penultimate?

Copenhagen was nice. It was probably the least exciting trip I’ve taken this semester, but I’m still very glad I went. It’s a sweet city, full of beautiful green parks and bicycles and friendly Danes who all (really – all) speak fluent English. And it was very good for me to get out of Paris for the weekend; it would have been more free time than I can handle these days if I’d stayed, what with the weather being uncooperative and me being completely antsy in anticipation of my friends’ arrivals.
I’m counting down the days on one hand now. There will be some things I’ll miss about being completely independent, but not much. I was thinking today that living alone is sort of like masturbation—you learn what you like, and then ideally you can apply that knowledge to situations where more than one person is involved. (I hope I didn’t just scar anyone; I don’t really remember who has the link to this thing…) For example, I have learned that I really like taking walks—or runs—by myself. It is incredibly calming, and it’s something that I want to keep doing. I would sort of like to become a more serious runner, too. Now that I have more patience for it and (I think) suck less at it, I am starting to really enjoy it. The thought even occurred to me today that I could use my free time this summer to train for a marathon…? Would that be totally insane? Anyway, I’ve also learned to appreciate cooking easy things for myself, and reading before I go to sleep, and other things that seem minor but really aren’t. I hope all these habits will stay with me forever.
I can’t believe that all these people I care about are going to be here so soon. I actually am having trouble believing it. I feel like two parallel universes are about to collide. I can’t wait.
I don’t know when I’ll next have a chance to write. I hope to update one more time before I come home, but that will probably be it for this blog—if you want to know about my trip through Central Europe (have I mentioned that I’m spending the first two weeks of June traveling through Central Europe?), you will just have to call and ask me.
À la prochaine…

Published in: on May 12, 2009 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

jolie bruine

As annoying as it sometimes is to live in the Paris equivalent of Bumblefuck, there’s something nice about making the trip home in the afternoons after class. “Going home” when you live in a college dorm really doesn’t mean much. It gains slightly more significance if you live off campus, but it’s only when you have to take a half-hour trip back to your room (and your fridge and computer) that it really regains that sense of triumphant return it had back in high school. Coming home at 4:30 p.m. is also a totally different thing from coming home at 6 or 7 after a full day of work, completely drained of all energy and emotion. I’ve been figuring out how to furnish my room next year, and I was explaining to someone how I’m not buying a desk because I hate working at them, and she joked “I guess now you know that you can never get a desk job.” But this is true. I really don’t think I could deal with a desk job. A comfy chair job might be OK, but only if I could go home at 4:30 or 5 and eat a snack.

Anyway. What news from Paris, you ask. Let’s see… last night was either the last or the second-to-last time that I’ll ever go out with my friends from choir after rehearsal. I was very tired yesterday and originally planning not to go. But after we finished singing and everyone started congregating outside, I realized that despite never developing “real” friendships with anyone (the few times I hung out with Clemence and Moritz never really went anywhere), I am really attached to our little group. There are maybe 10 or 15 of us, a mix of French and foreigners, who go to this one dinky little bar behind the Sorbonne courtyard every week, and they are just all such pleasant people. I also realized last night how much better my French has gotten, even since our first concert in February. I could understand about 95% of what everyone said last night, and I participated (without sounding totally retarded) in conversations about topics including: the peculiarities of French libraries, the reasons why French people can’t speak English very well; scholarships and recruited athletes at American universities; and Estonian right-wing political leanings. It felt good.

I’ve generally been really enjoying myself since I got back from Italy. I have had a lot of free time and I’ve been doing pleasant things with it. I’ve gone running a few times in the park by my foyer, which is probably the best place imaginable to run; it’s beautiful, it’s really close by, and a lap around the park is just under a mile, uphill for the first half and downhill for the second. I went to the Alexander Calder exhibit at the Centre Pompidou. And I started going regularly to see old movies at this little movie theater in the Latin Quarter, which has been fantastic. So far I’ve seen La Dolce Vita, The Big Sleep and Klute, and sometime soon they’re going to do an Almodovar retrospective.

I think I understand now what everyone says regarding spending a semester abroad as opposed to a year—it’s just long enough to get adjusted, and then you have to leave. But the thing is that I’m still really excited to go home. There are a lot of people abroad who talk about how they really needed a break from their schools or their families, and I never felt that way at all (except for schoolwork I guess), which in some ways is kind of unfortunate because it made being here harder. But mostly I’m grateful that I can be happy here for a while and then happy again when I return.

Going to Copenhagen tomorrow – 7:30 flight aack – more news when I get back, probably.

