Saturday, August 14, 2010

Paris, Je T'aime

My last post! I cannot believe it. As I sit here, eating chocolate for breakfast (pain choco aux amandes) I am saddened, thinking that this might be the last time that eating chocolate for breakfast is actually okay. Of course, you can do it in the States, but it's simply not half as classy (or half as well-made). Despite my initial wariness, and a really rocky first day here, and all the little bumps in the road along the way, I have been elated with my time here in Paris. Every day has brought something new, and exciting and marvelous. Paris is in my heart now, and it would take a seven nation army to keep me away for long.

Anyway, a quick spiel about my last few days here. I, of course, cannot sit still in Paris, when there's always something to be done and seen and explored. So even my last week was filled with activity. First, Thursday.

During my lunch break, I had plans to go shopping for gifts for my boss back home (Rich Rein) and for my bosses here (one more than I had originally planned on having). So I took a stroll down Boulevard St. Germain, hoping to run into a fondue store I had gone to my second week here. Apparently I went in the wrong direction, because the road stretched on forever and ever and ever until I practically passed the Louvre. I was in unknown territory, but it was quite enjoyable seeing all the high-end shops and cafes that I had yet to see. There were people shopping, eating, chatting, the sun was shining, my mood was great, I had money to spend. Good stuff.

I ran into an open market on the side of one of the streets and browsed the collection of handmade jewelry, cheap scarves, random crafts, and a very awesome soap stand. This little kiosk had a collection (a HUGE collection) of artisan soaps made in Marseilles, and you know how I can't resist things that smell good. I spent about fifteen minutes trying to decide which scented soaps to get my two bosses until finally the vendor chose for me. I believe she knows her soaps better than I do, I trusted her and paid for the two (only 6 Euros total!!) that she told me to buy. She even gave me gift wrappers! How nice. I wanted to grab three more for myself, but my suitcase is already heavy...sigh :-(

I then turned around and walked back the way I came, meaning to go back to work. But, of course, I saw an artisan chocolatier and had to go in! So I did, talked to the man working there, and he picked out a small box of assorted chocolates and gift wrapped it for me! And then...he let me try a piece of any chocolate I wanted. I chose chocolat au lait praline. Real French chocolate. MM.. I'm going to miss free chocolate.

And then I really did go back to work. But of course I peaced early (really, I'm so glad they weren't paying me) to go to Palais Garnier. Otherwise known as the Parisian Opera house. It closes at around 6 everyday, so I knew I would either have to go on a weekend or leave work early on a weekday, and weekends were always full!

In any case, this place is beautiful. I guided my self through all the floors, an exhibit honoring a former contralto (with some crazy lavish opera costumes), up and down the stairs, into the hall itself...and really, the building just screams nobility from every corner. Marble and velvet and huge framed photographs and columns and sculptures and gilded corridors and beautifully ancient epic. One day, I will have a box at an opera house. So very Age of Innocence. Or Anna Karenina.

So that was that and I was back in the Foyer for dinner, and a ton of packing (most of which I got done, impressively) before I found my way to the terrace for Foyer smoothie time! Pamina had signed me and her up weeks ago when we found out there would be free smoothies. Our counselor, Lucile, had a ton of fruits in huge bowls set up around two tables (as well as a few bowls of M/Ms and a ton of brownies and madeleines) and a blender that didn't initially work. It was freezing outside, but none of us really cared. We just wanted some fruity goodness.

So we each picked our own flavors, grabbed a few cups, went back for more and then Dorothee and I peaced to go take a walk (my last nighttime stroll... sigh) around the Marais and by Hotel de Ville and through Ile de la Cite, all the places I have come to love so much. It was a nice, long, relaxing (albeit chilly) walk on which we found a random fountain (they're everywhere!) and had some very nice conversation. I am, without a doubt, going to miss that girl.

Okay, on to Friday. The most eventful thing was that my co-intern, Rebecca, came back and the four of us went to lunch at a very high-end restaurant called L'Orangerie (which happened to be right next to where I live!!). We talked about the news, and the internship, and religion and food, and it was a very good meal. I got a main plate and a dessert, the former was the poisson du jour, filet du noir which is sea bass (I think?) with some really fabulous veggie puree and some kind of sauce that I would die for. The dessert was figue et mirabelle sorbet from Berthillon, served on some really nice China. Topped with a couple of berries and a leaf. Really, the French overdo it with the niceties. (They changed my silverware between the appetizer and the main dish even though I didn't eat an appetizer...)

Beatrice (my original boss, the Princeton alum) also had gifts for us both, very thin and portable and beautifully wrapped. I later opened it to find a gorgeous light pink scarf (which I am now wearing). Other than that, the day was quite uneventful. I took a lot of pictures of everyday things so I could remember them. I went to the Louvre (for the fourth and final time) to see the rest of the Egypt exhibit and as much of the French sculptures as was possible.

I then went out later for dinner with Pamina and Anne-Sophie (a French girl who lives in the Foyer) at my creperie, but we sat down and ordered. I, like an idiot, ordered la Bretonne, which is a crepe with honey, walnuts and rum that's lit on fire in front of you. The fire was cool. The rum, not so much. I have always hated alcohol, yet I keep convincing myself that one day I will like it. Nope, not true. So I let Anne-So finish the crepe.

