18 December 2008

Bonnes fêtes

I am a wreck and apparently I am supposed to leave for Amsterdam at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning. I haven’t packed, and I don’t feel particularly prepared. I also feel that I won’t be able to enjoy it in my current state. But I am working on it.

To clarify: I had to give up the New York Times internship. The rules of the Smith JYA Paris are non-negotiable, and I cannot leave the program before the end without losing all of my credits for the year.

I will get over. I know I will. It’s just hard to realize it now. Hopefully I can enjoy my petit tour of Europe despite my present situation.

Thank you to all those have been supportive during this difficult moment and Happy Holidays à tous!

16 December 2008

I hate this

I am beginning to learn that dreams are apparently just meant to be shattered.

At this moment, I hate Smith College and I hate France.

13 December 2008

Des bonnes nouvelles

Ça n’a rien à faire avec Paris ou la France ainsi je vais écrire en français pour que je puisse lier ce « post » à mon expérience parisienne. C’est à la fois un exercice de la langue et une opportunité pour montrer mes capacités françaises et pour vous convaincre que je peux vraiment le parler.

Donc, je vous raconte : je viens de recevoir des très, très bonnes nouvelles.

Jeudi soir était la folie. Après d’avoir eu un jour long et fatiguant de cours, je suis rentrée pour découvrir un mail et un message du Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. J’ai immédiatement dû courir au tabac pour charger mon téléphone portable, qui était épuisé depuis mardi, pour téléphoner aux Etats-Unis.

Le type au téléphone m’a rapidement appris qu’il voulait m’offrir un stage. J’étais très contente. Ensuite, les nouvelles s’amélioraient. Le Dow Jones Newspaper Fund donne des stages à travers les Etats-Unis aux bureaux de « copy editing » chez des dizaines de journaux.

À quel journal travaillerai-je ? Le NEW YORK TIMES, m’a-t-il dit. J’étais en choque. Je ne pouvais rien dire. C’est incroyable. C’est formidable. C’est CHOUETTE ! Le New York Times est le top. Je ne sais pas comment j’avais autant de chance, mais je suis ravie !

En outre, je n’étais jamais à New York. Un été à la ville sera incroyable.

En plus d’une petite danse autour de ma chambre pour célébrer, j’ai contacté ma famille et plusieurs amis par Skype pour partager les bonnes nouvelles. J’étais également contente de raconter l’histoire à ma mère d’accueil qui partageait mon excitation. Hier soir, j’ai fêté les nouvelles avec deux amies de Smith. Nous sommes sorties pour dîner et partager du vin à un resto préféré.

Maintenant, tandis que le choque et l’excitation se calment, il faut que je débrouille tous les détails, y compris comment je vais complètement convaincre M. Bloom que je peux quitter le programme et la France deux semaines en avance…

Des autres bonnes nouvelles : mon frère va arriver demain !

For those of you who are non-Francophone, here is a mild English approximation of the above text rendered by Babel Fish (hilarity may ensue):

That does not have anything to make with Paris or France thus I will write in French so that I can bind this “post” to my Parisian experiment. It is at the same time a exercise of the language and an opportunity to show to convince my French capacities and you that I can really the speech.

Therefore, I tell you: I have just received very, very good news.

Thursday evening was the madness. After to have had one day long and tiring course, I returned to discover an email and a message of Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. I immediately had to run to the tobacco to give the responsibility my cell phone, which was exhausted since Tuesday, to telephone in the United States.

The type on the telephone quickly taught me that he wanted to offer an internship to me. I was very content. Then, the news improved. Dow Jones Newspaper Fund gives internships through the United States to the offices of “Copy editing” at tens of newspapers.

With which newspaper will work I? NEW YORK TIMES, has it says me. I was in shock. I could nothing say. It is incredible. It is formidable. It is OWL! New York Times is the signal. I do not know how I had as much chance, but I am delighted!

Moreover, I was never in New York. A summer at the city will be incredible.

In addition to one small dance around my room to celebrate, I contacted my family and several friends by Skype to divide the good news. I was also glad to tell the history with my welcome mother which shared my excitation. Yesterday evening, I celebrated the news with two friends of Smith. We left to dine and divide wine with a preferred restaurant.

Now, while shocks it and the excitation are calmed, it is necessary that I clear up all the details, including how I completely will convince Mr. Bloom whom I can leave the program and France two weeks in advance…

Other good news: my brother will arrive tomorrow!

10 December 2008

Petit à petit

The last time I reflected on language here I was negative, upset and notably disappointed. But lately, I’ve been thinking back to my first French classes at Smith, or even my classes last year, and I realize how far I’ve come.

The mere fact that I had the courage to give an oral presentation in front of a class of French students is miles of progress from the days I would cry after Fabienne’s class because I wouldn’t and couldn’t participate.

I used to avoid my French professors’ office hours for fear that I would have to speak to them in French, but now, it’s commonplace that my advising sessions and other awkward interactions with Peter Bloom all take place in the language.

Even as recently as last year, I froze and suffered from mild panic attacks when instructed to discuss something in French with a classmate. Today, I can easily carry on an average conversation about life, classes, stress, plans, etc. with my friends.

Not to say that my French is perfect – what an exaggeration that would be (Upon completing my presentation, the professor’s first remark was that it was very “courageous” for us American students to present in French, a tell-tale sign that my French was flawed) – but I am beginning to appreciate my own progressions and improvements. The progress may be on a smaller scale and at a slower pace than I was hoping for, but the progress is there.

I still know there is always more work I can be doing to improve.

I don’t speak French nearly as much as I should. This time of year, the language pledge is becoming extremely lax, even at Reid Hall. It’s unfortunate to see how quickly we can devolve into English. All it takes is one English speaker, and suddenly we are all relieved of the burden of the effort to think in French. I know I’m not nearly as vigilant as I should be, but it’s hard when I am one of a few trying to keep French up.

With the holidays quickly arriving, I will have a lengthy vacation from French with my non-francophone brother visiting and our travels bringing us to non-francophone countries so I am determined now to keep my French up for these last few days before break.

I’ve come so far and I know that with each speaking opportunity I am making progress, no matter how small.

08 December 2008

La Pluie

England may have the reputation as a grey, rainy land, but Paris is an equally damp and godforsaken place this time of year.

Snow may be a rarity here, but winter is certainly the rainy season.

For the past week, it has rained nearly every day. And not a fleeting downpour or some friendly scattered showers, but a consistent, lasting drizzle that soaks through your clothes, your shoes until you are damp to the core and bitterly cold. It may be 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but when considering the wetness factor, it might as well be freezing.

It’s miserable.

And in the few, fleeting moments free from rain, either the ground is thoroughly mouillé [wet] from the most recent shower, the sky is a dark and menacing grey, threatening a new downpour, or, most likely, the both.

So don’t even think about a pleasant sunny day until spring.

No wonder the French are of such bad humor all the time. Endless months of rain are enough to make anyone a sourpuss.

Full disclosure: today, of all days, it actually was not raining.

Also, you should see Charade immediately, preferably in an intimate Latin Quarter cinéma, but your living room will do.

02 December 2008

C’est déjà décembre?

I saw a movie Sunday that somehow captured a lot of the sentiments that I am feeling about Paris at this moment. The movie was, appropriately, entitled Paris, and I had been jonesing to see it since it came out in February.

