Sunday, July 29, 2012

Prefecture again

Fantastic vacation day. Wake up earlier than I do for work to go stand in line to apply to get a French drivers license. So much fun...


Sometimes, funny coincidences happen.  You might call it luck, or fate, or divine intervention.  Whatever it is, its great when it happens. Last week I was browsing Facebook and I ran across a post from King Arthur Flour (yes, I'm a baking nerd) about conversions between ingredient volume measurements and weights.  As I went to comment on the post, I noticed that someone had commented two posts above mine that even bakers in France like KAF.  Really? I hadn't noticed KAF in any grocery store I'd been to in France, but it was my go-to flour in the States.  So I followed the link from the other poster to a place called Paris Bread Co. The wonderful, sweet, and talented Shelley makes North American foods just two metro stops from where I live in Paris!!!

So I ordered my treats for the weekend and yesterday I arrived to pick up my yummies.  She calls it her "test kitchen", but really its her home!  She and her husband kindly invited me in and showed me where the magic happens (her kitchen is the size of my apt, I'm not sure if that says more about her kitchen or my apt). She also chatted with me about life in France, comparisons back to North America (Shelley is Canadian, so we compared continent to continent), and how to settle in here.  And as if that wasn't enough, I got to meet her charming French Canadian husband, who is a painter selling his artwork here in Paris!  A completely lovely couple.  I'm hoping to go to a few of the expat meetup dinners at their apartment in the fall.

And I'll definitely be back for more baked goods!  This was my haul from yesterday: Challah and a cinnamon-raisin bagel.

Mmmmm, look at the flecks of cinnamon and the golden raisins in this bagel!  So delicious smeared with creamy french butter!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

French Tourists

Sometimes (ok, recently all the time) France beats me down.  The bureaucracy and the complacency have taken their toll on me and my attitudes here.  But when I talk to my friends from the States, I find that I have more than just glimmers of happy things to tell them about.  I have whole tales of evenings, of weekends, of nights with wine and laughter and friends.  And when I think about the possibility of leaving this country, I get so sad about leaving the people behind.  (Ok, not all the people, because clearly I wouldn't mind leaving the ones who work at the Prefecture behind, but the ones who matter.)  I dearly love all my friends in the States, but I think that the American lifestyle doesn't really value TIME and TOGETHERNESS in the same way that the french lifestyle does.  The french goals are not who has the most or does the most - its who enjoys it the most.  Constantly chasing something means that you don't realize what you already have.  ("Pursuit of happiness" implies you haven't reached it yet.)  So with that in mind, let me show you how Parisians take a touristic day-trip.....

Today, Culbiture went somewhere very special.  We took a day-trip out of Paris, chancing the questionable weather forecast. (What does a symbol with a sun, a cloud, and raindrops mean anyways? Its like the Russian Roulette of weather!)

We awoke early and piled into cars...

to sit in toll booths...

And drive through countryside...

 (real countryside).

We picnicked at the edge of the fields, near a waterfall.  Oh, the french sure do know how to pique-nique.  Baguettes, salamis, pates, cheeses, cherry tomatoes, fresh apricots, wine, more wine...

Then we found our way to a special little street...

 Where a rather well-known artist used to live.

I traveled in style.  This is my sun-outfit.  (My rain-outfit includes a bright pink umbrella, which happily stayed tucked away in my bag the whole day.)

And of course, we had to visit the most well-known part of the gardens.

Finally, the poppies.  These always make me think of one of my favorite Monet paintings, Poppies Blooming.

My friends will tell you that I spent the whole day with a huge smile on my face (except when I almost fell asleep in my beer at the final stop of the afternoon).  Great day, great people to spend it with, great adventures in my adopted country!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don't ever eat here

Terrible service, tried to take advantage of me because of my accent, constantly tried to sell us food and drinks we didn't want, and was overall unprofessional. Even the decent food couldn't save this place.

