Monday, May 28, 2007

Look at Lisa be all productive!

Whoa more new photos up! Just a few, taken from my walk around Paris today before meeting my friend Mathilde to say goodbye (sniff, sniff... but she'll be in New York next year so I shall go visit her) but they are fun anyway. No organization, because Flickr seems to take pleasure in uploading them in a completely random order; I'm beginning to think that they do that on purpose to get you addicted to sets, then turn around and say "oh, you have to upgrade to a Pro account and pay to have more than three sets... Sorry 'bout that." Evil, evil Flickr. But go see the pictures because they are pretty, and also I'm very proud of the Eiffel Tower one.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Okay, still working on the whole getting-caught-up idea - maybe, just maybe, I'll have written about all my trips before leaving France (in a week! eek!) and maybe not. We'll see. So, onto Colmar and Strasbourg, where I went with Kelly the week after Freiburg. After a 5-hour train ride (man, I am jealous of all those people traveling after June 10th) we arrived in the teeth-achingly quaint city of Colmar. Seriously, I kept expecting the houses to turn out to be gingerbread, or something. So we wandered around, taking pictures of all the picturesque-ness like good little tourists, bought some ravioli to take back to the auberge to cook (our favorite money-saving strategy, and also a guilty pleasure, because the French rarely serve pasta as a main dish, and we both love it) and made our way to the youth hostel (which, as always, was pretty far out of town).

We woke up relatively early the next morning, eager to see the streets of Colmar without lugging heavy backpacks. More picturesqueness (we especially enjoyed Petite Venise and its canals) and a woman giving out free cookie samples, which naturally prompted us to buy some from her vast selection. I really wanted to say "One of everything, please!" but prudence won over impulsiveness and I settled for a little gingerbready thing, a pistachio macaroon, and a couple chocolately things. They were delicious. We also had pretzels, an Alsatian specialty. Then it was off to the Musée Unterlinden, which was a lot more fun than we were expecting. The audioguide was free, so we figured why not? and took the French one. It was hilarious in its melodramaticness - when describing all the Medieval paintings of Jesus crucified, there were actually angry-mob sounds in the background, and dramatic Carmina-Burana-esque music. My personal favorite, though, was the description of a painting that was retelling some religious story involving a chicken and a saint (Ooh! Blog contest! If you know this story I'll bring you back a Kinder Bueno (or Duplo, whichever you prefer) from France! But you have to tell me before Saturday.) and there were genuine chicken clucks and wing ruffles in the background. But I shouldn't make too much fun of it, because it was interesting to get a little more background on the paintings. The prize possession of the museum is the Retable d'Issenheim (French explanation, but the pictures are pretty anyway), which is one of those folding altar decoration thingies that depict a bunch of Bible scenes. This one is gigantic, and has lots and lots of panels that had to be separated out to be put on display, so now it takes up a whole high-ceilinged room. It was wonderful to have the audioguide, since I have no Bible background, and pictures are way more interesting when you know the stories behind them. Then there were rooms and rooms and rooms of interesting Alsatian stuff, including suits of armor and chain mail and a knitted tapestry (picture on Flickr) and just before closing, we got to this room that had toys! Tiny little dollhouses and kitchens and dolls with wardrobes to die for... I was interrupted mid-drool by the museum staff herding us out 20 minutes before closing. Grrr. But it was a lovely museum, anyway.

For dinner, we tracked down some traditional Alsatian food: flammekuchen and spätzle. Flammekuchen is a thin-crusted rectangular tart with cheese and crème fraiche and onions and deliciousness, and I described spätzle in my last entry and am too lazy to do it again. But it was all really, really good - how can you go wrong with cheese, bread, onions, noodles, cream, or any combination of the above? You can't, is the answer. So then we rolled back to the hostel and went to bed early, in preparation for our trip to a small town on the "Route des vins" for a wine tasting.

We woke up at the crack of dawn and were eating breakfast when we realized that we'd misread the bus schedule and needed to be at the bus stop in 5 minutes, not 20. Slight panic ensued, but we made it to the bus stop in time for the local bus that would take us to the bus station in Colmar proper to catch the bigger bus for the small town. We then made a heroic dash to the bus station. Of course, we didn't know where our bus stopped, so we went around checking all the buses that looked likely, but it was getting past time for the bus to leave, and we didn't see it. Finally, we asked the driver of a different bus, and he said "Oh, it was that red bus over there, the one that left a few minutes ago." Cue slapping of foreheads, because we hadn't checked said red bus because it looked like a private tour bus. Lesson learned - in France, they use luxury buses as public transportation. So we went, disappointedly, back into Colmar, visited the vineyards of the city of Colmar, and caught our train to Strasbourg.

Strasbourg is bee-yoo-ti-ful. We bought a 24-hour unlimited-rides tram and bus ticket, which was the best purchase of the weekend - the tram system is a wonderful hybrid of subway and bus, because it's faster than a bus but you can actually see things, instead of being stuck underground. This time, we managed to find a bus that went all the way to the youth hostel, which was lovely. We went back into town and explored, finding amazing ice cream (I got Speculoos, which is a kind of cookie often served with ice cream, and it's spicy and delicious) and cute little stores and the cathedral:
Purtypurtypurty. We then went back to the auberge to cook dinner again, being the frugal daughters of Scotsmen that we are, where the water took, without exaggeration, 45 minutes to boil. It wasn't the greatest kitchen ever, let's put it that way. Anyway, after that fiasco, we decided to go back into town to experience Strasbourg by night. The cathedral was, of course, ridiculously beautiful, and it was warm, so there were lots of people outside enjoying the weather. We got our fair share of catcalls, mostly from sketchy, sketchy men but some from cute Italians (all of Italy, apparently, goes to Alsace the third week in April). Then we caught the last tram back to our beds.

