So, I have tried over the last several months to put together posts, so I shall include everything I’ve written here. It’s mostly unfinished stuff, as you’ll see, so I’ll try to, at the end, wrap up all this stuff. Then, I’ll do another post with stuff about Greece, and since I’ve returned…
So, it’s been a while. But, no worries, I have plenty of excuses, as always. This time they’re good ones: for February break, I was in Spain, after which I went to England, before returning to Paris just in time to go straight to babysitting in an attempt to make back some of the money I spent on my travels. And then, I spent the last couple weeks in an actual semblance of starting to do work. Shocker, I know. This was followed by a week of visitors, and then what was supposed to be two days in Rome, though that turned into 4 days. Finally, I am back, just in time to go to Normandie for Easter with the fam, and then off to Greece for spring break for two weeks! Yeah, I live an exciting life. Or so it appears.
The problem with having a blog that you keep for other people to read, as well as to record events, is that the longer you go without updating, the harder it becomes to update, because there becomes more and more about which you want to write, making it less and less appealing to sit down and write when you know the amount of time it’s going to take. So, the way I’m going to do this is divide the last month and a half up into sections so it’s easier for me to write about, and for you to read, so I’m not just throwing a huge block of text at you.
I believe the last time I wrote, one set of aunt and uncle were in town visiting. As always, it’s wonderful to get to see friends and family, and to get to show them my Paris. What was also really cool was getting to meet their friends the Académiciens. Well, not quite, but allow me to explain.
First, we start with the fact that the French are tremendously obsessed with their language. This kind of explains a lot about them, actually, if you think about it. I mean, sure, we like English, but mostly because it’s our native language and it’s really just what we know best. I think linguistically and entymologically it’s a fascinating language because it’s a combination of romance and germanic languages – kind of makes it the real European language, because it mixes the two major parts of Europe. But then, I’m just an English Lit major, not linguistics or anything technical. The Greeks might be obsessed with their language too, if you go by My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I think you’ll agree with me when I say they have just cause for that. But the French? Really? Why any more the French than the Italians or the Spanish? Just another romance language, people. But it’s the French self-love thing. I’m not saying it’s bad, mind you, but you will find it omnipresent here. And it’s not that they don’t know how to make fun of themselves, because they do. But there’s this general idealism about the overall amazing-ness and better-ness of France and French culture, and the language thing fits in perfectly. As far as they are concerned, there are plenty of beautiful languages which they will be happy to praise, but French kind of trumps all.
So this brings us back to the Académie Française. This has existed since Richelieu founded it, I believe, and its sole purpose is to, more or less, protect the integrity and beauty of the French language.
Thus ends what I wrote before leaving for Greece.
Other things that happened during that time:
I went to Spain. Andalucia, more specifically. It was beautiful and warm (for February) and I got my first experience of the Mediterranean, and semi-religious one, I confess. We traveled for 6 days, I believe, and we went to Màlaga, Cordoba, and Granada, taking the ever-useful bus system in between.
Màlaga was okay but there wasn’t much there other than beaches, very Spanish architecture, and lots of sun. I confess, it reminded me a lot of LA. Not in a bad way, just the heat, and somehow the way it looked. Here’s one of the things I found – admittedly I’ve never been to Mexico, but having lived in Southern California in particular, and from what I’ve seen in pictures, I was struck by at least the visual similarities between Mexico/SoCal and Spain. It’s been centuries since the Spanish had direct control over Mexico and California, and yet the two cultures seem to have evolved similarly. I found that particularly intriguing.
Then, of course, there’s the language. I have grown up in one of the largest Spanish-speaking populations outside a Spanish-speaking country. I can understand Spanish to an extent, can hold a remedial conversation, and the language does not sound foreign to me, despite the fact that I’ve never taken a Spanish class in my life. It’s just something you have to be able to do in California, and I take that for granted. I learned something though, in Spain: I need to correct everything I’ve just said, and say that, rather, I am familiar with Mexican Spanish. Because we went to Spain thinking we’d be fine with our limited abilities, and upon arrival realized that Castillian Spanish (the predominant language in Spain) is not at all the same as Mexican/South American Spanish, and, in fact, we could barely understand them at all. It was a shocking realization. I couldn’t get over the fact that it just didn’t sound like Spanish to me. They have a funny lisp, so that gracias becomes grathiaths, and so on. We eventually figured out how to get along, but I gained a whole new appreciation for traveling in a country where you don’t know the language.
But I digress. Cordoba was picturesque and old – one of the oldest surviving cities in the world, actually – and beautiful, and the famed mezquita was completely worth it. Minus the rain. The rain was irritating, because the whitewashed buildings with their beautiful courtyards and the (insert English word which now escapes me) of orange trees would be even more impressive in the sun.