Considering the rarity of French cinematic success aux Etats-Unis and the significant time lag usually associated with the eventual appearance of French films in the States (voir Ne le dis à personne [Tell No One] which came out in 2006 but just hit American theaters this summer), I assumed I would have to wait to see it until it eventually made it to DVD. Luckily, the film’s star, Juliette Binoche, is currently being honored with a retrospective at La Cinémathèque française. Donc, I marked the date of the film in my agenda the moment I saw it on the schedule and made sure to make it to the séance [showing].

Directed by Cédric Klapisch (L’Auberge espagnole [The Spanish Apartment]), the film featured his classic fractured visuals of city life and intimate stories of la vie quotidienne [daily life] of insecure and flawed human beings. Among a fairly small pantheon of contemporary French filmmakers, Klapisch has a style and flair that can make the occasionally difficult subject matter that he treats palatable, pleasurable and even funny.

He displayed his mastery of this craft perfectly in Paris. The film revolves around a number of tragically unlikeable Parisians with the central story focusing on a young man in need of a heart transplant – a procedure which he has only a 40 percent chance of surviving.

For me, the film touched perfectly on the fleetingness of Parisian city life. It represented all-too-accurately a number of Parisian tropes that I have encountered on a daily basis and revealed stunning panoramas of the city with the same attention to detail as the bustling city streets and open-air markets.

Likewise, Klapisch captured the contradiction of feeling lonely and isolated in such a vibrant and vivante [living] city. His characters were connected, yet distant with but the smallest details of living in the same city connecting them. So close, but so far.

Lastly, it may be somewhat infantile – meme si c’est [even if it’s] entirely natural – to attempt to apply the life lessons learned from the gravity of the situations within the film to my own severely less grave life, but the film’s ever-present (but certainly not trop [too] heavy-handed) carpe diem sentiment reminded me to make the most of my short time in this city.

The last few days I’ve been glued to my room cranking out two exposés [presentations], but now that those have both been delivered, it’s time to explore Paris anew.

28 November 2008

Comment dit-on procrastination?

The newest Michel Gondry music video.

Dick Annegarn "Soleil du soir" (par Michel Gondry)
envoyé par totoutard

Joyeux Thanksgiving!

A lot of the other girls were feeling a bit homesick and sad about missing out on their traditional Thanksgiving celebrations this year. I, too, was disappointed to have a full day of classes on the American holiday. But, considering I haven’t had a Thanksgiving dinner of any form the last two years, I was quite looking forward to the good potluck/feast Smith was throwing us.

And it certainly did not disappoint. Our amazing directrice Marie-Madeleine decided to shake things up this year and make the dinner a potluck. This way it was more traditional as everyone brought what they thought was ideal for Thanksgiving. Of course the turkey, bread, wine and cheese were all provided, but the Smithies teamed up or worked on their own to make a plethora of dishes. The selection was entirely too vast and, in that way, accurately captured the Thanksgiving spirit of
excess and overconsumption.

Sometimes I question my decision to attend Smith, and I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t choose it again if I had the ability to do it over (a discussion for another time, I guess), but it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect study abroad program. They have pampered us on so many occasions – to the point that some have accused them of trying to make us obese alcoholics.

And it’s more than just the fêtes. The program is a serious one and even if I occasionally doubt my ability to speak French, I know it’s improving because of it. The fact that the majority of Smithies at the dinner were willing to speak French for most of the night (after several glasses of
Beaujolais, I understand the switch to English) is encouraging, and as I prepare my schedule for next semester, I am overwhelmed by the number of classes offered at Smith, the Consortium and Paris VII that I would love to take.

You may think that being in Paris would be enough on it’s own to make study abroad worth it, and it may be true, but the program is what can change an expectedly great year in Paris into an expectation-exceeding one.

On the note of language, I dreamt in French last night. That is a sign of progress.

Happy Thankgiving!

23 November 2008

Là où les rêves deviennent la réalité

OK, go ahead and judge me. Just get it out of your system now.

Being closer in my life than I ever have been or than I really ever anticipate being to a Disneyland, I decided, after some convincing from my friend Jamie, to go to Disneyland Paris – as I was informed by Ben, citing Wikipedia, it is no longer called Euro Disney, but officially known as Disneyland Resort Paris – this weekend.

Yes, it’s a very American thing to do, but (1) it’s culturally interesting to consider how the French conceptualize Disney and (2) it’s fun!

Even though it was absolutely freezing yesterday (probably the coldest day since I’ve been here), I still had an amazing time. Thanks to Jamie and Christine, our Disney specialists, we maneuvered expertly through ride after ride, experiencing it all. I am thoroughly impressed by the effort and craftsmanship that appears to have went into the creation of each detail on each ride. And it was impossible not to have a great time. My favorite ride was the old-standby Space Mountain, but I also loved a brand new attraction called Crush’s Coaster with a Finding Nemo theme and enjoyed such classics as the spinning teacups, Peter Pan and the haunted mansion – unfortunately, It’s A Small World was closed for renovations.

I was equally entertained by noting the little details that gave the parks – we visited both the Disneyland Parc and Walt Disney Studios – a unique esprit français [French spirit]. We saw a crêpe stand amongst the Hollywood magic, and they sold French bread alongside Mickey-shaped pizzas and cheeseburgers. Best of all, a mock-up of the boutique from my favorite movie Les Parapluies de Cherbourg had been constructed for picture-taking purposes. This movie is a tragic, nearly operatic French musical from the 1960s, not your typical Disney film.

It’s hard to compare a fictional Sleeping Beauty castle to the live historic artifacts dotting the French countryside, but it’s true that Chenonceau certainly did not have a dragon.

The magique of the weekend continued as a handful of glistening white snowflakes fell from the sky outside me window just before noon this morning. My host mom’s gleeful declarations of “Il neige!” reminded me of how rare the event is here.

As the few flakes transitioned quickly into frigid rain, a mixture of homesickness and pure contentedness washed bittersweetly over me.

21 November 2008


I feel like two heavy weights have been lifted from my shoulders.

En premier temps [First of all] I completed my exam this morning without dying, passing out or crying (all of which were possibilities).

To celebrate its completion and the end of the school week, my friend Rebecca and I decided de flâner [to stroll aimlessly but observantly] around the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Près areas. It’s cheap entertainment and I am a flâneuse at heart. Also, I wrote in my JYA admissions essay that one of the reasons I wanted to go to Paris was pour flâner ses rues. Donc, je réalise ce rêve [So, I’m living my dream].

En deuxième temps [secondly] I have also successfully finished making travel plans for Christmas Break.

As many of you know, my brother, Ben, will be coming to visit me for nearly three weeks at the end of December. During this time we will complete a whirlwind tour of some of Europe’s hotspots – and by hotspots I actually mean coldspots because I anticipate that these cities will all be nice and nippy – spending three nights each in Amsterdam, Prague and Vienna. Now that all the travel arrangements have been made, I’m no longer stressed and simply look forward to being a tourist and relaxing.

One final thing to celebrate: I am no longer an illegal alien! Since my temporary visa expired at the end of October, I had technically been living as a semi-illegal resident. Sure, it was a pretty posh life for a sans-papiers, but still a big gênant [annoying] since I couldn’t leave the country. Titre de séjour and chest x-ray in hand, I am now a legitimate Parisian resident.

19 November 2008

3 heures, 1 examen

I am, right now, en train d’étudier [in the process of studying] for my first real French exam. The exam is tomorrow morning and I’m not too sure that I’m properly prepared, but I somehow am maintaining the nonchalance of someone who was either extremely knowledgeable about post-colonial film or actually spoke French.

I am neither.