The next day, our last, we happened upon an open-air market of everything from cheap trendy clothes (sadly, mostly one-size-fits-all-badly, so we didn't buy anything) to traditional Alsatian food, so we bought a garlic sausage (we almost got the wild boar, but chickened out) from a lovely man who kept giving us samples, some cheese, and some straightened-out pretzels and made little sandwiches to eat on the steps of the cathedral. They were delicious, but since we had no knife we had to gnaw on the sausage, which made us look slightly barbaric. Then we discovered a cute little shop that had very original clothing for reasonable prices, so we had to try everything on, and I found a beautiful black lacy skirt with a petticoat that swishes when I walk and makes me very very happy.

I managed to convince Kelly that climbing the cathedral spire would be fun, so we paid our 2 euros and started up the 350 steps. It turned out to be an amazing way to see the cathedral close up, since the spiral staircase we were winding our way up had windows on three sides, so we got to see all these cute little carvings of random animals climbing up various columns and things. There were frogs and cows and goats and gorillas and mixtures thereof - medieval stonecarvers had fertile imaginations. Then we finally got to the top, but we couldn't go up the spire (nor would we have wanted to, given how much we were panting). There was a beautiful view, though, (unfortunately, my camera had died the day before, so no pictures) and we could see the spire close-up, too.

After all that exertion, we decided we deserved a restaurant with a terrace where we could order a cool drink and people-watch for a while. Luckily, there was one right by the cathedral, so we could look at the Gothic beauty too. We got Oranginas mixed with grenadine, the inventor of which I want to kiss, and nursed them for as long as possible so as to be able to stay on the terrace.

Finally, we found the Musée Alsacien, which was celebrating an anniversary by giving everyone free entry. It's a neat museum, built into some old houses overlooking a central courtyard, so you can see the real rooms and how people lived. There was another toy room, so I spent a while in there, drooling over tiny little pintucks and buttonholes...

Then, alas, it was time to catch our train back to Paris to return to classes and real life. It was a lovely trip, though.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


Okay, photos of Freiburg are up! However, Flickr has this obnoxious thing where you can't have more than three sets unless you are a Pro member, and that requires payment, and you know me and paying for things. So I'll just delete the old sets (not the photos, just the organization, but since I can' t control the order in which the photos load, the sets are really essential for the photos to make sense... grrrr Flickr) and replace them with my new photos, and that way everyone will be happy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Continuing with the catching up, I now present the chronicles of my absolutely fantastic trip to Freiburg to visit Halley, back during the first week of April break (the 9th through the 14th).

I arrived in Freiburg in the early afternoon, after a 7-hour train ride (the horribly ironic thing about all of this is that the TGV, or Trains à Grande Vitesse (really fast trains) are starting to run to eastern Europe in June, a few months too late for me - it will only take 2 1/2 hours then. Grrr.) in which I passed through Switzerland for about 3 minutes to change trains. I love the European Union - by the end of the week, I had crossed borders between France, Switzerland and Germany 6 times, and I never had to show any sort of papers whatsoever. Anyway, the lovely and talented Halley met me at the train station and took me back to her apartment in the student village outside town, where I met her awesome housemates (the American ones, at least - she claims to have German ones as well, but I never saw them) and gossiped about Tufts people for a while. Then we went out to dinner and I had spätzle, which as far as I'm concerned is enough reason to move to Germany. It's delicious oddly-shaped noodles (made by pushing the dough through a strainer of some sort) with buttery sauce and mushrooms and bacon and onions. I also tried to drink my first beer-containing drink:
I couldn't even go for a pure beer, I had to get this half-beer, half-Sprite concoction that would have tasted delicious except for that horrible sour aftertaste. I couldn't even finish the whole thing, diluted as it was, because I am a wimp. Not entirely my fault, though. Ask my parents about their drinking habits sometime and you'll see that genetics had it in for my alcohol tolerance from the beginning.

On Tuesday, my wonderful host had classes all day, so I was on my own with only a guidebook and a German phrasebook to help me. I headed into the city on the lovely tram system to explore the Bächle, which are small streams running through the old part of the city, between the sidewalk and the roadway. They're not covered or guard-railed or anything, leading to the legend that if you fall into one you are sure to marry a Freiburger. I escaped this fate, which is a good thing because I speak not a word of German and Lord knows that could cause some awkwardness in a marriage. I did see a guy get one leg drenched to the knee, but he just went on about his business. Anyway, the Bächle are gorgeous, as are the sidewalks:
See all those itty-bitty teeny-weeny stones? All of the sidewalks in the old pedestrian section of Freiburg are like that. [Insert joke about German precision and patience here.] But it makes for some beautiful streets, especially when you see the emblems mosaicked (haha new word!) into the sidewalks to indicate the type of business found there:
(Sorry that you have to tilt your head, but if I rotate the picture the perspective gets all screwed up and that messes with your head even more.) I never really got over the sidewalks, and had to ooh and ahh over every new emblem I discovered.

Then I found the cathedral, or Münster. Unfortunately, the lattice spire was covered with scaffolding, so I bought postcards of that. Here's a photo of the rest of it, though:
Purty, huh? Inside are stained-glass windows depicting normal churchy stuff, but at the bottom there are symbols of the tradespeople who funded the window: pretzels, shoes, etc., which are amusing. I climbed up into the spire as far as I could, and saw the bells, which had weird symbols on them:

And the city, with its market in the Münsterplatz:

Then I met Halley for kebaps, a transplanted regional specialty. They were delicious, and made more so by the large bottle of apfelschorle in my other hand. Apfelschorle is a slightly fizzy apple cider that I think I might like more than Orangina... It's not too sweet, but very refreshing. We ate by the river with another friend from Halley's program, Adam, then had a lovely nap in the sun.

