How long has it been since I last wrote anything of substance? I kept wanting to write something (as every day I don't write equals another day where I have to write even more until I must eventually shackle myself to my computer and develop carpal tunnel syndrome), but the desire to plop down on a mattress and do absolutely nothing kept winning out. Six days in Paris during new student orientation feels more like a month during which one suspiciously picks up little French. [sigh]
Paris is beautiful—I'm sure you knew that already. Every new place I go to makes me go "whoaaa" or "holy crap", but not too loudly or else I will be the annoying American tourist. I've already leaned to whisper in certain places as to not make my booming, grating voice reverberate too much where it may disturb humans with normal voice levels. Or super hearing.
But I'll start from the beginning before Paris looked pretty. All new students are initially housed at the FIAP, a hostel-ish place in the 14th (I'll refer to arrondisements every now and then) before receiving permanent housing. As soon as we arrived at the FIAP from the airport in semi-conscious, eyes half-opened jetlagged states, we had to stand in line to obtain orientatinon related material for...a while. A long while.
For all potential Paris study abroad students, prepare for THE INTENSE FUN THAT LIES AHEAD!!! But don't worry; it's only the first day when you have to wait around forever and go to a bunch of activities and talk to a hundred people whose names you don't remember.
My room had four beds and as I was the last one to arrive, I ended up with the top bunk. Yay, I love climbing stuff. I especially liked the showers that would release water for about 30 seconds until the depressed button became...undepressed. Ye know, like those annoying faucets in public restrooms. I'm not complaining; the water felt like the best thing in the world after marinating in my own sweaty clothes for god knows how long.
Although my free (although I'm sure I paid for it somehow through school fees) dinner at the FIAP was only memorable for being bad, Sunday's breakfast was much more impressive. I picked a darker croissant for optimum crispiness and was overjoyed to bite into something that tasted like butter if it were made of a gazillion layers of dough and had a light-as-air crust. This one croissant, probably nothing out of the ordinary in Paris, was probably better than anything I had ever eaten in the US. Seriously. The freshness of it made a big difference, but I'm sure the 99% butter content did too. Although I tell people that I'm not a big fan of croissants, that may only refer to croissants outside of France. :P
This fairly unusable car sat outside the Glaciere metro station (the closest one to the FIAP) all throughout Sunday. I suppose it had burned up the night before. The French aren't kidding when they say they don't like to do things on Sunday. ;)
However, I did find a few places that were open on Sunday, like this bakery further down from the metro station. Palmiers, like croissants, are another baked good that I was never insanely drawn to in the US, but I had never seen one like this before. Instead of the puffy pastry I was accustomed to, this version consisted of tightly packed, solid layers that weren't too soft or crispy. Although I didn't love it to bits, it was definitely worth eating.
The Paris Metro is very easy to use, at least compared to NYC subways. One major difference is that doors don't automatically open in the metro cars—you have to lift a handle or push a button. The cars also beep right before the doors close so you don't get various body appendages stuck between them.
What I love about the metro is that the maps and signs are extremely clear. Perhaps due to below-average brain functions I've become confused a number of times while navigating the NYC subways. So far I haven't gotten hopelessly lost in the Paris metro, even when going through long transfers between different lines. Who would think large, brightly lit signs and simple line maps could be so useful, ye know?
On Sunday afternoon (...oh god, I'm still on Sunday?) I went to the Notre Dame with Tesia, a fellow NYU visiting student, just to kill some time. Obviously, you probably shouldn't eat anywhere around major tourist areas or else you may pay 3.50 euros for a can of soda. Earlier in the day I had bought a 1 liter bottle of water from a little grocery store for 0.80 euros near the FIAP.
Once place that you SHOULD go to near ND is Berthillon, probably the most famous ice cream maker in France. While I don't know if I saw the main store, a gazillion cafes in the same area sell Berthillon ice cream; walk around and you'll find it somewhere. I joined a bearable line outside a cafe on the corner of rue Jean du Bellay and quai d'Orleans (if you haven't already noticed, I'm not giong to bother typing accents..yes, I'm so evil!). Two tiny scoops of creamy pistachio and caramel ice cream that started to melt immediately upon freezer liberation set me back 4 euros. Was it worth it? Welllll...the caramel is awesome as noted by other foodies and the pistachio was the most "real" version I've had (as in it contained real pistachio chunks and was not artificially colored luorescent green), but I actually preferred Otto's caramel gelato. I hope that's not sacrilegious. Definitely go to Berthillion if you get the chance, perhaps on a day that isn't too hot so that your cone doesn't become an ice cream soup cup.
Oh yeah, that's the Notre Dame. And me. It's a good thing you can't tell how tired and sweaty I was at the time. During my time here so far I'd say that any time I haven't been sleeping or in the shower is when I've been tired and sweaty.
I'm afraid I've become too lazy to write real content. Lookie!...building! This is in Montparnasse, which (I think) is famous for a tall ugly black building that has a great view of the city. In the left side of this photo you can see a Starbucks. HA HA HA, IT'S AMERICA.