Granada, though, was the best of all. And, luckily for us, we stayed there longest. And at the world’s greatest hostel (thanks, Hil!). If you’re ever there, stay at The Funky Backpacker’s Hostel. Granada has many things going for it, but my personal favorites were: the free tapas (anywhere you go, you order a drink, you get a free tapas. Makes for fabulous cheap eating if you know where to go), the old neighborhood whose name also now escapes me (it’s the beautiful old Arabic quarter, if you ever go), and… the Alhambra. Yes, the Alhambra is possibly my new favorite thing in the world. Someday, when I am insanely wealthy, I shall buy it and live there. (Ignoring the fact that it’s a World Heritage Site… shhh.) It’s just so… words and pictures can’t even begin to describe, and that’s saying something for me. Perched on top of a hill, overlooking an impressive valley, the ornate rooms of the Palacio Nazarios and the solid red stone walls of the fortress itself inspire awe and a strange fascination, and not just in me. Washington Irving lived there for a few years – during the Romantic rediscovery of the place – and wrote The Tales of the Alhambra, which I have been intending to track down since I returned.
And so, that was Spain. I returned to Paris long enough to do some laundry, pack a backpack of cold-weather clothing, and head off to England.
Yes, I know, my third trip to England this year, fourth ever. I’d like to point out that I have never been in the UK for longer than 4 days at any given time. Bizarre, I know. Someday, I’ll have to commit myself to a real visit. Someday when the dollar is mildly stronger next to the pound.
But this trip was special, because… it was my 21st birthday weekend! And I went to see some of my best friends in the world, who all were converging on that small island nation. I ended up spending more time in Oxford than I had originally planned, but really, it worked out for the best. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present than several days with my AdP girls and Kaki’s mom and Debbi in early March in Oxford. I spent my first afternoon wandering London by myself – it was wonderful to realize I know how to handle finding myself in a city I really don’t know with nowhere to be and no one to meet up with – and I found myself happily perusing the (free) National Gallery, which has, I found, some of France’s great works that you’d just assume would be in the Louvre. After my fabulous weekend in Oxford, headed back into London to meet up with some of my favorite Georgetowners – and some new ones! – for a lovely birthday dinner (à l’américaine, with candles and singing and all… in a restaurant!) and then a chill night out at pubs.
Leading up to my birthday, and even following it, I found myself doing a lot of reflecting. 21. It’s the last barrier birthday, if it can be explained that way. In the US, we grow up seeing our young lives laid out based on age barriers: 16 (driving, Sweet 16), 18 (voting, legal rights, etc), and then 21 (drinking, and official social acceptance as an adult). When I imagined myself as 21, I thought I’d have it all together, that I’d be grown up and on the path to wherever and living The Life. In reality, I found myself a broke college student who still feels like she’s 16, 18 at most. I am not the put-together adult that a 21-year-old should be. Unless… maybe adults aren’t really all that grown up? Maybe we feel young and unprepared our whole lives and this counting of years is just an artifice to confuse us?
The funny thing, though, about turning 21 in Europe is that while they know 21 is a big one for us, for them, it holds little cultural significance. There is no change in rights, no change in the way people see you. And so, you start to feel that way about it yourself. It’s only recently occured to me, as I apply for summer jobs, that, in the US, I can now work at a bar, I can serve alcohol, I can order wine with dinner, I can hang out at the Tombs (Gtown hangout) after 10, I can have wine at my aunt’s wine bar, I can go to bars and hang out. It’s funny because here, this is all second nature, and has been since before I turned 21. But this year feels like a hiatus from reality. So the idea of going back to reality makes me feel like I should go back to being 20, almost. As if this whole year I have been 21, and next year I will pick up where I left off when I left to ‘be 21.’
So then I returned to Paris and my mock-reality. We fêted my birthday here, with my lovely family. I fielded a month of classes. I denied the fact that it was not yet spring, because it was late March and in my mind, it should have been spring. We had days of upper-60’s weather, and I clung to those irrationally. The rest of the time it rained and stuck around 45-50, while I stubbornly refused to carry an umbrella or wear a coat. My sister came to visit and I think she was successfully indocrinated into the Paris lifestyle. (Don’t tell anyone, but she sang for Virginie, because Nini really wanted to hear her sing opera. Solène overheard her singing to herself and turned off the TV just to listen because she was so impressed.) Patrice and Enda came to visit simultaneously and took us to some fabulous dinners, and I gave them a little bit of the insider’s view of Paris. Overall a lovely month.
