I have just returned from an awesome spring break in Rome, Florence, and Bastia, Corsica.
I commenced spring break with amazing weather in Paris, enjoying picnics by the Seine and in the parks with wine, cheese, and baguettes. In lieu of beaches, this is what the youth of Paris do to soak up the sun.
Last Tuesday I departed for Rome for my friend Emily’s 21st birthday. It was a painfully early morning, waking up at 3:40 for my flight, and finishing the evening approximately 24 hours later, but definitely worth it. Another friend from Berkeley, Hannah, was also visiting from London for the occasion. Upon my arrival we had delicious pizza and gelato, ventured to the Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps, and gathered for Emily’s birthday dinner. It was then, obviously, followed by a trip to the clubs, which, in Rome are characterized by a facade that I would definitely deem “ghetto.” On the interior they are fun, and the men are equally forward and creepy as Parisian men, so I was of course right at home. The next day I met up with my friend Kimberly for lunch, who was also studying there, and we ate at a renowned pizza place, and ate more gelato. The following day I wandered through the Forum by myself while Emily was in class, and found areas that I did not know existed. Unfortunately, I had been too tired the day before to go with Emily’s class for their fieldtrip to the Colosseum, and didn’t have time to actually go inside on this visit to Rome. Luckily, I have been able to see the interior twice before, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on too much. It was culture week in Italy, so all major attractions were free!
I always feel helpless visiting countries in which I cannot speak the language, since I have become so accustomed to being able to speak to the French. But I managed to get by as a stupid American tourist speaking English. The bain of my existence.
I then took the train to Florence, where I met my other friend Emily, from my program in Paris, and we met up with my friend Rachel, who is studying in Florence. We went out to dinner and found a bar that Emily had visited when she traveled to Florence in high school. Although the name was different, the bar remained exactly the same, to her delight.
The next day, we climbed the duomo, and had an amazing, clear view of the city, despite the expected forecast of rain that never arrived. We did not, however, experience the extreme heat they had been experiencing, which was unfortunate, since being in Paris I’ve had about all I can stand of clouds and coldness, but fortunately this too means that I have developed a capacity to cope with weather that is slightly more nippy. The following day we climbed to a terraced garden, where we could see a view of the entire city. We were then invited to dinner with Rachel’s host family. This was TRULY the epitome of an Italian experience. Although almost entirely in Italian, Emily and I managed to semi- follow along with occasional translations by Rachel or the host sister or her boyfriend. A great deal of the meal was spent railing the French people and language, which was done in true Italian fashion, including a few thrown in English phrases such as “fucking a” and “fucking bitch.” Always entertaining from an older Italian woman. They had two TINY dobermans, reminiscent of rats, that would bark at each other when held on someone’s lap at the same time. They delighted in this spectacle. Hello authentic Jersey Shore.
The next day was another early morning. We woke up from our hostel, walked to the train station, took a train with a bunch of drunk creepers, and taxi’d to our ferry which took us to Corsica. Apparently in Corsica there are no taxis. Eventually we found a number for one on a sign, but wandered for a long time to a series of taxi stands in vain. Ultimately, we reached our serene hotel in the middle of the country side. Although a 10 minute drive to the beach, we realized that it was not walkable, and someone from the hotel would have to shuttle us. Additionally, our only option for dining was within the hotel. We decided we would need to make a grocery store run. Ultimately, though, we looked forward to our prix fix dinners each evening, and our waitress who knew us and the wine that we liked.
The next day, we requested someone to take us to the beach. We were appeased with an older, stooped over Corsican man, who cheerily drove us both to the grocery store and the beach. On the way home, however, he became slightly awkward informing us, “Je suis celibataire. C’est dur.” (I’m single. It’s difficult.) Unsure what to respond to this, and whether or not he was still being friendly or creepy, we continued about our conversation. He then informed us that he was honest, and was not weird like a lot of creepy older people, and that he liked young people. He developed an infatuation for Emily. I immediately became stand-offish, since his creepiness was increasing by the day. One morning, he sat with us at breakfast, and during the next trip to the beach, he informed us that his wife cheated on him. It is at moments like this it becomes difficult to respond to this almost complete stranger. One morning, we told him we would be staying at the pool instead of venturing to the beach, to which he responded “Oh maybe I’ll join you.” We prayed he would not.
