31 October 2005

Signs, signs, everywhere there's signs...

We're back on line at home again! At the moment, it's just a dial-up connection, but we're happy to have it. We should have our high-speed connection next week, once the company gets our payment information. Too bad we have to do all of this by mail - it would be faster do this in person.

Anyway, I have been taking pictures of some of the more mundane, yet unusual parts of life in Paris that I can now freely upload. Here are some of the everyday things that have caught my attention.

First, I give you the button to enter the bank, as pictured to the left. This is actually at Rachel's bank, but all banks do the same thing. You come up to the door on the street, and you basically have to ring the doorbell and be given permission to enter. In this picture, you press the yellow "Ici" button, which turns on the red Attendez (Wait) light. When the gatekeeper gives you permission to enter, the green Passez (Enter) light turns on. Rachel's bank is twice as goofy as ours because there are two sets of doors that you have to get permission to go through, and they are right next to each other. So, you get into a holding pen of sorts, and hope that door number two goes as smoothly as door number one did.

My main question here is simply this: How do they decide who gets in? You don't show any ID. They don't talk to you or ask any questions through a little speaker. You don't give a code word or type in a PIN number. They just buzz you in. Do you suppose that the lady pushing the button has any guidelines? Does she have a little card that says, "If the person is wearing a ski mask, do not let him or her in."?

On to the next sign. The one pictured at the right says "Barbeque Forbidden." If you know Colin, you know exactly what his reaction to this sign is: "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" My initial reaction was, "Hey, that's downright un-American," and then I remembered, "Hey, we're not in America!" By the way, we did find a barbeque sauce here. It's buried on the bottom shelf at the supermarket underneath 20 different varieties of dijon mustard. (Also, there is no yellow mustard in France.)

Another important issue is the use of English in everyday situations. Many people actually speak better English than some Americans do, but as you can probably guess, there are some who need a little bit of work. (For example, the guy at the flea market today who yelled out, "Hello! I like you!" and poked me in the shoulder with a tension rod. Sorry, dude, American women aren't quite THAT easy.) I also liked the wording on this wrapper from an extension cord that I bought at a bazar, pictured at left. Hey, who needs condoms when you have "children protection" built in to your French Type Extension Cord?

By the way, if the misuse of English by non-native speakers amuses you, I recommend www.engrish.com.

Last, but perhaps the most troubling, are the options available inside the elevator for my building. I know that the picture is lousy, so allow me to interpret what the guidelines say. The first button says, "En cas d'incident, appuyer ici" (In case of an incident, push here). By itself, that button is not a problem. After all, you want to have a button that you can push if there is a problem, such as the elevator getting stuck between floors, hence trapping you in a space the size of a legal pad of notebook paper.

The second button says, "En cas de non reponse, appuyer ici" (In case of no response, push here). This is where we start to go awry. What do they mean by "no response"? Does that mean that if I push button number one and nothing happens, I have to go with button number two? What does button number one do, then? Who does it call? Should I just go straight for button number two, since it appears that someone is more likely to answer there?

Alternatively, maybe button number one is what you push if something happens in the elevator, i.e. you go into labor or you realize that you forgot to put on clothing before getting in. Then, button number two would be pushed if the elevator didn't respond, right? Well, what if you make the wrong choice, i.e. you are naked and/or in labor but you accidentally push button number two? Do they check a monitor, see that your elevator is working fine, and leave you there to freeze and/or give birth?

Ah, but that's where button number three comes in handy: "En cas de fausse manoeuvre, appuyer ici" (In case of a false move, push here). So, in the scenario just described, I could then hit button number three, and subsequently select the appropriate button for my exact emergency. Unless ... maybe this button means that the elevator has made a false move, and I need to hit that button to get a different team of experts to rescue me. How would I know if the elevator has made a false move instead of just not responding? Or, what if the elevator made a false move, and as a direct result was no longer responding? Should I hit multiple buttons?

If I get trapped in the elevator, which is roughly the size of a coffin anyway, I'll just consider it a creative burial and resign myself to my fate.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

30 October 2005

Wherefore art thou, pay toilettes?

We’re going to Scotland! Well, Colin is, anyway. Colin got accepted to present a paper at a conference in St. Andrews, so next July, he’ll be headed up to Scotland for a few days. Of course, I’m DYING to go, but I have a hunch that by that point in our little adventure, we’ll be out of cash. Either that or I’m going to have to step up the membership dues to this blog! (Get your toilette memberships now…)

Speaking of toilettes, someone asked me recently to explain what on earth the pay toilets were all about. While I could try to elaborate on this myself, I think it will be more useful to quote the 2004 edition of Culture Shock: France by Sally Adamson Taylor. She does a good job of explaining the situation in rather glowing terms, so here goes:

“Until the last decade, French public toilets were notoriously smelly old tin fence structures, where men (and men, only) could take one step off the sidewalk, pee behind this barricade, and continue walking down the street, often zipping up as they went along.

“These urinoirs or vespasiennes were basically a hole in the underground sewer system, with a bit of water dribbling along with the urine. You could smell them a block away and they were entirely for the benefit of men.

“No longer! The French jumped from the 19th century to the 21st with their sparkling new Toilettes. You’ll see them everywhere in France, now, and elsewhere in the world they are cropping up. A modern plastic tubular structure, these facilities are a tribute to French ingenuity: they are spotlessly clean, nearly vandal-proof and offer complete service for men and women, including toilet paper and piped-in music.

“Insert fifty (euro) cents in the slot and the handless door slides open, receding into the curve of the structure. Step inside the seamless, all white, brightly-lit cavity and the door automatically closes. Music begins. The toilet-like seat is used in the normal manner but there is no flushing to do and no apparent plumbing. Push the button to open the door when you finish and once you’ve stepped out, the door will close again and the entire room will be flushed and cleaned chemically, ready for the next user” (Taylor 195-196).

If you haven’t traveled to Western Europe, you probably don’t know that the pay toilet is fairly common throughout most of the countries. I guess the idea is to take some of the burden off of stores and restaurants, who don't want throngs of tourists coming in for the sole purpose of using their bathrooms. Understandable. Anyway, I distinctly remember seeing a pay toilet when I was in Europe in the early 1990’s – it had a timer on it, and when your time ran out, the door flew open. I think that the pay toilets here are the same, but I don’t know how much time you get. (I would guess 15 minutes.) The timer is designed to discourage homeless people from sleeping in the street toilettes, but let me tell you, the limit puts a lot of pressure on the average user! You have to be pretty desperate to take your chances on getting caught with your pants down, literally.

Of course, Colin and I have both been that desperate. Based on my experience, hurried though it may have been, Taylor's assessment of the French "leap into the 21st century" isn't quite the dream that you might imagine.

First off, they don’t offer “complete” service for women because there is no seat on the toilet. In fact, there is an alarming shortage of seats on toilets throughout France. Seriously, the situation merits some kind of telethon to raise money and awareness regarding the horrific treatment of women in this manner. On the bright side, there are handles in the toilettes, so you don’t have to rely solely on the strength of your quad muscles to keep you from falling in.

Second, there is no piped-in music. Thank God. Given what I have already reported on French music, I can only imagine what I would be subjected to in a public potty.

On the flip side, it is true that there is no apparent plumbing, a detail that I was glad to know before I got inside. Otherwise, it would have been a bit unsettling to have to open the door to the bathroom without flushing.

We did, by the way, come across an old urinoir as described by Taylor. You could smell it at least a block away, if not more. Colin got strangely nostalgic about it (he spoke about “the old pissoires” as if he was reminiscing about the good old days in Paris) and temporarily felt compelled to use it to round out his French experience. As you can probably guess, the stench was a pretty strong deterrent to that idea, and we kept walking. (I’m glad that my method for getting the full French experience involves the purchase of scarves, shoes, and pastries instead.)

29 October 2005

"Je ne suis pas un héros" and other French pop music disasters

While I was eating breakfast this morning, Colin turned on the TV to a French top 20 music countdown show. I'm sure it's no secret that Europeans have, well, very "different" tastes in music than in the US, and yet I continue to be amazed at just how bad things can get. First off, let me state that the French language should never be rapped, especially by a scrawny white kid in baggy clothes. (That kid better stay far, far away from Compton, California, if he enjoys living. The real gangstas of rap would eat him alive. Heck, Vanilla Ice would eat him alive!)

