Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Final Post

Yes, it's true. I am no longer a Parisite...I'm back in that place to which all roads lead. Living across from a stadium instead of the Jardin du Luxembourg, down the street from Byrne Dairy instead of Notre Dame. Still, I'm happy to be home.

I didn't think it'd turn out this way, but whenever I see the Tour Eiffel on the front of my so-called travel journal, I feel a tiny stab of homesickness. People ask me what I miss most about Paris, and I either stutter and sputter or say something prepared. But there's no one word, not even one sentence, that can describe Paris and put it into perspective as efficiently as being there. It's beautiful. Expensive. Full of baguettes. Historic. A pedestrian paradise. Like a trip back in time, even if you're not watching Minuit à Paris. (Oh, and by the way, a friend of mine saw Midnight in Paris and saw the theatre she was sitting in in the movie! One of many good Paris stories.)

I just can't do Paris justice when I write about it.
I'll tell you one thing, though. Nothing beats walking five steps out of your chez-moi and going into a café, or crossing the street and entering a garden filled with statues and flowers, or going up to the roof and looking out over the most beautiful city in the world.

What I miss most about being in Paris is...being in Paris.

What I DON'T miss is how expensive everything is there. What I REALLY DON'T MISS are flying and missing my family. I'm totally okay with not flying for another year— although, being the enormous travel glutton that I am, I'll probably change my mind in a few months. But it couldn't be nicer to see the people I love again. I just wish my friends here could have met my Paris friends, many of whom are going home themselves, back to Britain, Slovakia, Germany, Turkey and...Albany, Long know, all the exotic lands. Just like where I live.

So what else is there to say? If you can go abroad for a semester, do it. Don't think about it. Just do it. And if you go to Paris, check out the Musée d'Art Moderne and the Absinthe museum for me. AND the aquarium at Trocadero, AND the Bois de Boulogne, because I didn't get to go there either. Don't try to go everywhere and do everything. Find the things that sound the most fun (or in my case, the most delicious) and meet some people worth keeping in touch with for the rest of your life.

I was lucky enough to.

And when you're in Paris, say hi for me. Tell them I'll be back soon.

À bientôt!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grand Arche and Centre Pompidou

As promised in the last post, here are photos of the Grand Arche (that's me at the bottom trying to look like I'm in The Sound of Music). I don't know why they came out so small. It doesn't really have the right effect...but anyway, the photos are here courtesy of the lovely Maeghan Dolan.

And here's one from Pompidou, courtesy of the wonderful Vanessa Silva. It's me and Darth Vader's helmet.

And those down there are photos of Pompidou I found on the internet. Yes, this bizarre structure that's kind of reminiscent of a McDonald's playground or some extra-terrestrial jungle gym is indeed a museum, one that I highly recommend you visit if you're ever in Paris. That caterpillar-like tunnel going up the side is the escalator you take to the top to see the amazing view, where they play the weird tribal humming noises. The inside of the place is even more amazing!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Last Days in Paris

Boy was it sunny today. I went for a long walk to say bye to the Marais and my favorite frozen yogurt place (myberry), but I didn't get any yogurt/berries because the line was so long. It would have been worth the wait, but I didn't have the patience. Plus it was really hot. I also said goodbye to the Palais Royal, the Louvre and the Pont des Arts. Louvre and Pont des Arts have been frequent hosts to me in the last month or so, and I'll miss them. I also went to Shakespeare and Co. a last time to sell some paperbacks I don't have room for in my suitcase.
Yesterday I hung out with the small group of my Sorbonne buddies that are still here in Paris. I don't remember what we did though, because it's hot and I'm tired.
Okay, so I do remember.

First we walked through the Latin Quarter and got food near Notre Dame, then we went to the Marais to indulge my myberry addiction. Then we took métro line 1 to La Défense, which is a REALLY TOTALLY AWESOME part of Paris. I highly recommend going if you're ever in Paris. It's cool and strangely beautiful, and it doesn't take a lot of time (unless you go shopping in the mall above the metro stop). I guess it's the business district; everything is concrete and metal. It's like being in the future. Like that episode of Spongebob where everything is made of crome.
Anyone remember that?
We hung out for a little bit under this huge crazy thing called the Grand Arche, took pictures with a giant thumb, and so on and so forth. I'll post pictures from my friends Vanessa and Maeghan when they show up on Facebook.