Then Pamina and I took a walk around Le Quartier Latin, past the Pantheon, around the Sorbonne, past all the cafes and then we ate at McDonald's. All we got were fries (and really good entertainment by way of the very drunk and noisy people all around us) but this was no ordinary McDonald's. No no no. You simply don't understand. This McDonald's was CLASSY. See pictures:

And then we were cold (and tired of laughing so hard) so we called it a night and went back. On the menu for today: last touches on packing, a photography exhibit, perhaps a trip to the Luxembourg gardens, and then plane! Ahh. It went so, so fast. Sigh, life. Paris, tu etais comme un reve.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Home Stretch

Only three days left! How did I get here? I can't believe these six weeks have gone by so fast. Now that the days of this week are quickly speeding by, I find myself wanting to slow down time and give myself an extra week or two to continue to absorb the Parisian life, culture and history. There's too much here for six weeks to be enough time to do it justice. Sigh. Paris, tu vas me manquer.

Alright, on to this week. We'll start with the big one: Monday.

After work on Monday, I ran to the Foyer to put away my work things, grabbed an apple, and practically ran out to catch the metro to Concorde. I have no idea what Place de la Concorde is, besides a beautiful roundabout next to the Jardin des Tuileries, with two very impressive looking government buildings (I think, government buildings?) on two sides, and a pathway to the Champs Elysees on the last side. It also has two beautiful fountains a large Egyptian monument...thing. Ordered to be built by some King. To commemorate something. Yes, I know, I'm well informed. Google it. But, hey, it was beautiful! And the day was sunny! (Of course, I wasn't wearing my shades because it had been cloudy up until then. Great.)

After a bunch of more picture-taking, and an attempt to understand the inscription on the Concorde monument, as well as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, I started my walk towards the Champs Elysees. It was a nice, long promenade alongside a park (like everywhere in Paris) lined with nicely-pruned trees. A bunch of families were coming back with bags in their hands, finished with shopping and about to go have dinner, I guess. For me it was only the beginning.

Once I got on the Champs Elysees, I looked around for stores I wanted to visit as I walked towards the 3-story Haagen Daaz (it was hot and I needed ice cream). I got a mini cup of some peach, apricot, fruity sorbet with walnuts and almonds on top (I think). In any case, it was really tasty and took me just until I got to Louis Vuitton to finish it all. I had already planned on going to LV just to see what shopping in there was like, but when I got there I saw a LINE just to get in. Like the Eiffel Tower. Or the Louvre. I was shocked into amusement and decided that I had to go in. Also, I kept seeing people coming out with the designer shopping bags, and I wanted one just to say I had shopped there. I planned on spending a max of 60 Euros on a gift for either my father or my brother. Yeah. Funny.

It took me twenty minutes to get in and then I walked around, looking for something simple but classy. The first thing I saw was the cheapest: super ugly tiny wallets that each cost 107 Euros. That was the cheapest thing in the store. I would have run out right then if walking out without a bag didn't look so bad (they have guards, multiple, standing at the doors). So I continued my search for gifts upstairs. I asked a nice man, who walked me (WALKED ME) to the man who specialized, who hovered over me while I looked thoughtfully through their collection of *** (in case the recipient is reading this blog entry) choosing a color a style a design. It was incredibly intimidating. And this man looked painfully polite. As if he were speaking to me simply because someone was holding a gun to his head. Freakishly awkward.

I made my selection, he took my information (I had to fill out something oddly similar to an immigration card) and then walked my downstairs and asked me to wait while he put the gift in tissue paper, in a beautiful box and then added a gift receipt in an envelope and a receipt for me, all on designer paper. DESIGNER PAPER. Then he walked me to the door of the store, handed me the bag and then wished me a good evening. Most surreal experience of my life. NEVER going back to that store. Or anything that charges that much for anything. Ridiculous. There were teenage girls in that store shopping for handbags. How incredibly spoiled. Insane. I would never buy something that expensive for myself. Their bags must run upwards of 400 Euros, or 570 dollars.

I then, clutching my new gift bag like a paranoid bag lady, took a trip to the Arc de Triomphe. Sadly, entrance to one of the most famed historical monuments in the world cost me a fraction of a designer clothing article. Sigh this world. Anyway, the steps weren't half as tiring as people were making them out to be (people kept stopping to take breaks, weaklings!) and there was a mid-level (two I think) that had mini models of the arc and stone sculptures and historical videos playing, etc. Oh, and a gift shop. Can't forget that!

The view from the top was pretty incredible, though. You can walk around all four sides and see to all corners of Paris (most noticeable, Sacre Coeur which you can see from anywhere in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, which is virtually inescapable). I can imagine it would be magical to be there at night, but I can't stay out that late. Curfew and all. Also, I'm a helpless little girl in Paris by myself. Must not deviate from the parental constraints. (Enough with the bitterness. I'll be back one day.)

I would include more pictures but, as always, I'm running out of Blogger photo space. After my walk around the Arc de Triomphe terrace, I was done for the evening. Or so I thought. When I got on the Metro, instead of taking the Line 1 back to St Paul (very close to the foyer), I took it in the opposite direction, 17 stops away to the Grande Arche or La Defense, the business district of Paris. This place has crazy architecture and absolutely magnificent views. Here, see for yourself.

Spent a few minutes there, admiring and then peaced, still clutching my Louis Vuitton bag for dear life. And that really was my night. I had asked the Foyer to hold dinner for me, and they had: a tray with a small plate of salad, another of fruit, spaghetti, chicken, spinach, a dessert and a cup with a napkin and plastic utensils. So cute! It was a pretty good (filling) dinner. And that was my night.

