Saturday, October 29, 2011

Busy Week

Let's see, some highlights of this week:

+ The girls' cousins (ages 4 & 7) were in town, and even though I'm not on duty this week, I've still managed to spend some quality trampoline time with them, which has reminded me how quickly little kids are willing to act like they've been friends with you forever. During our trampoline session, any time when I tried to tell them that I had to leave, I would hear a chorus of "Noooo Amelie nooooooooooo (sad face)". Who can ignore that kind of attention? The little one and I became particularly good friends (I should add that they don't speak English, and trying to understand 4 & 7-year-old French is even harder than understanding normal person French, so this has been interesting). I keep running into the family around Clamart on my way into Paris as they've been coming back from their day in the city, and yesterday I happened to meet them while crossing the middle of a busy intersection, but that didn't stop the 4-year-old from gasping when she realized it was me whom she was seeing, stopping in the middle of the street while putting her arms around my waist as the cars in both directions were about to come at us. She's very cute but I had to extract her arms from around me and then run off so that I wouldn't miss my train and so that neither of us would be killed. They left this morning but hopefully I'll see them again.

+ Both of my au pair friends in Clamart are British, and they each had a British friend visiting Paris for the first time this weekend, so it's been a long few days that have included trying to see all the sights (very tiring). I've been the only American among the five of us, and they seem to like spending their time talking about cider and making fun of the way I pronounce "Halloween".

+I got home last night around midnight to find Anne and Eric and Anne's sister and brother-in-law still chatting around the kitchen table after dinner. They always ask me the same type of questions after I get home that my parents tend to ask me before I leave the house (where did you go, alone or with friends, etc). When Eric found out that I had spent the day with British people, he started lecturing me about how I have to be careful about "UK people" and something about "a lot of wars" and about how when France plays the England in the big rugby match in February I had better be rooting for the French team.

So it's been a good week. Super excited for my Genius Bar appointment tomorrow morning! Fingers crossed that it's an inexpensive diagnoses.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Toussaint Break

Seriously, my Sunday appointment at the Genius Bar cannot come soon enough. I'm on vacation, which means that I don't need to watch the kids because they're on break and they've been spending everyday with their family members who are visiting, but I still can't help but stay at home in order to take advantage of computer time when the family is out and about. Ahhhhhhhh.

The week has been eventful, though! Earlier, I had one of those nice days without an agenda in which Rachael and Mariene and I visited a cute little ribbon and button store at Les Halles, followed by trips to both the American AND British dry goods imports stores (Rachael and I can't help but split bags of candy corn whenever we go), ending with Stella Artois at one of the cafes near St. Michel (we specifically chose one with heating lamps because that was the day it was unbelieveably cold).

The next night, we met up for falafels in the Marais (I've tried three different falafel places so far) and then we went to trivia night at an English pub near the Pantheon. The questions were really hard and our team did really badly (i.e. assuming that the 200+ boxes that travelled on a specific French ship to America in 1885 were filled with camembert, when apparently they were actually filled with pieces of the future Statue of Liberty. Who knew?). But I did know who the title character in Crime and Punishment was, and that Charles I was the only English king to be beheaded, and that "Helter Skelter" inspired Charles Manson, so yeah!

Mariene and I went back to the vintage shops in the Marais, and this time I found a really nice black blazer from Zara ($$) that fits me perfectly for 1 euro, so that was really awesome. And last night, I met up with Rachael and her friend Haley who also went to the University of Georgia, and sat on the steps near (at?) Trocadero and watched the Eiffel Tower light up, while we took turns asking outloud if we were really living here. So that was nice.

Pictures when I have access to my computer again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Nice Break From H&M

(For the record, I still love the clothing store H&M).

Today, Mariene took me to a bunch of vintage stores in the Marais. Two in particular were good (most things that were interesting to me were only 5 or 10 euros). They were like American Way (our beloved thrift store in Burbank) in the sense that there was a LOT of stuff, good mixed in with crappy, BUT the difference was that there was wayyy too much stuff and wayyyy too many people for the tiny amount of available space. So it was hard to try anything on, but we're planning on going back tomorrow. Hopefully it will be less crowded!

