Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Photos: Month One

Here are some photos that we took over the past few weeks. Sorry for the delay! I'll try to be more creative next month.

Entering our house. This was taken a few days after arriving. We've cleaned up a bit since then and put the cord under the carpet.

Looking down at our staircase.

My work station. Looks comfortable, huh?

Bilbo sleeping on the heater. I'm sure he's going to catch fire someday.

Fred and I were out doing some Christmas shopping. We came upon this stand just outside the shopping center. It was packed with sausages, cheeses, foie gras, etc. Everything looked delicious. The French Hickory Farms! Oh, how I miss those Beef Stick Pops! Next year I'm thinking of sticking tongue depressors into slices of saucisson and opening up a stand next door.

This is our second night here. I'm standing in front of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) of Paris at an ice skating rink. I bought this jacket our first day out. It's pretty cold here. They follow Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Great. Another thing to learn.

We took these photos around the corner from the ice rink. This building is the Hotel de Ville of the Fourth Arrondissement. Each district has it's own mini City Hall. The Hotel de Ville of Paris happens to be located in the Fourth Arrondissement (where we live).

I took this picture a few days ago. It's the view from our kitchen. The best view in the house. Only one person can enjoy it at a time because the kitchen is so small! The blue and red structure behind the apartment building is the George Pompidou Museum (also referred to as the Beaubourg). It's focus is on modern art. Currently, the museum is showcasing Martin Scorsese's work.

What a difference a day makes! Today, it started to snow and it was beautiful. This is the view from our dining room. Don't look too closely, you may see our neighbor changing. I'm just kidding so you can stop straining your eyes. But, the living quarters are close here!

More later . . .

Friday, December 23, 2005

Lost at Sea

I did the shopping for dinner tonight. And, like a real Parisienne, I didn’t do it all in one place. I started at the produce market where I greeted the man with “bonjour” as he simultaneously said “bonsoir”. I went to the wine store where I greeted the man with “bonsoir” as he simultaneously said “bonjour”. At the boulangerie, I got it right. I imagine bonjour and bonsoir blend together this time of year. It stays dark until 8:30 a.m. and gets dark at 5:30 p.m. My final destination, the Poissonnerie, presented the real challenge.

The poissonnière looked serious. I started to panic when I realized that I had not prepared a single word to help me place my order. At all of the other shops, I picked my items, handed the cashier a large bill regardless of the price and waited for my change. As the poissonnière assisted the man before me, I started fumbling with my dictionary for the word “halibut”. An elderly woman approached a few minutes later and started asking the poissonnière questions. I was feeling anxious, certain this new customer was going to try to cut in front of me. I’d heard rumors about Parisiens not respecting lines and had observed it at the airport. I struggled with the situation in my mind and contemplated what I would say: “Pardon”? “Excuse moi”? “I have a gun”? (Since we're on the subject of stereotypes).  Then I thought, really, I’m in no position to take a stand and resigned myself to the fact that I’d be there until closing, or at least until Fred got off work.

The poissonnière stepped from behind the counter, ready to assist the next guest.  She was favoring the elderly woman. Just then, the elderly woman stepped back and gestured to me. I was speechless (mostly from fear and lack of preparation). I stuttered and eked out in Franglish something like: “No, vous first, je ne parle pas Francais. It will take too long”. Then, this wonderful woman, looked at me with the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen and said in English (with a French accent): “You can do it”. My eyes welled-up with tears. I choked them back as I muttered “Flétan pour deux, s’il vous plait” to the poissonnière, who clearly wasn’t as touched. She looked perplexed by my request, but my guardian angel snapped: “flétan” because she could make sense of my horrible accent (and then proceeded to assist me through the rest of my transaction, because they didn’t have halibut, of course). I thanked her in French as I left. I’m getting good at having to thank people. She responded in English and wished me a good night.

I started crying on my way home. Maybe I was tired, maybe it’s the holidays, maybe it’s because they didn’t have halibut. People have been very nice to me here, but for some reason I found this woman’s words of encouragement very touching. I was overwhelmed by her kindness in a moment when I really needed someone to be kind.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Boy Friday, Interrupted.

Today the vacation is over. Fred’s employer called on Tuesday and asked that he begin work this Thursday, opposed to his previously scheduled start date of December 19. Apparently, the HR staff will be out next week getting a jump-start on the Christmas holiday. Fred must come in this week if he wants to start this year, which his contract and our pocketbook require. Although Fred’s vacation is also over, I was referring to mine.

