03 August 2009

Des larmes au Louvre

It could be viewed as unfortunate that one of my most vivid memories of Paris is a sad one. But the melancholic image is so beautiful that I don't mind reliving it.

It was mid-December. A period of my Parisian experience that is a blur of travel plans, my brother's visit and the excitement and disappointment of that lost internship debacle.

Ben and I were visiting the Louvre during its Wednesday nocturnal hours. After stopping by the random bits that we wanted to see, we decided to pass through the ever-crowded halls of large-format romantic paintings. Giant tableaux by French romanticism's heavy hitters - Delacroix, Ingres, David - abound. The richly painted ruby rooms are noisy and crowded but an eternal must-see.

Exhausted from a long day, difficulty sleeping and the wear of depression, I nearly collapsed on one of the large hall's giant leather ottomans. Sitting side-by-side with my brother an argument over something or another broke out between us. With my emotions intensified by everything that had happened over the last few days, I began to cry. There, with swarms of Japanese tourists and Parisian art students whizzing by, with giant walls covered with epic, larger-than-life paintings, I sat silently sobbing.

And the last thing I remember is my brother, without saying a word, putting his arm around me in the only gesture that could possibly matter.

20 July 2009

Paris Plage

Paris Plage began today along the banks of the Seine. Each year since 2001, the city of Paris sets up a makeshift beach along the Seine River from late July through mid-August. The "beach", complete with sand, palm trees, lounge chairs and more, occupies the walkway and stretch of highway along the right bank of the Seine.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Although it's not quite the real thing, Paris Plage offers a pretty great approximation of the beach for those who can't make it to the Mediterranean.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

It's a momentary oasis within bustle of urban Paris.

19 July 2009

Le Pont des Arts (selon le NY Times)

Read the New York Times' take on the Pont des Arts here.

Their vision is somehow even more romanticized than my own.

17 July 2009

Tarte aux pommes

I knew I had to do something French to celebrate Bastille Day, la fête national française, on Tuesday. While listening to bad French pop music and adolescently angsty French pop-rock was inevitable, I decided to try something a little more à la française: baking!

For my first foray into French baked goods, I chose a very simple, but tasty treat: la tarte aux pommes. During my year in Paris, I ate a number of wonderful apple tarts and it came to be one of my favorite French desserts. Combined with the fact it’s a cinch to make, the tart was a no-brainer choice. (The super easy recipe follows below).

I had a great time singing along to French songs and baking the tarte in my Parisian-sized kitchen. Oh, la nostalgie! Plus, my co-workers praised my tasty concoction.

It was nice to bring a bit of France to Columbus.


2-5 Golden Delicious apples (amount depends on size of apples and size of crust)
Lemon Juice (juiced yourself or purchased in those handy lemon-shaped containers)
2-3 tbs of Sugar
1 tsp of Cinnamon
2-3 tbs of melted margarine or butter
1 Pie Crust (you can make your own if you so desire)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel, core and slice as many apples as you’ll need to fill the crust. Brush the exposed parts of the apples with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles within the pie crust. Try to fit in as many slices as possible.

Sprinkle some of the sugar and cinnamon over the tart, then spoon the melted butter on top. Add the rest of the rest of the sugar and cinnamon and you’ve good-to-go.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the apples are golden brown.

Serve cool or warmed up with a dollop of strawberry Bonne Maman jam on top.

Voilà et bon appétit!

27 June 2009

Le Pont des Arts

Originally build in the early 19th century at which time it was the first metal bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts’ smooth, sparse arches span the Seine from the Louvre to an important looking building that will never be l’hotel de la Monnaie [the mint] no matter how many times I claim it is.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The subject of a George Brassens song, Le Vent, the Pont des Arts is classic, timeless, Parisian.

But at night, the bridge comes alive in a less savory way. Teenagers and college students of all nationalities flock its uncomfortable wooden slats for nighttime debauchery. Although it is mostly a popular spot for lycéens [high-school students] and lacks the authenticity of the Canal St. Martin and the class of the quays of the Seine, the crowded and tawdry bridge can still be a lot of fun.

