Tag Archives: Paris

Musée national du sport

Hello everyone!

Today I’m going to do something a bit special and completely different: I am going to have a guest blogger write this post. You see, it involves a visit to the sports museum, and while I am a casual sports fan, I am definitely not a major sports fan and I’m not a fan of every sport. Fortunately, the maestro is both, and he came with me to the sports museum a few weeks ago when he was visiting. So with that, I’ll let the maestro take you through our tour of the Musée national du sport.

The Musée National du Sport was, in a word, disappointing.  I was extremely exciting upon our entry to the museum because we quickly discovered that we were the only two people there.  In my mind, this meant that that would be no long lines to see all of the awesome artifacts and read all of the informative placards.  Well… there was a serious lack of awesome things to see and read.  Now this is not to say that there was nothing cool on display.  There were several Olympic gold medals (although not from Olympics held in France), a bicycle from the turn of the century, Tony Parker’s French Olympic basketball jersey, and a pretty sweet miniature replica of a French gym from the early 1900’s.  Other than that however, and I kid you not, the vast majority of the museum was about skateboarding.  Room upon room of skateboarding paraphernalia, skateboarding videos, a “street course” set up for guests of the museum to practice their finger skateboarding skills.  Each successive room brought us another dizzying array of skateboards and skateboarding information.

When I think of French sports I think of several different things.

The most storied bicycle race in history, the Tour de France.  One display case in the museum contained a slightly battered yellow jersey from the mid 1970’s, and did not even explain it’s significance.

The French Open.  One of tennis’s four major championships.  Not once was the French Open so much as mentioned in the Musee National du Sport.

French Soccer.  One display case contained a soccer ball.  The guests are left wondering what this soccer balls means, or if it was simply placed in said display case at random.

For a country steeped in such rich athletic history and tradition as France, the Musee National du Sport falls well short of representing French sport in the way it deserves.  Ultimately, I had an enjoyable time at the museum, but almost entirely because of who I was with, and not what I got to see.

Olympic Torch

Musée du Louvre: Ancient Egyptian Collection

The Louvre.

The most visited art museum in the world. One of the world’s largest museums and a historic monument as well. At least, according to its wikipedia article. I’m not surprised. It’s . . . overwhelming. So I’ve decided to break it down and present it to you in pieces. Collection by collection. That seems much more manageable. I have a Louvre card, which gets me into the museum for free without waiting in line, so I’ll make many smaller trips every so often and report back. This will be much more pleasant for me (because to try to see it all in one day or one weekend or even one week would be insane and would result in a lot of stress, a very sore back and feet, a foggy brain overwhelmed with all of the information I’d taken in over such a short period, and a very poor idea of what to write about the millions of items I’d witnessed) and for you (because any article I wrote afterward would surely be disorganized, too long, and insufficient on all of its many subjects). So we will take baby steps. I started with my favorite: Ancient Egypt.

I have been fascinated with Ancient Egypt ever since the sixth grade when we finished the Mesopotamia unit and started learning about the pharaohs, gods, pyramids, and mummies of Ancient Egypt. It captures the imagination. It’s fascinating. Plus, they had mummies; need I say more? The maestro came to visit this month, and we went to the Louvre a couple of times. It’s the kind of place that you could go to many times and still constantly be making new discoveries.

The Louvre has over 50,000 pieces in its Ancient Egypt collection. The thing that struck me most about every single item, as obvious as it is, was its age. We saw beautifully made objects that are 5,000 years old. 5,000 years old! And they’re still so impressive. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around how old some of these objects and statues and artwork are. I am also amazed by how long Ancient Egypt existed.  As a point of reference: America has been a country for less than 250 years; Ancient Egypt lasted for almost 3,000 years.

I won’t try to catalogue all of the incredible things we saw, because they’re too numerous. I will just say that some of my favorites were the statues. Many of them were larger than life. They have statues of pharaohs and gods and animals. They have a temple you can go inside of. A giant sphinx greets you as you enter the Ancient Egypt collection. It’s amazing.

They have a lot of sarcophagi, which are stunningly detailed with many layers.

They have incredible objects from daily life as well, including jewelry and clothes and mirrors, and even musical instruments.