We also listened to stories about crazy French host families, but I'm not going to publish them here. Most French people are pretty cool, actually...but you're as likely to find weird families here as anywhere else in the world. And I mean really, everyone's family is a little weird, so who am I to judge the habits of others? There are a lot of cultural differences with houses and families between France and the US though; I know one of the first things I learned about French culture was that French families are very private. If you visit for dinner, it's not normal to get a tour of the house or offer to help in the kitchen, with dishes, etc. And of course there's the matter of shutters; every night everyone closes their shutters. It's not like at home where I can watch the neighbor's big screen TV through his bay window. The point is, there are lots of little differences, and sometimes they add up.
Personally I'm happy I didn't live with a family; I was wary of it mainly because of the price. Don't get me wrong, it's a great idea for some, and it likely would have been better for my French. But having a French roommate helped a lot as well, and I really liked the dorm I lived in (it's Foyer International, for those interested). I had a great roomie, made great friends, and was in one of the best possible locations.

So back to yesterday's events. After La Défense, we hopped back on the métro and strolled through Montmartre, and after passing by a sketchy massage place, an erotic supermarket (that's really what it was called) and some blatantly named Sex Shops, I finally saw Moulin Rouge and the café from Amelie! After that I went home and got a delicious egg and cheese crêpe. Definitely gonna miss those.

At this point, the most important places that were on my Paris checklist have been checked. Admittedly I didn't go to all of the museums I've wanted; in Paris I've really only seen Louvre, D'Orsay, Carnavalet (which is FREE for EVERYONE) and Pompidou. While I'll always have a softspot for the Louvre, I think my favorite artwork AND my favorite view of Paris is in Pompidou. There's a lot of Picasso, as well as some crazy interactive exhibits and furniture art and all kinds of stuff. That didn't come out very articulately. I guess the best way to put it is that the whole thing is like a Stanley Kubrick movie, with all kinds of bright colors, weird chairs and crazy stuff going on. If you take the escalator up to the top of the museum, your eyes and ears are assaulted with both the view of Paris and these bizarre sounds coming from speakers in the clear plexiglass tunnel you're in. In this museum, ALL of the senses are incorporated into the art, especially with this one exhibit that was made of suffocating insulation.
Okay, I still can't explain it. Pictures will be in the next post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Save Tonight...

At the moment I'm sitting in my room, with 5 days left here in Paris, eating delicious dark chocolate and drinking lait frais. Also, the walls are so thin here that I was just able to hear my neighbor tell her roommate, "Oh, a bird pooped on my face today!"
Anyway, I spent most of the day gorging myself because once I leave Paris, I'm only going to be eating healthy things. You know, mango...paella...because I'll be in BARCELONA. I didn't get enough the last time, so I want to go see one more flamenco show and take a few more walks down La Rambla and get some quality beach time in! But before I leave France, I'll be doing some writing, as I did today in the Jardin accompanied by my gouda, baguette, and the good fortune to run into some of my Sorbonne friends before we all leave Paris. It was a beautiful day, so I took the time to eat and to think of some things. So here are some items I mused on today. (Mused on? Mused about? I can't even speak English anymore. Er, write it. See?)

Item One: Contradictions. All cultures, all of humanity, each and every person comes with contradictions. The French are no exception. Aside from some of the more obvious questions— How do they eat so much rich food and stay so slender? How do they smoke so much yet live so long? How do they drink so often without becoming alcoholics?— I didn't find myself asking much about the French. As time went on though, cultural mysteries did emerge.
Take for instance, nudity. (It's the biggest one I can think of at the moment.) In interviews with European actors and actresses I always read how nudity is no big deal here. And in Paris, you'll see male joggers in shorts so terribly short that in the US one would cover their eyes and call the Fashion Police. You'll see unshielded breasts on posters and magazine covers on display for all to see everywhere in the city. And on various lawns in various gardens and parks, it's not uncommon to see couples, well, practically having sex. In fact, it doesn't have to be in a garden; once my friends and I saw a woman straddling her man on the steps of a museum. There's no problem whatsoever with PDA (probably another reason people come to Paris to fall in love, right?). All of this stuff is fine, and one quickly becomes accustomed to it after living here.
So what's the confusion? Though all of the above is pretty normal, a low cut shirt can get you some dirty looks. And it doesn't just apply to those of the full, croissant-induced figure like myself; you can be thin and in good shape and still get looks of disapproval. And while right now as I'm writing this in the Jardin du Luxembourg, I can see a woman lying in the sun in her bra, I see very few women wearing small tops or belly shirts when I walk through Paris. Yes, it's something I notice, and I think a lot of women's hard not to think about what other people are wearing, especially when you're in the Fashion Capital of the World.
Bottom line? It seems that topless is fine, but cleavage is frowned upon. Well, okay. Who am I to question the French?
I think that many contradictions I've observed that had to do with French people and culture may have stemmed from a love of arguing. No, not my love of arguing, but that of the French. This doesn't apply to all French people of course, but there's definitely a trend of being dramatic and argumentative. It makes life more entertaining, more interesting. Usually it's just little things. A friend asked a bus driver to stop when we took a weekend trip, and he and our program director spent some time saying how it would take too much time, it would be completely out of the way...and then, when we stopped, it wasn't out of the way at all. I've seen girls in my foyer become momentarily angry about noise in a library or a spilled drink. One girl seemed furious with me when I took her clothes out of the washer (well after it had finished) and merely put them on top of the machine instead of in her clothing bag. But just a few minutes later, she was offering to knock on my door when my own laundry load was finished. It ends very quickly, but in that moment one can get very intimidated. I have a French teacher back home who came from France and married an American man, and she told us once that many French people just tend to sound more aggressive. In fact, when her husband overheard she and her friends talking, he'd often ask if they were arguing, but they weren't. They just have very intense discussions. And as I understand it, even when they do argue, it's only the mark of a strong relationship. It really makes you think, doesn't it? In the US it's frowned upon to argue in public because it shows weakness; in France, it shows strength, that the relationship can withstand differences.

