jeudi 30 août 2007

first day of school!

Just started PLP (preparatory language program). They divided us into two groups, the special ed kids and the advanced kids. Naw, just kidding. It's actually intermediate and advanced French. But I did get put into special ed.

Our classes are three hours long and are en francais mais oui with a 15 minute break. It was going pretty well until I started getting sleepy, which reminded me why I love French so much. It's so lovely and soothing to hear that it puts me to sleep. But I was attentive, answering questions to the best of my ability. We even watched bits of L'Auberge Espagnole and had a discussion.

After, Keisha, Lucia, and I went to go open bank accounts. We went to the wrong branch of Societe Generale, so we went back to the MICEFA office to find where the real one is. I have an appointment to open an account tomorrow. I also move into my new place tomorrow afternoon. Yay! After MICEFA, Lucia and I passed by a boulangerie, and I bought my first strawberry tart (tarte aux fraises), and...Oh. My. Gosh. It was SO YUMMY. I almost wished I brought my camera so you could see it. I'll probably buy another one since it's nearby my studio. The crusty was very flaky and the custard was sweet, but not too sweet, and really creamy. The strawberries were SO SWEET and FRESH. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. I will never taste anything like that in the States.

Speaking of French food, besides it being very good and very fresh, I went to Champion, a supermarket branch, looking for some cheap food, and I bought this apple strawberry sauce. It looked healthy and it was cheap, so I bought it. Oh my gosh, when I tried it, it was so good I almost muttered out loud, “Are you kidding?” It was really good. Jeez, even packaged food is good here!

Anyway, I'm doing pretty well, trying to learn more and more each day. I only use my English intensely when I'm writing on my blog or in my journal. I can't help it. I'm not at a level of French where I can really say everything that what I want to, and you guys don't know French, haha. I usually just use my French in a round about way, if I can't say what I really mean, I say something like it. Does that make any sense? Anyway, I'm here to learn learn learn and, if possible, have some fun. I don't think the fun will come into play until I'm well into school. I just hope I make the time to go out and see some things while I'm here. I don't think I'll be able to travel as much as I want since the dollar is so weak, but I'll make the most of living where I am and exploring the city as much as possible.

mercredi 29 août 2007

how do you say "ugh" in french?

Okay, stress still has a hold of me. We just had our French placement test which included a written grammar part, listening part, composition, and oral interview. It wasn't that bad, and I did the best that I could. I studied a little the night before going over verb tenses, but I didn't want to cram what I didn't know into one night of studying. I know what I know, and I wanted to be in the level that was right for me. There are two: intermediate and advanced, and I'm fine being in the intermediate group. I came home still feeling a bit stressed so I had one of Kathy's beers that she had in the fridge and chilled out in the room. She was really nice about letting me have it.

I got a cell phone, the pay as you go kind. It was 29E, like 50 bucks. I have to buy a card to put minutes on it though. I don't use a cell phone that much, and I figured that this was better than a plan anyway. I still need to open a bank account—lame. I have to speak to the lady in French. Argh. But that's what I'm here for, right? I wish I could be like Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity and just have a ton of cash on me, no banks, except for the Swiss bank account. That would be cool. I can't stop thinking about that film since most of it takes place in Paris. I was on Pont Neuf the other day, and I saw the building—the Samarataine—where Damon was standing looking for Chris Cooper. That was cool.

Exchanged some money, which was a total bummer since the exchange rate sucks. $1000 turned into almost 700E. Not cool. Effing A, my poor parents. I don't have any loans or scholarships, and my parents are paying my whole way here. They're totally amazing. I feel like a spoiled brat, and you probably think I'm the spoiled, rich kind, but I'm really not. I'm really thankful to have amazing parents who provide for me, want me to be safe and happy and appreciate this journey. It'll be my last crazy one, I promise. After this, I want to be in California for a while where things are cheap. God, thank you for my lovely parents and brother who have been very supportive of this journey.

