Penniless in Paris

So maybe I exaggerate, but in a few months, I won’t be very far off.

As usual, when one has nothing much to do, life is not that interesting these days.

In an effort to take advantage of our location, and to get out of the city, last Friday, Selene and I took off for the day to Rouen, about an hour and a half northish of Paris.

I have been wanting to go there since my first time in France, because, for those who don’t know, it’s where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. No, I’m neither disgustingly morbid, nor fervently religious; rather, when I was about 12 or 13, I went through a Joan of Arc phase and read several (fiction) books about her and did some research, and when we came to France when I was 13, I begged my parents to go to Lorraine to go see her hometown, etc. I also begged to go to Rouen. The concession I got was a stop in Orléans, where there’s a statue of her, because, after all, she did deliver the city from the British and gain the title, Maid of Orléans.

So, finally getting to go to Rouen was exciting. Of course, this was absolutely all we knew about the town when we decided to go, and, in fact, until we got there. We found an adorable Normandienne town with much of the old architecture still intact. The entire main part of the town is probably the size of a large Parisian arrondissement, and once we figured it out (no, we didn’t have a map either), I believe we traversed it several times. We stumbled over an inordinate number of beautiful churches, including the famous cathedral Monet painted over and over again. We found the Tour Jeanne d’Arc, and missed getting inside by 5 minutes on each end (quite frustrating, I assure you). We started to wait in line to climb up above the huge, ornate clock, but decided it was too cold to stand around. We had a wonderful (and CHEAP!) lunch at a little tartine place on the Place du Vieux Marché, which is where they burned Joan of Arc, but we didn’t realize this until much later, after finding where she was tried and condemned to death, and then stopping a man to ask where she was burned. He was very nice and helpful – and excited that we were from the US, since he had just returned from a round-the-US bus trip – and essentially walked us all the way back to where we had been. We were rather disappointed, because in the 1970’s, some idiots had decided to build a church there to dedicate to her. In case you aren’t already aware, anything built in the 70’s was a bad idea. Consequently, the place is quite a letdown. Minus the “Medieval soil,” which is rather cool.

Overall, though, an adorable little city, significantly cheaper than Paris, and definitely worth at least a day trip. They had quite a few museums that seemed worthwhile, but we were too preoccupied by our Joan of Arc quest to take time to see them.

* * *

Apart from that trip, last Sunday was enjoyable because it was Anne-Laure’s (one of the cousins’) birthday, so the entire family trekked out to Ville d’Avray (banlieue!) for a grand birthday luncheon. Big weekend lunches in France are an impressive, all-afternoon affair. They are, in fact, all the meal one needs for the day, and we often have just a simply soup for dinner on those nights.

What I enjoyed just as much as the food, though, this time, was my exhaustingly French-filled day. Each time we have one of these huge family to-do’s, it’s a test for me, to see how my French is coming along. The very first one was overwhelming. I struggled to keep my wits about me with multiple conversations going on around me simultaneously. And I must say, I held my own admirably for someone in France only a month or so by that point. This one, though, was my first big one of the new year, and as the uncle pointed out to me, I’ve gotten much better. I can follow the multiple conversations easily, and, what’s even better is that I can participate.

Speaking of French conversations, for a while I’ve been keeping an eye on something that I’ve noticed. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t think will surprise you: more than just about anything else, the French love food and fashion. Clearly, you can see why I fit in so well here. And this is not to say that we don’t love food and fashion at home in the US, because we certainly do, but they take it to a whole new level here. More than once, an entire dinner has been taken up by a conversation about what someone else was wearing at an event, or what one of us had for dinner the night before. It’s a form of entertainment. I am always quite impressed.

In other news, I’m a disappointment as an American: it’s Super Bowl Sunday and I didn’t know until my host dad asked me about it yesterday. They thought it was a big deal for us, and I told them that I never watch it. Oops.

Of course I have more to talk about, but for now, we’ll go with this. Hope all’s well with everyone and can’t wait to see those of you who are going to start come visiting soon!

One Reply to “Penniless in Paris”

  1. Did you go into the Jeanne d’Arc church in Rouen? It’s actually quite impressive inside. It was your grandmother’s favorite when we were there on our grand trip to France in 2000. Rouen was our first stop on that trip. We drove from CDG airport, stopped in Giverny for lunch & a pilgrimage to the garden (with thousands of others), then on to Rouen. We found our way to our hotel with only one extra loop around to figure out the one-way street system in the center. You experienced it as a pedestrian. In a car, jet-lagged, is an entirely different experience. We were so tired and hungry, we couldn’t wait for most restaurants to open. The first one we found open was Parmentier. I chatted with the owner (my first real French conversation of the trip!), who explained that we had stumbled into a baked potato place. Parmentier was not part of my high school French curriculum. We ran into the owner the next day as we were wandering the streets. She had a full market basket on her arm, and greeted me as if I were a long-lost friend. This was the first of many charming encounters we had on the trip. In addition to the beautiful gothic churches you mention, did you see the Aitre St-Maclou? It’s a 16th C plague cemetery, one of the last of its kind. We saw the ground-floor courtyard, with columns sporting carved figures of the Dance of Death supporting a double frieze with other death motifs, such as skull and crossbones and grave-diggers’ tools. As I recall, a mummified cat was also on display behind a glass pane. It had been caught somehow within the wall. I remember that Jake and Ben found it intriguing in a ghoulish way.

    We look forward to seeing you soon. Don’t forget to let us know what we should bring you from the US!
    Aunt Jan

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