April started off in an appropriate fashion: I went off to Rome with Patrice for a few days. Correction: I went for 2 days, not even, but stayed for nearly 4. Don’t think this was voluntary, though, much as I wish it could have been. Oh no, because on the first night, I came down with a stomach flu, leaving me to become intimately familiar with the toilet in our apartment, and sadly distant from wonderful Italian food. Despite this, and its severe limiting of my Roman experience, what I did get to see of Rome was great. I confess the first time I went there (10 years ago, now), I didn’t like it; it seemed too busy and dirty and crowded for me. This time, though, I see all those things, but I recognize that that’s just how cities go, and Rome is a city unlike any other. It is cramped and ancient and hot and beautiful and over-touristed to an extent to which Paris holds about 3/4 of a candle, and I wish I could have seen more. It would not be my favorite city, but… I can appreciate and enjoy it. And everywhere you walk there is at least one church in sight, despite the fact that you can barely see more than a block or two ahead of you because they did not have a Haussmann to enlarge their streets.
Again, I returned to Paris in time to do some work and then head off to Normandy with my awesome host fam for Easter weekend. And I know I say this all the time, but seriously, this was the best weekend, the most representative of my relationship with my host family. The place they have belongs to my host mom’s parents and they’ve had it forever, and that entire side of the family goes there on holidays and weekends when they feel like it. We left early Saturday morning to get there by 11 am, with enough time for Solène, her friend Lauren, Eric, and I to faire une petite tour of the town and beach and surrounding area. They’re literally a block and a half from the beach, which happens to be one of the D-Day beaches. It seems so crazy that people vacation there, but I guess, what else are you supposed to do?
Anyway, we went on our walk and talked and had fun, and came back in time for a lovely lunch – French weekend lunches are always the important meals – prepared by Niki, Patricia’s mom, who happens to absolutely adore me. I don’t know what I did to deserve this adoration, but I happily take and reciprocate it. After lunch, instead of repos-ing, Eric proposed that we play soccer in the yard. The other girls were too full and wanted to appreciate the sun (despite the wind), so of course it was a game of one-on-one between him and me. Allow me to say – entirely without bragging, he would probably admit to this, though his pride might hurt – that I kicked his ass. No small feat, since he plays all the time, is 6’2″, and is not a bad player. I have the conceded advantage, though, of having started playing much younger than he did, so I have better skills, despite the fact that I haven’t played in months. And it was he and Solène who said this, just fyi.
That afternoon, we put together some ancient bikes, which ended up dying on us later, and formed a hilarious procession of the four of us to the movie theater to see Ensemble, C’est Tout, a cute French film with Audrey Tautou and the gorgeous Guillaume Canet. After dinner, we fabricated an elaborate plan to get into the casino (Lauren’s 17), in which Lauren was my friend from the US (she actually lived there until she was 9, and has a great accent, despite what she says) and had left her ID in Paris and didn’t speak any French. Of course, it failed miserably and they wouldn’t budge, but it made for a fun story. So, instead, we played French Trivial Pursuit. I expected to get my ass handed to me, but, on the contrary, I was winning by a landslide when we stopped for the night. Of course, by that point, we were all so exhausted that half of what I said was in English and I’d periodically say something and when I realized no one was doing anything and everyone was just staring at me, I’d realize what I’d done and repeat myself in French. This all led to a hilarious night.
Easter morning I accompanied Niki, Solène, and Lauren to the earlier mass at the medieval church, and while I enjoyed going to mass in a French village stone church, I confess to having not much enjoyed the mass. Rather, at all. But Solène and Lauren felt the same way, so maybe it wasn’t just me. It was fascinating, though, to experience a mass in French. They’re much more traditional that American masses, and I don’t much care for those in any case. Some of the direct translation, though, is very amusing. We returned home for Easter luncheon, then spent the afternoon consuming huge amounts of chocolate after Virginie arrived. Then the girls went off to the beach – where they really do have all those little cabines you see in old movies of French beaches! – and I caught my train back to Paris so I could pack for Greece the next morning…
And I almost forgot! One of the most exciting things in life – for me, in any case – is making new friends. Since this is particularly uncommon here, it’s doubly exciting. For my Sorbonne Littérature Comparée class, I had to do a presentation (éxposé) with the other American girls in my class, who happen to be on the Smith program. While working on our presentation, we realized we were having so much fun not working that we decided to hang out outside of class. Which has resulted in me having a whole new group of hilarious and crazy friends! Plus, they have a group of French guy friends, which doubles the expansion and gives me more French people to talk to outside of my fabulous host siblings, whom I of course adore.
Speaking of whom, a few days before leaving for Greece, Virginie and I went to dinner with Anne-Laure (one of their cousins who spent a semester in New York and with whom I get along really well) and their friend Alex who’s studying in England this year. And, I know I talk about this a little too much, but it was just such a great self-esteem boost in terms of my language. We spent hours just hanging out and talking and laughing and having fun, and I was just as much a part of the conversation as they were. I learned some important new words too. Specifically: the verb shopper. This has nothing to do with shopping. Or does it? Actually, you say, Je shoppe ce mec. Which means, “I’m dating this guy.” A very useful term. I’ve been ordered – by French girls – to date a French guy before I leave because it apparently works wonders for your language. I believe it.