Sunday, February 28, 2010

La promesse de l'aube

Today was kind of boring. I woke up and filled out applications, practiced my flute for a while, then read some of Cyrano de Bergerac. I swear, that guy has panache! After that, I talked to Kayla on Skype for a long time, then met up with Alexandra for lunch. Guess what I had: two crepes! Yup: oeuf/fromage (egg/cheese) and then nutella for dessert. They were delicious. There's this bakery near St. Michel - Notre-Dame that makes the best crepes. I love their egg/cheese ones because they make sure the egg gets cooked completely so the crepe isn't runny, like my nose. And about that, my stuffiness is almost completely gone, so my new and improved French accent is back to the way it was before again. I need to figure out how to talk like I'm sick all the time. Then, I'll sound French.

The way I see it, French people talk inside their mouths and noses a lot more, whereas in English, we use our lips and teeth to create the majority of the sound. The way their sentences are structured too, there's a lot more that's internal, since they put objects before the verb. You don't say "I gave it to him" in French. You say "Je le lui ai donné" - the him and the it come before gave. When you examine that, it's not as surprising that French professors care just as much about "les plans" or "the outlines" as what you write in your paper.

Overall, though, it was a pretty boring day. It's still relatively early, so I'm going to get ready for bed and sit comfortably and read more of Cyrano. Hopefully, I'll finish that soon. Tomorrow will be a great day, though. Monday's always are. But tomorrow especially - I'll get to take my favorite l'ENS walk twice! The first time to go to my class, and the second to go to a George Steiner lecture. I just looked him up on Wikipedia, and I think he's my new hero: comparative literature expert, translator (he speaks four languages fluently), mathematician, physicist, philosopher, professor, novelist, journalist, and more. According to my friend, he can also fly. It wouldn't surprise me. Anyway, I'm curious to see what language he will lecture in and if what he says is beyond my scope of comprehension. It's just a shame that I won't be able to see his lecture on Wednesday because of my history class. At least I'll be able to see him again on Friday. Lu (my new Chinese friend) can fill me in on what I missed.

A demain!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An American Day

Today, I was an American in Paris with Alexandra. For brunch, we went to a restaurant called Breakfast in America. It was certainly more American than the breakfasts I usually get here - you know, "les cornflakes" with a side of "le nesquick." On second thought, those breakfasts are much more American than this other place. The only time I ever have this kind of breakfast is when I go to Miss Shirley's, and this was no Miss Shirley's. I'd much prefer "les cornflakes," which are Special K with rolls of dark chocolate in it! I never knew that Special K was so good, but I think when I get home, I need to start buying it. This morning, though, I had a New Mexican omelet (because omelets definitely aren't French at all...), complete with salsa, cheddar cheese, and hash browns. It was tasty, but not better than other omelets I've had here in actual French restaurants.

After a Breakfast in America breakfast in Paris with a British waiter, we walked around a little. I tried Turkish delights. I have to say, I don't see why Edmond almost destroyed Narnia for them in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They were good, but not that good. And they got powdered sugar all over my black coat. We walked around in Le Jardin des Plantes too. Then, I taught English for a while. After that, Alexandra and I went to the Buffalo Grill for dinner. Don't worry - I know better than to try Parisian chicken wings. I had ribs, and they were just okay. I wouldn't have expected them to be any better.

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow will be a more French day. I don't want to pretend I'm still in America. That's not the point of studying abroad. I can eat American food when I get back. For now, I'm still focused on being Parisian.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Storming the Bastille

This morning was rough with the minimal amount of sleep I got. But, I got to class with plenty of time and sat for an hour listening to the professor talk about different types of humanism. I won't write it all down. The professor's interesting, but this discussion wasn't really. After class, I came back and relaxed for a while until lunch, when Alexandra and I went to Le Marais again for more falafel. The falafel was exactly the same, and I'm getting sick of it, but we had French fries with it, and they reminded me a lot of the fries at Duffs. So, now I want  wings. After lunch, we walked to the gelato place my dad told me about and I had the most incredible espresso gelato! Then, we went to a cafe and sat and had hot chocolate because we didn't have enough time to go back to where we live (Alexandra had a tap dancing class and I had to teach English) but too much time to go directly to where we were both going. At the cafe (very very French, by the way), we were sitting between two French girls and two British girls. Needless to say, I eavesdropped on the French ones. They were having an interesting conversation. The one who wasn't smoking was a masters student in philosophy and was looking for an internship.

After the cafe-ing (that should definitely be a word), I went to teach English. Jerome told me the funniest story. He said that, in French, saying je veux seduire (to seduce) someone actually just means that you want to go out with that person. Then, he was in the United States and he was talking to a girl about another girl he had been talking to, and he told her that he had wanted to seduce the other girl. He didn't realize that "to seduce" is a little different in English. Then, he got slapped in the face. It's an interesting lesson to learn. Kind of like the story of the American girl studying abroad in Paris who said she loved "beets" without verifying that the word "bite" in French means something completely different. Note: I'm putting a PG 13 rating on that French word. Don't look it up if you're too young.

After teaching, Alexandra and I went to Bastille. For those who don't know, the Bastille was a prison that the people stormed at the start of the French Revolution (July 14th, 1789). Now, it's a cute area with tons of ethnic restaurants, crepe stores, bars and movie theaters. So, Alexandra and I got crepes, then drinks at a bar. Yes, another bar. I'm becoming a regular bar hopper. Too bad I still don't like alcohol. I got a drink called an Alexandra tonight. It was with cognac. It was gross. But, at least I'm getting to used all the sentences we had to translate last year in French, including "Cigarettes sell well in Paris" and "I will hang out in bars until I graduate from college."

Okay, I'm going to bed so I won't be tired tomorrow when Alexandra and I go to "Breakfast in America" for lunch. It should be interesting.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Une traduction lipogrammatique

Today was a long day, starting with my 9:30 TD of philosophy at La Sorbonne - Clignancourt (which means I need to wake up at 8 to get there on time) and ending with Alexandra, some of her new British friends, and me going to see a movie at Bastille. As I'm writing this now, the last metros are about to leave. Obviously, it's late. I have a lot to say, but I'll try to type quickly.

This morning in philosophy, we talked about man according to Aristotle some more. Selon lui, man is a political animal. He also thinks that not everyone is equal and that certain people are meant to rule in the political part of life. For him, life is divided into three levels: the family, the village, and the city. The city is where the politics happen, because the first two levels just don't suffice. In each level, certain individuals are naturally superior. For example, Aristotle believes that slaves are inferior and a natural outcome of society (in Athens, where he was, slaves would have been prisoners from other cities). To him, slaves should stay in their places because that is the only way they can understand their true meaning. I think Aristotle should have tried being a slave for a little bit so he could have seen how it was before proclaiming that slavery was natural. Basically, his proof that all of these thoughts were correct was that man had language - and could talk (I want to clarify - language isn't the same as voice. You knew that? Okay, well, we had to clarify it this morning). Because of this, Aristotle was sure that man was a political animal. And, you may ask: what about men who choose to live away from society? Well, they aren't really men according to Aristotle. To me, Aristotle seems like he just denies every valid argument against his ideas purely on the basis that he thinks he's right. Maybe the next guy we read will be more logical.

After class, I had to give the professor my "fiche pedagogique" which is a sheet of paper where she's supposed to write down what my graded assignments will be for CUPA to know. I think CUPA only makes us do this so that we can have in writing what we're going to be graded on, because apparently French professors aren't known for being straightforward about what their students will have to do. This professor really is straightforward, though. I'm not exactly sure if she's a professor at all. She's really young and wears jeans to class. But besides that, she's incredibly knowledgeable. I'm very impressed every time she opens her mouth. She speaks really quickly too. There's another American in the class (I guess she's from a different program) and she basically didn't take one note. She looked like she had no clue what was going on. I, on the other hand, took six pages of notes, and I'm sure I didn't write down everything. But back to the professor, she was so nice when I gave her the form. She gave me her email address and told me that if I ever don't understand anything, I should just email her, but that I hadn't looked lost at all, so she figured I had understood the class. At CUPA, they had told us that the professors were very impersonal and never really talked to their students or did stuff like that.