I'm off of work this week. Things to look forward to: Chartres, Pere Lachaise on Halloween, and hopefully some pumpkin-flavored baked things (we Americans are horrified at the lack of this stuff, so we're going to have to make our own).

Also, Season Two of The Wire is so good! I'm 8 episodes through so far.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Hello all! I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like because my computer screen is having issues. I'm FREAKING out about this, actually, because I'm starting to feel really cut off from the world without access to the web (I'm using the family's computer right now, because they're out of town, but it will be harder when they come back because the kids are on it TWENTY-FOUR/SEVEN). I got a library card to the local library, and while they don't have many TV shows on DVD to rent, I was absolutely amazed to find the one thing I was looking for in the whole entire world: "Sur Ecoute" (in English that's The Wire, Season 2!). Which is super exciting, but now I can only watch it in the living room when the kids aren't home, instead of tucked in to my warm bed downstairs, errrrrr. I'm trying to stay positive, though. And it's not so hard, because I feel little bursts of positivity when, for example, I realize that I can see the Eiffel Tower from my suburb, which is really surreal and wonderful.

I've been eating a lot of falafels with my friends, because they're sooo cheap and sooo goood and sooo filling. And the occaisonal kebab too. Yesterday, however, my friends Rachael and Mariene and I were in the mood for filling American food (well, Mariene probably didn't crave it as much as Rachael and I did, seeing as she's from Bristol), so we went to a restaurant called Breakfast in America in the Marais. This is obviously NOT the kind of place you'd want to go if you were only visiting Paris on vacation, but for those of us who are here for the year, Breakfast in America is really comforting. It's basically like any American diner (good breakfasts and good hamburgers), but it has a classy, non-touristy feel, and I definitely did not feel bad about eating there because it was FULL of French people. And it cost what eating the same food in America would cost, so that was an added bonus. Mmmm. My scrambled eggs and potatoes were really good.

Because of my coffee woes (I've been on a month-long quest to perfect the taste of my morning French press coffee with no luck so far because of the way they process milk in France, which deserves its own blog), I've definitely become more interested in espresso, which is progress for me. I still put a lot of sugar in it, but this is the first time I've actually looked forward to drinking it instead of filtered coffee, which makes me feel more Parisian! I'd prefer to be drinking noisettes (it's espresso with a little milk), but in France they charge about a euro more for these, so I've become happy with just plain espresso. At home, the family as a Nespresso machine, which they use ALL THE TIME (so happy I'm with a family who likes caffiene), so I make my own noisettes when I use that.

Falafels and Trivia night tonight at an English pub near the Pantheon. Yay for not having to be up at 8AM tomorrow! :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Month!

I've been here for over a month now! Time flies. I can't believe my stay in Paris is 10 percent over. I'm sad that I only have 9 months left here.

AMAZING 2 euro tarte aux pommes in celebration! Actually, this was just for fun. Rachael and I actually had falafels and wine by the river to celebrate. Mmmmmm.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

First French Test of the Year

Yeah! I like French tests when I feel confidant about them. Except, that I have to remember all of these CUH-RAZY rules, including:

1. The verb avoir, in the past tense, only agrees with the direct object if the direct object comes BEFORE the verb.

J'ai acheté cette veste. (acheter only has one "e" because, while "cette veste" is feminine, it comes after the verb).


La veste que j'ai achetée est suberbe! (acheter has two "e"s because it agrees with "cette veste", which is feminine and because it comes BEFORE the verb. Yeah!

2. Sometimes, the passé composé is only correct if you're talking about things in succession:

J'ai acheté un livre que je l'ai offert. (I bought a book that I offered to him....both verbs are in the passé composé because I wrote them in the real order that they happened).

J'ai offert à mon ami un livre que j'avais acheté. (I offered my friend a book that I had previously bought...the second part has to be in the plus-que-parfait because it happened before the first action)!

3. You can visit something (visiter quelque chose) but if you're talking about visiting a person, you have to rendre visiter à quelqu'un.