On Wednesday, I decided to take advantage of the fact that things are much, much cheaper in Freiburg than they are in Paris to buy some clothes. H & M came through, providing me with a cute green and black striped T-shirt (which I then saw a girl on the Paris métro wearing not a week later... le sigh.), a black knit skirt, and a gauzy black empire-waist tank top. I also got a navy blue shirt with white polka dots and an open back. Don't know how all this is going to fit back into my suitcases, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Halley and I also got bratwurst at the Münsterplatz market. It was awesome to wander through the rows of vendors selling wooden toys, honey, dried fruit (I bought candied kumquats, which have got to be the best idea ever), raw meat, and pretzels. Halley ordered my bratwurst for me (yay for friends who speak the language of the country you're in!) and we perched on a railing to enjoy:
It was delicious.

Halley made chicken paprikash for dinner, so I got to meet more of her friends, who are awesome. As was the dinner. No pictures of that, as it got eaten too quickly.

On either Wednesday or Thursday morning (I forget which) I got to sing with Halley and Adam, which was great. Adam even played Hallelujah (the one by Leonard Cohen, not Handel), so that made my day.

On Thursday, Halley had class again, and I couldn't convince her to skip it, so I went hiking up to the Schlossbergturm, a gigantic tower perched on a hill near town. It was gorgeous, though hot, and the tower itself was almost as pretty as the view:

For dinner, I bought a packet of tomato soup and a 30-centime loaf of garlic bread, meaning that my delicious dinner cost approximately €1,10, or $1.50. The soup was good, too - you only add water, but it got all creamy and yummy. And I managed to figure out the German instructions, too. I took some soup packets back to France with me, too, for more cheap dinners. (Sorry for all the emphasis on cheapness - it was quite a shock for me, after living with Paris prices for so long. I knew I should have taken German...)

On Friday, Halley's program was going on a field trip to France, to see a fort built for WWI near Strasbourg, then a little fortified village called Neuf-Brisach. They allowed me to come along, so I had the privilege of being shown around an underground fort for 2 hours, where it was very very cold, instead of sitting outside in the sun... The tour was interesting, but it's awfully hard to concentrate when your teeth are chattering. We then had to forage in a supermarket for lunch, where Halley and I made out the best. Everybody was looking longingly at our Black Forest ham from the deli and baguettes and cookies and gourmet yogurt, the ill-gotten gains of a French speaker who knows which French brands to buy. We did share, though.

Then it was back to Freiburg for grocery shopping for Adam's birthday party that night. We - well, okay, Halley - made pizza, then everybody came over with copious amounts of (completely legal - we're all over 18!) alcohol. Natalie (another of Halley's housemates) and I bought some Bailey's, then added it to tiramisu tea and put whipped cream on top. That may have been the best drink I've ever had in my life. After lots of singing along to the little iPod speakers and people forcing me to drink more (story of my life) we headed into the city to go to a club. After some slightly nerve-wracking moments for the 2 people who'd forgotten their IDs, we all got in and danced the night away. Lots of American music, but there was some German stuff as well, which cracked me up. Then we walked home (no more trams at 2 in the morning...) and fell into bed.

Saturday was quite low-key, for obvious reasons. We cleaned up the kitchen, then headed out to eat ice cream and walk along the river. It was a lovely, sunny day, there were children playing among the rocks in the river, and I had ice cream. Life does not get any better than that. I seriously considered dropping out of the Tufts program and staying in Freiburg, but that would probably have caused a great deal of trouble, so I got back on the train like a good little girl. Germany was amazing, and it was nice to not be held to the fashion standards of Parisian streets for a few days, but I never thought I could miss French that much. It is incredibly fatiguing to not be able to understand anything you read or hear. It was a relief to cross back into France and understand billboards again.

Halley, thanks again for hosting me, and for putting up with my conversation topics for a whole week... Deep down, though, you know you like it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Talk about your cute overloads...

Okay, so I went for a walk in the middle of my last post, using the little walk cards that a certain wallaby-lover gave me for Christmas, and I saw some pretty cool stuff, photos of which will be posted later. But this is just a quick anecdote that needs to be shared, otherwise I might explode from the cuteness of it all. So, walking down the lovely sunshiney Parisian street, I see an ambiguously ethnic mother pushing an empty stroller towards me. Soon after, the adorably ambiguously ethnic child, complete with gold earrings and bracelets, that goes with this stroller comes into view - she's about 18 months old, I think, and she clearly doesn't want to continue walking, so she plops down onto a doorstep (you know the kind of plop where her rear is only about an inch from the step, because she's so tiny, so the instant she starts to bend her knees, she's sitting down? That kind of plop.) Her mom, sensibly, starts walking away saying "All right, I'm leaving then, goodbye!" I catch her eye and smile knowingly, and she smiles back. Her daughter doesn't seem disturbed at all, and by the time I draw level with the little one, the toddler starts to take off in the opposite direction from her mom. Her mom starts running towards her, so I take the little girl's braceleted wrist and say, in French, "Wait, wait, little one" and she grins up at me through her pacifier (cue melting of heart). Her mom thanks me and takes her daughter's hand, who turns to wave at me, so I wave back and say "Au revoir!" and then the little girl blows me a kiss and I melt into a little puddle of joy. I mean, come on. Ambiguously ethnic + mind of her own + baby smile + blowing me a kiss = EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE's of delight and subsequent brain melting.


Back from Freiburg (amazing visit, will tell you all about it later I promise) and Strasbourg (the cathedral there almost turned me religious. Almost.) and really not excited for classes to start again on Tuesday. But now is the time to finally write about the Basque country visit, all the way back in March, which came right in the middle of my tidal wave of work and was fun, if freezing. There's already a photoset on Flickr, so go visit that if you haven't already (unfortunately, there aren't that many pictures of San Sebastian, the last day, because I was too cold to get my camera out) and now I'll tell you all about it!

