Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pretty quiet on the southern coast...

I know I promised to be better about blogging and that I haven't been better at's probably because the strike is still going and not much is happening here! I was inspired to blog today because of an interesting incident:

I wanted to sign up for fencing or dance or both (why not! I have the time!) at the university and I needed to get a medical slip signed. So I found a GP (generaliste) who had a walk-in clinic. From previous experience it seems that most doctors here do everything themselves, including making appointments and taking payments. I think they have someone else answering the phone, but you don't even check in when you arrive - you just sit in the waiting room and the doctor comes to get you. The generaliste was wearing a regular suit instead of a white coat, and was a very mumbly speaker which made him hard to understand. He seemed to be overconcerned with my eyesight and whether I could wear glasses behind a fencing mask. I did an eyechart and read out the letters in French - it was worthwhile to learn the alphabet! - and then I looked at those cards that are supposed to tell if you're colorblind or not. I kept getting the numbers half wrong because French numbers are written just slightly differently and it didn't occur to me that that would be the case on an eye test, and besides it was hard to see among all those colored circles. So the 9 in 79 looked like an 8 to me, and the 8 in 48 kind of looked like a 3, etc. In the end, he was convinced I wasn't colorblind. Maybe he thought I was just stupid.

I told him that my student insurance would reimburse me for the visit and I paid the whopping 22 euro fee. Doctor's visits and prescriptions here without insurance are about what they are at home with insurance. It's almost not worth the effort to get reimbursed for 22 euros.

In other news or lack thereof, the university is still on strike and this week they're on vacation! To summarize briefly, the strike mostly concerns new requirements and less autonomy for research professors, plus cutting the number of available teaching positions nationwide. I don't think this means that people are losing their jobs, just that fewer new ones are going to be created. Last week I attended a general meeting about it. I can't say I'm sure what the point was: it seemed to be mostly run by the student strike committee and mostly attended by students. An administrative staff member represented the president, but the president himself was not there. They took a vote among the attendees: 800 for the strike, 8 against, 49 abstaining, but honestly I do not know how the vote affects things, because it's the teachers and staff who initiated the strike. I suppose it just shows whether or not the students are supportive. That week the student committee blockaded the door and only let in professors and foreign students. Eventually they passed a mike around the audience - the minority tended to be the most vocal, explaining how they understood the teachers' dissatisfaction but did not think classes should be cancelled. Someone else stood up and said that if 800 people are for the strike, how come there were only 50 at last week's protest? Then he called the other 750 pro-strikers liars for not being active in the cause. He was harsh but in the end I think he was right: part of the ridiculousness of the strike on the students' end is that they are not going to class, but they're not trying to learn about the problem or fight against it. They're just on vacation and causing people like me to be bored. To be honest, at first I wasn't sure the strike would matter that much to my project, but being in the classroom just a few times a week really is significantly better for practicing French and meeting locals. I've met a lot of Anglophones who have become good friends, and I'm happy to have them especially since I have no classes and there aren't shows every night like there were in Paris, but I'm the first to admit that it's bad for my French. :P

On the other hand, I have been watching more French TV! You can download a program called Zattoo and play the basic French channels, and a couple German ones, on your computer. One afternoon they played about 5 episodes of Will & Grace in a row. No commercials, and Will & Grace isn't so well written that much gets lost in translation, so that was great practice. I have given up my resistance to watching dubbed shows - they are almost all dubbed, so you just have to get used to it (though I couldn't really get used to Malcom X in French. But interesting fact: since there are so many American movies released in France, the big American actors have a French voice "assigned" to them. So the same French actor always dubs for Bruce Willis, the same French actress always does Julia Roberts, and so on. It makes sense but since it's not common in the US, I had always figured whichever actor was available that day got the dubbing job). There's also a show called Un gars, une fille (A guy, a girl) which consists of very short scenes in the daily life of a thirty-something couple, illustrating how men and women think differently and how hilarious that is. For example, the girl calls the guy from work to tell him that she just got a promotion. But in French promotion also refers to a special, as in at a store, so he thinks she's talking about some great buy she got and gets mad that she spends too much money. Ha ha. I don't think it would fly at home because it's a little gender role-y, but I'll admit that it can be pretty funny and very good for learning le francais quotidien. I'm also not sure if the couple is married or not - another French touch.