Published in: on May 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

long time no blog, sorry

For some reason I have no desire to write about what I did over my April break. Fortunately, I can express myself through other media.

During the first week I went to Florence

During the first week I went to Florence

And Venice

And Venice

With my wonderful mom.

With my wonderful mom.

I spent the second week a farm in the mountains with my friend David and many kittens.

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Then I came back to Paris and had a remarkably good week involving drinking wine by the Seine with my friend Dylan who was visiting from Ireland, seeing La Dolce Vita at a movie theater in the Latin Quarter, and going to an art school party with my French teacher’s kids Anne and Olivier. I read a chapter of Umberto Eco on translation that I found online, and now I’m really into the whole translation thing again. And I cut my hair very short, but I am not posting pictures here.

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Instead, here is a picture of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever made, which I ate for brunch today: 1 chopped small sweet onion (I’ve become really obsessed with sweet onions and tend to overload my food with them, so maybe you’d want to modify this); 2 eggs beaten with a lot of salt and pepper; a handful of coarsely chopped rocket (bought on a whim in the grocery store today—in French it’s “roquette”); a handful of crumbled feta cheese (fresh from the market yum yum); a few leaves of torn up fresh basil. Soooooo delicious.

Published in: on May 2, 2009 at 7:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Hable con ellos

I spent Wednesday afternoon with a Yalie named Edward who’s studying abroad in Denmark this semester. We were never really friends at school, but we know each other from band, so it was not weird that he contacted me to hang out during the few days he’d be in Paris. As it turns out, we have a lot in common, particularly a passion for food. Appropriately, we spent the afternoon on a really lovely pâtisserie tour: first we sat on the steps of La Madeleine and shared a caramel réglisse millefeuille from Laduree (amazing), then we went to the Tuileries where we split four Pierre Hermé macarons (jasmine, pistachio-cherry, olive oil & vanilla, and rose—all amazing), and finally we sat at a chess table in the Jardin du Luxembourg and did our best at my beloved Macha Azuki Duomo from Sadaharu Aoki, but gave up halfway in (still amazing; I took home the leftovers, which were possibly even better the next day).
But even lovelier than all the sugar, cream and egg whites was how easily and genuinely we were able to connect. We spent about three and a half hours sitting and nibbling and walking, but mostly talking. We talked about study abroad and Yale and marriage and band gossip and couch surfing, and each of us was completely focused on what the other had to say. In the middle of one of our conversations it struck me how strange it was that we had never become friends at school when we clearly get along so well. I realized that we would never have had that kind of conversation at Yale—in part because the band does not lend itself to one-on-one discussion time, but in part I think because I am often too caught up in my own head to really take the time to listen to people. In fact, as I was thinking this, I realized that I was only half paying attention to what Edward was saying and immediately made myself cut off my train of thought.
The next night, I went out to dinner with Anne, my former French teacher’s daughter. We were planning to see a movie, but dinner took too long and our conversation was too interesting, so we ended up going out to drinks instead. Again, I found that we were able to talk completely honestly and earnestly, whether we were grappling with big philosophical issues or discussing unrequited crushes or evaluating the merits of buying expensive house paint (OK, that last one was just Anne). It was a good four and a half hours of just conversation, both of us completely engaged the entire time, with no motive other than getting to know each other better. I was struck once more by how lovely it was and how rare I feel that kind of experience is when I’m home.
Truth be told, I suspect that I will go back and won’t be able to do this anymore. It could be that I’ll be too stressed to fully pay attention to someone else, or that I won’t have the time to start such conversations in the first place, or maybe even that the incentive to get to know people that way is lessened when I already have my set group of friends. But it’s not only me; I don’t think a lot of other people are able to make time in their daily routines for this kind of thing either—so even if I come home ready for an endless stream of heart-to-hearts, who will I have them with?
I don’t really know what the answer to this problem is. Maybe I should clear my schedule so I have more time to spend with people and am relaxed enough to pay attention to them. Maybe I should search out activities that lend themselves well to conversation (more walks and long dinners; less marching band and movies). Maybe I just have to get my fill while I can and accept the fact that opportunities will be less frequent when I return. Maybe I need to learn to ask better questions. Probably all of the above.
But basically, if any of you readers out there ever want to go hiking with me and have a long conversation about religion or your relationship with your parents or your future career or what have you, know that I am TOTALLY DOWN.

Also, prize to anyone who gets the movie reference in the title—one of my favorite films.

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cashew? Gezunteit!

