29 November 2010

Live on Coffee and Flowers.

Paris is cold.  Officially.  Despite the fact that Parisians of all shapes and sizes have been bundling up since the beginning of September (as far as they're concerned, back to school/back to work also means back to winter), it has officially become necessary to keep one's face half-hidden beneath a huge knit scarf.  Worse still, it is occasionally required that one wears leggings under one's jeans -- a look that is both unflattering AND uncomfortable... But warm, all the same.

I took these photos at the Canal St Martin using
a new iPhone app.  Not sure how I feel.

My first glimpse of snow in Paris, from my office window.
Paris is also ready for Christmas.  Over the past ten days, Christmas has been unveiling itself in the streets, little by little.  Considering that this is generally acknowledged to be one of the more attractive cities in the world, Christmastime in Paris is magnifique.  The Champs-Elysées is hosting an adorable Christmas market, where I've already spent too much time and money (I can't say no to hot wine and churros...).  The lights are gorgeous, and they give me little butterflies - both because they make me love Paris even more than before, and because they remind me that Christmas, and my reunion with my family, is just around the bend.

Champs-Elysées at night
Christmas display at Galeries Lafayette department store
I've been fortunate though, and haven't been short of familiar faces of late.  My little sister, who is seventeen and fabulous, was in Paris last week for five days.  Her visit overlapped slightly with the visit of two good friends from Villanova.  The four of us even got to climb the Eiffel tower, on a beautifully clear day - something I always enjoy, no matter how out of breath it makes me!  Unfortunately, I still had to work while Meg was here.  We met up for lunch every day, sampling the finest of French cuisine (read: Eating tuna sandwiches sitting inside a mall), and saw each other after work as I stayed with her at a tiny budget hotel in the 13th.  It was so nice to have her -- my two sisters are the two people around whom I feel the most comfortable, and so needless to say it was a pleasure to be with Meg.  Only 19 days until the three of us are together again!

Having my baby sister here in Paris with me was a great time.  Better still, during her stay we got to see The National in concert at the Paris Olympia.  The National, as you might know, is my very favorite band.  I was lucky enough to see them play in June in Philadelphia, and when I learned they'd be playing in Paris I jumped at the opportunity to see them again.  They really are phenomenal - if you're not familiar and you're curious, check out their website here.  The venue was great, their setlist was incredible, and I got to see them with my little sister!  What more could I have asked for?  Maybe I could have asked for the lead singer to come down into the crowd, and stand right next to me while he sang.  But oh wait! I got that too.

View from the halfway point

Last Thursday, Megan and I had a busy day and managed to cross a few things off my Paris must-see list.  The most notable of these was our trip inside the Palais Garnier!  I've been awestruck each time I pass the Opera house from the street, but to go inside was a different level of awesome altogether.  Gilded wall moldings, marble floors, chandeliers at every opportunity -- to imagine how it must have burst with energy in its heyday was vraiment enchanting.  It's not hard to imagine how Gaston Leroux found inspiration to write his famous novel.  
Can you imagine this filled with gorgeous dresses etc.? Ah!
Always worth every penny.
I woke up this morning to a dusting of snow -- not the first snow I've had in Paris, but waking up and realizing the world has been blanketed overnight is always a magical feeling.  This week, the remainder of the Christmas decorations and festivities are due to start.  I look forward to seeing as many of them as I can -- Who knows the next time I'll get to be in Paris around Christmastime?

My snowy walk to work this morning.
With less than three weeks to go, my stomach is tied in anxious knots.  I am, of course, looking forward to home and all the things it brings with it (my two precious cats, my two not-so-precious sisters, and lots of home-cooked food!), but I am also experiencing a bit of stress about how little time remains to me.  Three weeks from today, I will be back in Pennsylvania.  It all sounds so terribly boring to me, at the moment.  Keeping this in mind, I've realized that it is most definitely time to panic and do as many Parisian things as I possibly can in the time that remains.  It's crunch time, chers amis.  While my friends at home begin thinking about cramming for finals, I'm preparing for a different sort of cramming altogether.  I think I may have gotten the better end of the deal, but that can be decided after December 18...