For the first week or so after my arrival, I remember being surprised by how much American pop music I heard in public. Even the grocery store was more likely to play the Black Eyed Peas' "Don't Phunk With My Heart" than something uniquely French. I guess I expected everything to be like the music they play in Express clothing stores, i.e. crazy-fast techno music with some vapid French chick saying random phrases like, "Je m'en fiche" ("I don't care") at odd points. Actually, the song that I hear the most is this one called, "You Can Leave Your Hat On." I don't know who sings it (other than a male singer), but when I heard it on the loudspeakers at an open air market, I realized just how popular English-language music is.

I mentioned my surprise to Muriel, who just shook her head in disgust at the thought of French pop music being played with any regularity. She said that French music is so bad that anyone with a minimal amount of taste would choose just about anything else.

She is SO right.

Case in point: the "hit" song "Je ne suis pas un héros" from the French version of American Idol, Star Academy (or Star Ac' for short). This is, quite possibly, the worst song imaginable. If you thought you hated "A Moment Like This" when Kelly Clarkson first won American Idol, you ain't heard nothing yet. The title translates to mean "I'm not a hero" ... well, you don't have to tell me twice. The whole cast of Star Ac' sings this travesty about how they may appear to be perfect celebrities, but that they actually get tired and break down like regular folks do. Look, if you saw the picture of Pierre on my October 7th blog, you already know that these people are NOT heros, and that no sane person would mistake them as such. Go to iTunes and listen to the sample of this song if you don't believe me.

Need more proof that French music sucks? What if I told you that the #19 song on today's countdown was sung by a cartoon character that looks just like a Power Puff Girl?

What if I told you that the #4 song was a slightly updated techno version of the theme song from the 1980's classic Beverly Hills Cop series?

Still not convinced? Then, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you the number one song in France this week, "Popcorn." According to Colin, this techno abomination is the exact same song that he had to dance to in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GYM CLASS. This makes sense, though, since it sounds like something that would be playing in an exhibit for a children's hand-on museum.

Kind of doesn't make you feel so bad when the Pussycat Dolls "Don't Cha" plagues the airwaves for a bit too long on your local pop radio station, huh?

I suppose it could be worse ... the Germans adore David Hasselhoff, for crying out loud.

Don't judge a French woman until you've walked to a café in her shoes

In my ongoing quest to be more French, I purchased something that I never thought I would own: stilleto-heeled boots. They are gorgeous, make no mistake! And, of course I got a good deal on them. But wow, they are HARD to walk in! I found that if you stand up super-straight, it gets a little bit easier. I wore them to a café for lunch today, and had to change shoes before I came to the internet café because I was exhausted.

Here's the heel of one boot, taken as I sat at a cafe:



At least now I understand why people walk so slowly around here -- they physically can't walk any faster!

27 October 2005

Contest #2 winner & homelessness gets a name

First things first -- I must announce the winner of the second contest, "What is this gargoyle thinking?" I selected Katrina's answer "Holy c--p! I can see right into that hot girl's apartment!!" as the funniest. (Besides, anyone who has to endure sharing a name with one of the worst hurricanes in history should have SOMETHING go right for her!) Katrina will get a postcard with a picture of Notre Dame on it.

Second things second. My topic for the day is homeless people. There seem to be quite an abundance of them in our neighborhood, some more legitimately needy than others. Our friend Muriel says that you can tell which ones actually need the help because they are embarrassed to ask for it and usually won't get in your face. I have yet to give any money out, but there certainly is no shortage of hands reaching out for it.

Colin and I have started giving names to some of them. It's not intended to be cruel, mind you, but they are always doing strange things and we got tired of spending 5 minutes figuring out which bum the other person was talking about each time we had a story. So, five of them have names thus far:

1. Michael Moore is the guy who sits closest to the door to our apartment. He never asks for handouts, nor does he have a container to put anything in. But, he is ALWAYS sitting on the same park bench, reading a book and normally wearing a ball cap. (With his head down, he looks like Michael Moore of Farenheit 9/11 fame.) I actually kind of like him, in a weird way, because he just sits and reads like maybe he's not homeless but just enjoying the weather.

2 & 3. Patti and Selma are the twin homeless women just down the street. They are chain smokers and have wild gray hair like Marge Simpson's gravel-voiced sisters, hence the names. Selma is the more aggressive one, and tends to have more psychotic episodes than Patty.

4. Sideshow Bob is Selma's husband. We think. He might just really like her.

5. Crazy Guy might seem like a redundant name for a homeless person (not that all of them are mentally challenged, but many seem to be), but this guy earns his nickname. He is genuinely nuts. Colin recently saw a conductor have to get off his bus and talk to the guy so that he either wouldn't force his way onto the bus without a ticket or force his way in front of the bus. We've also seen the police have to hold him up because he's so drunk during the day.

And, as if all of this wasn't sad enough, I'll end with an unfortunate observation that will please the heck out of Beth (my co-worker who is an Ohio State fan): There is a homeless man down the street a ways who is wearing a Michigan Wolverines sweatshirt. I SO hope that Colin's degree serves him better!!!

On a related note -- Dad, send me a KU shirt so I can give it to that guy.

26 October 2005

So that's what a musicologist does!

For those of you who've been wondering what Colin's been up to while Amy is enjoying her retirement (or if you've been wondering how one musicologist goes about his research), here's an update.

Since arriving, I've met five of my research goals for the year:
1) I've now read the music articles in all of the issues of the newspaper Les Nouvelles littéraires through 1930. (Auric was their music critic off-and-on from 1922 to 1940.)
2) I completed a draft of my essay on Auric's experience of silent cinema.
3) I have transcribed all of the letters written by Auric and his first wife that are preserved in the Music Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale.
4) I have digitized Auric's score for the 1937 film Orage.
5) I have put together full scores of three dance-band arrangements that were made of Auric's songs for the 1931 film A nous la liberté.

In the letters, I came across several things that will be useful for various parts of the dissertation (like Auric's poverty in the mid-1930s and his situation during World War II). But, I've also found one big gold mine--a letter from Auric to Tibor Harsànyi (who composed and orchestrated some of Auric's film music) with lots of details about how Auric approached and thought about film scores.

Tomorrow I'll start in on goal #6, transcribing the letters at the Bilbiothèque de l'Opéra and reading through their "dossier d'artiste" for Auric.

25 October 2005

Pledge drive numero un

Friends, if you enjoy the quality programming that this blog brings to you, then won't you consider becoming a member of the "J'habite à Paris" family? All amounts are accepted, and we do take credit cards (just know that you won't get them back).

Here's how your donation can make a difference!

  • The "Toilette" Membership, 1 euro: will finance two trips to a public pay toilet on the street. With this level membership, both Colin and Amy can enjoy the privacy that only a timed metal box on the street can offer. Two or more "toilette" members will receive an emailed photo of the public toilette used.
  • The "@" Membership, 3 euros: will finance one hour of time at an internet cafe, which will allow Amy to continue to bring you high quality posts like this one.
  • The "Tartelette" Membership, 4 euros: for this membership, Colin and Amy will purchase two fruit tartelettes of your choosing and eat them. We recommend the tartelette aux fraises. Tartelette members will be mentioned in the blog, along with a photo of the wayward tartelettes that found good homes in our stomachs.

Folks, these are but a SMALL sampling of ways that your money can keep this blog going strong! In just a little while, we will tell you more about the advantages to premium membership, so get a pad and pencil ready...

24 October 2005

McDonald's IS good for something after all!

As it turns out, McDonald's does have one redeeming quality: WiFi. I've been able to upload all of my pictures using our laptop. OK, so I had to buy a coke and some fries, as well as endure the SCREAMS of children playing in the pathetic little playland, but it was worth it! (All I can say is that my mother would NEVER have let me behave like that. She would have knocked me into next week after the first scream.)

Here are a few pictures from my trip to Jardin des Plantes last weekend, since I wasn't able to post them. (As previously mentioned, I love taking close-ups of flowers.) Once I get things up and running at home, I'll max out Photosite so that you can see some of the pictures I haven't featured here.

[Pictures removed 1 November 2005 to make space for new pictures in later blogs.]

23 October 2005

Where diabetics go to commit suicide

No words can express what the following picture can:

Oh yes, my friends, it’s a whole exhibition devoted to my favorite subject: chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. You’ll notice that I am wearing pants with an elastic waistband, just in case.