Tuesday I was exhausted all day and ended up staying in, listening to the rain, and watching a lot of TV. Last night, I went to my favorite crepe place (next to the mosquee, which was closed by the time we got there) with a friend who was celebrating her 21st, and then we had dinner at the Foyer anyway (we were hungry...) I worked a bit on actual work stuff (since I no longer concentrate on work when I'm at the office) and then went out for ice cream with another good friend of mine. We went to Amorino, an amazing Italian gelato place on the island that I had yet to visit. The ice cream was incredible. It was priced based on size, not based on flavors. So I got three flavors in a tiny cone and they put heaps of ice cream on (all sorbet, of course) and shaped the different flavors into a flower on top of the cone!! It was ridiculous. My friend took a picture but I don't have it on me, alas. It was amazing though. So so tasty and worth every penny. We also went to MyBerry to get my friend froyo, on my suggestion. I've already been there several times so I wanted to try something else.

We took our ice cream and took a walk through Island, across a few bridges, sat down by the Seine and talked to some random guy and his friends who were also chilling by the river, got up, continued our walk and conversation, and were back to the foyer a quarter past 11. I will definitely miss moments like this most of all. So relaxing and beautiful and refreshing to be in Paris in the evenings with your friends. Something everyone should do at least once in their lives.

And that brings me to today! I had breakfast with the ice cream friend (Dorothee, a German) and the woman who works breakfast (Mary Jo) gave us Nutella! Even though it wasn't Friday! I almost cried from joy. It was like an unexpected treat. Love those. And now I'm at work. Ignoring work. Using the free internet. Wee.

Perhaps one more entry before I leave, and then we're done! A plus tard!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gaufre Debacle

Paris is cold. For a week and a half now, it has been cold and rainy and windy and gross. Disgusting. I thought this was supposed to be my summer vacation?

In any case, let's talk about Sunday and Monday! Sunday morning I grabbed the Metro with a Parisian friend, Edith, and an English friend, Jo, to Sacre Coeur, the church on a mountain that you can see from basically any peak in Paris. So, I'd already seen it from the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame when I went to Montmartre (the town that houses it) on Sunday. We got there before the noon mass, and already there were a ton of people sitting around on the steps, taking pictures and roaming around the souvenir shops that lined the cobblestoned streets. Despite this difficulty, we took pictures anyway as we climbed the hill of steps to get to the church.

So we climbed all the way to the top, right in front of the Church, and got a magnificent view of Paris (this is basically at the top of mountain, after all). Unfortunately, I did not spend enough time admiring this crazy view as we were immediately pushing our way through the crowds of the church to get a spot for noon mass. Guess what? No noon mass. At least we heard the end of the 11am mass (I looove church choirs) and got to admire the interior of the church for a bit. The interior is absolutely breathtaking, but I think that's true of most churches in Paris. Or in Europe, for that matter. Unfortunately, no pictures of the interior. You'll just have to go yourselves!

We then took a little tour around the outside of the building, back to its gardens which are absolutely beautiful. It has several little nooks covered in ivy and shaded by trees, with little benches inside. It also has a pathway of rocks lined by trees that make a green awning. In addition, there's a mini waterfall at the center where a bunch of birds were nesting and twittering away. Very calming environment. We wanted to sit and have lunch there, but first we had to get food!

So we took a walk through the town of shops and cafes and lots and lots of local artists hawking their very cool art (I almost bought a 45 Euro pop-art square with a painting of the Eiffel Tower...absolutely magnificent), but we were hungry and there was no time to waste, so we kept going until we found something that we were satisfied with. I immediately, using my sixth sense of French pastry-scavenging, found the best creperie on the block (and there were many). I ordered une crepe au beurre sucret et noisettes. It was pretty incredible. It was a humongous crepe with butter, sugar and walnuts and it took me a good twenty five minutes to eat. It was incredibly filling. So so good and worth every centime of the three euros I paid.

We found a park and sat down and ate for half an hour before continuing our walk through town, down some roads that Edith knew incredibly well (she had grown up there) until we got to the red light district of Paris. YES. So awesome. And guess what it houses? The Moulin Rouge. Crazy. I was so excited to get to see this, because I didn't think I would! I didn't realize it was such a short walk away from Montmartre. So of course, it was picture time.
So then we continued on a little walk through the district, marveling at the very interesting stores and cafes it We got on a bus (yay! finally on a bus!!) that took us magically straight to Isle St. Louis. And man, were we tired. But, you know me. always on the go! And I refused to waste the few hours that I had until 6pm (when I assumed I would be having dinner with two of my friends from the Foyer). So I grabbed some Berthillon ice cream (no longer worth the money, IMO) and hopped on the Metro to Chateau de Vincennes.

It was about 4:15 at this point, which gave me about an hour and a half or so at the chateau. This was nothing like Versailles. Versailles is huge and lavish and very touristy, and has grounds that stretch forever. This has two courtyards, several buildings that you cannot go into, a chapel and a dungeon. But, honestly, it was even better than Versailles. Its authenticity basically screamed at you. Instead of being like castle from a little girl's fairy tale it was like a castle from the historical fiction books you read as a fourth-grader, fascinated by the Knight of the Round Table.

The chapel was pretty, of course, but nothing mind-boggling. It had an exposition about angels who are musicians, which showcased sculptures, paintings and musical instruments from the 1500s and before. Things they grabbed from the collections of kings and queens and royalty of the past. Pretty well done. A security guard randomly started conversing with me about what I'm doing in Paris and such. Nice enough man. Didn't follow me for the rest of my tour around the chapel, which was a pleasant surprise.

