Monthly Archives: November 2011

NaNoWriMo Winner!

I am quite proud. I have completed a first draft of a novel in 29 days. I wrote 50,113 words. It was sometimes tiring and sometimes difficult, but overall it was a lot of fun. I had a blast. And now I’m a novelist! I plan to start working on a second draft sometime in the near future, once I’ve had some time to relax and let my novel percolate in my subconsciousness.  Join me next November for another month of noveling madness.

NaNoWriMo Official Website


Thanksgiving in Paris

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving last week. Mine was filled with good food, new friends, and adventure.

Thanksgiving is centered around traditional American food. The foods we eat in America are very different from the foods they eat here in France. So ingredient hunting led to a lot of interesting adventures for me. I had been keeping my eyes open for some ingredients for the better part of the month. For many ingredients, I turned to the American expat store in the Marais called “Thanksgiving” that has all those things we eat regularly in the states but can’t be found in Paris. They have cornmeal, baking soda, brown sugar, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, cranberries, graham crackers, and cake and pancake mixes and maple syrup. Of course they have Ranch dressing, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and cereal as well. All of these things are difficult or impossible to find in Paris. You can get substitutes, but it’s definitely not the real deal. Usually I find the local ingredients and food here in France to be incredible, but sometimes (and especially for an occasion like Thanksgiving) you just want it to taste like home. But the imported American food has quite a price tag. I bought Libby’s canned pumpkin (the small can of pumpkin) and it was €4,95 for one small can of pumpkin! At today’s exchange rate, that is $6.55. Wow! So I only went there for the things that had no substitute. I got my turkey there, jello, stuffing, and a few other Thanksgiving necessities.

I went to many many stores looking for all the ingredients I needed to prepare my family favorite Thanksgiving foods. It was quite an adventure. And the cooking itself involved a LOT of measurement conversions. I was a little worried, but everything turned out fine. It was also interesting because, obviously, Thanksgiving is not a holiday in France. So we ditched classes and work to celebrate. The milk vendor at the market told me that a lot of Americans in Paris celebrate Thanksgiving on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend when they’re off school and work. But I just had to have it on the day of. I couldn’t have my entire family eating pie when I wasn’t. Also, it was a great excuse to ditch class.

The most difficult ingredients to find for Thanksgiving were:

Evaporated Milk! Thanksgiving (the expat store) ran out, and I needed it. This is not a situation where you can take the word for “milk” and the word for “evaporated” and put them together. Someone told me it was called crème liquide, but I couldn’t find that anywhere. The online forums said lait concentré, but I thought that was condensed milk. Then someone said lait concentré sans sucre, but again, I think there is such a thing as unsweetened condensed milk, which is different from evaporated milk. In the end, an American who was also doing Thanksgiving shopping at the Monoprix and scouring the milk section for whipped cream recommended crème fluide. It sounded fine. I asked the woman at the check out if she knew whether crème fluide was the same as crème liquide, but she had no idea. She was sweet and even asked the older woman behind me in line and the middle aged woman who had just checked out before me, but neither of them knew either. I took a chance with it and the pie turned out fine.

Butternut Squash: I don’t know what they call it! I know the word for squash, but all I see at the market are these big pumpkin-looking squashes. It was interesting.

Cranberries: We had a very long debate in Franglais at Thanksgiving dinner between my French and American friends. By the end of this incredibly specific conversation that was fraught with translation difficulty, I don’t think that there is actually a word in French for cranberry. They simply don’t have them here. I found the same to be true when I was in Italy. We went back and forth about blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, lingonberries, and any other kind of berry you can think of, and we tried to explain that they’re hard and sour. It didn’t go very well. I really just think it’s something that got lost in translation because there is no word for it. We came up with canneberge from the dictionary, but I don’t think the French were associating it with the same fruit we were. Maybe it’s more of a cultural difference than a language difference. It’s possible they didn’t know the word for it because they’d never eaten it before. You can find them here, but it’s difficult and they’re expensive. Anyway, everyone enjoyed a cranberry raspberry sauce that an American friend made and brought to share. It was delicious.