I know that everything I've written so far has been cinematic and lovely, and I try to inject the stress and hardship I'm feeling as well, but truthfully, I have to tell you, that there are some times when I just feel so despondent that I want to go home. I'm serious. Even though this place is beautiful, it's still foreign, I still don't understand half of the things that I hear or are said to me, and it makes me want to cry, and hear English, and board a plane home, because there are so many more lovely things to go home to. But I don't want to be the girl who gives up (who does?). And so many people are counting on me, and that makes it even harder.

Okay, let's not end in a sad note. Here are some things that make me feel better currently:
1.two French people told me my French was good
2.I'm losing major pounds from walking and eating less—my jeans are getting pretty loose!
3. Some of the hard stuff's over. Some of it.

mardi 28 août 2007

meant to be

This is me, far right, with Sarah and Lucia (left to right) on the Seine.

Typed Aug. 27.
Okay, didn't sleep well the past few nights. It's the stress, the jetlag, the overall excitement and unpredictability of things. This is all understandable. If you can sleep well not knowing where you're going to sleep the following week, then you are insane. Or too calm. Or a hippie. Good for you. I am normal and the product of a lovely family who has always provided me of these things. I am looking out for myself now.

Went to orientation feeling sleepy (of course) and taking in all this new information. I had this song stuck in my head, “Meant to Be” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. It's a lovely song and calms me down. In absolute hindsight, it also totally describes my day: “Some things were meant to be.”

We went to the MICEFA office to make appointments to arrange housing. We filled out a questionnare asking us what we wanted. They wanted me to come back at 2p. I went with Keisha and Lucia to get a quiche lunche—tasty! Flaky crust, warm and filling. The best French lunch ever. When I came back, Topher (one of the MICEFA guys) met with me to discuss housing options. We were having a dual meeting with another student, Chris, who's also in my program. Topher just got a studio that's in need of a student. He asked if any of us were interested. I asked what arrondissment it was in. It's in the 5th. I said, “I'll check it!” I totally just ousted Chris. I felt bad, but he didn't jump on it! I really wanted to live in that arrondisment. I was so happy! Topher was practically laughing at my enthusiasm. I met with Nancy (also MICEFA) and she told me about th apartment and the guy, Chris, who's renting it out. She gave me the address, and it wasn't far, very walkable. She told me that Chris was expecting me in half an hour.

SWEETNESS!!! So, I walked over, totally taking in the scenery, the happiness I was feeling. I tried not to be too happy—i wasn't exactly moving in just yet—but the happiness stemmed from the overall feeling that things were happening. I wasn't stuck, I wasn't scared.

I went down the Rue that the studio was on, and it was absolutely LOVELY. That's right, all capitals. The street was all cobble stones, no car entry, lined with cafes and small stores. I found the door to the building. It was right next to a cafe, across from a church, more cafes, and a small park. Now you understant why that deserves a capital LOVELY.

I climbed escalier A, very tiny wooden stairs. I found the call button for the studio, pressed it and said, “Bonjour, je m'appelle Elaine. Je cherche--” But I was cut off by a lovely male French accent, “Oh! Come on up!” It was very surprising and nice. He buzzed me in. I walked three flights of stairs and met a older French man who was wearing khaki shorts, sandals, and a light blue button down oxford shirt. He was all smiles. He let me into the small, quaint room. My first thoughts were, “Exactly how I imagined” and “Where's the bed?” It was very small, but cute. He showed me the basics, and as if he read my mind, he pulled out a large bed out of the wall. It was huge! Definitely a double bed. He made sure I looked out the window—I could see the church, a tiny roundabout for cars with a fountain in the middle, the cafes, a playground, and the park where Chris plays the accordion with his band, I later found out. All I could think was, “Oh my God, where are the cameras, where's the crane with an Arri strapped on to it, is this a freaking movie?!”

What a dream. This is why that song was in my head! He offered me iced tea from a party he had the other night in the studio. We talked for a long time, and I made him laugh a couple of times too, which is good. We spoke in English. He actually teaches English to French students. We talked more and more..for an hour or so, and then I told him how much I liked the place and that I want to live here. He asked if I wanted to look around some more, and I said no! This is the place. He was really accommodating, telling me that I can pay him as soon as I am settled and moved in. I figured he trusts the MICEFA office and its students since he's been renting this place to them for the last couple of years. He said I can move in at the end of the month.