Then, this afternoon, I had my second writing workshop. Today - I mean yesterday - we did lipogrammatic translations, which means we took something that another author had written and we rewrote it, replacing every word that had a certain vowel in it with other words that didn't have that vowel, all without changing the original meaning. We started with "Un chat mange un ananas" (a cat eats a pineapple). Eventually, we came up with "Un felin devore un fruit des tropiques." (Sorry I'm being lazy and not using accents - it's 1:11 in the morning. By the way, that means "A feline eats a tropical fruit") So, if you notice, the lipogrammatic translation has no A's. Yes, I think it's cool. We did our own lipogrammatic translations with an incredibly long first sentence of a book (obviously, the author wanted to be like Proust, but forgot that Proust's first sentence was only eight words long). I chose to remove the letter O. Then, we had to write a fake introduction proclaiming why we chose to remove the letter we chose. I wrote about how the three stories needed to be connected like a circle. The professor liked it! I think, in this class more than any of the others, the professor is very impressed that I would be willing to try this when French isn't my first language. She was also very impressed last time when I knew so much about l'OuLiPo.

Then, I ate dinner (salmon and rice - yum!) and went to the movie with Alexandra and her new British friends. Did you know British people kiss each other on both cheeks too? It's still a little uncomfortable, but I always go for the correct cheek first now. After buying the tickets, we went to the bar next door for happy hour. I got vin chaud (hot wine) and I have to say, it's better than cold wine. Now, is it good? Well, I'd prefer a coke. And coke is cheaper. Then, after drinks, we went back to the movie theater to stand outside in line before they opened the doors. I don't know why they do it this way. I guess the lobby isn't big enough to hold all the people who are going to see that movie? Anyway, we saw the movie, it was predictable - like a combination of a Twilight Zone episode and the exact opposite of Catch-22. But, it was fun to watch. Then, I came home.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm going to have very few classes next week. My Paris 8 literature class is cancelled, my l'OuLiPo class is cancelled, and apparently La Sorbonne thinks next week is a holiday. So, I suppose I'll have an easy week. Maybe I'll catch up on my sleep. I've decided that it's not the speaking French all day that's tiring - it's the fact that I'm not getting enough sleep.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Today, after my three hour history class on the reign of Louis XIV was over and I was sitting on the metro trying to will it to go faster with my mind (which failed miserably - it took 40 minutes, as usual), I realized how tired I was. Seriously - studying abroad is hard work! Everything I do here, whether the course is easier or harder than my courses at Hopkins, has the added bonus that it's in French. Now, on the one hand, I'm paying attention a lot more, I'm not having a hard time understanding anything, and it's probably good that I'm listening more carefully here. I'm sure that, while I'm in the United States, sometimes I just tune people out and only hear half of what they're saying. Here however, I perk up every time I hear French and I'm very excited to understand it and even to speak back. It's gradually becoming more natural to switch to French mode immediately. On the other hand, it's tiring to speak and think in another language all day. At least, it was today. Maybe it's just because I didn't get a ton of sleep last night. I stayed up late to reread the fifteen pages on absolutism that I had a quiz on in history today. The professor neglected to tell us beforehand that the quizzes were just a game and that he'd only count the grades if we got higher than 10/20, which I definitely didn't get. This time, though, I don't think anyone else did either. Everyone kept saying that it was "un jeu affreux!" (a hideous game) He didn't ask us about what the article was about - he asked instead about minute details that no one would have wasted time memorizing. Who knew that was the kind of thing he was going to ask? At least I can always pull that "I'm American" card, so the name of a French historian, no matter how famous, just wouldn't stick out to me. I think I got two questions right, though. So, that's a 4. I need a 9 to pass.

In my flute lesson this morning, my professor explained to me how to make my vibrato sound more natural - I just should stop thinking about it. That's so much easier than what I was doing before!

I suppose that's it for today - nothing exciting happened. You know, if a car doesn't crash into a building, it's kind of a waste of an afternoon. But, tomorrow is my writing workshop with the OuLiPo constraints!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My professor's a tour guide

Today, for my French literature class at Paris 8 (Paris and French literature - places of memory), we had our first on-site visit to Notre-Dame. Obviously, that church has inspired literature - Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris. We started at the doors. There are three of them: the one in the middle is the door of the last judgment, which depicts the dead rising again, an angel and a devil weighing peoples' souls and choosing which ones would be saved, Jesus returning, and then, he showed us a tiny little engraving at the bottom. It depicted a woman, holding two books (one opened, and one closed) in one hand, and a scepter in the other. There was a ladder in front of her with nine steps, and her head was touching the sky. He told us that, initially, people had thought that she was a symbol of education, that the ladder represented the different stages of education, the books were things to be studied, etc. Then, he said that that interpretation was obviously wrong because, as I had already learned in my ENS class and in my philosophy class, the middle ages education only had seven stages. In fact, the engraving was supposed to depict the ancient art of alchemy, which had seven stages, and there were two parts: one that man could comprehend and one that man couldn't. It made sense that the study of alchemy would be at the center of the base of the church. That's what Frollo studied. Then again, look where it led him. The point of the discussion was to illustrate how parts of history can be lost or misinterpreted. The door on the left was the door of the virgin, and the one to the right depicts the life of Jesus Christ. On the top of the doors are statues of the biblical kings, which were destroyed during the French Revolution and then restored after the publication of Notre-Dame de Paris. You may ask, why did the citizens destroy those statues during the Revolution? Well, they thought they were depicting the kings of France. Oops. I guess that might be what Victor Hugo meant when he said that men were the most destructive thing when it came to landmarks.

Inside the church, we saw the wooden carvings that date back to the twelfth century! They're painted, but the paint is much more recent. The carvings depict scenes of miracles from the Bible - they're supposed to tell the stories because the churchgoers back then couldn't read. Therefore, even if they hadn't studied the stories, they could look at the pictures and be moved. He told us that it's the fundamental difference we're going to discuss in this class: the difference between what one studies and what touches someone. It reminds me of what the priest told Edmond in The Count of Monte Cristo: "To learn is not to know."

The tour wasn't supposed to be a history lesson. Our professor said that, if we wanted the history and architectural points about Notre-Dame, we should check Wikipedia. I just looked at it, and it's very detailed. If he told us to go on Wikipedia, I suppose I should. Right? It's funny - my number theory professor last semester told us that Wikipedia was a good source too.

After we were done in Notre-Dame, we walked around l'Ile St-Louis, which is interesting because everything on it was built at once, during the 17th century. The map of the streets is in the American style, according to the professor. They're in a grid format, like New York City. And, there's a statue of Ste. Genevieve (the saint of Paris) facing east to watch out for invaders. On this island, we saw a salon that was visited by Marcel Proust and other famous authors, Baudelaire's house, in which he wrote parts of Les fleurs du mal, an asymmetrical bridge that was in "An American in Paris", and a pretty house that's privately owned by a friend of Sarkozy that no one can enter even if it is historical. What I like is that all the architecture on the island is incredibly uniform - there doesn't seem to be the slightest exception. Oh, and Berthillon. That's actually the best part of the island. Too bad it's closed right now! But, the professor mentioned it on the tour! The best ice cream in Paris! He didn't say "in the world," but I'm sure he knows it.

Overall, it was interesting to get guided around a Parisian landmark with Parisian students. Apparently, even the French can be tourists here, but it was a very different experience than my tourist experience from last weekend. I like having the tours in French like I did at the Pantheon or like CUPA organized for us from Mouffetard to St. Germain, around l'Institut du Monde Arabe, Montmartre, and Le Marais. It's also better to get the French audio guides at places like Versailles or the Jewish museum. I went there too today, by the way. But it wasn't really interesting enough to go into any detail here. Besides, I'd rather study for my history quiz tomorrow. Lucky me. Why am I taking a history course again? Oh right - because I need to...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ils sont fous ces américains !