4. On the same subject, if you're going to visiter quelque chose ("something"), you use que when you're combining sentences, because that quelque chose is a direct object. However, the verb aller takes quelque part ("somewhere") in place of a direct object, so if you're using a relative pronoun, you use où instead of que.

Awesome! I really can't imagine that my little grammar lessons are that interesting, but typing them out actually helps me study A LOT, and it proves that my grammar skills are improving, so I'll definitely be continuing.

The great thing about being in my situation in Paris is that everyone else is in the same situation, which means that everyone wants English speaking friends. I've been making plans with friends and then bringing other friends along, and suddenly my two three groups of friends are combining, and it's really cool (though, hard for me to keep track of who knows who). ALSO, it turns out that our favorite cafe has a live-in cat!! Life is so great!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The French Way

You know how French people stereotypically get upset and protest a lot?  Apparently last year, my host mom and a bunch of other parents slept in the middle school cafeteria for 7 nights in a row because they didn't like how things were going (whatever that means).

Falafels and gelato in the Marais today with au pair friends, mmm!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Adventures in French Grammar

I am LOVING our lessons on relative pronouns. I learned how to use que & qui in French 1, probably, but I always just assumed that they were the English equivalent of "that". One of the great things about being in a slightly more advanced class now is that we actually spend time learning the technical aspects of grammar instead of simply that que comes before a noun and that qui comes before a verb.

It's true that in many cases, que & qui actually do work as that or who in English. But the techincal reasons behind them are that, in combining two sentences, que replaces the indirect object, and qui replaces the subject.

For example: I know a city. Tourists adore this city.

(Je connais une ville. Les touristes adorent cette ville becomes Je connais une ville QUE les touristes adorent).

Or: I know a city. This city is on the river.

(Je connais une ville. Cette ville est au bord de la rivière becomes Je connais une ville QUI est au bord d'une rivière).

See? In the first example, cette ville is the indirect object of the second sentence, and in the second example, cette ville in the subject of the second sentence. I love finally knowing why.

But, of course, French is never that easy. You have to keep an eye out sentences involving the word dans (in, in English), because in these cases, you're supposed to use
instead. It works the same way, except that it replaces a place.

Je connais une ville. Il y a une belle église dans cette ville can become Je connais une ville où il y a une belle église. 

(Où can also be used to replace things relating to time in the exact same way).

The most handy, however, is dont, which we learned the fine points of yesterday, and which I'm really excited to be able to use correctly from now on.

It works the same way as que, qui and ou, except in different situations. The first is that replaces an indirect object who's verb is a verb constructed with the word "de" (don't ask, that's a story for another time).

The neighbors have a big dog. I'm scared of this big dog.

Les voisins ont un gros chien. J'ai tres peur de ce gros chien = Les voisins ont un gros chien dont j'ai peur. (dont replaces the "un gros chien" in the second sentence, because it's being introduced with "avoir peur de" -- some verbs in French are always constructed with "de").

OR, dont can handily be used anytime you are talking about something posessive, such as my brother, or his aunt, or its beauty for example.

He wants to go to this university. The reputation of this university is excellent.

Il veut aller dans cette université dont la réputation est excellent. 

And, lastly, with no relation to the previous two uses at all,  dont can also be used in the "including" or "for example" sense:

I've visited many European countries. I've visited Italy and Spain turns into (pretend this is all in French, I'm too lazy to actually type out the real example):

I've visited many European countries dont Italy and Spain. 

