Saturday, June 4, 2011


It's been weeks and weeks since it's rained in Paris. Two or three months since it's been wet enough to soak the ground. Farmers in France have been talking about slaughtering their animals because they can't afford to feed them. Tonight, it poured. There was thunder and lighning, and even though we all got soaked to the bone, Paris went out.

It's my second-to-last night in France, and tomorrow doesn't really count since I'll be going to bed early in order to wake up for my 8 a.m. flight. I was supposed to meet up with a friend of mine and some of her friends at a restaurant. But things fell through. I have no credit on my phone, so I wasn't able to call her to find her. (It didn't seem worth it to buy more for my last few days here, and I've been making do with a landline and email...very early 90s of me, I guess.) I thought we were meeting at the metro stop, and I waited and waited, but they never showed up. I finally got the guts up to ask to borrow a phone from a stranger and found out that they were already at the restaurant. I got the address from her, but even though I had a map and I was sure I was on the right street, I walked and walked and couldn't find it. I was not particularly zen about the situation. I actually cried a little bit when I realized that I was spending my last night out in Paris walking alone in the rain in a less-than-charming neighboorhood. But I called it quits and was about to go home when I realized I wasn't too far away from a friend's house and used another stranger's phone to convince him to meet me.

I wasn't very close to Alex during the semester. We had French classes together and would go out sometimes, but only when we were with other friends. But the two of us are some of the last from our semester left in Paris, and since the end of classes, we've seen each other four or five times. This guy is great. He has the most articulate, composed way of expressing himself, and to get to spend time with him in this period of transition and packing has made me so much more optimistic about leaving and so much better able to rationalize this end to my year. We're both pretty broke, so we just decided to walk. Walking alone, lost and wet is so much different from walking around Paris at night in a warm summer storm with a friend.

We wound up in my favorite part of the city, and all of these Moroccans were out on the streets celebrating a soccer win. The rain was the kind of hot summer storm that I haven't been in since leaving New England, where the humidity and the heat has built for days and the rain comes as such a relief. The stupid Woody Allen movie that just came out really exploited the cliché of Paris in the rain, but it's a cliché for a reason: Paris was beautiful tonight. And really, what better way to say goodbye than to walk? For one last time, I was part of this amazing place, integrated into the crowds at the bars, the post-soccer celebrations, the architecture, the psycho mo-ped drivers, the smokers huddled under awnings, the late-night crêperies.

It's only just hit me how heart-broken I will be to leave this place. I know I will come back, and everyone I say goodbye to reminds me over and over again of that. But I will never come back to this year, to going to France as a 20-year old and plunging myself into a language that I have only the faintest grasp of, and a culture that I have absolutely no understanding of. The next time I come back here, I'll be older, I probably won't be so poor, I'll speak French with working fluency, I'll understand what I'm coming into. It just sounds so dull.

But these long conversations with Alex that I've had ever since the semester ended has made me realize how nice it will be to go home. He said something tonight about how comfortable it will be, how being in a new place --for all its excitement -- is inherently uncomfortable and difficult to manage. Life in Paris has been a series of navigating obstacles, and to go home to predictability will be a relief. And a year away from my family is hard. I can't wait to see them.

I'm basically packed. I have macarons in the fridge that I'm bringing back and my toothbrush and some general debris that I need to deal with, but other than that, I'm ready to go.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ex-Pats in Paris

I woke up early this morning at 10:00 (Fridays are normally part of my weekend meaning I typically lie in bed until around noon) to go to a British cafe to watch the royal wedding with pretty much every other Anglophone living in Paris. It was quite the event -- I mean, the cafe itself, the wedding of course was the event of the century. All the waitresses were wearing masks of different members of the royal family, there was a whole group in plastic tiaras, people ordered champagne, we sang "God Save the Queen" along with the crowd in London shown on the giant screen, British flags with William's and Kate's faces were on every table, and there was a special wedding menu of fish and chips with Harry's special tartar sauce. Yesterday, I didn't even know when the wedding was; today, I am plotting how to meet Harry. He's cute, but mostly I want to be Kate's sister-in-law.

