Today I met my friend Yael for a picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I hadn’t seen her since before college – this seems to be a common theme for me in Paris – but it was wonderful to spend time with her; in fact, I think we get along better now than we did when we were friends in high school. She told me about the family whose kids she’s teaching English to and her life at Smith and her thoughts about becoming a rabbi. I told her about Jews for Justice and marching band and wanting to be a farmer/pastry chef/translator, and took her around to look at my favorite bakeries in the 6th arrondissement, Sadaharu Aoki and Poilâne and Gerard Mulot. Though I’d already eaten lunch and a chausson-aux-pommes (literally “slipper of apples,” basically apple mush in a flaky pastry) from Poilâne, I couldn’t resist trying one tiny macaron from Gerard Mulot. Before today I’d only ever eaten one macaron in Paris, a big pistachio-flavored one from somewhere unmemorable, which was fine but not great. Well, let me tell you, this was a TOTALLY different culinary experience. It was pretty much a passionfruit-basil-flavored, crispy, gooey, slightly tart bite of ecstasy. Unfortunately for me and my money, Gerard Mulot’s satellite store is on my way home from my metro stop…
Tomorrow I’m headed off to London and Ireland for a week. I think I’ll probably miss Paris when I leave, but right now I’m just excited to go somewhere where they speak English.

Published in: on February 19, 2009 at 11:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

psyche update

1. Yesterday morning I went to synagogue with my dad’s friend’s niece Rebecca, a Parisian mother of two whose name had been given to me as a useful “Anglo” and Jewish contact here. Much like communism, the meet-up was a nice idea in theory, but in practice it was disastrous.
The first bad omen was that the synagogue was Orthodox. I guess I could have viewed it as an interesting cultural experiment, but the worst parts of Orthodox shuls are the same everywhere, and I have better things to do in Paris than sit up in the women’s balcony while the men mumble in Hebrew and try to rally financial support for the Israeli army. Afterwards we went downstairs for the kiddush, where Rebecca ate nothing but vociferously encouraged me to partake of the olives and charcuterie because “all we have at home is chicken soup.”
When we got back into her car, she decided she needed to pluck her eyebrows, so she whipped out a pair of tweezers and did so in the rearview mirror. Once that was accomplished, we went home to take her son to tutoring. While we waited for him to get ready, Rebecca asked her 8-year-old daughter why she was watching Shrek and if she was going to watch it all day. Then she made me a challah and dried sausage sandwich despite my protestations of not being hungry, and just as we were about to run out to door, asked me “Do you like cake?” and threw an entire bagful at me.
After we dropped the kid off, she lit up, which ordinarily I could care less about, except that she chased her cigarette with a piece of gum and a vigorous spray of antiperspirant—her kids don’t know she smokes (I’m assuming her husband does, but who knows). “It’s like I’m in high school,” she said, laughing nervously.
I nibbled on the sandwich while she drove around looking for some kind of Lubavitch luncheon, I think with the vague idea of introducing me to young Jewish guys. But when we couldn’t find it (thank God), she decided we should go to the mall.
First we went to Starbucks, where she ordered a big Frappuccino—the only thing I saw her consume between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Then I followed her into a FNAC because she said she needed a new mouse. I pointed her to some optical mice, but she headed straight for the display of Macs and entered into a long conversation with a computer salesman while I perused the CDs and comics. She had apparently decided that this was the right moment to purchase a new computer, complete with a 24-inch monitor, for her husband. So I waited with her in various lines and helped her lug the enormous thing to the car, while she kept apologizing and saying she would “release me soon,” forcing me to reassure her that I was having a great time.
I finally got her to drop me off at the Metro and promised vaguely to come back another time, maybe for Friday night dinner. I’m sure she meant well, but there is no way I am going to subject myself to that again.

2. I tend to be picky about my friends. I can get along with just about anyone if I have to, but it’s relatively rare for me to feel genuinely close to people. This is why I’m usually very persistent about keeping in touch—if I’ve found someone who I truly like, I won’t give that up just because of a silly thing like distance.

During my fall semester, for the first time I can remember, I felt completely and constantly surrounded by a community of the people I liked most. I still had many dear friends who were far away—meaning anything from the other side of campus to New York City to Chicago—but cell phones and trains helped bridge the more daunting distances. On my Thanksgiving and winter breaks, I came home to high school friendships that were still strong as ever, invitations to gallivant around Brooklyn and the Lower East Side with Yale pals, and relationships with my parents that were perhaps better than they’d ever been.
And now I’m in Paris, an ocean and a 6-hour time difference away.

I’m not sad that I’m here—Paris is awesome, I’m enjoying myself, I’m spending time with lots of different people. But I can’t help feeling that just when I finally managed to collect all my favorite people in one place, I left and forced myself to start from scratch.

