Tasska (spécialités libanaises)

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I NEED to share with the internet my love for this sandwich, found at a Lebanese restaurant in my coin.

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It is a wrap with freshly cooked chicken, hummus, and an amazing crunch, sour condiment. The combo of the flavorful chicken with the mystery Lebanese sauerkraut is so addictive that the packaged bread they serve it on is forgiveable. Clearly I need to do some research on these components so I can get to cooking, but I wanted to get this out in the world! My plan is to befriend the woman who works there and ask for recipes so I can make my own. The last time I went in, she recognized me so I have made some progress on this front!

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Until I succeed, I’ll be returning for my weekly €4.50 fix.

Tasska
195, rue Crimée
75019 Paris
01 40 34 74 48
Métro Crimée, Line 7

How is my Master’s going?

A lot of times I post about something new I’m doing but then I don’t follow up. So, here’s my mid-year check-in on my Master’s.

I could write another post like this one but I didn’t take notes of all of the incidents because I was busy working and school-ing last semester. Good thing I’m not paid to do this!

Love seeing this as I walk to class

Love seeing this as I walk to class

Basically, I felt quite lost, and things continued to be disorganized and n’importe-quoi up until present day. Ignored requests for a letter excusing me from the English class led me to give up and start attending. It’s one of my favorite courses now, so it worked out in the end. I spent all of last semester visiting the Bureau des Stages, trying to convince them to accept my authorization form even though I hadn’t received a certain form from la Sécu (government health insurance), then a few weeks ago I learned that our department decided that we were all covered as students and we didn’t need to deal with this form anymore. Another thing that ended with a passing grade but almost caused me to have a heart attack was the discovery in the five minutes before a final exam started that there was a textbook that I had no idea existed. Seriously. That’s how lost I was at the beginning of the semester.

Another thing I find very strange and different is the fact that we have a class delegate who meets frequently with our professors and relays us all information by email concerning class schedule, homework, and exams. It’s so weird that this position exists. Our delegate does a great job and is super organized, but it frustrates me that we are discouraged from communicating directly with our professors and instead are encouraged to go through her for any questions. Getting information secondhand is not ideal!

As for the actual classes, things were all over the place in terms of course organization, content, grading system, and exams. I’m used to my wonderful, expensive undergrad education, where they held summits to determine how each class would advance an individual student in his chosen major. There was intra- and inter-departmental communication, so the professors would plan their courses to work in tandem with each other. It allowed for a deeper understanding of concepts by coming at them from different angles in the same semester.

I’m not finding the same situation here. To be fair, this is a different country and liberal arts education is a modern American concept. The Sorbonne, founded in 1257, has a traditional approach to education. Certainly there are advantages to such history, but as Music Business is a very modern and global field the Sorbonne needs to remain competitive. Given that it’s a French institution, change is coming, but at a snail’s pace. It’s evident that the directors of my current program are making an effort to keep it competitive and relevant; they just revamped it this year and made lots of changes.

Research..so happy to sometimes find English sources

Research..so happy to sometimes find English sources

In early December we had a meeting with the program advisor to ask questions and learn about the process for the M2 (2nd year of degree). We were informed that there are only 15 spots for the 2nd year of the Master’s. There are 22 of us in the M1…so at the end of this semester when I do the concours it is literally going to be a competition to continue. This is a detail I would have loved to know before starting, but of course just getting information about the M1 was impossible.

Despite my grievances, I’m continuing on and attempting to finish the year! If anything, it’s a major personal growth opportunity and an exercise in patience. And it’s one big French lesson – most of my classes are in French. Plus, I got a student job in the choir and orchestra department. I’m proud to have made it this far and I’m looking forward to the second semester.

We manage to have fun sometimes!

We manage to have fun sometimes!

Waxing in Paris

Yikes, I post way less often now, but I’m in grad school so what else can I say?

Now that I’ve been here for 2.5 years, and lived in 3 arrondissements plus a banlieue, I have established my favorite spots. I’ll try to start sharing some of them on here and I will condense them on a page called sweetmaddy’s Paris.

Waxing is more economical than shaving and if you are lazy it’s even better! Every 4-6 weeks is the only time you need to be dealing with unwanted hair. I have a splurge place and a cheap place.

Les anges ont la peau douce (“Angels have soft skin“)

Les anges ont la peau douce

Les anges ont la peau douce

This is a beautiful slice of heaven, which I think is the intention. This salon, located right near Parc Monceau, manages to stand out from the pack with great service, quality products, and beautiful and classy décor. The pristine white-panted employees are all professional, nice, and most importantly, quick. The house products are great and they also sell several brands that I’ve heard great things about (especially these nail polishes). I’ve only gone for waxing but the pedicure situation looks pretty fantastic.

Leading up to the waxing room - love these cloud rugs!