Brown Sugar: The French have like 20 kinds of sugar. At the regular grocery store, there is a huge section entirely devoted to many many different types of sugar for all the various types of uses for it. And they have at least three types of brown sugar, but none of them are moist like our brown sugar is. They’re just individual crystals of brown sugar. I read somewhere that you could just moisten these types of sugar, so we did that and it worked.

Anyway, my Thanksgiving was a fun combination of really great people from all over. We had some Americans, some French, and some other Europeans as well. Over here, when you come to someone else’s home for a meal, you ABSOLUTELY bring a gift for the host. Every single person who came brought a gift. It was really sweet. I tried to tell the Thanksgiving story, but I really botched it. Fortunately, the other Americans jumped in to remind me why the Pilgrims and Indians were eating together. Everyone seemed to enjoy all the food a lot, and while we were eating the pumpkin pie the formerly loud and excited room was very quiet. The Europeans were really enjoying this very unusual dessert, and to the Americans it tasted like home. It was a really fantastic night.

Bibliothèque Centre Pompidou: bibliothèque publique d’information

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting a whole lot lately. This isn’t because I haven’t been meaning to, but most of my writing has been focused on my NaNoWriMo novel this month. I’ll get back on the wagon with my blog this week. The novel writing is going well. I am behind in my word count at the moment, but it’s not irreparable. And what’s more important: it’s fun.

Speaking of writing in Paris (or doing any other type of work for that matter), I needed to find a good quiet place with internet access where I could write. And that place needed to be somewhere other than my apartment. Those who know me well know that I cannot get work done at home. I will rearrange furniture, reorganize my closet, clean everything, and spend hours in the kitchen cooking or baking up a storm. But I will not work. There are too many distractions for me at home.

So I needed a place to work that was away from home. I also didn’t want to go to school because it’s far away and depressing. This left me with many choices in Paris. There are, of course, innumerable cafés with internet access. In France, if you order a coffee or tea (or hot chocolate, my personal drink of choice) you can sit for as long as you like at a café and work. And if you get hungry, there are many delicious selections that won’t break the bank if you’re not in a touristy or super fancy place. I had great success at the Fée Verte a few weeks ago. They served a delicious chicken and rice and bread dinner for €9,90 and the internet was great. There was plenty of space and the environment was mellow. Not too bad.  I’m sure I’ll be back.

But sometimes I need a quiet place. And while a cup of hot chocolate isn’t very expensive, I always love free places. Paris has free wifi at many parks and other public places, but now that it’s winter it’s a bit cold to sit outside and write. So I began to search for a library.

There are many libraries in Paris. They have an American library, and the Sorbonne has allegedly one of the best libraries around that any master’s student can use if you bring your credentials. But sometimes you don’t want to deal with the French bureaucracy. You just want a clean quiet free place to work. Right now.

Enter the library in the Centre Georges Pompidou. The Centre Pompidou is a huge modern building in the Marais, a very cool right bank neighborhood. It houses a very popular museum (I’m waiting for a first Sunday of the month to go, when it’s free. Watch for upcoming posts about it.). The building is multi-colored with space-age looking escalators going up the outside and pipes all over it. You can’t miss it. Much of the building houses the museum collections, but on the backside of it is a fantastic public library. The library is free and open to all, and it was founded on the idea of free access to information for all. You enter, and the person checks your bag to make sure you don’t have any prohibited items (at least I’m assuming that’s what he was looking for), and you enter. That’s it.