Leon de Brussels

Monday, July 16, 2012

I am still here

The storm has not yet passed, but the hurricane-strength winds are dying down and now I'm just left with torrential rain.  The past two weeks have been rough.  I got stopped in my tracks like running headfirst into a glass door.  My French friends (many I didn't even know I had) appeared to support me in ways I could have never asked for or even imagined.  This country is hard.  Hard hard hard.  "I don't understand" is an understatement.  I don't understand the words, I don't understand the culture, I don't understand the subtleties.  But I am pulling myself out of this quicksand.  I am making plans and backup plans, and backup plans for the backup plans.  I don't know how this story ends.  But don't worry, I'll tell you when I figure it out.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bien entendus

Yesterday, two of my friends set to cheer me up by making me dinner and dragging me out to a movie.  (See, I told you I have friends here!  At least two!)  While dinner was baking, I was quizzed about english grammar from one of their textbooks.  The worst for my friend was the collection of odd compound verbs.  Things like "put on", "put off", "take off", "take on", "make out", "make off", etc.  I tried giving examples of when you would use them in conversation, but some were quite challenging.  

He was stumped on "hit it off".  I tried to explain it was like when we met; we just found it really easy to talk to each other, really easy to laugh with each other, really easy to understand each other. "Its a useful phrase," I explained.  "Its how to describe meeting someone who just gets you."  Then we both laughed and he told me in french, this feeling is called on s'est bien entendus, meaning "we hear each other well."

Yes, we hear each other well.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spaghetti shatters

If you take a dry piece of spaghetti, hold it at both ends and bend it until it breaks, it usually breaks into multiple pieces, not just two.  And those little middle pieces go flying all over and maybe poke you in the face.  (Seriously, there is some Big Science about why this happens... research by cool people ).  Anyways, recently I've been feeling like my life is a bit like those little flying bits in the middle - not just one break but many breaks all at once.  Today during a down moment at work, I made a list of Big Things stressing me out.  Not stupid things, like laundry, but things that are really weighing on me right now.  It took up three post-its.  (And I write small).  But the good news is that I'm pretty sure that MIT prepared me for anything, so in true engineer fashion I prioritized and then began to brainstorm solutions.  The number one lesson that I took from my education that is helping me now: ask for help.  And don't stop asking until someone gives it to you.  So I'm still asking.  I feel like that is all I do around here.  Ask for help.  I feel so inept most of the time.  I can't even fill in a form or make a phone call without help.  But the asking was burying me in guilt and feelings of inadequacy.  Yesterday I wrote that I didn't know what would cheer me up here.  I needed new strategies.  But today, I had a mini-epiphany of sorts.  I thought to all the times I've smiled in the past two weeks.  Its my friends.  I need my friends.  I need to be around them, talking to them, laughing with them.  Taking the time in between all the asking and begging and pleading and worrying to spend time doing the things that make me smile, with the people who make me smile.  

Although I still miss hugs.  Seriously, what good is a tiny little kiss on the cheek when what you really want is a bear hug that lifts you off your feet?  A.W., I'm looking at you, man...  January??

Monday, July 2, 2012


The highs and lows from a few weeks ago have settled down and now I feel like I'm drifting a bit as summer begins.  The brief visits from American friends last week and the impending vacations of my lab mates and permanent departures of three of my French friends has me more nostalgic than I've been in a while.  I know that summer always does this to me.  Maybe I'm still tied to the academic clock - summer means freedom, but also friends leaving and paths diverging.  I used to get really restless in Boston in the summers too, but usually a few weekend trips with friends would cure that.  Here, I don't know what will be my fix.  I actually miss french class (someone remind me that I said this come the fall when I'm complaining about my new lessons).  I'm already debating taking off a slew of Mondays just to fix my "omg, its MONDAY" feelings for a few weeks.  Other than that, I think I'll try burying myself in work for a while and see if that helps.

Culbiture & dinner

Last week, I organized my first Culbiture event while our normal fearless leader was off doing experiments at the Cyclotron. 

No pictures from the Degas and the Nude exhibition because no cameras were allowed, but suffice to say that I enjoyed the exhibition very much (as did all the guys who joined me from lab, apparently I need to work on my French vocab of certain body parts.) 

After the museum, we walked to the Right Bank for dinner.  It was 9pm but the sun was still shining through the clouds, over the Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe.

For dinner, we went to H.A.N.D. (Have A Nice Day), an American restaurant in the 1st district.

Peanut butter milkshake anyone?

The food was very American, but the staff were très français.

The burgers were good and the cornflake-breaded chicken was pretty authentic too.  The only thing that veered a little off course was the hash brown that was really more like a latke.  Still delicious, just not exactly the same thing.

The prices were decent, especially for the location.  We might go back again sometime we need a quick but yummy burger on the Right Bank.