Then: the dungeon. So so cool. They housed the Marquis de Sade here, as well as other famous names who wrote letters and little memoirs during their stay. This place was incredibly well-maintained. (Also this whole castle belonged to Charles V, who lived in the keep that houses the dungeons) Every room was labeled with the purpose that it once served: study, music room, wardrobe, bathrooms, etc. It had bridges and tiny windows and concrete doors and all that jazz. It was so easy to see exactly how this could have been from the 1500s. It was like being transported to another time. In fact, they had a room in which they had placed black/white "barcode posters" on the walls. Using an electronic handheld pad, you could scan the 'barcodes" and see exactly how that section of the room looked when Charles V lived here. Hard to explain, but it was cool.

I took a nice walk, up and down and up and down winding stairs as always, through the keep, seeing all the rooms marveling at how OLD everything was. So awesome. And then I took a nice stroll through the back courtyard, just to take pictures of the buildings that I could not get into and the whole grounds as a whole. It was a sunny/cloudy/not cold/not hot day, so just the perfect weather to enjoy something like this. And enjoy I did! Traveling alone has become my friend...well, not really. But you get the gist. It was nice.

I was back to the Foyer around 6pm, but lo and behold, one friend already had plans for dinner and the other was nowhere to be found. So I skipped dinner, cleaned my room and took a shower. I met Jo around 8pm in the reception and we went back to the Fete des Tuileries. I thought we'd walk around, grab some candy, etc. I didn't want candy though, just some food. But all the "real food" (and there isn't much at a carnival) was super expensive and not worth the line that we stood in for a few minutes. So I decided to have my first "gaufre" (aka waffle). I got a pretty gross-looking, unnecessarily large waffle with strawberry jam dumped on top. No fork, two napkins and a plate. Great. We walked through the gardens and found a bench to sit on while I ate this disgusting concoction. It wasn't even a good waffle. It was just a bunch of oil in the shape of a waffle with store-bought sugar-pumped jam. EWWW.

That wasn't very pleasant. What was pleasant? Afterwards, we took a walk through the gardens, past the Concorde, and towards the Champs Elysees. On the way, I found a crepe stand that sold me a crepe with ham and salt for 3 euros. And THAT, my friends, was real food. MMM delicious. It was getting dark then, but there were still a ton of people on the Champs Elysees, on top of the Arc de Triomphe, in one of the dozens of cafes that were still open, getting ice cream from the 3-story Haagen Daaz, doing some evening shopping. The lights were on and it was beautiful.

And that was pretty much it for my evening. I would write about Monday evening, but I actually have to start work at some point. And that point has come. A ce soir!

Monday, August 9, 2010

C'est pas gratuit pour tout le monde!

Pritha is having a bad morning. So before I talk about my wonderful, long, tiring weekend, I will talk about my morning. Woke up and was incredibly tired. Got up, showered at was at breakfast by 7:30 as usual. Enjoyed breakfast (bread was good for once), talked to friends, etc. Planned on taking a pastry to the Jardin du Luxembourg every morning this week but I just went back up to my room and took a nap instead. Left for work around 9 and decided no pastry this morning, just work, then a baguette from my bakery during lunch break and some grocery shopping for lunch.

Got to the crossing where my bakery is situated. IT WAS CLOSED. My heart almost stopped. Okay, I know most of Paris is on vacation. There is no one in my office but me most days. The bakery next to where I live closed about a week ago. BUT MY BOULANGERIE?? WHERE I PLANNED TO GO TWICE A DAY THIS WEEK UNTIL I LEAVE???? WHERE I ALWAYS GET MY LUNCH BAGUETTES?? HOW WILL I LIVE???????

I'm a bit distraught. I almost started crying. Of course, when bakeries close, they direct you to the next nearest one (which is usually about ten feet away) so I went to the one across the street and bought a couronne de choquette. It was quite delicious. Almost ALMOST mitigates the pain I'm feeling from having lost my bakery. Sigh. Now if my creperie goes on vacation too, I'll really fall apart.

Enough about that. On to Friday. I peaced from work at about 430 (I was actually quite productive that day), got back to the Foyer, ate a demi baguette (from my bakery....tears tears), grabbed my things and grabbed the metro at 5:10. Despite the half hour train ride, I still managed to speed walk from Bir Hakeim (the closest metro the Eiffel Tower) to the tower in about ten minutes. Thank god for my speedy legs. I love overtaking people on the streets. They never know what's going on.

Anyway, I get to the Eiffel Tower and there's a line. For people with reservations...there is a line. Huh? Yeah, that's right. So it took me about half an hour just to get the top (elevator only, of course), but that was so worth it. The view is incredible. The ride is actually pretty magnificent. Kind of like the Tower of Terror, although if this elevator drops, nothing will save you. First you go up to the first level (which is already quite high) and then you keep going all the way to the top (which is quite, quite high). Takes a while because you have to wait in the line for the elevator each time, with all the hundreds of other people. Anyway, the magnificent view:

Well, enough about that tower. It took me another half an hour to get down, and even though I speed walked so fast I practically ran to the Metro, I was half an hour late for my 7:30pm rendezvous with my friend Jo at the Louvre. In any case, the Louvre is free on Fridays so I decided I might as well stay for the remaining 1.5 hours the museum is open. Checked out the Medieval Louvre (where they had doors that were my height!) and part of the Egypt exhibit. I didn't finish looking at everything, of course, so I'm going back. For the fourth time. Don't judge me.

Saturday. I had to be at Gare St. Lazare for the Giverny Bike Tour (with the same company who conducted the Night Bike Tour) at 10am so I woke up at 6:30, did my laundry, had breakfast and left at around 9am. Got to the station half an hour early and prayed that I would find my tour guide (same one as before). Thankfully, everyone from the tour managed to congregate at the same spot and we introduced ourselves to Jackson and were off! 50-minute train ride. I sat with a New York couple who apparently bike A LOT. Interesting enough.

