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au revoir, paris [14 Aug 2008|11:28pm]
I'm going home tomorrow.

There will be yet more posts from the U.S., so stay tuned.
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french i could have done without having to learn [11 Aug 2008|09:12pm]
I was kindly informed by the pharmacist this evening, as he handed over the cortisone, that the French for "bug bites" is "piqûres d'insect."

It's a good thing for me that the word "antihistamine" is the same in French and English.

Man, you leave the window open once...
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mini-vacation [09 Aug 2008|11:21pm]
I went out to the Bois de Vincennes today, and got ice cream and biked on poorly-marked paths between trees and bushes and then around lakes.  It was a bit like being back in Cape Cod.

While I was waiting for the bus back, I pulled out my iPod and started listening to REM's "Murmur." 

This pilgrimage
has gained momentum

sang Stipe as I watched the bus come down from the end of the road.
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on how modern art isn't always just "great bosh" [06 Aug 2008|08:59pm]
One of the current expositions currently showing at the Centre Pompidou is "Traces of the Sacred."  As asking "So what is humanity's relationship with God?" is a surefire way to get my attention, it was one of the first areas in the museum I went to, before the main museum halls.

(I quote from the pamphlet guide to the Centre: "This itinerary, presenting around 350 works, covers the history of art over the entire 20th century and explores one of the most burning questions of our time: what is the relationship between modern art and spirituality in the Western world.  Since the Age of Enlightenment, the relationship between art and religion has changed profoundly, arriving at what Max Weber has called 'the disenchantment of the world". Nietzsche's announcement of the death of God, psychoanalysis and Marxism have lead to a reconsideration of the human's role in creation.  This exhibition aims to show how modern art today continues to testify, in forms that are often unexpected, to a world beyond the realm of the ordinary and remains, in a secularized world, the profane path for an irrepressible need for elevation, for the sacred.")

This was as good a place as any other to learn a fundamental of modern art: it is freed from the tyranny of having to be pleasing to the eye.  Should it be?  I don't know.  I am inclined to agree that art need not necessarily be pleasing to the eye, though I wonder what Oscar Wilde - he who declared that "Art is the science of beauty" - would think.  In any case, if you have spent the previous afternoon at the Musée D'Orsay, and the afternoon before that in the French sculpture and Italian painting and ancient Assyria sections of the Louvre, to have to recalibrate your understanding so enormously is really difficult to do.

If I'd started with the fourth floor, with the chronological organization of modern art, if I'd seen first the Fauvism that isn't so different from much of what I'd just seen at Orsay, I might have been able to pull it off.

But I had gone first to the exhibition on Traces of the Sacred.  And so there I was, looking at and over a set of works from the twentieth century, all set up to answer the question "Now that God is dead, what does religious art look like?"

For one thing, it is not in the least beautiful.

It also says nothing of love, but everything of power.  The new religion - the superman religion - that the exhibition posited was the worship of human power, in all its forms.  Its creative power, yes, but also its destructive power; and sometimes its power for the sheer sake of power.

It was so discomfiting that I practically ran through the last half, trying to find the exit as quickly as possible.  If that's our religion, if that's our religious art, I'm going to become an atheist.
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"i spy with my little eye, something beginning with c." "castle?" "yeah." [04 Aug 2008|10:52pm]
I spent three days in Dublin with Elizabeth and Elizabeth's cousins.  It was quite the adventure.  Not only did we go all over creation, I, for one, am not used to being with a ten year-old and a six year-old all day.  (Everyone who HAS done this is allowed to laugh at me.)

In some sort of order, we visited: Windmill Lane, where U2 has their studio; Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells (and other things like it) plus the Long Room, which is pretty much the library I want to have in my dream house, except without all those ropes blocking you off; the preserved Bog Men at the museum of Irish history; the bank which used to house the Irish parliament; Temple Bar; the Clarence Hotel; and Henry Street.

That was day one.

Day two had a lunchtime one-woman play at an institution of a Dublin café, called Bewley's; a quick bookstore stop; treats at Butler's Chocolate ("Purveyors of Pleasure"), a scramble home to eat and get everything in order, and then the kids stayed with the babysitter while Elizabeth and I went out with the parents to bingo night (for serious) and a couple of pubs.  I have now officially tried Guinness at the oldest pub in Ireland, not too far from the brewery.  It was very dark and heavy and bitter, especially for someone like me who is not a beer drinker in the first place.