Having a fridge all to myself is mostly very nice, but it does mean that when food disappears I have no one to blame but myself. I’m discovering that there are certain things that I am a) unable to restrain myself from buying and b) disappear within 3 to 7 days no matter how much I buy. Apples are the worst, for some reason – I can easily eat three a day if they are around. But also candied ginger, which is not cheap and which I consume like an addict, and cashews, which are not cheap either and are also not particularly healthy. Oh well, I guess eating these things is better than the time I bought an enormous bag of Haribo sour frites. I don’t even want to think about that.

ANYWAY. Last weekend I finally met the daughter of my French teacher from last semester, who is my neighbor and an art student and an extremely likeable person. Though the consequences have been entirely pleasant, there have been many weird things about all this, including:
1. When my French teacher offered to put me in touch with her daughter, she entirely failed to mention that she also has a perfectly nice 21 year old son who lives in the adjacent apartment.
2. My French teacher and her husband are Yale professors and therefore live in New Haven. Their children have been living in Paris for the past three and a half years.
3. Before these kids lived in Paris, they went to high school in New Haven. Their parents sent the boy to Hopkins and the girl to… Wilbur Cross.
4. I spent my Friday night drinking with my professor’s children.
But I am not complaining.

Okay I have got to go do some work; I’m procrastinating horribly right now. And by do some work, I may or may not mean eat cashews.

Published in: on March 28, 2009 at 2:18 pm  Comments (2)  

brief thoughts

I haven’t got much to say here – mostly I just wanted to note that I am feeling better; a lot of good books and a movie rental, plus a few nice meetings with friends, helped a lot this weekend. I think learning to keep myself company is an important thing for me to do, even – or perhaps especially – if I never do it again. (Speaking of which, housing for next year finally settled! Woooo.) Rather overwhelmed this week with work, which is a new and not entirely unpleasant feeling. Translation classes at Middlebury surprisingly good. Good things happening this weekend, vacation on the horizon. That is all.

Published in: on March 26, 2009 at 5:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

this post brought to you by the centre george pompidou

This week should have been a really good week, and in fact it was a really good week, but nonetheless I’ve been kinda depressed for some reason. I’ve been eating weirdly and spending too much money, which are either causes or effects of my depression, and sleeping badly, which is definitely both. I also just read the Chuck Klosterman novel Killing Yourself to Live, which made me simultaneously feel comforted and very homesick for New York City and American cultural snobbery. It reminded me vaguely of the book I think my friend Andrew wants to write, in that it was funny and self-indulgently autobiographical and full of obscure references. It was not the best book ever, which is in no way a judgment of Andrew’s potential future book; Andrew is smarter and more interesting than Chuck Klosterman and much less likely to talk about KISS, so I could conceivably like his book a lot more. But the point is I sort of felt like I had a friend with me, which was nice, and I think I’m going to have to find a new American book now, even though I never buy books and I had also promised myself I would only read in French. I just can’t deal with coming home to find only Flaubert and Molière for company.
I’m thinking that my living situation is mostly to blame for this, that I just do not like living alone. If it’s not that, I really have no idea what’s wrong. I’m generally happy during the day. Today I sat by the Seine and read, and then I had a reasonably entertaining translation class, and then I ate some macarons from Pierre Hermé and saw Gran Torino with my friend Julia, and then I went out to a bar with Francesca (friend from Yale) and her sister and her friend Alma and Alma’s mom. All this was enjoyable. Tomorrow I’m supposed to see my friend Sarah Tishler for lunch, and later I might go to a poetry reading. But something is off. I came home feeling tired and out of it and ate a huge amount of dry cereal and now I can’t sleep. Okay, that doesn’t actually sound so bad. I realize I could theoretically be a lot more miserable. Still, that is annoying in and of itself, since it means I’m not depressed enough to really get into the wallowing part. Paris would probably be a great place to chainsmoke, read Sylvia Plath and not have any friends, but I’m not quite sad enough.
Well. I have three weeks until April break, and after April break I have another three weeks, and then Hannah will move into my foyer and I will no longer feel like I’m living alone. The next two weeks, between Francesca leaving and Yan arriving, are going to be long. And the week before Hannah gets here is going to be longer, especially if that also turns out to be the week before Raffi shows up briefly. But it all seems basically doable. More than doable; it’s springtime and I bought art supplies and I have friends and really things don’t suck. So hopefully I won’t become a fat, nicotine-addicted insomniac. But any recommendations for modern American fiction, preferably available at Shakespeare & Co. in paperback, would be much appreciated.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of food idioms and Chinese takeout