Leading up to the waxing room – love these cloud rugs!

-accepts credit cards
-usually can get last-minute appointments
-hard wax is used
-clean and fancy

Body’Minute (don’t ask me why there’s an apostrophe)

This is the complete opposite of my other go-to place. They have pop music playing and the rooms remind me of shower stalls in a public gym – space between the door and the floor. But, the price is right! They are done by body zone, and they have an abbonnement situation that I don’t partake in because my hair grows slowly and it’s only worth it if you go more than once a month. There are boutiques all over Paris and I’ve only tried the one near my apartment. The woman who works there is super nice and very fast.

-cash only
-strip wax
-clean but not fancy

Merdocracy #1

End of June: receive acceptance letter only a few weeks after submitting my dossier. I will be starting a Master’s degree in Music Business at the Sorbonne this fall!

June 28: receive a surprisingly organized and clearly written email containing instructions on how to complete my inscription (the sign-up process). I gather together my dossier and make my appointment online as directed in the email.

July 10: After almost dying walking up the three flights of stairs due to my cold (the ancient elevator with it’s stack of cardboard boxes blocking the door taunts me – the only thing worse than no elevator is a broken elevator) I arrive at my appointment. I am told that I am missing a form and need to go turn it in in a different office before attending my appointment.

Black hole of dossiers

Black hole of dossiers

After a frustrating 20 minutes of going to the wrong place, I find the right office. I encounter a man whom I’d met before – when doing research of Master’s programs, he’d looked at me like I had two heads when I asked him if I could see the class schedule to see if it would conflict with my work hours, and if I could speak to current or past students. This time he was a bit less mean and he told me I needed a directeur de recherche (thesis advisor) before I turned in the form, and gave me a professor’s email address to ask about getting a directeur. I went home directly and emailed the professor.

July 17: I receive a reply from the professor: I’m not the right person to email, email this professor instead. Ugh! Send an email to prof #2 and get a prompt response: You don’t need a directeur before you sign up. **smacks hand to forehead** The July inscription period is of course over now, so I have to wait until September after les vacances.

September 6: Call office phone number several times and send an email, asking when I can complete my inscription, and after receiving no response, go to new building in the north of Paris because that’s the address that was listed on the website.  Once arrived to the office 5 flights of stairs up, am told I have to go to the original office in central Paris, the one where the elevator is broken.  The woman in this office thankfully looks at the email from the professor I printed out and puts an official stamp on my acceptance form that shows I don’t need a directeur de recherche before I sign up.

September 9: Go to correct foreign students office; it’s closed on Monday afternoons.  Naturally.  And this is not written on the website. Take a picture of office hours with my phone so I know for the future.

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September 10: Go to correct foreign students office – I have to have an appointment.  Even though I tried to make one several times in the past few months and the website was either broken or not working my computer.  Go home and it magically works again – all the appointments are taken until September 20, 4 days before I’m supposed to start classes!

September 20: Go to my appointment. The woman helping me sees the official stamp on my dossier but ignores it and tries to hand it back to me. I show her the email from the professor and she freaks out and shows it to her boss and colleague. They are all really pissed that this professor changed something about the inscription process. They spend at least 10 minutes discussing it (funny, as I’d just overheard them stressing out about how many students were waiting in line to sign up and how they’d have to work not only in the mornings that week but also the afternoons to get everyone signed up!), proclaiming that they might as well just leave their jobs to the professor since he seems to know more than them. The lady makes about 20 copies of the email and gives it back to me, then FINALLY takes steps to officially sign me up.

I pay tuition (1/2 the price I was quoted when I applied!) and €259,10 later I am officially a student at the Sorbonne! You just coughed your drink out of your nose – if you are any nationality but American it’s because that price is “so high.” Does this affordable degree make the 3 month headache of just signing up worth it? To be determined after graduation…

September 23: The day before classes start, the schedule is posted online, with one column missing – the Saturday column. And, it turns out, I have classes on Saturdays…

Déménagement: Boulogne, 15ème, 8ème, 19ème

I have recently said goodbye to a career to which I hope I’ll never return: au pairing.  It’s not the worst job in the world but there are some really hard parts that I’m glad to leave behind. One thing I’ll miss is the free housing.  I’m paying rent for the first time in my life!  It’s actually really exciting, despite the major chunk of cash that goes away every month.

I’m a little sad to not live right under the rooftops anymore.  I took pride in climbing all those stairs all the time, and the views weren’t bad either.  But in my new place I appreciate the washing machine, real bathroom, and bigger “kitchen” so much more.  And I even have my own cave! And the elevator.  Ohhh the elevator makes my life so much easier.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Here are all the places I’ve lived in Paris:

1st room in Boulogne-Billancourt

1st room in Boulogne-Billancourt

Apt 3

The “kitchen”

Apt 5

Beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and Paris

Apt 6

Stairs

For several reasons, I decided to work with a different family for my second year in Paris. The family I chose ended up being a bad fit and I only stayed for three months. I didn’t get around to taking any pictures. The room was teeny tiny, freezing cold, with a moldy carpet, nasty shower, shared toilet, and broken windows, bed and sink.

