Saturday, December 17, 2011

You know you're in the United States when...

Top Three Holy-Crap-I'm-Home Moments:

1. When I was in the Chicago airport and I saw a sign that said "toilets" and legit thought it was a typo for a few seconds. Toilets? What? Toilettes. It's not that hard to spell check a neon s... Oh. Chicago. Right.

2. When I got a soda from McDonald's and immediately got a chip of ice through the straw and freaked out because I thought it was a human finger or something. And then I remembered that there is ice in America.

3. That moment when I stepped into the shower and was like, the shower head is mounted on the wall! There's hot water! It's not absurdly small!

France friends, did you have any "aha moments"?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. The times they are a-changing. CHILDREN GET OLDER.

A lot of things have changed since August 22nd.

Where vacationing couples used to stroll along the hot sunny quais of the Seine, now only the most water-resistant Parisians walk, the cobblestones covered in puddles and strewn with rotting leaves. Where once there was scaffolding on the building across from me, now there is fresh-washed limestone. The sky has turned from deep summer blue to a variety of steel-grey and aluminum-grey and pewter-grey clouds.

There are neither leaves nor cobblestones in this picture. But I swear to god it's a thing.

When I first got to Paris, I walked past an abandoned office space every day on my way to class. After a week or two, the windows were boarded up and the abandoned office space became a construction site. It was a bit of a nuisance on my route, a gaping hole to sidestep, a pile of concrete dust that stuck to my shoes. And, like all construction sites, it seemed like it would never end. For three months, I walked past the men with jackhammers and sheetrock. The construction progressed, of course. One day they were bringing out the remnants of old walls, another day they were building new ones. But it never occurred to me that the construction would eventually be finished. I paid no attention to the progress, because construction is something that stretches on for all eternity. I never expected it to end.

But then, one day, they un-boarded the windows. And the new glass was shiny and clean, and the formica countertops inside beckoned like toys in a Christmas display, and the lighting setup was absolutely heavenly. Men in suits with clipboards replaced men in hardhats with power tools, and within a week there was a big red sign outside, and there were loaves of bread and macarons on the formica countertops, and there were fresh-faced young women with tidy hair behind the counter.

You can alllllmost see the baguettes.
I have been in Paris long enough to see the birth of a bakery.


Monday, December 12, 2011

On Wandering

I'm leaving Paris on Friday, and I have a lot of feelings about that. But for now, I want to talk about wandering.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, "Not all those who wander are lost." Well, J.R.R., I think your books need a really overzealous editor, because no one wants to read a description of a forest for 15 pages, and I think you get too much credit for that quote.

No all those who wander are lost? No shit, Sherlock. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that if you're wandering, you're not lost. Just awesome. You know what people do when they're lost? They cry. The pull out maps. They frantically ask for directions.

Wandering isn't like that. Wandering is poignant and stress-free.

About a week ago, I went to London with my two best France buds, Faith and Erin. We didn't have a whole lot of plans, because we're too cool for that. And we ended up just doing a lot of...well, wandering. It's funny, because if you ask us what we did that weekend, we just kind of shrug. What did we do that weekend? We walked past Buckingham Palace. We climbed some lions. We saw Wicked. We ate Indian food. But there are so many hours in the day, so much time that more driven tourists could have filled with museums and guided tours and whatnot.

Did I mention we climbed a lion?

But we just wandered. We wandered past some restaurants. We wandered around a department store. And we wandered down a long long long street, where we were expecting to find a tube station.

There was no tube station on that street.

So I guess you could say we were lost. We didn't look at our maps, so I'm not sure if it counts as lost, just guessing that there will be a tube stop and not finding one. But we were looking for something and it wasn't there. But you know what we did find on that street? We found some piles of leaves to frolic merrily in. We found a statue with confusing dates on it. We found a free museum with the most fascinating exhibit on craftsmanship. And we didn't mind one jot that we were "lost."

Merrily frolicking!
So I guess what I'm saying, is that "wandering" is just a state of mind. And so is "lost." But I would say that the best way to explore a new place is not by making a great big schedule with all the things you want to do and see, and then getting "lost" trying to find them, but by setting out to wander, maybe in the general direction of something cool, maybe not.

All things considered, London was the best.

The. Best.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Givin' Some Thanks...

So, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but my favorite part of the Thanksgiving festivities is when everyone sits down and they all have to say what they're thankful for. (Fun fact: "my family" and "this wonderful meal" are super clichéd. Make a little effort, people. Come on.) The opportunity to be in France! Butterflies! These super warm socks! The Black Friday sale at Urban Outfitters! The Hunger Games! Julian Fellowes! That girl who gave me her super awesome pen for no reason! Public transportation! Love! Friendship! Living in a first-world country! The list goes on and on! And that exposition of thanks is my favorite part of Thanksgiving.