Up until today, I’ve had a Boy Friday to run all of my errands, e.g.: set-up my computer, pick-up groceries, tend to the banking, wait at the social security office, and assist me in my Christmas shopping. But, starting today, I’m on my own. I suppose I should be happy that I had a transition period, but I’ve become dependent on my enabler. I’m thinking of stock-piling lunch meats to hold me over for the next 6 months, but they don’t sell sliced turkey here and I’m not a big fan of ham sandwiches, which leaves me one option: to learn French.

Fred’s accelerated start date sent me straight to a French language school to inquire about class schedules and teaching methods. The instructor spoke in French, mostly to Fred - which I found annoying because I’m the potential student and Fred won’t be attending classes with me to translate for her. That being said, she was nice. It’s just that I have no idea how much English she knows because she was speaking in French nearly the entire time. I know schools like to pitch their classes as “immersion”. This bothers me. If I wanted to immerse myself in French with no guidance, I could walk around the streets of Paris asking people for directions. I think immersion courses are code for “your instructor can’t speak your native language and explain the grammar to you in your native language to better help you understand the language that you’re trying to learn, but if it’s called an immersion course, then your instructor will have an excuse not to speak to you in your native language, if even to impart necessary information to you that you can’t possibly understand when said in the foreign language because you don’t yet have the vocabulary to process the words”. Anyway, I’m going to register this week and start after Christmas. And if I can’t learn French, I’ll just run an English immersion school out of my apartment. I’ll accept payment in the form of lunch.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Permanent Vacation

Today we walked across the Seine to the Island of the City [Ile de la Cité] – the one with Notre Dame. It was 2:30 p.m. and we were starving. We stumbled upon a restaurant called “Les deux Palais” – which I’m sure was French for “The Tourist Trap”. In fact, the menu (appetizer, entrée, and dessert) was called “The Tourist Menu”. But, their onion soup looked good, and I’m not proud, so I sat down and ordered “Le menu Touriste”. I started with the soup, moved on to a ham omelet with french fries (and Heinz ketchup), and finished with a wedge of Camembert. The sandwich board out front had advertised the omelet as ham, cheese, herbs (I thought it came with all three), so when the waiter asked me if I wanted a jambon, fromage, or fines herbes omelet, I said “oui”. I quickly realized my mistake and settled on jambon.

We had plenty of errands to run, so after lunch we headed out into the cold, but clear, air to tackle our shopping list. We didn’t get far; the beauty of this city is a real distraction. Everywhere I turn there is temptation. Chocolatier. Fromagerie. Boulangerie. Boutique (we stopped by one boutique near our house that has the cutest sweaters and jackets. But, once inside, I couldn't tell if it was a maternity shop or the latest Paris fashions. Everything had an Empire waist. I felt silly asking. It seemed like such a foolish question that I didn’t even have the courage to make Fred ask. Instead I zipped up my padded winter coat to hide my stomach and browsed at the cashmere turtlenecks as if I may or may not be pregnant.)

Fred and I managed to buy 1 out of 8 of the items on our list. Hair conditioner. And that was only because The Body Shop was on our way to get a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate). I paid the man behind the counter. As he handed me my bag he wished me a good vacation [bonnes vacances]. I thanked him and walked out. He may be surprised when I'm back in 3 months after I run out of conditioner again. But for now, I'll be the tourist. I can eat a 3 course meal off the tourist menu for 13 euro. Plus, people are much more tolerant of my inability to speak French when they think I'm only here for 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Small Pleasures . . .

I woke up on Sunday in a panic. I was convinced that all the stores would be closed. In Bordeaux, this certainly is the case. Many a times Fred and I walked around the centre de ville in a circle bored, but not hungry for we knew there would be a delicious home cooked meal waiting for us at his parents' house. But, we are in Paris. And Bordeaux is 300 miles away. I was terrified that I might starve to death. My stomach began to rumble, I felt weak. My mind sped ahead to dinner time and I pictured myself limp on the floor. Fred tried to persuade me that in Paris there would be food, somewhere. Even if it meant eating at Quick, France’s answer to McDonald’s (although they have plenty of McDo’s [“Mack Dough”] too. The other day, I thought I was watching a drug deal go-down, as we got closer I saw it was just a group of guys gathered around a McDonald’s bag).