Based on the state of that room, it was clear that the family had no respect for their au pair, whoever it might be. I knew it was time to move on when I began looking forward to putting the little girl to bed just so I could sit on her pillow-top queen-sized mattress. Actually, that’s not true – I knew it was time to move on when her brother threw a rocking horse bigger than him at my head and told me he hoped I got fired so I’d have to sleep on the street. Here’s a picture to represent the quartier, which I quite loved:

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My old neighborhood

Then I found the third and final family I worked for, near the Champs-Elysées.

34 rue de Bassano bathroom

Salle de bains

34 rue de Bassano kitchen

Kitchen area

34 rue de Bassano windows

Rest of the room

This apartment was so nice, being 20 meters squared (215 sq feet) with normal-height ceilings and working heat and nice tiling and paint. I even had 2 hot plates instead of one! However, there were major problems with the plumbing (maybe one day I’ll write about that experience, but for now it still haunts me) and the washing machine didn’t work. I had to haul my laundry to the family’s apartment, 15 minutes away on foot.

The location was not ideal. You’d think that living on the Champs-Élysées would be a dream come true. However, off the avenue, the neighborhood was void of shops and restaurants, and the few I could find were obscenely over-priced and had limited opening hours. I was in a frustrating position because I was living on a working-class salary in a banker’s-salary neighborhood. I was grateful to have a place to live and be in a safe area and live on the line 1 metro, but that’s where the positives ended.

This fall, I started my Master’s program and due to my class schedule was unable to continue working as an au pair. I got a job in a cafe and found an apartment in the 19th arrondissement, on the north-east edge of Paris. I love my new place! My neighborhood has plenty of affordable shops and restaurants, it’s near the Canal St. Martin and Buttes-Chaumont, one of my favorite parcs in Paris, and I’m right around the corner from the metro.

The salon/bedroom/living room

The salon/bedroom/living room

My side of the closet

My side of the closet

The kitchen/laundry room

The kitchen/laundry room

I’m sharing this apartment with a French girl. I don’t mind having a roommate, because it forces me to keep clean. Plus, she only lives in Paris half-time so I have the place to myself often. When I moved to Paris, I never imagined that I’d eventually be renting somewhere – exciting!

Backpacking in the south of France

In August, I was invited on a backpacking trip in the south of France.  This was the perfect low-budget escape from my apartment, which in the summer was about as comfortable as the inside of a volcano.  I was told we’d be hiking through the Gorges du Verdon – touted as the “Grand Canyon of Europe.”  Ha!  The plan was to hike 4-5 hours every day, and eat in local restaurants each night.  My first and only backpacking experience was in Yosemite, and this sounded very easy in comparison.

The group at the start of our hike

The group at the start of our hike

“Easy” is the last word I’d use to describe our trip.  Our first night, we slept in an almost-empty lot after 9 hours of driving.  Needless to say, we weren’t in top form the next day.  Within the first half hour of hiking, I realized this was going to be more than just some light hiking.  It was boiling hot and what felt like an instant steep ascent.  However, the beauty of the trail more than made up for it’s difficulties.  I quite enjoyed the varied views we were treated to the whole time.  It was always a surprise when we’d round a bend and come upon a huge plateau, or a deep canyon, or a thick forest.  The trails were littered with wild thyme, lavender, and other herbs.  I became addicted to reaching down and grabbing a few sprigs to place in my pack straps or crumble on top of myself to combat some of my hiking stink.

Photo by Frédy

Photo by Frédy


Photo by Frédy

Photo by Frédy


The group in front of some striations

The group in front of some striations

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Lavender!

Lavender!

Backpacking with French people is the same as it is with Americans – you walk, sweat, chat, and sing.  You admire the scenery, you complain, you give each other massages and share snacks and water.  However, there is one notable and awesome difference.  French people, at least the ones I know, seem to have an inability to go anywhere without wine.  Despite the full and heavy packs we all carried, somehow at each lunch break a bottle of something would magically emerge.  We used the various bodies of water we encountered as natural refrigerators.  Hiking in the heat was made bearable by all the chilled rosé we had!

Photo by Kat

Photo by Kat

Our first night, we had a glamping experience and stayed in a really nice gîte (hostel/hotel sort of thing).  For just €40 each we had a whole house with several rooms to ourselves for the night, as well as dinner at the adjoining crêperie and breakfast (complete with local honey).  It also happened to be the annual music festival in the tiny town, so after dinner, we walked about ten steps to the tent set up in the town square and checked out the music.  We first saw an interesting act of a woman singing karaoke-style to some 80s hit, followed by a talented husband and wife duo.

