Thursday, September 30, 2010

All moved in! ...again

So guess what I was doing at six thirty this morning. Packing, that's what. I have switched host families, and in fact will switch once more before I'm finally settled with a permanent family.

Here's what happened: my original host family sucked. They never talked to me. They skipped half the dinners we were supposed to have together (which I have paid for in my room and board fee). When we did eat together, they ate as fast as possible and avoided conversation. When I had a friend over -- for the record, we were sitting in my room talking quietly -- the father came in and said without introduction, "on n'accepte pas des autres" (we don't allow other people). They explained to me in great detail why they hate Chinese people. They blew. I was actually planning on just dealing with it, and making the best of my independence and the good location, but after the racist diatribe against all things Chinese (which I guess must have included my best friend, Michelle Fang), I decided to let the director of the program know that they should not use this family again. My take on it was this: I can handle it because I'm already comfortable speaking French and have connections in Paris and therefore more independence than the average American exchange student. But for 99% of future APA students, this family would make them miserable. Mme la directrice's response, "I don't care if you're willing to stay with this family, we're not willing to let you. You're moving within four days." And they found me a new family in the same arrondissement. The complication was that I couldn't move in with this family before October 15, and they wanted me out before the 15 day trial period was up (if, within 15 days of moving in, a student moves out of a host family's residence, the host family is not paid for the semester of housing). So til mid-October I am living with Blandine, who works for APA.

Blandine lives with her husband and four children (ages 8-12) in the 13th arrondissement. Like my last host family, the apartment is very nice. Unlike my last host family, there is lots of nice clutter everywhere -- signs that a family who does things together lives there -- and no giant Chanel bottles, or stale cigarette smoke. There are two ovens and a whole slew of pots and pans. Blandine's oldest daughter wants to bake with me. I had my first real family dinner tonight since leaving the farm, and I can't tell you how wonderful it was. Everyone talked at the same time (complicated for Blandine's husband who is deaf, but speaks and reads lips), we ate lots of wonderful food (melon, salad with a mustard sauce, a salmon and leek tarte, and cheese), and drank a good bottle of wine. For comparison, my old host family's dinners consisted primarily of cold cuts and microwaved vegetables in various consistancies. My old host once mother gave me a dirty look for using my fork and fingers to pull off hairy spines on an artichoke (what the hell else was I supposed to do, levitate them off with my mind?). Tonight, Blandine gave up helping her son cut his melon with a fork and a knife and used her fingers to no one's disapproval.

Out of Blandine's three daughters, two dance ballet and jazz, so we had fun talking about that during dinner. I also helped the younger daughters do their English homework, which was lots of fun. I would love to stay with this family, but one of the daughters has moved into her brother's room temporarily so that I can be here. Two weeks is one thing for them to share, but a whole semester is another. Also, sitting on the desk in my borrowed room when I arrived was a sheet of paper that the kids had made saying "Bienvenue Rachel!" Each one wrote a little note to me telling me how excited they were to meet me. I will save it forever.

In other news, I had my first university class yesterday! It was relations économiques internationales at Paris IX Dauphine, one of the best economics and business schools in France. It was the hardest class I have ever taken, not just because the professor spoke very quickly, or that economics liingo is not necessarily the same in French as in English, but also because it was 3 hours and 15 minutes long with a 10 minute break. I had gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before (accidentally missed the last metro, so stupidly decided to go clubbing with my friends til 5 in the morning, poor decision), and it is a true testiment to the professor that I didn't fall asleep. Although I have to pay real attention to understand him, he's fantastic. He explains things clearly, he asks us good questions and encourages us to talk, he's sensitive to the international students in the class and explains vocabulary for us, and he obviously really knows his subject. I also made a few international friends at the orientation beforehand, and then after class started chatting to a French guy in my class. And he offered to help me if I needed it in the course! Yay! I hope he was serious, because I'm going to have to take him up on it. I'm in a third-year (the last year) level class with students who study only economics and business, and my preparation for this course is one semester of economics 101. In this first French class, we covered most of what I learned in that intro class back in the U.S. But it's okay! It's interesting, the professor is approachable, and I know I can do it.

Now that I know what my courses are going to be like, and now that I've got a host family who talks to me all the time, I really feel like I can leave France at the end of this school year with fluent French. And on that note, I'm going to sleep. Tomorrow our program is taking us to Borgogne for the weekend, so I have to get up pretty early.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

La ville d'amour

Well, I'm all moved in! Finally in Paris...although I got a facebook message from Willa today all about her life on the farm since I've left that literally made me tear up. I knew I would get nostalgic, but the emotion is still surprising every time it hits me.
The weather in Paris right now is beautiful. I'm sitting on this bench in this little rose garden by my metro stop writing this, and it's so much fun to see everyone outside in their pretty summer clothes. I'm carrying around with me a batch of eclaires that I made to take to the APA office. They're okay, the eclaires. Not great. The oven runs hot, so the pate a choux is too crunchy, but what can you do. It's always an adventure cooking in a new kitchen. I learned today, for example, that my host family does not possess a pot. Any sort of pot. How a family can exist for 30 years without accumulating a single pot is completely beyond me, but I swear it's true. They do have a fondue thing, so I used the pot for the machine on the stove to make the pate a choux and the creme. I don't think I ruined it. Anyway, there is also no plastic wrap or aluminun foil in the house, and the lids to the tupperware containers have long since been lost, so I covered the containers of eclaires in trash bags and carried them out. And yes, I can already see the chocolate smeared all over the bags. But whatever. Julia Child says to never apologize for bad cooking, so I will serve them with a smile. I can't keep them for myself, as I made about a dozen. And my host family consists of only a mother and a father -- their three kids have moved out -- and the father works away from home during the week and the mother already ate one eclaire with lunch.

