisis with the family that employs me, he’s corrected my blog entries, he helped me brainstorm arguments for exposés that I gave at Sciences Po and he helped me update my résumé.

(And loft my bed in my college dorm room)

Last Monday I sent him a frantic email at work saying, Dad, help me!! I don’t know how to write a cover letter!! While I was waiting on his response, I looked up sample cover letters – which is probably what I should have done in the first place, and I did find a very useful website, but I still sat by my computer waiting for an email from my dad before I started writing anything.

I try to picture myself in 10 years, working as a journalist, supporting myself and my own family and giving advice to my own kids (okay, maybe 20 years), but I still can’t picture the day when I’m going to stop wanting advice from my own dad. That’s what he’s there for though – and actually having a dad who is always there, ready and (sometimes far too) willing to give advice is a rarer and much more valuable resource than I ever realized.

So Happy Father's Day to all the fathers out there – but especially my own. Thank you. I do appreciate you – though the wolves you deprived of their dinner might not feel quite so fondly.

*** And Grandpa, I appreciate you too!

16 June 2007

Le jardin a été massacré!

Sometime Thursday night between 1h and 7h, a vandal got into my building’s courtyard and tagged all the walls. C and I had to stop and do a double, and then triple-take when we left the building yesterday morning to meet one of my maîtres de conférence for a guided tour of the Sénat. In hot pink and silver spray paint the mailboxes, front doors and walls were covered with graffiti.

Nike ta mere (F*** your mother), Tu va mourir (You’re going to die) and the tag VHR were among the less-than-friendly messages left for our building’s inhabitants. Apparently the earliest-risers also found broken beer bottles scattered around, but they’d been long gone by the time C and I first arrived on the scene.

The vandalism was the talk of rue Monsigny all day long. Neighbors I’ve never met before were stopping me in the courtyard and waiting for the ascenseur to get my take. At first the neighbors were enjoying the drama and pointing fingers at each other. The ex-Nazi in the poor half of the building must have let someone in unknowingly. Or, the business on the third floor has a constant stream of random people going in and out. Even the wife of the third-floor business owner was whispered about, though not out of suspicion. That woman tries to act so cool, like she doesn’t even mind graffiti in our courtyard! What an idiot… Eventually though, everyone came to the same conclusion, the favorite central Paris scapegoat – some jerk from the banlieue must have done it.

The first time I heard someone use gen de la banlieue as a slur I was a bit disturbed. Yeah, some of the banlieues are typically poorer, they have more crime and they were the setting for the 2005 riots, but encouraging the division between the inhabitants of central Paris and the inhabitants of the banlieues seems so unproductive and like it will just increase resentment. When I picked up P(8) and E(10) from school on Thursday, E was in tears. The boys in her class had been teasing her all day, lead by one who’d had an unreciprocated crush on her. He’s just mad, she said, because he knows I’d never like him. He’s just a stupid idiot from the banlieue. I think it’s pretty telling that deuxième arrondissement kids 10 years old are already using de la banlieue as a slur.

It was obvious to all of us that nobody from the banlieue spent 40 minutes on the RER to drink and vandalize a private courtyard in the 2ème arrondissement, but I think it calmed all the neighbors to have someone to blame outside of the building. They’d spent the first half of the day pointing fingers at each other over who were the irresponsible ones who’d not checked to make sure the front door had closed properly, and squabbling over the fact that the nanny mom was the only person in the entire building who had called the propriétaire to tell him what had happened.

On top of the rich half/poor half building division, there’s also some serious tension between the owners and the renters – mainly that the owners resent the renters, so anyone lacking a property deed experienced their share of gossip. There are a lot of irresponsible renters in this building, or when speculating who could have let the vandal in, there is that renter on the third floor…

The building finally began to calm down around dinnertime, mainly because the gay interior designing couple on the first floor were having a dinner party last night and decided to take cleaning matters into their own hands. Clearly residents of the rich half, the couple employs two full time menservants who were sent down mid-afternoon to scrub the walls. They managed to rid us of the VHR tags and the Tu vas mourir, but faint traces of Nike ta mère remain, as does the graffiti covering our mailboxes and the wall next to them.