I am pleased to say that this tour did not disappoint. It’s apparently an annual thing, and it only hits five major cities: Paris, London, Tokyo, Peking, and New York. Yes, there is an entry fee, but after that, there are tons of chocolate samples ranging from milk chocolate bits to chocolate liqueur to … chocolate facials? Yes, in fact, you can not only get a facial with chocolate smeared all over your face, but you can also get a chocolate massage. Don’t worry, that’s not me in the picture. Believe me, I’m already broken out enough – I don’t need to test the whole “chocolate gives you zits” theory. Besides, I prefer to ingest my chocolate. What fun is it to have it all over your face?

We initially set out to find the best possible dessert to bring back to the apartment. Our plan was to survey the perimeter and then infiltrate the center once we get a better sense of the layout. Alas, our will powers short circuited us – before we even got halfway around, we had switched from free samples to tartelettes au chocolat and éclairs au chocolat. You can see one of our victims – the chocolate éclair – in the hands of a vendor in the photo to the right. What more can I say? It was fantastic!

But we didn’t stop there. After touring the chocolate museum and sampling a very yummy chocolate liqueur, we saw a group of blissfully happy people walking around with chocolate shish kebabs. There was NO way we were going to miss that! We swam upstream like two determined salmon (Anthony Netboy would have been proud) and finally arrived at the source. Pictured to the left are the white chocolate briochettes, which Colin selected. I opted for a milk chocolate one, which was absolutely as good as it sounded.

Take a good look at the picture on the right … it might be in a newspaper on Monday, since some other guy snapped my picture while Colin was taking it. (By the way, Bill Trogden, no tacky jokes about this picture, please. Colin’s grandma is reading!!)

Part of the fun at the Salon du Chocolat was, believe it or not, looking around. There is evidently a chocolate sculpture competition every year, so there were glass cases with some of the most amazing things you have ever seen. Here’s the home team’s entry (i.e. the US) on the left. But, I think both Colin and I really liked the sculpture to the right the most. (Not just because it has musical instruments in it, of course.) There was a sign that said that it took the designers about 400 hours to put this sculpture together. So, who gets to eat it at the end? That’s what I really want to know.

I have more great pictures, so once I get internet at home again, I’ll post more to our photosite. (I can’t do that at an internet café because I need a program that is installed on our computer.) By the way, I’m looking for a free site to show digital videos, so if anyone has suggestions, let me know. I don’t have a lot of videos, but I’d probably take more if I could share them.

After our excursion in gluttony at the Expo Center, we decided that it was important to go out and work off some of the extra calories. Plus, Didge hasn’t had a really good walk in about a week, so he’s starting to become a pain in the you-know-what. So, we stopped by the apartment to get the dog and took the metro out to the Bois de Vincennes (i.e. a forest on the outskirts of the city). We had a lovely, albeit unintentionally long walk. The weather was really pretty again today, cloudy but not too cold. It really felt like autumn walking amongst all of the trees. So, I’ll leave you with a picture of our walk to give you a sense of what today was like for us. I’ll resist the temptation to title this shot “The End.”



22 October 2005

Bizarre bazars, Impressionism impresses, and the odds of stealing the Obelisk

It looks like it will be another week before we have internet service at home again. Muriel is going to help me get it set up on Tuesday, after which I will be able to blog and post pictures to my heart’s content. (After all, this internet café thing gets pricey pretty quick!)

For those of you who know me well – especially if you have worked with me – you know that I am a bit of a neat freak. OK, I am obsessed with organization to the point that I’ve thought about working at Office Depot just so that I can be around all of the nifty little containers. Just kidding … or am I?

Regardless of the appropriate way to express my desire for order, I can definitely say that I hit my threshold of tolerance with our kitchen this week. Even if you haven’t seen pictures, you can probably guess that it’s not that big to begin with. On Thursday, somewhere between the point that I realized we already owned carpet cleaner (which I bought last week) but before the point that I realized that we had six bottles/boxes of laundry detergent, I decided that enough was enough. The kitchen was not arranged in a logical or practical manner, and it was making me crazy. First things first – I pulled everything out of the cabinets. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough counter space in the kitchen to hold the contents of our cabinets, so before I knew it, the kitchen had exploded all over the apartment. Among my discoveries:

***As previously mentioned, we already had carpet cleaner. This would have been good to know at 4 am on Monday, when Didge decided to let us know what the contents of his stomach were. (In case you’re wondering, dogs cannot digest pieces of tennis balls, no matter how small.)

***We had TONS of bathroom cleaner – in the kitchen. Even after I consolidated things, I had a huge, full container of Comet-like scrub.

***We have two giant bottles of olive oil. Until we moved to France, I think I had used olive oil once in my life.

***We have two boxes of brown sugar – or should I say, two boxes of cassonade sucre brun. (Thank goodness for the unabridged French-English dictionary!) Next question: why is there a picture of bananas on the boxes of brown sugar? That doesn’t really help the non-native speaker interpret!

Once I had a good handle on the contents of our kitchen, I set out to buy a few things to get the cabinets in order. We have a lot of storage space in the kitchen, but the cabinets are really deep and high up. My solution was going to be the purchase of several lazy susans (turntables), since we already have stepstools to deal with the height problem. Ironically, to find organizational materials, my shopping excursion took me to the most cluttery, ramshackle stores in existence: the “bazars” (yep, only two “a”s in that word, despite what Word’s autocorrect function wants to do). These stores make me crazy! Basically, they are regular stores along the street that are crammed full of the oddest assortment of products you can imagine. Only at a bazar would you find a bin of bras next to a bin of specialty light bulbs, which in turn is next to shower caps. Plus, you can hardly move through the tiny “aisles” to see what they have, and you’re constantly tripping over other customers. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t too bright to take Didge along, but I couldn’t very well leave him loose in an apartment that had an exploded kitchen.

Four bazars later, I hadn’t found any sign of lazy susans, and I was getting tired of telling Didge to heel. I settled for four long plastic baskets and headed back to the apartment to put things back together. Things are much more to my liking now, and Colin can’t really tell the difference, so everyone won.

Aside from the lazy susans, here is an abbreviated list of things that I cannot find anywhere:

***Lysol spray (though you can buy the nasty scented sprays that cover up bathroom odors with a different, yet also horribly offensive smelling odor)

***Cleaning spray with bleach (in fact, I can’t find anything in a spray bottle that kills mold)

***Empty plastic spray bottles (I am shocked that none of the bazars have had this)

***Blistex (though I found a decent substitute at a pharmacy)

***A decent cut of beef (no surprise there)

Lest you worry that I have become a housewife who sits in the apartment all day and rearranges her spices, I should probably get on with some of the sites I’ve seen in the last day or two. I know I’ve already expounded on the American Library in Paris, so I’ll forgo that except to say that I enjoyed Thelma and Louise and The Sixth Sense a lot. (It’s just too bad that I already knew how both of them ended.)

Today, Colin and I bought some opera tickets because he really wants to see a couple of shows while we’re here. In case I haven’t mentioned it, I am definitely supportive of this expense because it gives me a perfectly good excuse to buy a fancy dress to wear! I often complained in the states that after prom, you don’t really have any more events that give you an excuse to get dressed to the nines, which is a real shame. Colin pointed out that I was dressed up for our wedding – which is a good point – but it’s not quite the same as buying a normal formal gown. Well, I am pleased to say that I found the most gorgeous dress today, just down the street. (OK, so the one I REALLY wanted is still in the window of the shop, but it didn’t fit as well and cost 400 euros…) It’s a beautiful burgundy dress with spaghetti straps that trail down into a lace-up bodice in the back. Ohhh, it is so wonderful!! I got my first chance to practice my French manners when the saleswoman told me I looked “très jolie” in it (you can’t say “thank you” for compliments because it makes you sound vain). I said a lot of “Vous êtes très gentile” (“You are so kind”) and “Vraiment? Je ne sais pas” (“Really? I don’t know”) today! AND, as if the flattery wasn’t enough, she complimented me early on for my excellent French! Holy cow, it’s a Christmas miracle! (I had a brilliant epiphany yesterday: my French won’t get any better if I don’t start using it. Wow, Amy, how profound. Well, it was at the time!) So, my confidence level is up quite a bit, and the sales lady definitely helped me to try more out. She had been “all over” the US on vacations, so she was curious to hear where we were from and wanted to tell us where she had been.