One of the things I will miss most from my time in Paris is the ex-pat community. I'm not exactly living Hemingway's absinthe-infused, creativity-driven, artist-filled Parisian experience, but by nature of being a foreigner, I have made connections with people from every inhabited continent. In fact, I believe I feel most at home in these foreigner-claimed spaces within Paris: South African bars, Australian night clubs, English cafes, Irish pubs, etc. I also spend a lot of time with other foreign students. It doesn't matter the nationality or mother tongue, we bond through our simultaneous love of Paris and homesickness. I was recently at a picnic with representatives from Spain, Italy, Trinidad, Austria, Britian, France, the U.S., Japan, and China. (It was a big picnic.) We normally choose to speak primarily in French with a decent amount of English thrown in, and plenty of side-conversations among compatriots in whatever their native language may be. This language is my new mother tongue, these spaces are my home. I can express myself with every single word in my vocabulary, whether it be English or French, and be understood. But most importantly, understanding the challenges of living abroad -- most specifically, of living in Paris in the year 2011 -- are an implicit part of my relationships with the people that I meet in these spaces.

In other news, I accidentally went to the Paris premiere of Water for Elephants last night. Okay, I didn't really go to the premiere, but I walked past the line, and there was Reece Witherspoon! My friend had a multiple-sentence conversation with her. She's short like me!

My grandparents, mother, and best friend all visited me in the past two months, which was wonderful. Also, I finally got my grade for this really brutal course that I took at this snobby French business and economics university. I have never come out of a final exam feeling like more of a failure than after the exam for this course. In fact, I had anxiety dreams about this grade, most notably one in which my advisor is explaining to me that I needn't bother applying to Yale for grad school because of the grade that I got for this class. And guess what: I got an A-!! I wouldn't say I'm proud of myself, because I actually didn't learn all that much from this course. I think the adjective most accurate to describe my feelings about this grade is baffled. Delighted also, obviously.

I'll be leaving Paris on June 6th and going straight to Lewiston, Idaho. I'd rather not think about it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sadly, my blog is also disappearing into the vapor of the virtual world

I had such high hopes for my blog -- one post a week, every two weeks if I was lazy -- and here I am without a single post for January. Oh well.

January: busy! I took my last exams (economy was a nightmare, but my Exorcist presentation went really well), started my new program, moved, and went through two weeks of intensive French classes.

Now all of a sudden it's February! My new program is good. The classes are wonderful, I like a few of the people a lot, my new host family is amazing...everything is going well. I'm super busy: last semester I had lots of fun with American friends in Paris, this semester I've decided I'm going to buckle down and really work. I'm taking two ballet classes a week (I look like an old lady in tights when I dance, but whatever, I'm really good at naming body parts in French now), I'm babysitting for two families, and doing English tutoring for two more. I'm reading the second Harry Potter book in French, which totally counts as an academic endeavor. I'm auditing an extra French class because I want the extra practice. I'm also trying to get eight hours of sleep a night because the flu is going around Paris.

My French is not fluent. My French will not be fluent by the end of this year. Fluency is sort of this very maliable concept for me. In high school, if I had heard myself speak French like I do now, I would have said, "Hell yea I'm fluent, let's move on to the next language." But now that I speak like I do, I realize that there is all this stuff I don't know: slang, which rules I can break to acheive various effects, cultural references, and sometimes some everyday word or grammar rule that still escapes me. But I do finally feel that Rachel in French and Rachel in English are almost the same person. For a long time, Rachel in French was pretty stupid, had no sense of humor, laughed at the wrong things, and didn't really understand how daily life worked. Rachel in English is often just like that, but at least she is usually aware of her betises when they are presenting themselves -- and thus gets to enjoy the resulting humiliation. (Rachel in French was also remarkably non-chalant for being such an idiot.) Now, Rachel in French is still a little dim, but she can make the occasional joke and she finally has a pretty clear understanding of the world around her. Of course, she now gets to experience the full impact of the embarrassing moments that she is often responsible for, but in order to cope with it, she usually just pulls the ignorant American card.

My friend Michelle and my mom and my grandparents are all coming to visit in the next few months! So that's exciting. My mom and Michelle are both going to stay with me because my host parents are so sweet and are letting them. Yay!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

And Now It's a Food Blog!