The graffiti remnants are really barely noticeable – the nanny parents had guests for dinner who had no idea what they were talking about when they apologized for the graffiti. It seems to have been just a random act of vandalism, but it managed to stir up some pretty entertaining drama in an otherwise sleepy courtyard in Paris centre.

••• I had a real Mary Poppins moment today babysitting Georges. We were playing in the TV room when he pulled out a six-note xylophone, deposited in my lap and demanded, Ollie, play Au clair de la lune! I kind of looked and him and laughed, and said, Sorry pal, I don't know that one. He did not appreciate that answer and started to get feisty in that way that only two and three year olds know how. Finally I said, Okay, okay, sing it for me. So he did. It was a pretty nice rendition, and he sang most of the words correctly. I shrugged, picked up the mallet, and – are you ready? Played Au clair de la lune. Yeah, I'm pretty much French Mary Poppins. Errrr, well I was proud, anyway.

14 June 2007

On Tuesday morning the boy I’ve been missing for five months finally made it to Gare du Nord. I’ve been looking forward to his arrival since I returned to Paris in January, and I’ve been counting down the days since there were more than 150 left to go.

Somewhere around the middle of last week, though, I started to get really scared. Five months is a long time to go without seeing, kicking or hugging the person you’re supposedly in a relationship with. A lot can change in five months. What if I didn’t even like this guy anymore once I saw him? What if the three weeks drag on and on and I end up starting a countdown to his departure?

In addition to the fears, there was a bit of wistfulness. Yes I was excited to once again have a real-life boyfriend instead of some pretend one I only talk to over Skype, but Tuesday was bringing with it the end of an era. No more am I virtually single in Paris, free to go out when I want, come home (or not) when I want, dance with whomever I want and still come home to talk to someone who really likes me. As hard as long distance is, we had a pretty good rhythm going.

Not only is my entire faux single gal routine completely down the toilet, but so is my I’m a nanny, frolicking around Paris, buying baguettes and studying political science thing. Conner arrived Tuesday. Classes at Sciences Po ended Wednesday. My brother and a friend arrive next Tuesday. Finals end the following Friday. I say goodbye to the nanny family two days after my brother leaves and then I’m on vacation. Goodbye Parisian routine.

As apprehensive as I was about the reunion, I still woke up two hours early on Tuesday and couldn’t get back to sleep or eat breakfast. I brought my iPod to chill me out on the way to the train station and as I waited for his train to arrive from Ashford (there was something complicated about his ticket, and he ended up flying in and out of Gatwick Airport in England) I felt like I’d just graduated from the I miss my boyfriend club to the I’m about to finally see my boyfriend club.

Leaning against the railing next to me was another girl my age, also of medium-length brown hair and wearing a black Zara cardigan that matched my grey one. She was also holding a twin iPod to mine, right down to the black skin. Curious, I peeked over to see what she was listening to, and by some bizarre coincidence we were both listening to “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor. Apparently cardigans and a soundtrack of Regina Spektor are the standard for girls meeting their long lost boyfriends at Parisian train stations.

When the train finally arrived and my twin en attente and I had both leapt into our respective boyfriends’ arms, everything was finally okay. I wasn’t suddenly repulsed by this tall boy from Seattle, and the thrill of actual physical contact was enough to banish any nostalgia for my pseudo-single life in Paris. Plus, he brought me the new Vogue américaine, and though my initial response was Did my mom send this with you? he gets all the points.

With a living, breathing boyfriend and the latest Vogue, my life should have been complete – except for the itty bitty fact of the inevitable cosmic collision that is bound to happen when one’s French exes and current copain are all flung into the same not-quite-big-enough city centre. I’ve lived blissfully free of awkward ex encounters for months, but apparently having your current boyfriend visit is just a magnet for all the old ones to start reappearing.