As the “standoffish one who sat in the back seat (which I continued to request),” I could usually avoid extensive confrontations with him. However, on the last day, he requested to kiss Emily (the French method of greeting), and came dangerously close to her lips. As we requested our shuttle to the airport, we PRAYED it would not be him. Although harmless, his snaggletoothed, cigarette- filled commentary was less than appreciated.
The beach was pristine, and the first day we were among the only ones there. Similarly, we were among the sole guests at the hotel. It was not a large hotel, and the staff all recognized us. It was situated in the middle of the countryside, with mountains visible on the horizon, and sheep and fields in surrounding pastures. We did wish we had a rental car so that we could have explored more of the island, but our relaxing time at the beach and pool was more than sufficient as well. I also got sunburned, story of life, despite my intensive sunscreen reapplication efforts and the extreme quantities that I applied. If only I had been blessed with even the smallest quantity of melanin. But alas. I will cope.
Overall, the vacation was a success, and I have just returned to Paris looking forward to a weekend of more picnicing and amazing 75 degree weather. We have no class Monday for the holiday, and are coming into the homestretch of the remaining 4 weeks. Time really does go fast. But I can’t say I’m not ready to back to California at the same time.
À tout mes amis!
Again, I’ve been slacking on posts.
Since I have last posted, my friends from Berkeley have come to visit, I have spent more time with my mom, and travelled for a weekend to Normandie with my program.
My friend Bianca, who I visited in Spain, was in Paris along with my friend Phil, who is studying in Sweden, during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. We found an Irish pub, where we indulged in green beer, and did a series of touristy things throughout the day on that Friday and Saturday since Phil had never been to Paris before. We visited Sacre Coeur, the Champs Elysée, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the catacombes (where I had never been, which were wet, and creepy, but interesting nonetheless), and managed to find a series of places where they could indulge in macarons and crepes. In fact, while we were seated in a small bakery off the Champs Elysée, I had gypsy encounter #3. (SERIOUSLY. THIS IS ENOUGH.)
Phil had placed his iPhone on the table, and we were checking the map of Paris. Meanwhile, a man had come into the restaurant (which is fairly normal) to ask for money. He was talking to the men at the table behind us when Bianca, seated across from Phil and I, started trying to get Phil’s attention, telling him to turn around. Finally, he and I turned around, unknowing of what exactly was going on. “He just took your iPhone,” she informed us. iPhones here are TRES CHERS (and I apologize to all my French-speaking readers, because tumblr did not allow me to put an accent grave over those e’s. Yes, it pained me too.) The guy proceeded to come over to our table, with a paper on top of his hands, and ask us for money. Phil pulled the paper off his hands, exposing the stolen phone. The guy responded with “Oh, smart girl” (referring to Bianca). He proceeded to attempt to strike up a conversation with us. “So, you guys speak English?” I was not OK with this. I was in gypsy attack mode, accelerating into a hyper- adrenalized state that I have developed over my series of encounters, and can easily be brought on by friends who catch me by surprise in the metro. A word to the wise: DO NOT CATCH ME BY SURPRISE IN THE METRO. I MIGHT ATTACK YOU. I started saying “no” forcefully over and over to him, not wanting him to know what language we spoke, since he seemed to want to continue talking to us. He then proceeded to leave the bakery at last, and throw up a peace sign through the window on the way out. My response was, “ABSOLUTELY NOT.”
Anyway, I have had a bunch of fun experiences with my mom, and our family friend Merry, who stayed at my mom’s apartment last week. We went walking in the Bois de Bologne, an extensive park outside of the circumference of Paris (within zone 2), and managed to find a series of barns with horses, which was exciting, and a lake with ducks. We had hoped to have lunch at an island in the middle of the lake, but to no avail, as it was closed for the off- season still. We also had fun exploring the area around her apartment in St. Germain, finding new restaurants, and dining again at Café de Flore, my good friend Sartre’s stomping grounds. We also made our first visit to a parfumerie, where I purchased “absinthe” (French spelling) perfume. I thought it only appropriate, and it’s delicious.
