I’m struggling in the research process

I’m writing this to light a fire under my booty and to hold my future self accountable – there is no way I’m going to come on here in a few months and write a post about how I couldn’t finish my Master’s degree.

My research director is atypical of professors at French universities. From what I hear from friends and work and school colleagues of all nationalities, there is usually little to no guidance from one’s research director due to the large volume of students (PhD, Master’s, and License = Bachelor’s) under their direction. My directrice is constantly asking us to turn in bits of work, and she meets with us regularly to discuss our research. It’s always very helpful, but stressful since there is always a deadline. I know that I would leave most of the work until the end if she didn’t do this, but it doesn’t make it any less painful!

Reading and writing constantly in French is really difficult, but the worst part of all is every bit of progress I make, I realize how much more work I have to do. I guess that’s just how research is. I can’t believe some people do this their whole lives.

I took three lovely days off during our week of vacation last week to go to Dieppe in Normandy. I’m going to write a blog post as soon as I finish the 20 pages I need to turn in this week.

I want to go back here:

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Lovely beach in Dieppe

Instead I am here:

Bibliothèque

Bibliothèque

Yay education!

Mid-Master’s – retrouve-moi au café

I’ve been insanely busy with school, my internship, and my volunteer work on the Board of my choir. Thus, not much time for blogging these days.

Recipes I’ve made lately that I might get around to posting include balsamic-roasted mushrooms with special umami salt as well as brown-butter cookies with pistachios and chocolate, although I wish I had dried cherries or candied orange rind to put in there too.

I’m in crunch mode for my mémoire so I’ve been rotating through cafes, libraries, and my bedroom.

I highly recommend Dose on the rue Mouffetard, even though it’s small. The baristas are so nice (they tutoyer-ed me!) and they have a stamp card (I’m a freak and I actually save up frequent buyer things to get my perks). And obviously good coffee.

And I love Institut Finlandais, right next to my Sorbonne classes. The baristas are very nice and I like how spacious it is. They have nice art exhibits on the giant wall and in the front you can buy cute expensive pillows and such.

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Hello cappuccino.

Back to work!

Entretien

Awhile back, I mentioned that I had a terrible experience during my interview for the 2nd year of my program. For at least a month after, the only emotion I could attach to the memory was anger – at the mean jury, at the frustrating French academic system, and at myself. The more time that passed, the less I cared (it helped that I was accepted into a different Master’s program that I love – distraction). In fact, more than six months later I can only say that it was beneficial to me.

My classmates and I, after repeatedly hassling the program director, were told that our acceptance to the Master 2 in Gestion et administration de la musique would be principally based on a 30-45 minute interview.

I spent several months researching and preparing my thesis proposal for the interview. I discussed the topic with friends and my parents and felt really excited about it. However – and while it’s painful to admit this, I’m hoping if someone else reads this they might avoid making the same mistake – I never practiced presenting it in French. While my level of spoken French has gotten really good, last June I wasn’t at the point where I could improvise academic ideas au pif. The combination of a few different unclear versions of the interview schedule and my anxiety about it caused me to arrive early – like, a few hours early. I just sat in the waiting area and prepared a bit more, thinking it would be no problem. This earned me a slightly grumpy comment from the professor about lunch being soon, but that they would see me anyways.

Beginning the interview with this feeling of having done something horribly wrong made me super nervous. I gave a stuttering, unclear summary of my proposal, and (shockingly) the jury wasn’t impressed. They subjected me to 10 or 15 minutes of questions, punctuated by eye-rolling, incredulous reactions to my feeble attempts to clarify my ideas, and belittling of the professional experiences I used to justify my answers. They asked if I had read something that I had cited in my application. I understand that professors are busy and don’t necessarily read everything, but the condescending tone in which the question was delivered was totally uncalled for. After all that, of course I fell for a trick question about copyright since I was so flustered from the first part!

