Friday, July 30, 2010

Au revoir, ma chere ville

off to London for vacation, then Cambridge UK for work, then Iceland for vacation, then back to Boston, then moving into a new apartment, then back to work

Monday, July 26, 2010

le Week-end en Marseille

This past weekend I went to Marseille...

met up with friends & family...

enjoyed historical places...

and shopping in Aix-en-Provence...

and a long-awaited, much-anticipated trip to the cave...

bon week-end!

(thanks to Diego for all the pictures!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Parisian life

My parents were amazed by the tiny staircases in Paris, and the tall apartment buildings without elevators. "How does anyone move?" my Mom wondered.

Well, here is your answer:

You get a lift with a platform on the end and you move out of your huge window. Yes. Really.

Today while our programs were running, my undergrad and I visited a Parisian landmark.

And yes, these macarons really are as good as everyone tells you they are!

Tomorrow I head to Marseille to visit the parents of my former roommate for the weekend. I hope they like macarons!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You probably already knew this...

... but I'm kind of a dork. No surprise? Yea, I figured. Today my undergrad and I went over to another university in Paris for some lab tours and IT WAS AWESOME. And I'm not just talking about the tanks of jellyfish (although they were also AWESOME), I'm also talking about the biomechanical experiments using homemade alternatives to AFMs and the wave/droplet experiments that are physical interpretations of quantum mechanics and the meandering rivulets like the ones on your window when it rains. DUDE!!! SO AWESOME!!! Yes, I am probably a dork.

No pictures, because it was all "research", (and I didn't want to look too much like a tourist! although I did run into a VFS (Very Famous Scientist) or two, and one who I was especially glad that I didn't ask for a picture with him when I met him last month.)

Yes, I am a total dork.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


My professor here at ESPCI doesn't currently have any students, so the windowless room where my undergrad and I sit was pretty lonely. (At least we could speak English to eachother!) But then, students returned from vacation, and it turned out that a few other professors shared the room, so we got labmates!

D works on microfluidics and is in the lab just about every day. Luckily, he speaks excellent English and can be counted on for squirt-bottle fights when the temperatures soar past 95F. He wants to do research in the States next year so my undergrad and I have been telling him about all the uniquely American things he must try. Things like Cheese Wiz and Peeps. Ok, and the good stuff like BBQ ribs and steak and lobster. But he needs to try the other things too. After all, I ate escargot!

J also works on microfluidics but she's only in lab occasionally. This is actually a good thing because her experiment makes a weird squeaky-squawky noise when its running. We like her, but we don't like her experiment. She's German, and also speaks excellent English. In fact, the day we met, she walked into the room and said something in French. I mumbled my normal "I don't speak French" in French and she immediately said, "oh, good, I prefer English". Thank goodness.

Labmates are cool! (Not that I don't love you all back at HML, but really, how many of you have given me excellent tiny cake recommendations recently? D wins for that!)

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I've talked before about the relationships in this country, the way people remember you when you return to their store. Today this advantage was in full force. This morning, I took my parents to the local market, which although smaller because it is vacation season, was still up and running. We were on the lookout for some gifts for my parents friends, and some bread and cheese to bring to Yann's house when we went there for dinner tonight. As we wandered the aisles, I spotted the amazing cheese lady who had so kindly obliged me when I asked her to pick out a cheese for my baguette a few weeks ago. I hung back a bit, she was helping other people, and I didn't think she'd remember me. But as soon as she looked up from her stacks of cheeses, her eyes met mine and a huge smile spread across her face. My parents and I approached the counter and I introduced them in my elementary French. (That you, Prof. Sadock, for that lesson.) I also managed to explain that they were here for 5 days for vacation and that we were going to the house of a friend for dinner and we wanted to pick out two cheeses. She got very excited and started rummaging through the cheeses. She found an excellent soft one and cut off massive chunks of cheese for us to try. Then it was on to hard cheeses, and after tasting two, we had found another perfect one. As we prepared to pay, she strode over to the back counter and swiped up a half-round of the softest, gooeyest cheese I'd ever seen. I couldn't understand what she said, but it was clear from her motions that this was meant to be a gift. When we finally unwrapped it at Yann's, both the Frenchmen at the table oooohed and ahhhhed over it by smell alone, and once I ate it, I understood why. It was the most incredible cheese I'd ever tasted. And it wasn't just a sample, a tasting, a piece, no, it was the whole half-round that she had gifted to us! My heart is still full with gratitude and happiness that she thought so much of us to give us that lovely present, and that she knew that we would appreciate and enjoy it.