My host parents are very sweet and very bourgieous. Their apartment is absolutely beautiful. I have French windows and a tiny balcony in my room, and a fire place. I also have a salle de bain (bathroom minus a toilet) to myself. It's sort of the anti-WWOOF here: everything is beautiful and clean and fancy, but I have only had one family dinner with them since arriving last Friday. I have complete independence, which is great, but I will have to find my own entertainment or risk getting a little lonely in this giant, empty apartment (the mother and I cross paths everyday, but she works full days and usually goes out to eat, um, obviously since she owns no pots). This family also has some sort of obsession with Chanel. Obsession isn't even a strong enough word. I peaked in the mother's drawers in her bathroom: she wears only Chanel makeup and perfume and nail polish. In nearly every room, at least one bottle of Chanel perfume is on display. In the bathroom with the toilet, about eight bottles are set in this alcove, all ranging in size, the largest about a gallon. Yes, a gallon of Chanel perfum. It has never been opened. Somebody printed out a color picture of Chanel perfume and carfully cut out around the edges of the bottles and stuck it to my door. I find it all a very intersting interior decorating decision, but who am I to judge? I have a black and white picture of Coco herself as my computer background.

I am determined to make French friends. I don't want to get sucked into the trap of only hanging out with Americans and speaking English all the time. I am so happy I spent the summer in France. I am one of the only students who consistently understands what's going on, and who isn't afraid of speaking French to actual French people. I am learning, though, that I may want to unlearn some of the stuff that I picked up on the farm. Yesterday I told the director of the program -- a very sweet, old fashioned, proper lady -- that "ça me fait chieé," which is basically, "that really pisses me off" in English. I didn't have the slightest idea that it was a vulgarity. I mean, that's what everyone on the farm said.

Classes haven't started yet. I've got a meeting in an hour to choose my classes, and after going through the course book, I think I'm going to be taking all geography/economy/political theory type classes. That's what really interested me: no art history, no literature...I feel a little bit like I've come into some understanding of what I want to do with myself by choosing these classes. I'm not really sure what it is, but something concrete, with the developing world. Ideally, I would just sort of turn them all into self-sufficient, Marxist societies (ooh, I bet I have an FBI file for putting that on the internet) but I have yet to hear of a job with that description.

Anyway, now I've got to jump on the metro, and head from the 17th arrondissement, where I live, to the 14th, chez APA and meet with Mme Suraqui, the director of this program. I will try not to offend her this time with any French vulgarities. Oh putain...

Monday, September 6, 2010

one week to paris...

One week until Paris! Well, one week til I leave for Nice, and then two days after that I leave for Paris. I have really reached my limit of being in isolation. I know this because I’ve started online shopping. Well, okay, I haven’t actually bought anything yet, but I’ve drooled a lot.

I also have done lots of escaping into the world of Harry Potter. Willa and I have been listening to the seventh book on tape, or on iPod I guess, while we cook, and it’s really invaded my real world. Willa and I recently became full nerds when we wrote a rap song about Harry. I guess wrap: wizard rap. It’s great, and as soon as we get the music video up on youtube, I will let you know. We also have created a Harry Potter fan club headquarters. Valerie moved to her own apartment, and Willa took her bedroom. So we turned Willa’s old bedroom into a living room. Her bed and pillows has become a couch, and we turned a sort of shelf into a coffee table. And we’ve made lots of posters and signs and hung them all over. One says “Potter Fan Club, Long Live the Chosen One.” Having this area of our own is actually really nice. There’s a sort of freedom in the privacy it gives us. Most of what we do in this room is just watch trashy American television (there are some free downloads on iTunes) and drink tea.

We continue to cook two meals a day from scratch, as well as work in the garden. Yesterday we started gathering wood for the winter.

There are three dogs here, and two of them have been pregnant. One of them had her puppies probably the day before yesterday, and last night I found them with their mother. The mother dog is very sweet and trusting, and she let me pick up her puppies without any sort of nervous reaction. Of course, they were adorable. But Claude had been saying ever since it was obvious that the dogs were pregnant that he would have to drown the puppies. He doesn’t have the money to get his dogs fixed, or the money or will to have any more dogs. All the farmers around here get rid of their newborn dogs and cats. So this morning, I unhappily told Claude where I had found the puppies with their mother, knowing exactly what would happen next. It seems crueler to me to let all the puppies live and have them starve to death than to kill them quickly and keep the population in check. But after Claude took them, their mother started frantically looking everywhere for her puppies, shacking and panting and whining imploringly, especially to me, I think because I was the one who found her with them. All day, she’s been acting just like a mother of any species who can’t find her children. The only thing that could make the situation worse is laughing at it, and that’s exactly what Claude has done. He keeps making jokes to the poor dog herself about how her puppies took a nice swim today and how she’s better off without children to bother her. It makes me want to throw up. And he thinks he’s being cute, or showing how manly he is because he can laugh at killing things. Frankly, I think it’s just redneck. It’s a trait that I have seen in other people who live close to the land like this. Not everyone, of course, but some people with a similar lifestyle have Claude’s same attitude of needing to show their toughness and their disregard for anything “city people” think is pretty or sacred. It’s as though he’s showing how he can kill puppies without a second thought to prove his paysan-ness. But somehow I don’t find it tough or paysan to laugh at a mother whose babies have just been killed, even if that mother is not human. Maybe I’m being too hard on Claude. He made it clear that he doesn’t like to have to kill puppies. But I just don’t think the way of dealing with mercy killing is by being flippant. The real icing on top of the cake was when the dog found her dead puppies in the garbage and tried to take them back and hide them in the house. And I feel responsible because I was the one who told Claude she had puppies. But I don’t know what else I could have done; he was bound to find out at some point. So all in all, it hasn’t been a great day.