Here's a ceiling in one of the classrooms I saw on a campus tour. Nothing special, ye know, just...an ornate mural. In a classroom. With a very high ceiling.
This is where I'll be living for the next four months. Yeeeup. I ended up doing a homestay with an American family, for all people. ;) No, I didn't request an American family, but that's what I was offered by my housing advisor and I think it worked out for the best since my homestay mum, who is very familiar with Paris, can give me useful information without any language barrier. The insanely nice apartment is in the 16th near the Trocadero, which if you're familiar with Paris you'd know is a very...nice area. Yeah, I'm just going to stick with "nice" until I walk around and see what else is around there. The apartment is a convenient 10 minute bus ride from my school's campus, which is across the Seine in the 7th.
While I had been told many times that just attempting to speak French is usually enough to keep French shopkeepers from hating you, so far I feel like...erm...no, nothing will be good enough. I know very little French, but I always try to speak it when I buy something in a bakery, despite that my French is so horrible that I'm obviously American or a rude French person who speaks very poorly. It's a good thing I like baked goods so much or else I'd just go hungry...such as today when I felt so freaked out by the prospect of again being the clueless American who doesn't know how to order a sandwich that I realized it was easier to just skip lunch. [tummy grumbles] I may grab something on the way home, perhaps a baguette? I don't know. At least I know there's fruit at home.
Maybe I'll get used to shopkeepers looking at me as though I am something unsightly stuck to the bottom of their shoes. My student advisor warned me that this may continue for a while. [sigh]
It's not all bad, of course—it's just that you tend to remember the bad more than the good. Thankfully I've had one very nice experience that I typed up a few days ago yet never finished since I was in that "tired and sweaty" state. After I post this entry I'm going to go home and find something edible.
I dragged my two suitcases across Avenue d'Eylau to my new home after saying a horribly American-accented "au revoir" to the cab driver who spoked enough English to ask me if I spoke any French. (Not really.."un peu"?) After entering the front gate, I noticed two young women and a guy sitting and chatting on the steps up to the apartment entrance. The two women were dressed in cute, casual dresses and the guy was wearing dressy (but kind of casual...yeah, I have no idea how to describe clothing) trousers and a sports jacket. Basically, they were nicely—although not overly—dressed for "sitting and chatting outside on the steps with friends" and looked like they had walked out of a catalog for 20-somethings, except they looked friendlier and not like scowling models. I ungracefully plodged towards them through the cobblestone courtyard/driveway and then...
"[insert something in French]" asked one of the women. They started helping me with my bags as I stared confusedly. Oh god!
"Uh...je ne parle pas français bien..." I trailed off since I knew that whatever I was saying sounded horrible. Yes, you have to actually open your mouth more to become a better speaker, but the desire to speak is kind of nonexistent when you know your pronounciation is worse than a dog's. If that's possible. (In my case, I think it is.)
"Do you speak English?" asked the same woman with what sounded like a British accent. Woohoo, lucky me!
I pressed the button to my homestay's apartment and the other woman, who also spoke English, said she knew the family. The guy didn't speak any English, but he took my bag without question and brought it up the dark, red-carpeted spiral staircase as the first woman I spoke and I dragged my heavier bag up little by little.
"Is this the right floor?"
"Uhhh..." I knew it was the third floor (which is the fourth floor in France since their first floor is the ground/zero floor), but I had lost count of how many flights we covered already. As we stared at the large door, my homestay mom opened it. I thanked my random, exceptionally attractice baggage carriers, whose names I unfortunately didn't get, as entered the threshold oh my home for the next four months.
For me, that was my msot surreal "Paris moment" up until that point. Seeing the Notre Dame as I walked down the Seine was kinda weird ("Whoa...there is is,") and seeing a bit of the Eiffle Tower pop out from behind my school's library was also odd ("Whoa...it's big,"), but happening to come across some random, extremely nice people who helped me bring my bags up was a lifesaver and made me less freaked out by French people, especially after I went to a boulangerie that morning and felt as though the woman who handed me my sandwich wanted me to go far, far away, preferably to another planet.
Although the idea of doing a homestay with a meal plan (three dinners a week) was the last thing I thought I'd be doing, I realized it would be better as a way for me to use French. ...Except I'm actually living with an American family, so I don't actually have to use French. The housing office tried to place me with a French family, but they had already rented out their room. The American household sounded awesome, primarily because of the wifi. I wouldn't have ever imagined just how lucky I was before visiting the apartment. For one thing, it's huge, and secondly it is one of the cleanest places I have ever seen. I found out later that they have a woman clean the apartment every week. My monthly rent is high (750 euros, which is less than NYU housing), but, as opposed to a cheaper independent room, I don't have to pay for utilities, I get free wifi, access to a washer and drier in the kitchen (which is ridiciously nice), some free food, and a ginormous window that opens up to a beautiful courtyard. I don't want to guess how much the whole apartment actually costs.