Now all I need is jewelry and shoes. For some reason, Colin wouldn’t let me buy anything in the Swarovski crystal store today. I tried to explain to him that we had saved a lot of money by not buying the 400 euro dress, and that as such, we could afford a 200 euro necklace, but he wasn’t going for it. (That’s what I get for letting him control the finances this month.)

In other news, I finally “get” impressionist paintings. We went to the Musée Marmottan-Monet and saw some of Claude Monet’s paintings. Ooh, I liked them a lot! You don’t really get a sense of the layers and textures in prints of his work, which is what was so interesting. I was dying to touch one of them, just to feel the relief of the surface. There was a really lovely painting of a weeping willow that I really liked, but alas, cameras were prohibited so I don’t have a picture. I don’t think I’ll ever get prints or calendars of impressionist paintings, but if they had close-up snapshots of the layers, that would be cool. I’m really glad we went there.

After the museum, I was really hungry, so we decided to walk down to the Champs-Elysees and have the quintessential tourist-required experience of getting overpriced crepes. On the way, we walked down one of the French equivalents to Rodeo Drive, Avenue Montaigne. All of THE hot designers have stores on this street: Calvin Klein, Coco Chanel, Gucci … you name it. There was also a gorgeous four-star hotel on this street, and as we walked by, the valet drove up a black Ferrari. Despite my absolute hatred for wasteful spending, I could definitely understand the desire to walk into one of those fancy stores and just buy whatever I wanted. I told Colin that I wanted to walk into one of those stores just to see what would happen, and he told me to wait and come back when I’m wearing jeans and a wife beater. Can’t you just picture me? “Yo, yo, yo! Where all my peeps at?!” I wonder how far in I would get before security whisked me away?

We did a little bit of touristy stuff after our pricey crepes, since we needed to work off the sugar (I’ve lost 1 kilo so far, Colin has lost 5). We saw the tunnel where Princess Diana was killed in a car accident, which was somewhat profound. The picture on the left is the tunnel. (It was too scary to walk down and stand on the median for a better picture – that’s a really fast road!)

There was already a memorial on that bridge: a replica of the flame on the Statue of Liberty, placed in there in ’87 to commemorate 100 years of the International Herald Tribune. (That is pictured to the right.) Now, there is graffiti all over it and the bridge that leaves messages for the princess. Someone had left single roses on the flame, too. I’m not sure I would have made a special trip to see this, but it was interesting to look down there and see the spot that we saw on the news so much.

We also went up to the obelisk at Place de la Concorde and took some pictures, and then had dinner in the food court of the shopping mall Caroussel du Louvre (which, by the way, was terrible – the food, not the mall). You can see me in the photo at the left at the fountain next to the obelisk, wearing the scarf I bought most recently. (Don’t I look über-French?)

We had a good laugh while waiting for our bus there when two guys on one bicycle came peddling by in the midst of cars and buses flying down the street in front of the Pyramid at the Louvre. The guy in front definitely knew that he was taking his life into his own hands, and seemed to find the whole things rather amusing. I applauded their aplomb for doing it (literally, I clapped for them), even though I think they were nuts for doing it.

The other good laugh was the security trip wire for the Obelisk. Look folks, the French stole it fair and square. There will be no stealing it back. (Now, try to picture me stuffing the giant obelisk under my coat and casually walking away from the site.) I guess the mayor's office is still a little upset with the people who put the giant pink condom on it a few years back.

If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, we’re headed for one of the forests at the edge of the city. It’s starting to get colder and rainier around here, so you don’t always know what you’re in for. Otherwise, I’m not totally sure what we’ll do. Maybe go to the Museè d’Orsay, which has works from Monet, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat, Matisse, and Cézanne, just to name a few. Ah, just another boring day in France, n’est-ce pas?

19 October 2005

A few Euros well spent

Hi, my name is Amy, and I am an Internet-a-holic.

After two 30 minute free sessions at the American Library, I decided that it was worth the 3 euros to hang out in the Internet cafe for an hour. 30 minutes just isn't enough time to answer emails, surf, blog, etc. And, now that I've found the apostrophe key (under the 4 key), I feel less stressed.

To pick up where I left off yesterday, I found the American Library in Paris and as of this afternoon now have a one-year membership. You can do internet stuff for free, but you sign up in 30 minute sessions, and there is almost always someone in line behind you. Yesterday, the staff kicked me off the computer because I wasn't officially a member yet, which is the explanation for the abrupt end to my last blog entry. So, I went back today with cash and ID in tow in order to become official. I also checked out 3 videos and two books, so that I'll have some in-house entertainment. Videos: Thelma and Louise (can you believe I've never seen that?), The Sixth Sense (another one I haven't seen), and Koyaanisqatsi, which is a really artsy one that Colin has been dying for me to see. The books I got: a cookbook and Europe by Rail. It is really hard to plan dinners when I have a dorm-sized fridge, very little cabinet space, and very little inspiration in the grocery stores because I don't always know what I'm looking at, and there is ALWAYS someone in a big hurry to look at whatever shelf I'm standing at. (OK, the last problem happened all the time in Meijer, too, so it's not like this is anything new!)

Probably the best thing about finding the American Library is that it renews my confidence that I am an intelligent person! I know, that sounds weird, but there is a big comfort in having the confidence to jump on a bus when you know the route without a map, go right where you want to go without feeling uncertain, and then be able to easily communicate when you get there. Both times that I left, I had a renewed desire to try speaking French and figure out things for myself. And, I am learning new French every day, that's for sure! I am picking up more from French TV every time I watch it, even though I only understand about 5 percent of what they actually say. I'll blog about my favorite TV show, A Prendre ou A Laissez when I'm back on a QWERTY keyboard again and can really type.

Well, puppy hasn't been for a walk yet today, so I'm off to the parc!

French keyboards and other fun things in the BNF

I'm sitting in the Département de la Musique at the Bibliothèque Nationale (BNF) right now, resting my brain. The weather just turned foul, grey and rainy--thankfully, here we have skylights so we actually get some sunlight! (At the new site of the BNF, called the Site Tolbiac or the Site François-Mitterand, all of the reading rooms are about 40 feet underground.)

While resting, I thought I'd explain part of Amy's complaint about the French keyboard (only part, since I don't think they're that bad, especially when typing in French). Anyhoo, here are the important differences between American and French keyboards--

____________________________________
The A and Q keys are reversed
The W and Z keys are reversed
The numbers across the top require the shift key
The "punctuation" on the number keys across the top goes like this: & é " ' ( - è _ ç à (yes, that means the apostrophe is on the 4 key.
The M key is to the right of the L key
To the right of the N key are , ; : ! (pushing shift provides ? . / §)

There is also the "Alt Gr" key (not to be confused with the "Alt" key), which provides a third option for some keys--most importantly enabling € and @
__________________________________

So, all in all, not so bad, as long as you dont't mind looking at the keyboard when you type. Take that my 7th grade typing teacher whose name I've forgotten!

18 October 2005

A Refuge!

I found an American keyboard! Not that this computer is really the most technologically advanced, but for the moment, it's free. I found the American Library in Paris, which is comparable to a small-town library. It's SO great, I want to cry with happiness! (And look, apostrophes!! '''''''''')

This is a good point to vent a bit about my French skills, or should I say lack thereof. I hit my first period of frustration with not being fluent over the weekend, and while it's not nearly as bad as I expected my first break point to be, it was frustrating. I hate being afraid to walk up to someone and ask a question because I won't understand the answer. I hate turning on the TV and not being able to channel surf and enjoy whatever mindless drivel comes on. I hate grocery shopping when I have to get out my dictionary to understand what some of the words mean. ARGH!!!

Anyway, it is what it is. I don't want to hide away in the American library and never practice my French again, but it's so nice to have a place where the default language is English. Once I get my membership, I'll be able to check out books, movies, CDs, even cookbooks!! I'm so excited, I can't even begin to tell you. (I can't get a membership today because I don't have any checks with me, I don't carry a lot of cash, and they don't take credit cards.) But, for only a bus ride across town, I can find USA Today, Newsweek ... heck, even Cosmo!

So, don't worry, I'm not bailing out on French all together. It would be such a waste not to improve my fluency.

Oops ... gotta go! I'll explain later.

17 October 2005

ACK!!! no internet

Hey folks,

Our internet provider closed our account, so we are temporarily without internet at home. I wrote my last two blogs in Word and pasted them in here at a local internet cafe. However, I cannot get the pictures to load, so I will post them later.

Anyway, this is a French keyboard and as such is REALLY hard to use!! I will respond to emails later this week.