Item Two: The End
(directly from my France Journal)
As I lie here in the grass, staring up at the sky just above the green and perfectly manicured trees of the Jardin, a plane is flying overhead. The white trail behind it stretches out and disappears, and I wonder where it's going. I'm reminded of my own flight home in just two weeks, leaving Paris and Europe for who knows how long.
Did I make the most of it here?
I don't know it I mentioned this earlier in the blog, but throughout the semester (including last night) I've had dreams and nightmares in which I'm home. In the nightmares, I'm confused and home far too soon, the whole experience having been for nothing. I think I have this fear of not living life to the fullest, but then I try to reassure myself that "to the fullest" is a relative concept. Right?
In the regular dreams, I'm with my family or friends in my hometown and I'm looking around, thinking, "I'm really's really all over. I'm really back here again," and then I wonder if I did enough while I was here.
One thing I wish I'd done a little more was go to museums, because my European Student ID (valid til Friday) grants me free admission. That's right. I've been to the Louvre five times, all free. Most of them were just to study (not sure if it did any good), and once was to investigate the claims of The Da Vinci Code about a couple paintings. Also I had to see where they hid the Holy Grail.
Next to me, there's a group of students sitting together. One's playing guitar and singing a French song. I'll miss small things like this.
I wish I'd gone to Chartres to see the stained glass and the Orangerie for Monet's paintings, but it's not going to keep me up at night. I suppose I could have branched out of my neighborhood more often, but "to be fair" (as my British comrades would say) my neighborhood IS the Latin Quarter, and such a nice place to wander around. The neighboring Marais isn't bad, either.

NOTE: I'll be talking a lot about the Marais in my next post!

Plus, who wants to take the metro when it's warm and sunny and you're in PARIS?
I'd say I wish I'd done more yoga or paid more attention to fitness, but to be honest, I don't. Sure, I wish I were immune to the charms of French carbs and cheese and chocolate, but my time here was limited. I don't regret a single piece of brioche, pain au chocolat, or baguette.

This city has such a wide and varied palette, yet such a particular personality, that it's not necessarily about the towers, museums and old houses you visit (although they're certainly worth seeing). It's about soaking up the Parisian vibe, the way of life, the ambiance. That might come with a little lung damage, some broken sandals, some long nights of walking home when you've missed the last metro (or soreness from running to catch it), and some linguistic confusion from switching between French, English, franglais, or whatever you speak. I actually forgot the words "well done" last week while ordering a burger and could only say "bien cuite" instead. But it's all worth it.

Item Three: Last Night.
My friend Sarah, one of the best and closest friends I've made here in Paris, is leaving tomorrow morning. I can't say how much I'll miss talking to her or how much I've appreciated her company without sounding like a total pansy, so I'll just say her friendship has been important to me this semester. For her last big night out, we all (me, Sarah, Sinead, Jessica, Christiana and Barbara— all great friends, all from different places) went to an aptly-named place called Student Bar on the fabulous Rue Mouffetard. They have Happy Hour from 16h-22h (4-10pm), and all drinks during that time are 4.50 euros— super cheap for Paris. Go there, run! Then we went to another bar in the Latin Quarter cluster between Notre Dame and Blvd St. Germain. Aside from getting drinks and having a chat, we also listened to a little live music. All the songs were American ones, which made some of the lyrics the French singer sang funny to hear. It was all kind of perfect, especially when they played this Eagle Eye Cherry song I hadn't heard in possibly 8-10 years. It was pretty apropos for the end of the semester.

