04 September 2010

First Impressions

Salut!  Rest assured, I have arrived in Paris sans probleme and I've decided that I love Paris more than I even thought I did.

My flight over went smoothly enough, I chatted with a Canadian man who resembled a Degrassi character and I slept most of the way.  The only issue I had with regards to my arrival was carting around my massive case!  I still have calluses on my palms from heaving and pulling and coaxing that stupid huge red thing into submission.  Mais alors!  It is done now (with the help of a tramp at the RER station, admittedly...)  and here I am!

My host parents are wonderful! When I arrived on Sunday they ate their usual Sunday meal of roast chicken and potatoes, but Catherine my host mother took the time to make fish for me separately, because she knows I don't eat meat.  Last Tuesday night she made ratatouille for my housemate and me, completing the meal with a cheese course and dessert.  Pilou, the family's cat, is adorable, but very shy.  Little by little though, I am making progress.  He even let me pet his back yesterday, and I'm just about certain that I heard him purr.  I will get in his good graces, I'm determined!!

Pilou is gray, just like my cats!
The apartment is in the 11th arrondissement, which is a super location.  There is a metro stop right nearby which has FIVE train lines going through it, so it is easy to get around.  The Boston University center, where orientation took place all this week and where classes begin on Monday, is about a 25 minute commute from the house.   Kim and I traveled together this past week, but we somehow went a different way each time and have not yet figured out the fastest way to get there.  The BU Center is in the fifteenth, which is also the location of the Eiffel Tower.  It is surreal, still, to be walking to school and suddenly see the top of the tower peeking over a building or around a corner.  It is surprising and wonderful, but I almost have to pinch myself sometimes because this still doesn't feel real to me!  Too good to be true, as they say.

Orientation was a long week, but the staff are so wonderfully helpful and friendly that their efforts to make us feel comfortable and at home were truly succesful.  My favorite part of the week, it has to be said, was Wednesday afternoon.  The staff treated us to a dégustation de la gastronomie française, a little taste of French gastronomy.  We traveled among four rooms, where a staff member in each room allowed us to taste a wine, cheese, meat, and dessert from one of four regions of France.  The food was delicious (I can only assume the meat was as delicious as the cheese), and it was nice to taste decent wine that we can't quite afford!  We were encouraged to visit the cheese shop, the bakery, the butcher, etc. rather than stopping by the supermarket, and promised that in many cases it's valuable to pay a bit more and enjoy the better quality products.  We'll see if I can swing that, but at the very least I am itching to go to a market next week and buy some veggies and cheese!

The Aquitane region, whose offerings included
a delicious Bordeaux we would never be able to afford...

Sampling the cuisine of the Franche-Compte region, near the Swiss border

After the dégustation, we headed towards the Champ du Mars to see a puppet show beneath the Eiffel Tower.  It was adorable, to see how excited the French kids got over the show.  Though I did well with understanding the show itself, I was embarrassed to find I often didn't know what the kids were responding.  It's difficult, this language thing.  It's just so strange to admit that as a twenty year old college student, I'm not always able to understand what four- and five-year olds are saying here in France.  Instead of getting depressed, though, it just fills me with greater resolve to improve!  Watch this video, if you like, and see if you can tell what they're saying!

Spectacle de Guignol! from Niamh Cloughley on Vimeo.

I know it's toursity and cliche, but isn't
it just so beautiful?
The nightlife in Paris is incredible.  Generally, we like to share a few bottles of wine on the banks of the Seine or perhaps beneath the sparkling Eiffel Tower and then head to the Latin Quarter, the student section of Paris.  Fairly decent wine, suitable for students at least, is incredibly cheap but nightlife in general is expensive.  It's a lesson in itself, learning how to juggle finances appropriately.   A few friends and I sat beneath the glowing Notre Dame the other night, when suddenly we stopped our conversation and had another moment of "Is this real!?"  We already are dreading our return to the monotony of college dorms and bars, and feel quite certain we could get used to sipping wine  beneath a beautiful cathedral in Paris.  I almost burst with pride on Thursday night when not one, but TWO Parisians told me that my French was very good!  Parisians, as a rule, are not friendly... Particularly when it comes to foreigners butchering their language.  Their kind words boosted my confidence incredibly, and I really do feel quite comfortable with the language already.  I can't wait to improve, though.  It is one of my main goals for these four months, I really want to be completely at ease in French conversation... Hopefully I'll get there!

A poor étudiante's humble meal

Notre Dame at night.
Can you see why we love to bask in its glory?
It is the little things about Paris that make me the most happy: coming across an eight-person ensemble that played the most fantastic music in the Metro, treating myself to a warm crepe oozing Nutella on my way home from school, seeing a line out the door at my local bakery, and even taking bike rides now and then along the Seine.  With all the walking and bike riding I've been doing, I can hardly worry about how the rich French diet might affect me.  Plus, my student budget really only allows for some couscous and tuna for dinner, with the occasional baguette or pain au chocolat thrown in for good measure.

Riding my bike along the Right Bank, towards Place de la Concorde

A cute cafe that does a two Euro coffee and croissant deal

Lunch just around the corner from the BU Center.
In other, less happy news, I'm currently battling a really awful case of strep throat.  It began on Thursday night, a little sore throat that I was willing to brush aside as a result of my plane trip.  By Friday afternoon, however, it became clear that I was yet again coming down with a case of strep.  Strep throat is old news to me, I get it about four or five times a year so I'm pretty good at knowing when it's on its way.  Alors, I got the number of an English-speaking doctor in Paris and headed across town last night to hear his opinion.  I left the pharmacie last night with no fewer than five medications in tow, but alas this morning I actually felt worse.  I'm hoping by tonight I'll feel improved, as classes start Monday morning and I really can't imagine attending them in this state.  I've already ducked out of a class trip to Versailles today, about which I was really excited but had to choose to rest and attempt to get better rather than go and potentially get worse.  Terrible timing, I can only assume I picked it up on the plane!

I'm looking forward to classes next week, though I am a bit nervous as I've heard from all sides that the work load is heavy and the courses are difficult enough.  I have class until the 23rd of October, and then I begin a full-time internship on November 2nd.  I'm not sure yet what my internship is, I am supposed to be contacted about an interview somewhere at some point this week.  In some ways, I'm jealous of friends who are studying abroad without much studying... But I guess it's better this way, since I won't struggle too much come January to get back into the flow of things at Villanova.

My bed is calling to me now, I want to rest while I can so that I'm in top shape for class on Monday!  Congratulations if you have made it to here... This was long and probably a bit rambly.  I will improve at writing, I promise!  I will leave you with this video of the ensemble I came across the other day.  I hope it brightens your day as much as it brightened mine!

A bientot, chers amis xo

1 comment:

  1. I love this and I love you. Can't wait to Skype you soon! xx