I first visited the Pont des Arts under unusual and random circumstances back in November. You’ll remember the Chinese photography student named Marshall – with his too-skinny legs in his too-skinny jeans and his broken glasses taped together, seemingly par hazard but probably done just so to concoct and idealized artsy imagine – with whom Hannah had, bien sûr, made friends at the European Film Festival. When the last film of the night had been cancelled, Rebecca and I (somewhat reluctantly) and Hannah (inherently less so) took up Marshall’s offer of free entertainment for the evening. We ended up on the Pont des Arts drinking mini Kronenbourg bottles that Marshall had provided while he captured video for some sort of photography-related art project. It was an altogether bizarre but enjoyable evening that introduced us to the Pont des Arts camaraderie (I distinctly remember the blonde-haired, pink-cheeked French youth innocently offering up his white Dixie cup as he requested a bit of beer).

It seems only appropriate that my second and final encounter with Pont-des-Arts nightlife arrived on my final Saturday night in Paris. The experience occurred equally by hazard. I had spent an absolutely wonderful Saturday with friends. The day began at the Champs-Elysees stamp market (featured in Charade) where Rachel and I spent altogether too much money on old postcards. After lunch at Rachel’s place, as rain began to fall, the skies cleared and we met up with Rebecca and Amy for a lazy afternoon at a Marais café. Berthillon ice cream and a stroll along the quays of the Ile-St-Louis concluded the evening. We headed back to Rebecca’s place where she cooked us a lovely Frenchified American dinner. Stuffed and satisfied, we decided to venture back outside for a nocturnal stroll.

That is when, on a whim, we stopped chez Ed, the local épicier [grocer] – this time, we had to supply our own Kronenbourg – deciding to do the trashy American thing and join the crowds on the Pont des Arts. Rachel objected of course, but there was no stopping us. Why not enjoy such a warm summer’s eve among the drunken masses? The girl who puked mere feet before our original resting place on the bridge provided an adequate counterpoint, but we settled in elsewhere and managed to have a good night (plus, what Parisian night is not complete without a little public vomiting?).

With laptops, boom boxes, guitars and other instruments filling the air with the sounds of summer, we settled in to listen and observe. I particularly enjoyed a raucous version of the Cranberry’s “Zombie” and the mother who had brought her young daughter out to dance with the drunken guitarists. We applauded the cunning of Red Cross volunteers who swarmed the bridge looking for donations. We debated once again the function of that domed building that was not la Monnaie. We guessed and remarked upon who was American and who was not picking up multitude accents and languages. And I simply felt a part of something, there on the packed wooden slats.

There among something so un-American, so seemingly clandestine, four quiet, unassuming American girls sat, watched and listened, taking in for one of the last times (at least for me) the carefree breeziness of a Parisian night.

Paris pas cher

Interesting NY Times article on "Frugal Paris."

26 June 2009


Although it's an utterly bizarre video, the fact that Lily Allen's newest clip is partly set in Paris mades me unsurprisingly nostalgic.

Décalage horaire

Décalage horaire has always been one of my favorite French phrases; it means “jet lag,” but it seems to communicate something more. Horaire communicates the time element, but décalage means “gap” or “discrepancy.” A more literal translation might be “time discrepancy.”

This hidden sentiment within the French phrase seems to reveal the fact that there are more than just differences in time zones that change as we travel around the world. The fundamental way that we view time and its passage differ from one place to another.

Although I’ve long ago adjusted to the jet lag I at first suffered from upon returning home – waking up at the obscene hour of 6 a.m. each morning was irritating for this night owl – I still seem to suffer from this “time discrepancy.” I’m back in the U.S., but I am judging the world around me by the French paradigm that I came to understand and appreciate.

I am sure Columbus is a lovely city, but it just doesn’t stack up to my Parisian ideals. Likewise, I am having trouble adjusting to my 40-hour work week. One of the things that I loved about Paris was how secondary work seemed to be to them. Some may call the French lazy, but this indifference to their jobs showed how much they truly valued the important things in life. They worked, but they always found time to spend a leisurely afternoon at a café or stroll through the park. I have yet to master the art of striking that balance.

24 May 2009

Chez Monet

Friday I ventured again outside the périphérique with my friend Rachel to see the beautiful house and garden of Claude Monet in the charming Normand town of Giverny. This post is mostly an excuse to show off some stunning photographs, which still do not at all capture the vibrancy of the real thing, but I will try to recount my lovely day in words as well.