Our honey selection - Châtaigne was our fave

Our honey selection – Châtaigne was our fave

On the second day, we reached our planned campsite around dusk only to discover that it was dirty and too close to the edge.  Even though we were running low on water, we decided to keep hiking and find another place to do camping sauvage (real camping, outdoors in tents).  Though we were exhausted from over 12 hours of hiking, we pressed on, knowing that in the morning we’d be closer to the little town where we could restock our water and food supplies.

We finally found a suitable (ish) place to camp.  There was just enough space among a mini forest of trees for our three tents, which we pitched for the first time in the dark!  Our makeshift campsite was next to a cow patch, so all night long we had a soundtrack of clanging cowbells and the occasional moo.  5 out of 6 of us agreed that the trees were too thick and there was too much combustible material around to build a fire to cook our sausages for dinner.  We had about 1/2 liter of water for all six of us.

It was not the best situation to be in – but remember that I was with French people!  So, we busted out our bottle of red wine, and we even had some whiskey and vodka.  Best of all, I remembered that I had brought a bag of marshmallows, and one of the boys had brought a little bunsen burner.  So our dinner was alcohol and toasted marshmallows.  Dinner of champions, I tell you!  We gave each other foot massages with some healing essential oils and looked at the stars through the trees, listening to the cows.  Even though this was the roughest and scariest night (if I really stopped to think about our situation), it was my favorite one.  From then on, our little group had a nice bond and lots of inside jokes to laugh about for the rest of our trip.

After a rough night’s sleep on top of a few tree roots and many rocks – this is why I don’t recommend pitching a tent in the dark – we hiked a short way to the village and refueled.  Then we commenced another insanely hard day of an instant climb to the top of a peak in high heat.  We drank all of our water and finally reached the next spring, only to discover that it had dried up!  So again, we problem-solved by drinking a box of rosé and taking a long break to enjoy the view at the top of the mountain and wave to people paragliding above us and into the clouds.  Paragliding is definitely on my wish list of activities to do – it looked so cool!

The lake we finally reached a few days later

The lake we finally reached a few days later is behind us

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The rosé helped me fearlessly descend for an hour or so on steep, winding paths littered with jagged and loose rocks.  I was carrying the tent this day and the extra weight as well as the dehydration from the wine really wore me out.  But, we finally made it down the mountain to the road.  We decided to hitchhike the rest of the way to the campsite, where we pitched our tents in daylight, had showers, and a great pizza recovery meal.

The following morning I woke up with insect bites all over my hands and feet, a few on my arms, and worst of all, my face!  I applied lots of the anti-itch cream I had brought with me (I ALWAYS get bitten by mosquitos, why meeeee) as we ate breakfast, but I knew I was going to break down.  I tried to hold it together but I started crying just imagining trying to manage the itching with the heat, the heavy pack, and the difficult mileage ahead that day.  Everyone was really nice to me and didn’t make me feel like a brat.  We decided to do a really light day and then hitchhike the rest of the way.  Luckily I wasn’t alone in my complaints – the two girls were suffering from bad sunburns and bursitis, and the boys were really tired and sore as well.

We packed up and went for lunch at a restaurant in the town up the hill and tried to rally. After a trip to a pharmacie for help with our various ailments, we still weren’t getting a move on.  The boys ordered some digestifs – another part of French dining that I love!  We got some génépi – a delicious liqueur that reminds me a bit of chartreuse.  It’s herbal and a little bit sweet, but bitter at the same time.  Anyways, I loved it, and apparently everyone else did too because we all wanted a second shot.  It made more sense price-wise to get a bottle, and then after that bottle we all wanted another because it was so good.

Just kiddinggg

Just kiddinggg

Then we got hungry again and grabbed some amazing pâté and baguette from the nearby butcher and boulanger, and then all the French people were like “Non non non, ça va pas, il faut pas manger du pâté avec du génépi, on doit boire du vin rouge avec” so we got a pitcher of red wine…and thus our 4th day of hiking turned into la folie.  You only live once, right?!  Plus the drinking numbed my bug bites.

Yummmmyyyyy

Yummmmyyyyy

After that lovely day, we made it to our next campsite by way of the generous people who live in the south of France.  Seriously, everyone there is SO NICE.  I want to move down there!  This was a nice campsite, and we spent the evening chatting with our nice neighbors and then walking into town for some dinner.  At the restaurant we received free digestifs  and I fell in love with another kind of liqueur – thyme liqueur, a specialty of the region!  Herby and refreshing.

relaxing after a hard day of drinking, eating, and hitchhiking

relaxing after a hard day of drinking, eating, and hitchhiking

The next day, we hitchhiked to Lake St Croix – we were working towards this the whole trip.  Even though we cheated on the last two days, we did hike about 100km total and we were really proud when we got our first view of the lake.   We had a mini bbq, so we grabbed some food at the market up the hill and spent the afternoon on the shore drinking – you guessed it – more rosé and eating kebabs and grilled zucchini.  Oh, and swimming in the lake!  It was so beautiful and crisp and perfect lake weather.  I only saw a few tiny fish that didn’t come anywhere near me so I was happily floating for hours.  We finished the night toasting champagne over an overpriced meal at a restaurant up the hill.  Good times!