Last night was Ladies night at Le Queen, so Rachael, Anna, Marie and I got ourselves completely swanked out to avoid any trouble with the bouncers for arriving with a guy. We dressed C all in black, styled his hair into a euro fauxhawk and gave him cigarettes to smoke in line. We figured euro-ed out and clad in hot pants and high heels, slinky silver dresses, leather pants and satin blouses we’d have no trouble getting in as a group.

The bouncers were unusually friendly and we hurried to check our bags and make a high-heeled dash for the dance floor. The five of us were happily dancing in the fog and flashing lights to Britney Spears’ “Hit me baby one more time,” when somebody grabbed me from behind. Anyone remember Rubens? I can honestly say that I haven’t had many more awkward moments than being spun around during a Britney dance session and kissed by a guy I used to date in front of the one I’m currently dating. Rachael was alarmed, Conner was disturbed and I was beet red. I left poor C to dance with the girls and went to settle things with Ru. Apparently he’d been a bit more invested in “us” than I had, and was carrying around a bitter tirade for the day we saw each other again. I no longer have your number. I deleted you from my mobile. It was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes – seriously? This is not the kind of conversation I expect to have with anyone past the age of thirteen. I guess that’s what I get for fraternizing with boys who wear tighter jeans than I do – how thankful am I to be back on the arm of my baggy-panted Seattle boyfriend.

10 June 2007

Yesterday for the first time I started to feel a few shreds of panic about leaving Paris. As of today I have exactly one month left in the city before R and I head to Israel. We’ll be back in Paris the 24th of July to spend two days doing laundry and eating a few last pain au chocolats before officially repatriating. Suddenly a year seems so short, and the idea of coming back here to work after graduating from the University of Washington is sounding more and more appealing.

I first started to feel the time slipping away from me yesterday at the Paris Bloggers’ Picnic in the parc des Buttes Chaumont. I have to admit I was feeling a little apprehensive about participating. I always feel a bit uncomfortable with the tag of “blogger,” as I alternate between feeling like a huge dork and completely self-obsessed when I mention it to people for the first time. All week I had this nervous energy building as I imagined meeting a group of self-important writers suffering from I’m a blohhhhgger complexes.

Nevertheless, I asked nanny mom for Saturday afternoon off, made a special trip to the bar à tee shirt on boulevard Poissonnière to pick up my Tacoma Girl tee shirt, slept with my fingers crossed for no rain, and woke up early Saturday morning to bake chocolate chip cookies – I mean seriously, what else would a girl from Tacoma contribute to a picnic in Paris?

I shouldn’t have worried. I’m not sure where I got my notion of bloggers as total jerks (particularly odd since I guess I am one), but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everybody was fun and tipsy and down-to-earth and fully appreciated my cookies (or at least pretended to) and it was just an all-around great afternoon – with the only exception being the part when I had to brave the free toilets. It’s not for nothing that friends call me “Soccer Mom,” so I was at least prepared with a bag of baby wipes that I gladly shared around once we’d escaped the smelly urine den.

Everything was great until I left the picnic – and immediately started to feel completely panicked. There’s nothing better than meeting a new group of fantastic people – unless you only have a month left on the same continent as them. I’ll do my best to squeeze in as much as I can in these next few weeks (Ladies Night at Le Queen this Wednesday for anyone who’ll be around!), but the fact remains that I’m not going to be in Paris for the next blog picnic.

I returned to my apartment with email addresses, blogs to read and plans to go out this Wednesday, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I don’t have enough time left in Paris. The weird lump in my chest only grew bigger after going to my hip-hop stage this afternoon. The second stress bomb of the weekend hit me when Flo announced she was forming a performing hip-hop company for next year and would like to invite certain of us whose dancing she knew well to join without an audition. The company would do a lot of what we’ve been doing this year – dancing at clubs, bars and artists’ spaces but with more performances in more venues. It sounds amazing – and how cool would I feel being part of a gritty hip-hop troupe? What can I do, though – there’s no way to change the fact that I’m not going to live in Paris anymore, beginning at the end of July.

