Beginnings en paris

When you’re getting ready to travel to France, people tell you a lot of things. They tell you the people can be rude, the men can be aggressive, the food is delicious, that Paris is beautiful…

but they don’t tell you all the things that I have come to love in only these two days. They don’t tell you that there are bars that play a combination of Regina Spektor and heavy metal. They don’t tell you that the cobbled streets make your feet hurt in the most satisfying way, as if each successful step is a triumph. They don’t tell you that you can’t see le tour Eiffel from everywhere, and that sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re somewhere strange, that Paris isn’t the place you were meant to be. They don’t tell you that they sell bras in the front of the Monoprix, or that you have to turn a handle to open the metro doors at night. They don’t tell you how to tell all the aggressive men to “go away” in a nice way. They don’t tell you that the city breathes in a way you can’t imagine, that even the streets have a sort of life that makes you want to lie down, to feel the pavement, to experience the moment in its fullest.

Paris is wonderful. I arrived Sunday morning at 8h30, after coincidentally being placed next to another girl in my program that I didn’t know on my flight. After a little bit of havoc before I got to the airport, everything went smoothly. I sat next to a very Christian woman on the flight to Seattle, and we talked about life paths and the world ending and other oddities. It was very strange, but a good start to this bizarre and wonderful trip. I didn’t sleep on the flight to Paris at all, but I was okay with that. (I watched A Fault in Our Stars and a movie called Chef, and I wrote.)

When I was done with customs, I took a taxi to my host home, and the taxi driver and I had a lovely conversation in french. I asked him, “Pensez-vous que le metro être dangereux? Parce que les terroristes?” / “Do you think the metro is dangerous? Because of the terrorists?” and he laughed at me and said that I shouldn’t worry, “pas de problem.” When we got near my host apartment, I kept saying that the address was “vingt” / “twenty” when really I meant “cinquante” / “fifty” and so we were a bit lost for a little bit, but I just got out like a block away and eventually found it.

My host apartment is adorable. It’s on the sixieme étage, the seventh floor (the French are weird like that.) I’m in the Chinese district, but that doesn’t seem to be a huge thing here… maybe I just haven’t found the right places. I have two host mothers, in their mid-thirties, who don’t really speak English (which is perfectly fine because I’m conversational in French) and a girl from my program is with me. We all get along really well.

Sunday, when I arrived, my UW roommate wasn’t there yet. I was verrrrrry tired, so I took a nap, and when I woke up Rachel and Aurelie had lunch prepared for me. (Croissants, bread, sausage, pears, cheese, etc.)

After lunch, Rachel and I got Velibs, which are these free bikes you can take, and we rode them all around the city. It was incredible. Riding along the Seine, the wind blowing my hair back, listening to the music and speaking French with Rachel; it was a great introduction to this trip, to this beautiful city. When we returned, my roommate had arrived, and we decided to go for a walk while Aurelie prepared dinner. We walked to the Bibliotheque de Francois Mitterand, and I bought a book by Foucault (en francais) and a book of french poetry. After that, we went to a little restaurant on the Seine and talked with Rachel (in French, bien sûr.)

The 13th district is a very hip place, probably because it’s one of the cheaper places to live in Paris. There are a lot of young people. The men all look like Seattle men. Except they have nicer shoes.

After our rendezvous, we had dinner at our host apartment. They serve it to us in four or five courses, and on Sunday the first course was a large piece of yellow melon, followed by salad, followed by a large piece of quiche, followed by a cheese plate, followed by Bonne Maman jam and yogurt, followed by a digestive tea. Then I fell deeply asleep.

Monday, we had orientation at 15h00 (3PM), but we were up at 9h00 so my roommate and I decided to walk around the city for a while before meeting some other girls from our program. We walked along the Seine to Ile-St-Louis, where we sat down at a beautiful café for cappuccinos. There was this man outside the café fighting with his girlfriend, and he looked oddly familiar. I said to my roommate that I thought I recognized him but I didn’t know from where, and then it hit me. He was the man from Ámelie who played the slow man at the market, Jamel Debbouze!!! We had a tiny freakout, subtly of course, because this was the moment that it hit us that this was Paris. This was the place people came to live, to work, to be. We were not separated from the rich or the famous anymore – this was the real Paris. (And the cappuccinos were excellent too.)