After leaving my apartment before 7 am (oh, the horror) on Saturday morning, St Patrick's Day, I met my Tufts friends Josh and Kelly/Jean at Montparnasse, one of Paris' big huge train stations, to catch our train to Bayonne (ooh, watch Lisa link!). Even though it's all the way down in the south, thanks to the TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse, or "trains with big speed") we were there in less than 5 hours. We wandered around the quaint old part of the town for a while, and bought some brébis cheese (a regional specialty) and a baguette for lunch. We also bought a "gâteau Basque," flavored with almonds and with some sort of delicious cream inside, which made me happy for quite some time. Then we took pictures of the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, walked along some old fortified walls that Vauban, a famous medieval fortifications guy, had designed, saw lots of signs in French, Basque, and Gascon (which made my language dork side really happy), and visited the Musée Basque, which had exhibits of traditional Basque tools used for farming and making cheese and things like that. Everything was labeled and explained in French and Basque, so I tried to figure out the Basque, but it was utterly impossible. Basque is unrelated to any other surviving language, and it just plain looks weird, with a heavy reliance on K's, Q's, and Z's. (Skip this parenthetical note if you're not a language dork, because it will bore you: Basque, as I discovered later, has nouns that decline, similar to Latin, according to their position in the sentence (subject, object, etc). But unlike Latin, these endings also supply the articles and prepositions, so there are no little words in Basque like "a," "in," or "on" - all that information is supplied with the ending you attach to the word. So that makes it complicated to begin with, and there are no cognates to any languages I know, so I was completely lost.) There was also a film, made in the 1940's I believe, all about the "hardy Basque people" and the "noble shepherds" which was highly amusing, in that overenthusiastic 40's way.

We had reservations at a hotel in Biarritz, on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, so we headed to the train station again. Shortly thereafter, we arrived in more touristy and sophisticated Biarritz and found our hotel, which is definitely one of the hidden cheap treasures of Biarritz. It cost less than some youth hostels per person for a three-person room with two sinks, a decent shower, and room to turn around. It was also about 100 meters from the beach. We wandered around trying to decide on somewhere to have dinner, and I got the "Basque plate," which had pork, salad, a fried egg, and toast. It was good, but not mind-blowing.

Kelly and I went to the Rocher de la Vièrge at about 11 pm and watched the waves, which were savage and anguished and beautiful. We could feel the boom every time a wave broke against the rock. I tried to take pictures, but I couldn't capture the lighting and the feel of sitting there and feeling the wildness of the ocean, so I gave up. It was beautiful, though freezing, so we stayed as long as we could stand it and then went back to the hotel.

The next morning, we slept in, then bought breakfast at a bakery and ate it overlooking the beach. One of the more prepared members of our group (i.e., not me) had brought a guidebook with an ocean-side walking tour, so we did that and saw some gorgeous rock formations and more waves. I could sit and watch the sea there for hours, because it's always different and always fascinating. Then Kelly and I decided to at least dip our toes in (Josh was getting sick so he declined) so we took off our shoes and braved the 33º Fahrenheit water. The sand wasn't really sand - it was a bunch of really tiny, smooth stones that felt good at first, but got irritating after a while. Poor Kelly turned her back on the ocean to have a picture taken, then couldn't outrun the big wave that of course came up right at that moment and got drenched from the waist down. Luckily our hotel wasn't far, so she could change.

Thanks to the above-mentioned guidebook, we also took a tour of the châteaux at Biarritz. We've all picked out our future summer houses, so in about 20 years you can all come visit me on the coast of France and it'll be lovely:
There are turrets. What's not to like?

Then we had a bit of an adventure getting back to the train station for our train to San Sebastián, since the buses weren't running on schedule due to a parade. Eventually we decided to walk the 3 kilometers or so to the train station, with our luggage, which isn't the most fun I've had in my life, but it was fine.

Reason #4829 to love the European Union: no indication that we'd crossed the border from France to Spain, no passports needed, no customs to go through, nothing. We found our youth hostel, owned by a woman named Olga (but she speaks fluent Spanish, so we were confused...) and got recommendations for tapas bars for dinner. They were delicious, even if we didn't know exactly what we were eating, and cheap, as was everything in Spain. My 2 semesters of Spanish seemed very very far away, especially as speaking all French, all the time, has driven most of it out of my head, so we communicated with hand gestures, my Neanderthal-level Spanish, and English. It reminded me of how much I love being fluent enough in French to be able to handle pretty much every situation that comes up without resorting to charades.

The next day it rained. Hard. All day. And my umbrella decided to blow inside out so many times as to become completely non-functional. I was not the happiest person in the world. We took the funiculaire to the top of a mountain, where the view was lovely but too windy to enjoy. Then, thankfully, we discovered that the hotel on top of the mountain had a bar that served hot chocolate. We got 2 pots of the delicious hot sweet life-saving beverage and savored the warmth for as long as we could. Then we descended and walked around San Sebastián, found a cathedral and some cute shops, then found another tapas bar for lunch. We tried still more little mouthfuls of heaven and had Sangria and wrote postcards, which was fun. The Sangria hit Kelly and I at the same time, so we were mildly hysterical and giggly for a while. Wheee!

On our way to the train station it started to hail, which was just so ridiculous coming on top of the terrible weather we'd had all weekend that something snapped and we laughed hysterically all the way to the station. But the train was warm, and we were soon back in Paris in our own beds, sleeping blissfully away. The End.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

new photos up!

Just a quick note to say that there are a few new photos up, to be followed by more when I have the time and the inclination and am not recovering from clubbing until 6 am... Go here and click on the "random Paris" set, not the plain photos, because the set is in the right order.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Some random photos

Now that I am officially done with all of my hard work for the semester (yes, I still have Tufts classes, but they're ridiculously easy), I plan to spend much more time exploring Paris, thus hopefully having more interesting things to write about. But I also want to catch up on the missing month; hence this entry, where I go back through my photos to try to remember what exactly I've been doing.