He said he could give me the keys, but that they were at his house. He proposed that we have coffee at the cafe, and I can wait there while he gets the keys. We went across the street and he ordered a noisette (tiny cup of coffee with a drop of cream) for me, and a regular cafe for him at the counter. He spoke to everyone in the cafe, the bartenders and waiters. It was really nice. He introduced me to them as well. One of them is named Noel just like my Kuya! Hee. Hee. Meant to be. They made a joke about Noel en francais being Christmas so the waiter asked if the name was en anglais ou francais? I said en anglais. They were a bit cold towards me in the beginning and amiable to Chris since he's French, but that's what's going to happen, and there's nothing I can do about it.

Chris complimented my French accent and we talked some more mais en anglais, which was nice. Then he left for a bit to get the keys to the studio. I sat at the counter, absolutely glowing. All I had to do was to keep somewhat cool (aside from the not sleeping) and things will work out for me. And that's what happened. Don't get stressed; it'll just affect the way you operate. A lot of girls here were stressed about finding apartments on the day they arrived, and it sort of made me stressed but then I cooled off by telling myself that everything's going to work out, I'm not going to live under Pont Neuf for the whole year, MICEFA won't let that happen.

After he came back, Chris was explaining the code to get into the building, and Noel joked how he wanted to learn how the code works too, and it made me laugh. I offered to pay for the coffee, but Chris insisted that he pays since he invited me. He let me try out the keys, and then said that I can move in at the end of the month. Exciting!

On my way home, I thought about the whole French being rude and aloof thing, and it made me think of—I know this sound crazy and how is there a connnection? but—I thought of an article I read about Wes Anderson's Rushmore, and how the writer called Anderson's genre of films part of “The New Sincerity”, and I've always loved that phrase and always wanted to be a part of it somehow, and I thought of someway—okay here's how I'm going to connect the two—bringing “the new sincerity” to France. Just that subtle, nervous, embarrased sense of humor and personality. Being nice and shy and eccentric enough to peek a person's interest but forward when you need to (a lot like Max Fischer). I don't know how the French will respond to that, but that's the kind of person I am, and it hasn't steered me wrong so far. Just imagine a city full of nice, smiling, unstressed French people who didn't mind Americans who are desperately trying to learn their language.

Props to MICEFA, the Mission Internationale bleh bleh I've forgotten the long name...for working in their tiny office and making sure students are taken cared of. You've covered all the bases, held my hand for some of the way but also made me take the lead.

day of rest

Typed on Aug. 26.

So, I actually got some internet access going on by bumming by a collegue's place, Carmen, who lives in another building. Kathy invited me to go, and I could not turn down the internet—who could? The post below was typed the second night I got here, and it looks like, for now, my posts will be delayed in a sense that they'll be typed days before they'll be posted.

Bear Grylls and my father would be proud though of me surviving in Paris with limited money. I've been living off water, baguettes, and cheese. It's actually pretty tasty, and it saves me money. I've bought fruits and this really tasty apple sauce that also has strawberries in it. It is amazing! God, even packaged food is amazing here. What the heck? Come on, America! Step the quality of food up a notch.
This morning, I went with Kathy and some other friends, Morgan, Kristin, Derek, and Chris to Monoprix—France's version of Target. We found some people who told us that it was closed on Sundays, as most stores are in France. It's a day of rest!

They wanted to go to the American Church in Paris to look at some postings for housing instead, and I decided not to go since I went already. So I went to a boulangerie, bought bread for today and headed home.

I've been jetlagged ever since I've arrived, wanting to sleep at around 2 or 3pm, which is 5 in the morning for Californians. But I went for a walk in the Parc Montsauris, and everyone was having picnics and playing badminton and sunbathing, and I thought, “This is why all the stores are closed—everyone's in the park!” The last time I went to my local park, the birds and geese outnumbered the people there. The French really enjoy their leisure time and being in the company of good friends or lovers. It's really nice.