Yesterday I was hanging out with my French friend Clémence and she was trying to explain the meaning of the expression “coup de bar,” which apparently means a sudden dip in energy in the middle of the afternoon – as if someone hit you in the back of the head with a bar. “It only lasts a minute or two,” she said (in French), “but then afterwards you have the potatoes again.”
“You have the what?” I said.
“You have the potatoes! Oh… it means… to have the fries! You know, to have the peach!” As I gathered from her gesticulations, all these expressions mean to have lots of energy—as if, Clémence went on to explain, you had just had some fruit juice (or some potatoes, or fries) and you are feeling real peppy. “I’m just really hungry,” she continued. “I don’t know why. I had Chinese food for lunch.”
I noted—and here we see my brilliant conversational skills in French—that Chinese food in France is completely different from Chinese food in the U.S.
“Do you have those white cartons??” exclaimed Clémence. I said that yes, we did. “I dream of those white cartons!” she said. “They’re in all the American movies! Oh wow, white cartons!”
“Some Indian restaurants have the white cartons too,” I said.
“Oh, New York!” sighed Clémence.
In Paris’s defense, this week I’ve seen two plays, a free organ concert and an exhibition of Egyptian art at the Louvre, ate lunch in the Tuileries, and sat in cafés drinking tea and reading Flaubert. But Clémence may be right that, in the end, nothing beats New York takeout. Woody Allen once said that he wouldn’t want to live anywhere where he can’t get wonton soup at 4 a.m. On the other hand, I don’t want to live anywhere where I can’t ogle pastries at least once a block. I guess it will be up to the next generation to build a world where copious Chinese food and millefeuilles can exist together in harmony.

Published in: on March 14, 2009 at 12:04 pm  Comments (2)  

If it’s food porn with no pictures, does that make it food erotica?

I realize that apart from the description of that macaron, I have been mostly delinquent here in my duties as ex-food blogger and provider of Paris pastry porn (pppp). The thing is that I don’t really like food photography, and I also don’t like the feeling of “well I have to eat something here, my public expects me to”—contrary to everyone’s warnings, I still fit into all my clothes, and I’d prefer to keep it that way; shopping here is expensive. But it’s not like I’m living on some boring student diet of ramen noodles, or even just baguettes and cheese. I am definitely eating some exciting things, and even the unexciting things are exciting in their own way: I’m still generally impressed by the quality of produce here, for example, and a hardboiled egg sandwich I made recently on whole wheat Kayser bread with grainy French mustard was especially delicious and satisfying. And I guess I haven’t really blogged about what my days are usually like, either. So seeing as the last two days were on the good range of typical for me, here is the rundown of what I’ve done and eaten.