We got off at the Vernon station and walked to a shed nearby where our bikes were being stored. I, of course, as always, got the super tiny kid's mountain bike. I'm short and proud. We then rode the Vernon Market. Probably the biggest outdoor farmer's market I have ever seen. It had everything. Including clothing and shoes and underwear and jewelry. We had fifty minutes to shop for our picnic, during which time I bought berries, apricots, a peach, some meat casserole thing and (from possibly the classiest boulangerie I have ever seen) 4 macarons for 4 euros. Expensive, but possibly worth it.

With all our things on our bikes, we rode across a beautiful bridge to a park very close by and had our picnic. I met a lot of people, talked about school and my work and France, talked to Jackson the guide about France and India and we all shared our very good food. It rained, but only for 5 minutes, and then it was all well and good and we were off, once again, finally to Giverny! The bike ride was straight through a path for about twenty five minutes and it was extraordinary. Through a country side ,with small stone houses, overlooking mountains and hills. The day was cloudy, just the right temperature and it was very freeing to be so far from everything. Very enjoyable.

We reached Giverny and parked our bikes across a very cute pink hotel. (I would include a picture here but I'm running out of space on Picasa) We walked to the entrance of the Museum and Gardens and then were on our own for about 1.5 hours. So I explored, as always. Gardens, Water Lily Pond, the house, the workshop, everything. And it was beautiful. Exactly like Monet's paintings. The gardens are perfectly maintained, pruned and arranged. There are archways everywhere, a couple of chicken coops on the side, pathways carefully marked. Looks just like a painting.

The house is very cute. Almost everything in it is original and has been restored and perfectly preserved. There are paintings and photographs (prints and copies) everywhere, along with original furniture and the Japanese prints by which he was inspired for his own art. No pictures allowed inside the house, unfortunately, but the exterior was photogenic enough:

After the house, I continued through the gardens until I arrived at the tunnel that goes underground and comes up at the park with the water lily ponds (completely constructed and engineered by Monet, inspired by the Japanese). Here, there are little bridges and pathways and large bridges and archways and weeping willows and beautiful shrubbery, all pointing to the main attraction: the water lily pond, clear and shallow and gorgeous in the light. The whole effect of the landscape was impeccably created, right down to the empty kayaks waiting under the willows. Beautiful does not even do this place justice.

After reveling in this magic, I saw Monet's workshop (now turned into a boutique of incredibly over-priced, unnecessary items) and then we all gathered again across the hotel where we parked our bikes. After a quick hunt for the missing Kiwi girls who had somehow passed the bikes and gotten themselves lost in Giverny, we were off. And then it was pouring. For our entire 25-minute bike ride back to Vernon, it was pouring pouring pouring rain. And did we stop? No. Did we get soaked? Yes. We were absolutely drenched and disgusting when we got back on the train. Thankfully, we dried off a bit during the train ride back to the station. Unfortunately, I was wearing jeans. And they were soaked. Also, mountain bikes do not have fenders to keep off the dirt. So I was dirty and soaked. Wonderful.

In any case, I had a very nice chat with a Colorado college student here with her boyfriend on the way back to the train, and then a very nice conversation with an Englishwoman from LA about the movie industry, of which she is a part. She has been to the film festivals that I only dream of attending. She has a friend with an Oscar, for god's sakes! She gets preview screenings of the Best Picture nominees! Ahh. So cool.

So after all this, I was very tired. Got a baguette and had some pate for dinner with yogurt. Borrowed "Crash" from the foyer DVD collection and watched it in English with French subtitles (borrowed a laptop from my friend who pointed out to my that my own did not have DVD playing capabilities). Left halfway during the movie to walk to my creperie, get an egg/ham/salt/pepper crepe for almost no money (sooo tasty) and then ate the crepe while watching the rest of the movie. Fabulous movie.

I was super tired afterward so instead of going out, as planned, I crashed. Good, good day.

More on my weekend later!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ici, on se partage le monde

So I realize that I have fallen inexcusably behind in recounting all my days and all my stories. Unfortunately, I am out almost every night enjoying myself, and rarely have the time (or patience or energy) to blog about it, with pictures and everything (especially since blogger will no longer let me post pictures...sigh). So I've decided to recap the highlights of last week, the highlights of this week and then talk about the most important parts. Onwards.

Last Week:

Went to the Jardin du Luxembourg, went shopping for secondhand books, went to the Musee D'Orsay, saw the Jardin des Plantes, passed by the Mosquee de Paris, ate a ton of crepes, went for drinks at a nice bar, spent the day at an adventure park beating up my body, went back to the Louvre, explored the Centre Pompidou, ate more crepes, went to the Fete des Tuileries, rode the highest ferris wheel in France and got a chawarma in the Jewish district.

This Week:

Went shopping for myself, bought my mom a present, bought Nathan's mom a present, bought Bbach's mom a present, saw an incredible exposition at Hotel de Ville (where the mayor's office is located, and where he lives), bought Sarah a present, saw Victor Hugo's old apartment, went to Place des Vosges, spent an evening by the Seine with friends playing games, took the metro to Fauchon Paris (a gourmet grocery store) and bought myself some gourmet hot chocolate and pate (french meat spread), went back to the beautiful exposition, bought my roommates presents and went to the Paris Film Festival on the Champs Elysees with girls from the Foyer.