This week Matt is coming to visit so there might not be blogging but there will be picture-taking! On facebook I have photos of St. Remy, a little town where Van Gogh was treated for whatever was ailing him that day, and of Orange, where an ancient Roman theater is still standing. Photo is of me and Van Gogh. Hopefully Matt and I will make it to Cassis and Lyon, and possibly a vineyard or two. Here are two videos: one from the Truffle festival a few weeks ago, and one from this weekend of a street performer singing opera in front of the Papal Palace.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Vivre sa vie...a Avignon cette fois

I guess I was a little short-sighted when I called my blog Vivre sa vie a Paris, since I'm not in Paris anymore. Avignon doesn't rhyme as nicely, though...and "sur le pont" is taken. Also, blogger won't let me change the name. I'll have to think about that for next time, but anyway, yes, Sarah is in Avignon!

I got back to Paris on inauguration day, after which I was jet lagged and disoriented but still made it to a little party to watch CNN and eat cake. I have missed two hugely historical events for the US this year, but thank goodness for cable. Otherwise, I didn't do too much in Paris and after four days, I took the 2hr 45min train ride to Avignon (with that enormous suitcase...I guess I'm stronger than I look). I found a taxi with a big enough trunk to handle the luggage and was deposited at the home of Yannig, Melissa, and Diego, whom I'd found on and who let me stay with them for an entire week for free. They are all French, despite the ambiguous names (Yannig is actually a French name that I'd never heard me it looked German or something...Melissa is a French as well as Anglo name, and Diego is Melissa's brother, named after his mom's Spanish best friend. Make sense?) It was nice to be there, despite the slight awkwardness of sleeping in the living room, because I knew absolutely no one and they provided me with people to talk to and maps of the town. I also watched TV with them and discovered that French reality TV is just as vapid as American reality TV, only with more stories about people getting state money.

I moved into my apartment on a Saturday evening, just as an American-Japanese couple was taking my place as couchsurfers. I brought the little suitcase with me to meet the broker and signed all my papers, then went back to get the big one and spent about an hour talking to them. The husband was from California and the wife from Japan but had studied in California, which is where they'd met, and they now live in a little fishing village in Japan. They were the oldest couch surfers I've seen and Yannig was concerned they wouldn't be comfortable without their own room, but they were cool for 50+'s. Somehow I got the monster suitcase down Yannig and Melissa's stairs, over the cobblestones between the apartments, and up three flights, via the one step at at time method. I bought a few food and houseware staples since everything would be closed the following day, and spent the night in my first solo apartment with clean sheets but no pillow or blanket. I used my coat - probably got the idea from some movie or maybe from Girl Scouts.

There is more to write and I promise I will do so very, very soon. I have been neglectful of my blog but I have no more excuses since now I have wifi and the university has been, much to my surprise, on strike since I got here so no class for me. Everything is in walking distance too so there are no long subway rides...the time is going to be harder to fill, and that could certainly translate into more blogging. On that note, be with you again soon...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sorry...been a while...

