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!