I think one of the things about the personal relationships that you have in France with the people that you purchase from is that its not anonymous the way purchasing is in the States. In the States, I can go into Shaws, buy my food, use the self-check-out and never have to interact with a single person. Here, there are larger grocery stores, but even they have their regulars and they know you when you go in and out. And the market, oh, the markets! You talk to them once and the next week they remember you and talk to you again. Back home I often felt invisible, but here, I feel the opposite. But not in an exposed, embarrassed sort of way. Just in a community sort of way. And I've only been here 4 weeks.

Tonight I was walking home from the metro quite late and as I walked up my street, I passed the little drink shop where my Dad and I bought a soda for my mom last week. I'd only ever been in there once. But the owner, who had rung up my purchase last week, was outside closing up shop. Even though I was across the street, he waved his arm and called out to me to ask if I was having a nice evening.

I could so live here.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


My parents and I went to Versailles today. I'm exhausted, so I'll just leave you with two pictures, one of about 1/5 of the size of the building, and one of the gardens (which extend farther than you can see.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Its cold

And I am sooooo happy about that fact. Its already about 18C here and dropping fast. Thank goodness the normal Parisian summer weather is here! I was melting in the heat last week! (Don't worry, its supposed to be back to the 30s (90s) next week.)

Also, I got ticket-checked when I got off the metro today. Apparently you're supposed to know which of your tickets was the last one you validated. I handed them a pile of 3-4 tickets and looked curious. They looked confused and rattled off some French. I looked confused and countered with "je ne parle pas francais". After a few awkward seconds of miming, they finally just let me through. Oops!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Parents in Paris

My parents arrived on Wednesday afternoon. The weather broke from the earlier excitement and blue sky and sunshine welcomed them. (This was some pretty church near Gare du Nord).

They didn't waste any time in seeing one of the biggest sights, which was only 2 blocks from the hotel.

And then we took a walk. Along the way, we caught a glimpse of another Parisian landmark. They took pictures.

We rested in a park and watched the fountain blowing in the wind.

We got even closer.

We walked across my favorite bridge.

And we even caught some fireworks above the trees.

Tonight I met up with my parents after work. They had spent the day in the Louvre. We did laundry (no photos) and then wandered around my neighborhood. We found a nice little place for dinner.

Daddy enjoyed his escargot.

Mom enjoyed her salmon.

And together my parents enjoyed their first trip together to Paris! Oh yea, I was there too. :-P

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day!

Happy Bastille Day everyone! You might think that I'm out enjoying the parade, or dancing in the streets, or some other such nonsense, but no, I am curled up in my home, safe from the ridiculous weather that Paris is having today.

It started out sunny enough, but in no time at all, the clouds rolled in.

The wind picked up and started to howl around the buildings.

Then came the rail, first in bursts, then in a complete and thorough downpour. Then came the lightening, thunder, and more wind. Did you know that "hail" in French is "grĂȘle"?

Tonight I meet my parents at the train station for their visit to Paris. I hope this ridiculousness ends before they arrive so that we can watch the fireworks over the Eiffel tower tonight!

more food

Ok, I lost count of pastries. But here we go, two more deliciousnesses:

First up, Le Royal. A delicious chocolate mousse on top of a light crispy praline layer.

Oh delicious! And pretty! And oh so wonderful! And despite its lovely rectangular configuration, its richness once again means that it could happily be shared and both parties would feel completely satisfied.

And next, the famous macarons. Not to be confused with the horrendous coconut creations, the French macaron is a delectable treat. Having only sampled ones that had made the long trek across the Atlantic, I bought some fresher ones from my favorite patisserie.

Oh, the intrigue! The textures! The sweetness! The outer merengue shells are so airy and crunchy, and then filled with jams or gels just brings them to a new height! As soon as I get back to Boston, I will try to whip some of these up in my new (and amazing) kitchen. The flavor assortment I tried included lemon, pistacio, strawberry, coffee, and chocolate. YUM! My favorites were the chocolate and the strawberry. Chocolate here is such an intense flavor. In the States you can have things that are chocolate-y, but here there is a depth to the flavor that I don't experience back home. Ah, European chocolate, how I love you so!