On Sunday, we decided to get out of the city, and drove out to Castle Trim, which was an excellent choice on Elizabeth's part.  Somewhat fortunately, we missed a turn, and decided to go by the Hill of Tara first.  Tara, I am told, is where the high kings of Ireland used to have their seat.  The place still retains plenty of associations with old Celtic spirituality.  Whether you wish to attribute the feeling to the Irish spirit world, the view from the hilltop, or the fact that it stopped raining just as we got up there, Tara worked its magic on all of us.  It was beautiful and peaceful; we all stopped being cranky from the car ride and hunger and rain (even, or perhaps especially, the six year-old), and raced up and down the hilltops, and took in the vistas, and tried to pet the sheep which graze there.  (They were not interested).

From there, we finally drove to Trim, and took a tour.  It's a Norman castle, built in the early 13th century - and, we were surprised to learn, obsolete only about 40 years after it was built.  They've done extensive work on it, so that you can walk on various levels and up to the top, and a good chunk of the center, walls, and outbuildings are preserved, though large parts are missing.  It isn't a recreation at all, just: here is the stone.  Our guide was wonderful, her speech full of Irish quirks I'd never before heard ("we'll pass by there later, so we will").  Also, this is the castle where they filmed large portions of Braveheart, which should be interesting to some people.

After coming back, we ate dinner, then the dad took the kids out and Elizabeth and her cousin and I went out to Bly's Wall, a promenade that stretches from the shore out into the bay by Dublin, just as the sun was setting, and looked and talked and ate fresh Irish fries.
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your mission, should you choose to accept it [29 Jul 2008|11:19pm]
So here is what you should do, if you are ever in Paris:

About an hour and a half before sunset, take the metro (or bus, or other transportation method of your choice) to the place Charles de Gaulle.  Walk around the circumference for a while, looking at the Arc de Triomphe.  When you come to the underground passage, cross.  While still in the underground passageway, buy a ticket from the booth.  Trust me, you'll want this.

Come up just under the Arc.  Walk around some more.

Get in line.  Walk up the stairs.  They go up for a while.  Your legs will hurt.  It's worth it.

Walk all the way up to the top.  Now, did you know you could climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe?  I didn't.

Stay up there for a while.

On your way down, stop off at the intermediate levels, and make sure to play with the interactive display that shows closeups of all the details on the Arc, which is also about the coolest interactive display I have ever seen.  You rotate a small model of the Arc in your hand, which in turn rotates a slightly larger model a couple of feet in front of you, and a light moves over the larger model and shows you where, on the Arc, is sculpted the detail that is projected in sharp relief on the large HD screen, with a caption.

Walk down.  This is easier than walking up.

Orient yourself east, and walk down the Champs-Elysées.  At some point, stop for food.  Sit and watch the nightlife from your table out on the sidewalk.

Continue down to Place de la Concorde.  It should be fully dark by this point.  If it isn't, wait until it is.  You'll see why when you get there.
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Poll! [24 Jul 2008|11:12pm]
On Sunday, should Sarah:

a) go to Giverny for the day?
b) stay in Paris, sightsee more locally, and try to get a decent view of the end of the Tour de France?

I await feedback.
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things have turned a deeper shade of blue [24 Jul 2008|12:17am]

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things i appreciate about paris [21 Jul 2008|06:28pm]
-- There are no mega-chain bookstores.  Especially in the student districts, if you want a book, you go to the appropriate specialty store.  There are also a surprising number of booksellers who deal in nothing but "livres anciens" (used books, often rare or collectible editions).
-- People are much less plugged in than in the US.  Many people have cell phones, but only young people have iPods, and it is relatively uncommon to see someone walking down the street with a cell phone or headphones connected to their ear.
-- Midsummer in Paris means seventy degrees and low humidity, with sunset at 10 p.m.
-- I can buy wine.
-- It is assumed that you will be lingering over a meal.  Waiters will clear your plate as soon as you are finished, but unless the restaurant is very busy, they do not bring you the bill until you ask for it.