It was a total disaster. I hated feeling like I’d said all the wrong things. I worked so hard the whole year only to totally blow it in one session. I found this really unfair and it’s where my dissatisfaction with the French academic system lies – why even bother going to class or doing any work if your advancement to the next level depends only on your ability to verbally defend a research proposal that will probably change later anyways? Yes, I am still glad I attended classes and made an effort to study because I get more out of school than just grades. But still…I don’t get why it’s set up that way.

I feel less pissed about this now, because a. I was accepted into a different Master’s program so I was able to continue in graduate school in my field and b. if I hadn’t gotten into any school, it would have been upsetting but I would have moved on. Despite that, the concept of school being a straight-up competition – not competitive, but an actual “concours,” or race – still feels foreign to me. It’s just not how we do it in the US, so I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that.

At first, I thought the only good thing about the whole thing was that I had just completed the worst interview possible. At least in the future, I told myself, I would automatically be fabulous by default. But with time and reflection, I realized that while oh so painful, I learned some really useful things.

Practically speaking, I know exactly what I need to do to prepare myself for this kind of situation – think through my thoughts and ideas, write them down, then practice them in front of someone else and ask for feedback. (The same basic principle is true in performing, and I should have known better!) Because it was all so clear in my head, I thought I was so well prepared. Luckily, a few weeks later I had a second chance in my interview for my current degree. I did a practice interview with a nice co-worker of mine, and had a great interview, the kind that turns into a conversation that moves beyond the standard questions.

After these two experiences, I know concretely how to prepare myself in the future, which is really valuable.

Despite my grievances with the French system and the whole process, I see the value in having gone through it. I know what to expect for my thesis defense and for future job interviews if I stay here longer. I take classes from all three of the jury members this year, so it was good for me to just get over myself and move on – plus they might not even remember my interview since they have so many students (at least that’s what I tell myself – and recently one of the professors called me Delphine a bunch of times in class so I think I’m right!). And if I do end up back in the US, I think any interview will feel like a love-fest compared to what I’ve been through here! Always looking on the bright side…

Have you ever had a similar experience? Have any advice?

La REcyclerie

Iiiiii am so happy that this unique place exists! I have some of my classes as well as my stage (=internship) at Porte de Clignancourt, a mention of which usually doesn’t elicit sighs of jealousy from my friends. Ok, so it’s not Saint Germain. However, real people live and work in this area, and there are some hidden treasures next to the Macdo, KFC and un-classy stores selling imitation shoes and suitcases – beautiful music performed by conservatory/Sorbonne students for affordable prices at one of the campuses of Paris-Sorbonne University (this is where I study and work, shameless marketing plug alert), an antique market every weekend, stores like this with cheap vintage clothes just waiting to be dug up, and now, La REcyclerie!

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Upon entry of La REcyclerie

Where to begin? There are so many great things happening in this place. It is located right inside the old, abandoned train station that was part of la petite ceinture (basically the pre-Métro – great photos here). It is a restaurant, bar, cafe, event space, all with a no-waste, green ethos. And yes, I see the irony in my writing a blog post on my Macbook Air about an association whose philosophy is centered around low-tech things, but hey…the new generation gets their information online, so I’m providing it. They have frequent workshops – DIY eco-beauty products, and events where you can use their tools for free to give new life to broken furniture and things. I love the spirit behind that.

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Lamb brochettes

The inside is spacious and light-filled with plenty of seating options. The canteen-style food is based on regional themes that change weekly. The week I ate there was Moroccan week, and it was good! It’s definitely the best option for lunch in the quartier – I must say that I’ve had my fill of CROUS food.

I’ve also popped in just to study and write – the espresso is good and I love that they have sirop à l’eau for just 1€. And because the space is so big, there are no glares from the servers, and did I mention there is free wifi?

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La terrasse

Ok so I saved the best for last: you can also go outside to a long, narrow terrasse right next to the old tracks, which faces a community garden and is right under the chicken coop! It’s so nice to be in a space like this instead of directly on the street like most cafes.

