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

Tapestries

Chapel Ceiling

 

Shields at the top of the Display Case

Armor

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)

Geneva!

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)

Finding an Apartment in Paris

I wanted to do a strictly utilitarian post for those who may be searching for an apartment in Paris to try and impart some of the knowledge that I acquired the hard way. With that, here is my guide to Parisian apartment hunting.

First, I would like to start out by reassuring you that I now live in an absolutely fantastic apartment in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris, so there is a happy ending to this story. In spite of the many difficulties you will soon see, the end result is worthwhile, so bon courage!

The most comprehensive resource I found for apartments in Paris is Paris Info. It lists all the relevant websites for just about any price range. Also, it’s useful to have this glossary of apartment terms if you’re not hip to the lingo of apartments en français.

First, you need to adjust your expectations. Apartments in Paris are small. Much smaller than in the U.S. Just accept that and move on. They’re also expensive. This is one of the most fabulous cities in the world, so you should logically expect to pay more for the benefit of living here. Again, you should come to terms with that early on. Paris Info has a good guide on averages sizes and prices. Be warned, however: I find that these estimates, while very realistic, are on the conservative side. Many reasonably-priced apartments are even more expensive than what the site lists. Also (brace yourselves), something I wasn’t prepared for when I first moved here: it is normal to have to pay 3 months in rent up-front. One month’s rent for the security deposit for the apartment, one month’s rent for the security deposit for the furniture, and the first month’s rent. It’s painful. Also, ovens are a bit of a luxury here. And real stoves are, too. And your refrigerator is going to be MUCH smaller (but you don’t need a big refrigerator because you’ll probably be going to all of the wonderful marchés and specialty shops frequently to buy lots of fresh food in small quantities–I generally only buy food for a couple days each trip–stay tuned for upcoming posts about the marchés and food shopping in France).

Now, here’s the story: most French landlords want their renters to have a garant, which is essentially a cosigner, but the catch is they want the garant to have assets in France. This is so that if you flake and don’t pay your rent, they’ll actually be able to get damages out of you because the assets are in France. They don’t want to go all the way to the U.S. to sue you. So if you don’t have a garant, things will be trickier and you may want to lean toward using an agency (see infra). You’re also going to need a dossier with tons of documents about your financial situation. The more official-looking documents that are in your dossier, the better. French people love official-looking documents. Just make sure you give them copies, and not your originals!

Apartment hunting in Paris is a bit competitive. There are a lot of people here and not as many apartments. So applying to rent an apartment is a bit like applying for a job. My strategy was to always act like I was interested in the apartment (you can always back out later if you don’t want it for some reason). If you don’t have a French garant, you’re already at a disadvantage, and that is the reason why I endorse the agency strategy.

So, I know I just said if you don’t have French relatives you should consider using an agency, but I do know people who have had luck renting apartments directly from their landlords. The best resource for apartment hunting person-to-person (particulier à particulier) is PAP.fr. It’s basically classified ads for apartments (much like craigslist in the U.S., except agencies can’t post on this site, only individuals). You’ll find some great apartments and some great deals on this site. But beware, if you find a great apartment, chances are a lot of other people did too, and you may show up to find several people waiting to view the apartment with dossiers in-hand (and this is a site the French use, so they might have a leg up on you already by having a garant).

If you’re American, I’ve heard from many sources that the American Church in Paris has a great bulletin board with apartment listings. I’ve never personally used it, but it comes highly recommended by word-of-mouth around here. Also, for Anglophones, there is FUSAC, which is a great resource for all sorts of Anglophone things in Paris, but also has classifieds for apartments. They have craigslist here, but it’s not nearly as big as in the U.S., and it’s mostly geared toward Americans who don’t know any better. I do have a friend who found an apartment on craigslist, but she’s the only person I know who’s used it for anything since I’ve been here. I didn’t have much luck with it (Although I did find a lot of scams! If you find a deal that’s too good to be true, you’ll probably get an e-mail from a missionary in Africa who needs you to send the money through Western Union… RUN AWAY this is a scam.).