Ok soooooo haven't been posting in a bit. That is because as the finish line for Maguire Fellowship Part I draws near, there has to be more time for doing stuff and less time for blogging! This will probably be my last post before I go home for a month, so I'll try to cram a lot into it. First, quick summary of Thanksgiving:

I bought all the ingredients at an American food store called Thanksgiving, appropriately enough. This was the first time, and I hope it's the last, that I spent 6€ on pumpkin pie mix, but it was worth it. I did not manage to find a turkey (it wouldn't have fit in the oven anyway) but I had all the other musts (the French actually say un must!): mashed potatoes, cornbread, green beans, and two kinds of cranberry sauce, i.e. the good kind and the kind I like. New cultural experience of the evening #1: they all initially thought the jelled cranberry sauce was sliced beets. Fun fact: there is a word for cranberry in French, but no one knows what it is except me and the dictionary because they just don't talk about them here (it's canneberge). New cultural experience of the evening #2: no one at the dinner had ever had pumpkin pie before, and they loved it. By the way, "they" are Marie-Claire, her son Jean-Louis, his copine Valérie, and my American-French friend, Marie-Catherine. (Hypens!) Jean-Louis and Valérie got to take the leftover pie home.

Next on the agenda was Disneyland, Paris, although I like to call it Euro Disney for the sake of being retro and funny. It's such an unappealing name. Anyway, Main Street USA and Frontierland (mysteriously combined with a Mark Twain-esque Mississippi River scene) was a little slice of home until they started singing "Hakuna Matata" in French. Disneyland, Paris really isn't much like the Disneys at home; it's really just a theme park with Mické running around. I remember Disney World being a paragon of technologically advanced fun and paradise faked to perfection...of course, I was only 8, but still. However, we had a lot of fun and it wasn't bad to have a break from the floods of culture, culture, culture! that are my life. I really haven't been to an amusement park since I was 13 (the Cyclone at Coney Island does not count), and I am proud to say I went on every single one of the roller coasters and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. You know, the plummeting elevator. While waiting an hour and a half for that one, my French companions told me that the word "twilight" sounds like "toilet" to them. So next time you turn on Nick at Night, try not to laugh when The Toilet Zone comes on.

Last week I gave a presentation on Broadway in my theater management/economics class. It was the first work I've done in class, since there is no homework, but of course I didn't really have to do any research and no one knew enough about it to contradict me anyway! I recorded some showtunes on my little dictaphone and played selections from Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, Hair, and Spring Awakening for them - it was pretty ghetto, but they enjoyed it. Broadway is so expensive. But it's still got good stuff. Bernstein's On the Town is playing here right now to great reviews.

I will probably see just one more show before I go, and oh how French it will be: Cyrano de Bergerac at the Comédie Française! I hope we can get in. I've managed to see a great variety of things here, my favorite being the very classical (but comic) interpretations of Shakespeare and Molière, with the performers in white-face and doing an almost commedia dell'arte clowning act. It's very charming and theatrical, not really part of the American repertoire. And it's especially nice when seen in a cute little theater that serves hot mulled wine.

Well, I hope to see you for noël - stop by and have some French chocolate, because I will have a lot of it! Bisous!

Friday, November 28, 2008


Well, no sprouts, but lots of chocolate and beer.

My friend Lia and I got train tickets, leaving on Sunday and returning on Monday, for the hour and a half ride from Paris to Brussels - we thought we were smart for getting them at half price, but then we realized that all the museums are closed on Monday and most of the shops are closed on Sunday and Monday. Since it snowed both days, we wanted to spend time in museums and shops, but had to spend the time in bars instead. Oh well!

The center of Brussels is called the Grand Place (and something else in Flemish) and it looks like a cross between Amsterdam and Prague contained in a souvenir snow globe. Seriously, it is too cute...yes, a little too cute. It really was a tourist haven, full of chocolate and lace shops, and several guide books warned us strongly against eating around there. Sunday the city was absolutely deserted, and Monday it was a little more lively but not crowded...most likely because it was blizzarding and smart Belgians were staying home.

The Jacques Brel Hostel (so artsy!) was clean and pleasant, except for the huge enormous trucks that started revving outside the window at both 2 and 4 am. So not a lot of sleep, but yes, a lot of cafe hopping and beer. Beer! Including Hoegaarden, Leffe, Mort Subite, Duvel, and a lovely combo of white wine and champagne called a Half and Half (that was the non-beer option). Plus the classic mussels and frites for dinner, and a waffle (square...the round ones come from Liège). And by the way, Manneken Pis is only like a foot tall.