The professor has kindly allowed me, the only foreign student in the third-year cinema course, to, in lieu of writing out the whole dissertation on the subject she will give us, complete a très détaillé [very detailed] outline. A reasonable suggestion, except when you consider how crazy the French are when it comes to essay organization. My English essays, although often unorganized, get by thanks to a fairly crafty manipulation of words that somehow dazzles professors and makes them believe that I’ve actually said something logical and A-worthy.

This strategy does not work in my pathetic French. What’s more, the French would never be tricked by clever turns of phrases the way my American professors are. They want structure, they want organization and they want neatness. Everything else is secondary.

So with dictionary, double-copy paper, white out and pen in hand, I will set off at the break of dawn tomorrow morning to embark on the quest of a lifetime that is my first French exam.

19 colonial and post-colonial films, 2 wars in Indochine, 3 hours, 1 exam.

17 November 2008

Des films, des vitrines et des regrets

Les dimanches sont pleins de regrets [Sundays are full of regret].

It’s true. Whether I’ve had an amazing weekend, a boring one or slept through it all, I generally spend Sunday regretting the various things that I did not do over the weekend and wishing Monday would never arrive.

That’s pretty much how I felt yesterday. Luckily, the weekend was more toward the side of really amazing, and I was only regretting that I had not done enough homework – a meager and weightless complaint in the City of Light.

So most of the weekend was comprised of unabashed vegging out in front of a movie screen thanks to the European Film Festival at the MK2 Bibliothèque Cinéma just à côté de [next to] the Bibliothèque Nationale. The festival consisted of a bunch of low-budget/independent fictional films and documentaries from throughout Europe. The added bonus was that the whole thing was free for students! I even got a neat-o tote bag with promotional material for posterity.

Over the weekend I saw five films from France, Estonia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France again. The majority were depressing including topics of: AIDS, high school violence, diminishing civil liberties and how wacked out and scary Russia is. The one mildly happy film was a documentary about a Dutch guy who explores the world of Flickr – this one reminded me of a This American Life episode set to slides of stunning photography.

They were all pretty good and for free 99, I wouldn’t complain anyway.

We also made friends with a random, artsy-looking Chinese guy at the films. When our last film of the night was cancelled on Saturday, we ended up hanging out with him on the Pont des Arts over the Seine. It was an interesting night.

Sunday I was movied out and actually tried to get some homework done. Although I didn’t really succeed, I did finish reading The Tempest which was a personal goal and will certainly help me in my exposé [presentation] on Aimé Césaire’s propre [own] adaptation of the play for my France-Afrique class (which has soudainement [suddenly] been cancelled until Thanksgiving because the professor had to head back home – to Congo? – for family reasons).

Before the sun had fully set Sunday night, I did venture outside at the encouragement of Rebecca to balader [stroll] the Boulevard Haussman where the grands magasins [big department stores] have set up beautiful and intricate displays in their vitrines [storefront windows] for Christmas. The children were numerous, but so were the lights and joyful sights. It was all very beautiful and put me perfectly in the holiday spirit…even if I was regretting my lack of studiousness as I enjoyed.

09 November 2008

Un week-end de vampires

No, my weekend was neither spooky, nor a horror film, nor anything to do with Twilight (please, pop culture, can we find some other books to be obsessed with???).

As you may have guessed, I went to see these guys.

They were adorable, endearing and as East-Coast as you’d expect them to be, except they actually seemed like guys you would want to hang out with. Also, they rocked the intimate and antique La Cigale pretty hard. La Cigale reminded me a lot of Chapin Auditorium at Mount Holyoke where I saw M.I.A. last year. I’ve decided from now on, I will only see rock music in such decidedly anachronistic settings.

Vampire Weekend may be young, but they know how to put on a show. Everything was perfectly timed from opening with “Mansford Roof” to the energetic “A-Punk” which kicked off the second half of the show – this, after bass-related technical difficulties tried to derail things, although Ezra Koenig and co. dealt with it pretty well. They encored with “Ça plane pour moi,” a song in French that seemed to be a crowd-pleaser (through the magique of YouTube you can watch it here...except we were way closer than this) and everyone’s favorite: “Walcott” (I mean…). Koenig endearingly thanked the crowd after each song with an incredibly twee “Merci,” and he and the keyboardist had either memorized a few key French phrases or dug up their French knowledge from their days at Columbia to banter in French as much as in English between songs.

It was all too cute. Plus, the opening French band was incroyablement mignon [incredibly cute]. Their combined age couldn’t have been much over 50, but their jangly guitars and moody tunes showed a surprising skill and knowledge of the 80s post-punk era (or, more likely the post-punk revival movement of the early 2000s, particularly à l’Interpol, selon moi [in my opinion]).

<------ Twelve-year-olds

I also saw Quantum of Solace this weekend, which is not even out in the states yet – take that! It must be said that Daniel Craig kicks ass. And, French people don’t seem to understand the humour of Bond.

05 November 2008

Obama élu le 44e président des Etats-Unis

Election night. The anticipation was monumental. This election was four years in the making, and before yesterday, I was still having trouble coming to the realization that we were actually going to elect a new president.

As I discussed last night with friends, all of our cognizant lives (since we were 11 years old), we’ve had Bush. And through good or (mostly) through ill, he’s pretty much all we’ve known. Now things will change.

All day yesterday, I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t get any homework done. I was anxious. I was nervous. I was surexcitée. I was completely restless. I tried to take a nap in anticipation of my late, late night watching election results, but I could not sleep.

After laying down and fitfully contemplating what was to come, I left my house at 11 p.m. to meet up with friends in the 16th. We had planned to go to an election results party that we had been invited to which was hosted by the Americans Abroad for Obama. The party was to last from midnight until 6 a.m. streaming live CNN coverage of the night. It also promised a delicacy to be known alternately as “Barack O-Bagels” or “Obamagels.”

Rachel, Rebecca and I met up at the Metro stop around 11:50 p.m., and a number of other Smithies were in tow. We joined the massive line in front of the building where the party was to be held (it looked like some sort of huge conference hall) and we waited. And waited. And waited. The line didn’t move much, but we assumed they were probably a little behind in opening the doors. We continued to wait and the line moved a tiny bit.

At some point – I can’t really remember when – something happened and chaos momentarily erupted. Everyone bolted for the door. There was no more line. A few minutes later, someone came out and decided we should be in a line. So we made a line again. And we waited. And waited.

We couldn’t even really tell if people were getting in at all, but we remained hopeful even if a little disenchanted. Around 1:30 a.m. – an hour and a half after the doors had opened – a guy came out with a list trying to be official. He told us to line up alphabetically and then they would work off the reservation list. At first we thought, sure, we can do that. But with a crowd of hundreds who were bitter and maybe a bit cold and maybe a bit buzzed, it didn’t work so well. The little man was getting increasingly frustrated. It was all incredibly disorganized.

A group of Smithies decided to head off in search of a bar where they could watch the results. Rachel, Rebecca and I hesitated, weighing our options. We still had hopes of getting in, especially as people kept leaving, but the whole thing was so entirely muddled that we decided we wanted to go.

We considered going our separate ways and heading home for the night, but we decided the night was too monumental to spend alone in a foreign city. Instead, we opted to go back to Rachel’s place where we could snuggle up to watch the results without bothering her host parents who were out of town.

Unfortunately, this all played out perfectly after the Metro had closed for the night. So we had to navigate the night buses. We almost got lost making a transfer and then just barely caught the bus, but it worked. Then, we still had to walk a bit to Rachel’s house on deserted and mildly sketchy streets. Ultimately, we made it to her spacious and modern 17th arrondissement apartment where we immediately began to warm up and relax.

