Sunday, October 5, 2008


So I finally found an Internet café with WiFi that I can use until I have Internet chez moi, which, given that this is France, might happen within the century...

Anyway, so on to what I’ve been doing with myself. First, what I brought with me:
The suitcases look awfully small, don’t they? Still, I managed to squeak under the 50-lb weight limit, even with the big one, which weighed in at 47 pounds. The trans-Atlantic flight was uneventful, but my Heathrow-Charles de Gaulle flight was delayed by about an hour (DO NOT FLY THROUGH HEATHROW until they’ve figured out what the heck they’re doing with their fancy new terminal), so I was a little worried about getting to my train on time… Which worry was intensified after someone told me you couldn’t buy tickets on the bus, so I had to get 8,90 € in change to use in the machine. After dragging my messenger bag, backpack, small rolling suitcase and large rolling duffel bag for miles around the airport terminal buying 90-centime drinks with 10 € bills, I had enough. So I dutifully bought my ticket and waited for the bus that would take me into Paris. In line for the bus, I noticed that the woman ahead of me had only a 20 € bill. Poor thing, I thought. She’ll have to do what I did, and what a pain that was. But no, she handed her bill to the bus driver, who gave her change and a ticket, and went happily on her way. Biting back swear words in at least three different languages, I handed my ticket to the driver and found a seat.

Once in Paris, I was planning to take the Métro from the bus drop-off to the train station, but the bus actually passed Gare St-Lazare, so I paid attention to the street names, and when I got off the bus, decided to walk to the station. I didn’t get lost at all (of which accomplishment I am inordinately proud, given that I’ve been known to get turned around in West Lebanon) and arrived about an hour before my train. My French colleague, Michèle, was at the train station to meet me, and she took me to my school, Lycée Pierre Corneille. The building dates back to the 1600s, which, as I pointed out to Michèle’s great amusement, is older than my country. The outside is beautiful; the inside, institutional and maze-like. I met various people whose names I forgot almost immediately, then met the woman who’s going to take care of my paperwork so I don’t get kicked out of the country. Her name is Sandrine, and she took me to my apartment, which is about a 7-minute walk from the school. It’s on a very quiet street:
with a church (Saint-Nicaise) right across the way, because this is France, and they have more churches than they know what to do with.
My apartment is on the 3rd American floor, but the building has an elevator (I think I would have cried if it didn’t – I couldn’t face lifting those suitcases one more step). Here’s the living room (with TV! I can watch bad French reality shows as much as I want!):
Kitchen (yes, that’s it, but there is a double sink):
Shower room (the toilet is in its own separate room, which is one of my favorite European conveniences):
My room!
And my room, cleaned up:
Sandrine left me alone for a few hours, then came back to take me to dinner at Michèle’s house. At this point, I hadn’t slept in about 30 hours, but I could follow most of the conversation, and they appeared to understand me just fine most of the time. Dinner was delicious, and it certainly got me thinking in French right away – there’s something to be said for plunging headlong into conversation. Michèle actually lives outside of Rouen proper – there were a bunch of little towns in the area that spread out and eventually ran together, so Rouen itself isn’t huge but its suburbs are ginormous. Her street is on a hill, looking directly down at the spire of the cathedral. After dinner, Sandrine took me home, whereupon I went to bed and slept like the dead for about 10 hours.

Saturday morning, I awoke and, still lying in bed, looked out the window, which made me fall in love with France all over again:
When I convinced myself to get up, I took this one:
Then I looked down into the street and realized that my building, which looks pretty modern in all other respects, has a slate roof. Repeat after me: J’aime la belle France! J’aime la belle France!

The first order of business was to buy a cell phone, since my apartment doesn’t have Internet or a phone line. I had no map, nor any idea where to find one, but Michèle had said that downtown Rouen centers on the cathedral, so I figured I’d just look for the tall pointy thing and be all set. What Michèle neglected to tell me is that Rouen is known as the “Ville de cent clochers” (City of a hundred bell-towers). There are a lot of tall pointy things in this city. Thankfully, near one of the many churches that is not, in fact, the famous cathedral, there was a map, with a tourist information office helpfully pointed out in red. This office faces the big cathedral, the one Monet painted about 60 billion times. I can totally see why:

In the office, I bought a few postcards and then asked the nice man behind the counter where I could find a cell phone store. He didn’t know off the top of his head, which turned out to be a stroke of luck because he had to get out this little guide called the Viking (Normandy is very proud of its Viking heritage), which he then gave to me. It’s meant for students, but I look so young everyone assumes I must be one, and it is probably the most useful thing I own right now. It has addresses for almost everything you could possibly need, as well as café, bar, nightclub, and restaurant reviews and prices. It also comes with a card that can get me reductions at certain places. Anyway, I took the guide and set off towards the cell phone store, but was quickly distracted. The cell phone store is, as I discovered later, on one of the main shopping streets in the city. I couldn’t go two steps without seeing something I wanted to buy, and I even tried on a few things, but my common sense prevailed and I didn’t get anything, figuring I’d better get my priorities straight from the beginning. So, after taking about an hour to walk 50 yards, I bought my phone and went back to the cathedral to try to figure it out. Here it is, in all its tiny glory:

And here it is modeling the fine handiwork of my father:
After window-shopping for a little longer (everything here seems so cheap after Paris – it’s nice) I went back to the little supermarket at the bottom of my street and bought mozzarella/eggplant/tomato tortellini for dinner, which I ate while watching bad French television. I tell myself that it’s okay, even educational, for me to watch French reality TV, because it’s all good language practice, right? Of course right.

I’m cutting myself off here, because how I do go on, but there’s more to come!

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Sounds like you're getting settled in nicely. I wish I were doing the same on my extra-American adventure, but we've another week or so of training here in Osaka before they even tell me where my apartment is. Anyway, KAMPAI! for being ex-pats! I guess I'll email you my blag info when I start it up again.