It's going to be pretty sad, and a little tough, to leave. But I miss my family, my friends, and my cat, and can't wait to see them. Also I miss driving. There's no need to drive here, and frankly, I don't know why anyone would want to drive through Paris. But I miss cruising through my hometown or driving to my grandparents' house or even to school. I've missed my piano, too. There's one in Shakespeare and Co, but it's not in the greatest condition. I'll appreciate a lot of weird, random things when I get home, and I'll miss others. You know, like having an H+M within walking distance. Not to mention Notre Dame. Oh, and the bakeries around every corner.
And the cheese. And the museums. Okay, I'd better stop now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quoi j'ai appris, ici à Paris

The grammar final is Saturday (I have two others before that, for which I'm clearly not studying sufficiently) and I think, little by little, my grammar teacher is going slightly mad from our inability to retain all the teeny tiny grammar technicalities. I can hear it in her voice when she tries to patiently explain answers to us— she says something like "Mais non, c'est 'du,' pas 'son,'" but what she really means is "HOW CAN YOU STILL NOT KNOW THIS STUFF? How can you not have LEARNED that yet?!" The poor woman. This brings up a few things for me...what I'm going to remember about this experience, what I've observed about French teachers, and some thoughts on education.
Since about a year and a half ago when I started taking French seriously, I've wondered how French people can teach us and repeatedly listen to students butcher language...let alone do it with patience and understanding. With English, it seems to me as though there are already so many accents out there that it's almost difficult to butcher the sounds. But with French, there's such a specific sound to it that it takes a very particular way of speaking and mouth-moving, and sometimes it seems as though students barely even try. Granted it can sometimes be exhausting, but if you've made it all the way to Paris just to try and improve your French, you might as well put in some effort.
Of course, it can be pretty rough for students, too, and all the particulars of grammar don't help. But I still can't help but wonder what the teachers go through. My first grammar teacher seemed to go too fast; my current one usually goes at a better pace for me, and once in a while she has to go haltingly slow because of confusion. She finally told one girl, who spoke French the same way most of us did in high school (as in, seeming fearful of using the accent...actually caring about the language would have been uncool back in the day), that she really needed to work on her pronunciation. For me it was welcome; my pronunciation isn't so great but even I flinch when I hear someone speak French with, say, an American valley-girl accent or sounding as though they're speaking Spanish instead, or saying "par fett" when the teacher clearly says "par fay." Things like that.
Once, a few weeks ago, I was listening to a friend-of-a-British-friend (possibly my favorite accent when it comes to English-speakers, aside from the one Ya-Ya Sisterhood) recount a terrible experience she had when, in the middle of a French presentation (or exposé) the professor stopped her just a couple minutes in and said he couldn't stand her accent and would only give her a minute to sum up the rest of the presentation.
What a nightmare! It's scary enough giving a presentation, and scarier giving it in another language. I was shocked by her awful story, and yet...a part of me can't believe things like that don't happen more often. From what I've seen and heard, teachers here in France can be much harsher than teachers in the US (even those who have come from France). Coddling students isn't going to happen. One of my professors, after a student finished his presentation, told him in front of the class that it hadn't been very important or interesting. It was simultaneously terrifying and entertaining. Maybe if US high school teachers could say things like this to students, they'd be a lot less stressed out/prone to burn out. Or if they could just swear. I know it helps a lot of college professors.
There's also a great deal of announcing grades to the class, which isn't good for me these days because I'm less and less focused on schoolwork and more and more focused on eating bread and cheese by the Seine. Which, by the way, is a disgusting river. Beautiful, but disgusting, and filled with plastic bags and tennis balls and all kinds of stuff. And what's more is that it isn't just announcing a number, it's often accompanied by "What happened?!" It's hard to say with certainty whether this is better or worse, especially if you're an advocate of that Tiger Mother book— the tough love way of teaching might force students to do better. We lazy Americans can be just that, lazy. Maybe we need a push. Or maybe this way of doing things is more likely to form negative associations with education; fear, anger, pressure, stress....oh wait, we already have all that anyway. I've been having my doubts about the education system in general since...we, since the sixth grade, but also since I saw this video.

The version that I saw but was unable to find begins with a valedictorian giving a high school graduation speech, who admits that she's scared now that she's graduating, because she has been trained not to have a productive, thoughtful mind that retains information and rebuilds it in creative ways, but simply to succeed. To get good grades and be on top and memorize stuff only to discard it later and make room for new stuff. And then this part, with the drawing and elaboration came on. It's pretty interesting, and anyone who has recently attended high school can probably relate.