Well, not permanently. But for the next 11 days, while I'm staying with my cousins in Copenhagen, yes. So like I've mentioned, my cousin Sandra who lives here is a chef. So the food's pretty good. Here is a list of things I've eaten since getting here two days ago (everything is homemade unless I specifically say it's not, including the jams, breads, and lattes): rolls with black currant-rum jam and a latte; pasta with a bacon-leek-spinach cream sauce (it's really not the season to be Jewish, tant pis); fresh mushroom ravioli (from the Italian store) with pesto (homemade); a cabbage-orange-olive salad with a balsamic vinegarette; rice pudding; duck stuffed with Indian-y spices and oranges served with a tangy orange sauce; herb roasted beets, turnips, and potatoes; waldorf salad; apple-cranberry pie with a sort of gingerbread-like crust served with crème fraîche; pizza topped with duck, mushrooms, potatoes, pesto and cheese; pizza topped with tomato, mussels and zucchini; lots more lattes and toast and jam. (From the rice pudding to the apple-cranberry pie is our Christmas Eve dinner.)

My flight left an hour and a half late, but I made it in, which is more than a lot of people flying in Europe can say right now.

For the first time in my life, I'm staying in a house with a real (as in formerly alive) Christmas tree! It smells so good. Maybe I'll experiment with the Chanukka Bush idea. JUST KIDDING MOTHER. It was just the four of us for Christmas Eve, which is when they celebrate in Denmark, but that was great, since none of us are Christian anyway. Christmas is part of the Danish tradition and the Protestant Church is the state church in Denmark so my cousins like to celebrate, but they're not interested in praying and singing and buying tons of presents (which in the United States somehow is associated with piousness, or is that just my own perception?). Anyway, they got me two presents, which was so nice of them: a shirt that says Danmark on it backwards in red and white, and long sock-slippers that go up to my knees. After practicing reading Danish tonight with Mathilde (my second cousin) I'm pretty sure I'm practically Danish. I just need a bike.

Although maybe Mathilde and I undid all my progress into becoming Danish when we drank Coke and watched MTV this afternoon...or maybe I can just say that Super Sweet Sixteen transcends nationality.

Tomorrow we're going to have lunch with Karsten's three older kids and some other family. Then we're going skiing in Sweden (YES YES YES YES YES YES YES MATHILDE AND KARSTEN LIKE TO RACE YES YES YES YES YES). Then I'm going to have to study for exams and prepare a presentation on The Exorcist (awesome, I know), and then it's New Year's!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Been sort of flaky...but here's a new post!

I'm a little disappointed in how bad I've been at updating this. I was doing well with two blogs a month for a while, but then I really fell off the wagon. But bref.

So I did make it to London in the end. I was there three weekends ago, and it felt so weird to be lost in this giant city. When I stopped to think about it, I realized that Paris is the only city that I actually know. I lived near Boston but didn't ever learn it that well, and I know Berkeley, but San Francisco is another thing. Sure, I can get myself around, but when you actually live in a city, you understand it so much better. I don't necessarily feel comfortable giving directions in San Francisco. In Paris, I can get myself home from the opposite end of the city at night without a map. London was big and crowded. I won't go all pretensh and say that it was sooo weird to hear English la di da I'm practically French, but I have to say that it was really weird to be in an English speaking city and STILL not understand anyone. And the first Brit I talked to asked me if I was Irish! IRISH!!!!

Anyway, I had a wonderful time with my friend there, but I was surprised how much I missed Paris. I was also surprised that I have picked up some Parisian habits: I said "good day" and "sir" and "miss" and "please" way too much, I ate with my knife in my right hand. And I kept accidentally saying "pardon" (the French way) instead of "excuse me!" But the American will never disappear: I still smiled too much at everyone and ate constantly. And I practically broke my neck everytime I tried to cross the street and looked to the left instead of the right.

My semester will go on for another two weeks after the New Year, but the major stuff is all over. This is the synopsis of my exam week: Thursday morning: wake up fifteen minutes before I have to leave for class, run out the door ten minutes late, realize on the metro that I have a huge paper on a book I have not yet found due Monday, show up to class to find out that it's cancelled (which I had known about). Friday: can't find the book I need at the library, get two others for background research. Saturday: change my book to the one for background research, spend all day reading it (it was about the economics of humanitarian aid). Sunday: frantically write a nine-page paper on this book. Monday: finish up the paper, try to hand the paper in, find out that it is due in three weeks. Go to my final that I haven't studied for because I was too busy writing my paper that wasn't due. Do okay, I hope. Tuesday: sleep. Don't study for my three finals on Wednesday. Wednesday: take three finals that I haven't studied for. We'll see. Thursday: show up to my art history class ten minutes late thinking it was a review for the final. Everyone is stitting down taking the final. So I also just sit down like I'm not totally stunned and take it with them. Felt okay about it. Friday: don't make it to class because of a 3 billion hour visa crap bureaucracy thing. Saturday: vacation!