Oh wait, that's not right. Pie is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. MY BAD.

But the thanks thing is a close second.

Annnnnnyway, I'm very thankful (see what I did there, with the thanks?), to have nabbed an invitation to my Auntie Ann and Uncle Michel's place in central France for the weekend. It's not really for Thanksgiving, it's just a regular visit, but since I am so very gung-ho about the holiday, they are pulling some strings and we are going to have a magnificent turkey chicken dinner! (Turns out you can't get a turkey in France in November. Even if you make a personal call to your butcher.) And before I take off to have a delightful weekend in the country, I just wanted to tell all y'all back home/in Paris/in Chile/in one of those other weird countries that pop up in my stats without explanation what I'm thankful for.

I am thankful for France. It is beautiful and ancient and fascinating. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here, and thankful to all those who helped me get here with money or he application process or moral support, and thankful for the things I've gotten out of this bizarre and wonderful culture.

I am thankful for America. It's so open and honest and friendly there. I'm thankful that I get to go back, and that I've been so privileged as to be raised in a country that is so rich in so many ways. And I'm thankful for PEANUT BUTTER.

I'm thankful for family, friends, family friends, friends' families, acquaintances I'd like to be better friends with, kindly strangers, and my gentleman friend Forrest Phillips. You're all perfect and I'll love you forever. For. Ev. Urr.

I'm thankful for Downton Abbey getting picked up for a third season. Also thankful that Parks and Recreation exists.

I'm thankful for The Hunger Games, and thankful that Kris is awesome and loaned it me.

I'm thankful for these socks I bought yesterday that don't have holes in the toes and are really warm.

I'm thankful that my hair is finally long enough that it doesn't look stupid more than half the time.

I'm thankful that the thrift stores here are filled with hipsterlicious basics from French brands.

I'm thankful for crème caramel.

I'm thankful for my hard-earned (and yet still kind of pitiful) knowledge of the French language.

De quoi êtes-vous raconaissants?

(See! Je parle français!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chartres: There's A Cathedral There (It's Kind Of A Big Deal.)

(It took a lot of tourist websites for me to give up trying to get that pronouncing-the-r/not-pronouncing-the-r balance just right and just say "shart." Sad, but at least I successfully bought a ticket from the train person.)

This weekend the people I hang out with basically all the time went to AMSTERDAM. WITHOUT ME. I mean, they did invite me. And I said no. Anyway. I spent the whole weekend by myself, which was actually quite nice, since I will be on the road for the next two weekends. But after catching up on all my television on Friday, I decided it was time to man up and go to Chartres by myself for the day on Saturday.

On the train! The tracks are blurry because I was so scared I couldn't focus. Get it? Focus?

It was surprisingly terrifying. I think if I were home it would be really fun and exciting, but since I'm in France and nothing makes sense to me and it's hard to communicate even the most simple requests such as "coffee" or "train ticket" or "baguette," it was just super scary to not have anyone to back me up. Even if the people I'm with don't speak any French and can't help me out of a tight spot, I really rely on having people around to commiserate with if I totally screw up my verb conjugations or whatever.

But I set my alarm for 6:30 and I made myself get up and make coffee and get on the metro. And guess what! I successfully purchased a ticket from a lady who didn't even have an English flag on her sign! (The English flag means she speaks English. But she DIDN'T. But it was FINE because I speak FRENCH.)

They had a bunch of scaffolding up, which put a serious damper on my photo ops.

It was a perfect day in Chartres, and it was really just a lovely experience. The sun was shining, I spoke French to people, some of them spoke French back, some of them spoke English and were actually excited to practice their English. I got a tour from the (in?)famous Malcolm Miller, who was every bit as knowledgeable as I'd heard, but not nearly as crotchety. And I took some photographs that I'm pretty excited about. If you've ever tried to take a picture of stained glass and been like, "DUDE IT LOOKS SO BEAUTIFUL IN REAL LIFE BUT THIS CAMERA JUST WON'T GET IT RIGHT," then perhaps you'll know why.

I feel so successful now.

Like, you don't even know. These pictures have validated my existence.

I actually think it's nice how hard to photograph stained glass is. I feel like it's something that you just have to experience and try to remember, because it will never look as good in a picture as it does in your eyes. Sacré Coeur, you show up, take a picture, and it looks just as beautiful on paper. You don't even have to stay. You can just take a picture and then go home to look at it in the comfort of your own home. You don't even have to go! You can just look at this picture that I took for you!

You're welcome.
But with a stained glass masterpiece, you're never going to get the same thing out of a photograph as you will from the real thing. It must be something about the way the light slants through, or the contrast between the glowing colors and the shadowy cathedral. But you really just have to sit down and look at it for a while.