All year I’ve felt like I’m missing life in the Puget Sound. I’ve never met my best friend’s boyfriend of five months, my little brother just graduated from high school without me and my family has a new dog who I’ve never petted or taken for a walk. I can’t wait to get home to meet Scout and Peter (guess which one is the dog) and inspect Ben’s diploma, but for the first time I’m starting to get a real glimpse of the life that’s going to keep on going without me here in Paris – and I’m not feeling ready to leave it.

06 June 2007

It’s June 6th, the sun is shining, the metros are oppressively hot and the city is crawling with tourists. Staging romantic kisses in the middle of the Pont Alexandre III, posing for pictures with the sculptures in the jardin des Tuileries and boosting the French economy buying anything that sparkles with an Eiffel Tower on it. Since tourist season is pretty much year-round most Parisians have learned to co-exist with the constant influx of tour busses and Eiffel Tower print ponchos – either by avoiding the most popular destinations or ignoring the people visiting them. Anyone who actually gets annoyed by the constant stream of tourists is probably relatively new to the city himself.

It’s what follows the tourists that is the problem. Panhandlers and Gypsies from Eastern Europe know non-francophones to be easy marks, and using roughly the same tourist-spotting criteria as I do, their numbers tend to increase proportionally to the number of tourists in the city. During most of the year I know who and what to avoid. The Sénègalese immigrants who lurk around the steps up to Sacre Coeur can have matching string bracelets tied onto the wrists of an unsuspecting tourist couple before they even realize what’s happening. Once the bracelet is on, payment is demanded. These guys are not afraid to get in people’s faces, so it’s generally a better idea to keep an eye on your wrists than to try to refuse them their few euros.

If you’re ever approached by any scruffy or desperate-looking woman asking Speak English?, give a firm NO and head in the opposite direction. Most of these ladies lurk around major tourist destinations, beneath the Tour Eiffel, up and down the Champs Elysées and around the Arc de Triomphe. When some hapless American answers yes, the woman shoves a piece of paper into their hands, usually detailing a sad story about the person’s family back in Eastern Europe or a sick child without access to proper medical care. Once you’re holding the paper, there’s no escaping – at least not without a severe moral beating. R was approached by one of these women a few days after we arrived last August. When she apologized to the woman for having no cash on her, invoked quite the lecture. If I had known you were not a good person, I would not have shared my family’s story with you. I do know there is no place for you in Heaven. Being Jewish, I don’t think she was too concerned, but it was a pretty obnoxious way to treat someone you’re attempting to extract pity from.

There’s a never-ending supply of buskers on the metro, but the worst are found on the RER train lines heading North – especially heading toward Charles de Gaulle airport. When I rode the RER B to the airport to fly home for Christmas, there was a father and son Eastern European busking team. The dad played Christmas music on his fiddle while the son climbed over suitcases and between legs in a sleeves-too-short jacket and a limp and dirty Santa Claus hat collecting coins. The boy was probably 8 or 9 and it was a Friday morning – smack in the middle of the school day. I think most of the travelers were torn between not wanting to support a guy who would take his son out school to demean himself in a Santa hat and wanting to help the kid get a winter coat that fit. I didn’t give money. I had the feeling that even with everyone in the car’s donation the boy wouldn’t have gotten a new jacket – the heartstring-plucking aspect of his forearms poking too far out of the sleeves was just too valuable to give up.

Of all the bizarre scam-money-from-tourists schemes I’ve only really fallen for one. By now I’ve seen this one so many times that I cringe when I see some unsuspecting person about to get suckered. One morning in February I was walking to Sciences Po, listening to music on my iPod and completely in my own world when an older man grabbed my elbow. When I turned toward him, he was brandishing a massive golden ring, so I pulled off my headphones to hear what he had to say. C’est à vous, mademoiselle? (Is this yours?) I shook my head but he pressed on. You didn’t drop it? I just found it on the sidewalk here, it must be yours. I shook my head again but this time he grabbed my right hand and slid the ring onto my finger. For you, mademoiselle, he told me. At this point I still had no clue that I was being played and just gave him a confused look.