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Searching for an apartment in Paris on a budget

For a couple of months, I’ve been apartment-hunting. My school schedule will not allow me to be an au pair anymore, so no more free housing for me. Before I started looking, I (naively) set my budget at €350/month. After getting acquainted with French rent lingo, allowing me to decipher the ads that are basically written in code, I realized my budget was too low.

“propose une chambre 11m dans F3, SDB, cuisine équipé, €500cc, pas d’APL” = one room of 11m² is available in an apartment consisting of 3 rooms, two of which are a bathroom and a fully-equipped kitchen, costing €500/month including water, gas, electricity, wifi, and habitation tax, without possibility of government aid.

Going to see the apartments has been quite the adventure. I canceled my first visit after the owner told me on the phone that I wasn’t allowed to sign any sort of official lease with her or even get my mail delivered there, because she didn’t want the French government knowing about me.

Another great place turned up in the south of Paris near my new job. It was right down the street from the metro, on one of those lovely blocks with tons of grocery stores, bouchers with roasting chickens on the sidewalk, marchands selling fruits and vegetables, and plenty of bars and restaurants. The apartment had a code and an elevator, and as I pressed the button to go up to the fifth floor, my stomach sank as fast as it rose. This was too nice for €450.

Suddenly it dawned on me that I hadn’t understood from the ad that this was a room chez l’habitant – or, living with the owner. My fears were confirmed when a (perfectly nice) old lady opened the door, letting out a waft of the most disgusting air I’ve ever inhaled indoors. I think I was smelling centuries worth of cigarettes, mixed with old lady smell (sorry old ladies, I love and respect you, but some of you smell bad). Behind her I could see a large table laden with candelabras filled with red candles. It was clean, but knick knacks cluttered every available surface and the tv was loudly blaring pop music. The upstairs room with its beautiful, plant-filled terrace and plenty of storage space, and the fact that the rent included twice-monthly cleaning of my linens and room, weren’t worth it.

I expanded my search to la banlieue – the RER is actually quite practical and the rents are lower. Sometimes it’s faster to get from outside the périphérique to Paris than it is to go from point A to point B within Paris. In Gagny, I visited a house with a front AND back garden. There was a full kitchen and living room, and the tiny €350 room available upstairs had it’s own shower and sink. But, after walking the twenty minutes back to the train station, I saw a man and a woman scream at each other for about ten minutes. The fight ended with the man throwing a rock at the woman. At noon, on a Tuesday. What would it be like on a Saturday night?!

Becoming more and more desperate, I even began searching on Craigslist. This is not advisable in France because they don’t really use it as frequently as we do in the US. But, I looked, just in case there was a hidden gem. And, some would say this was one:

craigslist ad

Just in case you can’t read that, it says that for the bargain of €400 you get a whole 7m² (75 sq ft), a Turkish toilet in the hall (stand-up toilet), and no shower. But! There are plenty of gyms and pools in the area to keep you clean!

Sigh…back to my search…

Public Transportation

Rush down the stairs into a metro station. Swipe my purse along the electronic reader that scans my Navigo, walk briskly to the quai, and huff impatiently if the wait is longer than 2 minutes. I have perfected the art of metro-surfing; I lightly lean on a pole or door, shift my weight ever so slightly with each bend of the train, grabbing for a hand hold only if the train suddenly breaks for a “sick traveler.” My iPod is on high volume and my portable is close by in my pocket so I can easily respond to any textos I might receive.

I cover lots of ground every day, whether I’m above or below it. If it’s not convenient to go somewhere by metro, the RER will probably work. Buses, despite being like a free sight-seeing tour sans annoying loudspeaker, are less reliable so you’ll rarely catch me on one.  People-watching, eaves-dropping, and noticing curious ads are in my daily repertoire.  French ads are so strange! Like the one I saw in an RER station advertising a swinger’s website: Savez-vous où se trouve votre femme ce soir? (“Do you know where your wife is tonight?”) is imposed over a picture of a sexy, red-lipstick-ed woman’s face holding her finger to her lips as if she’s saying “Shhh…” I’m sure the same types of websites exist in the US, but I don’t think there would be a big billboard in a major station. These ones from the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens/Paris Transport Authority) are quirky and make me giggle. I saw a family of tourists puzzling over them recently and I butted in to help explain what each one meant.