Last weekend, my mom and I went to the Cinémateque Francaise, where they recently opened an exhibition on Stanley Kubrick, who just so happens to be my favorite filmmaker. It was a really well- done exhibition, with manuscripts, props, interviews, notated scripts, shooting schedules, lenses, and a multitude of information on each film chronologically. As it turned out, I ended up going with my Godard class the following day, which I had anticipated would be the next week, but nonetheless I enjoyed seeing the exhibit again. The Cinémateque also houses a series of screenings each week. The goal had been to couple the visit to the exposition with the screening of the Shining for my Film Analysis class at Diderot, but unfortunately, it was sold out. So we had a rooftop picnic watching the sunset over the Eiffel Tower at her apartment the following night and followed it by watching Jack Nicholson being deranged on the computer instead. Not too bad I’d say.
This weekend, my program had a short trip to Normandie. We stayed in the city of Caen, and took a train tour of the chateaux and the city on Friday. It was BEAUTIFUL and sunny, and I managed to wear flip- flops for the first time in 3 months. It was potentially one of the most thrilling things that could have happened. (As they say, you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take the California out of the girl.) No one understood my state of ecstasy at being reunited with my Rainbows. On Saturday, we went out to a museum which was very interesting, and had artifacts and documentation from the end of WWI, through D-Day, through to the post 1945 world. We then bussed over to the beach at Omaha, which was eerie, particularly since the gray weather was reflective of the weather that occurred on D-Day itself. We then climbed the hill up to the American Cemetery. Equally eerie. And then the most fascinating part of the day for me, was the visit to Point du Hoc, where each of the trenches was still visible, and you could climb in them. There were a series of bunkers that we climbed through, and the barbed wire on the hill remained as well from 1945. The cliffs were essentially sheer drops to the sea, and yet the Allies SCALED these clips against enemy fire. AMAZING. FASCINATING. HAUNTING.
Then today we went to the market in Caen, which was fairly extensive, and advertised some of the primary products of Normandie, including confiture au lait (a dulce de leche type substance), as well as cider, and a great deal of seafood. My sole purchase was a pair of neon yellow boyshort underwear that says “Private property” in French. (This neon underwear was very prominent at a series of venders throughout the market, and thus I found it absolutely necessary that I purchase them for 3 euros).
Overall, it was a great trip, nice to stay with friends in the hotel, and nice to have a normal shower by contrast to my bathtub with a sprayer that I have grown accustomed to in my homestay. Next week is Spring break, and I will be off to Rome, Florence, and Corsica with friends and to visit friends!
Since the last post, much has happened.
My mom has arrived in Paris, which has been really nice. She’s living in the 7th arrondissement, which, although far from me, is much nicer than my district, and more fun to walk around. We’ve discovered some fun restaurants and been able to meet up for some lunches after classes since her class that she’s taking for 5 weeks is literally across the street from mine.
I also had my birthday last week! My mom and I and our family friend went out to dinner at La Coupole in Montparnasse, a restaurant known for housing famous individuals including Josephine Baker (and others that I can’t recall at this exact moment). It was very nice and a fun vibe. 21 is fairly uneventful here, however, since I haven’t been carded at all since I’ve been here anyway, so another celebration will be needed when I return to the U.S.! I had another celebration on Friday with friends where we went out to a fun bar that we like, and then had to wake up bright and early the next day at 7 a.m. for a day trip to Reims in Champagne. Ultimately, it was worth it. We got to tour a beautiful Gothic cathedral that is almost 800 years old, and used to be entirely painted! We then went out to lunch at a nice restaurant, and had the opportunity to tour the caves where Champagne is made. Of course, everyone was antsy to get to try to the champagne in the end… which was tasty. It was nice to get out of Paris for a little while.
