Friday, July 11: “So actually you are not French?”

Stayed up late to have time to talk to my beloved Daniel on Skype so I did not get an early start today at all! My first step was to scout my field trip for Tuesday. We are going to the Musée du Quai Branly, an easy RER journey (actually 2 RERs) that will put us right next to the Eiffel Tower. I am excited to see this museum and I think it will be a nice change for the students, who have probably seen many paintings and sculptures by DWEMs (Dead White European Males) by now.

From the Quai Branly I made my way to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St. Laurent to see its “Femmes Berbères du Maroc” exhibition. After seeing the documentary L’Amour Fou a while back I’ve been a little fascinated by Bergé & YSL’s relationship and I wanted to see their museum. My only regret is that I did not book a guided visit and thus did not get to see YSL’s private studio and some other behind-the-scenes stuff at the Fondation. But the exhibition was fascinating–textiles, jewelry, and some household goods like baskets and cosmetic pots made by or belonging to Berber women, mostly from the first half of the 20th century when Morocco was a French protectorate. There were also large video screens showing high-resolution images of complete traditional outfits from the different tribes. To be honest I’m glad I did not have to try to wear an elaborate headdress and heavy jewelry while, e.g., milking a goat. But it suggests a certain kind of strength that these women must have had. The variety of styles was also a good reminder that the different tribes were distinct cultures and not to be “Orientalized” with a broad brush.

Leaving the Fondation I noticed a cameraman and reporter on the street corner obviously doing the “interview random passers-by” trick. I passed close to them never expecting to be acknowledged (in my mind I have a giant flashing “I’m American; ignore me” sign over my head), but sure enough the reporter said “Excuse me, Madame, would you like to answer a question for Télé Monde?” Dear Readers, I must admit that I’ve been on TV a couple of brief times and actually liked it, so I answered “I can’t possibly say no!” while praying she wouldn’t ask me something obscure about French politics. The question was both obscure and political, but not in the ways I expected. “Have you noticed that François Hollande has new glasses?” she asked. I was reeling a bit at this unanticipated topic and fumbled through answering that I had not seen him, not even on television. “Ah,” the reporter said, comprehension dawning, “So actually you are not French?” While I was disappointed not to get to appear on TV, I was gratified to be meeting my goal of passing as French until I open my mouth. (Must be the new pants.)

After the exhibit and my brief encounter with the French media I went in search of lunch (is it possible that culture makes me hungry?) and had another quiche-drink-pastry formule, this time at Pomme de Pain. Maybe I should think twice about having dessert with lunch but who can pass up viennoiserie and patisserie when they are offered? Hopefully I walked it off–I did walk a lot today because I had one destination at St. Placide and one at St. Sulpice and got them mixed up. So I got off the metro at St. Sulpice and got to walk a few blocks to where I meant to be, at H&M across from St. Placide. (Or it may have been the other way around. *cough*) I know at least one reader of this blog who is cringing right now at my affinity for cheap clothes, but I love H&M. It never does me wrong and I always find good things there. Today I got 2 t-shirts, a sleeveless top, a genuinely really nice skirt, and a package of socks (my socks have been an unexpected casualty–one lost, one got a hole and we’re barely 2 weeks in) for just under 30€. Yes, it may all fall to pieces in 6 months but right now I am just not bothered.

With the shopping done I had to put on my Assistant Director hat and go back to work. In the process, I had a cultural experience that I’m grateful for, and we got some good material for our next program meeting.

In the middle of writing this entry I stopped to talk to Daniel on Skype; now I’ve finished it and it is definitely bedtime. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 6: Rainy Sunday