Condom use campaign

Condom use campaign

There are a few “ghost” stations on the metro; stations that are no longer in use but haven’t been removed. When I whiz by one of them on the train, it’s fun to catch a glimpse of an old platform and know that people used to be standing there, waiting impatiently. Last year there was a giant, lit-up billboard for the movie Prometheus set up on a ghost station on the line 9, and I wish I could see the 40′s-era ad for cornstarch too (10 pictures down on the ghost link above).

Descending

Descending

I know the metro so well now that I’ve begun memorizing which end of the train to stand on in order to be able to walk directly off the train to the exit. I’m so proud that I’ve gotten to this point – I’m the girl who used to get lost driving from Berkeley to Oakland! I’ve come a long way.

I stand right here to go to Phoebe's

I stand right here to go to Phoebe’s

The one thing the metro is lacking is that it doesn’t run all night. When out at night, at about 1:30 you have to make a choice – will you stay out until 5:30am when it reopens, or leave NOW?! More than once, I’ve had to sprint to the nearest metro station and hope I can catch the train. Of course, there’s always the night bus, but that’s another story…

Summer Snippets

Me + no summer job + very little income = staying in Paris the whole summer. At times I’ve felt quite bored, lonely, and homesick, but luckily a lot of my friends stuck around too. There are plenty of events all over the city, so I’ve not had a lack of activities. Beginning in September, I’ll have plenty of work and school to stress me out, so I’ve been enjoying the downtime.

4th of July

Last summer I left Paris on July 5, so I didn’t celebrate either the 4th of July or 14 juillet. I made up for it this year! My friend Kat had a little party at her apt, complete with hot dogs (that came with fake grill marks) and beer and apple pie. We drank mostly Heineken and Leffe, but we did have a few really expensive Budweisers for authenticity’s sake. €5 for 4 buds! Ugh!

Photo courtesy of Kat

Photo courtesy of Kat

14 Juillet

For some reason, non-French people call this day Bastille Day, but French people refer to it as 14 Juillet (ka-torz zhwee-ay). On the 13th I attended a bal de pompier (Fireman’s Ball) in the 13th arrondissement. Each arrondissement’s fire department throws a big party around 14 juillet to raise money. It was a club atmosphere in the courtyard of a fire department, and with plenty of men in uniform (firemen and some marins, navy, too). Super unique and fun.

Le bal des pompiers, 13ème

Le bal des pompiers, 13ème

I also hosted a friend of mine from TAPIF. We met on the plane from DC almost two years ago and have kept in touch, even though she lived in Caen. It was fun to catch up and see the fireworks together! We joined a huge crowd of people set up on the street next to the Seine looking at the Eiffel Tower. We thought we had a perfect view, but when the fireworks started, everyone started running down the street – they were actually to our right and only visible between two giant patches of trees. Oops! Despite only having a view of 1/3 of the display, it was still really cool.

Ashley and I waiting for the fireworks

Ashley and I waiting for the fireworks

Fireworks through the trees

Fireworks through the trees

Free Concerts

The Place de la République has been under construction and recently opened up. To celebrate, the quartier had several free concerts there in early July. I went one night with friends and discovered some new bands I liked (Tété had a song just for me). I also checked out a free concert at Hôtel de Ville. The headliner, Lilly Wood and the Prick, was great! The singer had a lot of stage presence, and towards the end of the show she got the entire crowd to crouch down on the ground, and then we all jumped up at the same moment and danced wildly. So fun!

Ashley and I in front of the concert at Hôtel de Ville

Ashley and I in front of the concert at Hôtel de Ville

Le Tour de France

This year was the 100th Tour de France! I was tired and hot that day, but since I live right next to the finish line, and Ashley was still in town, I had to go see a little bit of the action. There were so many people lined up along the Champs-Élysées that I couldn’t see the street or the bikes. Luckily there were huge tvs set up so I watched parts of the race that way. It was a fun ambiance and cool to be there in reality, but I think big events like this are better enjoyed chez soi (at home).

Blurry pic of the big screen

Blurry pic of the big screen

Guitar

I invested in a guitar and a friend of mine has been giving me free lessons. I practice every day and I’m improving a lot! My forearm muscles are in pain but getting stronger by the day, and my fingers have gone from raw and sore, to peeling, to what I hope are permanent callouses. I love singing in choir, but I need a way to make music on my own. I’m lucky that I’ve had so much downtime to practice.

My Fender

My Fender

I’ve also been indulging in many a bottle of rosé to beat the heat with friends and I’m looking forward to a camping trip down south next week, so I can’t complain!

Cours de Civilisation – Sorbonne

I think I mentioned once that I would write a post about the French classes I took once I finished them. *Warning: this is probably really boring unless you are interested in taking these classes.