On facebook, check out the photos of the musical instrument museum - a truly unique and fun place where you wear headphones and stand in different spots to receive (via said headphones) music played by the instrument you are looking at. People dance as they check out the different instruments and if you walk quickly through the exhibit, you'll walk through all the different areas of broadcasted music and hear the song clips one after another.

Below is a goofy video of the restaurant singing happy birthday to someone. This was not a yucky tourist joint - they actually do sing the birthday song in English as a regular thing.

Account of the Thanksgiving dinner I made all by myself to come!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh Play That Thing!

Thursday I was feeling confused and irritable because I had watched an incomprehensible play in my theater class. Basically, a guy starts an argument with his friend because his friend said, "C'est bien, ça" ("That's great") and drew out the "biiiiiiieeenn" and paused before the "ça." The guy found this condescending, and the play goes from there. At the end, nothing is resolved. I suppose I need to practice my abstract-emotional French.

But then I went to a see Paula Spencer by Irish (and popular in NYC) playwright Roddy Doyle, in French translation. That play wasn't hard to understand at all. In fact, it was very simple, so simple that I wondered why it had been translated in the first place. All the interesting Irish inflection and vocabulary was gone, and what was left wasn't terribly groundbreaking. But after the show, the theater held a Q&A with Roddy himself, the best part being the French translator who scribbled down his entire 10-minute answers and then repeated them in French. The audience was a mix of French, Irish, British, and American - when Roddy spoke, certain members of the audience would react, and when the translator spoke, the rest would react. I happened to have been seated next to a fellow Bostonian, who convinced me to try to talk to Roddy after the discussion. So I asked him to sign my program and whether or not he thought the Irish government was generous with its theaters (always on task, I am). He said he didn't know because he wasn't sure what qualified as "generous," but he suspected something better than America but not as good as France.

The following day I had my History of Cultural Policy class and my Theater Management and Economics class, where I guess it was talk about the USA day. First, the history professor got in an argument in which banging on the desk actually occurred: a student mentioned the existence of private foundations and the theoretical possibility of theaters getting money from them, to which the professor responded, "Non non non! There's no stability that way -- it has to come from the government, it has to be the law." I knew I was going to be dragged into this at any second, and then she started pointing at me: "Ask her! Ask her! Ask if artists in the US get any money. Ask her!" No one said anything; then finally a different student said, "So, do artists in the US get any money?" I said, "Sometimes - it depends," but the professor insisted at that point that we get on with the classwork.

Economics class was taught by the professor's much more interesting assistant, who it seemed was more of an expert on economic theory. She touched on the expense of producing art in the US, and as the students were saying, "Wow, that's crazy," she said, "But who has the most grands artistes?" Another student said, "And America has the best athletes. Well, there are more of them than there are of us." The professor said that if you count all of Europe, there are more Europeans than Americans, but still not nearly as many big names. So why does this happen? I'm not an expert on the topic, but it seems to me that even though France distributes more money to its citizens, the US of course has more money, both in the government and privately (I've worked with private donors for 4 years...American industry reaches the farthest corners of the globe and there are plenty of filthy rich people in the country) and if someone has the potential to do great work (and, as an added bonus, generate more money), that person will get funding, and a lot of it, from somewhere. The difference lies in the way the money gets distributed. Perhaps American artists strive for excellence because they know they won't survive otherwise.

Of course, there is the question of the culture of innovation in America that doesn't exist in France. The school system here is so specialized; they put students on a professional path that plays to their strengths, but that doesn't seem to leave much room for creativity. But I didn't say that part out loud. Also though, making money isn't such a priority here. But I later heard the professor talking to a student, saying that France was 10-15 years behind the US. Interesting - it's 1993 in France? Shouldn't they all be wearing flannel?

