Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Fais-moi peur!
HAPPY HALLOWEEN, wherever you're getting your chocolates this year!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall Foliage

"Fall Foliage" doesn't just happen in New England.  Good to know, and even nicer to be able to see up close, even on another continent.  And, as the East Coast of the US braces for SNOW in October, I'm quite content with a bit of rain, 60 degrees, and these fabulous trees.

Friday, October 28, 2011

One Parisian's Daily List

I spotted this on the wall of a paper boutique.  I don't know if it will help sales, but perhaps that's not even the point.
Wow!  I can even do #11!  I might have to work on a few of the others, perhaps this weekend.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gertrude Stein Lived Here

27 Rue de Fleurus, an excellent location, if I do say so myself, very close to the Luxembourg Gardens in the sixth arrondissement, is the address of the residence of Gertrude Stein in Paris for 35 years.
I had no idea, until a local from the neighborhood who's lived here for a lifetime pointed it out to me.  I've been walking/running in front of that building, probably twice a day on average, for almost a month!  And I never noticed.
This is the home within which she and her brother, Leo Stein, started and developed their collection of paintings of the painters of that era whom they befriended; and the address itself, which became known as "27," is renowned for the Saturday evening "salons" that were held there by the Steins.

As I previously posted, that collection is now on view at the Grand Palais in Paris, through January 16, 2012.

"I have lived half my life in Paris, not the half that made me but the half in which I made what I made."
- Gertrude Stein

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Every French Student and Teacher Has

My first school day, following class, found me at Gibert Joseph on the Boulevard Saint Michel.  This is where the teacher said to go to buy certain textbooks and school supplies with very particular specifications.

If you've ever walked around the Latin Quarter, you've certainly seen these storefronts with the  bright blue and yellow awnings, in a row one after another on the boulevard heading south from Boulevard Saint Germain.  I often wondered in passing what they were, but I never walked in.  They are large, well-stocked book and school supply stores that serve the students and teachers of the many universities in the area.
It was such a kick to buy school supplies again (for myself, that is), and after doing so for my kids for so many years at Staples, I can say with confidence that this is no Staples shopping experience.  There are so many different types of everything!  When I was searching for a lined spiral notebook, but with perforated pages AND holes punched in a certain way in order to accommodate the teacher's requirements, I had to ask for help and was directed to exactly the available alternatives - and there were many.  (Sorbonne teachers are particular, and they're not apologetic about it.)

This got me to looking at everything the store had, and to watching what the shoppers were shopping for.  And that brought me to the pen/pencil cases.  The full wall display always had someone - male and female - picking through them.  
 Interesting, I thought briefly. But then, when I attended my first phonetics class last week, the teacher walked in, placed on her desk her large bag, lifted a brightly colored pencil bag from it and plunked it down on the desk.  This she did every day, and it appeared to me that she probably did this at the start of every class she's ever taught.  

As I began to gather various writing instruments for the courses, in various colors (red, blue, brown) and types (highlighters, thin tip, pencil), plus an eraser (for obvious reasons), it was becoming clear to me that I needed one of these, too.

So there is, my bright red pencil case.  Ah, if becoming a French speaker would only be as easy as owning a French pencil case...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sometimes It's Allowed

But mostly, it's not.  Sitting on the grass, that is.  And sometimes it's both at once, alternating sections of the lawn, so you must read first!

And when it is, there are charming little places like this one below from which you can purchase a bite to eat and drink.  It's not a New York lunch truck, but maybe a just-made crèpe with Nutella will help to make up for that loss, because you've got to take advantage of those opportunities to sit on the grass  (or one of the quite comfortable green metal chairs scattered all over) when you are permitted to do so, especially on a 64-degree Sunday in late October.

Never have I seen so many people here; I thought they must have been giving something away!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rain rain (will NOT) go away!

In the shadow of the Pantheon in Paris resides Simon.  Simon Parapluies, that is, seller of fine umbrellas.  

In New York, I'm usually the "$5 special" purchaser, the one who finds the umbrella street vendors who sprout up from the rain - the heavier the rain, the more vendors to be found.  How long those umbrellas last is a mathematical equation I know well from years of experience; they last until the first to occur of (i) the next heavy rain/wind combo, when I'm likely going to have to plant it in a corner trash bin with its other upturned and maimed brethren, or (ii) forgetting it in the subway, bus or some other location around town.

But in New York, generally, rain can be accurately predicted and is not a daily event.  Until I spent so much consistent time in Paris, I wouldn't have understood this difference in weather patterns.  Here, it might rain in the morning, improve at noon, and fall apart again at dusk.  Or the other way around, or any number of other combinations.  And looking up at the sky is no hint.  A sunny morning can lead to rain later; a very cloudy sky all day can lead to nothing but continued clouds.  

After being caught twice, with nothing more than a light wool sweater and a heavy bag of books to walk home with, I happened to walk past Simon.
I was curious and wet, and so I stepped in to watch the two animated sales people behind the counter spend the longest time I've ever witnessed focused on the ins and outs, benefits and disadvantages of a given umbrella with a customer.  I also saw a customer breeze in and step directly up to the gentleman of the shop to thrust at him her umbrella, which was in desperate need of repair. 
Apparently, umbrella ownership is a long term investment to these people.  I was hooked.  I decided that what I needed was something very light and very small, so that I could sock it away in the depths of my handbag and have it with me at all times (and therefore hope to avoid eventuality number (ii) above).  So, when it was my turn with the saleswoman, she presented the options within their offerings with great seriousness and flair, including the how-tos of opening and closing, having me hold the open umbrellas in front of the full-length wall mirror one at a time in order to see how they "look on me" and then, finally making a choice.  