Last spring, I knew I wanted to stay in Paris but I couldn’t find a job, and I didn’t feel ready to apply for a Master’s. A friend of mine told me about the classes and I realized it was the perfect way for me to stay in France. It would allow me to get a student visa, and I could build a more solid grammar foundation.

Signing up for the classes is pretty painless. Most of the people in the office speak English or will be patient and nice if you speak French. You can even sign up online before you come to France. If you are getting a student visa, it’s better to sign up beforehand so that you can use the receipt of payment as proof of enrollment for the student visa application process.

I did the fall session in level B1-avancé (=intermediate level) and the spring session in level B2 (=advanced). A week or so before the classes began, I took a test (written, listening, oral) and the school placed me based on my results. In true French fashion, I wasn’t notified of the location or hours of my classes until the day before they began. The school and teachers are flexible about moving to different classes if the level is wrong or if the hours don’t work with your schedule. Don’t be shy about this – you are paying a lot of money, and four months is a long time if the content is too hard or easy.

There are lots of options for the type of courses you take (all the information can be found on the website or at the office year-round). I was in the “Cours de Civilisation” which means that I had 2 hrs/day 5 days/week of grammar, 3-5 hrs/week of phonetics, and 3 hrs/week of lecture classes on various topics. In the fall semester I did a normal class 5x/week, and in the spring I did the au pair option which excludes Wednesdays. Friends of mine took Business French and Master’s Prep, which I can’t review personally but they seemed to enjoy them and learn a lot.

Fall Grammar

There were about 15 of us in the class.

Professor – M. Morethe He gets an A+ in my book! He was very young (under 30) but had several degrees in literature and philosophy – basically he was HELLA smart (well-read, spoke lots of languages on at least a basic level) but the best part is that he was a great teacher. Teaching a foreign language is a very specific skill and he had it. He was patient and never condescending, he pushed us to get to a higher level, and he would explain things in several ways until everyone could wrap their separate brains coming from different languages around each concept. He organized the class very well and each week we knew exactly what we would be working on.

Class structure/grammar – lots of exercises in a book that you purchase, and tons of worksheets and packets that he gave us. I had several lightbulb moments when I finally understood concepts, words, and tenses that I had been hearing the whole previous year. You can learn a lot by ear, but it’s great to combine that with someone going through and explaining each rule to you and practicing with written exercises and examples. He also gave us lots of great worksheets and study sheets that I will keep forever as reference.

Class structure/reading – The course fee includes a literature book full of excerpts from French literature. We read a few of these as well as news articles and discussed and studied them in class.

Class structure/writing – We had a few mini papers assigned throughout the semester. He encouraged us to use new words and grammar concepts that we had learned that week. He would hand them back corrected, AND talk to each of us individually about the strengths and weaknesses in our writing. I found this very valuable because I am usually so traumatized by grades (even if they are good) that I put corrected work away in a folder and never look at it again. (I do the same thing with all the recordings of me singing – issues?) Because he spent so much time correcting us, I felt motivated to learn from my mistakes, and put extra effort in for the next essay.

Class structure/listening – We listened to recordings and had to fill in worksheets with what we’d heard. There were a few fun days where we got to listen to a pop song and fill in the blanks, and analyze the poetry.

Class structure/speaking – We did group work (writing and performing skits) and tons of discussions.

Class structure/evaluation – We had tests every Friday. Towards the end of the course we did lots of practice tests to prepare for the exam. The actual exam felt really easy because we were so well prepared. I got REALLY into the class and did all the homework and attended every class I could and made an effort to focus in class. I paid for it with my own money, so I didn’t want to waste a single centime. As a result my French improved drastically this year. All the grammar work can be boring and tedious but I think the combination of my enthusiasm and the great teachers kept me motivated.

Spring Grammar

The set-up was the same. I was hoping to have M. Morèthe again, but I had a different professor. At first he really rubbed me the wrong way, but by the end I liked him well enough. His teaching style was different, not as clear and not as organized. But after a few weeks, I got used to his teaching style and I did learn a lot from this class as well. The only difference in the class structure was that each student did a 10-minute presentation. We brought in an article, went over the vocabulary, and led a small discussion with the class. It was a fun activity and great practice speaking in French as a leader.

Phonetics Review

Every other week we had a daily hour-long phonetics class. The first 30 minutes we took notes on theory and wrote down all the words and sentences we would be using later. The second 30 minutes we went to the lab that was set up with listening stations. Using our notes from the first half of class, we repeated after our professor’s perfect French, which was spoken into our ears via headphones. It was all recorded so we could listen to ourselves compared to her and correct our pronunciation. She would “plug in” to each of us individually a few times per class and help us with our trouble spots, which was very valuable.

