My First Two Weeks in Paris

3:21 PM


Two weeks have passed! My first two weeks in Paris, and a little less than two weeks without a blog post, and I am already worrying about posting often enough, about writing interestingly enough, about whether I am taking enough photos when I go for random walks...

I was going to write a list about things like *most interesting food I've eaten!* or *sights I've seen in Paris!* but screw all that. I'll save a numbered list post for another day, because Lord knows I'll need one of them (or seven) some day. Today, I'll try to write simply and from the heart about what it's like to be here.

Jardins du Luxembourg.
First of all, it's not shocking. I am not culture-shocked. It feels comforting, really; it feels more like the New York City I know and love than the medium-sized California town I live in did. I've also been to Paris a few times before, including a 3-week stay with my best friend Alisa and a day here, a day there. As you may have read, I was freaking out a little bit in Marseille and wondering whether I made the right choice in flying here for half a year, but taking the taxi down relatively familiar streets to my home-stay apartment made me feel like I was at "home."

Reminded me of New York...
New York City, San Francisco, my hometown in the Bay Area in California, and Paris are probably the only cities where I do really feel "at home," and I don't think it's because I've spent the most time there. That feeling was relatively instant for me the first time I visited both NYC and Paris, and I don't know exactly why yet (I don't feel that way about Los Angeles, Boston, London, Rome...it's not just a big city thing...) but I have time to think about it.

Secondly, I feel very calm here. It has been an extraordinarily difficult year for me, and throughout I have had anxiety & anxiety attacks with regularity...but I have yet to have a real anxiety attack in Paris. *knocks on wood* Chances are it will happen, and I'll get through it and be ok with it, but it's nice to just feel normal again most of the time and not feel all the symptoms of stress that manifest for me.

Ha, just wait until real classes start, Daniela! Just kidding...all will be well...

Speaking of class, today I finished my first week of classes – last week we had orientation meetings every day, and this week we had three hours of French grammar class every day. The French class is going to keep on like this for two more weeks, and then we'll have an "Academic Writing" (how to write essays to meet the specific French university demands) course that meets twice a week for eight weeks after that. My French class is the "hardest" amongst the sections people got placed in, and we seem to have an absurdly larger amount of homework than everyone else but I don't mind too much...because hopefully that will help me in the long run in my major-specific classes.

Next week I start "real classes" at French university! Referred to rather amusingly as "la fac" as in faculté, as opposed to Swiss people who call it "l'uni."

I'm hoping to take a class about how geography informs social organization at Paris I (Sorbonne), a class about the sociology of gender inequalities at Paris VII (Denis-Diderot), and a joint-seminar at Reid Hall (Columbia-Penn's center in Paris) on the actors of global political development. Joint-seminar means that it's half American students and half French students, AKA where I'm going to meet my new French bestie. These classes are all taught in French, for a grade that goes into my GPA, in case you had any doubts.

Luckily, we had a few tours this week of the various campuses so I know where the lib–nah, I didn't really retain anything and will have to accost random French people and hope my accent is charming enough to get them to walk me to my classes on the regular. Let's be real.
Parc Monceau, AKA nap central.
Aside from class and homework, I've been amusing myself with a mix of napping in parks (my favorite is Parc Monceau, which is down the street from where I live), napping in my bed, and napping in the subway. Just kidding. I only nap in the park, really. And so do a lot of businesspeople who literally come and lie on the grass in suits towards early evening, no blanket or anything. Hmm.


Aside from that, I've seen a few sights like Père Lachaise cemetery (where Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf are buried!), the Marais district, the Jardins du Luxembourg, the banks of the Seine at night with a bottle of rosé in hand, and Reims. Reims is a town a few hours away famous for the Notre Dame de Reims cathedral, where the kings of France used to be coronated and which contains the amazing Marc Chagall stained glass windows below. This was a free excursion with other students on a Saturday provided by Columbia. After visiting the cathedral, we visited the Pommery champagne caves and learned about how champagne is made. There was a bunch of weird & awesome modern art in the caves, too. At the end of the tour, they poured us a glass of tuition money – I mean, free champagne – and told us to examine the difference between two types of the champagne. Many photos double-fisting glasses of champagne with pinkies up were had.


I also made it to Shakespeare & Co., the famous English bookstore in the Latin Quarter a few times, and one of those times I saw one of my favorite bands from Brooklyn, New York play a free show! They're called Bird Courage, and I found out about it via their Facebook page the night before which was insane. I had seen them play so many times at Columbia, via this venue called Postcrypt... I'm now their #1 international groupie (self-titled).


In other cultural news, I have been watching some French films and saw Deux Jours, Une Nuit entirely in French. It was a Cannes Palme d'Or 2014 competitor with Marion Cotillard playing a woman begging her colleagues to sacrifice their bonuses so she can keep her job...and I'm damn proud that I understood 70-80% of it with no French (or English) subtitles. Dude, Marion Cotillard is amazing at playing a mess.

Anyone who knows me might be surprised that I haven't mentioned FOOD yet, so here it is: the best things I have eaten so far are the  €2.50 heavenly apple tart above at Poilâne, a famous bakery, and actually...guacamole, tacos, & a margarita at Candelaria. Candelaria is a small taco bar in the front and a quite large, dark, sexy "secret" bar in the back, behind a non-descript white door. The people constantly going in and out kind of spoil the "secret" part of it. Oh, and I highly recommend booking restaurants on the website La Fourchette! My Parisian friend whom I know from Columbia and I went to a super classy restaurant on a Fourchette reservation and got 50% off (no lottery here, you can see the deals when you're booking online). It's crazy.

My most interesting eating experiences though have been of a different kind. My host family very kindly invited me to have lunch with them and other members of their family the other Sunday, and it was a very long multi-course meal served in the following stages: champagne, melon and prosciutto, meat and potatoes gratin, a cheese plate, homemade sponge cake with homemade mirabelle jam, tiny ice cream cornets, and coffee. I felt lucky to witness this kind of family occasion.

My host mother told me, "In our family, we serve champagne on Christmas, when it's somebody's birthday,...and when we are happy." So cute!


For another uniquely French food experience, a few of us from the program went to a "Restaurant Universitaire"/"Resto U" - they are like cafeterias or restaurants that only serve university students, for the small price of €3.20 for a meal. You can choose your own food in various combinations to amount to 6 points, which generally means a main dish and an appetizer or dessert and a drink. Crazy subsidized! Of course, it's nothing gourmet, but I'm just really excited to have this option to eat at any of the Resto U's across the city near me and have a fully prepared, decent meal for less than €5. So far, I've been kind of cooking for myself on Sundays, eating what I prepared during the week for dinner, and buying sandwiches for lunch and the like...

Finally, crêpe stands. I love crêpe stands. Whether you've been drinking at a bar or you're just walking down the street and it's time for an afternoon goûter...mm. Can't beat it. Although my friend found out you really do get what you pay for and a crêpe that costs less than €2 is likely to be pretty bad...

I think I've covered the basics, except for maybe a large chunk of my life – staying with a host family – but I'll leave that for another day. This has been your exhaustive update to lay the groundwork of what the heck I'm doing here in Paris, and I hope to update in the future with more frequent, sporadic, bite-sized updates about my adventures. I'll leave you with my favorite photo from our trip to Reims, from the Abbey of Saint-Remi. À bientot.



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