Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Il fait chaud

Il fait chaud. It is hot. And not just a little hot. At 10pm it was 34 degrees celsius in my apartment (that's 93 degrees F for the Americans out there). Fannie is blowing her heart out but stirring hot air doesn't help too much.

To summarize how lab is going so far:
Today a lady showed up in our lab and said "oh, isn't there AC in here?" and proceeded to turn on the heat. We didn't realize it was the heat for an hour until we noticed it was even hotter than hot in our lab and started poking around with the knobs. And no, there is no AC. Or computers in English. Or windows. Or lights that don't make the room even hotter. As Katharine pointed out, at least there aren't raccoons. 22 days and counting.

The good part of the day was that I went to a knitting group in the 13eme! Its only 3 metro stops from here and the owner is an expat so the evening is half French - half English. I'll definitely be going back! And there are no pictures because I left my camera on my desk. Oops. Next time...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

not sinking

Well, I'm trying desperately to keep my head above water here. So I'll focus on the positive (although mundane).

First of all, Rosie is quite happy in her sunny spot in my window. I have watered her every day because of the heat.

Rosie has some new competition for the title of "my favorite inanimate object": Fannie.

But I think I will be able to give them both the love they deserve.

I've been sleeping with the windows open because its so hot, and although I have yet to see any mosquitos in Paris, apparently there is something else that eats me. I counted 54 bugbites on my right forearm before I gave up.

But everyone keeps their windows open! How do their animals not jump out? I'm pretty sure my parents' cats would have been walking all over the ledge, but this French cat is better-behaved than that.

Also their geranium is huge. Don't tell Rosie.

And yes, I did actually make it to ESPCI for anyone who was wondering. Still trying to find my footing...

Monday, June 28, 2010

the day got better

Sungyon, as always my French savior, arrived with chocolate, kleenex, and an open ear to hear about my very very bad day. And to make me laugh. How can my day compare to her day, when hers ended with a pillow stuck in a tree 30' in the air?

I bought a fan

That was the only good thing of the day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A sweltering afternoon

I shouldn't have complained how cold it was when I got here. It went from 65 to 85 in the span of a week. Ugh. And in a city without AC, I swear they don't sell a single fan.

But in my wandering today to try to fix my cell phone, I ran across a Paris landmark, Notre Dame.

I spent some time with my Parisienne spiritual guide. Don't worry, she's making sure I'm eating and adjusting well. Then I returned to my steaming abode. According to the thermostat, it was 32C. [[Sigh]].

The one thing I didn't blog about earlier was the little treat I bought myself at the marche today:

Meet Rosie. (No, its not a rose plant, but the color is so rosy and happy that I've named it "Rosie").

Rosie makes my window a little bit brighter.

Tomorrow is the first day of lab, so I got ready:

The forecast is still for unseasonable warmth, so I'm prepared for the non-ACed conditions I'm likely to find.

Overall, it was an ok day (although I failed at both finding a fan and fixing my phone). But really, I'm just a little bit down. Today Sungyon asked if I missed Boston, and I said no. Its true, I don't really miss the city, but I do miss the people. Because, after all, what is more important than the people you choose to spend your time with?


Today, at an unreasonably early hour, I went to the airport to pick up my UROP from her flight and get her settled into her dorm in the 6th. I actually impressed myself with the amount of French I spoke to the lovely director of the dorm, who spoke no English. I managed to translate a contract, explain what we were doing in France, and help my UROP with the front door procedures. My French might not be elegant in any sense of the word, but I know enough to occasionally make myself understood.

One of the benefits of being awake so early was that I managed to go to the local market down the street from me. Think of your stereotypical open-air French market. This was it and so much more! Not only did vendors sell fruits and vegetables, but they also set up with all sorts of other foods as well, and even a few clothing purveyors.

Fishes, sausages, and cheeses were on display as well. The smells and sounds were amazing. Some of the stands had lines around the aisles for them, but for me, who was not as patient or picky, there were plenty of other stalls where the owners would call out to you as you walked by, trying to get you to buy something.

Everything was so accessible. There was no saran wrap. Trust me, those fish ALL had their heads on. Even the meats were quite identifiable. (Ok, the sausages not so much). It made me wish I had a real kitchen to use here, to experiment and taste and enjoy all of these incredible foods. What is a Lyon sausage? How about different kinds of dried fruits? (Yes, there was a dried-fruits stall). I attempted to restrain myself and only bought what I considered absolutely necessary for today. I got a baguette (huge, rustic, and amazing). I bought some cherries (cerises) and two bananas (bananes). Then I decided to be brave with my tiny French vocabulary and when there was no line at the cheese stall, I asked very politely (and quite brokenly) for the woman to please choose a cheese to go with my baguette. She smiled (oh, they are really quite nice to foreigners!) and walked me to the soft cheese section of the case. There she gave me a sample of the most delectable soft cheese I've ever tasted. I have no idea what it was (I was so busy savoring it I forgot to ask). But for 3.80 E it was mine! And now I'm at home and curled up with my computer, with the windows closed and the shades drawn to try to keep the flat cool. I'm nibbling the baguette and the cheese. Its amazing. Its heaven. Do I really have to go home?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A washing adventure

Today, I learned how to use the laundromat. It does look much like an American one, but the signs are in French.