Monday, July 12, 2010

It goes on

Number of successful experiments run to date: 0
Number of remaining working days in Paris: 13


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Crazy Saturday

You know those days that don't follow the plan? Well, that was Saturday.

The morning was filled with errands (since I found out last weekend that nothing useful is open on Sundays). I did laundry, grocery shopping, and errands. In my errands I walked around Paris and walked all the way back to my apartment from downtown, poking in little shops along the way. I even came across the first store with AC that I've found so far! (It was a lingerie shop.) I picked up some other things in other stores too, but when I got home, I noticed that one of the stores had forgotten to put one of the things I bought in the bag. I wasn't sure that going back and complaining was going to be useful, since I had no idea how to explain any of this in French. So I'll just have to go buy it again later. Ugh.

Then in the afternoon I attempted to get some work done but got distracted online instead. Finally Sungyon asked if I wanted to have a working evening together, so she came over and we lay on my bed and did work. I even got a decent draft of my paper together! Around 8pm, Sungyon decided to head home and that's when she realized that she didn't have her keys. She had managed to lock herself out of her apartment! This led to a 2 hr adventure while we tried to figure out what to do. She didn't have her cell phone, and mine was out of credit. We couldn't figure out how to recharge mine, and I have no landline, so she needed to find another way to call her landlord. We finally went to her fave cafe, where she knows the owner, to borrow their phone. Turns out her landlord is on vacation in Switzerland. Did you know that a locksmith in Paris costs 500-600 Euros? Well, they do. Anyways, after a variety of craziness, the plan became that Sungyon would sleep over at my place and then the landlord's son would give her the spare key the next day. We also figured out how to recharge my phone (yay!) It ended up being ok, but it definitely wasn't the evening I imagined! :-P

Friday, July 9, 2010

Field Trip!

Today I went to Ecole Polytechnique to visit some labs there (and because my former labmate Sungyon works there). I had always heard people joke about the stairs to go from the train station to the university at the top of the hill. Come on, I lived on a volcano in New Zealand, how bad could it get?

Well, this is steep...

Hm, and here are the stairs...

Turned a corner, more stairs...

Still more stairs...

Are you sure we aren't there yet?

But at last!

We arrived! Its a beautiful campus on top of the hill.

We checked out LadHyx, saw cool research, and talked to cool people. (No pictures, Scientists are shy people.)

Then we admired the natural beauty of the school. Sungyon explained that there are horses because its a military school, so horseback riding is a popular sport. (Imagine a bunch of college kids dressed up in French Military dress uniforms cantering across a field.)

Then we got to admire the lake on campus (and watch some military exercises, once again, no pics.)

And someone was even kind enough to snap a picture of me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

my town

Today I hung out with friends new and old, from dinner with a new friend to coffee and gelato with some old lab buddies.

As I was walking to meet my lab friends at the gardens, I noticed some unusual activity on one of the tiny streets I normally walk along. I especially liked the faux lightposts (note the bright green paint).

And later, as my friends and I wandered back up the hill with our gelatos, we saw even more action. Thanks to Sofiene's traslating, the rumors being circulated were that it was a new Woody Allen movie being filmed.

But the filming was in the way of me getting home, so we walked a few blocks around and then cut back across to my street. We stopped near the cones that were barricading the road to lick our dripping gelatos and say our long (french) goodbyes. Suddenly the guards in the street started moving the cones and telling us to get out of the way. An antique car came rolling up the narrow road and slowed to make the sharp corner onto the blocked-off portion of my street. It was an old convertible, 1920s style, with beautiful people dressed in period clothes spilling out onto the back of the car. We turned to look but I didn't recognize anyone. "Oh, some indie film," I thought. But then as the car turned I could see the people in the back more clearly and I locked eyes with Owen Wilson. We stared at each other for what seemed like too long to be coincidence. (I think he was jealous of my gelato - it was hot.) Then the car turned. I couldn't help but be so happy in my little neighborhood. I mean, I always thought it was beautiful but sometimes its nice to know that other people like it too. And mostly I was really proud. When I looked at Owen Wilson, I think there was this twinge of jealously. I could have said to him "I live here, don't you wish you did too?" Or maybe he really did just want my gelato.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pastries 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10

You might think that I've been neglecting my daily pastry quest, but really, I've only been neglecting the blogging. Let me catch up before things get out of hand...