It was rainy and blustery until perhaps an hour ago but I can’t complain too much. The weather was a good incentive to stay in my room and get some administrative work done. My students’ discussion posts needed grading, my email was building up, 2 meetings required agendas, and most importantly I needed to get a handle on my “official” phone. Dr. Guglielmi bought me an inexpensive phone (this one) to use during the program and it had me flummoxed. At length I got it sorted out although I still can’t text on the dang thing.
With my phone in working order I set out to scout the route for Tuesday’s field trip. We are going to see a collection of Greek vases at the Musée des Medailles, Monnaie, et Antiques, which is at the “Richelieu” site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. The Richelieu site is the original BNF site, if my memory serves; they have since outgrown it (not hard as the BNF is France’s national book depository, like our Library of Congress) and moved into the “François Mitterand” site that we got to tour last year. I am excited about this field trip as I think there will be lots of good stuff to see beyond the Greek vase collection. It is easy to get to from here and it’s across from a passage with some appealing antique book stores. I know where I’ll be going once I dismiss the students from the field trip.
Tomorrow we have our weekly faculty meeting and the first of our weekly program meetings, so once I got back from my recon mission I met up with Dr. Kirk to go over the agendas. We met in the café/restaurant down the street called Paris Orléans (Vicki, Samantha, and I had lunch there last year) where I had a “Parisienne” salad that turned out to be mixed greens with whole slices of ham and Swiss cheese laid on top, plus tomato slices, hard-boiled egg, and cornichons off to the side. All served on a flat plate that was very difficult to navigate. Note to Paris Orleans: Salad is served in a bowl for a reason. Despite my baffling lunch it was a very nice meeting and we got everything squared away for tomorrow.

On my return I did the work that the meeting had generated and then talked to my beloved Daniel on Skype. We went through the mail that had come for me since I’ve been gone, so I can say I’ve done admin tasks on both sides of the Atlantic today. Finally I had done all the finagling that I could, and cabin fever was setting in, so I took a walk back down by Porte d’Orléans. Passed a boulangerie/patisserie on the return trip where I bought a small baguette and some Tunisian sweets called something like “mokhoub.” [Update: It’s “mokrouth”! Here is a recipe.] This place is 2/3 traditional French items, 1/3 Middle Eastern goodies so I went for something unfamiliar. Next time I will get one of the small lemon tarts that have “CITRON” written on them in chocolate drizzle. In case you are offered one and want to know what it is? I ate several mokhoub with my dinner while watching episodes of Un Gars, Une Fille, and the sun finally came out so I took some pictures of the view out my window. The construction site is not very appealing, I will admit, but it’s better than facing onto the street because construction stops at night and traffic does not.


We Talk Pretty

When I read David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, I laughed until I cried on multiple occasions. Listening to this segment from This American Life is even better: still funny, but also profound. Ultimately he gives a good answer to the question of why we take the risk of entering a foreign culture: the slight strangeness of everything and the need for heightened observation are exciting (albeit occasionally defeating). It is probably preferable to experience gaffes in foreign countries as adventures rather than as humiliations–unless one is David Sedaris and can make such fantastic material out of the humiliations.

Also, frankly, I love the way he transliterates his hardware-store French. “And now I have come to find a table that might work with my iron.”
Him Talk Pretty Three Days

One day more

For our last day in Paris we split up to visit the things we most wanted to see (and, in my case, run some unglamorous and non-touristy errands). Daniel went to play poker at Le Cercle Clichy Montmartre–I was surprised to find out that this is not a random hole in the wall but a beautiful historic building.  (Why was I surprised? Isn’t everything in Paris in a beautiful historic building?) I went with Vicki and Samantha to visit Notre-Dame (we had been on the premises but not been inside). It is spectacular. Vicki especially loved it.

They then headed on to the Orangerie while I went back to Cité Universitaire to see if they had my camera charger. I think I must have left it in my room when I moved out, but the Maison de Provinces de France did not have it. It never turned up in my luggage, so I will have to replace it. Sigh. That’s also why these pictures are from my iPhone. The visit to Versailles was the end of my camera battery.

Friday afternoon I decided to take up someone’s suggestion to visit Sainte-Chapelle and I am so glad I did. It costs a bit of money but it is worth it: an incredible little chapel from the 13th century whose walls are practically all stained glass. Beyond gorgeous.