Studying. A lot. Made more interesting by going to the Bibliothèque Publique d'Information, at Beaubourg (known better as the Centre Georges Pompidou, or "that weird building with all the hamster runs on the outside"):

People form lines to get into the library, since it's free and open to anyone at all, although you can't borrow anything. When it gets full, they stop the line and wait for people to get sick of working and leave so they can let more people in. It's a great place to work, though, and I've found some of the more obscure books I've needed for various papers there. Also, being surrounded by thousands of other productively-working people helps. This is the language and literature section, where I usually hang out:

And here's what happens when Lisa snaps from spending too much time thinking about the role of passions as a powerful connector between Racine's Bajazet, La Fontaine's Psyché, and La Rochefoucauld's Maximes, and starts looking for something more interesting to read:
After debating the meaning of the phrase "réflexion théorique" for way too long, my German friend and I decided to wander outside by Les Halles and St. Eustache and eat crêpes. I took some pictures of St. Eustache that came out surprisingly mysteriously atmospheric:

One day (a while ago... don't remember when) I decided to go for a walk along the Seine, by the Eiffel Tower. I know that every single tourist takes a photo like this, and I happen to know that my own father has taken a photo almost exactly like this, but the Eiffel Tower is gorgeous. There is no escaping this fact. Add cherry blossoms, and you get instant postcard-quality pulchritude:
I also bought my first pair of big-girl high-heeled shoes - do I get a bouquet of flowers for this, or something? I can also walk in them, surprisingly enough. (Objects in photo, namely the heel, appear smaller than they are - they're a decent pair of heels.)
Finally, a fairly typical parking method:

All right - time to go to bed and sleep for a week or so. Blogging about hikes, Versailles, and le pays basque to come soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Okay, so it's been a really long time since my last post. I promise I haven't died, despite the tidal wave of schoolwork that threatened to crush me for a while there. I'm not out of the woods yet (ooh, let's see if I can mix some more metaphors in!), but life is looking much rosier now. I had what I like to call a "semaine d'enfer" a week ago, with a paper for my Paris III class due Wednesday (the topic was so ridiculously picky and specific that even my French friend said it was hard), an in-class essay for my Tufts language class on Thursday, and an art history midterm on Friday. Then I took off for the Basque country for the weekend, and then today I gave an exposé in my other Paris III class, about translations of Alice in Wonderland. So I've been just a tad busy. I still have to write a paper about Alice in Wonderland, but then all my hard work is over.

There's a lot to catch up on, and I'm not going to do it all in this blog entry, because number one, that would be overkill, and number two, dinner is soon and I'm hungry. So for now, I shall write a list, in no particular order, of awesome things about France:

1) Fountain pens! Most French students take class notes with fountain pens with erasable ink, then also carry around little ink erasers to fix any tiny little mistake. They also have rulers in their little pen cases, which they use to underline headings and such. Even if it's only one word, they take out their little rulers and underline it. They're a tad crazy. Anyway, I gave in and bought a fountain pen, and it has brought me great joy. I seize any chance to write anything, because it's so smooth and it makes even my little characterless chicken-scratch look cool.

2) Peach-scented toilet paper. 'Nuff said.

3) Children who speak French. I know it's their native language, and that it's completely normal that their vocabulary and grammar are much better than mine, but they are SO CUTE. The novelty of hearing them say "Maman! Maman! Regarde!" instead of "Look, Mommy!" will never wear off. SO CUTE.

4) Some buskers. There was a really good accordion player on Line 6 (the one that goes above-ground) the other day, which made me feel exactly like Amélie Poulain as I looked out at the streets of Paris to a soundtrack of accordion music... And today there were two clarinetists playing jazzy things to the accompaniment of a boombox thingie that provided the drums, etc. They were pretty good, so I was enjoying it, and then they started to play Take Five! Which is only the coolest song ever, because a 5/4 time signature makes everything better. So that put me in a very good mood.

5) Fresh baguettes. It is taking every single ounce of willpower I have to not go tearing into the baguette I just bought, because it needs to be saved for lunch tomorrow. It is calling to me, saying "Lisa, Lisa, taste my fresh crusty goodness!" but I will resist.

6) I know I've mentioned this before, but come on:

Does life get any better than having this for breakfast? No. No it does not.

Really genuinely loving it here, but looking forward to flying the ocean in a silver plane...

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I know, I know, I'm a horrible person for not posting for so long. In my defense, classes started in earnest just after my last post, so I actually have, you know, homework and reading and stuff for FOUR ENTIRE CLASSES (oh, the horror) that does eventually have to get done. What have I been doing with myself for the past two weeks, you ask? I have been:

-Making friends in my Paris-III classes. I've met a German girl, Verena, and a French girl, Mathilde, which leads to very interesting conversations, especially when Verena doesn't know the French word, but I know it in English, so I say that, and then she understands. We eat lunch together after class, and I'm going to a concert with Verena on Monday night.

-Eating a ridiculous amount of carbs, because they're just... available. All the time.

-Going food shopping. Some of you may know that this is a favorite pastime of mine in foreign countries, and I can tell myself that I can buy everything that strikes my fancy, since 1) it's much cheaper than buying lunch every day and 2) calories don't exist in foreign countries. It's a scientific fact. Sometime, I promise to take a picture of the yogurt section, because it is astonishing in its scope and variety. In what other country, I ask you, can you obtain melon-passionfruit yogurt?