This morning was, like every Monday morning, such a perfect day in Paris! I woke up, took the metro to Notre-Dame, then walked between Le Lycée Louis-le-Grand (where some of the most incredible French people have studied) and La Sorbonne (the first university, and also where some of the most incredible French people have studied), then past the Panthéon (where some of the most incredible French people are buried), all the way to the best school in France (where the most incredible French students alive today study). Then, I went to my incredible l'ENS class! Today, we discussed what is a century, and what makes a literary century: how do historical events affect literary history (even world wars don't stop literature production), how do changes in education affect it, how do translations factor in, etc. It was brilliant!

After class, I went to the university restaurant with my new friend Lu. It's great - I really feel like a real student in a French school! Except, of course, that Lu is Chinese, but she doesn't speak English. It's interesting that the only language the two of us have in common is French! Those university restaurants are great - 2.90 euros for a full meal. You choose 6 points worth of food, so I chose the plat principal (3 points), a cherry pie (2 points), an apple sauce (1 point), and some bread (no points, of course!). Apparently, you can pay extra for red wine if you want. Too bad I didn't want.

After lunch, I had a meeting about the CUPA newspaper. On the way to Rue Vavin, I saw a car had crashed into a window! It was insane! Then, I taught Jerome English. He seems a lot more confident speaking - in fact, the strangest part is that I think he's stronger speaking than he is writing, which is weird. I thought everyone was more confident writing in foreign languages than speaking, just like I am.

Finally, Mme de la Taille told me tonight why Americans are crazy. Or, I told her. I said that, in the US, we put marshmallows in our hot chocolate. She couldn't stop laughing! Then, when dinner was over, she went to call Pierre to tell him how Americans put marshmallows in hot chocolate. She just couldn't believe it - she kept saying "Oh my God!" in English. It was amusing.

Finally, here are some pictures of my room. Bonsoir!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

La Tour(iste) Eiffel

Just kidding - I didn't really see the Eiffel Tower today. I just heard two French people talking about it, and one said La Tour Eiffel, laughed, and then said, "La touriste Eiffel!" On the way back from Notre-Dame today, we saw the Eiffel Tower from a distance and it was sparkling like it does every hour. My new tourist friends were very excited. All in all, though, it was a long day and a long weekend of feeling like a tourist in the city I'm supposed to be calling my home for these four and a half months.

This morning, we started with Versailles. Just a little background - Louis XIV was king of France from 1643 (at the ripe young age of five) until he died in 1715. While he was growing up, there were a lot of rebellions in Paris, so he grew to fear the people. That was why he decided to build a new castle outside of Paris, where he could keep an eye on the nobles while staying far away from his subjects and their barricades. French people still like to rebel, by the way. My host father told me - they love to assemble in the streets. It's just, I suppose they've calmed down a little bit and aren't building barricades, which is too bad, because I'd love to see a real live barricade on a Paris street! Anyway, at Versailles - a very, very humble looking castle, covered in gold and with a painting on practically every ceiling - Louis would have the nobles surround him. Getting dressed was a ritual. Nobles (the lucky ones) would get to help him. Crazy, right? Louis XIV called himself "le roi soleil" or "the sun king." The earth couldn't survive without the sun, ergo France couldn't survive without its sun king. He also singlehandedly caused the French Revolution. Versailles was very expensive (side note: there are so many fountains in the garden, that there wasn't enough water pressure in all of France to run them all at once; so two people would turn on the fountains in front of Louis and two people would walk behind him turning off the ones he had already seen), and so were the wars that France was fighting. So, what do you think? Do I remember a little stuff from AP Euro?

Basically, Versailles hasn't changed since I was there three years ago, but I got more pictures this time. And, this time I took the French audio tour. Actually, I can't remember if I took the French one last time - it would have been a dumb idea, though, since I wouldn't have understood all of it if I had.

After Versailles, we went to a second palace (because one just isn't enough in France): the Louvre. Therese and her friends had to see the Mona Lisa. Just kidding - they were much more knowledgeable about art history than I am, even though I am an art history student according to my CUPA card (they put histoire de l'art on the card so that we can get into all the museums for free - I'm not actually art history, obviously). The only problem was, of course, that Alexandra and I had gone yesterday, so eventually, we got a little bored. That was when we decided to go to a cafe! It was a very French decision.

After the cafe, Alexandra was feeling sick, so she went back to her dorm. So, Therese and I went to Notre-Dame (I'm going to be sick of that church eventually. I have to go there with my Paris 8 literature class on Tuesday too!). There was a mass going on inside, which made it more interesting for me. Being Jewish, it's not like I knew what they were doing, but the church is for people to pray and not to visit, and it was interesting to see it being used probably exactly as it has been since the time period in which Hugo set his novel. To me, it brought the site to life. It was no longer just another boring museum or historical site.

Then, we saw the Eiffel Tower as we were heading to the metro. It sparkled for a little bit. Anyway, the same way that studying in French universities has made me appreciate my Hopkins education more, having other students here who are studying in London made me appreciate being in Paris more. They love London, but they all really loved Paris, and three days here obviously just isn't enough. I'm probably going to travel to other cities in Europe while I'm here, and weekends might not be enough to see the everything, but I'm so glad I get to spend the majority of my time in Paris. It's impossible to run out of things to see and do here, and even though I'm sure all of Europe is filled with incredible sites, there's just something about Paris.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Should we use the lift?

This morning was so productive, and this afternoon definitely wasn't! I woke up, changed my sheets, practiced my flute, organized all my notebooks for my classes (I had taken lots of notes during the first week of backup classes, and all in the same notebook, so I rewrote the notes for all my final classes in individual notebooks - very nerdy!), practiced my flute, and read a little.

Then, I went to meet up with Alexandra and Therese and her friends (Therese is visiting this weekend from London, where she's been studying abroad since September). Therese and her friends were on a walking tour of Paris, so first, Alexandra and I had to find them and crash the tour! Don't worry - it was a free tour, so I don't think crashing it was really frowned upon. Alexandra found them first, and then I caught up. The tour was horrible. There was this British guy leading it, and all he talked about was The Da Vinci Code. Ever since I found out that Dan Brown lied to me about something so trivial as the line inside Saint Sulpice, I just haven't liked him or his books. I suppose I just took it personally - if he lied to me about that, then who's to say that he didn't lie about the more important stuff? I bet the holy grail isn't buried underneath the inverted pyramid at the Louvre like he said it was either! That, and the fact that it's a formula book where every chapter was two pages long and ended with a cliff hanger, so after the first 30 pages, I was bored because it was too exciting. Anyway, this tour guide blabbed on and on about all the sites from that book, sometimes about how they were wrong, and when he wasn't talking about that, he was talking about other excursions his company offers. Ultimately, it was a waste for Alexandra and me, since we had already seen the Louvre and Les Tuileries, and the Opera Garnier and whatever else he was going to show them. So, Alexandra and I bailed and actually went inside the Louvre.

Most museums in Paris are free if you're under 26 and a member of the European Union or a student, so Alexandra and I can get in for free by showing our student cards, which our programs conveniently wrote "histoire de l'art" on, so it looks like we're studying art history. Apparently, that's all it takes. One of the people in charge of CUPA told us that, when you turn 26 in Paris, it's kind of like your life is over. So, Alexandra and I visited the Egyptian exhibit, but the most interesting part for me was, of course, the building itself. Before the start of the exhibit, first we saw some of the walls of the old castle (the Louvre used to be a palace) that they found when they started digging to build the underground entrance that connects all four wings of the museum. Then, we got to the artifacts, which Alexandra found much more interesting than I did, mostly because she actually studied in Egypt during Intersession freshman year. For me, I kind of think it's a shame that the Louvre is a museum and not just another castle. I know I got bored with the castles in the Loire Valley, but the Louvre has so many different architectural styles all in one building - every king who lived there added another wing in his own style. It's massive! And it's right across the street from where Louis XIV grew up. He didn't like it too much, though - all the rebellions gave him nightmares (I suppose five-year-old kings can still wet the bed). So, he moved out to Versailles - building a bigger, better castle with more garden room and completely bankrupting France. It's okay, because the French Revolution inspired some great literature!