Here’s what happened to me: I found an apartment on FUSAC. The apartment was good, and I wanted it. The landlord was hesitant because I don’t have a garant, but I promised to give him more money up-front so that he wouldn’t be taking a risk with me, and we would apply the extra money toward the last 2 months of rent. He was happy with this arrangement (I’m a student, so I live on loans, which means I am rich in August and January and I eat a lot of Ramen in December and July. This lease was to start in the fall, so I could afford it.). He e-mailed me to have me come sign the lease the following week. The next week, I went to sign the lease, but before I signed it I started to read it (law school will do that to you–my contracts professor would be proud). The landlord saw me reading it, so he started reading it. Then he said “WAIT!” I waited. Apparently there is some new law that required him to get a safety inspection and he hadn’t done it. He didn’t realize the law existed until he started reading his responsibilities in the contract. He said he’d get the inspection and I could come back and sign the lease the following week. Now, this happened on Wednesday. He wanted me to come back the following Tuesday to sign the lease, and then I was supposed to move in on Saturday. Great. Fine. But then, he disappeared. I called him and e-mailed him everyday to find out when I could sign the lease, but I never heard from him again. So I was left with no apartment and I would be homeless the following week unless I found another place. And you’ve just read how hard it is to find an apartment. All of the above-mentioned considerations are heavily exacerbated at the end of the month, when all of the good apartments are gone and anyone still searching is desperate. I was a little freaked out. That’s when I decided to use an agency. But the really amazing thing is this: anyone in Paris I told this story to was completely unsurprised. In fact, most of them had a similar crazy story. People are kind of flakey here. They aren’t as focused on making money as we are in the states. They go at their own pace with their own priorities.

So, this brings me to the much-anticipated agency description. The pros: they generally have good apartments, you don’t need a garant, you don’t need a dossier, the process is relatively straightforward, they have comprehensive websites with lots of pictures, if you start looking far enough in advance they have a good selection (start looking early if you’re using an agency), most speak English, did I mention that you don’t need a garant or a dossier? The con: the price. Agency fees are generally around one month’s rent, and you don’t get it back. Additionally, you still have to pay the security deposit (although with NY Habitat I only had to pay 1 month’s rent for security deposit instead of the usual 2, AND I got a discount on the agency fee for being a student). I used NY Habitat (note: they are not paying me to say nice things about them). I know a lot of people who used Lodgis and are happy with their apartments, but I’ve never used them.  Those are the only agencies I know anything about, but there are others out there. You can find them all in the Paris Info listing.

I think that’s about it. Remember: there is a happy ending. Apartment hunting in Paris can be overwhelming and disappointing at times, but you will eventually find a great place to live. Bon courage!

Musée Carnavalet: Histoire de Paris

Sorry for the lack of posts! I have been getting settled into my routine with classes and general busyness, and I hadn’t ventured out on any excursions until yesterday.

On the way home I decided to go to the Musée Carnavalet. I’d been meaning to go for quite a while, and finally yesterday I had some spare time. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how vast and amazing the museum would be, and I didn’t allot myself nearly enough time. The museum was much more wonderful than I expected, and I had to hurry through a lot of it. I will surely return  soon to see more and hear a concert.

First, this is a FREE museum! That immediately merits points in its favor. Also, the museum is in Le Marais, a very chic right bank neighborhood near the center of Paris. The neighborhood is full of very high-fashion boutiques, art galleries, cafés, and shops. It’s always a fun place to walk around or grab a bite to eat. So before I even got to the museum, it already had potential.

Link Gallery

I came to the museum, which is housed in two old hôtels connected by a bridge. The entrance is through a courtyard. The buildings themselves are impressive, and they make a grand backdrop for the collections. The hôtel Carnavalet was built in 1548 and showcases fantastic architectural features. The hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau houses an incredible orangerie (greenhouse) and surrounds a beautiful garden. There are over 100 rooms in the museum, and each shows a different period or aspect of Parisian history. The overall feeling of the museum is like being in a miniature castle (but this comparison is not intended to imply that it’s small!).

"Les retardataires" (The Latecomers)

The premise of this lovely museum is that it is dedicated to the history of Paris. Therefore, visitors can walk through rooms with collections from prehistoric Paris and the Roman era all the way through the time of the monarchs, the revolution, and modern day.

Sign Gallery

When I walked into the fantastic sign gallery at the museum’s entrance, I asked the man at the table in French if I could take one of the guides. He said that I certainly could and handed me one in French. I picked up one in English and told him that it was my langue maternelle, and he said “But you speak French! Here, take the French one too and you can switch between the two.” (This is a very loose translation.) I was happy to have the compliment, and told him “Thank you, that will be good for me since I am learning.” A compliment on my French from a Parisian stranger! Happy day! (It was a very basic conversation, and not too much to brag about, but a small triumph is welcome nonetheless.)

My favorite parts of the museum were the buildings themselves and their beautiful rooms (some decorated with furniture collections), the Roman ruins in the orangerie (It’s easy to forget about the Gallo-Roman period in Paris, but there were temples, baths, an amphitheater, and everything else Roman here for about 400 years!), and the paintings in the link gallery (the bridge connecting the two buildings). Also, the concise descriptions of each historical period were good (but they are in French, so bring a Francophone friend or get a listening guide). I was a bit disappointed by the revolutionary period rooms. They mostly contained models and smaller mementos from that time.

