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.