After the Louvre, we swung by Berthillon so I could get a last cone before it closed for two weeks. It was worth it: chocolate and chestnut rum. Mmmmmm! Then, we went to Montmartre for dinner with Therese and her friends, and then went up to Sacre Coeur, just narrowly avoiding the bracelet men (they're very annoying - they try to grab your arm and put a bracelet on it, then won't let you leave until you pay them for the bracelet). That white church looks beautiful at night, and I'm now a very good guide after the afternoon with Sabrina two weeks ago.

Tomorrow morning, I have to get up early. We're going to go to Versailles at 9:00, so I'm going to stop here. Sorry about the lack of pictures. I forgot my camera today.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Living on Line 4

I'm sick. It stinks. Last night, I had a really hard time going to sleep because of this cold, which was not the best planning on my part, since I had a lot to do this morning. First, I had to wake up really early so I could be at Clignancourt at 9:00 for my philosophy CM. It's quite a trip: I take line 14 to Châtelet, then line 4 all the way to the end, Porte de Clignancourt. The class was only an hour - an hour of talking about what humanism is - then I got back onto line 4 and went to the second last stop in the other direction for my flute lesson. Then, after playing some Mozart in French (music is supposed to be the universal language, but lessons are a little different in French, but still good!), I got back onto line 4 and went to Saint-Michel and met up with the James', fellow Buffalonians in Paris! We had a traditional French lunch - including onion soup, rotisserie chicken, French fries, and chocolate mousse for dessert! Actually, I'm not exactly sure if that's a traditional French lunch since I've mostly been getting stuff on the street or eating in university restaurants with other Americans for lunch. And yes, I know that French fries are Belgian. Here's a picture of our lunch.

Then, tonight, I went back to Châtelet to meet Alexandra. We watched "L'autre Dumas," the new Gerard Depardieu movie about Alexandre Dumas and his ghost writer Auguste Maquet. It was an enjoyable movie - it certainly won't go down in history as one of the greats. But I liked watching it, and it was an interesting story. Gerard Depardieu really looked like Alexandre Dumas! Who knew he was so fat? Just kidding - Lorelai did, in the Gilmore Girls episode when they were in Paris. She said (approximately): "Now I know why French people are so skinny: no midnight snacks!" Chris responded, "Then how do you explain Gerard Depardieu?" and she said "That's easy - he's hogging all the food!" After the movie, we went back to Saint-Michel and got drinks. Yes, I know that seems like a weird sentence for me to write. But yes, I had a drink - a banana colada. That's even what the menu said - I think we picked the wrong bar. All the music was in English, as was the menu. But, at least they served the drink with a sparkler! It was pretty. I still don't really like alcohol, though.

Tomorrow, we're probably going to take Therese (a friend who's studying abroad in London and is visiting Paris this weekend) around to the sites, so I'll have some more pictures then - I've realized I haven't taken pictures since Monday. I'm such a bad tourist.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

French Philosophy

Okay, not really French. In my TD (French for discussion section) of philosophy at Sorbonne (well, not the "historic" center; it's this tiny little ugly building that's 40 minutes away from me), we talked about Aristotle. They call him Aristote - and he thinks that politics is a natural part of the humanity of man. And, he also thinks that a man who chooses to live away from society is not a man at all. The teacher (she might be a professor though she looked really young, though either way, she's called a "professeur") was very knowledgeable, the students seemed very engaged, and the class seems like it will be very interesting. But, the reason I think I'll like it is because it's a traditional French class - I'll get to learn philosophy the way French students have for the last thousand years!

Other than that, I really didn't do much today. I walked around for a long time, looking at old book stores around Notre-Dame, eating Berthillon ice cream (which is going to be closed from Sunday to March 10th!! What am I going to do?), and finding a stamp for 55 euros (CUPA needs it). But, it rained and I didn't have an umbrella, so I might have caught a cold.

Then, I taught English to Olivier, who had me explain words and expressions that he hadn't understood when he was reading Time Magazine. There are some colloquial expressions that he didn't understand, like "heaped on" or "patting down grandma" that I thought were really funny. Luckily, I was able to come up with ways to explain them, even though some of them were pretty random.

And, that's it for today. Tomorrow, I have my philosophy CM (French for lecture) at Sorbonne, then the whole rest of the day to enjoy myself. I think I have too much free time here - I should do something about that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What are French students thinking?

I don't understand the shoes! Today, I woke up and I was so excited to put on my brand new Converse sneakers (thanks so much to my awesome parents!!) and go out into the Parisian streets looking completely like a French student (you know, long black coat, black messenger bag, converse sneakers, frown when you're on the metro...the works). But, I didn't bother to think practically (unusual for me, I know!) and so I walked from Notre-Dame to the Pantheon (like I'm going to do next Tuesday in my literature class), stopping in the middle at a Gibert Jeune to buy textbooks for my history class. Then, once I got to the Pantheon, it was lunch time and I really wanted another one of those Lebanese sandwiches that Justine and I had bought when I saw her last week, so I decided to walk down to ENS and find the sandwich shop. But, I forgot that I have absolutely no sense of direction, so I circled ENS several times, going on every street around the area. The only thing I remembered was that there was a bakery right before it that Justine said was really good, but while I was walking around today, I saw maybe five different bakeries! So, I gave up and bought a really good panini instead. Alexandra said that maybe I should take a direction class at ENS, but I don't know if they have one. Besides, I don't want to take two courses there - too much work.

So, by the time I arrived at my history class at Paris 8, my feet were bleeding. My socks are ruined and bloody and the inside of the left sneaker is bloody too. I don't think I'll be wearing those shoes tomorrow, needless to say. I hope my history professor doesn't think I'm obsessed with my feet, because I kept looking at them and slipping my heels out of the backs of the shoes. But, as for the class: we started with a quiz! The professor made it very clear that it wasn't for a grade, but that it was rather just to see what we knew. Well, I hope he's happy to find out that I know nothing! Just kidding - I knew that Louis XIV's grandfather was Henri IV. I don't know how I knew it, but I did. We're going to have 10 question quizzes every week, but at least from now on, the quizzes will be on an assigned reading. That way, I won't be at a complete disadvantage because I haven't been taught French history every single year since I was in grade school. But, the professor said it was okay and that, by the end of the semester, I'd know all the answers. He's really nice and seems very excited to have an American in the class. Except, I haven't been saying very much right now - as the course progresses and I learn a little more, I'll start talking. It's not like I'm silent in all my courses. In the Paris 8 literature and writing workshop classes, I talked.

Dinner tonight was salmon, rice, and ratatouille. I love ratatouille - seriously, it's great! And I'm not talking about the movie. It was cute, but not the best Disney/Pixar film I've ever seen. Of course, we had a baguette with all of that, then cheese and dessert afterward as usual. I realized I haven't been commenting on the food much. All the dinners are pretty much like that - the meal (served with bread and wine), cheese (served with more bread and wine), and fruit. Sometimes, we don't have wine, but mostly we do. And, that's pretty much it for today. It wasn't very exciting - just a little hard on my feet!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

To be French...