The library is very large, new, and clean. There are 3 floors, and each floor contains several different subjects. They have practical information for everyday life (health, finding an apartment, Parisian life, etc.), they have an area for the press of the world with newspapers from all over and little TV stations with headphones that play the news from many countries around the world. Anyone can walk up, have a seat, put on the headphones, and watch the news from whatever country is being shown. They have computers with free internet access (although there is usually a line for them). They have a cinema area and a music area with CDs and listening stations and even a couple of keyboards. And of course, there are lots and lots of books on all the traditional subjects and desks. There is also free wifi for those who have laptops. It is a wonderful place to work. And it’s open until 10pm almost everyday. The library has an excellent website where you can take a virtual tour of the facility.

I will warn you, however, that this library is not a very well kept secret. On a Saturday afternoon you will probably be able to find a seat by yourself, but if you’re searching for two seats together among the thousands and thousands of seats, you may not be so lucky. There are many tables on each floor, and many have outlets for laptop plugs. But the French come to this library in droves to work. It’s wonderful that it’s so well utilized, but sometimes it’s frustrating to find a place to sit. I think weekends are the worst. Last Saturday I tried to go, but there was a huge line out front just to get into the library. I had never seen that before, so I gave up right away. On quieter days though, it’s perfect.

This is one of the most fantastic public libraries I have ever used. If you’re in Paris and you need to get some work done, I highly recommend it.

New words: par ailleurs (otherwise/moreover), tellement (so, so much, such), le for (the forum), une entrave (a barrier/obstacle), en revanche (in contrast/on the other hand), subis (suffered/sustained/experienced), un timbre (a stamp), soutenir (support), selon (according to), mettre en oeuvre (implement), mettre en cause (challenge), générer (to generate)

Musée National du Moyen Age (Musée de Cluny)

Yesterday was the first Sunday of November, and on the first Sunday of the month here in Paris, many museums that normally charge to enter open their doors for free visits. I chose to go to the Musée Cluny for the first time yesterday. It is a favorite of one of my friends back home, so I thought I’d go see what all the fuss was about. Now I think it’s one of my favorites, too.

The building that houses the museum is very impressive. It was begun in the 14th century, and in 1843 it was turned into a museum. It is located right at the intersection of the Boulevard St-Michel and the Boulevard St-Germain, which is a busy area on the left bank. The hôtel is surrounded by really beautiful gardens that are always free to enter. Since it’s getting to be winter, the gardens were not at their most spectacular yesterday so I’ll definitely be back in the spring to see them at their finest. They were still nice though.

The entrance to the museum is located just off a nice medium-sized courtyard that immediately transports you back in time. I entered (for free!) and got an audio guide for €1, but I quickly abandoned it (you’ll see why later).

The first thing I saw was a room of stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries. It was really beautiful, and I was surprised that it was in such good condition. The glass is from medieval churches in France, and it was illuminated all over the small room that housed it.

Next I moved on to a large open room that had the original sculptures from the Notre Dame de Paris. They were fantastic. Several massive heads representing the Kings of Judah were there; they had been plundered from the Notre Dame during the revolution because they represented monarchs. They were found in 1977 buried during excavation to build a garage. There were also many saints, but they were missing their heads. I believe these statues were also victims of the revolution. Fun fact: all of the original sculptures on the Notre Dame (and many other medieval locations around town) were originally done in color! You can see some red pigmentation on the lips and cheeks of the statues if you look closely, and some darker colors in the eyes. I had no idea. The room is vast and contains all types of original sculptures from Notre Dame. It also hosts concerts throughout the year, which would be a really cool venue to see some classical music. Yesterday they were getting ready for a concert of medieval chant music when I was there. Fantastic.

The next room I saw was quite a treat: the building is partially built on the site of 1st-3rd century Roman baths! The cavernous room is still intact, and you can see where the pool was, some baths, and large indoor sporting area. How amazing.

Then I went through rooms and rooms of medieval sculptures, books (they have some very nice illuminated manuscripts), art, tapestries, artifacts, and anything else you can think of. Some of my favorites were a chapel in the building with incredible vaulted ceilings and some medieval wooden chair stalls, a collection of rings, some shields and armor, and a collection of kitchen apparatuses and knives.