As I made the coffee (I figured the caffeine would suppress my appetite), Fred journeyed down the stairs intent on returning with a croissant beurre and a chocolatine. A few moments later, I heard huffing and puffing at our door, at this point, I wasn’t afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, I figured I’d eat him (hey, I’m in France now, remember ?!?). But it was Fred -- tired from walking back up the four flights of stairs (we don’t have an elevator, which is why we feel we can eat butter and chocolate croissants, daily). Clutched tightly in his beautiful hand was a pastry bag, soaked through with the butter from my flaky, warm croissant. Oh, France, I love you!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Enter . . . La Cave

It's 5:15 a.m. I've been up for 2 hours. I had the same problem last night, and the night before. Fred and Bilbo are sleeping soundly. They've had no problem adjusting to the time change (and they're hogging the bed). I'm not sure if it's a long case of jet lag or nerves. I think it may have to do with a CNN news clip I watched on bed bugs. I've been skeptical of the bed in our sublet ever since.

The apartment is cute enough. Not exactly what we expected, but it will do. I knew apartments in Paris were small. I guess I wasn't prepared to have to enter the bathroom via the kitchen. A major dilemma was where to put Bilbo's food dish. The floor space is that limited. Fortunately, there is a basement or "cave". The latter describes it more accurately. Our landlord told us that there was some storage space down there for our empty luggage.

Fred inserted the skeleton key into the lock. We crept down the stone staircase into the moist air. It was straight out of The Pirates of the Carribean (or World War II, as Fred suggested). We forgot to read the directions as to which unit was ours, so we had to try several locks. We gave up after we came upon a door slicked with mold and draped in cob webs.

I freaked and scurried up the stairs, leaving Fred behind. I wanted to make sure one of us was out in case the ceiling collapsed. I yelled down that I would promise to send help and never remarry.

Tomorrow, we'll pack a Survival Kit and try again.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Un petit coucou du Paris

A little hello from Paris

I’m happy to report that we arrived safely in Paris and I’m well on my way to becoming a Europhile à la Madonna and Johnny Depp. I started before our departure by eschewing the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving, opting instead to spend it in Kailua on the balmy island of Oahu (yes, Gil, I know that Hawaii is in the U.S., just pretend it isn’t. Oh, also, pretend that you and Robert didn’t graciously invite us to stay at your home, take us kayaking, and share a wonderful turkey dinner with us!).

Seriously, though, I am a fish out of water, not Parisian at all. The first few days have been wonderful, but I do feel a bit like Helen Keller. Fred has to translate everything and speak on my behalf. I’m contemplating learning sign language. The accent is much easier to perfect.

Even when I try to speak French, the cashier or waiter responds in English. It’s that obvious. Even if I only mutter the word “merci” – their response is “you’re welcome”. They can tell from one little word. I’m impressed by the amount of people that speak English here and at how nice they have been to me thus far. They can tell I am struggling and are trying to ease my pain (I have to admit that I am slightly disappointed. Kindness doesn’t make for good blog material. If this continues, I may have to go on the offensive just to provoke some uncomfortable situations to write about).

On our first full day, we woke up late and didn’t leave the house until 2:00 p.m. I was craving a croissant and a café latte and was dead-set on getting them to celebrate my first day in Paris. I wanted to start eating French right away! We timidly walked into the café across the street. I ordered a “latte” and Fred took an espresso.

My drink was deliciously rich and frothy. It was also very white. I realized that I was enjoying a mug of pure steamed milk, which was what I had ordered, but not what I wanted (I am still hooked on Starbucks' vernacular and assumed that “latte” was short for “café latte”. Looking back, the barman did seem perplexed by my order and even repeated it back to confirm, but I didn’t really understand what he was saying so I just nodded).

I was too embarrassed to go back inside and ask for a café latte, so when Fred offered to give me his espresso, I jumped at the chance to pour it into my milk and make a café latte right there at the table. I felt somewhat justified as he had listened to me place my order. I convinced myself that he was in cahoots with his countryman in playing a trick on l’Américaine so I’d feel less selfish. A moment later, Fred returned with a much larger cup, an American coffee (which, apparently was what he really wanted, but ordered an espresso in a panic). However, he forgot to request steamed milk (i.e., he wanted a café crème). I figured one good turn, deserved another, so I poured some of my drink into his. And there we sat, both enjoying our latte-espresso-coffee at a café in Paris, both stunned that we had actually arrived.

Even though our first outing was pure comedy, we struggled through and made the best of it. Inside, I was happy. I know if Fred and I stick together, we can make café lattes out of whatever France serves up! (And, if we ever falter, there is a Starbucks around the corner. We stumbled across it later that day. Seriously.)

P.S. I plan to attach real photos later, if our digital camera ever arrives. Between the U.S. and French Post Offices, I'm not holding my breath.