I’ve saved the best for last. In my opinion, the pièce de résistance in the entire collection is the mummy. Yes, you read that right. There is an actual mummy in the museum that can be viewed from 360 degrees. They even have the jars containing the organs with it. Ahhhhh! I will admit, I was delightfully freaked out by the mummy. It’s incredible. You can see the shape of the 5,000 year old face and where the nose protrudes. The person was quite short, not surprisingly. You can see every tiny finger individually bandaged. It’s all evenly and carefully wrapped and preserved. Even the ears. If, like me, you have a vivid imagination, you half expect the mummy to bolt upright and look at you with its blank bandaged face from behind the glass. I was very jumpy as I circled it and bent down to look more closely. Thank goodness the maestro was there. I made him stand between the mummy and myself while I had my back turned to read the sign on the wall. I got the chills from looking at this former person from ancient times. I was completely freaked out (though I played it mostly cool) and yet the maestro practically had to drag me away because we were late for a friend’s birthday dinner. How awesome. An actual mummy.

I am probably biased because I love Ancient Egypt so much, but you MUST visit this collection. Leave yourself plenty of time. It’s extensive, and it’s all well worth seeing. There’s a small temple you can go into, and tons of statues and objects to see. They have the book of the dead spread out on a wall. They have rows of statues, and many hieroglyphics  in stone and on papyrus. It really captures the imagination. The whole thing is impressive.

New words: décalage horaires (time change), désormais (henceforth), en tant que tel (as such), au-delà (beyond), quant à (as to), jumeaux (twins), la chute (fall), chut (hush), le fusible (the fuse), la candidature (application, like for a job)

 

 

Musée Marmottan Monet

This is one of my new favorite museums in Paris. A few weeks ago, my parents came to town to visit. A professor (the same one who advised me about the Sainte-Chapelle) had recommended this museum to me a couple of years ago, and I always remembered it. Both of my parents are big fans of impressionism in general and Monet in particular (as am I), so we went to this small gem of a museum together.

First, the museum is not in the center of Paris. It’s way out in the fancy-schmancy 16th arrondissement. I’ve been mostly in the center of Paris for the last several months, where the sidewalks are as tiny as the apartments bumping up against them and there is no grass. Everything feels very compact and squished and slightly dirty. We hopped on the RER C to go to the museum (it’s not too far, only about a 10 minute ride), and as soon as we stepped out into the 16th arrondissement, I felt like I had stepped out of the center of the city into a huge clean park. There are trees and grass and the sidewalks are wide and the buildings are gorgeous and clean and sturdy-looking. It was a nice change of scenery. We walked about 7 minutes to get from the metro to the museum, and it was lovely, even in winter.

The museum was started in the end of the 19th century with a collection of paintings, furniture, Renaissance sheet music, illuminated manuscripts, etc. Frankly, the original collection is not that great, and it’s all upstairs. But in 1966, Claude Monet’s second son died in a car crash and left a large bequest of his father’s work to the Académie that owns the museum. The museum has over 130 of Monet’s paintings, watercolors, pastels, and drawings. Other impressionist work is featured there as well. If you like impressionism, you must see this museum. Its collection is impressive. They even have Monet’s palette, which I thought was cool. You could also see the dialogue between the impressionists in their paintings of one another and their paintings that they made for each other. It felt like a very personal glimpse into the impressionist movement.

They have an entire hall dedicated to Monet’s paintings. They have several waterlilies, and many other works. They have some famous paintings and some less famous but no less beautiful paintings. My parents and I spent a lot of time looking at Monet’s huge paintings up close, then stepping back and admiring how the blobs of color come together to form a clear picture. Going to museums with my dad is always fun because he’s an artist at heart and always has the most interesting explanations of techniques they used to make certain effects, or he’ll notice something you never would have seen if he hadn’t pointed it out.

I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere of the museum. It is in a mansion, and seeing it felt a lot like wandering through a really rich person’s house. It still has all of the decorations you’d find in a rich art collector’s house (in my imagination, anyway).

Downstairs they have a temporary exhibit, and when we went it was a neo-impressionism exhibit. It was interesting to get to see examples from the development of impressionism upstairs, and then go downstairs and see where things went after that. But I personally prefer impressionist paintings.

If you like impressionist art, of course go see the Musée d’Orsay (watch for an upcoming post about that). But this museum should be a definite second on your list.

Marchés de Noël

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a nice holiday season. As you may have noticed, I took a break from blogging and went back to the US to be with friends and family for the holidays. It was a wonderful trip, although it was strange to be speaking so much English at first! I came back to Paris just in time for New Year’s and celebrated at the Eiffel Tower with friends (it was a bit chaotic and very anticlimactic).

This week I moved into a new apartment. I crossed the Seine into the right bank. I will miss my old neighborhood in the 6th arrondissement, but it’s just a short walk from my new apartment. Besides, I’m looking forward to exploring a new neighborhood here for a while.

Being in Paris in December was fun. All of the bars, cafés, restaurants, and shops put up garland and ornaments and lights. Many streets had lights strung up over the street between the buildings. It was pretty and festive.