Ring Collection


Chapel Ceiling


Shields at the top of the Display Case


At some point you come to the absolute highlight of the museum: La dame à la Licorne tapestries (“The Lady and the Unicorn“). They are six tapestries from around the year 1500 that are huge and magnificent. They portray a woman with a unicorn and lion surrounded by flowers, trees, and other animals (my favorite is the monkey). They are considered one of the most important works of the middle ages in Europe. I sat for a while on a bench just trying to absorb them all. There is a lot to look at in them. I couldn’t take pictures of these gorgeous tapestries because they’re in a dark room (I assume for preservation purposes). Click the underlined title in the beginning of this paragraph for the wikipedia article, which contains pictures of all six tapestries.

My favorite part of the trip was a complete surprise. There were at least a couple of art students in each room to talk to the visitors about the art in the room. I don’t know if this was a special event, or if they always do that on the first Sunday of the month, or why they were there, but it was fantastic! The students would talk to a group of people, and you could walk over and listen to them explain a certain piece or collection, or sometimes if they didn’t have a group and they saw you take a particular interest in something, they’d come over and ask if you wanted an explanation of the piece that interested you. This happened to me, and I of course said yes, and I had a wonderful discussion with an art student about the array of influences on the statues from the Sainte-Chapelle and how the revolutionaries cut off the heads of the statues. I was able to ask all kinds of questions, and she was very knowledgeable. I learned so much from the students about the museum’s collection that I never would have known if I’d been listening to the audio guide, which only had short descriptions of the highlights. The students were able to tailor their discussions to the particular audience, and I saw a very patient girl talking to some well-behaved children that couldn’t have been older than about 5 all about unicorns and answering their questions. It was a really fantastic way to experience the museum. The discussions were all in French, so Anglophones should bring a Francophone friend who is very patient and able to translate. I am assuming that they had the students there yesterday because it was the first Sunday of the month, so a lot of Parisians come to the museums. That’s just a guess though. If anyone knows more information about the art students at the museum, please leave a comment; I’d love to learn more about the program.

I highly recommend this museum. It was a great collection. I could have stayed much longer than I did.

New words: créancier/débiteur (creditor/debtor), un point-virgule (semicolon), une virgule (comma, math: decimal point, because they use commas instead), selon (according to), selon que (depending on whether), s’agir (to be about), à défaut de (in the absence of/lack of/failing), rattachement (unification, incorporation), concubine (partner/cohabitant, but you only use this if you live with someone with whom you are in a relationship, also it doesn’t have the same connotation as in English as far as I can tell), alimentaire (dietary), gestion (management), le chômage (unemployment), exprimer (to express)


Last weekend, I made my first excursion out of Paris. I have several friends who are in Geneva doing some human rights work, and I wanted to go visit them. I took the train down to Geneva (about 3 hours if you don’t have any transfers), and it was a gorgeous ride. I had never really seen the French countryside before. It was the very end of October when I left, and the trees were all shades of red, yellow, and orange. There were rolling hills with green grass and lots of animals grazing. There were lakes and farm houses and pastures with horses. It was beautiful. I did not get nearly as much work done on the train as I planned.

Geneva itself is very beautiful and pristine and not my favorite city in the world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. In fact, there is a beautiful lake with mountains, lots of good shopping, and enough chocolate and cheese to keep a person fat and happy for a lifetime. It would probably be a great place to live and raise a family. But, to me, it’s not very exciting. There’s not a whole lot to do, a lot of places close early, it’s a lot like being in the suburbs, really. And it’s expensive. I needed to use the internet, so I went to Starbucks, and I paid over 8 Swiss Francs for a medium-sized hot chocolate. That’s like $9. For Starbucks hot chocolate. I just tell myself that I was paying for the internet, not the drink. It makes me feel better.