I had just enough time to finish my last mission: writing some cards to friends to post from Paris before we left. I sat at a café behind the Centre Pompidou and then felt really proud because I successfully followed the café waitress’s directions to the post office. Back at the apartment it was nap time and then over to Brasserie Vaudeville for our last Parisian dinner. It was delicious (again)–Dr. Guglielmi gets all the credit for introducing me to it. This time I skipped the appetizer (okay, I mooched some of Daniel’s foie gras), had beef carpaccio and frites for my plat principal, and chose crème brûlée (always yummy) for dessert. We drank a carafe of Beaujolais, cracked jokes with the waiters, and generally had a great time.

Our intended after-dinner destination was Parc Tino Rossi for a bit of alfresco dancing, but I got the directions totally wrong (wrote them down but didn’t bring them; remembered them wrong). I took us to the Pont de l’Alma instead of Pont d’Austerlitz. We would have been very disappointed but we happened to come out of the métro at about 9:54, just in time to see the Eiffel Tower light up at the top of the hour! What a great ending to our visit.

One of the things I like about Paris is that even when you don’t end up where you intended, you usually see something great anyway!
It was a little hard to go to bed knowing we’d be leaving the next day. But Paris will be there when we get back.

Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen

After yesterday’s rain, today was bright and clear but much cooler (hooray!), so I set out this morning for the huge flea market near Porte de Clignancourt on the north side of Paris. It is just inside the périphérique, in the department of Seine-St-Denis where the racailles live. (That was a Nicolas Sarkozy joke. Also, Autocorrect wants “racailles” to be “racial lens,” which is painfully apt.) Actually, inside the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, as the flea market is properly known, I mostly saw and heard other tourists–Americans and Germans, judging by the accents. Plus some French people seriously engaged in decorating their homes with the antique furniture and accessories that make up a huge part of the huge market. 

Neither my budget nor my suitcase would accommodate an antique chair but I had hours of fun walking around looking at everything and eavesdropping on the merchants’ conversations. This flea market is kind of a fancier and denser version of the one in Canton, Texas. No Beanie Babies or Fiesta ware but lots of fine jewelry, vintage clothes, antique books and prints, china and silver, and of course a healthy dollop of miscellaneous bits and bobs: watches that might or might not be working, old postcards, fountain pens, beads, toys, etc. Instead of being spread out over acres of land it is all contained within a series of buildings, stalls, alleys, and squares. I stayed for way too long just looking around because it just goes on and on and on! In the end I bought very little: some postcards that I plan to use on the cover of my scrapbook from this trip, and a teeny yellow pitcher emblazoned with the Ricard logo. I must have been thinking of Canton because the pitcher actually looks a lot like Fiesta ware. 
By the time I came back it was after 3 pm. St-Ouen is all the way on the other end of the #4 Métro line, about as far from Cité U. as you can get and still be in Paris. So getting there and back means riding for a little while. Back in my room I did my nails (walking in the rain in Caen yesterday wreaked havoc on my pedicure) and talked to Daniel on Skype. He will be here in only 6 days. I can hardly wait!
Tomorrow will be jam-packed: class, a meeting, other class, other meeting, then back to Shakespeare & Co. for Adam Biles’s appearance at the Grey Cats launch event. I’d better rest up. À bientôt!

Going Back

On our first day here, Tour Guide Josh told us that a lot of people come to Paris for only a week. They run around to see all the major tourist attractions sort of like checking off a to-do list. We are lucky, he rightly said, to get nearly 5 weeks here (nearly 6 in my particular case). I’ve found that a benefit of having more time is the opportunity to go back to places. Today I didn’t really want to go anywhere in particular; I just wanted to flâner. I started at Repetto near Place de l’Opéra (not as much dancewear on display as I hoped), cruised the streets, and ended up at Place Vendôme, a beautiful square of Hausmann buildings with high-end jewelers occupying the ground floors. In total Breakfast at Tiffany’s style I walked around and picked out what I wanted from all the window displays. After an espresso and a croissant (not eaten in front of Tiffany’s window; wish I’d thought of it) I went back to the Museum of Decorative Arts to see if they sold copies of the “La Mechanique de Dessous” exhibit poster. No luck, but they did have gorgeous postcards of several of the pieces so I picked out three of those. 

