18 October 2010

Grèves & Gastronomie

France is on the verge of imploding, or at the very least that how it seems to me at present. Aside from constant terrorism threats resulting in evacuation of popular areas in the city, the French are currently infuriated at the proposed amendments to the laws concerning national retirement age.  The French president, M. Sarkozy, has proposed changing the retirement age in France from 60 to 62, and the French people are not pleased.  Strikes (grèves, in French) are occurring all over the country, in various sectors.  High schoolers, college students, and of course those approaching retirement age have been turning out in the streets en masse, attempting to change Sarkozy's mind.  Not only does this mean that I keep running into demonstrations at the most inconvenient times, but the reverberations of the strike are being felt on many levels.  Students are blockading their high schools and universities, the metro here in Paris has been running inconsistently, national train services have been interrupted, and major oil refineries are closed.  Oil refineries is the biggest bummer, currently, as my planned vacation beginning on Saturday is dependent upon the planes at Charles de Gaulle having enough fuel to fly... I'm glad to experience this part of French culture, bien sur, but if the strike means that I won't be able to go home to Ireland on Saturday afternoon as planned, I am going to be a very unhappy camper.

Huge demonstration at the Place de la Bastille...  Reminiscent of the techno parade!

Grèves aside, this coming week is my last week of classes at BU, which means I have final exams on Friday.  It's incredible to think that the halfway point is already upon me, but more than being incredible it's really pretty scary.  I feel like I need to kick my derrière into high gear, so I don't fly home with any "I wish I'd done..." thoughts floating through my head!

Adorable French kids racing around a mini track beneath the Eiffel Tower.
Aren't the leaves pretty?
The other evening I left my apartment after having spent the whole day in its cozy confines, surrounded by tissues and vitamin C pills, and I walked north towards the Belleville neighborhood.  I was keen to do a bit of discovering, as time is slipping so quickly away.  Belleville was interesting-  it had a totally different vibe from the rest of the city.  After finding an awesome gift that I plan to send to  my sister Sinéad, I was feeling pretty happy with myself.  On top of the satisfaction of happening upon the perfect present, I was lucky enough to pick up a piping hot baguette  from my boulangerie on the way home -- and, just because I was feeling just a bit sorry for my sneezy self, a tartelette aux framboises.  It was more delicious than I could ever have imagined.  At times like this I feel particularly convinced that the best parts about life in Paris are the small things-  hot baguettes and perfectly sweet desserts not excluded.

This blurry iPhone photo doesn't begin to serve justice to this deliciousness.
I spent the past weekend in Rouen, a city in Normandy.  It was a glorious change of pace from Paris, it felt like a small town though it's really fairly sizeable.   The best part was experiencing a food festival that lasted the duration of my visit-  Streets overflowing with vendors willing to give free samples of traditional cuisine from Normandy.  Lots of seafood, honey, cheese, jam and foie gras... (I'd be lying if I said I didn't sneak a bite or two of foie gras... Shh!)  It was really an awesome time to be in Rouen.  The city was chilly, but we bravely tromped through several intense rain storms yesterday and we faced harsh winds all day today, visiting the famous Cathedral and the spot where Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake.  The spot, by the way, is a huge pile of dirt with a tiny commemorative sign.  Bizarrely understated.

Pain des épices, jam, honey.

Inside of the old abbey in Rouen

Andouillette sausage cooked in cider with onions.
I've been trying my hardest to fight off an approaching cold.  Aside from the general woes this brings, I've been struggling with the difficulties of blowing my nose with its new piercing!  Not the best timing for a cold.  On top of the approaching sickness, I've been sleeping horrendously.  My sleep pattern has been frequently interrupted since I've been here; I'll attribute it to a combination of my silly decisions to stay out far too late and the still unfamiliar noises of Paris at night.  (Read: Michael Jackson's greatest hits randomly floating through the air on a Thursday night)  It's nothing too concerning, it's more just an irritation.  I think there is nothing worse than lying awake at 4 in the morning feeling utterly convinced you will never sleep again!
Though I will be sad to leave Paris this coming Saturday, I'm looking forward to some vacation time.  I'll be in Ireland, Spain, and England.  Lots of family and friend time, which I think I'll be needing especially after this upcoming week at school.  Two months from tomorrow, I will be meeting my family at Philadelphia airport, for what will probably be a very tearful reunion.  I'm looking forward to the day, as I miss them each intensely, but I'm sad to see my time slip so quickly.  I can tell already that this is one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  Halfway over already?  That hardly seems fair!  But ne vous inquiétez pas, chéris.  I plan to make the most of it. xo

08 October 2010

Bon Weekend!