My favorite park of this week was, without a doubt, the exhibition that I've seen twice now (and will probably go back to before I leave). Called Paris D'Amour, it is a free exhibition of wedding photography taken by a professional French photographer in Paris. He captured moments during the wedding day, before the wedding, preparations, during the wedding, at the reception, moments that are symbolic and moments that you wouldn't think to capture. Almost all in black and white, and displayed on walls of red and black with really low lighting, interspersed with little quotes and anecdotes from couples and people in love and the like, it spoke to me. It moved me to tears several times.

The pictures were absolutely magical. Moments you wouldn't even think to get on film. A bridge walking down a beautiful set of stairs. The groom's side trying to kidnap the bride. Two children kissing in the foreground while the husband and wife-to-be are photographed in the background. The hand of a bride with the word, "oui," written on it, reminding her what to say at the altar. The flower girl and ringbearer waiting patiently among the guests. Just some beautiful beautiful images. And what made it better were the non-traditional, quirky, quippy, sincere one-liners and anecdotes sprinkled throughout. So nice.

Some of the phrases also spoke not about love, but about Paris in general, another reason why I started tearing up. This is it, my last weekend, my last hurrah and then one more week of a tiny bit of tourism and a lot of time with friends, relaxing, and then I'm gone. And you know what? I really really love Paris. And will be heartbroken to leave it behind. It has been good to me.

But I'm going to enjoy every moment I have left. Soak it up, breathe the Parisian air, live la vie a la parisienne. (also eat a ton of chocolate: this morning I had nutella with bread and a ton of gourmet hot chocolate for breakfast, then a crepe with nutella and coconut with a large hot chocolate for lunch. I thought I would explode and bleed chocolate). Tonight: going up the Eiffel Tower (finally!) and then back to the Louvre with a friend (third time!).

A demain!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Most Obnoxious Painting in the World

Okay, so on to Sunday. I had plans to wake up super early and get to the Louvre at 7:30 (it was Free Museum Day, like every first of the month) so that I could avoid the huge crowd of tourists. Unfortunately, tired as I was from the crazy physical activity the day before, my body basically falling apart, I didn't wake up until after 8 and didn't get to the Louvre until 9. My body was aching all over. If you had seen me, you probably would have thought that I was in a terrible, terrible mood.

In any case, I got to the Louvre at 9 and, of course, there was a huge line of tourists stretching around the main pyramid, around the front courtyard, through the arches, into the back courtyard. Thankfully, it only took me half an hour to get in. (When I looked out the window at 11am, the line stretched all the way around the back courtyard. Hah.)

So, the first thing I did, of course, was go see the Mona Lisa, to a) make sure I got that done with and didn't have to go back for it later and b) to avoid the crowds that were still pouring in. Of course, I went up several stairs and passed several halls of paintings, ignoring all the Italian art, before I got to the room specifically called "La Salle de la Jaconde," La Jaconde being the formal name of the Mona Lisa. And of course, there was a crowd. Snapping pictures.

That wasn't the surprising part. The actual Mona Lisa is incredibly obnoxious. It's a tiny, tiny painting, maybe 60% smaller than most of the other paintings in the Louvre, set in a glass showcase, towards the bottom end of a huge rectangular slab of wood in the center of the wood. Maybe five feet in front of the showcase is a semi-circular banister and maybe twenty feet out from that is black tape (the kind in airport waiting lines) on all three sides, marking the boundary for the crowd. So, the closest you can get to the painting is about thirty feet. Maybe a bit less. So incredibly obnoxious. Of course, I took a ton of pictures anyway.
So that was that. Afterwards, I went through all the Italian paintings, all the Spanish paintings, and even finished the French paintings that I had not seen the last time. It was difficult this time around to see everything, simply because there were so many people everywhere. Crazy tourists. I also wandered into some rooms that I did not intend to and saw some graphic art, sculpture and antiquities. My feet were dying with every step, my legs were aching, my arms were crying and my stomach was growling. But I forged on, determined to see as many paintings as I could. Oh, and this: (apparently it's famous..)

I also saw my favorite room in the Louvre, La Galerie d'Apollone (or some spelling variation of that). It had a bunch of silverware, cups, goblets, jewelry boxes and other antiquities from prominent French families throughout the ages. It also held the Crown of Charlemagne (created for Napoleon the 1st...I don't get it either) and the crown of some empress.. (yeah, I forgot, sorry).

But the best part was the room itself. Beautiful. Paintings of prominent French mathematicians, kings, philosophers, lawyers, etc. adorned the walls which were otherwise painted and gilded. The ceiling was covered in netting because it is currently undergoing renovation, unfortunately. Still, the room is incredible.

Also, basically all of the Louvre is beautiful. It should be an attraction in itself. Forget the amazing works of incredibly expensive art it contains within. It is, in itself, a work of art. So much I still haven't seen. Oh well. Future trips to Paris!

Okay, so after the Louvre (in which I planned to spend three hours and only spent two and a half on account of my pained body), I decided to go in search of crepes. I (against my better judgment) went back to the crepe place where Maria had bought a crepe the night before (as she said it was delicious and well worth the higher tourist-induced prices) and bought myself a crepe au beurre et sucre. It was incredible. Delicious. The butter literally melted and fell out of the crepe...on to my dress. That was unfortunate. I had a butter stain on my dress the rest of the afternoon.

Well, on to Centre Pompidou. I magically managed to walk a good twenty minutes and find the place. I guess the big tip-off that I had found it was the fountain, surrounded by people, with large plastic sculptures in it. Yes, modern art indeed.

