Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Girl in Paris

Well...Me voici, a Paris! And here it is, my first blog post. I have promised to blog while on my 3-month trip to Africa, and gosh darnit, I will blog! I know, Paris does not count as Africa. However, I think the juxtaposition may turn out to be quite interesting.

I should note that those who know me well probably realize that this blog title is very appropriate. My good friend Lisa was quick to agree when, after chastising me for packing two pairs of sunglasses and no "tool", I promptly sliced my finger open trying to close the itty bitty Swiss Army knife she had just loaned me.

I arrived in Paris this past Friday, and it has been wonderful. I am happy to be making the language and time zone transition in a country that is somewhat familiar to me. I spent this past weekend with Emilie and Pauline, French sisters I have known since we first did an exchange when we were 16 years old. I went back to live with their family for a second summer at the end of high school. The last time I saw them was about 5 years ago, and it is wonderful to see the way we have all grown up. We met up with some of their high school friends, whom I hadn't seen since 1998, which really put things in perspective! Saturday night we went to not one, but two soirees. To sum up the weekend, it consisted of conversation, croissants, cheese, wine, cigarettes and saucissons, plus some shopping, a museum, and a movie. (p.s.-The cigarettes were not mine, but I may have smoked several packs secondhand.)

Since Monday, I have been staying with my favorite college professor, Gitte, who now lives in a gorgeous town right on the edge of Paris. I have my own little room in the chambre de bonne, and I have been hopping on and off the metro as much as I can! Yesterday, we had lunch at a very French tennis club here in Neuilly, complete with at least 20 Frenchman over 60 years of age playing and lunching.

Gitte is determined to fatten me up before I leave for Gabon (yes, there will be food there, but she did point out that one sometimes loses weight in the tropics and that if I do get sick, I won't have much to lose.) It is entirely possible that I gained one full pound just yesterday alone. Really, want to know what I ate? It is my blog, so I will tell you anyway: A croissant with jam, whole yogurt with honey, a puff pastry filled with goat cheese, cote de porc with a butter sauce, a side of butter which may have contained some mashed potatoes, red wine, more red wine, tarte tatin, soup, cheese, bread, red wine, more cheese, more bread, more red wine. When my mother suggested I drink a glass of warm milk to help me fall asleep last night, I kindly replied that I might not be able to keep that down.

I collect "commentaires" about France when I'm here, so here are my observations cette fois-ci: 1. I had expected the new laws prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants to change the amount that people smoked, but it turns out that it hasn't even made a dent. As my friend Jeremy pointed out, it simply means that "maintenant on attrape la grippe en fumant dehors dans le froid"..... Meaning that now one simply catches the flu smoking outside in the cold.
2. I had always thought that sitting around a table drinking and smoking and playing games while snacking on saucissons was a high school/college thing here, but as it turns out, it's actually just a French thing. My knowledge of French high school drinking game songs is therefore still useful--very glad to know I wasn't just wasting my time back then.
3. Strangers are actually really, really nice in France. I am even going to say that they are maybe nicer than in the U.S. They ask each other for cigarettes, rolling papers, and change, and they share with one another as if they were old friends.
4. Finally, after a very important conversation at soiree #1 last Sat night, we have an answer to the age-old question of why French people are rumored not to shower very often. It turns out that they DO shower, every single day, but that that odeur I sometimes smell on the Metro is actually the result of not washing clothes between each wearing. Sacre bleu! (I did not, by the way, initiate that conversation.)
5. Croissants are simply better here than in the U.S.--way, way better. The same way people say the bagels in NY are better than the ones in CA. French croissants are moist, tender, flaky, everything you could ever want in a breakfast pastry. I realize that this may be stating the obvious, but it still baffles me how they get to be that way.

Tomorrow, I am off to Gabon!