One of the many things they do in Paris at Christmas is the Marchés de Noël (Christmas markets). There are many in the Paris area, but the biggest and most

Lots and lots of chocolate

famous one is on the Champs-Élysées. White wooden stalls line the streets selling gifts and treats. They have roasted chestnuts, mulled wine,  and candied nuts to snack on while you look at the chocolate, cheese, meats, toys, and scarves in other stalls. It’s fun to walk and look at all the stalls and lights while snacking.  The Champs-Élysées is chaos, but it’s worth seeing. I prefer the smaller markets though. They’re not so packed and you can easily walk through them.

Sainte-Chapelle

This is one of my favorite treasures in Paris. I have been a handful of times, and it never fails to awe me.

A year ago, I was in Paris under the pretense of an academic program (okay, so we actually did do a lot of work, but that didn’t slow down our fun). A professor suggested that I visit the Sainte-Chapelle, and I had never been. I went with a couple of friends on our first free day, and here’s what I wrote in my private blog:

First, we went right across the bridge to the Sainte-Chapelle. It’s in the Palais de la Cité (or what’s left of it), which was the royal residence and seat of power from the 10th to 14th century. Louis the IX ordered the tiny chapel to be built for the use of the royal family. He spent twice as much money on the relics (including some of the Crown of Thorns) as he did on building the chapel. We went in and walked around, and I was thinking, ‘okay, this place is nice, but it’s not that great. It’s not in great condition or anything, and the stained glass windows are not as impressive as advertised.’

I was just about to leave the chapel, thinking that my Professor had led me astray, when I saw a sign on the way out in the corner that said “Haute Chapelle” with an arrow pointing to a staircase in the corner. I thought, ‘why not’ so I went up the stairs. Wow. Oh my gosh. I stood there for a few minutes just staring up and circling. It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Ever. Our best guess is that the chapel is at least 3 stories high with gorgeous intricate stained glass windows covering the walls. Like, 50 feet high stained  glass windows.
That was my post from over a year ago, and now that I’ve been a few more times, the stained glass still has the same effect on me. There’s just so much of it! And it’s so beautiful! There are 1,113 biblical scenes depicted on the 15 stained glass windows, and they start on the left with Genesis and go all the way around the room, finishing with a huge rose window that shows the Apocalypse. It’s breathtaking. The building and windows are from the 13th century. I was surprised to learn that about 70% of the windows are still the originals! They’ve done a lot of work to restore and preserve them.
In the lower chapel, there used to be beautiful statues, but I believe that a lot of them were victims of the revolution. However, you can go over to the Musée Cluny to see the what’s left of the original, medieval statues. They are still quite impressive!
I cannot recommend this place highly enough, even if you only have a short time in Paris. If you can come on a bright and sunny day, even better. You have to pay to enter (except on the first Sunday of the month), but the price of admission is well worth it. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. In the summer they host concerts here. That’s on my to-do list.

Musée de la Musique

A few weeks ago, a certain Maestro came to visit me. We had a wonderful time, and one of the highlights of the visit was the best musical museum I’ve ever been to.

Cité de la Musique is not in the center of Paris. It’s way out in the 19th (which seems impossibly far, but is really only a short metro ride from the center—it’s easy to forget how small Paris really is). We trekked out specifically for the museum, and WOW! It was worth the trip.  The entire complex is situated on the Parc Villette, which is a very popular area. I’ll have to come back in the spring when it’s warmer and check out the park. Anyway, there are theaters and performance halls, and in the midst of it all is a museum dedicated to music.

You have to pay to enter the museum, but the price includes an audioguide (available in English if you ask!). The building itself is new and very modern and nice. They have instruments on display from ancient times until today from all over the world. The collection is organized by time period, and each floor houses one century, from the XVI century to XXI century.

You enter the exhibit, and you see some incredible instruments. They are beautiful, sometimes strange, and sometimes completely different from today’s instruments. You can listen to the audioguide to hear about the history of the instruments you’re looking at, but my favorite part was that each exhibit had another number you could enter to just listen to the instruments. They had recordings of many many instruments that you could listen to, and it was so great to see these interesting instruments and actually hear the music they make.

The museum also has concerts everyday for visitors. They have workshops for kids where they can conduct musicians or play many instruments. The whole museum is very kid-friendly. They have a special audioguide for kids, and books and games and things. The museum hosts master classes for musicians to work on pieces with experts. They have concerts, lessons, and all kinds of other activities.

We could have spent all day in this museum. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it would be so cool until we got there, and it closed just a couple hours after we got there. We rushed through the last half hour, and we still only got to see about half of the museum. We will definitely be coming back.

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)

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!