Elizabeth and I are traveling to Dublin for three days next week!  And I will even be doing things that are not a U2 pilgrimage!
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carbonara dilemna [19 Jul 2008|12:59am]
I have really been looking forward to cooking pasta carbonara, but now that I've started poking around for the exact recipe, I have been struck by an unfortunate circumstance: they all call for freshly grated parmesan.

Fresh cheese I can get, no problem.  But I have no grater.

Honestly the easiest solution will probably be to go to the supermarket, spend four euros, and get one; but in case they don't have them or they're outrageously expensive or something along those lines, does anyone know a good way to fake a grater?

EDIT: Grater obtained.
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the busyness of it all [17 Jul 2008|09:45pm]
I ate cheap, fake-Asian takeout for dinner tonight, as is the prerogative of students everywhere.  And as I have been spending a rather ridiculous amount of time being scholarly these days, I feel justified.  Classes start at 11 and run until 3:30 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and til 5:30 on Tuesday and Thursday.  "Lunch" has been redefined as a baguette or pastry and an applesauce cup on the half-hour walk between my two morning classes, and, on the shorter days, a more leisurely afternoon crêpe or similar at a cafe after classes end.  This is a bit surprising to me, as I was rather looking forward to the supposed leisurely meals of the French.  They are certainly to be found... just not at the Sorbonne.

Paris is really quite overwhelming.  The more I do and see, the more places I want to get to.  My list of "I've got to see this before I leave!" increases daily.  At the present time, the only items crossed off on it are the Musée de Cluny, Montmartre, an initial Louvre visit, and a bookstore near me.  The great thing about this bookstore is that its English name would be something like "Mona's been reading"; in French, however, this is "Mona Lisait."

There are definitely a good few places I've been to that I never even wrote down - the Tuileries, the Arènes de Lutece, Notre Dame, the Berthillion stand on Ile-St-Louis, the rue Mouffetard for the markets, Sainte-Chapelle for a concert (so, Ben and Kate, you can rest easy), and Chartres (ditto that for Susan).  There's also the Jardin du Luxembourg, which I walk through daily between classes, and are one of my favorite places in Paris, for several reasons.  First, they took a palace and turned it into the Senate's meeting house.  Then, they took the palace grounds and sculpted them into one of the best-designed parks I've ever seen.  "Sculpted" is the appropriate word: the Jardin is not a park in the let-the-masses-think-they-are-in-the-country wild American style, but a measured garden, the kind where the flower beds are perfectly geometric, the grass has been pressed flat, and the foliage trimmed into perfect boxes along the lanes.  There are places to sit everywhere: benches along the edges of paths, green patio chairs tucked under the shade, near the railings, or around the circumference of the pond on which children can sail toy boats.  There's a small area for concerts, where I caught the end of the last movement of Beethoven's Pastoral the other day.  There's an apiary and a rectangular area for pony rides and a huge playground and a marionette theater, but it never seems to be particularly noisy.  The entire garden is decorated with sculpture of all kinds, from neoclassical to modern, most spectacularly a giant golden-bronze head at the top of one stairway.  My first week here, I spent most of an afternoon sitting in the Jardin and reading.

Also, yeah, I guess it was Bastille Day here.  I had a terrible view of the parade, but when they started driving by in large military vehicles (which was most of the parade), it worked out:

Also, even though it was French military equipment, even though this is something they do every year, even though World War II ended 43 years before I was born: seeing tanks roll up the Champs-Elysées is deeply discomfiting.

But the fireworks that night were pretty:

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sarah's paris home workout program! [14 Jul 2008|03:12pm]
Two for the price of one: your kitchen chores and your upper-body workout!

All you need is the following:

-- stainless steel pots and pans, without nonstick coating*;
-- sink too small to fit any of the above pots and pans into, so they can't really soak after they've been used;
-- electric stove that heats up slowly, then burns anything you're cooking;
-- and unreliable dishwasher access.

In cleaning the daily burnt butter, eggs, etc. out of these pots and pans, you will get a far better arm workout than what you could get at the gym.  Guaranteed.