I also had an extensive presentation on Jean- Paul Sartre last Friday, including his existentialist theories, which proved entirely exhausting and ended up lasting 25 minutes. I did, however, feel extremely accomplished to be able to discuss existentialism entirely in French for 25 minutes, which is considered fairly long for this class. The topic proved extremeley difficult to understand in English, but I managed to master it eventually! I’ve also begun to have papers in every class, which is unfortunate, but it comes in waves, just like at Berkeley, although here the second wave shouldn’t occur until the end of the semester.
I’ve also booked my spring break plans! I’m planning to travel to Rome, Florence, and Corsica! I’ll be meeting up with friends from home in Rome and Florence, and then traveling with a friend of my program to Corsica.
Additionally, the day after my birthday I had another gypsy experience. I am becoming increasingly less of a fan of the metro, in true Angeleno fashion. I had spent the night at my mom’s apartment, and was walking back through a major station with my backpack. I felt something on my backpack, and often times it’s just someone jostling me, being that there are often densely packed crowds. However, there was no one else in this tunnel. At the moment I turned around, I saw two 15 year- old kids, one unzipping the front pocket of my backpack. I’m not sure if they spoke French, but they definitely didn’t speak English. (I preemptively apologize to my readers for the series of explitives that follow.) I whirled around yelling “What are you doing?” They looked at me waving their hands as if they did nothing wrong, and immediately stepped back. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Get the fuck away from me.” They backed away slowly, still feigning innocence. “You need to step the fuck off.” They then proceeded to run away. I guess they didn’t expect the blonde girl to verbally terrorize them. Well, my friends, they victimized the wrong blonde girl. And sure enough, my front zipper was slightly unzipped. This time was far less terrifying than the previous encounter, because I’ve learned to bury my valuables in my backpack. All they would have gotten from my front pocket was maybe some pens. Ah, a day in the life of gritty Paris.
Other than that, all is well. I am adapting more to the concept of being more in a homestay, have received numerous compliments on my French, and the weather has been exponentially better. Today was sunny and almost 70! I have also adapted to the weather. I never thought I would say that now 50 is warm for me. I do sometimes miss Berkeley and L.A., but I know this experience is irreplicable so I should continue to live it to the fullest.
I have just returned from a fabulous week-long trip to visit friends studying in Madrid, Cambridge, and London. The week prior, a bunch of us who attend Diderot learned that some classes do not in fact have this week as a vacation. I am slightly unclear if I did in fact have this week off at Diderot, but nonetheless, my plans were booked, my hands were tied, I was out of the country. What can I say. It’s just one class and I’m in Europe.
I began the week with an evening flight to Madrid, where I stayed in a hostel near the city center in Puerto del Sol. Two of my friends from my program also met up with me later, and stayed at a hostel near by, where they befriended a 19 year- old Parisian, who ended up spending quite a bit of time with us. That evening, they weren’t in yet, and I met up with my friend from Berkeley, Bianca, who is living in a homestay there. We went out to a club, which miraculously played hip- hop (a novelty coming from my Parisian self that has become accustomed to house music—-techno). This was, needless to say, quite a thrill. After a late night, we woke up the next day and ate delicious Spanish food, which is FAR richer and larger portioned that French food. But delicious. We met up with my friends from Paris and went to the Prado museum where we saw Bosche’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” and then to the Reina Sophia where we saw Picasso’s “Guernica” which was HUGE and I was definitely not expecting. The following evening we went out to a 7- story club that had different themes for each level. The following day we spent recovering at a beautiful park where police officers rode by on Andalusians and I managed to convince a Spanish vender to sell me a baguette à la carte, not as a sandwich. I carry Paris with me everywhere, apparently. We then went out for tapas that evening at a place called El Tigre, where you buy a drink and they bring you a plate of tapas. It is standing room only, and gets progressively more crowded as the night goes on, so you have to fight for a place to put your food. The following day, Bianca had class, so my friends from CIEE and I wandered Madrid and found the palace, which was unfortunately closed, and then had a picnic in another park after purchasing baguettes, cheese, and fruit. Paris, je t’aime.