It was about 3:30 a.m. at this point. We turned on the French news and got Rachel’s computer out, snuggled up on the couch and watched everything unfold from there. It actually ended up being pretty perfect. We could make fun of the French TV anchors, including Marjorie who was visibly pissed to have been assigned to McCain headquarters in Phoenix (Vat is zis cité Feenix? It iz hot and zere are no parties. Vere is BaRack?) and, our favorite, an analyst endearingly nicknamed “Suspenders Scott” (due much more to his attire than his actual name, which presumably was not Scott) who appeared every time the big, color-coded map went up and seemed to actually understand the American electoral system. It was bizarre to be watching such an American event unfold in French. It gave a whole new perspective.

We also were able to check results online from CNN and the New York Times, making sure we were up to the minute. We spent the lulls in between new results watching amusing SNL, Daily Show and other video clips.

Shortly after 5 a.m., CNN projected Obama as the winner, and we collectively jumped for joy on the sofa. A group hug of happiness followed. Each time we saw the numbers flash on the screen or read the text “Barack Obama élu le 44e président des Etats-Unis,” another wave of excitement, disbelief and joy washed over us.

I felt a certain amount of sadness and homesickness, wishing I could have been in the U.S. to celebrate such a historic and groundbreaking American moment. But in all, the night was fun and cute and cuddly, and it was such an experience to take it all in from 4,000 miles away.

This afternoon I bought a Le Monde as a keepsake and chatted with the French woman who works at the crêperie about Barack Obama (to hear how the French pronounce this click here, type his name and select one of the French voices, my personal favorite is Bruno) and how I hope he will change things.

Like many others have said, I am proud of America and I am excited to eventually return home there.

03 November 2008

Alloween et des visiteuses

The French may not fête [celebrate] Halloween, but we sure did.

My super sweet friend Jamie decided that since her host family was out of town on vacation she would throw a mini Halloween (or ’Alloween, as the French would say) party. An excellent cook, she made a full meal for the seven of us: garlic bread and homemade guacamole with chips for an appetizer; lemon chicken, ratatouille and salad for main course; and, finally, chocolate/toffee bars and some sort of apple-pie-like thing for dessert. It was all SO amazing!

For holiday spirit, Jamie placed Halloween-themed confetti on the table alongside handmade Halloween-y nametags (mine featured a pumpkin for the “A”). And of course, there were costumes, including a panda, a cop, a gypsy, “the American stereotype of a French woman,” a flapper (me!) and a lesbian cowgirl. Themed drinks with eyeball garnishes topped everything off.

It was so much fun to kick back and celebrate among friends; I’ve missed that.

Saturday was a bit of a change of pace. As rain drizzled down on Paris, my friend Hannah and I had fun showing our friend Nikki and two other Smithies, who were all visiting from Geneva where they are studying abroad on another Smith JYA program, around town. We had our hearts’ set on visiting the Catacombs (a perfect Halloween-type activity), but, unfortunately, they were closed for the jour férié [holiday] Toussaint. Instead, we opted for the perfect rainy-day activity: hot chocolate at the renowned (and touristy) Angelina’s, which I had yet to visit despite the raves of my camarades [classmates]. Realizing that the overly strong hot chocolate would be too much for me, I opted for overpriced – yet enormous and excellent – ice cream.

It had stopped raining by the time we were finished so we decided to visit Montmartre where we strolled until we found the Café Des Deux Moulins, made famous by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie.

It was a pleasure to have visitors since it gave me an excuse to do some of the touristy things that I hadn’t done yet. Sure, they are overpriced and swarming with non-français, but they I have to do them at least once before I leave Paris.

My second overpriced, touristy experience of the day was definitely worth it. The five of us plus another Smithie on the Paris program decided to take a nighttime tour of the Seine on the famed Bateaux-Mouches [literally, Fly Boats]. It was a chilly but clear night, and the ride was, in all, an amazing experience. Once I was able to tune out the droning commentary which repeated in at least five different languages (we felt sorry for the East Asians…when the narration finally got around to their language, the boat was presumably long past the monument in question), I was able to take in a delightfully different view of the city where I live. Each monument or important building was stunningly illuminated for the night, and the tour gave the best view imaginable of each. As usual, pictures could hardly capture the experience.We topped the night off by discovering a cozy place where I ate what can only be described as French Indian Mexican food. The atmosphere of the tiny restaurant was incredibly charming and the service was friendly and welcoming. We even got free aperitifs and a free second pitcher of Kir (which we enjoyed as a digestif because our Geneva friends were dying to try it)!

I stayed in Sunday reading the entirety of a book that I had to finish for class today, but I found even the mundanity of school work a welcome and balanced addition to a perfect Parisian weekend.

29 October 2008

Le Bord de la mer

I apologize for the tardiness of this weekend update, but despite vacations and frolicking, I am still a student and I had an essay to write. But now that I’ve caught up with my school work, I’ll take a moment to recount the week-end magnifique that was our excursion to Normandie.

Just like last time: I got up early on a Saturday morning to board the same charter bus with the same conducteur [driver] in order to escape the monotony of Paris in favor of the vast expanses of the French countryside. After a bit of a debacle featuring a late bus and late Smithies – one of whom had a hectic morning, in which she somehow missed her alarm to wake up at 8:15 a.m., 45 minutes after a bus was to leave, and, eventually, took a train to meet up with us later – we were on our way.

Our first stop was Arromanches, a cute little town on the Normandie shore. There, we watched a film which was a composite of journalistic footage of the disembarquement [D-Day landing at Normandy] and modern-day images of the beach and town. The footage was impressive, but the 360-degree format of the “cinéma circulaire” was unnecessarily dizzying.

Afterward, we lunched on the beach which was à la fois [both] beautiful and eerie. The beach featured the vestiges of un pont artificial [temporary bridge] used during the disembarquement as an ever-present reminder of the not-so-eloigned history of the seaside town.

I found the same mixture of unsettling remembrance and seaside revelry at Omaha Beach. The Cimetière américain [American Cemetery] with its vast expanse of over 9,000 white crosses (and Stars of David) marking those American soldiers who died during the invasion of Normandie was impressionnant [impressive, marking] and émouvant [moving]. Even as it made me hate war, it made me proud for the Etats-Unis.

But in the transition of mere moments, the sun was out and the beach called us. We walked down to where the grass met the sand and reveled at the immensity of the ocean, the softness of the sand and our contentedness to be at the beach.

After regretfully leaving the beach, we shifted historical time periods to visit the medieval Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings.

Then, another two-hour bus trip brought us to our hotel where we ate dinner. A mere 15 minutes from Mont-Saint-Michel, the anticipation of the next day gripped us all.

And the abbey on the mount was no let-down. Driving up to it, each glimpse of the immense stone monument rising from the bay was awe-inspiring. As we descended from the bus and started our climb through the village up to the abbey, I was overcome with the surreality of the moment, and the vistas from the top were even more breathtaking. Snapping countless photos that could not possibly capture the beauty of the structure or its views, we took a two-hour tour of the abbey with an amusing – and, as a group of Smith girls would note, attractive – guide. Unfortunately, I don’t think I retained much of what was learned as I was too struck by every architectural detail or glimpse of the sea.

I guess I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised by how much of a tourist trap the whole village has become. Gift shops selling everything from postcards and overpriced trinkets to Mont-Saint-Michel cookies and cider lined the tiny, middle-age streets, and tourists of all nationalities filled the narrow walkways. But I understand the flock because Mont-Saint-Michel is an experience not to be missed.