*PAM would fix this, if they sold it in Paris.
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a feast for the senses [12 Jul 2008|11:44pm]
Today, I met up with my friend Michelle, who's in Paris on roughly the same time frame as me, doing Yale summer session.  Our first stop (and rendezvous point) was the Jardin des Tuileries:

Here's another picture of the Jardin, which I've posted not so much for the scenery as for the quality of the light there.  It's the kind you can only get late in the day before a 10 pm sunset, when the western sun can actually shine under the clouds:

Anyway, then we went to the Louvre:

And because we are both classics geeks, we spent the next few hours in the Greek and Roman galleries, looking at things like this:

And this:

Afterwards, we left and got Berthillion ice cream, which has been recommended to me as the best ice cream in Paris, and which is in fact, as I said to Michelle, proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

And then we went to a classical music concert in Sainte-Chapelle.

After that, we went out to a crêperie in the Marais district and had delicious food and wine.

So all in all, it was an excellent day.  But really, I think the best part was this:

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lists are fun! [09 Jul 2008|05:25pm]
I'm always passing by places that look interesting, then forgetting where they are.  This afternoon, I paid very careful attention to everything that I thought could come in handy or looked cool on my walk home from classes, and then noted it all down as soon as I got back in:

Rue de Sommerard: Needlepoint tapestry store
Near Cluny: good, shady place to sit in the park
Rue de la Harpe: Good shopping, super-cheap crêpes and paninis; Tunisian bakery at the end of the street.
Bvd. du Palais (on Ile de la Cité): Berthillion ice cream stand (this is often called the best ice cream in Paris, and after trying it once, I'm tempted to agree)
Ile de la Cité: Palais de Justice & Sainte-Chapelle (super-long lines, but must-sees one of these days)
Re des Galles: bagel place, artisanal bakery.

Ile de la Cité also has a flower market Monday-Saturday.  On Sunday it transforms into a bird market.  These I must see.
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step 2 [08 Jul 2008|10:07pm]
Back in February, when my original summer plans started looking completely infeasible, I had to sit down and ask myself what I really wanted out of the summer.  Heading the list was "get out of the U.S. for a while."  But also pretty high up was "living situation."  I knew I wanted to live more or less on my own, in an apartment, and get a warmup for the adult life I'm warned I'll have to deal with two years from now.  I wanted to be in charge of myself as much as I could.

The main change in living in an apartment, I knew, would be that I'd have to budget for and deal with all my own food.  There would be no dining hall 100 feet away with a prepaid buffet 3-meals-a-day plan.  It was a challenge I was looking forward to.

Tonight, I made an inventory of what my roommate and I had in the pantry; then I went to the grocery store around the corner, bought a few more things (olive oil, almonds, bouillon cubes, turkey slices, pepper), and then came back and started cooking dinner.  I had to time boiling two different dishes, use a plastic ladle to prop up the cover from the crockpot so I could use it to cover the pan, and manage with approximately a cutting board's worth of counter space.

In the end, I had 4-cheese risotto and and sautéed green beans with almonds and a glass of cloyingly sweet wine, and it tasted good and I was proud.

I even did the dishes afterwards.
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cool, if exhausting [06 Jul 2008|09:22pm]
Today can be summed up as follows: food, museum, food, museum, food.  With a lot of walking on each side of all of those.  Paris is wearing me out.  So much to see and do, combined with getting homework done and figuring out the Métro and determining what I'm going to cook when and how.  I think I need another weekend after this weekend.  However, as I may be able to make the walking tour of Montmartre tomorrow, there goes the plan to give my legs a break for a day.

As to the two museums, one was the Musée Picasso, the other the Musée National du Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages).  It is not really difficult to guess which museum I, the classics major, liked better.  Also, I am jealous of the French simply for getting to have a national museum of the Middle Ages.  We in the USA had to appropriate the Cloisters.

Here, have some pictures of cool medieval art:

(That one's from a series called "Heads of the Kings of Judah.")

One of a series of stained glass windows.

They also had what I am given to understand are a famous set of tapestries, "Dame à la licorne" (Lady with the unicorn).  I am generally not as interested in tapestries as I am in other medieval art - I don't like the filling of the background with floral patterns and I tend to find them difficult to decode - but these were really spectacular.