I know I’ll be back in a few months, and no one is going anywhere in the meantime, at least not that I know of. I can, and do, still keep in touch thanks to various wonderful Internet-based utilities. And I have met a few people here who I genuinely like and could (and probably will) grow closer to. Nonetheless, as one might imagine, it’s difficult not to have my dear friends around me in person. Really, as entertaining as it is to constantly make new acquaintances or reconnect with old ones, it sucks to frequently have no guarantee that I’ll actually enjoy the company of whoever I’m with; see above for the worst-case scenario.

I feel bad complaining in general, and especially about Paris. I want to be able to say that everything is just non-stop awesomeness 100% of the time, wheeee! And things are awesome enough of the time that when people ask me how I’m doing, I can truthfully say that I’m happy. But to be honest, I think I wish I were happier. I’m happy “a peine,” as they say in French, which basically means that I am but I have to work hard to stay that way. After a semester of sheer contentment, which I’d rank higher than happiness any day, it’s sometimes tough to be satisfied with that.

Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 8:29 am  Comments (2)  

french friends!?

Big news guys: I had my first night out with no other Americans involved. I went out for drinks with my German friend Eva after choir practice, and a whole bunch of other choir people came, and we sat around talking about art and politics in French. Well, more specifically, Eva and I talked about politics with a former member of the Lyndon Larouche youth movement (they’re everywhere in this weird country – remind me to tell you about how they tried to recruit me this summer), and then two other people freaked out when they heard I was from New York and started talking about all these paintings they had seen at the MoMA, which I responded to by nodding enthusiastically and not mentioning that I haven’t been to the MoMA yet.
Anyway it was a lot of fun, and Eva invited me to visit her in Germany over my April break, which I may or may not do. I have so many places I want to travel. It looks like may also have two weeks at the beginning of June with literally nothing to do. What do you think – should I try to change my ticket and go home early, or should I squander more money and gallivant around Europe some more? Parents, please weigh in on this too.

Also, this has nothing to do with Paris or really with anything, but I love how leggings are the hippest going-out clothes. Seriously. Leggings and big, weird sweaters are what we wore in elementary school, until it became “inappropriate” (i.e. we acquired butts). But now it’s like, hey dudes at the club, check out my butt! But maybe you can’t see it because my shirt is kind of long! This also makes the infamous transition-from-day-into-evening (see any women’s magazine ever) SUPER easy – you just take off your skirt, and you’re ready to party! Though I guess that is the inherent definition of taking off your skirt.

Hey, you know what I miss about Livejournal? That “current mood, current music” tab. Well right now I’m pretty dang good, and I’m listening to the Vaselines. I hope you are too.

Published in: on February 5, 2009 at 10:17 am  Comments (1)  

Les Funambules

One great and terrible thing about being in a foreign country is that each event takes on a whole new level of personal importance. Every small achievement feels like the success of a lifetime; everything that doesn’t quite work out is the worst thing that has ever happened. The first time I tried to do my laundry and the machines didn’t work, I wanted to cry. When I made delicious roasted vegetables in my foyer’s convection oven later that day, it made up for any bad thing that had ever happened to me.
This is all to say that right now I am experiencing very irrational feelings of jubilation over having found a cafe with free wireless. It is a totally adorable cafe called Les Funambules about 2 blocks from where I live, with lights on strings outside, reasonably comfortable seats, super friendly waiters, and Cuban music playing in the background (in fact I think the cafe is not French-owned, which may explain why it is so friendly). I ordered mint tea and got an entire pot of hot water, plus two little biscuits.
I think this is especially exciting for me because I’d been really missing New Haven coffee shops. Last week – and this week too – my university was (is) on strike and I had a lot of hours with nothing to do. I tried hanging out in the cafe across the street from the fac, but they were playing the worst American music and there was no one else there and a jackhammer outside and it just made me really depressed. Fortunately I ran into a Middlebury grad student who is very nice and happens to live in my foyer, and we went to the cafe next to the mosque and got mint tea and talked about becoming translators. But as lovely as that was, it’s not gonna help next time I’m stuck at the fac with nothing to do – as far as I know, there isn’t even wireless in the university library. And then of course there’s the fact that I don’t have internet in my room. Sitting in the computer room or the lobby of my foyer is not much fun, and more cafes than you’d think are too busy or too crappy or too pricey or have no wireless or make you pay extra.
But now everything is better. Especially because the biscuits they gave me with my pot of tea are GINGERBREAD BISCUITS. Ahhhhhh.

Published in: on February 3, 2009 at 9:34 am  Comments (1)  

Community Sing, Paris Style

Yesterday I saw an advertisement for a women’s magazine containing a quiz called “Are you more of a Carla or a Michelle?” The French all completely adore Obama—I guess all of the Obamas. This is good, because all the American bars were completely full during the inauguration, so my friends and I had to find a random bar and get the proprietor to put on CNN. Conveniently, none of the other patrons seemed to mind the three weirdos in the corner singing along to the Star Spangled Banner.

