28 November 2008
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.
23 November 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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]).
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
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
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.