Last year in French class when I gave my 10 minute expose on Notre-Dame de Paris (funny - last year, speaking for 10 minutes in French was an assignment and now I do it just to get by day by day), Justine wrote some stuff about Victor Hugo on the board, including when he was born, when he died, a few of his famous works, and a quote. And yes, she wrote all of that just off the top of her head. But, my point is, she pointed to Notre-Dame de Paris and Les misérables and said that, to be French, you need to know they exist, but you don't need to read them. I found the comment funny, because she's obviously read them both, probably multiple times. And she's a philosophy student! So, even though that's what she said, I assumed that all French students read Victor Hugo all the time, since he's obviously a huge figure in French literature. Today, I learned that I was wrong, and that, once again, if Justine said something, it's obviously true.

In the French literature class about Paris affecting literature at Paris 8 today, we spent a good chunk of time (after reflecting on how to kick more students out of the class, since there are still too many of us, but at least now we're down to around 30) discussing Notre-Dame de Paris since next week is our first on-site visit to see Notre-Dame and discuss all the literature it's inspired. The professor asked the class if anyone could summarize the story, to which no one responded, so I volunteered and explained the whole thing. I was very happy that I actually read Notre-Dame de Paris and memorized the musical, because then, I really already knew everything we were talking about as far as the story and Hugo's discourse on literature destroying architecture went. Then, the professor moved on to a brief description of how Les misérables basically is inspired by all of Paris, then said: "Has anyone read Les misérables? No one?" and I said: "I have!" I was so excited to say that - it was worth suffering through all the boring stuff in that gigantic book to tell a French professor that I had read it. The only thing that wasn't satisfying was: why on earth am I the only student in this class who seems to read these books? From what I can tell, we're not going to have to read any whole books for this class. Just excerpts. Then, our final assignment is going to be to write a short story (7 page minimum) that takes place in a historical place in Paris. To me, this assignment is ridiculously easy since I've already done this in English - first semester sophomore year I wrote a short story about an English teacher in Paris, which had scenes in tons of historical places (Lycée Louis-le-Grand, the Panthéon, Père-Lachaise cemetery, the catacombs, and I think that might be it) and it was about 15 pages long, I think. So, I could pull a Samuel Beckett and translate my English story into French (I've already done it once, only it was translating a French story I wrote into English), or I could just write a new one. The point is, to write a short story really doesn't seem that difficult. I should be doing it a fair bit in my writing workshop too, I hope.

I suppose that's it for today - nothing really exciting happened, but here's a cute anecdote. Tonight, I was waiting for the RER when two foreigners were asking a staff member if the train we were waiting for was the one they needed. They didn't speak French, though, so the guy asked them if they spoke English, and they said yes. So, he told them: "Yes, this is the train you want. This is the right train. Get on this one." He kept saying that until they were on the train. The whole time, I was watching and laughing, because I thought it was funny, so the guy looked at me after getting the two people on the train and said (in French): "You need to help the Americans!" I was so excited to be mistaken for French in this situation, that I ended up agreeing. It was very amusing!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Perfection in Paris

Today was a perfect day to understand how perfect some things in Paris are. I had a course at l'ENS, the best school here, and I saw a ballet at the Opera Garnier - you know, where The Phantom of the Opera takes place.

At the course this morning, we talked about education in France, how it changed from the middle ages until now, and how that education impacts the way students read. Central to the lecture was the struggle between Latin and French as languages that were taught - classically, students were taught Latin, even though French was the vernacular. Then, eventually, they switched. Then, we talked about which books were added to the cannon - or the books that everyone should study. He basically had a list. I'll try to remember. Middle Ages: La Chanson de Roland, Ronsard, Rabelais (thankfully, I've read excerpts from all those, so I knew what he was talking about); 17th century: Racine, Corneille, Pascal, Moliere; 18th century: the Enlightenment philosophers, namely Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot (but not too much Diderot, he said, because I suppose he didn't love Jacques le fataliste like I did); 19th century: this was tricky, because Romanticism was frowned upon by the universities, but eventually they accepted Hugo and Baudelaire. Of course, he said, these aren't all the great authors one should read - but they're the basis of a complete education. He also talked a lot about other authors, and couplings of two authors that people should relate all the time, like Corneille/Racine and Aesop/La Fontaine. Then, he talked about the notion of a classic. He said that, when one reads a classic for the first time, that person is really rereading it. It was an incredible statement! I'm such a nerd...

After class, I went to a Resto U (cheap restaurant for students) with my new friend from my class! She's from China, but we both spoke French, so no problems!

Then, tonight, I went to a ballet at the Opera Garnier. I thought it was going to be an opera, but it wasn't. I guess the next one's an opera. This was La Dame aux Camelias (I'd put an accent in, but I'm lazy and it's late), which is based on the book by Alexandre Dumas, fils. This story was also the story of the Verdi opera, La Traviata, which I liked more because I think I have more of an appreciation for opera than for ballet. But, the building was incredible! The chandelier is phenomenal, and now I think that The Phantom of the Opera is a crime for even thinking about defacing that wonderful building. The ballet was cute, I suppose. The dancing was enjoyable to watch - but the spectacular part was that I was watching a ballet in Paris! This ballet was probably the epitome of the perfect ballet. I'm sure every movement was flawless, the choreography was genius, and the lighting, staging, and scene changes were seamless. Even though I'm not able to recognize all that while I'm watching, I have a feeling it must be true. To me, it looked like a flawless performance - the dancers all seemed weightless all the time (and I'm sure for some of the ballerinas, that statement is almost completely accurate), and they were all coordinated from what I could tell. But, it was nice to see something perfect, even if I couldn't recognize it myself. The pit orchestra was certainly perfect - I wish they had had more to do, or even a little acknowledgement in one of the fifteen million curtain calls.

I suppose that my point is, I think it's really incredible that there's so much perfection in this one city. It's evident why it's such a center for France and even for Europe. I don't think any city in the United States can compare - New York comes close, but even New York doesn't have the tradition, the architecture, or the appeal that Paris has. It will be fun tomorrow to go to my literature class about how Paris inspires literature and learn a little more about what makes this city so great!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Loire Valley

I'd love to spend hours and hours writing a detailed description of all the castles, but I'm really tired and I have my ENS class tomorrow. So, to sum it all up, after a while, all the castles started to look the same. They were big, old buildings, each with a room for the king who may or may not have ever shown up, old furniture, tons of pictures (which mean nothing to me since I'm not in the art history class), and recently restored or added stuff to make it look more realistic. The most exciting part of the trip was Leonardo da Vinci's house, which had little models of all his inventions in the basement. Either that, or the bathroom in the Italian restaurant where Alexandra and I had pizza (great pizza, by the way - salmon, artichoke, and tomato). This bathroom was spectacular - the toilet seat spun around when you flushed, and sanitized itself! Then, everything was automated, including the hand dryer which used a laser and cold air to dry your hands. It was very science fiction.

Aside from the castles, it was interesting to meet all the international students in Paris. Alexandra and I met students from Russia, Argentina, Spain, Vietnam, Montreal, and the US, of course. It was neat that, for some of the people we met, the only language we could speak was French, but for the most part, the majority of the people seemed to speak English as a first language. The two French girls who were in charge basically spoke English half the time for the Americans who hadn't bothered to learn French well enough to understand basic instructions. It's fun to hear French people speak English, though. And, it was fun to hear different accents when people were speaking French. When I read The Count of Monte Cristo, I remember wondering what an Italian accent would sound like in French and now I know.

Here are some pictures of the castles.

Friday, February 12, 2010


No, I didn't spell it wrong - that's how the French spell it! And, since they care about philosophy much more than Americans do, I think we should go with their spelling. Anyway, this entry is going to be super short - it's past midnight and I have to wake up at 5:00 tomorrow to go to the Loire Valley (so, no blog entry tomorrow) with Alexandra and a bunch of other international students. It should be fun.