L'orangerie

As I was getting ready to leave the museum, they announced that there would be a classical concert with piano, violin, and singing. The cost was €10. I didn’t have time to stay and enjoy the music in this incredible setting (and imagine that I was

Roman Collection

here in another era being entertained at a party), but I will try to come back for another concert later on.

Highlights of this museum include: the gallery of shop signs from the 16th-20th centuries at the entrance, a chess set Louis XVI used to distract himself while awaiting the guillotine, a recreation of Marcel Proust’s bedroom with his bed and other furniture, carved stones from the Roman period, Neolithic dugout canoes from 2800-2500 BC, paintings of Paris’s belle epoque in the link gallery.

New Words: grève (strike), soutien (support), chausson (a fruit-filled pastry, often in apple: pomme), les cuivres (brass instruments), salarié (salaried employee), prestation (performance)

Chercheminippes

What a crazy week!!! I found an apartment (hooray!), moved into said apartment, and started classes. Whew!

So far, classes in France are a lot like my undergraduate classes were. This is because, for them, law school is an undergraduate major. So it’s a huge lecture hall where the professors talk at the students for an hour and half and the students transcribe every word the professors say in paragraph form. Needless to say, I am getting notes from my new-found French friends. Their notes are flawless transcriptions of the class! It’s amazing! My notes are sparse. Just listening, I can understand 50-80% of what the professors are saying (except for one professor, who speaks very quickly and has a naturally soft voice). But when I try to take notes and I start writing, things go south quickly. My French is not good enough to listen and write at the same time. I write, then I start to listen again, and I’m completely lost for a minute because I’ve missed some critical piece of information while I was writing. So I try to take some notes, but mostly I try to listen and rely on my extremely kind French classmates for notes.

Overall, the week was spent organizing the apartment (have I mentioned that I have the greatest apartment in all of Paris? it’s perfect.), going to classes, and fighting with the administration to get properly registered. But on Wednesday, I had some retail fun.

Paris is the fashion capital of the world. However, for most of us mere earthlings (especially those of us on student-sized budgets), the clothes are EXPENSIVE!!!!! The whole city is one big shopping-tease. You look into window after window of the most gorgeous, unique, outrageous, elegant, stylish clothes, and then you look at the little price marker next to them and your heart misses a beat. You don’t even bother converting the euros into dollars, because that would just make it worse.

Other than H&M and Zara, my only Paris fashion experiences had been the sort of lèche-vitrine (“window-licking,” or what we refer to as window-shopping) I’ve just described. But this week I discovered Paris’s dépôt-ventes. They are second-hand luxury fashion stores where you can buy the most exclusive brands at a fraction of the price! Now, sometimes a fraction of the price is still a high number, but in general you can find affordable couture. I was thrilled to find Chercheminippes in the 6th arrondissement. I bought some fantastic new (to me) designer clothes and I didn’t break the bank. It was great.

I promised to increase the multimedia-to-text ration on the blog, so I will take my camera for some outings this weekend. I haven’t forgotten. I’ve just been at home or school most of the week. Neither occasion merited camera-use.

Happy Friday everyone! Bon week-end!

Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Last Friday, the weather was beautiful. Actually, come to think of it, the weather has been perfect for a couple of weeks now. Anyway, my fellow foreigners and I went to our morning class and then had lunch as usual. After lunch, we came back for our afternoon oral language class, and the teacher announced that the copy machines were all broken and it was beautiful outside, so we were going to the Père Lachaise cemetery. We were all happy to be outside in the sunshine.

The cemetery is vast, and it is full of graves of Paris’s elite. It is still used as a cemetery today, but only the really rich or famous can be buried there. It is very hilly with cobblestones everywhere, so if you’re planning a trip you should wear comfortable shoes (I speak from experience; since this was an unplanned impromptu trip, I was wearing heals and it made the trip less pleasant). Since I didn’t know we were going on the trip, I not only wore uncomfortable shoes, but I also didn’t bring my camera. Sorry for the lack of photos in this post. I’ll make up for it in upcoming posts.

We visited the graves of Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust, Frédéric Chopin (who was not French, but Polish), Molière, Oscar Wilde (who’s grave was covered in red lipstick kisses and notes written in red lipstick in spite of a sign forbidding it—the French don’t really follow rules that conflict with tradition), and Jim Morrison.

Jim Morrison’s grave is closed off because people would go smoke on it. I don’t think that was a huge issue initially, but then people started writing on the nearby graves, which is disrespectful. There were actually a few nearby graves where people had written “I <3 Jim” and things like that. Who does that? Who writes on someone’s grave about someone else? I was disturbed.