Still searching for the apostrophe key,

Amy

16 October 2005

A Four Hour Tour

PICTURES POSTED 24 OCTOBER 2005

Day three without internet, and the withdrawal symptoms are killing me!! I’m sure I have something wonderful in my e-mail inbox, but there’s no way to check. Figures that we had to lose our connection on a Friday, when I couldn’t go to an Internet café again for several days without canceling my plans with other people!

Colin, Didge and I took a four-hour walk today. (Yes, we’re all tired!) We first walked up to Le Jardin de Luxembourg so that Colin could see the display of photos on the fence. I can’t remember if I mentioned that in my previous post about my trip there or not, but there is a display of remarkable photos from throughout the last century posted all along the east fence of the garden.

Then, we set off for the Jardin des Plantes, with a stop at the Roman arena. I somehow expected it to be a LOT bigger than it actually was, since I associate the word “arena” with sports complexes. Nonetheless, it was a nice little place to visit. Again, I struggled to grasp just how old this structure was. The Romans controlled this city in the 2nd century! I looked at the walls, and honestly, they just didn’t look like what I would expect something that old to look like. I’m not sure what I expected, though. It just looked so neat and tidy, so precise, so … modern? I guess that’s the word I want to use. Maybe I just think that people were supposed to be really “backward” in the 2nd century. Oh, those Romans!

Oh yeah, we also happened to walk past the Sorbonne, the Pantheon, and within site of Notre Dame cathedral. No big deal. Just another day in Paris. J

On to the Jardin des Plantes. Unfortunately, it turned out to be yet another park that dogs are not allowed to enter. So, since Colin had already been there, I went in by myself and took a bunch of pictures. Even at such a late date in the year, there were lots of things in bloom. I love taking close-up pictures of flowers with my digital camera, so I had a good time by myself. I’ll enjoy looking at the bright colors when we’re in the gray doldrums of winter, that’s for sure!

There is a zoo in the Jardin des Plantes also, but we obviously couldn’t visit that with Didge in tow. (If Didge freaks out at the site of a Canadian goose, you can only imagine what he would do if he saw an ostrich.)

On the way back, we indulged our collective sweet tooth at a crepe stand. Colin had Nutella and bananas, and I had chocolate (of course!) Very yummy and filling as well. The crepe stand is another one of those things that I find bizarre in a good way. It seems odd to me that, of all things, they sell crepes on the side of the road. Again, I’m not complaining! It sure beats the hot dog carts on Michigan’s campus!

15 October 2005

When size 42 is too small…

I’m going to try to reconstruct things a bit here, since I didn’t get a chance to write my blog for this day. But, it was a day full of adventure, so I must record it!

First off, I got my Carte Bleu today. In other words, I’ve got a credit card. Look out, stores of Paris!! OK, so it’s really more of a debit card, so it’s not like I have unlimited room to go crazy. But, since I’ve lost weight since I got here, I was in desperate need of some new clothes (or at least a belt to hold my pants up!)

Muriel to the rescue, again! She started off with finding out what was wrong with our internet provider by calling customer service on our behalf. It’s not worth explaining, but basically, we got screwed. In the long run, though, it’s for the best because the company we were going through was the most expensive option (unbeknownst to us). Muriel said that she’s going to call a different place for us on Monday and find us a better deal, so we should be reconnected in about a week or so.

More important, however, was that Muriel took us shopping! Without the benefit of malls, I’m at a bit of a loss on where to go and what to do. So, we started off in my arrondissement, where she showed me some of the best stores in terms of quality and price. (She was also kind enough to point out the extremely expensive stores so that I don’t go in by mistake!)

However, I must say that I am extremely displeased with how the sizes run around here. It’s hard enough to cope when you first go into double digits in the US (how I wish I had more thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the week in junior high that I was a size zero). But, to go from a size 10 or 12 to a size 42 is nothing short of traumatic! Muriel reassured me that the numbers really didn’t mean anything, and that like most stores in the US, the same size fits differently in each store. But, when I picked out several pairs of jeans in size 42 and they wouldn’t even go over my hips? Oh la la la la la la.

Another annoyance is that stores are not air conditioned. As I understand, Europeans love to make fun of our addiction to air conditioning (“They even need their elevators air conditioned!” laughed some Romanians that Colin came across in DC a few years ago). Well, call me a spoiled brat, but trying on clothes while you’re sweating SUCKS! It was so hot in those dressing rooms. I commented once to Muriel that if the stores really wanted to sell the sweaters they had out, they really needed to cool the place down. She laughed, but I think she laughed *at* me, not *with* me. Oh well. I guess you can take the American out of America, but not America out of the American.

After finding jeans and pants for myself and Colin, it was late enough that we were ready for dinner. Muriel and a friend were going to a concert, so we decided to eat in a restaurant close to the place they were going. Colin had been in that neighborhood and knew of a good Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, it appears that it has closed since he was last there because we never did find it! Instead, we ate at the Café de la Musique, which turned out to be excellent (not to mention expensive). I had a dish called “The Tiger that Cries” – sorry, it wasn’t actually tiger, but beef. Colin had a fish dish, and Muriel had some kind of chicken; all three were fantastic. I couldn’t help but think about how sad it is that Americans have such a problem with obesity, despite the fact that the food is total crap compared to France! Yes, McDonald’s is everywhere in the US and in France, but you can get more (and much better) food at a French café with less money than you would spend on a value meal here. Plus, if you’ve seen Super Size Me, why would you want to eat at McDonald’s ever again??

Anyway, after we parted ways, Colin and I headed into the metro to start our journey back home. As we were headed to our connection to the four line, we could hear a lot of shouting and commotion, and I asked Colin, “What is that?” He heard someone yelling in a megaphone and assumed that it was rappers. (In retrospect, I find that conjecture really funny.) As we got closer, I quickly became convinced that it was a fight, and started to get a bit nervous. Then, several members of transit system security came running up. At about the same time, Colin spotted the guy on the ground in handcuffs, and the police officer on top of him with his knee planted into the arrestee’s back. The guy yelling into the megaphone was actually another police officer, who was telling everyone to get out of the way. We realized later that the guy being arrested (as well as most of the mob standing around watching) was black, and all of the officers were white. Not that it was a racist arrest – but we think that the crowd was arguing with the officers because of the racial difference. Just a speculation, of course – I have no idea what anyone was saying. Mostly, all I could think about was the advice that’s generally posted on the consulate travel advisory pages: Americans should avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Needless to say, we got the heck out of there!

Fortunately, we made it home without further incident, though I was certainly glad to be out of the metro when we left it. Paris is a different city at night, but fortunately, our neighborhood doesn’t seem to have the night life that others do. I feel really safe out after dark in the 14th, especially when I’ve got Didge with me. Mostly, I see families with kids or elderly people, so I’m less likely to run into some kind of bust around the corner!

13 October 2005

Holy cow! I'm in Paris!

This one's for Pico...

So, this morning I was riding the bus up to the Bibliothèque Nationale and remembered Pico's advice (Don't forget to wake up every morning and say "Holy ____, I'm in Paris!"). As we drove northwest out of the Place Denfert-Rochereau, we passed the Observatoire de Paris and the Cimitière Montparnasse. Moments later, I could see the infamous Tour Montparnasse (Montparnasse Tower)--the only skyscraper in Paris proper, about which Parisians have been complaining since it was built. Passing through the 6th arrondissement into the 7th, the Eiffel Tower appeared over the rooftops.

Moments later, the bus crossed the Seine on the Pont Royal (Royal Bridge), providing a gorgeous view of the Grand Palais and the waterfront, with the Eiffel Tower seeming to emerge from the Musée d'Orsay. I quickly turned my head as we entered the 1st arrondissement through the south gates of the Louvre. Going through the Place du Carrousel, I had the difficult choice of looking to the right at I.M. Pei's Pyramid and the Musée du Louvre, or looking to the left at the great Parisian trilogy--the Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Grande Arche de la Défense (when viewed from this location, the three line up perfectly, with no buildings obstructing the view of any of them).

After passing through the north gates of the Louvre, we went past the Palais Royal and the Comédie-Française (or as I like to think of it, the Theatre-that-Molière-built). This put us on the avenue de l'Opéra, which affords the best possible view of the Palais Garnier (the old home of the Paris Opéra and the theatre in which "Phantom of the Opera" supposedly took place).