So yea, I'm a pathetic excuse for a student. Although I got my art history final back, and I did pretty well on it.

I leave tomorrow for Copenhagen, where I will spend Christmas and the New Year's with my cousins. I can't wait!!! I'm a little nervous about the flight, because so many people are stuck in Paris. But the weather's cleared up -- it was pretty snowy for a while -- so hopefully I'll leave on time.

I'll miss Paris though.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paris, not London

This is where I'm at right now: Paris. Not London. This should come as a surprise to no one but myself, seeing as I even forgot to tell my parents that I was planning on going to London to visit a friend for the weekend. One of my friends from Mills is studying at the London School of Economics for the year, so I was going to see her this weekend. I had a plane ticket, I packed the night before, I had thought of a few things to do in London, and I even wrote down my flight information. But I forgot one very important thing. Before I get to that, let me explain that I don't take traveling to be anything out of the ordinary anymore. My life is in a constant state of transit. I haven't lived in any place for more than a year since I was 13, and I spent a good month and a half this summer truly living out of a suitcase. And I fly a lot. So I don't think twice about hopping on a plane to another country with a total on 5 euros in my pocket -- if I get stuck somewhere, I'll sleep in the airport, done it before and it's not that bad -- or having not printed out my boarding pass -- it's really not necessary, you can print it out at the airport.. In fact, that's exactly where I was at yesterday morning when I got on the metro with my backpack to go to the airport. And it wasn't until it was way to late to go back that I realized I had forgotten my passport. So I panicked for a few minutes, thought that maybe they'd accept my American driver's license, realized that was absolutely not going to fly, called up Dane and panicked some more, told him to not bother getting out of bed to go to my apartment to look for my passport and get on the metro to try to bring it to me because there was half an hour before my flight boarded, decided to not accept the advice of the guys sitting next to me on the metro ("just say someone stole it") since 9-11 happened and airport security's sort of not something to mess with, begged at the airport, and then turned around and came home.

That's not the end of the story though. My poor friend in London didn't receive my skype messages that I wouldn't be at her tube stop around noon afterall because I am a dumb connasse, and I couldn't get her on the phone -- some problem with international calling. So she was really worried about me for about 8 hours until we finally connected and I explained everything. Turns out that she had looked up my flight information to see if anything had gone wrong, and my flight was cancelled anyway. I don't really consider that the universe was speaking to me or anything though, because I was taking EasyJet, and frankly they cancel about 2 out of every 3 flights

So I spent my weekend in Paris doing homework. The French universities have caught on to me, and I suddenly have quite a bit to do. I'm going to write a paper for economics about the black markets in refugee camps, and I've got a half hour oral presentation for my film class where I will talk about the movie The Exorcist and the idea of the child as a monster and religion as a tool of society to control the monster. Or something like that. Honestly, I just want a chance to talk about The Exorcist intellectually. I actually merded in my pants when I saw this movie for the first time I was so scared. So I totally want to watch it again and call it homework.

Two friends were visiting last week, Reya, a friend from Milton and Berkeley, and Willa, who was in Paris after leaving the farm. We all went out to lunch together at this super traditional fancy French restaurant where I ate French onion soup and -- wait for it -- SNAILS. I ATE SNAILS. Willa totally peer pressured me into doing it. But guess what: just like everyone says, they were great. A lot like mussels in a beurre blanc sauce, but more parsley and cute little shells and forks to pull them out with. And a little bit too salty, but that was no fault of the poor, delicious snail. I ate three.

I was going to bring my friend in London a Longchamp bag, which meant that I had to go to the Galléries Lafayette. Fine, I could have gone to any of several Longchamp stores in Paris, but I figured that the Galléries Lafayette are always something to see so I may as well go there. This place is indescribable. Malls give me a headache as it is. The flourescent lighting, the cheap perfumes all mixing together, the bad music, the crowds, the echo of all the people shouting to each other, the heat... And Galléries Lafayette is like no other mall I have ever seen. It's got basically the same products as Saks or Barney's. But more. There's a Tiffany counter, a Cartier counter, every high-end make-up counter imaginable, and I would say the average price of an item of clothing there is 250 euros. That includes the lingerie section. It's also in a giant, four-story, domed building, and there is currently an enormous fake Christmas tree hanging in the dome. It's all very bright. Anyway, while I was buying the bag (which actually didn't work and I had to go back later, fml), I decided to get a new bottle of this Clinique lotion I use everyday that's about 15 dollars in the U.S. I figured it'd be about 10 euros, since Clinique is a French company. So I asked for one and got rung up before checking the price. Then the nice lady told me to give her 50 euros. For the lotion. And I didn't know what to do, because it was just completely deer-in-the-headlights. So I just sort of did it. And then I walked around the make-up counters for a while feeling my eyeballs shrinking in my head because the lighting was so harsh wondering how the hell I was going to get my 50 euros back. After about 15 minutes, I explained that I had made a mistake and the lotion was for my sister but actually she doesn't use it anymore, I just double-checked with her on the phone (thanks for your existence, Sophie). I think my accent helped her believe that I was really stupid, and she made the return for me.