In other news, last night I auditioned for a student chorale at the Sorbonne. I was pretty nervous; as many of you are surely aware, I am a firmly mediocre singer, on top of which everything is always extra scary in French. My auditioner took me into a side room and started off by telling me that they had too many sopranos already and couldn’t take another one. After I reassured him that I could sing alto, he had me sing some arpeggio-type things while he played piano. And that was it—I was in. I have no idea what the point of the audition was, other than to verify that I can actually make noises come out of my vocal chords.

I had my first rehearsal immediately afterwards. It was thrilling just being in the room, an amphitheater with wooden risers and a big painting of the muses on the wall, full of students whispering and sneaking sandwiches and studying while we sang. I looked on with a German girl named Eva and tried to stumble my way through a Verdi piece whose name I forget and a Requiem whose composer I didn’t catch. Fortunately years of musical activity in various forms has made me a decent sight-reader, so I managed to not totally suck. The music was beautiful, and the knowledge that I was sitting in the Sorbonne singing hymns in Latin was pretty mindblowing.

Everything is just going really well at the moment. Classes start Monday, tomorrow I’m headed for Toulouse for the weekend, and I now have at least one real non-American friend in my foyer—a girl from Cologne named Lina, with whom I am going to a Franco-German thing at the international students’ dorm tonight. (Germans are rather friendlier than French people, I have discovered.) I also went to a really lovely Conservative synagogue on Friday night that I think I’m going to try to go back to at least once or twice a month. I feel like I’ve been extending myself a lot and getting really positive results. It’s a good feeling to know I can do this.

Oh, and a note of clarification about a few things. I actually can Skype without much difficulty; I found a better room where I won’t bother people when I talk, particularly if it’s late enough at night or early enough in the morning. So y’all should let me know if you want to do that. But bad news for anyone who I promised floor space to: I’m going to have to go back on my word – my foyer has a strict no-visitors policy. You should still come visit if you can though! I’ll find you a cheap and clean hostel!

More news after Toulouse,

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

a la fin de la premiere semaine

You know, this week of orientation really has made me feel more oriented. I would even say that a week ago I was feeling a little disoriented—not surprisingly, I guess, as I was more or less left to my own devices in a city where I was living alone and didn’t know anyone. But I know people now, and my French is already much better, and those things help a lot. I’m also learning to appreciate the large amount of time I have on my own. I’m reading for pleasure (gasp!), writing in my journal, and entertaining myself making lists of patisseries to visit—not to mention taking a lot of long pointless walks through the city, which is basically the best activity.

All sorts of people I know have also turned up in Paris. My French teacher’s daughter, who I have yet to meet but supposedly will at some point; an old family friend who is a sophomore at Columbia and introduced me to her crazy French friends; a long-lost buddy from Academic Team and CTY who is here for the semester with U. Chicago; a girl from my literature class last semester; the daughter of one of my mom’s best friends… I feel sort of popular, even though all my close friends are across the ocean. It’s kind of weird.

Oh hey, and I finally know what classes I’m “shopping” for real! Here’s the list:
A Middlebury-offered cinema course on the Nouvelle Vague (that one is for sure)
A mandatory Middlebury-offered French language class
A Sorbonne class on The Bourgeois, also somehow related to a History of Ideas class or department or something
A Sorbonne class called The Book-Universe in Science Fiction – I’d get to read Dune in French!
Sorbonne class called The Child in the World of Adults – Alice in Wonderland and Zazie Dans le Metro
Sorbonne class called History and Metahistory
Sorbonne class called The Arab World
Possibly a Sorbonne class on translation
I will get to pick 5 of these, or perhaps have them picked for me depending on how full they are when I register on Tuesday.

I’m hoping that after I’m done getting oriented I can start having more adventures. I really want to travel. We’re going to Toulouse next weekend, which should be great, and I’m going to see if I can make it the comics festival in Angouleme the weekend after that. I will, of course, keep you updated.

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 1:36 pm  Comments (2)  

Shopping of an entirely different kind

So, uh, listen… I made a fake Yale shopping period schedule for no real reason. Here it is. Tell me what you’re shopping! And if you’re shopping any of these classes, please do tell me how it is. I will tell you what I’m actually taking as soon as I know.

10:30 elementary musicianship – sight singing!
11:35 CS112 – let’s face it, this probably would not be as much fun as Python
1:30 tolstoy – Vladimir Alexandrov taught my freshman seminar and he is the BEST. as is Tolstoy.
2:30 the bible as literature – Leslie Brisman yo
3:30 what we eat and why – taught by Kelly Brownell, famous obesity research dude
Theory of TV and media – what is this even?