SO YAY. This is the definitely the most effective French class ever.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Metro Adventures

Paris has proven to be a very small world. Yesterday, I had plans to meet my American friend Rachael at our favorite cafe (my friendship with Rachael is one of those "small world" moments too, because how often do you end up sitting next to someone on an airplane who has everything in common with you and who will also be staying in a foreign country for the exact same amount of time?). Anyway, she and I were coming from opposite directions, and I switched lines so that I could get on the 10, which is the stop closest to the cafe so that I could meet her. Small world moment number 1: The Paris Metro is made up of MANY metro lines, each of which has MANY trains that arrive one right after another every four minutes or so all day long, so it's really something when, two stops after I get on, Rachael gets on MY car and takes the seat directly facing me without even realizing that it's me whom she's about to sit down across from. So we were laughing about that for a while, when she introduced me to her new American friend Elizabeth, whom she had just met that morning at church. Small world moment number 2: After asking each other what part of the States we were each from, it turns out that of all the schools she could be a student at, Elizabeth is currently a PhD student at UCI, in the History department, so of course we've had a bunch of professors in common, and she evens knows one of my really good undergrad friends. UCI has 25,000 students, and the population of Paris is a bit bigger than UCI's , so HOW COOL IS THAT?

I'm constantly amazed by how wonderful Paris is, and I especially love knowing that it's a place where I'm bound to run into other foreigners who are here because they feel the same way.

And I've been busy exploring:

In front of St. Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris, and the neighborhood where my language school is located. 

At the Cluny Museum, Paris' medieval museum, which is conveniently housed in a really old building. 

At the Arc de Triomphe!

Inside the Pantheon, "La Convention Nationale".

More soon! 

Friday, October 7, 2011

French Class

I'm really enjoying my French class. My teacher's name is Florence, and she's very cheerful and funny, and I don't have to worry abut my UC GPA floundering or about reading 18th Century court documents or if she's going to make fun of me, so it's basically great. 75% of every French class I've ever taken (this is my seventh) is a review, and we're definitely reviewing the basics a lot, but what is realllly good about Florence is that she places a big emphasis on improving our vocabulary. Every time we start discussing any adjective, she'll have us try to list as many synonyms and antonyms of that word as possible, so that, for example, we're not always using "pendant", but also "durant" "lors que" and "au cours de". I think that while there's only so many verb tenses I will actually ever use, being able to use more than just the words that I learned in French 1 and have been using over and over ever since will be the best way to sound like I have a good command of the language, so I'm really happy with how things are going.

The other thing that makes this class a little more advanced and really great is that instead of only learning and reviewing verb tenses, we spend a lot of time going over what sense each usage conveys in a sentence. For example, in these past tense sentences about a man crossing the street and a car crossing the same street:

1. Il avait traversé quand une voiture est arrivée.
(He crosses the street, and then the car arrives).

2. Il traversait quand une voiture est arrivée.
(He was still in the process of crossing the street when the car arrived).

3. Quand il a traversé, une voiture est arrivée.
(Ambiguous: It either happens at the same time, or in succession). 

4. Alors qu'il traversait, une voiture est arrivée.
(The exact same sense as #2, phrased in a different way).

5. Il a traversé alors qu'une voiture arrivait.
(Le suicide. He crosses while the car is already in the process of arriving). 

So it's going well.

Today, I wrestled another spider out of the jar that we keep our Nespresso capsules in, and then later walked downstairs to have an Elizabeth Bridge moment (the large spider that I killed in my room a few nights ago had come back to life and was now waiting for me on the stairs). I decided to let it live, for now, but we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fun Fact

Something I've learned over the past few weeks that I didn't know beforehand and that I didn't really want to know is that France has HUGE SPIDERS.

Lise and Anne and I took a walk to Anne's aunt Josy's house my very first day here, and while Lise and I were exploring outside, Lise found the biggest spider I have ever seen in my ENTIRE life hiding in an old stone oven in their yard. It was the fleshy brown kind, and it was the kind of spider that I previously imagined I would only ever run into while in South America (and only then if I searched for a long time). This was Not Good. I seriously do not know how a spider like that even found itself in the northern hemisphere.

Also, last night I got back much later than I meant to (due to an extra drink that was ordered for me and the fact that I missed the train back to Clamart by exactly one minute and so had to sit around Montparnasse for 30 minutes, which, by the way, closes its bathrooms at 11PM, so I recommend not waiting until you get there if it's an emergency. Now I know). Anyway, the LAST thing that I wanted to see when I got into my room was a HUGE spider perched atop the door that leads from my kitchen to the yard. This one wasn't as big as the first spider, but it was about ten times as big as the normal brown spiders you see all the time. I tried to convince him to go outside for a long time, but he refused to budge, plus I could see how big his teeth were (or whatever they were), so I finally had to do away with him. I felt bad, but I wanted to be able to sleep without wondering if he would be hiding in my shoe the next morning.