I decided last weekend that I was going to get my nose pierced.  It's something I'd wanted to do since high school, but I was always told it was not allowed while I lived under my mother's roof.  My sister Sinéad beat me to it by getting hers done just before she left for South Africa, so now I look like a copy cat.  

I did it, nevertheless.  On Tuesday night, I walked into a kind of intimidating tattoo/piercing salon where I felt like everyone was wondering why I was there.  The guy who pierced me, Olivier, was really nice though, and explained everything in nice clear slow language so that I could be sure to understand everything.  Ten minutes later, I emerged from Tribal Act (that is seriously what it's called) a pierced hoodlum.

It is a tiny stud, but it's there.  This picture is awkward.

This semester is a big one for me, I'm finding. Already, I can feel that it's contributed to tremendous self-growth and discovery, which sounds really cliché but is entirely true.  I was in a strange place before I left, with lots of mixed emotions about leaving my friends and family.  Now, however, I've remembered why I'm here (because it is the most gorgeous place in the world and I'm unbelievably lucky to be allowed 4 months here!) and what I want to accomplish during my time in Paris.  And, as an added bonus... I have a hole in my right nostril!

I did something else completely new for me this week, as well.  On Monday, I was walking around the Marais when I decided to sit down and have a nice two course meal... By myself.  At first I felt horribly self-conscious, certain that everyone was judging me for being alone and that everyone cared so much.  Then I remembered... No one cares, at all.  I enjoyed a delicious salad and quiche, and then a petit expresso... Eating alone is delicious and absolutely underrated.  I didn't have to talk to anyone; instead I was free to people-watch to my heart's content and enjoy my fantastic meal.  

Salad with roulades d'aubergine and goat's cheese

This weekend in Paris is gorgeous, the sun is shining and its 70 degrees.  Today I am headed to the BU Center for a meeting or two, and then to the Musée du Chocolat... A mandatory class trip which I hear involves eating a lot of chocolate.  (Sometimes, I can't believe that my life here is real.)  Tomorrow is the Fete de Vendages in Montmartre, which sounds promising.  Villanova's course registration for next semester is looming ever closer, I keep getting e-mails about it which serve as a reminder that my time here is almost halfway through.  But for now, I can't wait to see what this weekend holds.  I hope you all have marvelous plans, and if you have nothing better to do... Come to Paris!

Bon weekend, chers amis xo.

03 October 2010

A Techno Parade, An Internship, & Some Macarons.

If there is, by any slim chance, anyone who has been waiting with bated breath for my latest update-- I owe you a big fat apology.  It's been almost two weeks since I've written, and that simply won't do since I'd promised myself I would try to blog once a week.  It's just that I'm just a tiny bit lazy, and it seems a lot easier to put off updating rather than just sitting down and doing it.  So now, here I am, sitting down and... well, doing it.
To beat a dead horse completely and thoroughly, I can't believe how quickly my time is disappearing.  I have only three weeks of classes left, an event which marks the halfway point of my semester.  It's unbelievable to think that I'm almost halfway finished here, I can already sense how unready and heartbroken I will be to leave on December 18.
Big things have been happening in my neck of the woods, I'm pleased to report.  I had an interview on last Monday morning with my potential internship maitresse.  I traveled to Trocadero, biting my nails the whole way as I thought about what was to come.  My interview was to intern at a small international law firm located just across the river from the Eiffel tower (the commute involves traveling by metro over a bridge, where I can casually take in a stupendous view of the tower and river).  The firm deals mainly with business law but also has some cases involving tax law and medical malpractice.  The only thing of all of these that was familiar was tax law- thanks to my time at the Villanova Law Clinic I've spent more time on the United States IRS website than I care to admit to, so I have some kind of experience in tax law.
Anyway, after awkwardly waiting on a bench in the rain for twenty minutes, I met my maitresse and we had our interview.  The woman is lovely, the office is gorgeous-  Just two or three rooms with two people working quietly.  The best news, however, is that the interview was a success, and I've consequently signed my convocation to begin interning with the law firm on November 2.  I'm thrilled, and I would be giving you more concrete information with links to websites and all I'm just not sure how much I'm allowed to talk about it.  Rest assured, chers amis, that it is a fantastic opportunity in a gorgeous location with a lovely maitresse.  I'm looking forward to starting in November, I can't wait to see what I'll learn from my time as an intern.
Now that my big news has been told, I can get to the interesting and fun stuff.  Last Saturday my friends and I headed over to the left bank in search of something we'd heard of called a Techno Parade.  I didn't really know what it was, but it sounded like something I could get into so I donned my finest tie-dye tshirt and set off with a big group of friends to see what we could find.  It didn't take long to hear the pounding bass and screaming fans of the Techno Parade.  It was, essentially, a big huge parade of people dancing, punctuated with massive buses pumping out techno beats.  We were so happy, it looked like so much fun, so we jumped on in.  It was unforgettable.  We danced in the streets of Paris for five hours, following the parade all the way to Place de la Bastille where it ended.  I danced, I sang, I screamed, I climbed on bus stop shelters and hopped the fence of the monument at Bastille.  It was one of the most adrenaline-infused and incredible experiences of my life.  I don't even have the words to give it any justice at all, so I won't really try.  It was just completely awesome, so exciting and such an energetic atmosphere.  It was also very tiring, and I have more bruises still than I've had ever in my life-- And for those of you who realize my bruising tendencies, that is really saying something.  All so worth it though, vive la techno!