After just a 45 minute train ride, we were
transported into the quaint and spirited region of Normandy. A pleasant (although hot under the beating sun) five-kilometer walk brought us into the delightfully pretty town of Giverny, home to Claude Monet from 1883 to his death in 1926. The tiny village swarmed with tourists, and we had to wait nearly two hours to enter the Fondation Claude Monet, the artist’s former home and gardens. The wait, however, was well worth it, and pleasant company helped to pass the time.

Once inside the gardens, we were overwhelmed by the colors and smells of rows and rows of beautiful and diverse blossoms. The flowers were each so stunning and lively; the colors were so vivid and striking. As the sun continued to beat down, we took shelter in the Japanese garden portion of the grounds. Bamboo shaded pacific paths besides trickling streams. Tranquility reigned in this iconic garden where Monet’s water lilies were found.

The colors of Monet’s house, especially the dining room and kitchen, were almost as vibrant as the gardens, although the crowd in the house made it a bit difficult to take it all in peacefully.
Throwing a final envious look over the full and flowering garden, we stopped by the bookshop for some postcards and headed out.

We visited Monet’s grave in a calm, little cemetery. Then we found a pleasant little field in which to enjoy our picnic before embarking on the heat- and sun-filled walk back to the train station and our ultimate ride back home to Paris.

In all, it was a lovely day and an unforgettable sight and experience. What a wonderful start to my amazing last weekend here in Paris.

19 May 2009

Je reviendrai

I had my end-of-the-year language evaluation yesterday, and I have to say that I think it confirmed what I've been feeling. Sure, I made a number of fautes [mistakes], but I could feel the change in my tone of voice, my gestures and my rhythm. I felt completely comfortable speaking French.

And that's how I've come to feel about my year here. It's only just recently that I've become fully comfortable with my surroundings: Paris, France, French, etc. This makes it all the more unfortunate that I have to leave so soon. I am increasingly jealous of my friends who are staying for the summer or even for just a month - anything to extend the experience and delay the inevitable.

But one day, we'll come back. It will never be the same...we'll never have the same liberty, the same naivete, the freetime, but we'll find a way. Several months ago, I would have said that my abroad experience had satisified my desire to explore Paris; I probably would even have said that I didn't feel a strong urge to come back in the future. But, oh so suddenly, something has changed. Perhaps it's the inevitablity of my return, but I am now hoping and dreaming that I can find someway to live in Paris again, no matter how briefly.

12 May 2009


I don’t know when it happened.

…but suddenly I feel like I can speak French.

Yes, I’ve been claiming I could all along, but it was a mere mirage au début.

I wish I could remember the exact moment.
I would love to recall how it happened.
I don’t really know how to explain it.
Something has changed in me and I don’t know what it is.

France, tu m’as changée, tu m'as touchée
…mais je ne peux pas l’expliquer ni en anglais ni en français.
France, you’ve changed me, you’ve moved me
…but I can’t explain it neither in English, nor in French.

09 May 2009


VE Day tradition?

To my surprise, I stumbled upon a group of French guys playing American football on the grass near les Invalides today. The mere sight of an American football was enough to pique my interest.

Despite their best efforts, they seemed to be having a bit of trouble with the rules. There were a number of illegal forward passes attempted and even they couldn’t decide if it was legal or not to push someone out of bounds. They appeared to be having a good time though so who would want to spoil their fun.

Aux « States »

As my time in Paris comes increasingly closer to its definitive end (I have but three glorious weeks left here), time runs short and my list of obligations and expectations runs long. I expect these next three weeks to be jammed full of homework, studying and profiting from my last few moments in France. I don’t anticipate having too much time to write about it all, but do not fear my faithful reader(s): I will use my impeccable memory and first few nostalgic days back home to recount it all. So look for more updates after the first of the month.

In the meantime, to quell my return anxiety and remind myself of the wonderful things back home (you know, besides family and friends and stuff) in the States, here are some of the silly American things I am desperately looking forward to:

Cinnamon Life cereal
Deep-dish pizza
Free refills
24-hour supermarkets and stores open on Sundays
Reliable libraries
Prevalent public restrooms

27 April 2009

Panoramas de la mer

Accompanying text describing my wonderful spring break adventures in the South of France will hopefully soon follow, but since I actually have homework to do, pictures will have to do for now. Here’s a couple from each of the beautiful places we visited:




Ile d’If

(with my lovely travel companions)

12 April 2009

Un peu de psychanalyse

My anxiety about eventually leaving Paris is mounting. I have less than two months left, and even those two months will blow quickly by considering the next 10 days will be dedicated to travel and the two weeks after that will be busy with the bountiful papers and presentations I have due. By that point, it will be mid-May, exams will be approaching and my year will be winding down – so soon!