My philosophy course at La Sorbonne was much better than the Paris 8 one. Even if it hadn't have been, though, I still would have taken it - 9:00 on a Friday morning is preferable to 6:00-9:00 on a Tuesday night. And, this professor's actually French and really made the whole question of "What is man?" seem incredibly interesting. Plus, this will be a typical French course, unlike the ones at Paris 8. As a validation, at the end I will have to do a dissertation (in 4 hours, which seems easy compared to what Justine does at l'ENS on a regular basis: 7 hour dissertations without a lunch break!) and an oral expose. There might be more - I haven't given it a ton of thought. It seems like a very interesting basic philosophy course though, and I'll be reading really great texts and looking forward to seeing what we decide that man is. The most interesting part was when he noted that man is the only animal that poses the question of his definition.

I had another flute lesson too. My flute teacher here is great - he's really helping me nail down the most minute details of my playing. But, the annoying part is that these lessons are the only time I'm in Paris when I don't completely understand someone. The problem is the vocabulary, but it was better this time than last time. I'll give it two more lessons before I buy a French book about music and start memorizing vocabulary words.

Then, I taught English - I love teaching English! It's a ton of fun to see the problems foreigners have with my language. Half the time, the problems are exactly the opposite of problems I've had in French. For example, Jerome today had a problem with the expression: "The more I..., the more I ..." He didn't see why it was "the more" as opposed to just "more" like the French expression: "Plus je..., plus je..." I remember saying "Le plus..." But then, sometimes their questions make me wonder how on Earth anyone can learn English. The rules really just don't seem as well defined to me as French rules, but maybe that's just because I've been formally taught French more recently. Who knows? All I know is that the word "sew" makes absolutely no sense. At least "coudre" sounds like it looks.

Okay, I should go to bed so I can get at least four and a half hours of sleep. These castles better be worth it...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

l'OuLiPo again!!!

Today was "un jour oulipien" for me. Well, not this morning, when I woke up early to go to the TD (basically a discussion section) for the philosophy course at La Sorbonne ("What is man?" Hmm...I don't know...), but when I finally decided to ask a student, he told me that there were no TD's this week - they start next week. So, I woke up early for absolutely no reason. I'm very tired. Instead of going back to bed, which I knew I wouldn't be able to do, I went to l'Ile St. Louis and bought some pear flavored Berthillon ice cream. It wasn't as good as the salted caramel, but it was still good. As I walked through the snow and wind on the way back while eating my ice cream, I think everyone on the street thought I was insane. Good thing there's no thought bubble above my head that says: "This girl eating the ice cream while it's snowing is American." Hopefully, they just thought I was a crazy Parisian.

Then, this afternoon, I had my writing workshop at Paris 8 - I actually loved this course! It was a small class size, the professor reminded me a lot of my first writing professor at Hopkins (Jessica Blau - author of The Summer of Naked Swim Parties!), and the students were all very interested. In fact, I think I made a French friend too, though I shouldn't jinx it. She was in my literature class on Tuesday, but she had mostly talked to the other Americans while I was the dumb one talking to the Algerian (not that the Algerian wasn't nice, but she's not French). But, today, I talked to this girl, Christelle, a lot and she even went to the OuLiPo meeting with me. We talked forever and she said that I spoke much better French than all the other Americans at Paris 8 (apparently, we're everywhere). But anyway, about this course, it was a ton of fun. The thought of writing with constraints right there in class and then reading it out loud was a little scary at first, but the professor seemed to like what I wrote. It ended up being really fun. We worked with one constraint in particular - "Amplification" - where we took a short sentence and amplified each word without adding anything to the meaning whatsoever. For example, "Marcel becomes an author" (summary of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust) became (I wrote this one in French, but I'll translate) "The author of In Search of Lost Time and also the narrator of this work, through a long process, begins with his childhood and finishes at the moment when he is a man capable of putting stories, thoughts, and characters on paper for readers." Isn't it so cool? By the way, I was the only student who knew the first sentence of In Search of Lost Time by heart in French!

Then, the OuLiPo meeting - it was just like the other one, but I understood a lot more. And, la pièce de résistance, I talked to Jacques Roubaud! Yes I did! There was a huge crowd of people around him, but I went right up to him and said (in French), "Do you know Jacques Neefs" and he said "Of course" and I said "He was my professor last semester" and he said "But he's in the United States" and I said "Well, I'm American and a student at Johns Hopkins" and he said "Johns Hopkins, I went there last year" and then someone else started talking to him. But, the point is, he didn't realize I was American!!!!!!! I'm not sure how many exclamation points would be appropriate, but that was a good start. But, the guy Justine's dad knows wasn't there, so I couldn't talk to him. And, I didn't get a picture either. But tant pis, at least I talked to Jacques Roubaud! And yes, I realize that I'm the only person in the world who would be so excited about that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When it snows in Paris, we don't get the day off...

Then again, that might be because it only snowed for a little bit and then, once it stopped, it all disappeared. But, on the news tonight, they had shots of American tourists taking pictures of the Eiffel Tower in the snow. Why didn't I think of that?

This morning was my first day of the student teaching internship. It was pretty fun - the students were mostly typical French students in the sense that they didn't talk much, but as the class progressed, they started asking questions. Some of their questions were pretty hard to answer - I was supposed to be talking with them about politics and the media. Obviously, neither of those are my strongest points. But, it wasn't in depth at all. She just wanted me to explain to them the difference between Fox News and CNN and talk about Obama's weekly speech. I found it on the internet - he's really trying to pass himself off as F.D.R. with a "fireside chat." Every time they asked me what Americans think, though, I had a problem. How am I supposed to know what Americans think? There is no typical American and every American thinks something different. As far as I can tell, issues are pretty much split down the middle as far as Democrats/Republicans go, and any more detailed than that and I lose interest. It's like what they said in "My Fellow Americans." I don't remember exactly, but it was something like how there is no voice of the people because everyone wants something different. I think it went well, though, because they laughed a lot - I tried to make a lot of jokes. Then after the class, Laurence (the teacher) told me that I really speak French well, and that when a French person says that to someone, it's always sincere. She said that she's found in the United States, people will tell foreigners that they speak perfectly even if they have an accent, but French people apparently don't give compliments that often.

I walked around in the snow for a while, had a crepe, then went to Paris 8 for my course on Louis XIV. It seemed interesting, for a history course, but it definitely wasn't typical French as it was described to us. It was very discussion based, which wasn't good for me the first day since I don't know a ton about French history (just bits and pieces that I remember from AP Euro). But, I think that once I start reading the two textbooks (that the professor wrote) and learning a little more, I'll be able to do well. The good news is that the majority of the other students in the class are Poly Sci majors and not history, so at least I don't have a disadvantage because I'm not a history major. But now, all of those American history classes I had to take every single year when I was growing up seem a little useless since it can't help me at all with this French history class. Maybe, instead of teaching us American history every single year until high school with only small interjections about other countries, it would have been a better idea to teach us a different country's history every year. Well, it's just an idea.

Being at Paris 8 so much makes me very thankful that next year I'll be back at Hopkins! I probably mentioned this yesterday in the blog (I can't remember because it was really late and I'm really tired - next week will be easier without all the dumb backup classes), but it's really nice to have a campus where everything is right there. I have to take two different subways to get to Paris 8, and it typically takes between 40 minutes and an hour each way. ENS is closer - about twenty minutes by RER, but I only go there once a week and it's definitely worth the trip!! I'm going to Clignancourt (a newer La Sorbonne building) tomorrow, but if I remember correctly, it's about as far away from my host family as Paris 8 is. Then, the schools' libraries just don't seem that great, but that doesn't really matter since the National Library of France is RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET!!! Plus, CUPA told me they'd reimburse me for the entrance fees if I want to see the stacks there. I will definitely go in to see the books. Then, the final thing I miss about Hopkins is how nice the facilities are. The Paris 8 building is disgusting and the classrooms are freezing. Plus, it's just not pretty.