11:35 lit theory – I would almost definitely be taking this now, were I at Yale
1:30 francobelgian comic strips – ditto.
2:30 maghreb lit – guess I will be reading the menu at El Mamoun instead

9:25 ezekiel or klezmer music – what kind of cruel world would make me choose between these two classes? but actually let’s be honest, I would probably not take anything at 9:25 if I didn’t have to.
3:30 translation – yet another awesome offering from the French department. next year.

Oh and by the way, just in case anyone is interested in spending a lot of money, my French phone number is 06 46 20 35 53.
Also, photos of an adorable neighborhood right near my dorm will be posted on Facebook shortly; keep an eye out.

Published in: on January 11, 2009 at 5:28 pm  Comments (4)  

Monoprix et al

I still haven’t quite figured out this dorm-type thing that I’m living in. There’s barely any sign of life on my floor, except for the occasional light in the kitchen and popcorny smell indicating that someone has microwaved something. The other night I went up to the library on the 9th floor (the sign on the door said, “Free Entry!”) and it was empty. At 10:00 at night on a Wednesday night. As far as I know, there are a couple hundred girls living here – where are they?

At least the neighborhood has plenty to explore. I live right next to a cute creperie/tea salon with an amazingly obnoxious waitress, a Moroccan restaurant called El Mamoun, a Vietnamese sandwich place, various bakeries, a public library, and a surprising number of hairdressers. Also a LOT of supermarkets. I realized yesterday that I’ve already been to four supermarkets – partially because I need to buy things like paper towels and tupperware that you just can’t get from the local artisans, and partially because supermarkets are more impersonal and therefore less intimidating.

Less intimidating in theory, anyway. At the first supermarket I went to, an enormous Monoprix, I couldn’t find the carts; at the second – Picard! – I gave the wrong amount of change and then nearly walked out of the store without my bag; and at a Champion I had a completely weird interaction with the cashier that I still don’t understand, but I think it involved him making fun of me for buying a lot of household items and possibly had to do with the fact that I look young. The fourth supermarket was basically OK, but seeing as all I bought there was a baguette and a mug, I think that would have been difficult to screw up.

At least all the awkwardness paid off. I don’t know why, but the regular old supermarket produce is FANTASTIC. I bought a bunch of clementine-y things and they are absolutely the best clementine-y things I have ever eaten. The milk is incredible too, though I suspect that may have to do with its fat content more than anything else. Cherry tomatoes and kiwis also got very high marks.

But don’t worry, I’m not about to spend the next five months walking around Paris by myself and buying groceries. Why, just yesterday I went to the Louvre with some of my new friends from my program! (True story.) And I have many plans for more exciting food adventures, of course – beginning with the Quatrehommes cheese shop down the street and the patisserie around the corner. And once I buy some pots and pans, I can start cooking. Maybe I can lure the other girls out of hiding with delicious smells.

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 10:17 am  Comments (1)  


After forgetting my passport photos at home, missing an appointment by fifteen minutes, and somehow managing to get through the red tape despite having to pay the $63 fee in cash and forgetting photocopies of some documents, I finally have my visa. It took four trips, involving numerous waits outside in the cold (they only open the doors to the consulate every half hour) and the development of a real mutual hatred between me and the security guard, but it is done.
The real highlight of the whole experience was the postcard taped to the window of the guy I gave my documents to. An advertisement for an art show, it featured a photograph of a bathtub with a hand draped limply over the side. These people really know how to encourage American tourism, eh? Or maybe they are just trying to remind us that bureaucracy is a real improvement from revolutionary intrigue.

Published in: on December 30, 2008 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

A note of explanation

Expression: Pédaler dans la choucroute
Meaning: To be at a complete loss, getting nowhere fast, spinning one’s wheels
Literal translation: To pedal in the sauerkraut

There are many reasons I love French, but a big one is the language’s plethora of food idioms. Some of my favorites include son cul est bordé de nouilles — figuratively “he’s lucky,” literally “his ass is surrounded by noodles” — il peut manger sa soupe sur ma tete — figuratively “he is a head taller than me,” literally “he could eat his soup off my head” — and la fin des haricots — figuratively “a catastrophically big deal,” literally “the end of the string beans.” (For more of these wonderful idioms, check out this L.A. times article, as well as this excellent food blog.)

Anyway, as a frequently inept Francophile foodie, I thought this particular idiom was a good title for my new travel blog. I hope to update regularly from Paris with plenty of whining, bad food photography and amusing anecdotes. My flight doesn’t leave for three weeks, so don’t count on too many updates in the near future, but add me to your bookmarks or RSS feed and eventually there will be some posts.

A final note to old friends reading this: Yes, I know this is now my 5th blog. Deal with it.


Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 8:03 pm  Leave a Comment