Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I know I promised to be better about blogging and that I haven't been better at all...it'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
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 couchsurfing.net 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 before...to 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
Friday, November 28, 2008
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
Thursday, November 6, 2008
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.)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
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.