To finish up, since I should probably go to bed (course at 9:30 tomorrow...), I just spent a lot of time with my host mother showing her pictures of basically everything. She's in love with my picture of the frozen hot chocolate. I told her you can only get them in New York City, and she was really upset and started telling me to email Serendipity and ask for the recipe. Instead, I googled it - guess what, it's online! She said she's going to try to make it. Un chocolat chaud glacé - guess what, it doesn't make any sense in French either!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Paris 8

Now, I know I'm not supposed to compare, but I can't help it. Being at Paris 8 - St. Denis for twelve hours today was practically unbearable. Starting with the atmosphere - the three big, modern buildings feel like a community college. At least they're outside of Paris, though, because they would really look ugly in the city. The bathrooms are horrible too. Half of the toilets don't have toilet seats! There are signs everywhere reminding students to do their homework, and even though it's a non-smoking place, guess what - everyone smokes! It's also really far away from everything, so kind of inconvenient. The funniest part is, I wouldn't have been there for 12 hours (really 13 since I got there early to find out where all the classes were going to be) if CUPA hadn't have told me to pick so many backup courses.

At 9:00 this morning, I went to a backup history course, but it was cancelled. The only problem was, apparently no one knew. Everyone came to the class, but left after half and hour when the professor still wasn't there. Apparently, he was in Provence. So, I had time to read. Then, the French literature class on how Paris has inspired literature was mostly what I expected. That's why it was one of my priorities - I knew I would want to take it. The only problem was that, despite the 20 student registration limit, 40 showed up. It's nice to know that people at Paris 8 don't follow the rules. The four of us CUPA kids who wanted to take it were really nervous that we wouldn't get into it, but the registrar said we were welcome. Why did no one else talk to the registrar? So, after those first two courses, I decided that Parisian schools need to embrace the computer age and use the internet for practical matters such as informing students when classes are cancelled and enforcing registration restrictions. I skipped my third course for the day - it was a backup French literature course, but I had no real interest in it. Since I already liked the other one, I just didn't feel like going. So, instead, I took the subway to St. Lazare and went to MacDonald's for some free wi-fi. Then, I came back for my Paris 8 philosophy and literature class, which the more I think about, the more I think the cons outweigh the pros. Cons: the professor is Brazilian, so I can't understand her French accent very well; the course is from 6:00 - 9:00 on Tuesday nights; I think the philosophy level is too hard, though it doesn't seem like we'll be focusing on the philosophy; I think the literature/workload level is too easy (we'll be reading some things in English, which I definitely don't want to do); and it's a full 3 hours after the class before it, so I'd be stuck there unless I wanted to go to MacDonald's again, since it's not worth the hour-long trek home and back to spend an hour in front of the computer.

And, that was pretty much it. So, now that I've had classes at two different French schools, I can start comparing the two, and both of those to Hopkins. Basically, I'm very happy to be at Hopkins. Now, I realize I've been spoiled for a long time, and I'd like to remain spoiled. It's nice to have a real campus and nice bathrooms, and it's really convenient to have everything in one place. The library at St. Denis looks horrible too. I'm not sure about the one at l'ENS, but I have a feeling that one's incredible since I can't get in (I don't have an ENS card - I can't eat at their dining hall either...). The class sizes are much better at Hopkins than at Paris 8, and the students are much more active and just seem more interested, I suppose. Then again, I don't really know anything about the students who were in my classes today, since they didn't say a word. Of the five people who answered the literature professor's questions today, three of them (including me!) were American. Now, the students at l'ENS seemed very serious and intelligent, and the few who spoke in class were very impressive. I also liked looking at their notes - they were perfect! I suppose that's what happens when your teachers have the right to take your notebook at any moment and give you a grade based on how nice they are. I can't imagine a teacher doing that in the United States - I remember, especially in middle school, I would doodle in the classes that bored me, but I always got good grades.

What else? Well, I've been doing a horrible job making French friends. At l'ENS yesterday, I didn't talk to any of the other students because I figured I was going to have lunch with Justine afterward. That might not have been the best idea. I should really try to meet some French students I don't know already. I met one of Justine's friends, but I forgot her name and barely talked to her at all before they realized that I didn't have the right kind of card to eat at the cafeteria. Then, this morning, a girl asked me if she was in the right room for the history class, and I said yes and started talking to her. The problem was - she's American! She's a student at Brown named Leslie. In fact, there are tons of Brown students at Paris 8! In the literature class, I talked to a girl named Lina for a while, but she's not French either - she's Algerian. So, my goal for the rest of the week - make sure that when I'm speaking French to someone, that the person is actually French! And, hopefully next week will be better once I drop all the stupid backup courses (as long as my history course tomorrow and the Sorbonne philosophy class is manageable). Then, I will never have to spend 13 straight hours in those ugly buildings ever again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mon premier jour comme normalienne!

Okay, so I'm not a normalienne (an ENS student) - not really. I'm just taking one course there, but it was still exciting! This is the most ambitious course I've ever seen. From now until the middle of May, for two hours a week, we're going to talk about EVERYTHING! And I'm not even kidding - here's a really basic overview: we're talking about the history of literature, but since there are a million different histories, we're going to talk about all of them, including but not limited to the history of the novel, prose, poetry, theater, lives of authors, specific periods, etc. But that's not all. We're also going to talk about how your education (specifically high school education) affects the way you read literature, and we're also going to talk about the distance between the reader and the book and experiences that change the way you read (for example, you read the letters of Mme de Sévigné nowadays, but think of Proust, even though he came afterwards, just because he made a lot of comments about them in In Search of Lost Time). But...that's still not it! We're going to talk about labeling literary periods and how that's a limiting factor, and also about translation of foreign books and how that affects the literary history of a country. I think I'll stop there since no one will think this is interesting. Anyway, it's going to be a great course - a little scary, but great nonetheless. The harder the course, the more you learn, so I'm glad I'll learn a lot!

After the course was over, I walked outside into La Cour aux Ernests and started looking for Justine, but she saw me first. I'd say it was kind of awkward at first, but since the word "awkward" doesn't exist in French, situations here obviously can't be awkward. At first, she said (translation, of course): "This is weird" and then she kissed me on both cheeks, to which I responded: "No, that was weird." But, she said that in France you have to do that. My card for the regular student restaurants apparently doesn't work at l'ENS, which was a little annoying because I wanted to try the food there. I wonder if CUPA is going to get me an ENS student card, because that would be neat! So, instead of eating at l'ENS, we walked to a Lebanese place where we had interesting sandwiches and mint tea. I really like mint tea - we had it on the Monde Arabe visit with Michel too! Basically, she asked me a lot about the other Hopkins kids who I haven't seen since she last saw them. Then, I told her about my orientation courses and how interesting I thought French methodology was, especially the dissertation, and she called it "la torture française." Obviously, she's tired of doing nothing but dissertations for seven hours a day. Still, I bet she's really good at them by now! It was fun to see her again, considering I haven't in the past nine months or so. Lucky for me, I'll probably get to see her every Monday after my ENS course! So, even though the professors don't have office hours, at least Justine does!

I was told to explain the pictures - this is Justine. She was my French TA last year and is a philosophy student at l'ENS, in case that wasn't obvious. 

I had a guided tour of the Pantheon after that and got to hear a lot about its history, but I won't bore you with that, since I've already bored you with the ENS class. Plus, it's almost 1:00 in the morning and I have to wake up at 6:00 tomorrow to spend the entire day at school (9 to 9, lucky me!). After that, I taught Jerome some English. Did you know that English makes no sense? Why do you get into a car, but on a train? I couldn't explain why - I just told him that that's the way it is. It's so interesting to speak with someone who really loves the United States, but doesn't live there. He has English books that translate sentences into French that are used at La Sorbonne, and a notebook filled with problems. It's really funny - that's what I did to learn French! He said I speak really well, by the way. It's good to know that everyone has to go through exactly the same process to learn another language no matter which one's your first.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Le Marais

This morning, I had a "Somewhere in Time" moment. I was looking through my purse, and I came across a $20 bill. Luckily, traveling to Europe isn't exactly the same as what Christopher Reeve did in that movie, so seeing the American money didn't destroy the French illusion in my mind. That would have been disappointing - to have to go back before seeing the Jewish/gay quarter!