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Looking back at the cafe from the terrasse

A friend had her birthday here a few weeks ago.  Though there were many people there that night, it didn’t feel packed like every other bar here.  There is so much space for everyone to spread out!  No sweating and shouting to be heard on a Friday night?!

La REcyclerie
2 rue Belliard
75018 Paris

Barcelona / Gaudi House Museum – Cafe Bonbon

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Cloudy but nice view from Park Güell

After Lisbon, we only had two full days in Barcelona. Both days, the weather report said it would be stormy and rainy, but the first day it was just a bit overcast. We spent that day checking out Park Güell – there is a nice uphill walks, views of the city, weird musicians, and the Gaudi House Museum. Gaudi lived there from 1906-1925, a prolific work period for him. I appreciate that he (or his family I suppose) left the house to the city of Barcelona after his death so that the public could have a view into one of his living spaces, especially since there is a public park surrounding it.

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Cafe bonbon!

On the way to this park, we randomly stopped off at a cute little cafe, where we discovered a new coffee drink – cafe bonbon! It’s an easy recipe: in a small glass, make a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk, add an espresso shot and pour steamed milk to the brim, finishing with a dollop of foam. One day I will have an espresso machine chez moi; until then, I make it using normal drip coffee and it’s still delicious. Based on some random coffee definition pages on the internet, it seems like cafe bonbon is traditionally just the condensed milk and espresso, so I guess Maigot Cafe embellished the recipe a little bit, a good thing in my opinion!

Because of the false alarm regarding the storm on our first day, we decided to go out dancing that night and recuperate on the beach the next day. Only half of that plan worked – I’ll write about the dancing in another post. However, the beach plan was FOILED the next day by a torrential downpour. Wearing our shorts and sandals, beach bags in tow, we were headed back to the hot dog place we’d eaten at the day before (post to come), and of course it started to pour rain right when we reached a wide open plaza with nothing to run under. Eventually we got to a little street with overhangs, and when we made it to the hot dog place it was closed.

So instead of going to the beach, we wandered around the area near the hot dog place and did some shopping. I discovered a new line of shoes that I loved and I ended up buying a pair. When I was young I used to love buying random things like shot glasses and spoons from places I traveled to, but now I like to buy clothes and shoes. Then I actually get use out of the items and think of my trips every time I wear them!

It was a total bummer that we couldn’t get to the beach, as we had only gone there one time in Lisbon. But we made the best of it and still had a lovely trip.

Gaudi House Museum
in Park Guëll

Maigot Cafe
Calle Mare De Deu Del Coll, 71
08023 Barcelona, Spain

Chez Paul

No, I’m not talking about this place (although I’ve totally eaten there before – ça passe!) – Chez Paul is a lovely, classic French restaurant not far from my current apartment.

I was lucky enough to have a week-long visit from my parents last week. I can’t believe how many things we managed to do – Seine dinner cruise (do it), the Louvre (never again), Giverny (amazing), OpenTour bus ride (surprisingly awesome), Musée Carnavalet (my new favorite museum), plus shopping, eating, and café-ing.

Based on the décor, which looked to be 60s-era (with some fun neon tube lighting added on in the 80s), and some of the staff who joked around and seemed to know everyone, the restaurant seems to have been around forever. We ordered classic dishes (steak with sauce Béarnaise for my mom and I and poulet for my dad) and desserts (tarte tatin and fruit salad with crème anglaise), and wine of course. It was the exact type of meal we love to eat when they are in Paris. High-quality, perfectly cooked meat with my ultimate vice, fried potatoes.

Dad awaits his chicken

Dad awaits his chicken

This place is no-fuss, charming, and reasonably priced. They have tables out front and the area has tons of bars and restaurants. We profité-d by going to Atelier Charonne right down the street after dinner to hear some jazz. It was a super soirée!