Another two-hour bus ride passed quickly thanks to sleep, not doing homework and our re-enactments of Titanic and the Little Mermaid.

Our last glimpse of the sea before returning to the City of Light greeted us in Honfleur, an adorable and bustling town located just where the Seine meets la Manche [the English Channel]. Unfortunately, it started raining as we walked the town’s delightful streets. We also didn’t get to go to the art museum that I wanted to visit because it was near closing. We did, however, explore a beautiful church, all in wood, and enjoy a goûter [snack] of dessert crêpes and hot cidre – on Smith! – in an adorable restaurant called La Cidrerie. The restaurant’s Halloween decorations – a rarity in France where Halloween is little celebrated – were a welcoming touch.

With a last glimpse at the lit-up, little town and the sea, we boarded the bus back to Paris, where cold weather and dreary days have greeted us so far this week. At least I have Halloween to look forward to Friday and my Mont-Saint-Michel “Entre Terre et Ciel” poster hanging over my bed to remind me of it all.

24 October 2008

Un jour dans la vie

Thursdays are, at best, hectic and, at worst, hell. I have three different classes at three different locations, spread out across Paris. To make matters worse, my school day stretches from 9 a.m., when my first class begins, until 7 p.m., when my last class ends.

Today was no exception and was, in fact, busier than most.

I woke up at 7 a.m. when the first of my two alarms sounded (I’m paranoid after the debacle of two weeks ago, plus my professor now refuses to admit tardy students…which is amusing enough, as long as I’m not the tardy one). I woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head, etc., all before the sun came out. At a quarter after eight, I left the apartment to brave the cold – for the first time this season, I could see my breath – the dark and the Metro.

Perhaps because I was a few minutes later than usual or maybe because of the cold, my train was a bit crowded. It wasn’t too bad, however, and the now-routine ride from Raspail to Bercy, where I transfer lines, and Bercy to my stop went by quickly. As often is the case, the escalator was en panne [out of order] so I had to walk the 106 stairs (yes, I’ve counted) from the station to the street.

A bit tired, I arrived to my cinema class with time to spare and upon noting my enormous thirst and the stifling hot temperature in the normally frigid room, I bought myself an Orangina. Class went by as normal, but by the end of the three hours, the combination of the heat in the room and the rapidity with which the professor was talking made it difficult to pay attention. Subsequently, my notes suffered and sleep sounded oh-so tempting. At the end of class, I learned the pleasant surprise that next week is apparently vacation for Paris VII so I don’t have class.

Now that I’ve finally mastered the restaurant universitaire [university restaurant], I maneuvered through the cafeteria like an expert, choosing a cheese pizza (which despite questionably including goat cheese is quite good), apple yogurt, vanilla pudding and bread – all for 2,85 euro, which I love.

Part of the *appeal* of my Thursdays is the awkward amounts of time between my classes. It’s too much time to head straight to the next class, but too little to actually buckle down to do work (or maybe that’s my lack of gumption). So I killed some time in the gigantic Paris VII library until I decided it was time to hop on the Metro to the Centre Madeleine where I have my France-Africa class.

The Madeleine Metro stop is conveniently located on the same line as the campus of Paris VII, which means no transferring necessary. De plus, the line in question is line 14. The newest line in the Metro system, it is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. This novelty translated to more spacious trains, speedier travel and nifty, space-aged glass blockades, which make the tracks suicide-proof. It’s a short 15 minute ride. In fact, it often takes me more time to walk to the building where my class is than it takes to traverse Paris in the Metro because I must cross five different roadways with lights that are never synched for pietons [pedestrians].

France-Afrique passed as usual, with our excitably passionate professor struggling desperately to contain himself as he lectured and us, the students, struggling desperately to decipher his handwriting.

Another awkward break comes between France-Afrique and my final course for the day, Translation. Today, the gap was pleasantly filled with a Smith-style tea. An alumna from ’75, who studied on the Paris JYA program during her day and has since set up an amazing fund which reimburses us for “cultural activities” while on the program, came to chat and share tea and cookies with us. It was just what I needed on a cold and stressful day.

Finally it was time for Translation. We got our first quiz back, and I was pleasantly surprised with my grade. As usual, we went over the translations that we had prepared for class. We also attempted to have a discussion about how one translates the verb “could” into French, but the whole discussion became very muddled as we attempted to complete an exercise without context…and our English-grammar stickler-ness kicked in.

After class I rushed to the Metro to head back to the 13th where I had started my day to see a movie for my service learning course. The movie, Coluche, l’histoire d’un mec, was very interesting, although I am not quite positive that I see the link to community service. I did enjoy the great late 70s/early 80s (when the real-life events of the movie took place) music included in the film: Iggy Pop’s “Lust of Life” (screw you, Royal Caribbean for trying to kill this song) and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” among others.

I got back to Boulevard Montparnasse around 10:30 p.m. when I stopped at a crêpe stand for my dinner: a delicious egg and cheese galette. I topped my day off by Skyping with ma mere [my mom] and now I am feeling quite ready for some sleep.

Tomorrow, I must write a paper, but I am keeping my spirits high for our excursion this weekend to Mont-Saint-Michel.

21 October 2008


I spent way more time than I should have watching bad French TV this weekend so I feel that it is just to report my findings.


1) The French have hardly any of their own feuilletons [TV series]. The popular feuilletons are Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Cold Case and all varieties of CSI (or, Les Experts) – all dubbed in French, of course. Other than those and other American series, primetime (which is later seeing that the French don’t usually start dinner until around 8 p.m.) is often occupied by movies, which are often American and often of questionable quality.

2) Which brings be to observation no. 2: American téléfilms [made-for-TV-movies]. Saturday, I wasted away over an hour of my life watching Le tueur du vol 816, the French-dubbed version of a laughably horrible American téléfilm from 2003 starring the guy from JAG. I really wonder where they dig this stuff up. Why did they decide it needed to be dubbed in French? Who exactly does it appeal to? Likewise, I stumbled across a short-lived TV series called Runaway (staring New Kids on the Block bad boy and my Boomtown homey Donnie Wahlberg) airing Sunday afternoon. I had never even heard of this series so how do the French know about it?

3) The Nanny. Yes, with Fran Drescher. It airs nightly on M6 at about 8 p.m., just around dinnertime. Again, why? Granted, the French voice actress is slightly more tolerable.

4) We do not have cable. Thus, we have eight channels of basic French TV. Of these eight channels, one shows exclusively MTV reality shows, dubbed in français: Mon incroyable anniversaire [My Sweet Sixteen], Ma life [True Life], Mariés avant l’age [Underaged and Engaged], etc. And I mean exclusively shitty reality shows. No music videos, no Laguna Beach or The Hills or whatever wealthy California neighborhood they are on to now. Only the worst-of-the-worst reality merdre. It makes my wonder … and watch in horror.

5) French Lingo. Enough said.

6) The French version of PBS takes the cake. First, I must note that all channels are owned by the state, so in one sense, they are all “public.” But “arte” is the one that most closely approximates public television in the states. Arte is a joint Franco-allemand [France-German] effort which, in addition to showing movies (often good ones) and the nightly news, broadcasts original, and often interesting, programming. One night they aired a live broadcast of La Traviata, which was being performed in a Zurich train station. Yeah, they are that badass. Another night, I watch an hour-long emission [program] on “color.” Seriously, what beats that for randomness?

En bref, you really never do know what you will get comme on zappe through the channels [as one zaps through the channels…yes, “zapper” has, evidently, become a French verb

Ultimately, all I can say is “Bizarre, bizarre.”