So many people!

I don't even like techno...

Storming the Bastille, pt. 2.  This resulted in a lot of bruises,
but I'm just glad we left before the police teargassed the crowd...
I got to see my Dad twice over the past week, which was an awesome treat.  He had been traveling for business in Germany and so he stopped by in Paris for the night last Friday and then again this Thursday.  It was super to see him, it's so much fun to show people the little life I've created for myself here.  He's by no means a Paris amateur, but it was still nice to show him what spots I like the most.  We had some really fantastic meals together, too, it was such a treat to go out to restaurants and enjoy someone else's cooking.  I love to cook but eating out at restaurants is a lot more relaxing! Dad's also a total language dweeb like me, so we spent a lot of time attempting to one-up each other by showing off how many useful little phrases we each know.  Even though I'm the one that lives here, I think he's still got me beat.  Dads always know the most, somehow.

Macarons and tea at La Durée with Dad, yum.
Wine and cheese before dinner (!?) with Dad.  Also yum.

This past Friday I went on a field trip with my Art History class to Metz, where we had a  guided tour of the newly built and gorgeous Georges Pompidou center .  The museum is beautiful, with some really fantastic pieces inside, but our visit was unfortunately unbearably long.  It's nice to get out and about and to see some of the art work that we learn about in class, but asking thirty exhausted 20 year old American students to spend three and half hours listening to a French guided tour of modern art....?  It was completely fatigant.  The city of Metz is gorgeous, and is home to a fantastic and awe-inspiring cathedral.  It was nice to be a tourist again, but I did miss Paris and was glad to return that evening, even though it was dreary and we were all exhausted.  I spent a wild Friday night cooking a garlic-infused meal with my friend Becca, and was so glad to get to sleep.

"The Mona Lisa is in the stairwell."
Crazy optical illusion windows.  Metz cathedral seems so close from this end of the room...
But once you get closer, it shrinks!
Last night in Paris was Nuit Blanche.  There was a lot going on in the city, with art installations all over the place and museums open to the public and things of a similar nature, but due to some sort of plan fail my group of friends got awfully separated and we didn't end up seeing any decent amount of art at all.   We were all still a bit tired, I think, so staying up all night was not the best idea in the first place, in combination with the fact that we completley missed the point of Nuit Blanche.  I'm kind of disappointed that we didn't get to see more stuff, because it sounds like there was some great offerings, but I guess it's only one missed opportunity and there will be plenty more later.  What we did see was incredible though- a big installation on city hall which commanded in several languages Love the Differences.  It was very cool.

Love the Differences
This week is a tough one in school, I've got a few presentations and papers which are stressing me out quite a bit.  Hopefully I will get through it, one way or the other.  Though I only have to get a C to get Villanova credit for the semester, my inner-nerd (my outer-nerd too!) has trouble settling for a C.  I just have to keep reminding myself that there are only three weeks left of classes-  That is hardly even enough time to get stressed!  At the end of these three weeks I'm jet setting a little bit, visitng friends and family across Europe, so if I DO get stressed, I at least have that to look forward to.

Reminder to self: happiness can be as simple as good friends, bad wine,
a French board game, and the Seine at night time.
My host parents and housemate were gone all weekend, so it was just me and Pilou, the cat... but he hid from me all weekend, unfortunately.  Kim  is back now, after spending the weekend in Switzerland, and I'm still waiting for my host parents to return from their country house.  I'm looking forward to having them home-- Even if it's not my house, it's nice to have the noise and energy of a family to fill this apartment.
I want to try and get out and about in the city more this week, though perhaps its not the best week to try and do so.  Paris feels like it's on the brink of something these days, when I step outside in the morning cold weather smells just a little bit closer every day.  I can't wait for the leaves to change and fall, it will be so beautiful.  Well, Paris is always beautiful, but it will be something new and different and exciting.  I look forward to it immensely, and I will of course share it with you all.  Until next time!  xo