Well, except for the instructions, which luckily were in English too.

On the way home, I stopped by the local crepe window (yes, it is just a window, I will explain in another post) and picked up lunch. This is the tiny square next to my apt - how cute! And French!

Now I'm going to nap, because its hot and that's apparently what people DO in the afternoons around here.

back to Paris

I have to say that even though I'd only been in Paris 2 days before I left for the conference, by the end of the week I was definitely ready to go "home" to Paris, do my own thing, eat my own food, etc. But I will miss the elevator.

And here's an "I'm doing work" picture. No, I'm not in it. Someone has to take these pictures, you know. :-P

The train back to Paris left from San Rafael, a larger town on the French Riviera. Because of the bus schedule vs the train schedule, we had about 3 hrs to kill in town, so my new friend Alexis and I walked around a bit. Luckily the train station was 2 blocks from the beach. Alexis went swimming, I relaxed in the shade and knit.

The town was cute but touristy.

The train ride back was pretty uneventful. Well, sort of. I was in first class, which is supposed to mean "silent" cars, but apparently no one else noticed this, like the lady ahead of me who took 4 phone calls during the ride, or the dad behind me with the whiniest 3-year-old kid ever. Good thing it only cost 1 Euro more than the second class. The extra leg room alone was worth that extra Euro. But because I was awake for all FIVE hours of the train ride, I got to see lots of views like this.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Definitely in France

The trains are on strike. Now I truly feel like I'm in France.

In better news, my talk yesterday went quite well and I'm looking forward to my poster this afternoon - I hope people are excited to talk to me!

According to the francois at the conference, I shouldn't have any issues with my train ticket back to Paris tomorrow - everyone keep their fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Two funny French (European?) things at this conference so far:

1) food - croissants are offered in huge baskets during the coffee breaks and are eaten without napkins or plates (just grab and go) - lunch and dinner are both 3 courses, and even though its buffet, you serve yourself one course at a time, sit, eat, get up and get another course, repeat.

2) the elevator - the floors are labeled: -1, 0, 1, 2, 3. I kid you not. I'll try to get a picture because its so fantastic to have a floor 0.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Agay, France in pictures

The trip to Agay was fun because I got to take one of the high-speed TGV trains out of Paris. The French rail system is definitely enviable. Plus the views as you travel the countryside are beautiful!

Arriving in Agay, the view from the hotel was of the Mediterranean.

The hotel is named for the red cliffs that surround the town.

The town is pretty much just a village and a beach. And this is France, so there were definitely some topless sunbathers. Not many people were swimming because there were big floods here last week so the water is quite polluted. Its still pretty though!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Engineer in the French Riviera (and no, I still don't speak French)

Well, I made it! I'm here in Agay, in a very FRENCH hotel (ie, hard beds and no shampoo in the bathroom - I'll have to find a convenience store later so I can shower tonight). The conference is going, um, well, I think? Its a mostly French crowd, so even though all the official talks are in English, the chatting in between is mostly in French. People are being pretty accommodating, but its hard to insert yourself into a conversation if you have no idea what anyone is saying. :-P Luckily I've found some people who have been really nice and are keeping an eye out for me. Shoutouts to Pedro (who was the MIT prof who told me about this conference in the first place) and Charles (Sungyon's postdoc advisor who went to MIT for undergrad).

I'll post some pictures later. Agay is really beautiful! We're currently on a "conversation break" for the afternoon which everyone has taken to mean beach break. I'm really not a beach person, so I'm happily curled up on the patio of the hotel, enjoying an amazing view. I'll wander off down the mountain to the sea later and take some pics for tomorrow. And no, the internet was not free, but I decided I couldn't live a whole week without it so I forked over 20 Euros for a month's access. [[Le sigh]].

My flash talk is Wed and my poster session Thurs - wish me luck!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

off to the Conference!

Well, I'm off to a conference for the next 6 days! I'll be in Agay, on the French Riviera. Should be fun! No idea if I'll have internet or not, so don't worry if I don't post until next weekend.

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Have a good week everyone!

The first of many food posts

Well, I thought I'd get right to it! So far I haven't eaten much that an American wouldn't recognize. I've had a croissant, a tarte-du-pom, some juices, cereal, and a nutella crepe. Mmmm. Yea, haven't exactly been eating healthy, but that will change once I'm more settled into a routine. But for now, here's a few snacks that I bought yesterday at the grocery store. No idea how "French" these are, but they were at eye-level in the snack aisle...

First up, Mini-Choux in flavor Bleu Noix.

Much like the picture on the box, these are little crispy shells with a soft blue-cheese-tasting filling. Now, I may be in the land of cheese, but I should have realized that the fact that these little darlings weren't in the refrigerated section was probably a bad sign. And the flavors and textures were not a winning match either. The crispy shells had almost no flavor at all and the middles tasted like a poor substitute for real blue cheese. I ate one. The rest will probably sit on the shelf until 2012 at which point they will go bad.