Chez Paul
13 rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
Tel : 01 47 00 34 57
Métro : Ledru-Rollin (8), Bastille (1, 5, 8), Charonne (9)

Atelier Charonne
21 rue de Charonne
75011 Paris
Tel : 01 40 21 83 35
same métros as Chez Paul

Summer Dinner

I wasn’t planning to blog this but I want to remember this chicken recipe! It was one of those situations where I threw a bunch of stuff together and it worked out. I had no soy sauce which seems to be the base of many marinades, so I used Worcester sauce instead, and then found some other things that sounded good.

Watermelon, tomato, feta, mint

Watermelon, tomato, feta, mint

Today was the last day of my internship until the fall and I’ve been eating chana masala (meaning, chickpeas!) all week to save money for vacation. I got some cheap fruit and chicken at Dia (my favorite discount grocery store) and made myself a real meal. My future husband is so lucky. 🙂

Leftovers for tomorrow!

Leftovers for tomorrow!

Maple-Ginger Glazed Chicken
inspired by PW and Giada

Ingredients

4 medium chicken drumsticks
salt
2 T vegetable oil
1 T Worcester sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2-1 tsp hot chili paste (like Siracha)
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
splash of apple-cider vinegar or lemon juice

Instructions

1. Place all ingredients except chicken and salt in a bowl that will fit the chicken (if you have no Ziploc bags), stir to combine.
2. Place chicken in bowl and use a spoon to pour the marinade over the chicken until the pieces are well-coated. Or, if you live somewhere with access to Ziploc bags (waaaahhhh – but also it’s probably better that I don’t use them because they are wasteful right?) place everything in a bag and seal. Place bowl or bag in fridge for 2 hours, mixing/flipping halfway through.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Remove chicken and place in a glass baking dish or on a foil-covered baking sheet with a rim. Sprinkle with salt, and spoon some liquid on each piece and place in oven. Reserve the rest of the marinade.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through (depends on the size). Flip the pieces halfway through. While chicken is baking, place marinade in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Giada says this kills the bacteria – no waste! Once it has boiled, turn heat to low and simmer to reduce a bit and cook the garlic and ginger. Set aside.
5. Turn heat up to 375 or 400, pour the marinade on the chicken and stir everything around. Cook chicken until they get really brown and the sauce caramelizes. Quasi-bbq!

A search for wax sticks

Over a month ago I bought a cheap pot of wax at Monoprix to save money. It came with a bunch of the cloths you use to rip the wax off, and one sole wooden stick to spread the wax out. I figured I would just come back and buy refills after using the one stick the first time, so I checked out and went on my merry way.

I used the stick once and threw it away – there is no need to spread gross germs onto myself when trying to make my legs smooth, right?! Ok, obvious next step is to buy replacements.

The next time I was near a Monoprix I went in and looked around for the sticks with no luck. When the saleslady asked me what I was looking for, I explained, and she was flabbergasted that I would want new sticks. She looked at me and said that it would suffice to simply melt the wax off the stick and reuse it next time. When I mentioned the dreaded microbes, and that I’d already discarded it, she shrugged and apologized. I didn’t even care that they didn’t have them because it was such an amazingly positive customer service experience, for Paris!

After realizing that Monoprix stocks several types of wax pots and wax strips but no tools to spread them with, I started hunting every chance I got. I hit up several pharmacies – one lady offered to place a bulk order, but I felt like that would defeat my budget-saving purpose. I went to a few waxing places and asked if they sold them – no, and no she didn’t know where to buy them (really?!). I stopped by Sephora and asked the lady at Benefit if she would sell me just one stick from her waxing station. “Non.” (Bitch.) Marionnaud (a giant beauty chain here) – no, Hema (a Target-like store) – no, NO, NO, NO. Nowhere to be found! WTF France?!

A place without wooden sticks

A place without wooden sticks

Desperate, the other day I went to BHV just to go to their hardware store level on the bottom floor. This place is enormous – I thought for sure the paint section would have those giant wood sticks that you use to mix cans of house paint. I was so willing to go through the humiliation (even alone in my room) of spreading the wax on my leg and my face with a stick the length of my arm. But they didn’t have any, and when someone finally asked me what I was looking for and I asked, they showed me a red plastic paint stirrer with holes in it. I explained my true purpose and I pleaded – don’t you have any thin, plain wood in this place? He directed me to the kitchen level to the (actual) spatula section. Are you kidding? I scrape my cake batter into pans using a plastic salad tosser because I’m too cheap to buy a real baking spatula – it’s been on my splurge list for awhile. There’s no way I am going to waste that money on something for WAX for goodness sake!