When we visited, around 2pm on a Friday afternoon, there was a group of Americans sitting on a grave near Jim Morrison’s and drinking and listening to music and jumping onto other graves to take pictures. Out of our class, I’m the only American, and I was so embarrassed by them. I said, in French (partly because I didn’t want them to know that I was American), “those are not my compatriots,” and my teacher responded “Ce n’est pas à toi,” (“it’s not for you,” literally, but in this context it was more like “it’s not your fault”). When one guy jumped onto a grave, my teacher said to them “this is someone’s grave” in French. The guy who had jumped on the grave was sarcastic in responding “pas Jim Morrison’s grave.” Then the teacher said, in English, “Yes, but someone else is buried here, this is not a bar, it’s a cemetery.” Then the offenders just nodded and said “you’re right,” and kept drinking. It was disgusting. The French are generally tolerant of crazy partying, as far as I’ve been able to tell. But jumping on graves and listening to music and drinking on someone’s grave in a cemetery is just downright disrespectful. Maybe if they were on Jim Morrison’s grave, it would be okay, but they were on some random person’s grave nearby. The whole thing was weird, and I think everyone who came to visit the grave was put-off by them.

Other than the awkward exchange with the rude Americans, the cemetery was beautiful. It was very peaceful and FULL of famous people’s graves. We could have stayed all day and enjoyed the lovely weather and seen the graves of many other incredibly famous people (I wanted to see the graves of Georges Bizet, Francis Poulenc, and Gertrude Stein), but it was such a massive place and we were all hot and tired by the end of our long walk.

If you’re looking for a good walk on a nice day with interesting and historical scenery, come here. Overall, it’s very peaceful and beautiful.

Shakespeare & Company Bookstore

I just went to the most wonderful place. I have a few posts I need to catch up on, but this place was so incredible that I need to write about it right now, before I forget anything! Photos were forbidden, so you will just have to come and see it for yourself.

Today I am free as a bird, with no classes and no immediately pressing business to take care of. (This is my first such day in Paris.) I am getting over a cold, so I had a very lazy morning sleeping in, reading a book, and catching up on NPR podcasts. It’s a beautiful day, so I eventually decided to venture out. I went to a park across the street to read a book for a while in the shade from Notre Dame, but then it got a little too warm and I wanted to go inside. I decided to go to Shakespeare & Company, which is just around the corner from my apartment.

I had originally heard of Shakespeare & Company years ago, when I was studying abroad in Italy. We were nearing the end of our program, and my friend was planning to travel to Paris afterward. I asked where she would stay, since we were all out of money at that point. She told me she had heard that artists can stay at a famous bookstore there in exchange for helping out in the bookstore. She told me all about the bookstore and the bohemian artists there. I always remembered the name of the bookstore, Shakespeare & Company, and today I finally visited it.

When I first walked in, I was immediately struck by the endless amount of books covering every imaginable surface. Wooden bookshelves cover every wall, above every doorway, and underneath and along the staircase. Even the walkways between rooms are narrow because one side is covered in bookshelves. The books are lined up on the shelves, and if there is room left at the top they are stacked horizontally on top of the books. Oh, and they are in English, which is wonderful for a bibliophile ex-pat like me.

There are nooks and crannies everywhere, and the little kid in me immediately wanted to explore. The store is somewhat of a small labyrinth; the floorplan is haphazard, leaving you to discover the poetry, fiction, mysteries, art, etc. as you wind through the store. The random layout of the store is probably due to the fact that the owner kept extending the store by purchasing apartments and stores next to and above his original small shop. The walls are stone (although you can’t see much of them behind all the books), and the ceilings have exposed beams, as many places in Paris do. The floors are stone with tiles laid in them in a kind of random mosaic. The rooms have cool names like “The Blue Oyster Tearoom” and “The Old Smokey Reading Room.” There is a covered hole in the ground where you can throw coins for the starving artists at Shakespeare & Company.

The downstairs is where all of the new books for sale are kept. When you climb the stairs, you reach the library. None of the books in the library are for sale; they are there for anyone to sit and read. There are many couches and chairs and books. The windows in the front room open out onto a view of the Notre Dame. There are beds up there where artist/guests stay, a chess set, and even a piano. The owner’s motto is painted onto a wall: “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” There is also a kind of “writer’s hut,” which is like a child’s fort. There are walls built around it maybe four feet high with an opening. There are small colorful lights on the outside, and inside is a chair and a desk with a typewriter on it. There is also another typewriter in a room with couches. Anyone is allowed to use the typewriters in the library.

The upstairs rooms encircle a courtyard that begins on the second floor and uses the roof of the first floor as the ground. Today there was an artist who had climbed out into the courtyard and was gluing model airplanes suspended from fishing wire in the courtyard. She was chatting up to another artist who was staying in another room on the other side of the building.

The entire shop was quite an experience. I will definitely be back, probably frequently. I highly suggest coming here to look around, read a book, buy a book, and maybe even write a book. This place is so unique. Visitors to Paris should definitely experience it.