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.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Paris Routine

I have finally decided all my courses. For my friends in school in the U.S. who are going through midterms right now, yea, sucks to be you. In Paris, there are no midterms, and school doesn't start til October, and not even really then because they have to strike about some things for a while first, so we're just now getting going. (Apart from cancelled classes for a few days and a more-crowded-than-usual metro, the strikes haven't really affected my life.)

Ok, so here are my classes: at Dauphine (Paris IX) I'm taking Economy of Development; at Nanterre (Paris Ouest) I'm taking a Cinema Studies course on fantomes and fantasmes and an Art History course on the internationalization of Dadaism and the surreal. I like the latter two the best. I'm really only taking the Economy course because I feel like I can't consider myself a student of post-colonial theory without understanding the mechanism of imperialism (which is capitalism and our contrived economic structure). Plus, every time I say I go to Dauphine, everyone always acts really impressed, so that's fun. Required by and taught by APA are also French Culture and a French language course. I managed to get myself into the top level of the language course (couldn't weasle my way out though) and am taking the advanced writing course through APA, where we're supposed to be learning stylistics, but really we don't do much of anything.

I'm going to be doing a ton of reading, that much is clear, but I won't have more than three graded assignments for each class, apart from the writing course where we turn in something every week. My favorite course is my cinema course. I mean, it's Friday morning for three hours, so it has to be really good to keep me from doing what all my friends are doing on Friday mornings, which is sleeping or nursing a hangover. It's a Masters level course (I did weasle my way into that, at least), and there are about nine people in it. The professor is a tiny little woman with big glasses and short hair who talks to us intellectually about movies like The Shining and our incest taboo and why we hate dead bodies. Oh, and there's this cute boy in it who gave me his email address in case "I ever missed a class and needed his notes." Hehehe...

Courses only meet once a week for three hours, so I've got some free time to fill. I am doing a once-a-week conversation with a French student at Dauphine who wants to work on his English. We're alternating talking in English and French. I am also going to be volunteering in an elementary school English classroom, and hopefully take some jazz dance classes too if I haven't missed the regestration deadline. I eat dinner three times a week with my host family, so the other four nights I either have a baguette or get together with two of my friends and cook dinner. Most students opted to have dinner six nights a week with their host family, but the three of us were the cheap ones. Fortunately, we all made friends with each other before knowing that we had the same meal plan, so we've started cooking together to eat more cheaply. We've been doing dinner for three on about 7 euros total.

Apart from that, I spend (like I said) a LOT of time on the metro, so it's good that I consider public transportation one of the wonders of the world (put into the context of the post-industrial revolution world; I still think the industrial revolution was no good; buy my future book if you want my full, not-so-educated opinion on the topic). I am also knitting myself mittens and have gotten sort of addicted to How I Met Your Mother and I'm writing a decent amount. I would love to travel, but now that I have a Friday class it's going to be difficult to schedule. Plus, it's expensive.

So that's about it! Life on the farm feels pretty far away...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thoughts on and in Paris

So before I get to to the subject of this post, a quick update: I'm not moving again! Blandine talked to her family and they all agreed that they wanted me to stay, and I want to stay, so I'm staying! Caroline and Francois are kindly sharing a room for the rest of the semester for me, and I will continue to enjoy nice family dinners and trading recipes and helping out with English homework and helping the two oldest daughters spot in their pirouettes. So that's great!

I got started thinking about what Paris really is last week after I got a crappy haircut here. I mean, it's Paris, the city of fashion, and what happened here? I got a lousy haircut. Okay, it's fine when I pin it back, but if I just let it hang I look like Justin Bieber, which is not really what I'm going for these days. Then a few days ago I was standing in line at the Rodin Museum and two young lady American tourists were chatting behind me. Their conversation went something like this: "I mean, like everyone in Paris is so well-dressed." "I know! Like in New York, you always see people in like gym clothes, or whatever, but here I mean you don't even see like jeans or cut-offs and tee-shirts." Okay, I've been the part of probably four conversations with the same thesis statement, but their's was sort of problematic since the obese woman standing in line in front of me was wearing (gasp) jeans and a tee-shirt. And then I realized that Paris is so seeped in expectation, so media-ized that it doesn't really exist unto itself. At least for the first several weeks you live here, you do not see Paris as it really is, but instead through a fog of movie shots and photos and ingrained assumptions. People's clothing here -- I'll continue with my original example -- is pretty much on par with Boston. Yes, it's slightly more formal than the West Coast, and certainly dressy compared to the interior West, but no one from a New England city or Manhattan should feel out of place at all. Furthermore, I find the colorful, playful, creative, interesting fashion of San Francisco far more sophisticated than the black-boots-black-tights-knee-lenght-earth-tone-skirt-plus-a-jacket look that seems to dominate most Parisian women's wardrobes. Okay, my Cinema Studies class has some great dressers, but still: wearing orange is a statement here. Please. Or maybe I'm just homesick, and I'm now thinking of San Francisco in the same idealized way that the rest of the world thinks of Paris. But I've never gotten a Justin Bieber haircut in San Francisco...