I then had an 8 hour travel day as I headed for Cambridge, also gaining an hour. I arrived around midnight in Cambridge, and stayed with my friend from high school, Ari, who is doing an exchange program for a year there through MIT. I cannot tell you that I have never felt more like I received a long- awaited owl from Hogwarts. IT IS HARRY POTTER. Each college has rivalries with other college, their own colors and crest, a porter, exquisite dining halls where the fellows dine at their own table, robes that must be donned at formal dinners, and the same architecture as Hogwarts in the films. (I must tell you, however, that this is not sheer coincidence, being that Harry Potter was filmed at Oxford, and the two campuses are not remarkably dissimilar I am told.) STILL, I was thrilled to be living in Harry Potter, attend a formal dinner with Ari, and tour the different colleges in the town.
On Wednesday, I returned to London to visit my roommate from Berkeley, Ruvani, who had visited the week before in Paris. She is studying at UCL (University College London). It was a throwback to Freshman year, living in the dorms with a bunch of 18 year- olds. We wandered around Camden market, near where she’s based in SoHo, and I went to the British Museum during her morning class on Thursday. I found the ONLY Chipotle in Europe which was thrilling, and while not exactly Mexican food, was delicious nonetheless, and noticeably healthier than American chipotles. The tortilla was not just a white flour tortilla, but instead wheat, and much smaller overall. We also went to the Tate Modern Museum, Borough Market, and wandered near the Palace and the surrounding area.
All my travel was smooth until my semi- chaotic morning today. I left with the intention of taking the tube to my bus, which I had pre- booked which would take me to Luton airport outside of town. However, the tube stop that I needed to reach was shut down, and I could not walk there in time. I frantically exited the tube and tried to find someone to ask the quickest method of reaching Baker Street. I was informed it was over a 15 minute walk. I flagged down a taxi, informing him of my situation, and telling him that I had very few pounds left. Luckily, he was very friendly and told me that it was no problem, and he’d take me there for what I had. (I ended up having enough ultimately, but barely.) He told me exactly how to get to the bus stop. I ran to the bus stop, seeing the orange bus that was supposed to take me to the airport, and the driver informed me that this bus was going to Stansted, not Luton. Frantic, I asked him where the Luton bus was. English was not his first language, but he told me that it would come next. At this point I was anxious, because the bus should have been there within the next 3 minutes, but there was a large crowd of people with suitcases, so I assumed he was correct. 15 minutes after my bus was supposed to arrive, another bus arrived. He also informed me that this bus was for Stansted, and that the Luton bus was around the back. I was unsure what “around the back” meant, but I ran around (literally) to see if there was a street behind this one. There was nothing nearby. (It was also beginning to rain at this point.) I ran into a random media group office where a man had to come unlock the door for me, and I asked him if he knew where the bus stop on the map I showed him was located. He was fairly unhelpful but basically wished me the best. I knew at this point, even if I found what was supposedly the correct location, my bus would no longer be there. It was past 10 and my bus was for 9:47. I was almost crying. I flagged down the nearest taxi, telling him I had no pounds, my flight was leaving in a little under 2 hours (Easy jet’s gates close 30 minutes prior to departure, meaning you WILL NOT be admitted). The airport was at least an hour away. He was friendly and took me to a gas station to with draw ONE HUNDRED AND TEN POUNDS. (I had already wasted the money on my pre- paid bus which was a fraction of this price). He drove me through the rain to the airport, as I tried to calm myself. We reached it at last, as he cheerfully informed me that the last time he drove to the airport his passenger had been Donald Trump’s ex- wife. I essentially ran through the airport, but was perfectly timed at the gate. 116 pounds later. (Of currency, not of body mass).
And now, I have arrived home, exhausted, but safely nestled in my small house in the 20th arrondissement.
Until next time.
My roommate Ruvani and I at the eiffel tower.
The weekend was fun-filled.
Beginning with an Indian- dinner at our director Brent’s apartment in the 10th arrondisement, and then followed by a fun trip to a bar in the Marseil. The next day was filled with helping our family friend’s daughter and her friends with a scavenger hunt in Montmartre in which my friends and I helped hand out clues. We then went out the following evening to a fun club off the Champs Elysée. My roommate from school is visiting so she and some of her friends from her London program met up with us there.