From there I decided to walk through the Tuileries because the last time I was there (Bastille Day) it was closed. I got a great spot under a tree in a green metal chair and stayed for almost an hour. It is a lovely place. I am totally sold on jardins à la française. Talked to Daniel on the phone while I was there and took a couple of pictures before I left. I followed the path down to Place de la Concorde and was wondering where a Métro station was. In a moment of inspiration I followed a small crowd and they led me right to it.
By this time I figured I should get lunch and I wanted to go back to a jewelry store in the Marais so I headed over there to buy a bracelet and a falafel. The saleswoman in the jewelry store wanted to know where I was from, so I asked her to guess.  Her first guess was Germany which I thought was funny. I gave her the hint that I am not European at all and then she figured it out. She was fun to talk to and I was glad I could keep up with her–native speakers, especially young ones, talk FAST.
My nose led me down the street and around the corner to L’As de Falafel, which is the famous Parisian falafel place. I don’t even know why it’s famous; I just know there’s always a giant line. Directly across the street is its competitor, which had less of a line and was moving people faster, so I went there. Falafel is one of the few foods that Parisians will eat while walking down the street. I ate some of mine while walking and took the rest into the public courtyard of one of the hotels particuliers nearby. I absolutely love falafel. My colleague Dr. Carroll says he thinks it’s funny that all of us have become such falafel junkies on this trip as if it’s something exotic when in fact it is really common street food. I know that’s true but I have never seen falafel in Macon. Maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places or maybe I need to learn to make it when I get back.
After the falafel I had a gratuitous gelato for dessert in the Place de Vosges, then came back to Cité U. (by way of Monoprix where I bought mascara because mine had run out) to do some work. I’m sad to report that I forgot my camera’s SD card when I went to the library and did not have time to go back for it. That means no pictures yet. D’oh! I also did not get my photo odyssey in this morning because it was pouring rain and thundering at 6 am when I wanted to go out for the morning “magic hour.” Double d’oh!
Based on the forecast I was expecting all-day rain but it stopped by 9 if not sooner and turned into a good day to wander around and take lots of breaks in parks. Unfortunately I skipped sunscreen (expecting cloud cover) and got a bit red as a result. Won’t make that mistake again.
Tomorrow is our day trip to Caen so I’d better call it a night. Leaving Cité at 7 for an 8 am train. Bring on the espresso! À bientôt!

Congés

After a busy week (and then some) it has been great to have some free time with nothing on the schedule. Today I did a tiny bit of work while sitting on the bed in my pajamas, went in search of Prosecco for tomorrow night (no dice but I did get a bottle of Vauvray, a bottle of Lambrusco, and my very own Wine Guy), and then set out with Dr. Winchester to flâner. We went back to the Marais to see the Musée Carnavalet, had lunch, and then I saw him off to visit a friend in Amiens before returning to finish off the Carnavalet and my wanderings around the quartier. I actually walked longer than I meant to–got confused trying to find the bus stop near the Hôtel de Ville and finally had to make for a familiar Métro stop instead. Today I did not take my “big camera” so I have only a few phone pics:

One of the few medieval houses within the city of Paris
The garden and main gate of the Carnavalet, which occupies two hôtels particuliers in the Marais. 
Carnavalet garden
The Carnavalet has lots of interesting stuff but I especially liked the last 2 rooms I went through, which were full of advertisements and shop signs from the 19th century and earlier:
One of a set of 3 signs advertising insurance by showing things you should be insured against (in this case, hail). 

One of two different “À la Tête Noire” (Sign of the Black Head) signs on display. (You can also see all 3 of the insurance signs here.)

Scale model of a diligence or mail-coach. The real thing would have been bigger than I ever imagined them. 

Place de Vosges was very popular today. 

Hôtel de Ville is all dressed up for Bastille Day tomorrow. 

I am going with Dr. Kirk to visit the Louvre (free on 14 juillet!) and see the military flyover at the end of the parade. Then Dr. Carroll is leading a game of pétanque in the afternoon. It’s gonna be a great Bastille Day!
À bientôt!