The ride home at the end of the day takes a slightly different route, offering me additional views of Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde and the Palais Bourbon, home of the Assemblée Nationale (the equivalent of the US House of Representatives).

Yes, we love the food here, the weather's been better than I expected, and the people are great. The museums here hold some of the world's greatest art, too. But the greatest work of all has to be the city itself. When you come to visit, be sure to spend time just looking at the city. Ride the buses when you can, so you can watch the neighborhoods pass by and get a feel for what it's like to live amongst all these monuments.

Oh yeah, and be sure to say, "Holy (fill in the blank), I'm in Paris!"

Paris is a veritable smorgasbord


If there ever were a live performance of Charlotte's Web, my dog could play Templeton the rat. I don't mean to imply that my dog looks like a rodent (though he might be able to pass for a dwarf capybara in a pinch). Rather, I think I heard him singing the waltz that Templeton sings in the cartoon version of this classic book. You know, the one that goes:

"A fair is a veritable smorgasbord, 'orgasbord, 'orgasbord,
After the sun goes down,
Each night, when the lights go down
It's candy found on the ground all around
Oh, how a rat can glut, glut, glut, GLUT!"

Just exchange "A fair" with "Paris" and you have Didge. Heck, you don't even have to wait until the sun goes down. That blasted dog can find edibles anywhere. Seriously, we took a walk to Le Parc Montsourris again this afternoon, and that dog must have eaten his weight in "stuff." Other than a partial baguette thrown on the street, I have NO idea what he ate today. But, every time he rooted around in the leaves for a minute or so, he came up chewing.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe he's finding truffles. I could be sitting on a gold mine!

In other news, I successfully went to the post office and got more stamps. I was so proud of my well-composed, impromptu sentence to the cashier: "Bonjour, je voudrais acheter six timbres pour envoyer des cartes postals." (Hello, I would like to buy 6 stamps for sending postcards.) Then, she had to go and deflate my fragile ego by asking where I planned to send the postcards. *Sigh* At least I knew what she asked for right away, right? BONUS: I wasn't able to see the total cost displayed on the monitor, so I had to go solely on what I heard the woman tell me I owed her. I got it right the first time! Exact change, nonetheless!! (Either that, or she is totally skimming profits, but probably not.)

Then, on my way out of the building, a woman stopped and asked me a question. I still have no idea what she said. Just when I start to get cocky about my "fluency"...

12 October 2005

Found: A reason to get up in the morning!

Good news, kids! I have responsibility again! (Wait, I thought that's what I was leaving behind in the US - uh oh.) We met a neighbor in our building who is looking for a sitter for her kids from time to time, and she wants someone who will only speak English to them. She has two kids, a boy around 4 years and a girl around 8 years. Both of the kids are fluent in English (maybe more so on the girl's part, who has been in English-speaking schools for 5 years), and the mom wants them to practice their language skills. It won't be much work - she wants me to meet them at school and walk home with them, and occassionally watch them when she and her husband want to go out.

One problem, though. I've only babysat once or twice in my life. Plus, the only time I remember doing it, the kids were sick and just went to bed. So, I need advice ASAP!! Any suggestions, recommendations, do's or don'ts for watching kids? I'll take whatever I can get at this point. I am not good with kids because I don't have any experience. Aidez-moi!!

On to the excursion of the day: climbing the stairs in one of the towers of Notre Dame. Colin played hooky from the library to join me for this, so we decided to start off with lunch at "our" café, Le Bouquet d'Alésia. Wow, it was fan-tas-tic!! I had rotisserie chicken and Colin had a beef rib. They were so flavorful and juicy! I haven't salivated over chicken in quite some time. As if that wasn't good enough, I had made up my mind that I wanted to have some mousse au chocolat, since I haven't had any yet. OH MY GOD. I could have died happy right there. It was so thick, rich, creamy, and chocolately! I was seriously contemplating licking the bowl, even though I'm quite certain that our waiter would have had heart failure on the spot. Colin had an awesome tarte aux pommes (apple tart) that was equally exquisite. Man, I could taste that mousse au chocolat all the way down to the tips of my toes!

Despite my desire to just curl up on the couch at home and languish in my food-induced coma, I decided to forge ahead to Notre Dame with Colin. It was a really nice day again today, so I was glad to get some outdoor pictures that didn't look all somber and gray.

I think I was almost more geeked to see Point Zero than Notre Dame, since I didn't know it existed when I first visited in 1990. This is the very center of Paris, and all distances in the country are measured from it. OK, so it's not like it's the South Pole or anything, but I thought it was cool. Plus, all of the people standing around us had NO idea what it was, so there wasn't a big line to take a picture or see it. I love having the time to check out things that aren't on the top ten list of all tourists. At any rate, here I am at Point Zero (to the right).

Fortunately, the line to climb all 422 stairs to the top of Notre Dame was pretty short. I don't think it was because of the 7 euro entrance fee, either! One thing you really have to chuckle at is how they have the tour set up: right after you climb the first set of spiral stairs - but before you get to actually see anything - they drop you off in the gift shop and force you to stay there for several minutes. I suspect they get more sales that way, but Colin and I were strong and didn't buy anything. (It wasn't that hard ... it's all really touristy things like pictures of the Eiffel Tower and pillows with the fleur-de-lis on it).

As we were climbing the stairs, I was feeling pretty smug about how well I was doing. After all, I've been climbing 6 flights of spiral stairs in my apartment building for a week and a half now. Well, my smugness quickly evaporated the further up we went, since I was huffing and puffing by the time we reached the first plateau. But, it was SO worth the climb! Check out that view!

My favorite part, though, was seeing some of the gargoyles up close. I love the expresssions on their faces. The guy to the right is named La Stryge, after a type of spirit in Middle Eastern legends.

However, visitors need to have respect for the gargoyles. They are prone to turn on you when you least expect it, as Colin found out the hard way. Fortunately, I was able to rescue him before the mama bird fed him to the babies. (Ha, ha, I'm soooo funny.) We also got to see the biggest bell in the tower, though the pictures aren't spectacular. It's hard to get the whole thing in your camera view when you can't back up very far.

Now then, I have some business to attend to. As you may recall, I asked for suggestions on what the weird symbol at the top of the Arc de Triomphe meant. I never did figure out what it meant, even after showing it to our French friend Muriel last weekend. Her best guess (after much discussion amongst the whole group) was that it forbids sunbathing up there. Weird, I know. Anyway, I've decided to name Keely as the winner of the most creative answer to the question. She suggested, "No cutting off your legs and dangling them over the edge!" Keely will be getting a FABULOUS postcard from yours truly, with a picture of the Arc de Triomphe on it since that's what started it all. Congratulations, Keely!

On to contest number two: what is going through the mind of this gargoyle? My answer relates directly to some advice that our friend and best man Miguel gave to us. He told us never to let this experience get old or mundane to us, and that every morning, we should wake up and think, "Holy s*^t, I'm in PARIS!" So, for me, that gargoyle is saying, "Holy s^*t, I'm in PARIS!"

This time, the funniest answer to the question wins a postcard from me. So, let's hear it! What is going through the mind of this gargoyle? Post your answers in the comments section. Good luck, everyone!

11 October 2005

Map to accompany Amy's walk to the Luxembourg Gardens

Ever the helpful husband, I thought I'd add the map that Amy longed for in her post about the Jardin du Luxembourg. The pushpins show our apartment building and the center of the Jardin. If you look very carefully, there's a small patch of green off the bottom right of the pin at the Gardens--that's the space in which dogs are allowed...


Thanks to Google Earth for the picture!

The true price of "choo-chee" shoes

I had originally planned to spend another leisurely day at the apartment, but found that after a couple of days of sleeping in and napping, I was very well rested and ready to go exploring. So, I decided to take Mr. Doo on a walk to Le Jardin de Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden) in the 6th. That probably sounds really far away from where I live (the 14th), but it's actually quite close and well within walking distance. (If I had a good digital map, I'd show you where.)

The fantastic weather has been holding out, so I was actually able to wear something besides old t-shirts and slicky pants on my excursion. Deciding that I wanted to look a bit more French (and less American), I wore jeans, a sleeveless top with lace trim, and my favorite sandals of all time, purchased this summer at Naturalizer. My friend and New York native Jess Piney often describes great shoes and other articles of clothing with the expression "choo-chee!" and while I'm not sure about the spelling or the etymology of this word, these sandals are definitely as such. (Jess Piney could easily fit into the cast of Sex and the City as Carrie's sister or at least a cousin of some sort - and Jess, I mean that as an utmost compliment, as this is one of my favorite shows!!)