-Speaking lots and lots and lots of French, which leads to often comic mistakes when I try to speak English again. For instance, I was typing a word that I have spelled successfully in English many times before, and could not for the life of me figure out why it kept getting underlined in red. When I right-clicked to see the spelling suggestions, I realized that "superieur" was, in fact, the French spelling, which hadn't looked wrong to me. I also can never remember whether "independent" or "independant" is right, since one's English and the other is French, I think in that order.

-Taking pictures at Fontainebleau! I hope this link works; I'm still figuring out how I want to do stuff on Flickr. Please do use this link, which will get you to the Fontainebleau set, which is in the correct order.

So, a brief note about Fontainebleau: we went as a big group and took a tour with our art history professor, which was interesting, but having 30 people trooping through wasn't really great for actually looking at things. So after a delicious lunch, with profiteroles for dessert (heaven on earth), my fellow students Josh and Kelly and I went back to the castle, along with the director of the program, Monique. We walked through the grounds a bit, then Josh and Kelly and I wandered through the castle again, taking pictures and enjoying not being with a herd of bored college students. When we emerged from the golden splendor that is Fontainebleau, we met up with Monique again, who took us out for coffee. I got chocolat viennois, which is just hot chocolate with whipped cream, but it makes me happy every single time I order it, which cannot be said for everything. Then we caught the bus back to the train station, and the train back to Paris.

The whole afternoon was spent speaking French, since we were with Monique, but Josh and Kelly and I speak French among ourselves even when not being watched, so it wasn't out of the ordinary. On the train, we were discussing French and US politics, and I noticed an elderly woman looking at us, as if she'd noticed our accents. When she got off the train, she came over to us and said in French, "I just wanted to let you know how lovely it is to hear Americans speaking French among yourselves. I have a few children in the US, and my grandchildren are Franco-American, so it's nice to hear it going the other way too. Really, though, it was lovely to hear you speak French." And that, my friends, made my day. I've been experiencing fewer and fewer snubs lately, anyway, but things like that make all the snobby French waiters in the world completely insignificant. People do appreciate it when you make an effort to speak their language, and when they take the time to tell you that, it's even better.

So after Fontainebleau, it being Josh's birthday, we went to a little restaurant called Au Limonaire. As we were walking to the restaurant, which is in a little alleyway, things started to look a bit familiar, and lo and behold, right across from the restaurant is the hotel where my family and I stayed when we were in Paris four years ago! The thing is, I remember the restaurant, because there were always music and loud people in the street outside it when I was trying to sleep. Being on the other end of that situation was really fun, but I hope the people in the hotel weren't trying to sleep... It's a great restaurant, because the food is good and cheap, and at 10:00 there is live music.

Ooh, one final note: I live right across from a relatively famous concert hall called Salle Pleyel. Literally, right across from it. Guess who's going to be there on Sunday? STING. STING WILL BE WITHIN APPROXIMATELY 30 FEET OF MY APARTMENT ON SUNDAY. I may have to wait outside and try to catch a glimpse of him, because, you know, that's not sketchy at all. In other news, Pink Martini will be playing there in March, but one of my friends already tried to get tickets and they were long gone, which makes me very sad.

Joyeuse St-Valentin (a few days late, but it's the thought that counts) à tout le monde!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Normandy and shopping

I apologize for the delay in posting - I was occupied by a rather nasty cold for a few days. I'm all better now, despite my host mother's fears that it was strep throat (it wasn't) and my host sister's conviction that I got sick because I don't eat enough (trust me, I do) and because I walk around the house with bare feet (okay, I do, but it's warm here).

Anyway, the whole group went to Normandy on Saturday, which was great fun. First, we went to Château Gaillard, which was lovely, if quite foggy:

There is apparently a beautiful view of the Seine from this site, but you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, let alone anything more than 20 feet away, so I took a picture of the photo they had posted there instead, to get an idea of what we were supposed to see:

Richard the Lion-hearted built the castle to keep King Philip of France from invading Normandy (Normandy was coveted by England and France for a while, which is why a lot of the architecture looks so very British), which worked for a bit, at least. He built it in a year, which was a ridiculously short amount of time, and would refer to it as his one-year-old daughter. (See, even kings had soft spots.) Look, a real, live moat!

After the fog-fest, it was time to head to Honfleur, on the coast, for lunch. We ate at a lovely restaurant called "Le chat qui pêche" (The fishing cat) and I had crab salad with grapefruit, duck with mashed potato, and bread pudding with caramel, apples, and ice cream. Fat, happy Lisa. Then, we wandered around Honfleur, led by our art history teacher, and saw the typical Normandian (definitely just made that up) architecture - half-timbering, shingled roofs, things like that:

The buildings on the other side of the port:

Purty, purty church steeple:

Purty, purty suspension bridge (reminds me of the one in Boston):

Another church, this time a chapel dedicated to sailors. I love the cute little round roof over the entrance. I also loved the little model boats hanging from the ceiling inside, but unfortunately my camera chose this exact moment to run out of batteries. So here end my photos of Normandy.

After the churches we went to the beach in Deauville, where the crazier among us actually dipped their toes in (I, imagining the heart attack my host mother would have if she found out, did not). I did find some pretty shells, though. And kicked myself for not bringing extra batteries. Although, thanks to Facebook, I can bring you the following photo, where the sunset is heartbreakingly beautiful:

Now, turning to the "shopping" portion of the title, I bring you my recent purchases. First, shoes for 10 Euro (the entire city of Paris has this thing where almost everything is on sale in January and February, and I am taking full advantage of this):

Next, bag and scarf, also for ridiculously cheap:

Finally, my most Parisian purchase to date: skinny jeans!