Also, Elizabeth had me over for dinner tonight and cooked some delicious fish.  Limited cook that I am, I am trying to figure out how to return the favor.
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walk home from dinner [05 Jul 2008|11:30pm]
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[04 Jul 2008|10:11am]
Dear French stove,

I want scrambled eggs.  This is a very simple thing.  I need you to heat up some butter enough that I can cook scrambled eggs.  This is not supposed to take more than five minutes.  If it is twenty minutes later, and your burners are still ice cold, something is wrong.


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c'est difficile de devenir parisienne [04 Jul 2008|12:04am]
Today,  I woke up in plenty of time to eat breakfast, take the metro to the 5th (the neighborhood where most of my classes are), walk around, find a stationer's and buy a notebook, get some lunch, and make my way to rue de l'Estrapade in time for class.  I pulled all this off while walking around with a cute top and skirt and espradilles on, generally feeling accomplished and even a bit Parisian.

Then, two things happened within 15 minutes of each other: My water bottle leaked, and class started.

Thankfully, I caught the leak early enough that the only real damage was to two documents: my Paris map and my photocopy of my passport, both of which are replaceable.  On the other hand, frantically digging everything out, then trying to find the bathroom in a new building, right before not only a new class but one in a new culture where they are rather strict about attendance, was not what I would call fun.  (Note: finding the bathroom was rather useless anyway, as the French prefer roller towels to paper towels or hand dryers, and it is a little difficult to clean out a bag with a roller towel.)

As to class: I somehow managed to impress them with my command of the subjunctive, or something, and placed into Advanced, which is level 3 out of 4.  This is a bit of a coup.  But it also means I'm among the least fluent in my class.  I shall survive, though.  With improved French.  Which is kind of the whole point.

This brings up something else: I've realized that while my French is sufficient to buy groceries, and even have a bit of a conversation, the language still only comes so naturally for me.  Anything complex I want to say, I tend to plan out in advance.  I have little sense of how to bend and modulate the language as I do English, to make it say not just the nouns and verbs I mean, but the real sense of a thought.  I don't have much feel for what the language can do when I know it well - I'm still trying to get the vocabulary down. 

In short: My French is not good enough to make a joke in.  (Though it may be bad enough to make a joke of.)

So, that's goal one for this trip: be able to make a joke in French.

Back to classes: I've got class from 12:30 to 2:30 every day.  For the first three weeks, I also have a language lab from 11 to 12 (note that as I have a metro ride between classes, this does not leave enough time for lunch.)  And for the first four, I'm taking a seminar on the architecture and history of Paris, which meets for two and a half hours twice a week.  The first two are obligatory; the last is not.  And since I can't even get credit for the seminar, today it felt a little ridiculous to be sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture in French for 150 minutes.  (I never have lectures that long in my native language, let alone French.)  But I have forced myself to quiet all doubts, since after the first two lectures, the rest of the class consists in field trips to cool places and learning about, not surprisingly, their architecture and history.  I'll deal with a few overlong lectures for that.

My second class didn't get out until 6 pm.  After wandering around by the rue Mouffetard for a little while, I took the metro home.

And then I spent half an hour trying to find a baguette to have with dinner.

"Oh, Sarah," you say.  "You're in Paris.  Are you really so incompetent as to not be able to find a baguette there?  Don't people practically wave them at you from the corners?"

Admittedly, in most parts of Paris, this would be true, except the waving-from-the-corners bit.  (They tuck them at the back of the boulangeries.)  But I live in what's more or less the Parisian equivalent of midtown Manhattan.  For blocks around, there are shops and cafés and brasseries, but simple bakeries are not to be found within a five-block radius.  I ended up buying one from a market that was taking place several blocks away.

So, goal two for my stay in Paris: find a reliable nearby bakery.
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yeah, this is what we were going for [02 Jul 2008|05:15pm]
Typical facebook posts between me and my friend Elizabeth during the school year: "Dinner in Silliman at 6?"

Current facebook posts between me and Elizabeth: "Hey, let's meet up tonight for a late French dinner.  Outside the Pantheon at 7?"
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