Photos of Père Lachaise cemetery on are facebook. Here is a video of the Eiffel Tower glittering as it does the first 10 minutes of every hour at night. Sorry for turning the camera sideways. I though it would take a verticle shot. For those of you who know the Tiger Lillies, I happened upon a shop that was playing their album. I was trying to be subtle with the camera, so please excuse the low and jumpy angle. The shopkeeper knew them but had never seen them -- I told her she should to get the full experience.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election Night 2008 in Paris

Thanks to Babysitting Children with Colds in St. Nazaire, followed by Halloween Night 2008 in Paris, I was pretty under the weather on Election Night. :( But that didn't stop me from staying out all night and getting sicker! Of course, it was worth it.

A quick re-cap of Hallowen first: friend from Vassar and future groomsman Tim is attending Sciences-Po in Paris, and hosted an excellent Halloween party for his classmates In preparation, we found a Halloween store and bought cobwebs (blacklight-sensitive and not), a cardboard skeleton, paper plates with skulls on them, a pumpkin garland, and orange and black napkins. Then we bought blacklights, pinlights, and a mirrored ball. The morning of we got frozen hors d'oeurvre from this place called Picard (make it so) that sells frozen stuff, plus frozen quiches and pizzas, and of course candy and mixers. Everyone came in costume, Americans and non-Americans alike. There was a Japanese butterfly, a South American Desperate Housewife, a French Barak Obama (an ingenious stroke of genious) and at least twenty others. An informal game of Mafia was played in which the killers got away, and then, as all things do, it turned into an 80's dance party until concern for the neighbors made us turn off the music. Then I took one of the few cab rides I've experienced in Paris to go home at about 5 am.

On election night, I made the decision to stay up watching CNN even though I knew I'd pay for it later. The other option was to get up at 5 am and find a TV, but then I'd miss the closing of some of the early and important polls, so a nuit blanche it was.

I ate dinner with my friend Gregoire in Meudon and then at about 11 pm headed back to Paris to meet up with American friends Lia and Laure, Canadian friend Yvonne, and Lebanese friend Sarah T. (I pick up Sarahs wherever I go). We knew of five places to watch the election: Harry's Bar, Breakfast in America (a little restaurant), Joe Allen's pub, the Town Hall in the 3rd Arrondissement (event called Nuit Americaine, which is a term they use in film for making a scene look like nighttime when it was really shot in the daytime, but also has a figurative meaning for something that's flashy but fake), and Americans Abroad for Obama at the Palais Maillot. Nuit Americaine was actually organized by the district, and screened movies (including the unflattering to the US Crash) and served breakfast until it was all over. At 11, there were already lines to get into all these places, so we had a little pow-wow, and decided that standing in the cold for an hour and then (if we got in) sitting either on a bar stool or cafeteria bench for the next seven hours would be no fun. Sarah T., who has CNN, graciously invited us over to watch what was not even her country's election when she had to go to work the next day. We were disappointed not to be amongst a crowd when the results came in, but it worked out in the end. (As for the people crowding up all these places, many were Americans, but there were also Parisians, and I'm sure there were other nationalities too.)

