Gallivanting the city in my obnoxiously bright yellow rain boots

The stench of cigarettes reached the cramped hallway directly outside my apartment this morning. A strong scent for an early start, but one I assume is a result of the cold temperatures encouraging the cigarette trend’s move indoors. Which, in a way, makes sense given I woke up to a blanket of snow layering the Parisian grounds below.



I chose to spend this morning and early afternoon wandering alone—my first time separating from the group since my arrival last Tuesday. While I thoroughly enjoy the company of the new friends I’ve made, I am acutely aware of how little I observe and less I reflect on the experience of my discoveries while a part of a group setting.



And so braving the American style of warmth and comfort in face of the Parisian mode of flare and style (rain or shine) I graced the streets of Paris, clad in sweatpants and bright, yellow rain boots. Our orientation guide had mentioned that Parisians have a keen sense for plucking the foreigner out of a crowd. Maybe it’s the manner we speak or the way in which we move. Or perhaps it’s the yellow rain boots. Regardless, I was aware of the looks passed my way. It’s obvious I’m not Parisian—a factor they’ve all seemed to caught on to. It’s incredible how Parisians often speak to me in English, before I even utter a word in French. Yet I persist in my determination to speak back in French, adamant about wanting to practice the tongue. As for those who speak back to me in French, responses are spurted with such speed—likely in the manner I speak English, yet a large disadvantage for those unable to understand rapid- fire French.

It amazes me that I hear French as if it were English—odd because it leaves me with a sense of ease in terms of holding a conversation. I've realized I do, in fact, possess a larger wealth of vocabulary than previously expected. I am able to respond in a conversation, although often pausing to rack my inner dictionary for the correct term (or words to describe what I'm trying to say). I’ve noticed that in certain contexts, I’ve subconsciously switched from thinking in English to French. Fluency, as Allena had said, is set once your dreams are in the language. But thoughts? Let’s go with potential proof that I’m a quarter way there.

It amazes me that a mere six days ago, I was a stranger in a foreign land. Six days later, and I’m familiar with the setting, confident with the metro (green button/ door handle down) and comfortable in my surroundings. As for this weekend, it’s been a good one—one of many to follow. Saturday was spent navigating the city with the group, and today was spent exploring on my own until late afternoon, in addition to spending time with Allena, a friend from my program. It’s incredible how much one can see in the space of two days and how a weekend itinerary can shape a grounded appreciation for the remarkable Parisian city. 

Saturday
Of our group, six of us set plans to meet at the Musée d'Orsay, a train station gone renowned impressionist/ post- impressionist art museum. I had given myself 15 minutes to actually get to the museum—slight squeeze considering I hadn’t given myself room for potential delays, such as my transfer line being a 10- minute wait.

But regardless, the 10-minute delay made for an interesting experience as I ended up chatting with a middle aged woman in the metro. A lady, claiming to be homeless yet clean in appearance and put together in dress, was making her begging rounds across the metro. All, initially, gave her the attention given her appearance in no way alluded to her claims of being homeless. I played the I don’t speak French card when the beggar approached me, while the lady next to me pulled the “Why are you pretending to be homeless?” question. Which, naturally, enraged the beggar, causing a small uproar as she scolded the woman for wishing bad upon her. And the beggar continued, spewing a rant regarding how none knew of her situation and how none of us should judge a person by their appearance. As in, just because she was dressed in clean clothes and wearing makeup and had her hair done, that in no way meant she was pretending to be a beggar. Of course. Regardless, it all would have been better had the beggar just been ignored. Once on the metro, I turned to the lady next to me, voicing my opinion as to how silly the situation was. The lady agreed and two of us began chatting. She volunteers weekly at a charity for the homeless (hence her frustration with the “beggar’s” rant) and was spending the weekend in Paris to visit her three friends from college, one of which she hadn’t seen in 40 years.

40 years? I can only imagine meeting up with my college friends in 40 years. Seeing where life takes us in the next four decades. How many of us will keep in contact, how many of us will loose the connection—how many will reconnect some 40 years later. The lady on the train could be future me, future us. And while I’m a college student continuing the formation of my college relationships, she’s a grown woman, far from that stage in life. Yet she carries it with her, one that gives me the hope that all I experience in the now are moments and friendships that I will carry forth into the future stages of life ahead. 

I was 15 minutes late meeting my friends at the Musée d’Orsay. Of no surprise, given I have thorough issues in terms of timing. Fashionably late, or so I like to call it.

Had I not been to the Louvre the day before, I would have found the actual building of the Musée d’Orsay more impressive. The museum itself is massive, but likely 50 of the structure could fit in a wing of the Louvre. (Just fantastic that the Louvre has warped my sense of what constitutes impressive.)

The pieces, however, were striking. The grandeur in scale, the fineness in stroke, the motion implied by texture, the artists I’ve studied, the pieces I’ve researched: it’s these pieces that once created such controversy among those of the art world, pieces that forever shaped and formed a new era of modern art.

Following a lunch at a local boulangerie (in addition to two of our group members departing for alternative plans), we continued, headed to the Galeries Lafayette (aka Harrods gone Parisian).  
The interior of Galeries Lafayette.
Buses make for a fantastic way of piecing together the city—a visual guide to the connections among locations missed by metro transportation.  And so with a unlimited metro/ bus pass, the four of us hopped on board the first bus we found with the plan of getting lost and finding our way back again. But 20 minutes in we decided we wanted to visit Sacré-Cœur basilica, a Roman- Catholic church perched on a hill overlooking the city. And while we were on the correct line to get to the location, we were, as it appeared, headed the wrong direction.
Sights from the bus ride. Bottom: Opera House.