So ... me, my choo-chee shoes, and my goofy dog set off for Luxembourg. The walk there was fantastic - great weather, hardly a cloud in the sky, and I actually walked like I knew where I was going. (I am what the p.c. folks call "directionally challenged," or what the everyday folks call "unable to find my way out of a paper bag with a map") Leading up to our destination was two smaller parks, Jardin Marco Polo and Jardin R. Cavelier-de-La-Salle. Neither one allowed dogs in, though I have no idea why. Seriously, there was absolutely nothing special about either garden whatsoever. But, Didge was "interdit" so we headed on to Luxembourg.

The first gate we walked to ... no dogs allowed. Luckily, I decided to go right, and the next gate I encountered allowed dogs to enter on a leash. Had I chosen to go the other way, things would not have worked out nearly as well. More on that in a minute. Anyway, we went inside and paid very careful attention to the signs so that we didn't accidentally slip into non-doggie territory. I was beginning to feel rather unwelcome, to be honest. This is one of those "cultural differences" I have to get used to ... in the US, dogs are welcome (and in fact expected) to go on the grass. In Paris, they can go anywhere EXCEPT on the grass. OK, it's really nice grass, but seriously, I'm not sure that it's worthy of protection on par with what we would grant, say, a bald eagle.

As it turns out, there is just a narrow little strip of Le Jardin de Luxembourg that allows dogs, and it is the least interesting section. So, we walked all over that sucker, and I even took a couple of pictures, much to the amusement of passers-by. (Hey, I asked Didge to take my picture, too, but he kept mumbling something about not having opposable thumbs. Oh wait, maybe that was just a burp...) The other nice part about this little section was that they had a small exhibition of photography posted on the gate, so I was able to walk along at look at the pictures. There were some really amazing photos, so it was worthwhile.

Anyway, having already walked "all the way" up to Luxembourg, I decided to make the trip worth my while. We set out to loop the park around the fence. After all, it's not that big, right?

Well, as my last French teacher and friend Lori McMann was fond of saying in class, "No, no, et no." That was, in fact, a really long walk, for which I earned numerous blisters on my feet. (Hence, the true price of my choo-chee shoes...) The only interesting thing I saw on the whole loop was the fact that, had I initially gone left after seeing the "dogs not allowed" sign, I would have been very discouraged. There are only two gates that dogs can go in, and they were both on the east side of the park. (Going left took me to the west side) So, I am thankful for what little sense of intuition I had this afternoon to turn right in the first place.

Just when I was ready to write off this dog-hating jardin all together, I got a real treat: my first coherant exchange in French with a real French person. As I walked toward the exit, a man sitting on a park bench called out, "Elle est vielle?" (Is she old?) I replied "un peu" (a little), which clearly wasn't a good response to the question. He asked, "Vous êtes anglaise?" (are you English?) I replied yes, even though I'm not British (remember, I was trying to be less American today, so I took his question as a compliment). He rephrased his question to ask how old Didge was, and I told him that he was around 6 years old (Didge turns 6 in February). He chuckled, and with a smile and a thumb-sucking gesture replied, "Il est un bébé!" (He's a baby!) I told him he was very kind to say so. We ended the conversation with, "Ben, vous êtes anglais, alors bye-bye!" (Well, you're English, so "bye bye!") "Au revoir, monsieur!"

Feeling much better about my excursion, I shortly thereafter stumbled across this oasis especially designed for my four-legged friend. A very greatful puppy took a long, hearty drink at "the refreshment bar for dogs," and I felt much better about the whole experience, blisters and all.

Thanks to everyone who replied to the request for e-mail! It's nice to know what's going on stateside, as well as to know that someone besides Colin is reading this blog!!

10 October 2005

A death in "la famille"

Well, this must be home. I've killed my first plant. I know, some of you will be shocked (i.e. you've only been there a week - what could you have done in that amount of time?) while others of you will be shocked (i.e. you've only been there a week - what took you so long?) Either way, I took a formerly lovely plant to the trash this afternoon. Colin had bought it for me as a welcome gift, and it was lovely. A beautiful bulb flowering plant called cyclamin, with pretty pink flowers. He got it because he thought that plant looked the most like tulips, my favorite flower. Anyway, I think my downfall was one of two things: 1) I didn't water the plant "in time" to make it happy or 2) When I did water it, I drowned it. Either way, when it died, it was an ugly, ugly sight to behold.

Other than the murder of an innocent potted plant, today has been a quiet day. Colin went off to do research, and Didge and I did our best to act out two of our most favorite deadly sins: sloth and gluttony. Sloth was easy - we slept in, went for his morning walk, and then came back for a nap. Gluttony, however, requires that I leave the dog behind in search of a boulangerie. Not that he couldn't come ... but have you ever tried to buy something while 50 pounds of, "Hey! What's that over there? What's this over here? Wait, can I have a bite of that?" is pulling on your arm? It's not easy, I tell you! So, my fantasy of gorging on tartellettes aux fraises today was not fulfilled.

I suspect that I'm going to just crash this week and not do much touristy stuff. Didge seems to like the company, and I definitely like the lack of responsibility. So, other than taking lots of strolls in Parc Montsourris and reading all of the books that we have in the apartment ... I won't have much to report! Though I would like e-mail ... hint hint!

09 October 2005

WAY better blog than mine

Check out:

http://operationeden.blogspot.com/

Very poignant, powerful ... and amazing photos to boot.

La McMondialisation

Call it what you want: globalization or la mondialisation ... the more connected our world becomes, the dumber some of our fellow human beings become.

Case in point: I briefly mentioned the whiny college students from Ireland in my last post. (I think I forgot to mention that they were all Americans on study abroad programs.) One of the first things I noticed after the group sat down was that one of the girls was carrying a McFlurry cup from McDonalds.

A McFlurry?? Are you f*&%ing McKidding me?!? This girl was in FRANCE, just outside of PARIS nonetheless, with a million choices for amazing desserts, and she chooses a McFlurry? Has anyone had a McFlurry?? No one in their right mind would choose this in France, much less any average US interstate rest stop that had more than one choice for desserts. For heaven's sake, woman, get a frickin' crepe with Nutella in it. Show some self respect!

OK, I'm better now. Seriously, it was a great weekend. :)

A beautiful weekend

Finally, finally! Some beautiful weather to enjoy! We had sun on Saturday and Sunday both, and the temperature was in the mid to upper 60's (my guess) the whole time. It's so nice to walk around without needing a jacket or a sweatshirt. We kicked off the weekend with a leisurely Saturday morning of sleeping in without worrying about the alarm going off. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE not having to get up for work in the mornings?)

Once we got our acts together enough to open the shutters on the windows, we discovered how amazing the weather was and agreed that we needed to get Didge out for a walk. Colin had some work to do first, so I spent a couple of hours cleaning out cabinets and making a list of supplies that we needed (there wasn't much in the apartment in the way of cleaning supplies). Afterwards, we headed over to Parc Montsouris and spent about 1.5 hours there just strolling around. We found out the hard way that dogs aren't allowed on the grass (a police officer blew his whistle at us, so we had to "get out of the pool" so to speak), but nonetheless it was a lovely time. I really wish I had taken my camera along because there was a woman playing an old nickelodean in front of one of the children's rides - it was exactly the type of music you imagine hearing when you think of France in a romantic, cliche kind of way. Very charming. (Of course, there was also the not-so-charming site of a couple sitting on a bench - the woman was wearing a low-cut shirt, and the man had basically buried his face - and lips - into her chest. Tacky!!!)

Saturday night was my and Didge's "Welcome to France" party with the small group of people we know here. We missed Annie's presence, but Muriel, Tasha and Rachel all came over for good food and conversation. Colin made a Normandy-style pork roast with apples, Tasha and Rachel brought cheese and baguettes, and Muriel brought a delightful French dessert called charlotte, which I am quite sure attributed to my weight gain this week. Oh well, it was worth it!! Muriel has promised to take me shopping with her, so it's nice to know that I have a shopping buddy again! (Don't worry, Kate, no one can replace you and New York & Co!!)

Today, we decided to check out Versailles, since the fountains "only run on Sundays." Yet another LIE! OK, sorry, not that dramatic at all. One of our guidebooks said that, but in fact, they run on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays ... between May 1 and Sept 30. So, no running fountains! I was really bummed - the fountains look like they will be incredible when they are running, so we'll have to go back in May.