My only other news is that I've started babysitting twice a week and tutoring English once a week. I babysit three girls -- 4, 7, and 10 -- in English. The family lived in Florida for three years (but they're French) and the two older daughters speak English pretty well. I'm there to keep the language in their heads. The four-year old speaks no English, so our communication is pretty entertaining sometimes. Tutoring English is pretty good. The boy is seven and really doesn't speak any, and the girl is 10 and understands a little. We do things like practice the weekdays and the months and conjugating basic verbs. It reminds me of my first French lessons. It's kind of fun being on the other end.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Increasing the retirement age + french people = no class for Rachel

The title pretty much says it all: let me just be perfectly clear and say that this semester school is a complete joke. I have had about 50% of my scheduled classes, and classes anyway don't require half as much work as school in the U.S. For the first time since middle school I am able to blow off school work and still be completely on top of my responsibilities, and I gotta say, it's awesome. I'm not really here to get a really stressful academic experience -- I went to prep school and a private college for that. I'm here to eat pastries with every meal and go to clubs that play euro pop and have a life in a foreign country in a foreign language. I'm also knitting myself some very nice mittens and continuing to cook a lot.

Okay, so my mother has been asking about the strikes. Like I said in my title, they are causing a lot of cancelled classes. Dauphine has been totally on schedule, but Nanterre is a hot mess, having had to cancel most classes for the last two weeks. There was also a loud but very orderly parade of strikers for a few hours right outside my apartment. Other than that, public transportation is a little slower than usual and therefore more crowded. But I'm used to BART, which comes every 15 minutes, so having the Metro come every four minutes instead of every two minutes just doesn't really piss me off that much. OK WAIT QUICK PAUSE IN HOW I WAS SAYING THE STRIKES DON'T BOTHER ME. I just received -- as in, this second -- a text from my program, and the ballet they were going to take us to see tonight is cancelled! Because of the strikes!!!!!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Screw you, Sarkozy, just give these people what they want!

Let me explain as much as I know about the strikes, and why upping the retirement age two little years is a big deal. Honestly, I don't really understand it that well myself, but I'll try. It's important to understand that since France is a social democracy, the state employs many times more workers than in the U.S. Since their public sector economy is so much bigger, it makes sense that there are more angry people when the government wants to manipulate that economy. Think about it this way: in the U.S., how many people are going to strike if Toyota changes their health benefits? Only the people who work for Toyota. In France, how many people are going to strike if France changes its retirement policy? Everyone who works for France, and that's a huge number of people since all transportation, health, school, university, police/defense, postal, and some bank workers are employed by the state (I definitely missed a few industries in that list, sorry). The governement wants to make the minimum (for government employees) retirement age 62 instead of 60, and the age to collect a full pension 67 instead of 65. People are not striking just because they will have to wait two more years to collect. It also has to do with the fact that unemployment is a problem in France. From what I have understood, it is not easy to find a job in France. High school and college students have joined the strikes because if the retirement age is raised, there will be fewer job openings every year. Youth unemployment in general has been a chronic problem for France, even before the economic crash. This problem has been ongoing, and making the job market even more competitive obviously will obviously only augment it.

I'm still trying to give myself an intellectual experience. I get bored with nothing to think about (which makes me awesome, not a nerd), so I'm writing an article for the Mills newspaper, sort of reading a book edited by Homi Bhabha (essays on post-colonialism), translating from French into English a screenplay written by a friend's host father, meeting once a week with a French student for bilingual conversation, volunteering in an elementary school English classroom, and, like I already said, knitting mittens. I'm also still cooking a lot with my friends and host mother. And I may start running again because I practically fainted the last time I walked up the seven flights of stairs to my apartment.