Apparently I'm turning Parisian from the ground up - next purchase on my list is a thin, wide-necked sweater, and then a beret, and then I shall be indistinguishable from the real Parisians. Until I open my mouth, that is. The shirt in this photo is also new, bought at the same store as the jeans, from a really nice young woman who asked me where I was from, what I was doing in France, etc., and didn't switch into English when she heard my accent. This store is on a street very close to my house where there is an open-air market every day, I think - fruits, veggies, meat, bread, cheese, all being hawked by Frenchmen who call me "Princesse" (I know it's just the thing to do, but I still get flattered by that.) So I plan on returning there to do my food shopping.

All right - full day of classes and sitting on hard chairs tomorrow, so I must be off. Au revoir!

(post edited after Doc's corrections... In my defense, I was sick, and I can't think with a headful of snot)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cultural Differences...

At the moment, there are two cultural differences that are striking me: one inconvenient and one AMAZING. First, the inconvenient:

I wanted to do laundry today, so my host mom very kindly came into the bathroom (that's where the washer and dryer are) and helped me out the first time. The first load was nothing special, so I just did the regular cycle of 40ºC (104ºF). I asked if it could go any colder, and my mom replied, looking at me a little strangely, "Yes, just press this button to lower the temperature." "Merci beaucoup!" I replied, and went merrily away while my first load got squeaky clean. Come time for my second load, which had red and pink and suchlike things in it, I wanted a cold wash. So, I loaded the clothes in, added detergent, pressed various buttons, then went for the lower-the-temperature button. Pushed it once: 30º. Okay, great. Pushed it again. Nothing. Pushed it harder. Still nothing. My friends, French washing machines simply do not go below 30ºC (86ºF). Do the French makers of washing machines only own sturdy white cotton clothing? My clothes didn't fade, or anything, but I'm not such a fan of the obligatory hot wash. Also, I was advised to not use the dryer for clothing, since it gets too hot, so my undies are now festooning the drying rack in the bathroom, scarring my host brother for life. Ah well, he's French. It'll be good for him.

Now, the AMAZING:
Kelloggs, the breakfast cereal company, exists in France, too. However, they seem to show a slightly more indulgent side in Europe, as shown by the nondescriptively-named "Extra" cereal. It's got little oatsy clusters, flakes of something unidentifiable but delicious, toasted hazelnut pieces, and BITS OF CHOCOLATE. Real dark chocolate. And hazelnuts. In a breakfast cereal. Put this together with the fact that my family does not buy skim milk, but instead something somewhat fattier than 2%, and you have the heart attack in a bowl that shocks my system into waking up. Luckily, with 4 kids in the house, the cereal doesn't stay around for more than a day, so maybe I'll escape atherosclerosis. Maybe.

Some Tufts people and I went to Montmartre last night - we walked up those famous steps that you have all seen in pictures, I'm sure - those really steep ones with streetlights? The view at the top was amazing: Paris at night, with the Eiffel Tower lighting up the sky in the background. Then we walked past Sacré-Coeur, but couldn't get in as it was 11 pm. Finally, we had hot chocolate in a little café with a proprietor who made all the snubs I've received from waiters here simply melt away... He was from Madagascar, and had the funniest laugh, and was more than happy to speak to us in French, bring us extra orange juice, and discuss Madagascar with us. It was a great way to spend an evening, even if my thighs were hating me today.

Finally, a little vignette to portray what it's like living with my host family: Mom and the four kids and I are sitting at the kitchen island eating dinner. Dad arrives home. One of the kids shouts "Papa? C'est toi?" and he says "Oui, c'est moi." Someone else stage-whispers "On se cache tous!" (Everybody hide!) Cue scraping back of stools and mad rush to crouch behind the island so that it's between us and the door to the kitchen. I squeeze in next to my oldest host sister and we all crouch there, giggling, as my host father walks around. His footsteps approach the kitchen door; my host mother starts to shush us but bursts out giggling herself. The kitchen door opens; a split second of anticipatory silence and my host father says "Bonsoir, tout le monde!" We jump up, giggling and red-faced, and return to the table still laughing. Someone says "Lisa's going to think Tufts put her with a family of crazy people" and I hasten to explain that my brother and I do things like that all the time. As my host father said later, it's like living in a theater. There's always some spectacle going on - no need for TV here. Everyone in the family, except maybe my host mom, is a bit of a ham. Someone's always fake-pouting, someone else is always calling someone else stupide or con or moche (stupid, idiot, ugly), and all in all it's really really fun.

Okay - some pics of my room and of the living room. The apartment is long and narrow: you walk in and there's a table for keys and such, and a hallway going to the left and right. To the left is the kitchen and the master bedroom/bathroom; straight ahead is the dining room and living room; to the right are the kids' bedrooms, including mine, the kids' bathroom, and the computer room. All these rooms open off of the narrow hallway.

My room seen from the door (note the lovely comforter cover; yes, they follow the European tradition of just a fitted sheet and comforter cover. I don't mind - I'm not the one washing my sheets...)

From the door again, but this time displaying the incredible height of the ceiling. It's kind of like living in a museum. Also, just for a laugh, how many times over could my room from last semester fit into this room? Five? Six?

The view into the courtyard from my window.

The view across the courtyard from me, where the sketchy guy mentioned in my first post probably lives.

The living room. Seriously, it's like a museum. Until you see the five of us kids lounging on the white cotton-covered sofas watching bad American TV and calling things "moche". Then it loses some of its dignity.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Okay, I finally took some pictures. They're not great, and I don't have a lot, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I don't just bite the bullet and post them now, they'll languish on my camera forever. I hate taking pictures, because if I have a camera with me I find that I spend too much time thinking about the pictures I should be taking and not enough time actually looking at the beautiful things I'm seeing.

So, this picture is of the grimacing heads on the Pont Neuf (which means "New Bridge", but thanks to the incredible ancient-ness (ancientry?) of Paris, is actually the oldest bridge in Paris, built in 1606. Go figure.) It is said that the heads represent the friends and ministers of Henri IV - pretty bunch, n'est-ce pas?