On a positive note, it was fabulous to see my friends. We had a wonderful time catching up. I ate 3 dinners during my stay in Geneva, and 2 of them were fondue. That was excellent. We went to the Café du Soleil for fondue one night, and Auberge de Savièse another night. Both were good. Some other friends went to a Thai restaurant that allegedly was so good they cried tears of joy at the end of the meal. I’ll try to get the name and update the post. It was not cheap, but apparently the price was worth it.

One afternoon my friend and I went to CERN (where they have the huge particle accelerator). We tried to book ourselves on a tour, but they were booking

CERN Visitor's Center

a month in advance for individual tours and two months in advance for group tours! If you want to go to CERN, I highly recommend booking online way in advance so that you can get a tour. It’s free. We just went to the visitor’s center, which was not all that exciting. (Disclaimer: I am a law student, I’m not all that sciencey. I think science is very interesting, and I love learning about it, but the last time I studied any science was around 2003.) They showed a cool video about the big bang and the types of particles they’ve discovered (but it’s all in French!). They have a lot of interactive displays (in French and English), but it’s really just one

Inside the Visitor's Center

room. I wanted to learn more about the history of it and the work that they do, but there wasn’t much available. I know, this is not a museum, it is a scientific center, so they don’t even really need to have a visitor’s center. Still, I was slightly disappointed by the visitor’s center. The building that houses it is cool, though. I think a tour would have made this visit a lot more interesting. If anyone has been on a tour of CERN, please leave a comment! I’d love to hear about it!

Powers of Ten

Numbers in French: I made a fascinating discovery while in Geneva. Background: in French, you have to do some math when you are saying numbers. 17-19 are “ten-seven, ten-eight, and ten-nine.” Also, the numbers stop at 60. Anything after that, and you have to do math. So seventy is sixty-ten (soixante-dix), seventy-five is sixty-fifteen (soixante-quinze), eighty is four twenties (quatre-vingts), and ninety is four twenties and ten (quatre-vingt-dix). Here is a good article with all the French numbers. This system is terrible for understanding dates if you’re foreign, especially when professors quickly spit dates out at you in class, and it takes a lot of getting used to. For example, 1999 is mille neuf cent quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (one thousand nine hundred four twenties-ten-nine). And here in Paris they speak very quickly. I have gotten okay at it, but still I have to concentrate very hard on the dates. Discovery in Geneva: I bought something, and it was 13.90. In French, that’s treize quatre-vingt-dix. The woman rang me up and said treize nonante. Nonante?! Huh?! Is that quatre-vingt-dix? I asked her. Yes, in Geneva we use nonante. That’s ninety. Not four-twenties-ten. Ninety. Brilliant! I love Switzerland! Such efficient people! But that’s not all. She went on to tell me that they also use septante (seventy, instead of sixty-ten) and huitante (eighty), although in Geneva they don’t use huitante, they still use quatre-vingt. In Belgium it’s the same. But in other parts of Switzerland they use huitante. Dialects in Switzerland are different, and some areas use octante or even otante for eighty.  But many places use it, and it’s much easier to learn!

So they have septante, huitante (or quatre-vingts, octante, otante, depending on where you are), and nonante for seventy, eighty, and ninety. Amazing!

In Other News: One of my secret ambitions is to be a novelist. To do that, I think one of the requirements is to actually write a novel if I ever want to have a shot. So, this month I am participating in NaNoWriMo, a month-long novel writing extravaganza! To win, you have to write 50,000 words in one month. I just started the novel on Tuesday, along with hundreds of thousands of others participating around the world. I’m very excited about it! I’ll keep you posted on my progress this month on the sidebar of the blog. Wish me luck! If you want to participate, it’s not too late!

New words: tomber malade (to get sick/”fall sick”), le métier (job, profession, trade, or craft), quiconque (whoever/anyone who), facultatif (optional), mettre en cause (blame/accuse/suspect), puisque (since), franchement (frankly), le moule (mold, as in the kind you use to make something), ménager (to handle something carefully), immeuble (building)