Saturday, July 12, 2014

Automne en Juillet

July in Paris has decided to skip to autumn. 62 degrees the other day, and rain for a straight week. I packed for summer. Skirts, sundresses, flip flops. I did not pack warm jackets, or pants. Or closed-toe, non-porous shoes that can be worn in the rain. For three days, I wore my sparkly gold Toms shoes. They became so water-logged that putting them on in the morning felt like enbalming my feet in little mushy bogs, and as I shivered continuously, day after day, my spirit sunk down into them.

 Last weekend, just as the rains hit, I went walking. I headed east of Bastille, away from the areas with which I'm already familiar. I heard music and thumping, and followed it. At La Place de la Nation, I came upon a parade. Caribbean dancers in elaborately scanty costumes gyrated down the street while standers-by whooped and hollered and danced among themselves. It was Le Carnaval Tropical. A fierce wind ripped rain out of the sky, but neither the dancers nor the crowd would be interrupted. I danced too, to keep warm.

Later, I wandered back to Bastille, and from there along the Seine, making my way over to Les Berges de Seine, a 2.3 kilometer portion of the quai between Musee D'Orsay and Pont D'Alma that has been renovated into a design-focused esplanade, with art installations, bars, restaurants, children's playgrounds, and sustainable landscaping. I knew that the Paris Cinema festival was having a kick-off event of what they called "cine-karaoke" at the end of les berges. I met up with a few classmates, and we settled in, with wine and cheese, among the audience. I did not know that "karaoke" meant "sing-along." Musical movie scenes played on a giant screen, while everyone sung along. The vast majority of the audience was French (we were the only Americans I noticed), and they knew the words to all of the scenes, some from famous American movies like Moulin Rouge and West Side Story, as well as to the French films that I'd never heard of, and some bizarre, obscure American ones, like an incredibly weird musical war movie from, I'd guess, the 1970s. The cypress trees on the right bank sparkled with white lights while the Eiffel Tower loomed above us on the left. I noticed that, within the crowd, I was perfectly warm.

The rains became stronger and colder the next day and after getting completely soaked (I ducked into le Musée des Arts et Métiers when my parapluie ceased being of any protection), I knew I'd have to supplement my poorly-planned wardrobe. Luckily, the month of July in Paris is Les Soldes. Sales are state-regulated in France and only take place twice a year, once in July, and again in late December. Inventory at most stores is marked down over 50%, and up to 80%. Now armed with a pair of jeans, a sweater, a jacket, and a pair of rain boots, I am warm, and much, much less frustrated. I don't need the weather to be beautiful; I just need to be comfortable. But I don't enjoy shopping when I travel. There are millions of things I'd rather do with my time than wander around a department store. All of my finds were serendipitous, my needs presenting themselves to me as I wandered around the city. A sign in a window on Rue du Rivoli read "les jeans, -70%," so I ran in and 12 euros later had warmed my legs. A musty vintage store at Rue Ferdinand Duval had a bin of clothing for 5 euros, and another for 10 euros. From one bin I unearthed a military jacket that fit me perfectly, magically, and from the other, a gorgeous peplum fair-isles sweater. A pair of black rain boots - handsome, sleek and structured, - gleamed in a window on Rue des Francs Bourgeois, and my soggy feet cried out for them. I said no until I saw the little tag with an original price of 75 euros crossed out, and 20 euros written next to it. Oui, oui, d'accord! And with that, my shopping was done, my body warm, and my spirit risen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Je Suis Ici

Je suis à Paris. After a thirteen hour over-night flight on which I did not sleep a wink, I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport with a fifty-pound suitcase, a fifteen-pound shoulder bag, and a head both heavy with fatigue and soaring with excitement. I took the RER train into the city, mapping out my three-transfer route to my apartment in Bastille. Easy. Seated near a window, I watched the city unfold before me, taking pride in how familiar it all was. (I've loved the idea of Paris my entire life, and when I was a child, I envisioned myself living here one day. Then I visited three years ago, and transferred my love to the actual city. Now I can state, with some truth, that I know Paris. I may not ever live here permanently, but I will always have a relationship with it.)

I am comfortable with big cities, confident with direction and navigation, and at home in large crowds. This confidence, however, often leads to a ballooned self-reliance. Taking the RER with 75 pounds of luggage on a three-transfer journey to my apartment would have been fine in a younger city, with a newer metro system incorporating certain modern standards of convenience, such as elevators and escalators. All told, I hefted my 50-pound suitcase up and down fifteen flights of stairs. Then, once arrived at my destination station of Chenin Vert, I dragged it several blocks the wrong direction before realizing my mistake. This is when it started to pluie. I arrived at my studio wet with a mixture of sweat and rain, and almost cried out of gratitude when I saw that it has an elevator.

My studio is adorable. At 215 square feet, it has a kitchen, a washing machine, an actual bathroom with a real toilet and shower (the studio my husband and I rented three years ago had barely operable toyish versions of both), and a futon bed. It's in a beautiful neighborhood full of bars and restaurants (mais bien sûr, c'est Paris), and near many metro stations.

My school, the Paris American Academy, is across the Seine, high up in the Latin Quarter, near the Luxembourg Gardens. Our first class was held in a room in which Benjamin Franklin once studied. Our second class was held in a room that, though in a newer and much less beautiful building, sits directly above the corner of the catacombs in which a monk was once found dead, eleven years after he'd descended into the ground to find a bottle of wine.

Paris American Academy
Today is my fourth full day in Paris. I have spent all of the last three days traversing between the 11th and 5th arrondissements, going to class, attending the organized school functions, and trying to find some time to eat and wander.

A marvelous wine tasting organized by the school

Thus far, I've not traversed far out of those respective neighborhoods, but last night I joined the masses at L'Hotel de Ville to watch the France-Germany World Cup game. The streets of le Marais were as festive as those of Manhattan Beach on the 4th of July - my favorite day of the Los Angeles summer. The mass revelry along these ancient cobblestone streets eased my slight homesickness caused by missing my beloved American holiday.

As I make my way through my list of must-have eats and drinks, I've thus far enjoyed some tartare de boeuf, l'escargot, soupe l'oignon, and much cheese, wine, and Ricard.
L'Escargot at Le Bistrot de Vosges - Délicieux! C'est fini.
The list isn't very impressive yet, as I've been grocery shopping and eating at home as much as possible, for economical reasons. Fortunately the markets here, even the tiny bodega-style ones, are stocked with foods of incredible quality. What we Americans consider delicacies, the French consider staples. Excellent cheeses, charcuterie, garden vegetables, freshly baked breads, delectable wines. I've turned my little studio into a pantry of culinary abundance, simply because it was the cheapest option. A Paris, il est possible de vivre comme un roi sur le salaire d'un pauvre.

My brown-bag lunch - a sandwich on a freshly baked roll with camembert, coppa, and a quince jam. Simple and so delicous.