We hopped off board to catch the same line in the reverse direction. We arrived in Montmarte 30 minutes later.

I fell in love as we entered the quaint area of the city just before reaching the basilica. The center of Paris is stunning, rich in design, impressive in layout. But the area around Sacré-Cœur possesses the feel of a small French village, and for once, I appreciated the area’s distance and difference from the groomed nature of the center of Paris.
The town, quaint, quiet and full of character.

The basilica poking it's way through the narrow streets of the area.



We arrived at Sacré-Cœur just before sunset—the pinks of the dusk sky served  a stunning backdrop among the faint blues of the city below. The Eiffel Tower, scraping the skyline, graced the city, regal in structure, grand in stance
Sacre- Coeur.
Top & bottom: the view from Sacre- Coeur.

Sunday
I spent the morning touring the Arc de Triomphe, in addition to spending the afternoon in the Jewish quarter of the Marais. Following a Kosher schwarma lunch and quick stop at the Hotel de Ville, I met up with Allena to tour the Centre Pompidou, Paris’s modern art museum (not a favorite). We concluded the evening with dinner at a restaurant opposite the museum: a shared cheese crepe and separate dessert crepes (nutella for me, sugar for her): a delicious ending to a productive day.
Top & bottom: view of the city from the Centre Pompidou.



Thoughts from the day:
 
-        The Parisian metro system makes D.C. look like a joke. I’m aware of American’s issue with the quality of our food, the immensity of our portions. But the metro? 10 stops in D.C. equate a roughly 30-minute commute; 10 stops in Paris, add on a transfer or two, averages about… 10 minutes. The speed and reliability of Paris’s metro is incredible; I’d venture to say that D.C. has a thing or two to learn.



-        The temperature: in the 20s. My fingers, toes, hands, nose, ears, body: forever numb. My Florida upbringing and D.C. adaptation in no way prepared me for precisely how painful it is to be in such cold temperatures.


-        Arc de Triomphe: The immensity and grandeur of the arch was nothing I had expected. My immediate thought was the arch's similarity to the Lincoln Memorial in terms of the classical architecture. But even so, the arch’s size is by far larger, the design, far superior. Americans channel “large” to meal size; the French reserve it for their art. Be it pieces in the museums to the art spread across the city, all are massive in scale, impressive in creation. In a way, Paris itself becomes a virtual museum with its art adorning all parts of the city. 


-        The comfort of the familiar, aka Baruch Hashem for Starbucks. I poked into a Starbucks to acclimatize to the Marais/ gloss over my Paris book/ defreeze. I had been discussing the concept of Starbucks with a friend a few weeks before leaving D.C. We agreed the success of Starbucks in the states lies largely in that Americans gravitate towards the familiar. And so coming out of the metro and in desperate need to find warmth without having to pay for a drink, I thoroughly appreciated the comfort of the familiar-- a small touch of home.

-        On visiting Paris’s Holocaust Memorial, in addition to the Jewish quarter of the Marais: Being in a city in which the Holocaust actually took place adds a heavy weight to all thoughts behind the horrors of the past. I felt the connection to the last names engraved onto the slabs of the memorial, last names of which many are repeated countless of times. I thought of the link I have of living with a Jewish woman here in Paris—of how it all makes picturing what it meant to be Jewish during the 40s, of being forced to leave your home by your own government, that much easier. The last names on the walls could have been the last names of my family, of my friends, of those close to me in the web of my life. 

-        On leaving the memorial and venturing towards the heart of Parisian Jewish life. The Jewish quarter of the Marais is a mere five-minute walk from the memorial. Falafel restaurants, Jewish jewelry stores and Kosher bakeries line the strip of the hidden cove of the Marias’s Jewish quarter. Stores here are open, a change to that of the rest of the city which closes on Sundays and Mondays. It’s comforting to see the vibrancy of Jewish life along the Marais. How it’s this culture, these people, my religion that has continued despite the tremendous bump in our history’s past.   
L'as du Fallafel in the Jewish quarter of the Marais. 

-        On thoughts while gorging on kosher schwarma at L’as du Fallafel, a must go to, according to travel book bible. I braved the prospect of sitting alone to eat. (Mind you it was lunch, making the prospect of eating alone in a restaurant somewhat more socially acceptable.) The restaurant was small, a blend of France (language), Israel (food and decoration) and the U.S. (background top 40 music) to create an interesting atmosphere within the famous falafel spot. “Without You” came on the speakers at one point; It’s this song that I used for my sorority’s recruitment video. And so I let my thoughts drift, glossing through my month in D.C. prior to leaving for Paris. It’s amazing the memories we carry with as we travel onwards. The memory of recruitment, of hours and days spent with sisters, of my friends, of my family—it’s all a part of me across the Atlantic, a comforting thought.

____________
Classes begin tomorrow, a sort of set in reality given the study part of abroad applies as well. My ACCENT classes (classes taught in English) begin this week, launching with my Civilization in Paris class tomorrow. I’ll receive word regarding my French grammar and phonetics classes this Wednesday. My Sorbonne Art History conference course begins in two weeks.

And so a week into the program. 

The week has been a whirlwind of discovery and exploration, of new friendships formed, of new memories made. As for the weekend, it’s been time spent settling in and laying the foundations for a semester ahead.

I've discovered that brie is heaven, that dusk is the time to take pictures of scenery, that art museums (excluding the Centre Pompidou) are addicting and that Parisian neighborhoods hold wonders just waiting to be discovered.





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