A more true stereotype of Paris is that of its stasus as the City of Love. In one way, it's a complete myth as I have been here a month and haven't even managed to find a crush. But the metro, the parks, the cafes, the awnings are filled with couples. People are pretty touchy here. And I would love to be a part of it -- it's not exactly ego-boosting to be reminded of your singleness around every corner -- but like I said: I haven't even found a crush. And here I was thinking a cute accent could get me anywhere.

I don't know if it's yet another result of speaking a foreign language all the time, or just all the dead time that I have taking the metro eight or so times a day, but I've had lots of epiphanies recently. Amidst my sort of continuous realization of the total disaster of colonialism are several others, which I will now list: music rocks; the industrial revolution was the beginning of the end of civilization; Marx is usually right; I want to be a professor and cook a lot and have a garden and write some books; I may have to live on lentils and rice for the rest of the semester due to the state of my back account (okay, not exactly worthy of being on the epiphany list, but it's really affecting my life right now); the Avant-Garde is dead; as far as most visual art goes, (and maybe in some other mediums too) rich intellectuals decide what is art; graffiti is a gift to society. After counting that's only seven since I'm not including the one about lentils and rice, but it's all happened in one month, so that's more than one epiphany a week which I think is enough to make anybody's head spin.

Anyway, there's other stuff to say, like about school and how I occupy myself here but I don't feel like writing more tonight, so I'll just post again soon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some Recommendations

So I've been meaning to do this for a while. I actually meant to do it during the summer when people have time to read and watch movies and discover new music, but I never got to it. Anyway, here are a few things that I loved this summer:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: this book transcends fantasy. Yes, it's about two magicians, but it's written like a 19th century English novel, and it's a total work of genius. The world the author has created is detailed, complex, and believable -- more so, I would even say, that that of Harry Potter. Warning: it gave me really weird dreams whenever I read it before falling asleep.

Two Days in Paris: this movie came out in 2006, but I didn't hear about it until I watched it with some friends after arriving in Paris. It captures this city absolutely perfectly; it does for Paris and Parisians what Annie Hall did for New York and New Yorkers. The romances in the two movies are similar as well --neurotic, clever, hilarious, believable -- but Two Days in Paris takes a decidedly more optimistic look at relationships. It is in English and French (the English subtitles are very good for the French parts, but as always, there are pieces lost in translation. But anglophones, watch it anyway).

Fans of Jimmy Century: the first time I saw this Berkeley-based electronica/house/dance group was at a private loft party in the fall of 2009. It was awesome. Now, one year later, it really looks like they're going to make it. They've made connections with a big-name producer in L.A., and are going to play at Popscene in San Francisco soon (the legendary host-them-just-before-they-get-famous night club: they've had Lily Allen, La Roux, Amy Winehouse, Franz Ferdinand...). And they deserve to make it: they have interesting beats that are perfect for dancing to, a great sound, and they tap into that same quirky, edgy look and sound that Lady Gaga has popularized -- but they wear it with much more authenticity than Lady Gaga. Definitely check out their song "Blonde Ambiton Red Temptation" on youtube:

Harry Potter on tape, read by Jim Dale: Willa and I listened to the entire 7th book on her iPod while cooking, doing the dishes, and weeding. I honestly think that Jim Dale's rendition of the characters is better than what any of the actors in the movies do. He has a different voice for every of the 300-something characters. It's just one more way to experience the Harry Potter world.

Breakfast of Champions: my gateway drug into the world of Kurt Vonnegut. And now there's no going back... If you like sci-fi, absurdism, social commentary, deconstructionism, existentialism, American literature, or just entertaining books that make you think, read this.