I went around to the entrance, which is basically a huge ramp full of people selling cheap knick knacks, tourists chilling, residents chilling, and little kids running around. Centre Pompidou, in fact, is not so much a museum as a cultural center. It has galleries and expositions and a two-floor museum, but it also has shows, a library, a media center and a kid's workshop (and more, I believe). Very nice place to bring kids to.

Again, worth the free trip. Also very interestingly constructed. Looks like an industrial building. except for the strangely-colored escalator that takes you up all (six? seven?) floors. Also looks unfinished. But the inside is quite cool, with its bright neon signs and futuristic architecture. Very carnival meets modern decor. Like a fun park for interior designers. So immediately, I start following the crowd up to the fifth floor, where they have their modern and contemporary art, 2-level museum. (Also, view from the top:)

Walking around, looking at all the collections and women contemporary artists and French art from the mid- to late-1900s, I realized that, well...I don't really like contemporary art. The collection of elles@centrepompidou (the female contemporary artists) was a very angry, frightening, graphic and disturbing collection of silent films, films with background audio, photographs, torture devices, and other very strange things. Lots of anger and frustration and resentment from every corner. It was very strikingly displayed, with darkened rooms for the projections and little booths for viewing the videos (and there were warnings in several rooms that "certains oeuvres peuvent heurter la sensibilite du public" but it still really freaked me out. The only cool part was the furniture, where I saw a glass table on bicycle wheels. That was cool.

I did almost all of the contemporary art, and then moved on to the modern art, which I liked even less and so only skimmed through. Also, my body was still begging for some solace, so I decided (after only an hour of wandering) that I would skip the "Dreamlands" exposition that I wanted to see on the next floor, and simply walk home instead. I, of course, had no idea where I was but, like always, managed to find a main road and wander back to the Foyer. I have gotten really quite good at that.

So then I went back, showered, and took a nice, long nap before having a semi-dinner and leaving with Maria to go to the Fete des Tuileries, where we would finally board the Ferris Wheel of Paris. Of course, we passed by the Louvre and the arch in front of the Louvre, and the Jardin des Tuileries (which is absolutely beautiful, like every other park in Paris) and so took a ton of pictures. Like always.

We also took a moment to sit by the fountain in the garden (one of many fountains, actually) and eat chocolate waffles that we had bought at a cheap tobacco store the night before. MM.. delicious. They were actually pretty good, although we got chocolate all over our hands. I also saw a woman eating a candied apple (which I haven't had in YEARS) and asked her to direct me to where I could find them. She pointed to the carnival taking place (with carnival games, little rides, sugary candies, the works) right next to the Ferris Wheel. And then it was Ferris Wheel time.

It was a ridiculous amount of money, but so worth it. We went around three times, super high and pretty slowly (with really cheesy dance music playing in the background) and got incredibly panoramic views of all of Paris. The lights were just coming on everywhere, but there was still light outside, and it was simply magical. So nice.

Afterwards, we took a little stroll through the carnival, laughing and smiling at all the lights and such (yes, cheesy, but it reminded me of the good old days when I could eat all that crap and not worry about gaining 30 pounds) and then took the metro the Marais (very close to where I live, and a historic, Jewish neighborhood). It was time to finally taste the famous Parisian falafels at L'As du Falafel (which always has a line, no matter what time of day or night).

It was getting dark then, but we stood in line anyway and I ordered a chawarma (which I guess is like a falafel, but with turkey?). It was highly amusing seeing dark-skinned Middle Eastern chefs speaking to me in French (and in fact, I didn't understand him when he asked me if I wanted sauce piquante, or hot sauce). After really quickly throwing a bunch of stuff into a pita, wrapping it, and getting me a couple of forks, he gave me the chawarma wrapped in tin foil and I just stared at the behemoth I was meant to eat. It was basically pita bread, filled with pieces of turkey (and maybe chicken?), some kind of yogurt, onions, lettuce and other vegetables and a bunch of other goodness (no hot sauce, unfortunately...). It took me a good while to eat, both with a fork and with my hands. I thought I was going to get it all over my clothes.

It was quite filling, but also quite good. So that was Sunday (yes I'm falling really behind at this point). Hopefully I'll have a chance to write again, later today.

*Also quick story about Saturday. I ran to the bakery next to the foyer Saturday morning to grab a demi-baguette for breakfast but only had 50 centimes, and it costs 55 centimes. So I told the baker that I would owe him 5 centimes and he said okay and let me go. Later that day, I got back late from the adventure park and was afraid the bakery would close so I grabbed five centimes and ran to the bakery (people were staring and laughing) and handed the woman and man standing outside 5 centimes (different man, but very nice, always says hi to me when I pass by). They both smiled, asked me if that was why I was running, took the money and then offered me a croissant. Free of charge. So I went inside and the man handed me a huge croissant. Where else can you do something like this? Nowhere. I love Paris. (Also, he then reminded me to breathe.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pritha, combien mesure-tu?

Okay, here it is: last Friday and Saturday. Let's start with Friday.

The morning on Fri held nothing interesting. Went to work as always (earlier than usual), was bored as always, came back to the Foyer for lunch yada yada. Started falling asleep at work around 3, like always, and so peaced early around 4:30 because I literally couldn't take it anymore. I decided to walk to the Jardin des Plantes and the Mosquee de Paris before going back to the Foyer, as both are really close to my work.

Went first to the Jardin des Plantes, which is incidentally in a pretty shady area of the city. Back streets and run-down buildings and all that jazz. The garden itself is huge and comprises several natural history museums. It's basically an ode to nature and evolution. There was a greenhouse that I wanted to see, but everything started closing when I wanted to go in. Fortunately, I was tired and didn't care that much about not being able to walk around and stare at things that I could probably find in the States. So I just took a quick stroll through the park and took pictures instead. (Also, parks really suck when you're by yourself. Just a tip.)

