20 September 2010

How To Get Your iPhone Stolen & Other Parisian Tales

Hello, chers amis. This week has been a strange one, full of ups and downs and highs and lows.

Unfortunately, the week began on a tremendously low point last Sunday. Having gathered all my books for my homework and my laptop only to discover that every café near my apartment was packed to capacity, I found myself in a quiet corner of McDonald's last Sunday afternoon, doing some work for class. (Note: though it is still inherently distasteful to be in a McDonald's in Paris, it has to be said that fast food, like most things in France, is much better here.) As I did homework, chatting away to some friends from home while I half-heartedly highlighted some facts about French politics, I had one of those gut-wrenching, stomach-twisting, heart-pounding realization moments: my iPhone had been stolen. Sitting next to my laptop on the table not ten minutes before, my dear iPhone had been taken by two very tricky beggar girls who had been bothering me a while before. By the time I realized, it was ten minutes too late. After frantically searching every fold of my clothing and re-arranging every item in my bag, it was confirmed. I went back to my apartment, tears streaming down my face the whole way, and regrouped. It was my fault, it has to be said. Over the past three (!!!) weeks I've gotten pretty good at becoming street smart; I never make eye contact with anyone on the street or metro, I zip my bag tightly shut and hold it close to my chest... It took only a single moment of lapsed judgment to learn the hard way. Leaving an iPhone on a table at a McDo in the middle of Paris in broad daylight is asking for it to be stolen, truly.

After many many tears, a desperate phone call to McDonald's, and general moping about for a few days, I had a brief epiphany and took a shot in the dark by asking a close friend of my family if she might have kept her older model iPhone when she upgraded to the newest model recently. To my immense relief and joy, she had indeed kept her old model lying around and was more than willing to support my cause. It is times like this that it pays to sleeplessly and obsessively mull things over all through the night.
The iPhone incident really shook me, though it is now resolved, and I found myself in a pretty definitive funk at the beginning of the week. I didn't want to be in Paris anymore, though there were so many good things to enjoy, because this one bad thing had happened to me and I had let the Big Bad City get me. I wanted to be in the Connelly Center at Villanova, where I can leave my purse and laptop unattended for ten minutes without stress that they will be snatched up. More than that, however, I wanted to be back in my home with my family, where my sisters would help me laugh my tears away while my parents would implore us, “Would you PLEASE go to bed?!” It was the first time that I felt really homesick, and I had some trouble shaking it. I'm happy to report that the natural ebb and flow of homesickness has worked its magic, and since then I've had some of the happiest days I've had since arriving in Paris.

The woman at my local boulangerie recognizes me now, which is a monumental step in assimilating into French society, I think. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I set my alarm 20 minutes earlier than need be so I have time to stop into the bakery and enjoy a pain au chocolat and steaming expresso while I review my notes for class. When I've finished, I call au revoir, merci! and head to the metro, where I read the latest copy of L'Express on my way to class. This is a routine I could get used to.

My breakfast at the bakery.  These notes are hastily scribbled, so if you happen
to be checking for errors I'm sure there are many...

Additionally, my friends from the BU program and I have found ourselves a few really nice young French people to hang out with. We've seen them a few times this week, and they've been great each time. It is so nice to feel accepted by people our own age here in Paris. The French are not known for their openness and receptiveness to new things and new people, but I've found that though it can be hard to initially get an “in,” once you get in it's well worthwhile. Perhaps the most challenging part about making friends in France is deciding what language to speak! Frequently, French people are just as keen to practice their English as I am to practice my French, so conversation often takes place in two languages, where I speak in halting French and they in accented English. It's funny, and a little awkward, but speaking in English to French friends seems a little counterproductive, n'est-ce pas?
I'm getting the hang of my courses now, the two and a half hour sessions are becoming bearable. I'm thankful most of all for the espresso machine just outside the classrooms, as when the inevitable pause comes about halfway through classes, I join the rest of my classmates in a mad rush for .50 cent espresso. It's not bad, either! I admit to being a bit of a coffee snob, and completely blame my Dad's purist genes, but the coffee is really quite drinkable... for .50 cents, at least.

I had a trip to the Musée d'Orsay on Wednesday afternoon for one of my classes, and I was a bit underwhelmed-- only because the museum is very badly organized at the minute, as they are doing renovations on some areas and so much of the most impressive art (Monet, Manet, Cézanne, etc.) is all hurled pell-mell into one room, with about 3 million tourists all trying to snap a photo. I definitely want to go back when I can, because obviously it's an incredible collection housed in a gorgeous building, but the trip on Wednesday was sort of too much to see with too little time among too many people... A bit too stressful to enjoy.

Model village of Paris at the Orsay which made me feel like a giant!!

On Friday afternoon, I joined about 20 other students in my program for a trip to the Wine Museum of Paris. To be honest, the museum itself is nothing at all to write home about-- a few creepy wax figures pretending to make wine in obscure corners of a dimly lit corridor, et cetera. After a brief tour of the museum, however, we were invited to a dégustation, a wine tasting. More than a tasting, it was a course in how to DO a wine tasting, which was really awesome because as much as I'm partial these days to cheap wine for financial reasons, I desperately want to know what I'm talking about when I talk about wine. We tasted five wines, and perhaps because we are uncultured Americans we all got just a bit giggly, much to the distaste of the staff at the musée. Disapproving Parisians aside, it was a great experience, the best part being that it's completely included in my program and in fact mandatory for class. That's right, to pass my classes I HAVE to go to a free wine tasting. I really have a difficult life, non?

After the wine museum trip, I hopped on a train to visit my aunt and uncle in Montpellier, which is in the south of France, on the Mediterranean sea. They've bought a holiday home there, which they've completely renovated and now rent out to whomever is interested. (If you are, click here!) My grandmother is there with them for about six weeks, so it was a really nice weekend as I got to feel like I was back at home, almost. Unfortunately I felt a bit under the weather over the weekend, and still do, but nonetheless I was able to enjoy markets, another wine tasting, lots of seafood, delicious home-cooked meals, and some good family time. Again, my life is very difficult, I know.  A note about seafood and oysters in particular:  Hemingway famously wrote in his Parisian memoir A Moveable Feast, "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to feel happy, and to make plans."  Let it be known that this is a really awesome description of how great it is to eat oysters and drink white wine.  No, really.  Very satisfying and VERY delicious.

This was a starter.  Yikes!

My aunt, nana, and me down by the Med.
It's funny how immediately you miss something. I wasn't even on the train towards Montpellier for an hour when I began to miss Paris! It's only been three weeks, but during this time I've truly become attached to the city, even to its people. Though it's not as loud and roaring as New York can be, there's a quiet and pleasant buzz to the place that just can't be found elsewhere. Leaving that vibrancy behind was a strange feeling, because I never realized how tuned into it I was. Nevertheless, my weekend in Montpellier was glorious, and I can't wait til the next time I'm lucky enough to be there.

My dad is coming to Paris for a brief stop-over on Friday night. I'm so fortunate; he travels to Europe frequently for business and so he's just doing a quick stop in Paris for lunch, dinner, and maybe even breakfast if I'm lucky. Can you tell my family loves food? I absolutely cannot wait to see him! He's even bringing me a duffel bag full of things I forgot, thanks to the endless patience of my mother who packed it over the past week according to my numerous e-mail requests.

And so, one more week gone, I can't believe it.   Until next time! xo

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