You can also try to take pictures of it, like I did. I don't really practice what I preach. But I swear, after I took the pictures I sat down and stared at them for a long time. And trust me, my memory is prettier.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Soundtrack To My Life

So I will post about festive things that I've been doing soon, but for now I just want to share a few songs that are a perfect fit for moments of my Parisian life. I hope it will provide a tiny little aural window of insight into my currents haps. Haps as in "What's the haps, bro?" In case that wasn't clear.

Sitting In The Dawn Light Of The Kitchen By Myself Eating Tiny French Toasts And Doing My Homework This Blog Post:

So tiny! So French! So toasty!

Adele, Someone Like You. (But not in a depressing way.) Also, bonus, the music video is in Paris!

Walking The Town In The Late-Morning Light, On My Way To School, Trying Not To Get Run Over By Cars And Watching Everyone Wheel Strollers And Carry Baguettes:

You can simulate people watching with this photograph of interesting people.

Freelance Whales, Starring. I usually listen to the first line 15 times before I let the whole song play. "Shut me up with your long tube socks, they don't scream, 'Hey let's just be friends.' " Damn good writing. I have no idea why this feels so right for Paris, but it does.

Puttering Around At Night In The Dim Glow Of These Really Dim Lamps, Making Cheese Sandwiches And Painting My Nails:

You can thank Monday for my grouchy Kraken face.
Sufjan Stevens, Christmas In The Room. What's that you say, it's bad form to start Christmas celebrations before Thanksgiving? Well GUESS WHAT BUSTER, THEY DON'T CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING HERE! I COULD CELEBRATE ALL YEAR LONG IF I WANTED! WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?? Anyway, major silver lining to the whole Thanksgiving thing. Tomorrow I might stop by the Monoprix and grab some paper for paper snowflakes. After that I might watch Love Actually. Maybe deck the halls. Hear those sleigh bells jingling, if I have a minute. Ring ting tingling too. Definitely going to go tell it on a mountain. And then I might just start dreaming of a white Christmas. And then I'm going to ride in a one-horse open sleigh. Hey! And you know what? YOU CAN'T STOP ME! It's Christmas year-round in France!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

J'ai Deux Amours, Mon Petit Ami et Paris....

And last week, we were all together, my deux amours and me!

I met Forrest at the crack of dawn on October 30th at Charles de Gaulle, and I saw him off well before the crack of dawn on November 8th at Orly. In between we ate a lot of Nutella, saw a lot of Parisian stuff, and were really sappy. I know what you're thinking. Ew gross! Young love! No one wants to hear about that! Well SUCK IT. I am writing a post about it, and you just have to deal.

It was really cool having someone to show around Paris who had never been here before, because after a few months here it is too easy to justify staying home and knitting all day or just going straight back to bed after a difficult morning class. I feel like I've seen all the major monuments and museums, and sometimes I just feel like sleeping and watching TV. Which is fine sometimes, but it was so refreshing to have someone here to snap me out of it!

Anyway, we mostly went to places I'd been to before, because Forrest was here for a short time, so we took kind of a crash course tour of Paris. We hit all the big stuff:

The Seine

Hotel de Ville

Luxembourg Gardens

The Pantheon

The Arc de Triomphe

The Louvre

The Musée d'Orsay

The Tubey Museum

Sacré Coeur

...I forget where this is.
It's funny being this touristy again. I always feel like I'm somewhat better than your average tourist. I can pass for French, as long as I don't open my mouth. (Once or twice I've even passed as French for a whole sentence!) I keep my camera tucked away, my map folded up at the bottom of my purse, and I've yet to buy anything with an image of the Eiffel Tower on it. But at the end of the day, I'm kind of just a tourist. I take pictures of famous things, I'm still delighted by street musicians with accordions, and I struggle awkwardly when ordering coffee. It's always nice when something forces me to embrace my true nature, like Forrest's visit. I realized that it's okay for me to just be a tourist sometimes. If people talk to me they can find out that I am studying their culture and their language like crazy and trying to get something more out of this trip than a hideous purple "I <3 Paris" sweatshirt. And if they don't talk to me, it doesn't really matter if they think I'm a stupid American who doesn't know a boulangerie from a patisserie. They're just grouchy. So I'm going to wear my camera proudly for a while. Because I really like taking photographs of cool looking things, and tourist attractions are pretty cool looking.

Got a little side tracked there, sorry. Point is, Forrest was here and it was awesome. And a visit from a loved one is exactly what I needed. It made me way more excited to see all the best that Paris has to offer, and it also made me pretty psyched to see ALL OF MY LOVED ONES in about a month!