Got lost a couple of times with friends while trying to find things, and it's really fun, but they also talk about housing, which scares me a lot. They've already contacted people and everything. That's so crazy! I haven't even started looking. I don't want to worry until I really have to, but I heard that the MICEFA office—the people who are taking care of us while we're here—will make sure that we're not living under some bridge. God I hope they're right.

dimanche 26 août 2007

i'm here


Bonjour tout le monde! I'm not lying in a ditch somewhere. I'm okay. I apologize for dropping off the earth for a couple of days and if I worried you, but I got here in one piece, pretty easily, and all by myself. I'm a big girl now!

My parents and Cherilin came to the airport with me which was nice. My flight was pushed back, so Cher and I had a McDonald's breakfast which was surprisingly good. My parents didn't cry or anything, but I did. And I said, "I love you" to my parents and to Cher, and I never say stuff like that. My family isn't really like that to say that stuff. We usually show our love by doing stuff or making fun of the person, so it was sweet. Not sweet in a blonde surfer saying "sweet!" sense but you know what I mean.

I also called some people that meant a lot to me: my parents, to make sure they know that I got through security okay; my brother, to let him know the same thing especially since he didn't get to see me off; and the boy I left behind, because I wanted to tell him some things before I left. I miss you, Ben!

The plane ride wasn't too bad. I didn't eat the whole way, which is what I usually do on long plane rides because the turbulence makes it bad for my tummy. So I think I lost a pound not eating and lugging my luggage across Paris. Fortunately, I had one checked-in luggage, my carry-on backpacker's backpack, and a tote bag. Not too bad. I heard others who lost luggage or who took a ton, but I just took the essentials.

I took the RER train (which is like th BART for you SF peoples) into the 14th arrondissement where I'm staying temporarily at the Cite Universitaire. It was a nice train ride--lots of countryside and then lots of the city.

Saw some peoples from SF, and we checked in together. My room is nice in an old building that reminds me a lot of Cambridge. My roommate was in French club with me back at State. She's super cool and has been here for the past week so she knows her stuff.

I've used my French when speaking to French people. If they notice my American accent, they usually go to English, but some have been nice and have spoken mostly French to me. I get mistaken for being Arabic. My friends and I went out to eat in the Latin quarter, and I used my French to order. He knew that we were American since my friend broke into English after speaking French. But when I ordered, I did so in French. He said I spoke well! It was nice. A real self-esteem boost for me.

It didn't hit me that I was in Paris until I saw the Eiffel Tower the first day I arrived. I saw it, and it was smaller than I thought--tv and movies always romanticize cities by making them pictoresque and larger than life. But it was small, cute, and it hit me that this will be my city for the next year. I'll walk these streets, use the metro, finally understand what French people are talking about when they pass me on the sidewalks. There's only one reason that makes this trip, this year in Paris a bit unbearable, but this could not have been a better time.

I haven't been too culture shocked or anything. If anything, I feel the same things here that I felt when I first moved to San Francisco. Except the language barrier and the ultimate survival instinct. I've been living off 10 euros a day eating a baguette with cheese a day and drinking water. And it feels good knowing that I can live like this temporarily because I know my money situation isn't too great, and there are more important things to take care of.

I feel that my time here will be amazing and educational, and that I'll learn a lot about myself and know what I'm capable of. But I'm not expecting some sort of grand change like Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina character. I'm not going to make this a film or romanticize any of it. I know I want to, but real life isn't like that even though some events make it feel that way. That's my stance right now, a couple days in, but we'll see how it is later.

I've done a lot of things already: sat in a cafe and drank coffee; boat tour along the Seine; went grocery shopping at the local supermarche; walked in the nice park across the street. These first two days have been absolutely packed with things to do! Just so you know--the coffee here is effing amazing! Now I know why they call ours "sock juice".

Just so you know, my posts will be infrequent since I'm trying to figure out the basic essentials. Here are some things that'll be keeping me busy:

--opening a bank account
--getting a cell phone
--getting around Paris

I'll post as soon as things are going more smoothly. A bientot!