Friday morning I had French class at Middlebury, which was a remarkable waste of time—we spent a full thirty minutes talking about ways to cook eggs. Afterwards I had a salad with lettuce, chickpeas, corn and avocado—I’ve been bringing a Tupperware of salad for lunch with me a lot because it’s good and incredibly cheap—and an apple. Then I went to Paris-III for the third ever meeting of my 19th century lit class. The professor, who is really smart and interesting yet easy to follow, gave us a rundown of the bourgeoisie’s role in French history from the Revolution through 1851. This was especially useful to me because I don’t know shit about French history. The strikes are still happening and Middlebury is telling us to jump ship at the Paris universities, but I’m going to try to stay in her class—she’s promised to grade my paper and give a final, so I think it will not be a problem.
Hungry again afterwards (salad for lunch will do that I guess), I stopped into the Gerard Mulot patisserie on my way home and bought a lemon tart. They were also giving out free chocolate samples, so I tried a cinnamon ganache. So good. But the lemon tart was EVEN BETTER. I already have a thing for lemon desserts, but this was just superb. It had a really thin, brittle crust of what I would call the graham-cracker variety—not that I think they made theirs with graham crackers, but you know, it wasn’t pie crust—which was full of sweet and intensely citrusy custardy stuff. I reveled in that for a few minutes, and then I ate some cashews. I don’t know why. I guess because I have a big bag of cashews in my room.
Later my friend Sage and I went out for drinks and got some free bar pistachios, so I ate those with my beer. Then we headed to a concert and discovered the venue had a restaurant, so we shared a mozzarella-zucchini-and-eggplant breadcrumb melty thing and a simple but rather interesting salad involving both wasabi and guacamole (also had some bread, which was unmemorable, and a glass of wine). The concert was entirely of bands I’d never heard of: a guitar-playing singer-songwriter type whose set we missed most of but who seemed boring; some group from England called the Ralfe Band who were not bad; and a group from Portland (I think) called Wladimir Anselme, whose creepy lead singer reminded me alternately of David Byrne and that scary tall guy from Twin Peaks, and whose adorable androgynous girl drummer reminded me of a less-cute Kate Kraft. It was fun.
Yesterday I went food shopping because there’s a big outdoor market every Saturday morning literally around the corner from my foyer. I’m not sure the products are all that different from what I’d buy in the supermarket, but the variety is good and it’s just a fun and easy way to buy things. I got fruits and veggies and some cheese—a small round of chevre and my current favorite, manchego. Then I went home and made lunch with some old fridge contents and some new ingredients: the last two eggs in a carton, half an onion I’d been saving, the end of a can of sweet corn, half a red pepper and a bit of the chevre. It was some highly great scrambled eggs. For dessert, a chocolate truffle from the little box my dad bought me when he was here and a clementine.
Then I went to the Galleries de Lafayette to ogle the designer clothes with Yael. This was fun, but then we found the gourmet food section in the basement of the men’s department, which consolidates all delicious, expensive and/or weird food products in Paris into one mindboggling supermarket. Bread and sweet things from Poilâne and Eric Kayser, chocolates from Sadaharu Aoki, Amorino gelato, Mariage Frères tea. Booths selling pre-prepared high-end Greek, North African, Vietnamese and Japanese dishes. A massive table covered with mounds of multicolored spices—everything from flavored sugar to zaatar to curry powder to star anise—to purchase by weight. An organic section offering fancy rice cakes, overpriced muesli and vitamins. Even a few shelves organized by ethnicity, including a Canadian/British/American section with such items as Pepperidge Farms cookies, white bread, and maple syrup, and a Mexican section with what looked like mostly tortilla chips.
I somehow managed to emerge empty-handed, but fortunately I had the thought of making dinner to console me. I’d been planning for a long time to make curry, and last night I finally did it. I’d never made curry before, so I was a little nervous that I’d screw it up, but it turns out the recipe I had was basically the easiest thing ever. You put curry paste in a pot and heat it with coconut milk. Add red onion and garlic. Add water and more coconut milk. Add chopped vegetables (green beans and broccoli). Cover and simmer for a few minutes. Add toasted cashews. And that’s it! It took like ten minutes, and it was so tasty that I licked all the remaining sauce out of the pot. I forgot to make rice, so I ate it with a slice of Kayser bread, but that was pretty much fine. And for dessert, apple with a little peanut butter and some tea. This was maybe one of those meals that doesn’t sound that exciting but was for some reason thrillingly good.

So this turned… really long. Is this kind of thing at all interesting, or do you prefer shorter and snappier updates? Let me know, dear readers, how best to please you.

Published in: on March 8, 2009 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  

how is it march already

I was at the Rodin museum yesterday, and I was thinking that art is great because it lets you stare at bodies in public without anyone minding. Rodin is particularly great, especially his big sculptures of fat, naked Balzac.

I’ve had a really wonderful week and a half. I went to London and Ireland to visit high school friends during my break, and when I got back to Paris my dad and my stepmom were there. So basically I got drunk and did touristy stuff for five days, and then I got to go to all my favorite places in Paris with two extremely appreciative and pleasant companions (who also paid for everything, including a lot of really nice meals). It’s going to be a bit of a letdown to return to real life now that my dad and Ilene have left. But I feel like this extended vacation is going to go a long way towards getting me through the annoyances of school and my foyer until I go to Italy for two weeks in April. Plus I have other friends coming to visit soon, most notably Francesca who will be here for a week, and a few marching band buddies as well. I do love Paris a lot – I just prefer it in the company of certain people.

I decided I’m going to try to start drawing comics. I was working on some short stories, which was going OK, but I’ve wanted to try comics for a long time and I think this is a good time in my life to do that. I’m not particularly occupied with… well, anything—classes and friends do exist, but take up remarkably little of my time here. And actually I think a project will make me feel busy and happy during the moments when I don’t have interesting work or people around, so it could work out very well.

Spring also seems to be on its way, which is taking me completely by surprise. It’s as if I’d forgotten that seasons change. Read whatever deep meanings you wish into that statement, but it is literally true. It was warmish yesterday and there were buds on the trees, and I was like “Whaaaa?” Or I guess “Quoiiiii?”

Published in: on March 4, 2009 at 10:41 am  Leave a Comment  
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