I was the only person in my class who didn’t hate phonetics. I loved it, in fact! Learning exactly how to pronounce each vowel and consonant is fascinating to me. Perhaps it’s my singer background? I took a similar class in college in which we learned the basic IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for Italian, German, French, and English. That class gave me a great foundation for the phonetics class! I love when seemingly obscure college courses end up being useful in “real life.”

I only remember my professor’s first name (Aya), but she was great! She was very nice and gave constructive criticism to help all of us improve and sound more French. The second semester was a similar setup and I had Anne (again, don’t remember her last name) and loved her too!

Civilisation Classes Review

These classes are one hour long. There were several more options in the spring than in the fall. They are held in a big lecture hall and many students attend – 100 or so? 200? I am bad with numbers.

After attending a private, liberal-arts university in the US, these classes were cake for me. I never had more than 30 students in a class at UPS, so this was my first big lecture experience. I have to say that I prefer a smaller, discussion-based class. But because I was so enthusiastic, I made a big effort to stay awake and alert in the often boring, droned presentations.

The classes are structured to be an overview of the subject, basically a 101 sort of class by US standards. The classes are for all levels, so the professors speak very slowly and use very simple vocabulary. I think the intention is not to actually learn about the subject, but to hear French being spoken about a topic other than grammar. I understand that it is probably difficult for the school to organize the classes so that the professors aren’t wasting their time and that all the students get a chance to take as many classes as they can. However, it would be nice if the school could at least separate beginners and advanced students. I would have liked to write a paper or do some sort of project, anything mildly stimulating!

The three subjects I took were Art History, French History, and French Literature. The art class was my favorite because the professor was quite passionate, started discussions with us, and we got to look at giant projections of amazing French art. The literature professor was also very passionate, but his soporific lectures simply gave background about French authors and summaries of their works. The history class was the worst – the professor wrote up long-winded accounts of French history spanning from ancient France to present day. We were given print-outs weekly, and he would read directly from the paper for an hour each week. French history is bloody and many of the figures could have soap operas based off their stories, and he managed to make it extremely boring. Raté. (Fail.)

Despite the so-dry-I-was-afraid-my-notes-would-combust nature of the classes, I made an effort to study every week and did very well on the tests! I felt that it was important to learn the basics in all these classes, as the arts and history are integrated into la vie quotidienne here. Even at parties with young people, I’ve relied on my knowledge from these classes to understand references French people really do make. Ugh, so classy.

Spring Civilisation

I could only attend one of the classes due to my work schedule. Lucky for me, it was the Gastronomie class (everything to do with food)! The content was often comically easy. Each week covered a different aspect of the French diet: bread, meat, fish (skipped that one), dairy, produce, wine, cheese, dessert. Actually, there were two classes on wine and they were the first two! Priorities!

Sometimes the class was agonizingly simple – are there really people in the world, among those who move to Paris and sign up for these classes, who don’t know what a croissant is? On the other hand, I learned very useful things such as the names of certain dishes from certain regions, and a lot about wine that has served me well in purchasing and choosing what I drink. The professor was clearly a foodie so it was enjoyable to listen to his explanations. He would say basic things like “this lighter wine goes with this dish to balance the acid” but in French and with the light in his eyes it sounded so beautiful.

Students

One of the best parts about the course is the other students. I had expected the classes to be filled with Americans, so I was pleasantly surprised that we seem to be a minority in the very global student population. I met and befriended people from near and far. One of the more intriguing aspects of class discussions was seeing who actually would speak up (usually the Americans, Canadians, Russians, and those from Latin cultures) and who had to be almost forced to speak (some of the Asians, northern Europeans). Hearing what everyone had to say was always surprising and thought-provoking.

I loved these classes. Overall I give them a B on the American grading scale; on the French grading scale it would be much lower!

Recap

+

-amazing, well-credentialed professors from the Sorbonne who take the classes seriously (M. Morèthe wore a suit every day!)
-French taught from all aspects: reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, discussion, and specific subjects
-enough homework to keep you focused and learning, but not so much that you can’t work and live outside of the classes
-if you sign up for enough hours you qualify for a student visa
-it’s easy to move up in the levels, therefore allowing you to take tests in French that allow you to apply for a Master’s or get real jobs in France
-international student community

-

-it’s not cheap. I think it’s worth it, but you have to have an extra €2000 lying around
-the hours can be odd, which is hard depending on what else you have going on (job, family, other school) (Fall I had class from 2pm-4pm, Spring from 8am-10:30, plus Civilisation at noon 3x week and Phonetics at another random hour)
-the Civilisation classes are boring overall – they could be so much better
-they are doing construction on their main building so the classes are spread out all over Paris
-the delay in being notified of class times and locations is really annoying if you already have a job

I hope this was helpful for anyone considering doing this program! If you have any questions, please visit their website or their office first, but I am also happy to talk about the program if you have further questions.