Fortunately, Versailles totally lived up to the hype and then some -- it is enormous and beautiful! Of course, since we slept in after our late night dinner party, we sort-of screwed ourselves because it was too late to buy tickets to tour the buildings. So, we decided to walk all over the gardens and then come back another day to tour the buildings. I'm actually glad that we did it this way - the gardens are HUGE!

We spent a few hours wandering around and gawking at everything. These are French-style gardens, so everything has to be symmetric and very carefully manicured. All of the trees were perfect geometric shapes, be it triangles, circles, or rectangles. Even without the fountains running, it's just a breathtaking place to visit. It almost doesn't seem real - everything is so big and so perfect. I'm glad that I'm not just saying this because I was happy for good weather - I just don't think you can downplay the impact of this place. It's really amazing.

The pictures in this blog entry are all from Versailles. The first is a close-up of some flowers in one of the many, many gardens. The second is a shot of PART of the front of the palace (seriously, it's enormous). The third is looking down into one of the manicured gardens - I don't think we got a shot, but there were palm trees there, too. (Hey, if the king wants palm trees, the king can have palm trees!) To the right is a picture of one of the fountains (obviously not running, as I might have alluded to earlier). I thought this one was really interesting, though I couldn't tell you exactly why.

And finally, there is this picture to the left. We hope it gives you an idea of the scale of everything, since I'm standing at the base of one of those trees. If you need to see it bigger, left-click once on the photo, and it will open up bigger. I'm wearing a turquoise t-shirt and jeans, and man, I have never felt shorter in my life!

You could sit in the grass here, so we walked a bit further and sat down for a while to enjoy the quiet. Our apartment is great, but you can always hear honking car horns and police sirens (like right now, as I type this), so moments of true quiet are really a treat. Also, after dealing with a lot of poorly behaved college students on the trains back to Paris, we were glad we had the time to ourselves! But, I won't spend any time complaining about them right now ... it's been a great weekend and I don't want to remember a bunch of kids skipping class in Ireland to whine about how claustrophic they felt in the French trains!!

07 October 2005

Ray Charles & French Idol do NOT mix

Let me make this perfectly clear:

A guy named Jean-Luc and a guy named Pierre should never, ever, ever sing anything by Ray Charles. Worse yet, Pierre is one of those guys who has short bangs. EEEWWW!!

The French version of American Idol, Star Academy, is on right now. They just sang "It's alright" by Ray Charles, and it was abundantly clear that neither singer knew any English. Plus, the call-response part was a catastrophe because they kept singing different words. One would sing"UH-uh" when the other one would sing "OH-oh" -- and then, in a moment of sheer unintended comic genius, the host came running in and sang the call-response until they did an ENCORE!

*Sigh* Much like a good barbeque, there are a few things that Americans do better than the French.

Market day and a spontaneous tour

As previously surmised, I did end up going to the open air market today with Colin and Didge. This was Didge's first and last trip to the market, at least on a regular collar and leash that is. He did really well overall, but my arm hurts from having to constantly reign him in and/or get him out of the way of other people. Much like my parents' dog, Jacob "the Speed Bump," Didge has a knack for knowing exactly where the middle of the road is, and then plopping his butt there. Add on his long tail, and you have a formula for disaster. Fortunately, we didn't end up with a bad Ben Stiller-esque slapstick comedy on our hands - I was able to drag him out of the way for the most part. Nonetheless, the moron was able to solicit the coos of a few passers-by, including one woman who politely told him (in baby speak), "You don't need a potato!" Of course, he sat up just a little bit straighter as if to say, "Oh, but I do!"

On the bright side - literally - the colors in this market were a welcome relief from the dreary, cloudy days we've had this week. All of the produce is so beautiful - no bumps, bruises, or bad choices in site. I even want to eat things that I know I don't like! For example, I don't care for olives, but just look at the picture to the right!! I couldn't even fit all of the bins into the frame, so this is just a sampling of the choices available. Some morning, I'm going to just walk down, buy a single piece of fruit, and just eat it fresh, right there on the spot.

After the market, we came back and stashed our purchases away. After a leisurely lunch and some fussing around the apartment (I finally bought bathroom cleaner, so we no longer have a dirty sink), decided to go to a museum. Our first choice, the Musée d'Orangerie, turned out to be closed for renovations through the beginning of 2006, so we settled on Le Grand Palais, which had a Klimt exhibition (among other artists). Alas, when we arrived, there was a HUGE line that was much longer than we were willing to endure. I guess Friday afternoons are popular days for museums that have recently reopened!

We couldn't immediately come up with an alternative option, partially because I had no idea where we were (you know, other than Paris), and Colin couldn't think of anything else that was super-close for us to see. So, since I had spotted a very beautiful bridge nearby, I suggested that we walk over and get a picture of that while we thought further. Plus, one of my goals for the trip was to have a really good kiss on a bridge that crossed the Seine. (Maybe I've seen the ending to the remake of Sabrina one time too many, but I thought it would be wonderfully romantic.) So, we walked out to the middle of a bridge called Pont des Invalides to get my picture of the prettier bridge and to fulfill my romantic fantasy. I'm pleased to report that Colin didn't disappoint, and I also think we thoroughly entertained the tourists on the boat that was floating by at that moment. Who knows, maybe I'll end up in someone's scrapbook! The lovely bridge that I spotted is pictured to the left - Pont Alexandre III.

We ended up touring two churches after our "moment" - L'Eglise Saint Supice and L'Eglise St. Germain des Prés. The first one was my personal favorite of the two, though the pictures didn't turn out so hot. I really wanted a picture of the front alter, but there was a zone of complete silence around it, and people were praying all around ... so I figured it would be kind-of tacky to snap a picture. I tried to take one from further away, and just when I got situated, another guy came walking up, sat down, and started praying. I wasn't sure if it was a sincere desire to commune with God, or a sincere desire to keep me from taking a picture, but I got the hint and walked away. My only decent picture is of a line marked in the church that people took measurements of the sun's alignment from as a way to gauge the earth's rotation. I only took a picture because Colin says that it figures prominently into The Da Vinci Code, and I know a lot of people who have read that. (Don't worry, I'll get to it at some point, especially if someone sends me a copy!!) The other nifty thing in this church was a blown up negative of the Shroud of Turin, which actually made me catch my breath until I realized it wasn't the actual Shroud itself. It's a little creepy, but also awe-inspiring to look at. I didn't take a picture of that - it seemed really inappropriate.

The other church, St. Germain des Prés, just seemed old to me. OK, so it was built in the 11th century, so *old* is the understatement of this blog. Truthfully, I was tired at this point, so it probably would have taken a lot to impress me at that point. Nonetheless, I made sure to drop a euro in the donation box, just to show my appreciation for the mere fact that this building was still standing after so many centuries.

On the way home, I created a new goal for myself: never, EVER use public transportation at rush hour. I hate, hate, HATE riding the buses when they are packed solid with people. Not that the metro is a treat at rush hour either (I've literally been pushed like a sardine in a can in the metro before), but those buses are just so unpleasant. Maybe it's being forced to touch all of those people when I'm already worn out from walking. Maybe it's the fact that the supposed "climatisation" of the bus is set to create similar living conditions to the Amazon. Or maybe it's just that I hate having to shove my way through a solid mass of people for the privilege of getting into the blasted thing in the first place. Whatever it is - I hate it!! Colin doesn't think I can avoid mass transit during rush hour, but given that I don't have to be anywhere at a certain time, I think I can swing it. Besides, Didge isn't allowed to ride, so it can't be THAT great!

But, c'est le week-end! We're going to Versailles (by the way, fellow Missourians, that's pronouced "Ver-SIGH" not "Ver-SAILS") on Sunday, since they run all the fountains on that day. I expect that it will be at least somewhat more entertaining than Versailles, Missouri, but one never knows until one sees for oneself! Colin "goes back to work" on Monday, so I'll have to figure out what to do by myself from that point on. Any suggestions? Requests? Dares? Post your ideas to the comments section!!

By the way, I'm waiting until the end of the weekend to decide the winner of the "what does that sign mean?" contest from a couple of days ago. I think Keely has the most bizarre/creative suggestion with no detached-leg dangling, but I crack up every time I Ryan's suggestion that no bald men wearing speedos are allowed. I still don't know what that sign actually means, so if anyone knows, I'd appreciate enlightenment on that, too.