While the wind whistles outside my window in the 11th arrondissement, I have three wonderful suggestions to lift your spirits (and mine too!).  I know that the weather has been nothing short of frightful all over the world (though when I called my good friend in Ghana yesterday, she was wearing a tank top and shorts on her balcony...).  Rather than letting the gloomy weather bring you down, why not listen to this catchy French song?  It might just lift your spirits.    If that doesn't do the trick, then this blog's wonderful pictures might be what you need.  Still feeling blue?  Try one or two of these hilarious stories.  I'm almost sure the combination of these three will do wonders for your mood.  If not, go and buy yourself a warm baguette from the local boulangerie - works for me every time.  A bientot xo!

16 November 2010

Come on with the rain, I've a smile on my face!

Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I'd never known before  or had always been waiting for, but I didn't know what. Maybe it was something I'd forgotten  or something I've been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness.  But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive.  That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.  - Paris, Je t'aime
I can't tell you how many times I've started blog entries over the past ten days without finishing them.  Sometimes, I've simply uploaded a photo, saved the entry ... And promptly discarded it.  The truth is, I am a little short on words at the moment.  For someone keeping a blog entitled Cherchant le Mot Juste, I'm not doing a terrific job of it.  Paris leaves me speechless, that's all.  
After two months of living here, I am still in awe of everything that I encounter in this incredible city.  Today I sat at a café near my school, eating a pain au chocolat and drinking a petit café.  Even the most mundane activity, such as sitting at a café and people watching during some precious free time, fills me with the utmost pleasure.  Despite my best efforts to look and act parisienne most of the time, I can't help but smile when I see a man walking by eating a baguette that's tucked under his arm... Followed by a woman chewing a croissant and smoking a cigarette ... Followed by a child with chocolate smeared all over his happy little French face.  Scenes like these are what I will miss most.
Perhaps I'm wrong about that though.  Perhaps what I'll miss most is turning off my computer every night, bidding bon soirée to my coworker and to my boss, and turning the corner away from my office to the banks of the Seine, the sparkling lights of the Eiffel Tower catching my eye as I rush to board the metro.  I pinch myself during moments like these, which occur more frequently than I can believe.

My rainy walk home from work on Monday night.
It's time to admit to something here.  It is cliché and silly, and it's almost impossible to describe.  The few sentences from Paris, Je t'aime with which I began this entry are the most applicable I can think of, and the closest I can come to capturing the feeling I've had lately.  To be brief, all I know is that the feeling that I have while I'm here is not one that can be found in the Streets of Philadelphia,  as wonderful and comforting as they are.  I'm not finished with Paris yet, and my remaining thirty-two days won't change that sentiment-- I'm certain.  Taking a walk around the very wet, very rainy, and very very windy Luxembourg Gardens the other day, my heart swelled.  Even at its worst, Paris is the best.  Little pieces of history and art are everywhere in Paris, and a little (or a lot) of rain can't detract from the incredible value of stumbling upon these moments.