Then he asked me for 15 euro. Just to eat, mademoiselle, s’il vous plait. I told him to sell the ring, but he refused to take it back and just got more persistent. I finally managed to shove the ring back into his hand and told him I had no cash (I always have cash, I just don’t hand it out to people who accost me on the street). He was pretty irritated by this so I offered him a pack of Lu cookies I hadn’t opened yet. At this he just shook his head and stomped away, muttering about euros.

I didn’t realize how easily I’d fallen into the trap until I saw the same ploy used again by another panhandler in another part of the city. Always the same clunky golden ring that some impoverished person just happens to find laying at the feet of a well-to-do non-Parisian. Just this afternoon on my way to Sciences Po I saw it twice – once in the jardin des Tuileries and once on the Pont Royal. I didn’t really pay any attention the first time – just kind of chuckled and continued on my way. The second time though, a young woman pulled the trick a middle-aged American couple that looked absolutely lost. The husband was clutching his camera and a guidebook and the wife was poring over a map with a passport pouch dangling around her neck.

When I saw her approach them, I almost went over to intervene. It’s not theirs! They don’t want it!, I envisioned myself yelling. But as touristy as they looked, I wanted to give them a little more credit. The husband will figure it out, I reasoned, so I kept on my way. Once across the street, though, I turned back to look at them and saw the wife holding the ring back toward the woman as the husband fumbled around in his traveler’s money wallet. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of tourist-saving opportunities in the next two months.

Recent Google searches:
where did paris find jesus
rachel running tacoma
tacoma erotica stores
the kind of tonsil

05 June 2007

With only 6 school days remaining of spring semester at Sciences Po, my workload of the past few weeks is finally winding down. I’ve completed all my exposés, débats and dissertations, and with the exception of a one-page note de travail due on Thursday, all I have left to look forward to are completing three finals and the freedom of Paris without classes getting in the way of my fun.

The past few days have been particularly busy, as 10h this morning was the deadline for my final 15-page Urban Governance paper. To earn a francophone dîplome from Sciences Po, you can take up to one elective in a language other than French, but everything else must be strictly français. This is lucky for me, because it saved me from having to register for a French finance class when I was missing 5 credits in my schedule at the beginning of the semester.

I signed up for “Urban Governance: Steering the complex city” with absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into – all I knew was that whatever it was, it would be better than finance in French (or in English, for that matter). After the first class I still had no idea what the course was going to be about, but the instructor was a visiting professor from Germany and was super tall and one of the nicest people I’ve encountered at Sciences Po.

Okay technically after 13 classes, I still have no idea what we were learning all this time – something about case studies, subsidiarity and the L.A. school versus the Chicago school of thought. All I know is that we each chose a city to study for the semester, our own hometowns or any urban area we found particularly interesting. I chose Seattle (surprise, surprise), without any real idea of what I was supposed to focus my essay and research paper on. We were supposed to focus on some political or planning issue in our selected city and prepare both an exposé and an analytic paper on it. I decided that the Alaskan Way Viaduct debate would at least be interesting to research, even if it turned out to be the opposite of what Professor E wanted.

I spent weeks of my semester trekking all over the city looking for some kind of resource to use for my paper. The Sciences Po library actually had a few books that discussed Seattle’s urban government, but the most recent was written in 1968. Not only were they devoid of any mention of the viaduct, but they devoted pages to the “negro and oriental” communities developing around the city. I went to the library at the Pompidou center, the Bibliothèque Nationale and poured over the University of Washington online journal catalogue (thank you jstor). Finally I had scraped together enough information out of books, the website of the Washington State Department of Transporation and the Seattle Times archives to put together a respectable exposé. I thought the subject was interesting, but up until I actually stood in front of the class to talk about the deterioration of the seawall that supports the Seattle waterfront and part of downtown I was terrified that I’d created a presentation that had nothing to do with anything we’d studied in class.