Pastries 6 and 7: Two Tartes
One is a chocolate-pear tarte, the other is a chocolate-raspberry tarte. Both are from the little restaurant Mouffe-TARTE down the street. Don't worry, I didn't eat both, my undergrad and I each got one and split them. They are DELICIOUS. Chocolate-pear is a flavor combination that we definitely need more of in the States.

Pastry 8: Pan au lait
Nice flavorful breadroll. Eaten with cheese, prior to the orange juice incident. Yum.

Pastry 9: Sable amande
A large crisp butter cookie covered with toasted almonds. I was expecting more almond flavor in the actual cookie but I guess it was just the topping.

Pastry 10: Opera
This was one of the ones that I'd been admiring for a while! The selection of perfect, precise rectangles is impressive. I chose this one because the name was easy to remember. It was actually chocolate and coffee flavored and super-rich. I could have easily split it with several people and still be satisfied. YUM.

A Win for the Underdogs

Tonight underdog Spain beat Germany to advance to the World Cup final on Sunday. Sometimes the people you don't expect to win have a good day too, you know.

My week got better. Well, sort of. We will aren't going to discuss work. But I definitely live for Wednesdays. I even started another sock. (I'm sure my honey would prefer a pair, not just one when I get home.)

And so I retreated to the happy, welcoming, friendly knitting evening at the L’OisiveThĂ©. I decided a little shopping therapy was in order.

This is just part of the damage. In the end, its enough of this blue yarn for a sweater that I've been admiring for a while, plus a few presents for the important knitters in my life. Luckily for me, Aimee received this yarn (SweetGeorgia Silk Crush) in the mail today so I got first dibs! :-D

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

it wasn't just Monday

If I thought yesterday was bad, well, I shouldn't have been so excited for today.

Today I spent 9, count them, 9 hours in lab. If I get the camera to record, the motor controller freezes. If I get the motor controller to start, I can't start the camera without it losing connection with the data acquisition card. The current solution is "jiggle the cables, reboot, and try again" and I wasn't able to get a single run all day where everything worked. This does not bode well for the remaining 17 days.

Directly after a (thankfully) peaceful lunch, I was in lab when I heard my UROP drop something. "Uh-oh," she said. Dylan (the French student who works for another advisor in our lab) and I murmured something like "what?" when my undergrad piped up "Uuuuh, I think this is bad." "Is it on fire?" I asked. Don't forget, I lived in EC, unless its a fire or major chemical spill, not much phases me. "Um, no, but its bad," replied the undergrad. Suddenly you could hear the sounds of glass cracking, as if you dropped a plate, but it didn't stop. Dylan and I got up and went over to the lab bench. A small metal block had dropped onto the table and now the compressed tabletop was fracturing under its own compressive stresses. "Uhoh," I said. "I'll call someone," said Dylan. Thank goodness for his French and in no time the professor whose bench it was appeared to investigate. Luckily everyone was totally ok and very "don't worry, accidents happen" but it was still kind of stressful. For the rest of the day professors kept stopping by to see the mess we made. And it was still cracking more than 6 hrs later when we left lab. Ugh.

So then I went to the Patisserie on my way home and picked up some treats to try to improve my day. My favorite girl wasn't there and they were shorthanded so the line was long. Of course by the time I got to the front of the line I had forgotten what I wanted and had to do a lot of pointing to get my desired pastries, which I always feel bad about because its slow and awkward. At last I retreated to the quiet heights of my apartment and opened up the little bit of cheese I had left from the weekend and unwrapped some bread from the bakery. And then I turned and knocked over the full glass of OJ that I had put on the table. It went right off the side and spilled directly into my row of shoes that I have lined up neatly next to the door. Every single one of the shoes I brought to Paris is now filled with orange juice. And people who know me well will know that (1) I love shoes, (2) I picked only my MOST favorite to bring with me, and (3) I have a crazy sized foot so I can't just buy new ones. Oh, and I'm a cheapskate so I didn't buy paper towels at the grocery store. I used up 3 rolls of toilet paper cleaning up the mess, and I'm not sure the shoes will recover.

I know I said yesterday that I would watch the soccer game with other people, but there is no way I'm leaving my apartment tonight. I'm going to bed.