After that, we met up with two other girls from our program, and got lunch. I had a pâté for only 6 euros, which is verrrry cheap for pate compared to the United States. Then we all walked to our orientation at the classroom UW has rented, which is on the same block as Les Deux Magots, the cafe where Sartre and Beauvoir used to hang out and be all nihilist and such. Nothing means anything but this means something to me. Fate, you could say.

We went over security things and talked about class, blah blah blah. Nothing too interesting, yet. Actual classes are sure to be very interesting. After orientation, we went to the Monoprix and got some raspberries and a baguette, and a group of us sat along the Seine and talked and enjoyed Paris. It was beautiful, très tranquille.

Dinner at our apartment was tabouli, followed by salmon crêpes, followed by a cheese plate, followed by crêpes with nutella and jam, followed by tea. Yum. After that, we went out with other girls from our program to a bar in the 5th, where they were playing this weird combination of rock and metal that I loved. Then we returned home.

Today, I woke up late because I hadn’t slept well the night before. We had le petit dejeuner (breakfast), and tried to talk to a guest of Rachel and Aurelie’s, but I was NOT awake enough to speak in conversational French yet. I need a good, strong cup of coffee first.

We were meeting up with other girls from our program at 12 at the St-Germain-De-Pres metro station, so we tried to leave a little early, but failed miserably. They were later than us though, so it turned out to be okay. As we stood on the corner, a man came up and asked “Vous etês parisienne?” / “Are you parisian?” and we said no, but I was delighted that he would think that we were. While we were on the same corner, a woman came up and asked if she could use my lighter in French, and I searched in my bag for one. I was happy that she asked in French, because it means we looked like we weren’t Americans. Imagine how it’s going to be at the end of three months!

Once we connected with our friends, we found a place to eat, a little crêperie in St-Germain-De-Pres, and I had cider and a cappuccino and a crepe with fresh lemon juice. We walked to where our boat cruise was leaving from, at Pont-du-Neuf, bought some postcards, and then boarded with our entire program for a tour of the Seine.

It was lovely. One bridge along the Seine has a lot of faces along it, and it turns out that they’re the faces of all those that criticized the King for building the bridge, which I thought was hilarious. Gotta love when your King has a sense of humor. I’m not going to relay all the facts the tour guide told us, because I wasn’t entirely paying attention. There was this cute little boy up front who was doing wacky things, like making faces at me and at one point licking the floor. Let’s just say I was happily distracted.

After the cruise, we wandering to the Pantheon, but decided not to go in. We got lunch in the Latin Quarter, and then walked to the Jardin du Luxembourg where I made a wish in the fountain (“May all life be like life in Paris”) and we had some lovely conversation.

On the metro on the way back home, my roommate and I were a little confused leaving the station, and had put our tickets away. A man who worked at the station asked us for them in a really aggressive way, and when I asked “why” he wouldn’t say. He then said we must pay a fine of 50 euros, and again, when I asked “why” he wouldn’t tell us. We found our tickets, and he gave them to a man who scanned them, and then they finally let us go. It was really frustrating, because if I had responded in French originally he probably would have left us alone. The metros are traps for foreigners who aren’t exactly sure what they are doing, and I got really angry at this guy for trying to take advantage of us because he thought we were stupid Americans. I don’t usually get mad, but the tips of my ears were very hot. So, be warned, keep your tickets on hand at all time.

Dinner tonight was chopped carrots with sesame seeds and a vinaigrette, a shrimp and apple pasta dish, a cheese plate, and cheesecake. It was delicious. There are new cheeses every day, and obviously a ton of bread all the time. I like the soft cheeses especially, even the moderately stinky ones.

Conversation with Rachel and Aurelie is getting easier. Sometimes we watch television while we’re eating, but most of the time it’s just talking. Rachel laughs at my jokes, and I’m getting better at asking questions in French. I’m very comfortable here, and ordering and everything is much easier than last time. I think maybe I’m just a more confident person.

Class starts tomorrow at 9h00, with French in the morning, then our class on Les Mis, then our literature theory course. I’m excited. We have class Wednesdays and Fridays from 915 to 1750, (9:15am to 5:50pm), but don’t have class any other days of the week.

See you soon, lovelies.

À bientôt!