Teachers have to put up with a lot. In fact, it's amazing that they don't have more outbursts and breakdowns. And I'm not even going to get into what happens when teachers burn out and stop caring, or worse, when they stop caring about certain students. At least the civilization teacher who announces bad grades and boring presentations is equally indifferent/argumentative (I guess it's a French thing) to all of us.
Anyway, coming back to the whole not having retained enough French grammar's just like the valedictorian in the video I described says. I've been conditioned to hold information long enough to get a good grade...and then, it seems, I forget. And while there are plenty of students out there who remember much better than I, I have a feeling that there are more who toss information they don't care about once they don't have to use it anymore. I only remember stuff that I'm interested in (if I'm lucky), which means that what I remember from high school is limited to the adventures and relationships of my friends and me, which books I liked in lit classes, dropping an egg from the main stairwell for a physics course, and what happened on Lost. I also remember which teachers seemed to actually care about the students, and I remember the food I ate in French class, which was, by the way, one of the best classes with one of the best teachers.

So, here's a tiny bit of insight on this program I'm in, this experience I'm having abroad...

What will I remember learning here in Paris? The streets and how to get around, the food, the best things to see at the Louvre, maybe some history. I'll remember meeting really great people from all over the world. I'll remember the creepy guy who tried to kiss Sarah by the Seine, and the other creepy guy that Sarah and I saw pee on a tree in broad daylight facing traffic. I'll remember my first (and only) terrible, terrible hangover— hey, if you've got to learn that lesson, you may as well learn it in Paris. I'll remember eating way too much bread, chocolate, and for some reason, mentos. The places I've traveled to. Chasing the RER. Spotting Kanye West and Ben Affleck. Osama, Obama, Trump. Crêpes and gelato and coffee. I'll certainly remember speaking lots of bad French, and the culture? Of course I'll remember that. But I won't remember anything from French grammar, and it's doubtful that a lot of information on the European Union will stick, either. As far as I can tell, Paris is the best city in the world. It's a great city for all things French. But if you want to improve your French, it might be a better idea to take classes IN French that involve learning, reading, writing and discussion of subjects that interest you.
Of course, if French grammar is what interests you most, then you're in business.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Avant de Partir, Une Promenade, et Madrid

I know, it's been a while, and I am a lazy, lazy blob. I've been getting back in the swing of classes only to realize that I have only two weeks left (even less as of today). Pretty soon I'll be re-packing my bags, saying goodbye to my Paris friends, and making my Facebook status that Green Day song.
The weather is beautiful ici a Paris, and it's getting increasingly difficult to sit still in my grammar classes. In the past couple weeks I've been scrambling to speak French with whoever I can, stuffing my face, spending frivolously, trying to see what's left to see (as if one could ever run out in Paris), and trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to pack everything. Yesterday after class, I bought a pair of overpriced but comfy sandals that BETTER last the rest of the month that I'm here. This obviously means that I don't need my socks anymore and either pack them or leave them behind. My winter stuff is already packed...once I solve these problems, all that's left is to pray that American Airlines does a better job with my luggage than Delta did.
This week and next week are crunchtime for me; review and finals through May 21st! So I have to study, or whatever. But I figured I'd put up another looong post before I neglect the blog for another couple of weeks, as well as the unposted Madrid post. (Post. What a weird word, shouldn't it be pronounced pahst? Like in pasta? But then I guess there's "most"...pardon, I don't really sleep anymore. When I get home I'm probably going to go into a coma. Or maybe start a Fight Club.)

Future posts:
-what I've missed and will miss
-what I wish I'd done, and what I recommend most
-what I think about my study abroad program

May 8th:
It's hard to believe, but finally my feet are clean after 4 hours walking the streets of Paris in flip flops. I'm just going to have to get another pair of 12 euro shoes, flats or sandals, at the tiny shoestand (I don't know what else to call it, it's not big enough to be a store) a few doors down. Today, my friend Sarah and I knocked out four places on my Paris to-do list. And since I'll have an extra week to do that once my exams are done, I guess I'm going to have to put the list on hold this week, in order (shudders).
But in case you were curious, here are the places we saw today-

La Madeleine

Isn't she glorious? It's a church, even though it looks more like a place where they'd hold government meetings in Athens. According to my illustrated MapEasy map, they changed their minds about La Madeleine's function 4 times before finally deciding it would be a church. Pretty beautiful inside, too, though in my opinion nothing will ever compare to Notre Dame.

Place Vendôme

It didn't quite look like this when we went- it was during the day and sunny. But it was still quite something. Sadly I do not know the history behind it, my apologies. Apparently it's a popular spot for celebrities, which isn't surprising since it's where the Paris Ritz is as well as some designer shops like Dior.

La Galerie Vivienne

An absolutely lovely hall of shops and cafes, recommended to me by my friend Joan. Since we went on a Sunday, almost all of them were closed save for one café. But it was perfect for window shopping, which was for the best...that's all we could afford, I think.

And last, but certainly not least, Le Palais Royal.