This is a random statue near the Pont Neuf - it might be the Vert Gallant, but I am not at all sure. I really just took the pic because of the pretty moon, hence the lack of flash and resultant blurriness.

This is what I had for lunch today. It was in a little café near the Tufts classrooms, and I ordered salade de chèvre, and then it came and was so pretty I couldn't resist taking a photo. It was also delicious.

This is the Eiffel Tower as seen through the window of a moving Métro train. Ligne 6 goes above ground between stations Passy and Cambronne, and there's a minute-long window between buildings and stations and suchlike things where one can see la Tour Eiffel. The novelty of that will never, ever wear off for me. I also like this picture because the train made such a symmetrical wiggle during the exposure time, as you can see in the lights.

Today we had a presentation on Normandy, which is where we're going next weekend on a Tufts trip, and it got me really excited. Good food, beautiful architecture... She described the landscape as similar to New Hampshire, but I think she probably meant Vermont, as it's the obviously superior state. Don't worry, I'll take lots of pictures so you guys can judge for yourselves.

My host family continues to be really, genuinely nice. There is always something going on, and someone else is always home, and dinners tend to be quite chaotic, but it's fun. They're great about correcting me just enough so I learn, but not enough so that I'm feeling constantly nitpicked to death. (Well, except by the youngest boy, who's 15, but I just tell him to shut up in the rudest French I know and he laughs and forgets what he was correcting me about.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thank you for all the shower-related comments! I shall certainly keep them in mind as I fight the laziness versus cleanliness battle ("I need to take a shower... but my bed is so warm and soft... but I'm filthy... but I'm tired...")

Anyway, j'ai beaucoup de choses à raconter! I've gone to my first classes at Paris III/Sorbonne Nouvelle, which I like to call the "ghetto university". It's a public university, and it's all one building in the middle of a random neighborhood in the southeast of Paris. (For those of you following along on your maps at home, it's in the 5th arrondissement, between Rue Mirbel and Rue Santeuil.) The literature class I'm taking, "Representing Passions in the 17th Century," meets a total of 5 hours a week, which is a lot. Especially as the chairs in the classroom are even less comfortable than the chairs in Robinson 251 (there is at least one person who will appreciate that) and I emerge on Wednesdays, after one hour of background lecture, an hour and a half break, and two hours of more in-depth lecture about the actual literature, with a completely numb rear end. But the professor is incredibly nice, and very clear - I can actually understand about 95% of what he says - and apparently he's accustomed to having Tufts students in his classes. So that will be fun. The other class I'm taking there, "The History of Europe Through Language," starts next week. And the Tufts-in-Paris courses, French Language and Art History, start in a week and a half.

So on Wednesday, after sitting for three hours, I decided to get myself a bit lost and wander around the neighborhood where Paris III is. The Jardin des Plantes is very close to the university, so I wandered through there. There weren't all that many plants, it being January, but it was a nice place to walk around. I saw some signs for a menagerie, so I decided to follow them, and lo and behold, there was an enclosure with WALLABIES! So that pretty much made my day. And then I continued to wander until I found a Métro station, which is usually how I manage to find my way home after losing myself.

Today we went to the Louvre to get student cards there which let us in free, whenever we want... Which is obviously AMAZING. I think maybe I'll start going to the Louvre every Monday, since I don't have class. My photo on the ID card, though, leaves something to be desired. Like, for example, a normal facial expression. Seriously, it's the kind of photo that the security guard is going to look at and laugh. As my friend here said, though, "It's a great photo! for a mug shot..."

I promise to write more later, but I'm venturing out for my first trip to the movies tonight, with another Tufts student. If I understand half the movie, I will be overjoyed. Au revoir!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Long-awaited first post!

Okay, so I see by my 27 profile views that people are perhaps becoming a bit antsy for updates. All right, here goes:

My host family is AWESOME. Four kids at home, ages 15, 17, 19, and 22 (boy, girl, girl, girl) and all really helpful and willing to speak slowly for me. The apartment building is about a 5-minute walk from l'Arc de Triomphe, and it's not really in a residential district - just right there among the shops and restaurants. It has a courtyard and everything! My room looks out onto the courtyard, which has trees and such. I shall have to be much more vigilant about closing my curtains here than I was at school, since there's a room directly across from mine that probably, with my luck, houses a dirty old Frenchman.

Today I wandered around my neighborhood for a bit, then took the Métro to Île de la Cité (where Nôtre Dame is) and wandered around there. It being Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but the Champs-Élysées was good for people-watching. I walked along the Seine, too, and saw bikers taking their lives in their hands by whizzing along about a foot from the edge - not something I could ever do.

I paid close attention to what people are wearing so I can try to blend in some - I must buy some skinny jeans to wear with boots or ballet flats, as that is definitely the style here. Happily, Converse All-Stars are very in as well, and I just happen to have brought mine. Berets, surprisingly enough, are fashionable this season, and I think I can pull that off, so I might just have to subscribe to the oldest French fashion stereotype in the book and buy one.

I've now taken two showers in this apartment, and I can't seem to figure it out. Before you say "Dear Lord, Lisa, how hard is it to take a shower?" please continue reading and reserve judgment until the end. See, the set-up is that there's a tub, but no curtain - instead, there's a door that reaches perhaps halfway down the side and then stops, leaving the rest of one long side and one short side unprotected. That wouldn't be so bad, but then there's a faucet, like normal, a hand-held showerhead, which is nice--and no place to hang said hand-held showerhead. Faced with this dilemma yesterday, on 2 hours of sleep, I managed to get only my own clothing wet, surprisingly enough. Any suggestions? The contortions I perform are amusing, but will quickly get frustrating.

Ah bon, I'm tired and I have a full day of cell-phone buying and "This is how you behave in France" lecture-going tomorrow, so I shall go to bed.