15 October 2008


Up until this point, every entry here has been overwhelmingly positive – which is great because that’s a true reflection of how I feel. So, j’hésite [I hesitate] to add any thoughts of negativity. Not because I want to look at this experience completely through rose-colored glasses and forget the bad or stressful moments, but because I don’t want to misrepresent things. Overall, everything continues to be wonderful, but there are moments when I am down and now is one of them.

The problem? I’m discouraged. I’m disappointed. I’m déçue. All because I am beginning to realize that I cannot speak French. Yes, it appears that I can carry on conversations in the language with my American-student friends and my host mother – in fact, I am happy to report that I am beginning to feel more at ease in these exchanges – but, apparently, the rest of the world speaks a different French that I do not understand.

The minute someone other than my host mom, a friend or a professor asks me something, I freeze. It always sounds all jumbled and not-like-French to me. My immediate response of “Pardon” and the deer-in-the-headlights look on my face surely makes me seem as if I’m another stupid American who can’t speak a lick of French. But how can this be? I can grasp Proust, but I can’t understand the boulanger?

My most recent episode ended up invoking a tearful ride home on the Metro after I horribly botched a conversation with a representative of Greenpeace France at a meeting for interested volunteers.

Each time this happens I feel stupider and stupider. I’ve been here for over a month; shouldn’t I be seeing some progress? And my confidence is beginning to dwindle. Maybe I should just start speaking in English; all the French respond to me in it anyway.

Just today, I ventured to the Bibliothèque du film, where I had to subscribe to watch the films for my cinema class. After struggling through the application for the card with the surprisingly patient secretary and successfully employing the nifty coatroom lockers, I headed to the vidéothèque [the library of films]. I observed intently as the girl in front of me checked the film she wanted to watch in the catalogue and then told the librarian, who gave her the film. It looked simple enough. But as I tried to utter, “Je cherche Indochine de Régis Wargnier,” she gave me a blank stare. “You couldn’t find it in the catalogue?,” she answers back in English. We continue to play this game where I stumble along in French and she responds in perfect English as she explains where I have to click in the catalogue and the number I need to give her. This woman was actually amazingly helpful and very friendly, but it’s unfortunate that my French is so horrible to her ears that she’d prefer English.

I again embarrassed myself when I returned the DVD of the 1921 colonial film L’Atlantide – I didn’t actually get to watch Indochine yet because someone had it out – to the desk after I had finished. This time, the patient women from reception was waiting and as I walked up with a friendly “Bonjour,” she replied “Comment?” [What?] as if I was speaking gibberish. She then asked me something I didn’t understand. Finally, we worked out that I was finished with the DVD and wanted to give it back (which I thought was apparent enough), and then she asked me if I was finished for the day or if I had other things to watch.

I knew this was a trap. French people like to do this; they ask you a question as if you have the choice between two options when really you do not. There were clearly people waiting, so I had figured I would have to forfeit my place. But since she asked, I thought I might as well try so I responded that yes, in fact, I do have something else to watch. Snap! That’s me falling right into her trap. She very condescendingly informs me that there are actually people waiting so I can’t hog the terminal and I must patienter [wait].

Thanks for the life lesson, Madame. At least that whole conversation took place in French.

13 October 2008

Le temps file

Another week of schoolwork and classes quickly passes by and with it another weekend to enjoy. After ending my week on a sour note of a stressful Thursday on which I incorrectly set my alarm and nearly missed my 9 a.m. class at Paris VII – my host mom woke me at 8:30, wondering if I had class, at which point I rushed out the door to catch the metro and ended up only 15 minutes late – and became discouraged by my translation course, the weekend was a welcome escape.

And escape I did, mostly from the French language. I hardly spoke it this weekend, and barely even heard it around me, which would seem difficult considering I am living in the preeminent French-speaking country in the world.

I spent Saturday strolling the designer-store-lined streets around the Champs-Elysées and near the U.S. embassy, where tourists abound, especially on a Saturday. Later, I braved the crowded Champs-Elysées shops with friends. There, we encountered all nationalities, including an adorable German child who applauded Alix’s lip-synched rendition of the Chris Brown song blaring over the United Colors of Beneton sound system and an American tourist, who happened to be a professor at Grand Valley State (small world), with his family. Very minimal amounts of French were spoken and even less was heard.

Sunday was no different as Rachel, Rebecca and I visited Montmartre for a street festival. All nationalities were again represented, including the older British man, who during a particularly log-jammed moment in the crowd remarked rather loudly, “The bloke behind me has a large belly!” The knowing look of the man behind him, who clearly also spoke English, was priceless.

My host mom was even in la campagne for the weekend so I lacked Francophone interactions with her. When you add on my time Skyping to those back home (brother, boyfriend, mom, dad) and my guilty-pleasure screenings of Project Runway and Freaks and Greeks, my “plus-français-que-les-Français [more-French-than-the-French]” program director would be appalled.

Not to say that my weekend was a bust. I had a fabulous time swimming amongst the crowds, profiting from the fantastic and unseasonably warm weather and catching up on American pop culture.

Plus, I tried a new pastry. What could be more French than that?

07 October 2008

La Rentrée à Paris

Back in Paris, tout va bien [all is well].

I’ve started all of my classes and I’m being to remember that I’m in college and not on an elaborate field trip. I love all my classes and I don’t yet have that much work to do so it’s not too bad. The only problem is, it’s impossible to concentrate on homework when one’s in Paris. And the Parisian bibliothèques [libraries] don’t make it any easier. Like a foolish American, I decided that after my traduction [translation] class Monday morning I would head over to Paris VII to get some reading done in the library. Silly me: the university library doesn’t open until noon on Mondays. Luckily, the Bibliothèque Nationale is right next door; so I trekked on over, only to find out that the salles de lecture [reading rooms] are closed Monday. Apparently Parisians don’t study on Mondays.

Regardless of this minor inconvenience, I love my classes overall. Last week, I started my Smith course in which we will be translating texts from English to French in order to refine our French writing and work through some of the more tricky and idiomatic points of French grammar and vocabulary. The task is much harder than it initially seemed, but translation m’intéresse beaucoup [interests me a great deal] so I think I will enjoy the class de toute façon [anyway].

I also began my consortium class (the consortium consists of Middlebury, Hamilton and Smith Colleges which all have study-abroad programs in Paris) last week. The course concerns the politics and history of France-African relations since colonization. The professor – Boniface Mongo-Mboussa, what a name! – is incredibly dynamic and passionate; I know I will love this course.

But of course, the life outside of classes is the most exciting part of la vie parisienne. Saturday night was no exception. From 7 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday, Paris celebrated la Nuit Blanche [white night] with expositions, instillations, performances and more taking place throughout the city from dusk until dawn. For my part, I met up with some friends in the 4th at l’Hôtel de Ville, and we strolled about the Marais taking in the excitement and animation on the streets. Searching an inexpensive and warm – although the night was very pleasant, it was a bit chilly – place to eat, we discovered an adorable resto [restaurant] where we will soon be regulars. The space is tiny, but the atmosphere was lively and the menu is diverse and affordable. My friends Rachel and Rebecca ordered mussels and fries and mussels and salad, respectively, for just 7,50 euro. I settled for a galette [wheat crêpe] and fries, seeing as they were out of croques.