The place was quite pretty, and had nice "labyrinth" that you had to go through shrubs to get to. Also had a nice gazebo at the top, which served as some kind of a lookout.

And, like I said, impressive-looking buildings (like all of Paris) that were actually museums (that were closed).

Okay, onwards. I then got lost for a while trying to find the Mosquee, but when I finally did, it was unmistakable what the building was. Beautiful architecture, and definitely unlike anything else I had seen in Paris. This place is impossible to miss.

I went in through what looked like the main entrance only to find an Islamic restaurant. Not what I wanted. I then asked a man, who told me the main entrance was on the right. So I went out and walked around the entire building until finally I came to the main entrance, only to learn that...the place was open EVERY DAY BUT FRIDAY. Sigh. At least I got some pictures.

Disheartened, I thought I'd get myself a crepe, as I was really craving one. On my way back to the Foyer, I passed by a cute little cafe called Le Cactus that seemed to be open, as the doors were open and music was playing inside. The crepe menu looked pretty reasonable and delicious, so I went inside and waited for a few minutes. Seeing no one, I turned to leave but a man came out of nowhere and greeted me. So I turned back, surprised, and ordered a crepe au caramel beurre sale. He went off to make it and another random man popped out of a door that was apparently on the side of the bar...very strange. It was pretty much me, this second bartender, and the bartender's sometimes-friend chilling in the cafe. I waited a good while and was starting to get upset when the first man came back out, walked straight to me, and handed me a humongous crepe, wrapped in tin foil, wrapped in several green napkins. It looked beautiful. I stammered, not knowing how to respond and paid him. Then I tried to figure out how to carry/hold this gigantic, dripping crepe. I somehow stumbled out the door as he bid me a fond farewell, and worked very hard to keep the dripping caramel off of my iPod.

I did, but did not keep it off my shirt. Whatever. So worth it. This was the crepe of my life. Incredible. Huge, tasty, well-made, perfect. I vowed to go back. So I went back to the Foyer and told my friend Pamina about my wonderful crepe-y day and told her that we needed to go back that night. We did, after dinner, but by then it had turned into a slightly-shade, completely-dark, men-only bar. Alas, no crepe for Pamina. (She then got a crepe from another random street stand with an Indian chef who tried to converse with me in Hindi. That crepe was nowhere near as good, though.)

But Pamina and I continued on our nighttime stroll through the 5th, looking at all the restaurants and cafes filled with tourists until we found a brasserie we liked on a side street. We sat down in a supercomfortable booth, ordered drinks, and enjoyed the fabulous live music that was playing right next to us. There was a gorgeous French woman singing popular American songs and a white French guitar player, who rapped the Kanye part of "American Boy" in French...awesome stuff. Once it hit 11:30 though, we decided it was time to head back, but I got another crepe (don't judge) and we took our time walking back to our residence. Another fabulous night in Paris.

Saturday. The day of accrobranche. This was basically an adventure/ropes course with wooden bridges, cables that you have to walk across, trees to climb, about an hour from Paris. There were seven of us going with the counselor so we had breakfast together, got all our stuff together (I woke up poor Maria, desperately seeking sneakers) and headed off to the Metro carrying boxes of picnic food.

Once at the park, we were all instructed to sign waivers (yeah, it was serious), put on our restricting protective gear that would hook us to cables/trees/ladders and ensure our safety at all times, had a quick safety and instructional lesson from poor Bruno (a young man harassed by all the girls in our group) and then went off to choose our courses.

A couple of my friends and I decided the red course (second-to-hardest) would be the best to start off with. I was fearless. I told myself, you can do it, Pritha. No, no I could not. The first station itself was a rope bridge held up by two cables, and you had to step on thin wooden logs and stretch your legs from one log to the next to get across. The logs moved when you stepped on them, so you also had to balance. Not fun. Not fun at all. I did another bridge, a zip line, a square rope ladder, another zip line. Until I got to Tarzan. A girl before had jumped onto the Tarzan-style rope and had not managed to swing across and grab the rope ladder in front of her (as required) and was now just swinging there, freaking out, going out of her mind with fear. So, of course, I decided it was time to throw in the towel. Stressed, Bruno had to come tell me how to jump onto the rope as necessary and then slowly lowered me down. Phew. Scary stuff.

A bunch of girls finished the red course and went on to the black one (which was really not funny at all. It was deadly). They clearly did not finish the black, although they got astonishingly far. Me, I decided to do the green course and then the really long zipline (which wasn't scary at all) and then eat and walk around. We all picniced together before the other girls decided they had enough energy to keep going. I, alas, definitely did not. So I chilled and followed those on the black course, thanking God I had not decided to follow them.

We came back around 6, our bodies aching and our souls weary, but with a lot of new friendships formed and bonds made. We all were wondering whether or not to keep our respective plans for the night. Most of us did not want to. Some of us went straight to sleep. I showered and went out with my friend Maria to picnic on the Pont des Arts and do the largest ferris wheel in Paris. Never happened. I started feeling awful when we were almost there and we turned back and went home. We did take pictures, however. (Of course.)

After I took a little rest in my room, Maria and I went out again. I got some incredible plain yogurt with mangos from MyBerry and then we walked to Notre Dame to watch all the street performers contact juggle and play with fire. I started freezing soon, though, so we didn't stay out too long and went back, vowing to do the ferris wheel the next day.

More to come!