A Series of Uncoordinated Events

Five Months in the City of Light

words

At times my words were heavy, clumping together in my mouth, weighing my tongue down. I’d shake my head, disgruntled, as parts of speech and idioms and conjugations blurred until nothing sounded right.

At times, my words were light, rolling and bouncing off my tongue. I’d grin, thrilled at the newness of it all – not even aware I had known to speak with such precision or speed.

And at times, I had not one word – neither in French nor in English – for what word, confined to one language of one culture, could express a feeling so transcendent – neither one nor the other – yet rich and full and whole?

And I was a different person then, for as necessity is the mother of invention, so is limitation the mother of innovation. We find new ways to say, to convey, to laugh, and in doing so, we become new ourselves.

So do I mourn, then, for the majestic marbled facades or the sinuous cobbled streets? Do I year, then, for the smell wafting from a boulangerie and the bent old ladies shouting their orders to the harried bakers? For the publicly reserved, privately raucous people I came to know and love, double kisses, cheap wine, ambulance sirens in the distance, laughter bounding off of walls and alleys at late hours of the night? Or do I grasp at the person I was then, knowing full well I’ll never be that person: that confused, that excited, that overwhelmed, that lost, that carefree, that blissful in that exact combination ever again?

There were gray days; it was Paris. There were lonely moments, when even a sparkling sun filtering through the leaves of the trees in the Luxembourg garden didn’t quite fill me and make me whole. But there were lovely moments, dinners, sighs and laughs. And backing away, that’s all that there is left: laughing, stumbling on the metro, board games in quiet apartments with loud little boys, nighttime bike rides, picnics. Lots of picnics. Golden days.

excuses, excuses

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Apple store, Paris-style.

“Coffee and laptops really sound like they should go together, don’t they? Unfortunately, they really don’t,” sympathized my dad over the phone as I paced back and forth outside the Apple technician’s office in Paris.

I’m full of excuses as to why my blog seemed to come to an abrupt halt. Paris started getting warmer, I started getting lazier, school was ramping up, and there were more and more can’t-miss picnics on the banks of the Seine. The most legitimate reason I can offer you was the simple lack of a computer.

 

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are you kidding me?

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can I break my laptop every day?

Midway through writing my art history final dissertation, I knocked my cup of half green tea, half coffee (the first mistake) all over my keyboard. I tried everything. Two pounds of rice, three Apple store visits and one sketchy meeting with a technician in a café later, I was standing outside another technician’s office, forced to give up. The computer turned on all right, despite a strange wheezing noise, but upon opening a Word document, I found that I could pretty much only type in Windings, no matter which key I pressed. So any attempted blog post would contain only stars, circles, and random symbols that were vaguely reminiscent of my World Religions textbook from 9th grade.   

Favorite new (an unfortunately necessary) word: renverser – to spill.

Example: Je suis une grande idiote et j’ai renversé mon café sur le clavier, par hasard –  I am a huge idiot and  accidentally spilled my coffee on the keyboard. 

You can thank me later for that one.

something (red, white and blue), part III

I take that back. The Chipotle incident was the second Frenchest thing I’d seen this week.

trying peanut butter. intrigued & disgusted.

trying peanut butter. intrigued & disgusted.

The first was the general outcry in response to the appearance of peanut butter in the Faivre household. Beurre de cacahoètes, often said in a derisive tone, is decidedly not French. It costs three times as much as Nutella, is rarely found in grocery stores, and is thought to have as much value in the kitchen as a jar full of mud.

My thoughtful mother, knowing that I often like peanut butter to accompany sliced bananas or apples, sweetly brought me a huge jar from the States. Despite the fact that it was Trader Joe’s brand (not Skippy), and crunchy (not creamy), I was overjoyed. So, I’ve been making myself a good old-fashioned PB&J for lunch occasionally.

Each time, I’ve been walked in on by one of my host siblings. Benoit seemed utterly disturbed. Marie-Astrid was shocked. Blandine was disgusted. I offered them all a taste. Benoit and Marie Astrid had similar responses. Small taste, grimace, pause, nod, swallow. “Hm. That’s actually not bad.” Another taste. “But it’s weird that you put it with jam.”

Blandine on the other hand, just pretended to vomit. Now that, my friends, is one of the Frenchest things I’ve seen.