There's a lot to the Palais Royal...shops, art, gardens, this courtyard area of "modernist columns" which was designed by (looks up) Daniel Buren,'s all very good for walking. If you watched Charade from my Paris movie list, the climactic ending scenes take place around and inside the Palais Royal. Obviously I had to go there. It's incredible, with adorable artwork and beautiful gardens. I think it's one of my favorite places I've visited. Sadly I couldn't figure out which pillars were the ones that Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Walter Mathau hid behind. I'll have to watch the movie again and go back.

I walked back to our foyer and took a route through Place de la Concorde, the Jardin du Tuileries (where I bought some Amorino...might I recommend banana, coconut and chocolate together?), past le Musée D'Orsay and le Louvre, across the Pont des Arts...
...which is my favorite bridge in Paris, a pedestrian bridge in front of l'Hotel des Monnaies...there's always a lot going on there. Also it's where Carrie and Big finally end up together in the Sex and the City series finale.
Don't let anyone tell you that Paris isn't the perfect place to fall in love, even if it's just with the city itself.

Then I walked past Ile de la Cité (where Notre Dame and the Conciergerie are) down past the St Michel fountain, La Sorbonne itself, the Pantheon and the Jardin du Luxembourg. What I'm trying to say, again, is that there's no way to walk through central Paris without passing through something famous and beautiful.

But if you'd like to hear about some lesser known places, this weekend a couple friends and I went to an American 50s' style diner, appropriately called the Happy Days Diner. My roomie Imene and her friend Aliya introduced me to this place a couple months back, and they have some amazing burgers (we ate the messy but delicious Avocado Burger) and some decent appetizers too. They did American food just as well as Americans, if not better.

As for churches, I'm lately a regularly visitor of St. Sulpice (it's in The Da Vinci Code, in case you were wondering) and its beautiful fountain. I also took a walk to visit St. Clothilde. I see its towers whenever I visit the upstairs terrace of my foyer, so I finally had to see them for myself! There's no shortage of les eglises incroyables here in Paris, and even if you are not religious, the architecture and stained glass alone are worth seeing.
On the same walk, I stopped in front of the Hotel Matignon because I read that Edith Wharton lived and wrote there for a time. Although, come to think of it, the only book of her's I've read is Ethan Frome, and I wasn't a big fan (though it may be worth reading just for the ending). And while I'm on the topic of books I don't like —and I assure you, there are not many— the only thing we read in my Literature class senior year that I disliked more than Ethan Frome was a story called The Fox, by D.H. Lawrence. In fact, ran into it here in Paris at a used book store...and I hid it. That's how much I did not enjoy that story. And D. H. Lawrence is dead, he doesn't care, he's already been successful enough anyway.
I even got to go see Le Chat Noir, which is a café/tabac (where you buy food, cigarettes, stamps, minutes for your phone, etc) near Chatelêt. The place itself isn't especially great...I got an overpriced Orangina from an impatient Parasian man and looked at the big plastic black cat above the sign and awning. So why did I go? Because of this:

It's a famous picture, and if you haven't somehow seen the poster in a store or somewhere else in the US (the first time I saw it was on my math teacher's classroom wall in tenth grade), let me tell you that it's EVERYWHERE in Paris, especially in the more touristy places. Shirts, bags, postcards, posters, mugs, shotglasses, music boxes, the list goes on. Apparently (meaning I read this somewhere and can't quite remember all the details) the poster is from an illiteracy epidemic in France, when all the cafés had to make illustrated advertisements of their names for those who couldn't read.
There's probably more to it than that, and it's possible I'm wrong, but it's a good story anyway.

Also make sure you visit Rue Mouffetard if you want to do some possibly inexpensive shopping or buy some fruit; it's one of my favorite streets.
It's easy to see a lot in one day while walking through Paris, and there are many places to sit, rest, and eat. It can be difficult, though, when you really want to get a good look at something. For an easy example, I wouldn't try to knock out the Louvre all in one day. My friend Kim and I did that last summer and it was so overwhelming that after 3-4 hours I could have fainted.

Be prepared for negativity. We were only in Madrid a short time but it was great because we got to see Guernica and many other awesome, crazy paintings and artwork at this amazing museum! Seeing Guernica alone made the trip worth it. But here's what I wrote after we arrived.