After browsing the brochure of events for the night, we decided the majority of the installations were a bit too out-there for us. We opted to visit the Centre Pompidou which was free and open until 1 a.m. for the night. We briefly browsed some of the modern art, but preferred to linger on the sixth floor which grants an astounding view of Paris through its tubular glass walls. It was incredibly pleasing to view the nightlife of the city on this bustling evening, and as always, the monuments at night were beautiful. We sat around the Centre Pompidou chatting for the rest of the evening and decided to call it a night a little after 1 a.m., but a successful and exciting night it had been.

29 September 2008

Un conte de fées

The beauty of Paris is stunning and the bustle of city life can be such a thrill, but after a month here, la campagne nous manquait [we missed the countryside]. After waking up at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to board a bus full of Smithies, we found that countryside, and it was as marvelous as one could imagine.

The two-hour-plus bus ride to the Loire Valley was more like passing through a portal into a fairy-tale land, where castles and villages and beautiful vistas reign. The first glimpses of the countryside reminded me of the Etats-Unis [United States], but as castles and ancient bridges popped up here and there, I knew I was someplace special.

During our well-organized trip, I visited four châteaux (two of which we went inside for guided tours) and their jardins, the “castle” where Leonard Da Vinci lived toward the end of his life and a cave where they produce wine, all of which occurred during perfect autumnal weather.

Each castle was as beautiful as the next, but the magnifique Château de Chenonceau was my favorite. Our visit to the castle was truncated by a slightly late arrival (due to minor navigational errors), but our rushed visit gave us just enough time to take in the beauty of the structural marvel.

After picnicking, visiting Clos Lucé (Da Vinci’s house) and strolling the gardens of the Château de Chaumont, we visited the wine production cave for a wine tasting. The night was topped of with an excellent and exciting fondue dinner, complete with four different fondues, with the whole group – including our assistant director’s charming 9-year-old son François who accompanied us on the trip – packed into the basement of “La Souris Gourmande” [The gluttonous mouse] in Tours, France. I don’t know how I had room after so much excellent cheese, but the dessert was also exquisite: meringué glacé (which I chose over the chocolate tart, a popular selection among the crowd) which was a meringue with some sort of fruit cream.

Day two was a bit less hectic, but equally satisfying. We left the hotel around 9 a.m. for a visit of the Château de Blois, where my history knowledge was greatly enhanced by our American ex-pat tour guide who continually reminded us to vote. After lunch at one of the few open cafés – life shuts down in France on Sunday – in the charming town, we traveled to the Château de Chambord, a visually overwhelming gothic-style masterpiece. There, I elected to rent a vélo [bicycle] to tour the jardins and surrounding fôrets [forests]. The view was amazing and it was an unreal experience to be cruising along on a bicycle with this enormous castle looming over us.

We returned to the bus exhausted but satisfied, begrudgingly ready to return to the real world of Paris.

25 September 2008

Les vrais cours

I’ve successfully completed my first week of classes at a French university. Félicitations à moi! Félicitations might be a bit overkill considering I actually only have two courses this semester at Université Paris VII, and those were the only courses of my four total that started this week, but it seems like a milestone nonetheless.

Monday afternoon, I had my first class. The class is titled “Littérature and Histoire” [Literature and History] and concerns the literature of the Algerian war. I was super-psyched about this course because I’ve already done some coursework in this area and found it to be a troubling but interesting moment in French history. Additionally, I’d already read a couple of the authors on the class’s bibliography and I loved their work. With my expectations high, I entered the classroom, and, somehow, I was not disappointed. The class was not the giant lecture hall that I had been warned against, but an average-sized classroom with rows of tables. And the professor was not the strict, by-the-books menace for which I was prepared. She seems very friendly and open, yet extremely knowledgeable in her field. Although she is presumably not Iranian, she mildly reminds me of actress Shohreh Aghdashloo.

The first class was mostly composed of background and historical foundation for our study of literature in the context of the Algerian war. She also laid out what we would be reading over the semester. Also unlike I’d been told, she plainly stated the three books we will be working on together and even gave us the assignment of reading the first three or four chapters of one of an Assia Djebar novel by next week’s class (a surprisingly easy assignment, which suits my slowness when reading French). She also mentioned a fourth book which we should read because, wait for it, the author, Leïla Sebbar, will be coming to our class! I’ve already read a handful of works by Sebbar and even chose to translate one of her texts for a class last semester. I am so excited – I think I will be star-struck.

At the end of class, after our coffee break (the class is a three hour lecture – upside, it meets only once a week; downside, three hours in one room) and lecturing, she went through all the names of the people in the class to try to begin to get to know us. This is when she realized that nearly half of the class was Anglophone (mostly Americans, but a few Britons). She joked that she might as well be conducting the course in English! It’s somewhat unfortunate that there will be that many Americans in the class – I didn’t come all the way to France to take classes with other Americans – but on the plus side, she will be cognizant of us.

My second class, a course about post-colonial French cinema, was this morning. Starting at 9 a.m., it required me to awake much earlier than the time at which I had been habituating myself to get up. It was worth it though. Again, the subject matter of the course is right up my alley so my hopes for the course were high and were met. This classroom was, as promised, a large amphitheatre, but it was not nearly full. In fact, there were probably around 25 students in the class – the majority, this time, seemed to be French.

This course is a third-year (the final year in France’s three-year university program) course while the other course was a second-year class so I was bit worried about the level. But I feel like my combination of film knowledge, familiarity with French colonial history and experience with post-colonial literature make me an ideal candidate for the course. The professor is very young, and she is prone to speaking much faster than the other. It was a struggle to keep up and take notes, but I enjoyed the challenge as well as her lecture style. For this course, the “assignments” are a little more ambiguous, but I plan to feel things out as I go.

Attending two class sessions over the course of a week didn’t really feel like a true start-of-school experience, but I guess I am in the thick of things now, and glad to be thanks to two amazing classes. The rest of my courses start on Monday, but first, a group trip to the chateaus of the Loire Valley…

24 September 2008

L’Eglise parisienne

I’m not a religious person. I never really have been. I have my only particular breed of beliefs that border between atheism and agnosticism. I quietly decline to believe in God and I’m OK with that. But lately, the magnifique [magnificent, in a visually stunning way] churches that I’ve been seeing are making me wonder if I am missing out. To think that someone – some people – possessed a faith so strong that they constructed these physically massive and overwhelming beautiful structures in honor of their God astounds me. There’s something very moving about a faith that strong, and it is reflected, permanently and stunningly in the columns, the buttresses, the stained glass and the rafters of so many Parisian churches.

Here, the vestiges of this insurmountably strong faith are everywhere. Everyone knows la Cathédrale Notre-Dame, and even most tourists discover la Basilique du Sacré-Cœur and Sainte-Chapelle. All three are marvels, wonders of architecture, art and sheer human ability. But what some don’t realize is that awe-inspiring churches loom around nearly every corner of this historically and symbolically Catholic city.

As part of last weekend’s Journées du Patrimoine [Heritage Days], after visiting the Panthéon, a laïque [non-religious, secular] version of the awe-inspiring French church, I decided to enter for the first time a number of these churches, found scattered about my quartier [neighborhood].

Saint-Etienne-du-Mont, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Saint-Sulpice and Notre-Dame-des-Champs are all within reasonable walking distance of my house and each one is as breathtaking as the next. I’m not only moved by the sheer size and magnitude of these human creations, but I also find moving the act of entering each church. Passing through those heavy, imposing doors, I shut out the hustle and bruit [noise] of Boulevard du Montparnasse, or whichever bustling Paris street, in favor of a perfect calm and reflective quiet. I almost feel guilty intruding upon this serenity as I thrust my head sky-ward in awe of the intricate ceiling or beautifully colored glass.

It’s overwhelming.