Favorite new phrases ways to call someone good looking: (you can tell that I live with teenage girls)

C’est un beau gosse – what a babe/what a hunk

Etre hyper-canon – to be super hot

Etre ultra-craquant – to be super cute/to be a stunner

something (red, white and) blue, part II

I ended my American-infused weeks by celebrating my friend Jackie’s birthday. After seven months in Paris, she finally gave in to the siren calls of the Chipotle on Boulevard Montmartre, bringing a joyful and hungry set of friends with her. Don’t get me wrong, I love my French quiches and tartes, but it gave me immense pleasure to be able to order (albeit in French) a monstrous steak burrito with pico de gallo, corn salsa, sour cream and guacamole. As it should have, because it cost me a whopping 15 USD.

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a thing of beauty. the chipotle menu.

As we waited in line to order, we noticed the girl ahead of us had placed an order for one taco. Anyone who has been to Chipotle knows that each taco isn’t more than 5 inches in diameter, and a standard order consists of three. She got one.

“You. are. kidding. me.” I muttered. “One taco?”

My comrades erupted with similar utterances.

“Who gets one taco at Chipotle?”

“No wonder they’re so skinny.”

“That’s the Frenchest thing I’ve ever seen.”

And yes, I had to concur with Natalie. Ordering one taco at Chipotle? After three weeks with Americans, that was the Frenchest thing I’d seen.

favorite new phrase: laisser les miettes – to leave crumbs around (a complaint from Madame about her boys’ eating habits).

something (red, white and) blue, part I.

 

Well if I had any ardent followers, I certainly have lost them now. But I am assured that those of you who might be trying to keep tabs on my Parisian adventures thus far, far prefer the image of me bumbling through the city than typing away in a small, darkened bedroom. And so you have it. The March weather has been hovering around a blissful 6o degrees, and hours pass without a single cloud floating past.

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en route to the d-day beaches. irem & lily. honfleur, normandy.

 

As the temperature mounts, so has the busyness of my schedule, as midterm exams, called mi-partiels in French,  came (and went, as of today), and the occurrence of American spring breaks brought handfuls of friends (Sarah, Hope, Megan, & Haley) and family across the pond to visit! (Not to mention the spontaneous day trip to Normandy with Lily & Irem to see the D-Day beaches – yet another proud American moment!)As a result, I’ve hardly had the wherewithal to blog.

But this dose of home was just what I needed smack dab in the middle of my semester. It gave me the opportunity to show off, have an excuse to be a tourist, and be with people I love the most. Easily the most exciting of these visits was that of my entire family, who rented an apartment in Paris for 10 full days.

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cool cats in a cafe. malini, me & maya. mamie gateau.

Nothing gave me more joy than showing them my favorite spot on the Seine to eat ice cream, passing evenings walking around and then retiring for some card games and Aristocats on Netflix, and discovering new things with them. We were joined by our dear friend Jenna for a couple days, which only made the week sweeter!

Perhaps the most memorable night was spent at my host family’s apartment. They had invited us over for a fancy dinner party. Madame had set the big dining room table for 9 (my family, my host parents, Benoit and Marie Astrid).

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teatime with hopkins friends. me, megan & paulina. laudurée.

“You’ve never been lucky enough to eat out here have you?” asked my host dad in English, chortling, then turning to my parents. “We usually stick her in the kitchen. Poor thing.”Apart from Monsieur, I was the only one close to being bilingual. My sisters and host siblings learn French and English, respectively, in school, and could understand most of what happened, but were slow to start in being able to fully participate. My mother and Madame found they could speak in their own language and understand the majority of each other’s sentences, frequently summoning me over to translate. My poor father was left rather helpless, but it only added to the overall hilarity of the evening. Despite the significant language barrier, the evening was filled with lots of jokes, earnest discussion, and warmth.

 

 

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full heart. malini, me, maya, mama & papa. banks of the seine.

After my family left, I was welcomed back into my host family’s apartment with exclamations, hugs and kisses. Madame and I sat down in the salon to talk about our weeks, and the older boys joined us, all recounting highlights of our dinner. Just then, Jean ran in with his Nerf gun, nailing poor Charles you-can-imagine where. Jean sprinted away, laughing manically, while Charles, bent over, swore to get him back. Benoit and Louis burst with laughter.

“Welcome back to hell,” Louis smirked. It was good to be back.

Favorite new phraseprendre un raccourci – to take a shortcut

did you know

that instead of three-hole punchers for three-ring binders, the French use four-hole punchers and four-ring binders?

I did not.

“Do you have that thing, you know, that puts three holes in a piece of paper?” I asked, trying to make up for the fact that I never learned how to say “hole puncher” in French. (I forgive you, Madame.)

“Um…” she said, looking confused. “I’ve only got one that makes four holes. Is that okay?”

She gave me the same sheepish smile waiters use when they have to politely inform you that, sorry, they don’t have Sprite, but they do have 7Up, is that okay?