Today I met up with them again and we went ice skating on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I do mean the first floor. It was very fun and as it got darker they had a series of lights on the ice to accompany the American rap that was playing.
As we went to make our metro transfer on our way to the Marseil to get delicious falafel for dinner, the most traumatizing event of the trip so far (and hopefully in the entirety) happened. I stepped onto the metro at a different door than my three friends who I was with. I was immediately encountered by a boy probably 14 or 15 years old but significantly shorter than myself. He started urgently saying “Trocadero, trocadero!” Over and over. This means nothing in French, or in English. It is the name of a metro stop that is not on the line nor the direction in which I was headed. Looking around, I couldn’t see where my friends had gone on the metro. As the doors to the metro shut, I feared that they hadn’t in fact gotten on, and my instinct immediately told me to get off the metro because something was wrong here. The boy continued to shout “Trocadero.” I scanned my mind trying to figure out what he meant, because he was in fact saying nothing at all. I wondered if he was asking for directions because I knew this metro stop, “Trocadero,” and explained to him that this metro didn’t go there. I then noticed a young girl had stealthily moved next to me holding a satchel. It crossed my mind that something was amiss. I knew in theory how pickpockets worked. A few more children moved up and started to urgently surround me as if there were some kind of emergency, and I knew at this point that I had to get away from them. For a moment my mind jumped to some kind of terrorist attack, and that they were trying to warn me of something. I finally managed to locate my friends who were seated in a quad of seats farther down, and 2 of the 3 of them had been facing away from me, making it harder for me to locate them. I rushed toward them. In a frenzy, my friends commented that someone had told them that those kids were pickpockets, and I immediately checked my coat pockets, where I routinely keep my European phone (not very valuable) and my Navigo metro pass. Both were intact. I checked my purse for my wallet. Missing. In a true impersonation of whirling dervish, I threw my purse into my roommates hands and scrambled toward the children yelling in both English and French. “Où est l’argent? Where’s the money?” and most harshly “WHERE’S MY SHIT?” In English. I’ve found that the English language sounds harsher, particularly to children who do not speak it. I ran towards the girl who had been standing near me motioning toward her. My friend, taller than myself also ran toward them yelling. We were two blonde girls yelling in a mix of English and French at these gypsy children who were probably 2/3 our size. She stood in front of the door and yelled “No one is getting off the metro until she gets the wallet.” Neither of us was sure who was with them and who wasn’t. We deduced that there was an older woman sitting near them who was holding the stuff. My friend ran at her as we scanned the group of children madly. I was truly in a primal fight or flight mode. I cannot tell you the last time my adrenaline was in this state. They dropped the wallet and made it seem as though they had found it on the ground. “Is this it?” But it was void of cash. “Où est l’argent?” I repeated over and over. They dropped a bundle of cash a few moments later and one picked it up pretending to have found it on the ground. MOMENTS later we had arrived at the next stop. Mind you, these metro stations aren’t far apart. If my wallet hadn’t been taken the moment I had gotten on the metro, if I hadn’t escaped the crowd of children to my friends to discover that my wallet was missing, if they hadn’t been told by a kind stranger that the kids were pickpockets, I might not have recovered my wallet. I would have had no source of money in a foreign country. This kind stranger helped us as my friend and I attacked the children in a frenzy, yelling at them, and chasing them out the door. Number 8 truly is my lucky number. The metro line was 8. I recovered my entire wallet. All of my cash. Didn’t get my camera stolen. And escaped safely.
My friends, I can tell you, I have never been more glad to have had the instincts I learned from my 9th grade self defense class. I was able to act almost immediately, unconsciously, which in this situation was VITAL. Afterward I wasn’t sure what exactly had happened, but realized that with my friend’s help, everything was OK. And I knew what to look for in the future. You really can never know how to avoid it until it happens to you. They didn’t target me for being American. They didn’t even know I was American when I was targeted, because they asked in the latter part of their harassment. It was almost instantaneous as I stepped into the metro car.
Moral of the story: It is a concrete jungle out there, and you have to learn to defend yourself.