The next snack was Feuillety's Snacks feuilletes in flavor Sel de Guerande.

I don't know what these were supposed to be, but they tasted like little crisped bits of croissant! YUM! And buttery! And crunchy! Mmmmmm! I definitely ate like 5 of these yesterday (luckily they are small). These definitely will not last long.

So yea, anyone want the Mini-Choux? Because otherwise they are going in the trash and I'm going to keep my feuilletes!

(Don't worry, Mom, I've also eaten a bunch of fruit, but so far there is nothing interesting about fruit here - an apple is an apple! Or, well, a pom. But pretty much the same thing.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010


For all people say about the French disliking foreigners, I've found the complete opposite. Of course, there are the people who chided me for not speaking French, like the woman at the "Help" desk in the airport who gave me a French map when I asked if they had any English ones (because English was one of the listed languages for the maps), and she said "well, you should be learning French anyways". But I was surprised in my travels yesterday the number of nice, friendly people I encountered on the way. For example, the lady who eyed me in the airport and later stopped by to say hello because she saw me knitting and her daughter knits too. There was also a slightly ridiculous conversation on the RER-B between me, a Brazilian, and a Frenchman. We settled on semi-English but I'm pretty sure that the majority of the understanding was communicated by gesturing and pointing. And then when I finally arrived at Luxembourg and set about hauling my suitcase up the (many) stairs, a nice French guy offered to carry the large one for me while I brought up the smaller one! He and his girlfriend asked me where I was from and how I liked Paris while he lifted my suitcase like a pro. Its much like New Zealand, I find that there are nice people everywhere, if you are patient enough to look for them. And really, I can't complain because I know that if a European person traveled to the States, it would be unlikely that anyone in the stores would speak French (or German, or Dutch, or Russian, etc) and yet I can communicate quite decently here between my broken French and good English. And seriously, would anyone in line at the grocery store be patient while a tourist studied the coins to figure out which one was worth what? So I shouldn't expect that here either!

And adding to the wonderful people in this city, I went to brunch with Sungyon!

We ate at a little cafe in notre quartier and walked a bit. Sungyon helped me find the grocery store (subject of another post later) and a water filter. Yay! Then I showed her my apartment and we chatted about life, research, and everything! It was great to talk with her again! Letters and emails are one thing, but its definitely more fun to catch up in person.

Oh, and across from our cafe was a little boucher and I swear it looked like a picture out of my French textbook!

I wasn't quite daring enough to go in and try to buy anything, plus I leave tomorrow for a conference near Nice so its not really worth buying things because they will go bad by the time I'm back. But watch out for upcoming food tastings! I'm already in love with French pastries.

Friday, June 18, 2010

je suis ici!!!

Well, I made it here! After a tight connection in Iceland, a redeye flight, and a LONG time at airports, I arrived!

Its a small world. For example, when I was going to catch the RER-B into the city at the airport, I ran into a former labmate of mine, on his way to Boston!

And when I finally made it to my train stop, Luxembourg Gardens greeted me in all their glory.

My neighborhood is so cute!!

More tomorrow, I've been awake for 30+ hrs and need some sleep!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

last day

I'm packing. I have so much stuff. My apartment is still a mess but the most awesome guy on the planet volunteered to take care of it so that I don't stress about it. Speaking of the most awesome guy ever, he took me out for dinner last night at my favorite restaurant in all time.

Yum yum Chateaubriand! (Or as they say in France, miam miam Chateaubriand.) He looks good in a suit, doesn't he?

I'm going off on a grand adventure. I'm off to meet new people, do cool research, and make new friends. I might even learn French along the way. But there is one thing that I will definitely miss the most, and that will make me so happy to return to Boston in August...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2 days

Well, 10 days quickly turned into 2 days. In 48 hrs I'll be sitting at Logan airport, waiting for my flight. The calm has evaporated into alternating excitement and dread. I am thrilled to be living in Paris. I am dreading being away from most of my friends and in a city where I don't speak the language. But I think that the time will really fly by no matter what, so I'll just hold on for the ride.

I'm trying to focus on the positives, like the new yarn that Amy bought me as a going-away present. (Amy, you better stop this or I'm going to go away more often! Its Madelinetosh Tosh Lace yarn and its absolutely a joy to knit with.)

And another thing to look forward to when I arrive:

Mathieu!!!!! Mon cher ami de Paris, who kindly picked up the keys for my apartment. I will be seeing him on Friday when I land!! I am excitedly awaiting my welcoming bisous. :-D

Monday, June 7, 2010

ten days

I leave in 10 days. I am strangely calm about this impending occurrence. The to-do list has been whittled away to things like "find gifts for people who help me in France" and other such fun things. Only not fun things left: (1) packing my entire apartment into storage and (2) saying goodbye to my boyfriend. I think I'm in denial about both.

I feel bad that I've made 3 posts without any pictures, so here we go... this is what I have to look forward to when I get to Paris:

Sungyon, my friend, confidant, former-labmate, scientist, and overall amazing person who currently lives in Paris.