It appears that this anxiety has been manifesting itself in my dreams. Elaborate and convoluted, my dreams rarely make much sense, but they do often shed light on my present psychological state. Lately I’ve been having a reoccurring dream (each time the scenery and the events are a bit different, but the scenario ends up being pretty similar) where I find myself back in the U.S. about to start my senior year; except, instead of being at Smith, I’m back in high school. I didn’t hate high school enough for this to be an out-and-out nightmare, but it’s a disorienting and worrisome experience.

Anyway, it’s not really my high school: some teachers and students from Rockford do surface, but there are also people from my present there with me. It’s also not clear that I am in a high school. The atmosphere is either loosely defined or reminiscent of a combination of campuses, including that of Université Paris Diderot. But I do know I am in high school because of that magical dream sensation that tells you where you are and what’s going on without ever really telling you.

Although these dreams aren’t nightmarish, they quickly become disconcerting and frustrating. Even though I am the same age as those around me, I do feel like I am too old to be in high school. Likewise, I quickly tire of the patronizing manner in which the members of the administration treat us (in the most recent dream, I stood up during a beginning of the year assembly – taking place in a room that looked a lot like Amphi 11 in the Halles aux farines of Diderot – and expressed my disgust with the infantile treatment we were receiving and the unnecessary information that was being conveyed to us). Lastly, I seem to have already studied all of the material that is to be presented in my classes. In bringing this up to the teachers, I am either ignored or mildly scolded for having read or studied or done too much.

Now, what could this all mean? I think it’s certainly a reflection on the fact that I view returning to Smith next year as a step backward from the independence and personal progress that I have made while here in Paris. Additionally, it may be reflecting a frustration at the prospect of facing the maternalistic bureaucracy of the college. The dream may also be commenting on the fact that I will be studying a number of texts that I have studied before in the classes that I have chosen for next year. My subconscious potentially views this repetition as a reflection on my education: I have already studied all there is to study (not even remotely true) so why should I return to Smith?

The dream generally seems to convey the sentiment that I will be out-of-place and out-of-sorts when I eventually return home. This is something that I’ve been ruminating on for some time. I don’t know if it will show itself to be true or not, and I won’t be able to find out until I have made it back.

In the meantime, I will keep dreaming – and analyzing what comes out.

11 April 2009

Quatre villes charmantes

It is now officially April (and, in fact has been for some time – I’ve been a bit behind on my blogging) and Paris is full of signs of spring: brilliantly green leaves have popped up as if overnight on the trees lining the city’s Haussmannian boulevards, Parisians are flocking to green spaces to pass lazy afternoons on the grass (I should know; I spend a lovely afternoon among the groups of young people lounging about the Place des Vosges) and night doesn’t fall until well after 8 p.m. This lovely transition from the chill and dampness of winter makes it even more difficult to concentrate on the massive amount of work that keeps piling up. It’s equally hard to image ever leaving this beautifully blossoming city, although I will be doing so all too soon (My flight delivers me back to the other side of the Atlantic on May 30).

I believe this all explains why I haven’t recorded my thoughts here in a while, but I decided to use a quick minute, just days before I leave for spring break in the south of France, to catch up on my amazing experiences. In the last few weeks, I’ve visited four enchanting cities beyond Paris:

Amiens Less than an hour and a half from Paris by train, Amiens, I’ve decided, would be an excellent place to live. One could experience the charm and tranquility of quaint small-town life yet remain a mere train-ride from the excitement of Paris. Amiens certainly had a lot to offer in the realm of charm. The plentiful canals of the Saint-Leu district earn the town’s nickname as the “Little Venice of the North.” The Victorian houses (including Jules Verne’s) of the Henriville area create a cozy, old-world feel. And like every other French city, the centre-ville is a shopper-friendly pedestrian area with all the stores one would expect. Amien’s centerpiece, an enormous 13th-century cathedral twice the size of Notre-Dame de Paris, caps the town’s charm with a detailed and awe-inspiring beauty; it may be the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. I can’t forget to mention the excellent galettes my mom and I ate at a crêperie along the river: my mom’s contained ratatouille and chicken and mine, goat’s cheese, tomato and honey.