I've never spent so much time on a 30 euro purchase.  I've also never before spent 30 euros on an umbrella.  (Of course, one can get really hooked, as described in a recent article in the New York Times.  I appreciated the sentiments expressed by the writer in his piece about the layers of experiences one can encounter when in Paris over and over again in a lifetime.  I have felt that way, too.  I wonder, is it Paris, or can any place have that effect?)

Later that evening, when I got caught yet again, I had the chic new umbrella with me, et voilà, the pleasure of my stroll was saved and I wasn't soaked at dinner. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sunday in the Parks

Just outside of the center of Paris...
Homework, and the double commencements two days ago of les conferences (2-hour lectures on French civilization) and phonetics classes of one hour per day have made it impossible to sit at the computer and contemplate my fabulous environment this week.  I'm now fully immersed in the student life, including homework at 1am following dinners out with visiting friends. 

But I did get out on Sunday, for my first organized randonée, which is basically a walk in the country that can vary in length and focus of the group (from fast nordic walking in a park, to more traditional hiking, and in my case on Sunday (about which I really hadn't read properly in the French - bien sur - description of the walk), water-coloring!  No, if you're wondering, I don't watercolor, paint or do anything artistic of that sort, though I have great admiration and envy for those who do and can.  So it was worthwhile on many levels, not least of which was the necessity to speak in French the entire day. 

Of course, where I got to walk and what was on view throughout the day was the main event.
Bois de la Malmaison
my fellow aquarellistes
I can't paint, but I can take an impressionistic photo?
Interesting residential architecture along the way
Chateau de Malmaison

Parc des Impressionnistes
up close
The group who organized this walk is Randoneurs de l'Ile de France, which is commonly referred to as RIF (pronounced "reef").  I learned that they are the largest membership organization for randonées in the Paris region; they organize dozens per week, all over the Paris region, all of which are accessible by train from a Paris train station or métro stop.  The walk I took was my free sample, and from now on, if I wish to do more, I must join (annual fees and other information appear in their website, which is also available in English).  My walk was relatively small for RIF (12 of us) and of a short walking duration (about 10km, and they usually average 18-25 km) because we sat for an hour at a time, twice during the day, for the watercoloring.  For me, those periods became a chance to walk alone, write and enjoy the quiet and sunshine.  You bring your own lunch and beverages in your back pack.  We shared the lunch hour together, sitting and chatting as the sun became warmer, while a couple of the more experienced randonneuses passed around cookies and chocolates they brought along for everyone.  

It was all so genteel and of another time, for this truly jaded New Yorker.  I hope I can go on another soon, before it gets too cold for wimps like me (although I have been told winter is the best time to hike - fuggedaboudit!!).  

But I hear Fontainebleau is a must, so I might have to rethink my natural New Yorker reflex on that one.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Little Taste of London

St. Pancras International Station, London
What fun, and how amazing, it is to be able to travel between France and England in a little over two hours by train.  On the France side of the Channel Tunnel, the announcements commence in French and are followed in English, and once on the other side, the reverse occurs.  And that's how quickly the cultures change.
My eurostar train - on time!
Inside the train
I got to have a less than 24-hour jaunt to London to have dinner and see a play.  What an unexpected treat, and certainly something we just don't have in a country as big as the US (New York to Wilmington, anyone?).

London had fabulous weather, too!  Lucky me.  So, here are a few images from my Saturday morning in London - - - 
high above Marble Arch
and down below my feet (not enough time to get used to traffic direction)!
more directions
Near Buckingham Palace
Ready for anything at St. Pancras's eurostar waiting area
...missed the mushy peas.  Next time?
In St. James's Park
More St. James's Park
What the tourists really come to see
My biggest issue about the ease of such travel was actually remembering that I needed to bring my passport!  Yes, indeed, the customs/immigration/security process resembles that of the airport, with a bit less stress factor built in.  

But there certainly would have been high stress had I forgotten the passport....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A "decent" run

And that's putting it mildly.  OK, it'd be a hard place to train for a marathon, going round and round and round, but if you're just running once, twice or three times around the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, you feel you've accomplished something, and have had some extremely beautiful and interesting things to look at as well.  On a weekend, I've seen tennis, tai-chi groups, nordic walkers with their "sticks," children in their playground, lovers necking, tourists picture-taking, map-checking and sore-feet-resting, students reading, and runners running.  Of course, walkers also cut through the Jardin to get from the 6th Arrondisement to the 5th quickly, and so do I.  

In fact, the other day, I saw a few new things on my walk.  This posted sign, for example (both in French and in English), I thought was particularly charming - 
And then I walked by this (below), which somehow I'd never seen before (the Jardin is not that large, so a new find is a pretty unusual occurrence, considering I've been running around the place a few times a week these last two weeks!).
bronze model of the Statue of Liberty
sign below the statue
Well, it's always great to find something new, no matter how many times you've been somewhere and think you've seen it all.