Back at Sarah T.'s apartment, we had a little trouble with the cable, but we watched French coverage and streamed CNN until we could get it going. The nicest thing about her neighborhood was the view of the Eiffel Tower, which was all lit up blue with the EU stars on the front (we think they did that because Paris just hosted a EU meeting). It was nice to watch an American channel, but boy is CNN flashy with all their hologram craziness...the French channel looked awfully sober in comparison. We ate junky food and had our first mini-celebration when Obama won Pennsylvania...and then it was just too easy! Right after he won Ohio, CNN started outlining how McCain really couldn't win. And we just looked at each other like, It's over! This was probably at about 3 am. But of course we kept watching, and then CNN basically interrupted all the results coming in to project Obama as the winner. We still weren't sure if we could really trust it, but then we saw the insane crowd in Chicago, and that was it! It took a little while before it sunk in and we got up and danced around. I started getting calls from Mom and Dad and Matt, since I'd told them to call in case I fell asleep. Then we danced around more. We left at 6:30 am, right after Obama's speech. It was raining and the streets were quiet - there had actually been a very hoity-toity 100€ per person event right near where we were, but we didn't see anyone. I took another one of my rare cab rides home, snuck in at 6:45 even though Marie-Claire was already up! and passed out for a while despite not having had Tylenol in at least six hours. I sent and received a few text messages saying Go Obama! Congratulations America!, but unfortunately was not well enough to go out and celebrate. Luckily though, election coverage was on all six channels that we get chez moi, so I still got to bask.

Now that I can love America again, I wish I were in NYC! But now I can get a flag to sew on my backpack, 'cause who has the coolest President now...?

As usual, new photos are on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

La vie quotidienne

Well, its been a month, and life is getting...quotidien! The daily schedule goes:

Monday, do something until early afternoon and then Skype with Matt.

Tuesday, do something until late afternoon and then babysit Olivier. Teach him English by playing poker and watching the Simpsons.

Wednesday, go to internship. Have coffee for two hours, have lunch for three hours, then read theater magazines while trying not to inhale too much second-hand smoke.

Thursday, go to French as a foreign language theater class.

Friday, go to history of French cultural politics class and French cultural economic policy class.

Saturday, do something.

Sunday, do something.

Something usually means something, but sometimes it means nothing. I don't know whether to count gossiping in cafes as nothing...I think the French would call it joie de vivre! I have seen six plays so far and will be doing some formal interviews within the next couple weeks. I'm also organizing my vacations, which is also very French (I just learned that French companies not only give you five weeks of paid vacation, but they also subsidize your vacation expenses). In November I'll be going to Belgium with my new friend Lia, and in the spring I'll be in Bratislava, Italy, and elsewhere. Anyone have connections in non-Schengen territories?

This weekend I had a little getaway to Bretagne to my hostess's family estate - well, it was really a getaway for the grandkids, who both had colds. Stay tuned to see if they gave their colds to me. Check out the enormousness of the main house in my photo album; we stayed in the "outbuilding" with a mere four bedrooms and maid's studio apartment.

As alluded to in the previous post, here is a scene-by-scene description of the weirdest French play I saw:

1. MC talks to the audience, pretends theater is a cabaret and play is a soiree. Tells audience he will die before the end of the evening.

2. Disco lights come up on MC singing and dancing to "Sex Bomb."

3. Pregnant woman stands in front of mike talking about l'avenir (the future), raises voice to a screech and then falls down.

4. Some other woman tells the story of her mother working in a factory and cutting off two fingers.

5. Ella Fitzgerald song plays and everyone sings.

6. MC talks about his love for an older woman. Lights come up on woman on couch and MC standing twenty feet away. Lights fade and come up on woman on couch and MC lying on floor. Lights fade and come up on MC sitting on couch. Actress playing older woman has been replaced with actress thirty years younger.

7. Behind a scrim, someone saws off someone else's limbs one by one. Sound of saw is turned way up. "Can't take my eyes off of you" plays in the background.

8. MC goes to dinner with his two pregnant girlfriends. The sound of them gulping water is turned way up.

Intermittently: actors remind us that life is hard, love makes you miserable, and we're all going to die.

I don't really remember much else about this play. The dialogue or what passed for dialogue wasn't hard to understand, but as I can't let my mind wander and still follow the thread of the plot or what passes for plot when it's in French, I kinda stopped trying about halfway through. The play was called Je tremble, or I Tremble, parts un et deux, and it was written in two installations and played at the Avignon Festival in 2007 and 2008. That explains a lot.

Click here for photos.