Il fait parfois me demander si jamais je peux avoir autant de foi…en n’importe quoi. [Sometimes it makes me wonder if I could ever have that much faith…in anything.]

19 September 2008

La bureaucratie, c’est la vie.

This week, I had my first real run-in with the hassle that is French bureaucracy and the university system (this is excepting my visa application which, despite multiple tiers, piles of paperwork and a required daytrip to Chicago, wasn’t actually too bad).

The majority of the 23 Smith students on the program are going to be taking classes with the University of Paris IV – Sorbonne, but there are six of us who have been assigned to Paris VII. Although I was initially disappointed that I wouldn’t be going to the historic “Sorbonne,” I’m looking forward to courses at Paris VII. The campus is brand new in a very modern and up-and-coming sector of Paris, and the course offerings are diverse and intriguing. So I have since become content to be taking classes there.

I was not so content, however, regarding the registration process. Originally, our program director had told me I could simple go to the office for the department in which I wanted to take classes and tell them I wanted to register. Done deal. But it was not to be that simple. When I went to register, I was told by the woman at the welcome desk that since I had no paperwork and no carte d’étudiant [student ID card], I would have to go talk to the man in charge of entering international students in the International Studies office. Unfortunately, he wasn’t accepting students at that time. On a different day, a few of my camarades [classmates] tried the same thing and were told they must come back the next day between 9:00 a.m. and noon to talk to the mec [guy].

We were excused from our orientation courses by M. Bloom, our program director. I stayed back, not wanting to miss notes from one class, but some others went ahead early in the morning. They waited for over an hour to talk to the mec, and when they finally got to talk to him, he told them that he couldn’t help them; he was too busy dealing with the 500+ international students at the university. So, we had missed class and traveled 30 minutes on the metro to the university all for naught. And we still had no idea how we would register for classes.

Somehow, however, M. Bloom worked some magic/pushed things along and was able to give us our student numbers the next day. Thursday, after a bit of guilt-filled shopping at “Hache et Em” [H&M], my friend Rachel and I decided to head back to the dreaded Paris VII to see if we could accomplish anything…and, amazingly enough, we just had to go to a couple offices, tell them for which classes we wished to register and registered we were. Facile-y fromage-y [Easy Cheesy].

I am now officially registered for a course concerning literature of the Algerian war and a post-colonial-cinema class. Now the challenge is surviving French university courses.

Today: Amazing walking through Parc de Bercy, which is a real, let-the-trees-actually-grow-wild park near Paris VII and the Bibliotheque Nationale.
Tonight: Indian cuisine in the 10th (Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements [districts] and it’s common to refer to locations by their arrondissement – I live in the 6th).

15 September 2008

3 semaines comme des milles jours

So I’ve been in Paris for less than three weeks, but it already feels like I’ve been here for months, not because my orientation classes are that boring (although I am beginning to tire of them) but because I’ve been able to experience so much so soon. But the thing that I love about this city is that there is still so much more that I want to do. The list of possibilities continues to grow even as I mentally check off the stops completed.

I’ve wandered in many quartiers [neighborhoods], but nowhere near them all. I have yet to return to my beloved Montmartre, and I can’t wait to explore new districts.

I’ve seen the monuments (Arc de Triomphe, La tour Eiffel in day and night, Notre-Dame, Centre Pompidou, L’Opèra, etc.), but there is still a nearly endless list of others that I’ve yet to see. I haven’t even seen the Louvre since I’ve been here, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to visit it or any other museum, for that matter, yet.

We traveled out to Versailles just this weekend, and despite having an amazing time relaxing in the sun, I left another item on my mental to-do list unchecked since the palace itself was too crowded to enter.

At every turn, every moment, I’m experiencing something new and exciting, but meanwhile, I’m beginning to feel like the things left to do are overwhelming…and next week, I start my classes at Paris VII. But all the while, I have time – 9 months (!). I guess I just have to let myself experience Paris a bit by osmosis and trust that eventually I will experience it all.

First French film in France: Jean-Luc Goddard’s A bout de souffle (1960), a classic of nouvelle-vague cinema. I found it fitting.

07 September 2008

Une réflexion sur la langue

A reflection on being (mildly) French-speaking Americans abroad: I continually find it bizarre to be a group of American college students speaking French together on the streets of Paris. There’s something about it that seems backwards, topsy-turvy. These same friends and I would most likely have been speaking English back at Smith except for a few strained situations at the French table or French department events. But here, we are sliding easily into the habit of conversations, text messages and Facebook-wall posts in French.

Sure our French is a little muddled at times and generally spoken at a much slower pace than the sharp, quick jabs of those around us, but it’s French in its own right. I always wonder what those around us think upon hearing our jumbled French. I imagine the Parisians finding it curious since they can easily tell we are American. And I always wonder if – or hope that – some American tourists might mistake us for French upon hearing us speak.

Trying to speak in French at all times has been fun as well as challenging. Sometimes it becomes a game to describe something for which I don’t really have the words or tiptoe around an idea until I’ve captured what I meant to say. But it’s also very exhausting. It sometimes takes twice the words for me to get at a simple idea, and by the end of the day my brain is fatigued.

That’s why it was nice to spend Saturday chatting with my friends and classmates in English. I know we broke the code, but after a week of diligence a day’s slippage isn’t too bad. I hope that as the year progresses though, speaking in French will feel more and more natural even among my American friends.

06 September 2008

Mon anniversaire

I always thought my birthday fell at just the wrong time of the year. The beginning of September is always a time of transition – whether it was starting school, moving into my dorm or, in my present situation, getting acclimated to a new and foreign city. But over the years I’ve managed to have some pretty good birthdays; although, I think this year’s tops the list.

My official start of my birthday here at 12:00 a.m. Paris time was marked by my loyal (and wonderful) boyfriend who made sure to send me a message via Facebook chat. But by morning, I was feeling a bit nostalgique [homesick] especially after seeing a few birthday e-mails and e-cards from home. Sauf pour my host mother joyously telling me “ ’Appy Birthday” (the French always drop their H’s) the morning passed as normal.

It wasn’t until déjeuner [lunch] that my first day to no longer be a teenager truly revealed itself as special. My friend Hannah suggested that we head to this bagel place she had seen earlier for lunch (I would soon learn that, although she undoubtedly loves my company, this was intended as a distraction). We ate our bagels (quite good for bagels being practically unheard of in France) happily, and then Hannah suggested we return to Reid Hall. We returned only to find a horde of smiling Smithies in the salle à manger [dinning room] ready to sing “Joyeux anniversaire!” and present me with chocolate cake and
Tiramisu. It was fabulous to be able to celebrate with everyone.

Later that afternoon, while shopping at a nearby H&M (three stories, mind you), I bought myself a très jolie [very pretty] scarf as a birthday present à moi [to me].

For dinner, Madame had asked me to invite two friends pour fêter [to celebrate] my birthday so Hannah and Jamie gladly joined us for a veritable feast beginning with an aperitif (champagne, of course pour fêter) and ending with a fruit-topped cheesecake. The whole meal was excellent! Parfait [perfect]!

Afterwards, Hannah, Jamie and I went to a cinéma just next to Hannah’s apartment and only a couple blocks from mine. It’s an art-house-type cinéma (meaning no French-dubbed Kung Fu Panda or Zohan) and after surveying the numerous tempting choices we settled on Metropolis, a German Expressionist movie from the 1920s – again, excellent!

In all, I’m happy to be 20, and although I couldn’t share the day with the people with whom I am truly the closest, I had the best birthday imaginable.