Someone at one of these stores had tossed out, no, you can’t find those anywhere in Paris, except maybe at Château d’Eau… I had filed it away. Fed up, I decided to go for it the other day. This is beauty central – every other store window was full of hair products and makeup. Despite a persistant and almost scary man who harassed me as soon as I exited the metro, I was pleased to finally go into a store and emerge triumphantly five minutes later with 2 bags of 10 sticks for 1,50€!

The freakin sticks

The freakin sticks

I feel like this experience is a metaphor for my life here. In the end, I got what I wanted, but I’m so exhausted that I probably won’t even get around to waxing for another few weeks… and I’m not sure why I didn’t just go splurge at the salon by this time. Oh yeah, because I want to save money. But now I’m wondering if all that misery was worth it.

These same feelings apply to certain aspects of my life abroad. I recently got into a Master 2 program for next year. It was a huge triumph for me, after a SHIT month, or couple of months really, of preparing for and passing my interviews, and receiving the results. I’m so excited for this program, but I’m also quite traumatized by the whole process. After what I went through to make it here (I’ll have to write a separate post about that process), it feels great to have been accepted, like I really accomplished something. But I wonder how much of that is just the fact that I made it through a hard situation, and how much of it is pleasure and satisfaction from the actual accomplishment?

Used clothing shopping

So, not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but Paris is expensive. WHAT!

When I still lived in the US, I shopped at used-clothing stores all the time to save money. Living in a high-fashion, trendy place sucks when you have no cash. It’s not that Paris doesn’t have used-clothing stores, but they are more “vintage” than “thrift” and so the store owners charge unbelievably high prices. For my budget shopping here I’ve been relegated to stores that I’m getting so sick of – H&M, C&A, Tati (so classy!), stores in Belleville…

Recently my coworker mentioned Guerrisol. I’m STOKED – it’s an actual used-clothing store and it’s cheap. I now pop in every chance I get and rifle through the clothes, slinking around the store employees who are usually removing more fripes from giant plastic bags and placing them on the racks.

Last week I SCORED a silk butterfly sequin top, made in India – in great condition and only €10. I’ve had a rough month so I treated myself.

I HAD to have it

I HAD to have it

Plus, it’s definitely a wardrobe staple – every girl needs one in her closet. 😉

Front and back!

Butterflies on both sides!

Go find your treasure!

Guerrisol
96 bd de Barbes
75018 Paris
(This location had a lot of Indian items, the one in the 13th has smaller sizes)

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Sparkle motion!

Bread + white chocolate @ Boulangerie Saint-Honoré

Just wanted to pop in and share one of my favorite little snacks in the Porte de Clignancourt area.

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I remember being surprised and delighted when my first au pair mother, quite tall and thin, offered me a bit of baguette with a hefty piece of chocolate stuffed in the middle, after giving the same to her kids as a goûter. I didn’t become a major bread-lover until my move to Paris and I had previously thought to eat chocolate in only dessert situations. I loved this revolutionary concept that allowed me another time of day to get a chocolate fix!

Now, after almost 3 years here, I’ve realized that chocolate + bread is everywhere – chocolate bars have little drawings of baguettes on the wrappers, and I’ve seen plenty of other people indulge in the goûter.

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This boulangerie takes it one step further and bakes the chocolate into the bread! Most boulangeries will make “les suisses” or other pastries with chocolate in them, but I love these because it is real bread, chewy and a bit salty, and the chocolate gets a bit carmelized when exposed. So good! If you are headed to the Porte de Clignancourt antique market this would be the perfect stop.


Boulangerie Saint Honoré

80 bis bd Ornano – Paris 18e