From the Spain Journal-
After an 8hour bus ride from Barcelona to Madrid, Pam and I now sit in an uncertain Madrid hostel. We took the metro here without incident, but as soon as we arrived this evening the housekeeping lady looked troubled. The guy in charge gave us a friendly Hola, look at Pam's printed reservation confirmation, and promptly disappeared. About ten minutes ago the lady said he'd be back shortly. In total he's been gone for about two minutes and maybe 9 or so pages of a Laurie R. King Sherlock Holmes paperback. I'm tempted to walk around and see what the place is like, but I'm slightly afraid of what I'll find. But it's only two nights, and then we go back to Barcelona.
Unless we get murdered, here in Madrid.
Traveler's lesson- always expect the worst, or at least the unexpected. Still, we've seen other guests, and everything we want to see is nearby. I don't know why I have a sense of foreboding, but if I die before I finish reading this book that will make my death all the more tragic. There's also the fact that I've been looking forward to going home. I'm ready to see my family again, ready to be an American again. I've had a great fill of Europe, and next I'd like to see a part of America that I've never been to.
But I can't do that if I die in Madrid, so I'm going to try and avoid that. The man is still gone. We could be out exploring the Calle de Carretas or Placa del Sol whatever they're called. I'm more comfortable with French. Pam is amazing, she's just about trilingual now.
I'm almost expecting the hostel man to come back in two hours, give us a dismal look and say, "Oh, you're still here."
Good hostels are worth a lot.
Metro tickets in Madrid are only a Euro, by the way. I'm going to try to save one for a scrapbook or something.
He's back, speaking quickly...
Oy, we're being moved. Someone made a mistake.

So here we are now in what has to be the creepiest, seediest hostel I've stayed in. The neighborhood isn't bad and the noise level isn't unreasonable, but the lights in the room don't work (except for one bedside lamp that I'm using), the drawers are lined with old newspaper, the window is literally a 15 inch square in the wall, the little TV doesn't work, and there are several towels and old soap bars that were either left behind by guests or just haven't been used in so long that they've gotten, well, moldy. This is the hostel where you expect to find something dead in your room. This is the hostel from Hostel. Funny noises, general creepiness...maybe the place is haunted. At least we have our own room. I wish I had pictures, but since I don't, here's a video of what came to mind when we were let into this place.

"We'd like a room."

Here's a better quality video if you're really dying to watch it. Just skip to 2:50.
"A) Credit Card, B) Cash, C) Sneak out in the middle of the night."
"We'll take C."

And here's Guernica.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A REALLY Long Post With Some Possibly Useful Tidbits (and lots of italicized words)

Tidbit 1: The candy stand by the Odeon metro stop is actually pretty good. But be careful- like everything else in Paris, it's expensive!

Next, a bit on ice cream-
Today I walked all around Paris and ate way too much ice cream. I had, throughout the day, chocolate, coffee, mango, bubblegum, and blackberry. The only one I didn't like was the supposed blackberry, which tasted more like the cranberry sauce generally eaten at Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn't TERRIBLE...but it wasn't good, and I'm likely never going back to that particular ice cream place (I don't remember what it's called, but it says "GLUP" on the sign and it's right off of St Germain/St Michel) even though their bubblegum ice cream was good. Overpriced ice cream that doesn't even taste good is basically one of the worst, saddest things you can inflict on a person. AVOID GLUP.

Otherwise, I feel that today was very Parisian.
This afternoon, after a brief discussion of travel over the break with some friends in my foyer, I was late meeting another friend at Centre Georges Pompidou. I walked over because it was a beautiful day; it's basically summer at the moment. No idea if it's global warming or just how it goes here, but just like Sinatra said, April in Paris is definitely something worth singing about. I wore shorts and a halter top and was still warm, and back home, it's probably snowing.
Life is good.
Don't be too angry, folks back home- I hear it's going to rain here, for the entirety of May.
Anyway, I walked to Georges Pompidou, and as I walked, I got ice cream at Amorino (SO delicious- a small cone for 3.50 and as many flavors as you want), cotton candy Hotel de Ville (I know, poor nutrition, but when will I ever again have the opportunity to walk the streets of Paris eating cotton candy?! I've already missed the opportunities to ice skate and rollerblade), and later on, an Orangina. Because it's all delicious, and I'm on vacation.
I got to Pompidou and sadly couldn't find my friend (which was my own fault. Apparently the French are always late- I wonder if they have these types of problems?). Eventually I went into the museum's bookstore, where I bought a journal.
Tidbit 2: Pompidou has one of the best gift shops as far as cool writing/drawing supplies and posters go.
The journal I bought today has Dali's Meditative Rose on it.
I love roses, I love meditation even though I'm not very good at it, and since visiting Madrid (the post is forthcoming) I'm finding more and more that I love Dali, even though he's a flipping weirdo. Also I love writing, in case you weren't sure.
Tidbit 4: The big cobblestone area in front of Pompidou is also pretty cool. There are generally street performers playing instruments or putting on a show or making these enormous bubbles, and today there were vendors. Venders?