“Ah. Yeah. Whoops.”

what a riot

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jean (10) & charles (7) taking full advantage of the sunshine, sacre coeur

As usual, this week has been filled with strange and lovely happenings, from the Paris By Night bike ride with my host sister’s girl scout troop, to a picnic dinner outside the Louvre last night. This is the second full week of above 60 degree weather in Paris, and the city seems to be shedding its skin, exchanging parkas and beanies for dresses and shorts. Every green space in the city is littered with the sun-seekers: natives and tourists alike, brazenly and joyfully ignoring every “Keep Off The Grass” sign.

Perhaps the strangest occurrence this week was what happened Wednesday night.

My friend Lily (of the Lily Theory fame) and I were cramming for our Thursday morning art history exam in her host mother’s 6th floor apartment that overlooks Notre-Dame. The coffee table was covered with class notes and the remains of our afternoon gouter (a full baguette, goat cheese and Nutella). As the sun began to set around 7, I packed my bag, wished Lily happy studying, and skipped down the stairs to the Metro, hoping to make it home by 7:30 for family dinner.

The station was filled with people, the entrance blocked by about 10 French policemen. It wasn’t uncommon for the policeman to patrol the metro stations, making sure that people had actually bought tickets. I ignored them and pushed my way through the turnstiles to the platform.

The boy next to me was sporting a bright red and navy Paris-St.-Germain scarf, in honor of the city’s soccer team. A policeman next to me turned to the boy.

“You should probably put that away,” he muttered darkly. “I’m a a fan, too, it’s not that. I just wouldn’t wear it right now.”

The boy glanced at his father, who nodded, before bundling his scarf and tucking inside his jacket. The metro arrived, and we all piled in. As was normal, there were no seats left, so I leaned up against the train wall, next to a young French woman in bright red lipstick and a seemingly effortless up-do. The metro lurched to a start, and we were on our way.

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getting my hair decorated with grass. thanks, charles.

At the third or fourth stop, the train stopped, the doors opened, and a loud burst of noise broke my stupor. I craned my neck to see. Both platforms were flooded with dozens and dozens of men, at least a hundred, yelling and screaming at each other. They started throwing things across the train tracks, and within minutes, there was a full-blown mass fist fight on the platforms. Never having seen a single punch thrown in real life, I was torn between shock, fear, and pure excitement.

I turned to the girl next to me. “What’s going on?”

“It’s stupid. There’s a PSG game tonight,” she responded. “Those are the other team’s fans. They’re probably German. Damn Nazis.”

Ignoring the last comment, I pressed on. “Where did the police go? Why aren’t they doing something?”

She laughed. “They didn’t board with us. They just were just there to see us get on the train safely, and then they waved goodbye.”

“What? Why were they there in the first place?”

“This is the metro line for the soccer stadium,” interjected a man in a tweed suit. “Sometimes it gets a little rowdy before the game. But never like this…” The fighting was escalating. Some of the men now trying to board our car. An old lady screamed, pushing her way away from the doors, towards us.

“Well why aren’t we moving?” I demanded.

“They had to switch the trains off,” the man explained. “They probably don’t want one of those idiots falling onto the tracks and getting hit by a train.”

Minutes later, another shout went up. The French police force shoved their way through the masses, subduing the fighting, pinning the particular rowdy fans to the ground.

“Everyone off the metro! Let’s go, let’s go! Move it!” They herded us off our car. The blob of people moved forward, all together, up the stairs towards the exit.

Finally outside, I exhaled. The night air was fresh and breezy. I scanned the crowd, pushing my way out of the center of it. Ambulances and police cars surrounded the square. I turned to the girl, who was now holding the hand of the old lady who had screamed.

“Are you okay?” I asked the lady.

“She’s gonna be fine. We’re just gonna find a place to sit and calm down,” the girl responded soothingly.

“D’you need any help?”

“We’ll be fine. Thanks, though.” They disappeared into the crowd.

I turned away from the metro station, taking in my surroundings. I knew where I was, at least an hour walk away from my apartment, but it was a beautiful night, and I really didn’t have a choice. As I walked, I shook my head in disbelief and laughed, marveling over what was sure to make an excellent story.

Favorite new phrase: Du coup – literally means “of the shot”. Actually means nothing and everything. Can be used to mean “so”, “therefore”, “what’s more”, “also”, “and”, “as a result”, and pretty much any other conjunction/connecting word. Used liberally, this will make you sound quintessentially Parisian. Throw out “alors” and “donc” and try “du coup” on for size instead.

Example: Il y a un match de foot ce soir, et du coup, il y avait une grande émeute dans le métro – There’s a soccer game tonight, so there was a huge riot in the metro. (Duh. Doesn’t that happen before every sporting event?)