The class seemed riveted, but that was probably due more to the horrifying sequence of slides I’d just shown them of the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

As the lights came up, Professor E gave me his feedback. At first I was thinking, earthquakes and bridges, what does that have to do with Urban Governance?. I could feel myself blushing and braced myself for what was coming next. But after a moment it becomes very clear – this is a perfect example of the failures of a city’s politics in… What? He’d liked it? I’d succeeded in giving an exposé that fit perfectly a course that I didn’t even understand? Victory! He gave me a few suggestions for the paper and I went home thrilled and feeling like I might actually know what I was doing.

And just because I love this view:

Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

That was three weeks ago. Ever since then, I’ve been working away at my final paper, much more diligently than I’d ever manage to be in an environment with an abundance of useful sources – if I was actually writing about Seattle in Seattle, for instance. I stayed up until 4h the past three nights in a row revising and finishing my paper – I need all the points I can get if this is half of my final grade. I got myself out of bed after 4 hours of sleep this morning and made it down to Sciences Po a half hour before class started to print my paper and highlight State Route 99 and the Seattle Fault Zone on the graphics I was including with the project.

Feeling exhausted but like I was one huge leap closer to summer vacation, I handed in my paper with what I thought was the rest of the class. After counting the stack though, Professor E looked back up at us and wanted to know why he only had seven final papers out of a 15-person class. Two people immediately raised their hands to tell him that they didn’t have printers and that they’d emailed their papers to him this morning. That was fine. One girl raised her hand to say she had believed the deadline to be next week but was almost done with her paper and could email it in that night. That left five people unaccounted for. Poor Professor E looked around the classroom looking very confused. Does anyone have a problem turning in their paper today? he asked.

At that, four people raised their hands. I plan to send you my paper tomorrow evening or Thursday morning, said one French boy who was wearing a dark red velvety blazer, I’ll send it tonight if I can manage, but it’s more likely to be sent tomorrow night. Our professor looked so bewildered by this casual and unapologetic announcement that he couldn’t say anything. Then the next girl spoke up. Yeah, I’m going to need to take a few more days on mine. Professor E couldn’t believe this and neither could I. Being an English elective, the class is full of French students. French students who have to pass an incredibly selective concours to be admitted to Sciences Po. French students who supposedly carry around a grudge toward the international students who have lighter workloads and can get away with much more. French or not, I couldn’t believe that anyone could have such a lack of respect for a professor that they would demand extensions on the papers they’d supposedly been working on all semester without even a please or I’m sorry.

When Professor E, who’d finally regained his voice, began to question the fairness of allowing half the class to turn in late finals for full credit he was pounced on by the two remaining students. According to these girls, it was Professor E’s fault that they hadn’t completed their papers. He’d set a due date of June 12th and been terribly unclear about requirements for the paper. Their arguments made even less sense – if they were true, how did most of the class know when and how to turn in their final papers?

The icing on the cake was when our final classmate arrived panting 45 minutes late. He burst into the classroom, found a seat and quickly pulled out his notebook. Professor E paused the discussion to ask if he had his paper to turn in. Oh sure, was the reply. I can email it to you later.

Professor E was so taken aback by the number of incomplete papers that he merely set the late deadline for Friday afternoon and told us he needed to think about grades. I was so confused by the whole situation that I came straight home and emailed him with the reassurance that the deadline and requirements had been absolutely clear (even if the subject of the class had not been) from the get-go.

Dear Mrs Griffin, [sic, sic, SIC! I am so not married. Yet.]
Thank you very much for your feedback which is very important for me. I was
really confused about the statement that this was not clear.
Kind regards,
Prof E

I’m glad I could make him feel better, but now I feel worse – it seems that half of our class thought they could take advantage of both our prof’s niceness and the fact that he’s a visiting professor and unfamiliar with the Sciences Po system. I kind of want to write him back demanding half-credit for all the jerks who are trying to play him, but I don’t think that’s really my most, uh, mature option.

And a few more odd Google searches:
temperatures, anecdotes
cashier had cut on hand hiv risk
my revenge most embarrassing moment
SKIPPY peanut butter Light pARIS
crazy exercises

02 June 2007

As the French (and everyone else) like to joke, les manifestations (protests) are the unofficial national sport. Up until now, I’ve only been a witness. At first I was fascinated, then amused, then irritated, then just plain bored with them. What seemed so interesting because it was so uniquely French is now just a nuisance – I don’t care if they’re protesting for national solidarity or anarchy, I just want the bus 39 to run on time.