After I left the bookstore, I bought a present for someone special (an imaginationeer extraordinaire, artist in all mediums, and rescuer of guinea pigs that I'm very close to) in front of the museum, and then went off in search of tattoo parlors (just kidding, Mom- but for those interested, there are tons of tattoo parlors around Pompidou and Chatelet) and food. I ate and wrote at a place called Le Cyrano. And yes, I ate there because of the name. I really need to watch that movie, with Gerard Depardieu?

I even communicated with the waitress completely in French. I was feeling very Parisian indeed. I still make so many mistakes here that I go into absolute shock whenever I realize I understand what people are saying.
Now that I've spent some time in warm, sunny Paris, sans having to go to silly silly classes, I don't know how I'm ever going to leave. Although I can't deny that I miss my family. And driving. And most importantly, my cat!
Tidbit 9: And I WAS missing Sex And The City and Family Guy until Anna introduced me to this website- If you're abroad where Hulu doesn't work, this is the website for TV shows, man.

What I love about a walk in Paris is that it can become anything. Lunch, a visit to an old church or museum, the day you saw something amazing, the day you found or learned something you never knew existed. The day you met the love of your life! Or at least, the love of your life in the form of a pair of shoes or a trench coat. They love their trench coats here. You're also likely to find old buildings with iron rail balconies, gardens, a good market. My walk today became a pursuit of Place des Vosges. Another great thing about France (tidbit 12): everything is pretty packed in and there are signs everywhere for nearby landmarks— Place des Vosges is this way, Picasso museum that way—except THAT museum is closed for a while, or I'd LIVE there.
On my way to the Place, I ran into Musee du Carnavalet, a free historic museum that was once somebody important's house.
Free? I thought. Pourquoi pas?
It was a lot like a tiny and much less crowded Versailles. Beautiful paintings, woodwork and furniture in all the rooms. Part art gallery, part garden, part house. You see that kind of detail and extravagance, and you think, "No wonder there was a revolution."

Stupidly, I forgot the disposable cameras I bought yesterday, so I don't have pictures of the museum or Place des Vosges. But let me assure you that, like all over freakin' Paris, there are huge paintings and huge mirrors all filling up huge rooms, and outside there are lots of flowers and perfectly-trimmed hedges. Also there was a cute pillow shop nearby that I wanted to buy from, but I need to have room in my suitcase. (Bitching alert) My 3-day-late-arrived, wheel-less suitcase. Thank you Delta. Way to lose a once-loyal customer who's only going to be flying MORE in the future.
I didn't see every single room in the museum, but there were several I really liked. One had a cool painting of a girl dressed in black with a bored-looking pet Cheetah. Another room had all this iron artwork hanging on the walls and from the ceiling, with lovely stained glass windows in the background. I went to Place des Vosges soon after. It's a pretty little square park somewhere in the Marais, surrounding by old pinkish housing that I recognized immediately from a postcard. There's a fountain in each corner.

Today made me remember just why I came to Paris. I haven't traveled enough yet to say for sure, but I just can't imagine that there's another city like it. Before I came here, I asked so many people what the best things were to do in Paris. They all said, "Walk," and they were right.
I realize now that this experience will not make me fluent in French. It will not make me any more chic or any less awkward, and it won't make me a fashionista. But it will make me marvel at the world, it will make me hold my head a little higher, and it will make me say "Pardon" with a French accent every time I have to push by somebody. It will change my life, and I can't imagine not having come here.

Oh, and Paris Tip of Today: If you order a crepe and the crepemaker makes it incorrectly the first time around before either of you realize it (you know, he puts cheese on it instead of egg or something), you will likely get both crepes for the price of the one you wanted. It's happened to me twice. Crepemakers get distracted, apparently, and I don't always watch them closely enough.

So now that I'm done rambling about Paris, I should mention that I have one last Barcelona/Madrid post to type up (the first two are under THIS post, if you haven't checked them out yet). I just wanted to get back to Paris before I posted anything more about Spain. What I'll say now, though, it that both Barcelona Central Garden One and Sant Jordi Alberg (I think that's the spelling) Hostels are excellent, fun places to stay for the budget traveler. You will feel welcomed and you'll meet some really cool people. Also Lagan Backpackers in Belfast, Ireland is good, and I've heard from Pam that there's a place in Prague called Sir Toby's that's pretty good. I'll try and put together a list of good hostels before the blog is over.
I recently found out that I have an extra week of travel before I leave, and I've been thinking about going to Nice and then back to Barcelona. I missed a lot of Gaudi, the Picasso and Dali museums, and a zoo and aquarium. Barcelona is a really, really cool city and I'd recommend it to anybody.

Lastly, this has nothing to do with anything. I was going to post the clip of Rush Limbaugh being a radio announcer in Blue Harvest, but I couldn't find it, so here's this instead.