This is a picture of the little kids learning how to ice skate (see the next paragraph)

So, Le Marais. It is one of the oldest areas in Paris. Michel was so knowledgeable that I feel as though it's my duty to share everything he said with whoever reads this blog. We started at La Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, where there’s an ice skating rink. Alexandra and I watched the adorable little kids skating around, trying to touch their instructor, who ended up saying “Me touchez, ne me poussez pas!” (Touch me, don’t push me!) Then, Michel showed up, wasn't the slightest bit surprised at seeing Alexandra (because she had apparently told him already that we knew each other!), and started the tour. Michel started by telling us that the whole area was created when Paris started to expand beyond the two islands in the middle of the Seine. The kings started building huge castles on the banks of the river (like the Louvre and the castle at this place). But, all the land was swampy (the French word for swamp is “marais”) so they took sand and stone to dry the land up so they could build. This type of stone was called “grève” and when the workers would refuse to carry any more, they would “faire la grève” or go on strike. So, the area was originally called La Place de Grève, which some may recognize as the famous spot in Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo where Esméralda was hanged. Quasimodo and Frollo watched from Notre-Dame, which is right near there, and when Frollo told Quasimodo that he had caught the gypsy girl, Quasimodo pushed him off the top of the tower. Anyway, La Place de Grève was also where nobles were guillotined during the French Revolution (1789). So, that’s why they built the ice skating rink – the kids wear little blades on their feet. After Michel told us that, I definitely didn’t want to ice skate anymore…

This is the ice skating rink again, and the pretty building behind it.
These are houses from the Middle Ages.

Our trip through Le Marais was in chronological order. We started by walking by buildings from the Middle Ages (they’re easy to recognize because they’re not perfectly straight, have a lot of wooden supports on the outside, and are narrow), then moved on to Renaissance houses (which have paved entryways so the horse hooves could announce visitors and then a private outdoor area with geometrically perfect gardens in the spirit of Descartes!), then onto slightly later times with Louis XIII’s square (La Place Royale – renamed La Place des Vosges due to the Revolution) and then, finally, Le Marais.

This is the house from the Renaissance - note the "Cartesian" garden

I forgot to mention the Great Wall of Paris. They don't really call it that, but I think that name captures the essential idea. One of the kings during the Middle Ages had to leave to go on a crusade, and was afraid that Paris might be attacked during his absence. So, he built a wall around the city. The important thing about this wall is that it's not around the islands - it's actually on the banks. So, it was the first time someone thought of Paris as expanding beyond the river. 

The wall that was supposed to protect Paris. 

Le Marais is filled with Jews and gays, but I didn’t see any gays (then again, they aren’t always as obvious as the Jews). They don’t have signs on their buildings proclaiming that they’re gay, whereas the Jews have Hebrew signs everywhere. It was a great area, though. Everything was open on a Sunday, including a place where Alexandra and I got some great falafel (l’As de Falafel or The Ace of Falafel). And, we talked to Michel about the strange movie that he had Alexandra’s class watch for her class. When neither of us would give him a straight answer about how we liked the film, he admitted that, since he was supposed to tell them to see movies in theaters, if there weren’t any good movies out at the time of the class, then he was forced to tell them to see a bad one – so yes, he agreed that the movie was horrible!

The "I'm Jewish" labels were all over Le Marais.

This is enough of an entry for today. I want to go to bed now so I can get a good night’s sleep before my entrance tomorrow into the French educational system, starting with l’ENS, the hardest school here! And, after my course, I’m going to meet Justine in La Cour aux Ernests (the courtyard with the fish) for lunch. Hopefully, I’ll really feel like a French student! Then again, I’m being very French right now – I’m going to bed before the Superbowl even starts. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Today, we had a walk around Montmartre with Sabrina (the language professor of the Group 2 kids). Montmartre is adorable - with the cobblestones, and the shops, and, of course, Sacré Coeur. The entire area is one of the oldest in Paris, and Sabrina told us a few cute stories. Here's one: the Bistro was invented there. Bistro is a Russian word that means "hurry up," so one day, Russians came in and said "bistro! bistro!" and they got served a very quick meal. Now, Bistro means a restaurant where you can get a quick meal. That's the restaurant: Maison Catherine. 

This is where they invented the term "Bistro" (see the above paragraph)

After walking around forever, we ended up getting to the basilica, Sacré Coeur. Interesting tidbit - it's built out of a special type of white stone (imported from Bretagne) that gets whiter over the years (I may have already known this, but I'm writing it here because it's still interesting). So, unlike the other churches in France (and believe me, there are a ton of them!), this one has only been cleaned twice since it was built (construction started in the 1800's, though the last stone wasn't set until the 1900's). 

These are two views of Sacre Coeur - front and back.

Climbing down from the basilica was annoying. There are guys who try to grab your wrist and put a bracelet on it and won't let you leave until you pay them for the bracelet. Sabrina told us to put our hands in our pockets and guard our purses on the way down because they apparently had a problem on the first group. They noticed that someone had his hand in one girl's pocket, but luckily, they saw him before he stole anything. The bracelet guys are just really annoying because they really come after you. I'm pretty sure everyone made it down sans bracelets. 

The trip ended at Moulin Rouge. Apparently, that area is full of prostitution, but it's not on the street anymore because a recent law made it illegal for prostitutes to be on the street. Sabrina said it's a dumb law, though, because they all just moved inside buildings.

This one is already labeled - Moulin Rouge.

And, that was pretty much it. The walking tour made me so tired, I'm just going to take a French shower (a.k.a. bath), and go to bed. Tomorrow's blog entry should be interesting - we're going to Le Marais, which, as my host father told me, is the Jewish and gay quarter. They're either Jewish or gay, but typically not both, he said. Alexandra's coming too, because Michel (the methodology professor) is also her professor with the BU program. We're thinking he'll be surprised to see her! 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Faire du shopping...but at least I'm in Paris!

This is La Place de la Concorde (a major setting in a short story I wrote last year)

Today, Alexandra and I went shopping since the sale that's going on now (one of the only two a year in Paris) is going to end on Tuesday. I actually bought stuff too - a dress that was originally 180 euros and a shirt that was originally 120 (those prices are approximate - I'm too lazy to check the receipt). But, I got both of them for about 68 euros, I think, which really doesn't seem too bad. I figured this was the only time I'll ever be able to afford European clothes - next, I should buy converse sneakers because that's what college students here wear. All someone here needs to do is look at my sketchers to see that I'm not French. We also walked around by the Champs Élysées just to "faire du lèche-vitrines" (window shopping, or more literally, to lick the windows! I think it's a great expression!). Anyway, I hate shopping, but being in Paris, I figure I have to go shopping at least once. Plus, I rewarded myself with some French onion soup (which they just call onion soup here - go figure! Maybe it's like Buffalo and wings). 

This is French onion soup - really good!

Then, we saw a French movie: Les Complices. It was horrible. It was like CSI Paris, only with a ton more nudity. Alexandra fell asleep, and she's the one who has to write about what happened in this movie for her film class. It was disturbing, but there's a bright side to this too - I understood pretty much all of it! There were some parts that were a little difficult because of all the slang (the prostitution parts...yeah, it was a great movie...), but overall, I think I did a good job!

This is the most expensive street in the whole world

I suppose that's pretty much it for today. Oh, and I want to say that I think La place de l'Étoile is the worst traffic design EVER! No lanes, twelve streets, a big obstruction blocking the view, lousy crosswalks, and tons of cars. It's an accident waiting to happen - that's the last time I'm going back there! 

And that's me, in front of l'Arc de Triomphe.