Boulogne-sur-mer A rainy and cold first day in a deserted Boulogne-sur-mer left me disappointed with my travel decision, but a sunny and pleasant second day more than made up for the unfavorable conditions of the first. The old fortified, hilltop town of Boulogne-sur-mer provides a haven of history and tranquility amongst the activity of this modern port. Throughout our visit, we walked the circumference of the historic town’s walls, which gave excellent views onto the city and English Channel beyond. We also visited the city’s musée des beaux arts, housed in a former castle, and the more modern basilica. Our walk to the beach was a bit miserable the first day due to the gale-force winds and occasional moments of drizzle. When we returned to the beach the second day, however, the wind was gone and with the sun shining, it was a perfect afternoon for walking the beach and collecting shells. A number of the town’s inhabitants had the same idea and the pier and harbor were busy with families out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. We joined the families to order hamburgers and fries from stands along the channel and enjoyed a lunch in the sun before boarding our train back to Paris.

Bruxelles Just last weekend, my friend Rebecca and I caught the train to Belgium for a weekend of unabashed tourism. We started out in Brussels, which is a mere hour and a half from Paris by the lightning-fast Thalys train. With the help of an irreverently hip free map from our hostel and the advice of our friend who spent a semester in Belgium, we wandered the city, hitting the major sites of the centre-ville like Manneken Pis (an adorably tiny statue of a little boy peeing), the Grand Place and the Royal Palace. We also took the time to enjoy the Musée des beaux arts where we admired the fantastical images of Bosch and the overwhelming tableaus of Rubens. We even indulged our love for Tintin at the Comic Museum. Of course, we also ate waffles and chocolate and enjoyed a beer before dinner. I very much enjoyed the intricate and whimsical architecture of the city which made it so very different from Paris. The numerous open plazas also promoted a sociability and openness that made such a huge European capital seem friendly and welcoming.

Bruges The real Venice of the north, Bruges is an enclosed, canal filled town that feels more like a Disney attraction than an actual municipality. Each street, each storefront, each corner is as picturesque as the next, and even on the chilly, cloud-filled day of our visit, its charm shined through. Rebecca and I followed our guidebook’s walking tour which led us past a number of delightful canals, adorable facades and historic buildings to its end at the serene Béguinage, a daffodil-filled courtyard surrounded by cute Bruges houses. Along the way, we snacked on a cornet of fries and sampled some more chocolate. The highlight of the visit (besides the sheer beauty of it all) was emerging from dinner to join the crowd on the Markt plaza for a free outdoor Belgian rock concert.

31 March 2009

Les bonnes promeneuses

I’m happy to report that I had, for the most part, a great time with my mom while she was here in Paris with me for a little over a week. In addition to exploring nearly all of Paris on foot, we took a weekend vacation by train to Amiens and Boulogne-sur-mer – an excellent experience that I hope to write more about later.

It was a bit surreal to have someone so assuredly part of my American life here in my Parisian life (almost as surreal as the wonderful afternoon I shared today with a friend from high school that I have hardly talked to in two years who was visiting Paris on her spring break from studies in Scotland).

It was, however, incredibly rewarding to share Paris with such an eager and excited visitor, even if I am a bit of a lacking tour guide.

We did so much in our short time together that it’s almost impossible to recount it all. I guess I should have kept a journal like my mom. Since I’m a very visual person, I have plotted the majority of our Parisian walking adventures below.

Friday, March 20: Jardin du Luxembourg, L'Ile-de-St.-Louis, Le Marais

Saturday, March 21: Promenade plantée, Canal Saint-Martin, Parc des buttes-Chaumont

Sunday, March 22: Montmartre, Montparnasse, Le Champo-Espace Jacques Tati

Monday, March 23: Jardin des Tuileries, Rue de Rivoli

Tuesday, March 24: Galléries Lafayette, Place de Vendôme, Trocadéro, La tour Eiffel, Montparnasse

Thursday, March 26: Le 6e arrondissement

I imagine that you now understand why the week was fatiguing. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time to recover before I head off to Belgium with my friend Rebecca on Friday. But with April upon us, I’d rather be head-spinningly dizzy that get a goodnight’s sleep.

All maps copyright of Google and Tele Atlas.