Just outside my apartment on one particularly blustery morning, the Canal St.Martin.
Tuileries Gardens
Palais du Luxembourg, the seat of the Senate
Enough dreamy reflection.  I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful visit from my mother this past weekend.  A seasoned Parisian tourist, she was content to sit on café sidewalks and walk through the rainy streets for as long as it took for us to catch up.  There are some things that Paris doesn't offer me, and the comforts of home and family make up a huge portion of that.  We talked, we ate, and we ate.  It was so nice to see her in real life, rather than the rather grainy Skype-y image that I've become so used to.
Quelle parisienne!
Windy rainy day outside the Louvre.
As you may have guessed from the rain in every single picture posted, the weather in Paris has been atrocious-  Today was the first time it was really sunny in more than eight days.  My mother was a trooper however, like the true Irishwoman she is she braved the horrible rainy wind all the way from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe.  Bravo, maman.  She is now nestled away at our house in the Loire valley, where she will shortly be joined by her sister, and then my sister next week.
Speaking of my sister, my fabulous ginger-haired seventeen year old sister is coming to paris oh-so-soon!  Finished with her college applications (I have never felt more old), she arrives in Paris on Saturday morning.  I am so excited to be silly with her like only sisters can, though I know that we will both be missing our older sister Sinéad.  Sinéad returns home from South Africa in a matter of weeks, which is incredible since she's been there for the year.   Seeing Megan this weekend will make me a million times more excited for Christmas, when all five members of my family will be together again at last (aw).
My job, incidentally, is fabulous.  It is a dream come true.  I'm getting some really great experience, I'm speaking French, and I can see the Eiffel tower from the office window.  The work can be really challenging, but my boss is really kind and eager to help me-- you'll be glad to hear I'm not stuck in a Devil-Wears-Prada-boss-from-hell scenario.   Though she probably does wear Prada.  After two weeks at work, my fingers are thoroughly confused, as they are now bilingual and can use French OR American keyboards ... They just can't really keep them straight.  There is only one other girl in the office with me, and she has been so friendly and kind to me.  She even invited me to a soirée at her friends' apartment last week!  It was a fantastic night, and though I was by far the youngest, with the closest in age being 28, her friends were incredibly warm and welcoming.  It was a night I won't soon forget.  
With visits from my nearest and dearest coming from the States, Europe, and even from Africa over the next 5 weeks, I know that time will fly.  But I know also that no matter how quickly or slowly time goes, I will still board that plane in 32 days feeling like a piece of me is staying behind.  And do you know what the very best part about that is, mes chers amis? That only means that I will have to come back to retrieve it, some day. xo

01 November 2010

Forty-Seven Days

My stomach feels funny when I think about how few weeks I have left.  Rather than reading a long rambling post about about how unsettled that fact makes me feel, how would you like to hear about my holiday?

Last Friday I officially finished the academic half of my program here in Paris.  Unfortunately, all three of my finals were on the same day.  Fortunately, they were not too horrible.  I shudder to think of the mistakes I made on my grammar exam, and chuckle a bit when I imagine how horribly I confused the names of some paintings on my Art History final, but overall I think they went well.  Friday night, my last night in Paris, I managed to accomplish nothing that I wanted to.  I had big plans of picnicking beneath the Eiffel Tower and blabbing on about how much I would miss it... instead, my friend Becca and I made dinner here at home, opened some red wine, and then traveled around aimlessly on the Métro.  Though I didn't see the Eiffel Tower, I did manage to happen upon the Opéra Garnier all lit up and splendid.  It was a surprise encounter and a reminder of how many beautiful things are hiding around the corner in this city.  Not a bad way to leave Paris.

Can you spot the Phantom of the Opera?
I left on Saturday afternoon and flew into Dublin.  Though it was a whirlwind visit, I felt the same immediate comfort and sense of home that I experience each time I return to Ireland.  Though I've lived in America the longest, I will be the most connected to Ireland for the rest of my life.  It's my home, it's where I come from, and it's the place I will always feel welcome and complete.  Philadelphia is wonderful, and of course Paris is an incredible place to live as well, but Dublin is home.  I spent my time with family, eating delicious food (fish and chips are best in Ireland, I don't care what anyone says!), drinking tea, and catching up.  I happened upon the Dublin marathon when I spent my last full day in town, and it was such an exhilarating thing to witness!  I watched so many runners crossing the finish line, and heard all the Dubliners cheering them on though they didn't even know them.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry.  I'm not sure why I felt so emotional, to be honest.  Something about seeing people accomplish something that impressive combined with watching the support and excitement of the crowd was really moving.  After drying my tears, a little embarrassedly, I met up with some old family friends.  We shared a delicious lunch and caught up, and it was lovely to spend time laughing with three very silly sisters.  It made me think of my own, and how glad I am that our reunion is so soon!  

Near the finish line of the marathon!

Bright winter sun in Dun Laoghaire.

From Ireland, I headed to Seville for a dramatically different climate!  I landed in Seville airport and suddenly remembered that I don't speak a word of Spanish.  Well, OK, I remembered that I only speak about ten words of Spanish.  It was so strange to realize that I was almost completely unable to communicate myself in even the most basic situations.  A few times I awkwardly defaulted to speaking French, which earned me some confused Spanish facial expressions.  I was visiting my roommate from Villanova in Spain, and it was so great to reattach ourselves at the hip.  Cara had class while I was in Seville, but I stayed at a hostel and was able to walk around by myself a little bit.  I visited the bull fighting ring and wandered the streets, taking in all the awesome architecture... and of course, the summery weather!