They protest everything – it’s their right, and they exercise it. And judging by the coup that almost took place in my L’Europe en crise class, the exchange students at Sciences Po seem to have adapted the same habits.

My maître de conférence for my European Union class is often absent. He’s cancelled three classes out of the 12 we’ve had this semester for various reasons – he works for the Sénat and often has unexpected work emergencies. None of us mind – our conférences are held Friday mornings at 8h, and we’re more than thrilled with the occasional opportunity to sleep in.

The problem is that for every cancelled conférence we’re scheduled a cours de rattrapage (make-up class), and it is not so easy to find another time when an entire class is free to meet. Our quick-thinking maître took the easy route and has scheduled all of our cours de rattrapage for Saturday mornings – when there are no other classes scheduled at Sciences Po. That’s why we made up a class from the beginning of May this morning.

There are strict rules regulating the cours de rattrapage at Sciences Po. Each class is supposed to meet exactly 14 times during the semester, and if a professor or maître needs to cancel a class, he is responsible for finding a time to make it up. Because cancelled classes are considered to be the fault of the teacher, the cours de rattrapage are attendance-optional for students. Professors are not allowed to base any grades on the make-up classes, schedule any tests or have any homework due – if a student can’t (or doesn’t want to) be present for cours de rattrapage, he can not be penalized in any way. That’s why our maître caused a bit of a scandal yesterday when he informed us that we’d be having an hour long galop (like a midterm) during our class this morning.

When he announced the galop he reasoned that he was getting us into the zone for finals with a midterm during the second-to-last week of classes. We all groaned a bit – not only were our Friday night shot by having to wake up for a class, but we’d be spending them studying – but we resigned ourselves to no fun this weekend and retreated to our various arrondissements to study the European crisis.

At around 22h last night, I’d just finished eating dinner and was just gearing myself up for a bit more revision when I received an email from two girls (from Portugal and Poland, respectively) in my conférence.

(Translated from French) Greetings everybody,

We’re writing to you concerning the
galop tomorrow morning and to propose a solution. We don’t think any of us had enough time to revise for this galop. It’s neither moral nor legal to give an exam during a make-up class, especially because we just found out about it the day before and normally a galop is announced with at least one week’s notice.

So the solution that we propose is to demand, under the name of everybody in the class, that we don’t proceed with the exam and instead concentrate on the final subjects that we’ll be studying this semester.

Considering that we’re all in the same boat, buried with work and exams, we demand your support tomorrow.

I was thrilled – a coup! A revolution! An excuse not to study out of solidarity with my fellow étudiants intérnationaux! I spent the rest of the night watching old episodes of House on my computer and went to bed far later than I’d intended.

As I climbed the stairs to salle 301 at 10h15, I was excitedly imagining our mini-manifestation. When I walked into the classroom, though, I found everyone sitting docilely with their notes and the prompts for our galop in front of them. Apparently it wasn’t a real galop. We weren’t even being graded – this was just our maître’s way of trying to help us prepare for our final exams. A test test – one that he’d correct and hand back next week to help us recognize our weak points before the final.

No Sciences Po student in their right mind would protest extra help for finals, so just like that, our revolution fizzled. Instead we spent an hour writing our faux galops on the subject of Pensez-vous qu’on puisse résoudre la crise actuelle de l’Union européenne uniquement en réformant ses institutions? (Do you think the current crisis in the European Union can be simply resolved by reforming its institutions?) I answered no, and I’ll find out what our maître thought of it next Friday morning.

So much for my first manifestation participation. I still have two months though, and I can only hope that the Cité universitaire will try to ban males from the women’s dorms again just once before I leave.

And, just because it entertains me so, here are a few of the Google search terms that have led people to this site in the past few weeks:
hunting locations tacoma
girl getting dressed in the morning
ballet tights hypnotized
girls licking with rubber flip flops
under the skirt of Segolene Royal