Not what I expected to keep coming across in my little French suburb.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Two Weeks!

I've been here for two weeks!

I have all these things that I mean to blog about, and I write the blogs in my head as I'm walking home, but then I just don't get around to blogging about them, so I'm trying to be better about blogging more often because if I don't blog immediately after something happens, I won't feel like blogging about it later. Like, for example, I had a whole blog planned about how I was supposed to pick up Lise from school, but I accidentally got on the wrong train home from the city, and it ended up being a direct train to the station closest to Versailles instead, and once I got there the next train back in the reverse direction went past Clamart and wasn't for another thirty minutes, at the exact time that I was supposed to be getting Lise, but then I realized that there was another train that actually stopped in Clamart that left in two minutes (which I guess the monitor just didn't want to list?), so I took that train and got to school just in time. It was very harrowing at the time.

This week I've been hanging out with my friend Rachael a lot, who's really great -- we were sitting next to each other on the flight from Chicago to Paris, and we're the same age and we both just graduated and we are both members of sororities, so that's cool. She's a language assistant but she's also a babysitter, so we have much in common to discuss, and we'll both be here for the same amount of time. On Friday we went to the Musee Carnavalet, which is a free museum on the history of Paris. It's not very big, but worth going to, especially for its room full of "popular" artwork -- signs and advertisements from the 18th Century, etc. That was my first time in the Marais, which was very charming and I can't wait to explore more. You can see Notre Dame from there, so we walked in that direction and got more Berthillion, and then split pizza in the Latin Quarter, which was served the way it's served in Rome, and was reallly good. Rachael and I came to the joint conclusion that for the most part, our plan is to eat dessert for meals because its cheaper and tastes better anyway (and, let's face it, is very easy to find in Paris). I really liked seeing more of the Latin Quarter than I did last time -- its hidden alleyways, etc. Everything is better this time around because Paris is less overwhelming, and sunny, and I actually have time to find the little things that make it charming, instead of every other time when I could only see the big famous sites. I'm so much happier.

Last night was Nuit Blanche, where the city was open all night long, including the metro and other things that are usually closed. I met up with Rachael and her friends, and we didn't end up going to any of the specific Nuit Blanche exhibits, but it was my first time leaving the house at night and it was so wonderful. We started at a jazz club near Notre Dame that was fun but the music was too loud, so we left and got wine and joined the thousands of other people sitting on the banks of the Seine. It's things like these that remind me how lucky I am to be abroad right now. I am so happy that I have ten months to have this kind of fun (and I've barely started to explore the city, so who knows what else I'll find?).

Today was Clamart's Vide Grenier, also called a Brocante, depending on the connotation. Anne had been talking about it all week (Joana had been really excited about Bordeaux's, but this one was better, though that might have had something to do with the fact that I had been handed 90 fresh euros the night before). Basically, it's like a HUGE garage sale that happens twice a year in the downtown area. And when I say huge, I'm talking about maybe a thousand tables, of all good quality stuff directly from people's houses, at really low prices. It's as if you have a thousand garage sales right next to each other, minus the overpriced collectables of a flea market. I did really well too -- I got a cute pink Ikea-esque box because I need more storage, really excellent sunglasses, a postcard from Bordeaux, and a really expensive and heavy and fancy picture frame -- all for under 5 euros. Vide Greniers happen in different neighborhoods all the time, so this is definitely where I'm going to look for directions for my room from now on! It was seriously too great. The only thing I was looking for that I couldn't find was a French copy of any of the Harry Potter books, but I only found he UK versions, so I guess people are still hoarding the French copies.

On another note, it is WAY too hot here. It's supposed to rain on Wednesday, and that day cannot come soon enough.