Plaza del Torros... Just look at that blue sky!

Dorky, but I'm alright with it.
Reunited and it feels so good.

Alcázar , so beautiful. 

My time in Seville was regrettably short.  I wish I had had more time to do really nerdy things like pay 6E for a 40 minute guided tour of the bull fighting ring, and take a ride on an open top tourist bus.  On my third night in town, Cara and I spent the night with other Villanova students studying in Seville for the semester.  It was so nice to be back in the company of Villanovans!  Maybe that sounds weird, but it's a comfort thing and I was really glad to be able to say things like "I wish I had an omelette from the pit right now..." without getting strange looks.  After several too-late nights, Cara and I dragged our sorry selves out of bed bright and early on Friday morning to jetset to Londontown.  We flew first to Portugal, and it was honestly the worst flight I've ever experienced.  Sitting in a tiny plane being tossed around in some dreadful storms is never an experience one looks forward to.  After a short layover in Portugal, where I spent most of my time marveling at the unfamiliar sounds of Portuguese (and eating cheese...), we finally touched down in London and searched out the EasyBus shuttle which would take us to center city.
"Even RyanAir passengers welcome!"
Why do people think Brits have strange senses of humo(u)r?
We arrived, after a quick stop for falafel, at the apartment building where several of our Villanova friends live.  It was, once more, so nice to be surrounded by Villanovans!  A little taste of home, even in London.  It was great to see London again as well.  It was a totally different visiting experience than I'd had before, because I didn't do a single touristy thing... But I think that's alright, since I've seen them  before and I would rather spend time in a bedroom catching up with friends than stand in line for expensive things that I've already done.  I hope that's a good reason.  For me, it was exactly what I needed.  Some time to speak a lot of English and laugh until my stomach hurt.

The trip to London got a little less great, however, on Friday night when I fell hard onto my left shoulder.  It hurt right away, but by the next morning was so painful and swollen that I decided to go to the hospital.  My two wonderful and patient friends came with me, and after searching for 2 hours and trying three (yes, three) different hospitals, I found myself filling out a form in the emergency room of Chelsea Westminster Hospital.  After a two hour wait and a tearful phonecall to my mother, my aunt who lives only a half an hour away appeared at the hospital door.  The wait was long but the visit itself was quick, a few x-rays and painful proddings revealed that I've managed to tear some shoulder ligaments.  The good news is I don't need surgery or anything... The bad news is I'm in a lot of pain, and can't move my arm much at all, and there is not much to be done about it.  
I was happy to get back to Paris, though that doesn't mean any part of my vacation was bad.  I felt comforted when I heard French immediately upon entering the Eurostar terminal of St. Pancras train station, and was almost glad to get rudely shoved aside in the Métro.  My time away from Paris has made me love it all the more.  Though each city I visited was wonderful in its own right, for me Paris is where I want to be right now.  I took a long walk by myself around the city today, and actually grinned when I saw the Eiffel Tower appear around a corner.  My heart feels lighter when I look around me in a Parisian street, there is so much beauty and romance to embrace that it's almost impossible to ever feel too gloomy.  I may have left my glasses in Ireland, my phone charger in England, and messed up my shoulder pretty seriously... But I still couldn't be happier to be in Paris.  
Tomorrow is my first day at work!  I'm dreadfully nervous, but also excited.  I don't speak English legal jargon, so I hope that I'm not expected to speak it in French!  First days are always challenging, but I know that this job is an incredible opportunity and I can't wait to see what it offers me.  I have packed my lunch and set out my outfit,  and I have factored in enough time in the morning for eggs and toast, so I am feeling about as prepared as I can be.
With only forty-seven days left in Paris, I'm making lists right and left of things to do before I go (and promptly losing all of them).  I have several fabulous visitors coming in the next seven weeks, and I feel so happy when I think about showing them around my city.  That is all in the future however, and the most important thing to do now is live in the moment.

And, well, this moment is marveilleux, chers amis. xo