Archive for the ‘Random thoughts’ Category

Back in Seattle

Sunday, January 18th, 2009 by Paul

Airports sometimes seem to be worlds unto themselves: not quite a part of their worldly location, looking more like other airports than the cities or countries they inhabit. All duty free shops look the same, regardless of what language the signs are in.

In this way airports provide the liminal experience between vacation and work, or a life in one city to another. By the time we had sat down at Charles de Gaulle airport, I felt I had already left France. It would not be long before we would in the below-freezing temperatures of Chicago and then to the foggy, gray skies of Seattle.

So far, the culture shock has been minimal. US dollars looked a bit odd at first, and I still sometimes think I need to say “bonjour” when I enter a store or café, or say “au revoir, bon journée” when I leave.

While such things aren’t necessary here, I did have my reintroduction to the peculiar brand of Seattle politeness as I was waiting for the bus. The bus approached the stop and opened its door. No one was getting off the bus, but everyone waiting paused for moment, a couple feet away, wondering who would be the first to board.

I didn’t hesitate: I walked right in and was the first person on.

The Last Days

Sunday, January 11th, 2009 by Paul

It hasn’t entirely warmed up yet from the cold that seems to be on the minds of everyone in Paris. At least the sky is clear. On Friday, while we were leaving the Louvre just after dusk, Misty remarked that this was the first time she remembered seeing the moon during our time here.

In all the times that I’ve been here this is the first time I’ve been to the Louvre. I was dreading the crowds, but as it turns out going late on a Friday during a frigid January is a great time to visit the museum. The biggest crowds were around the Mona Lisa, of course, and it wasn’t very easy to get past the mass of camera phones to get a good look. Other than that, it was easy to move around, and quite peaceful if you had an interest in 18th century decorative arts and the like.

The night was beautiful, and eventually we found ourselves looking out the windows onto the Cour Carré or the Pyramide rather than at the artwork.

There are many things that I will miss about living here. I’ll miss the bakeries where we got our daily baguette. I’ll miss the boucheries where we bought meat for our dinners and the pâté for my lunch (I’ve developed quite a terrible addiction to the stuff, so I’ve resolved to start making pâté and rillettes at home. If it turns out well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share).

I’ll miss the new friends we’ve made here, although it’s never goodbye because we know we’ll be back to Paris someday.

I’ll miss the Metro. Living in Seattle, it’s easy to develop transit envy for practically any city that has even a modicum of fast and reliable public transportation. Even among larger cities, though, the Paris Metro is something entirely special. You are never more than a five minute walk from a Metro station, and in general it is easy to get from any part of the city to the other. Unless you are going from the 11th arronidissement to the 5th — then you might as well walk.

For the past couple weeks, we’ve been in that period at the end of any long journey where thoughts always turn toward returning home. While Paris would be an easy city to live in for us, we’re also looking forward to getting back to our home in Seattle. We’re looking forward to seeing our friends again, to our apartment on Capitol Hill, and our rabbits.

There’s a parting phrase in French, bonne continuation. I don’t think we have a good translation for it in English, but it can be taken to mean “all the best” or “good luck for the future.” It’s more of a permanent goodbye, though, and while we have to say au revoir to our life in Paris, I would prefer to also say à la prochaine. Until next time….

French phases à propos

Friday, January 2nd, 2009 by Paul

You had a fantastic fin d’année, but you drank too much and the next day you had a terrible gueule de bois (a hangover, literally a “face of wood”). Or did you eat too much because you have les yeux plus gros que le ventre (“eyes bigger than your stomach”) and now you have une crise de foie (“liver crisis”)?

Luckily, when a holiday falls on a Thursday, many French take a pont (a bridge) and take the Friday off as well. Then it’s a good day to glander, to idle, perhaps catch up on episodes of “Heroes” or watch The Lord of the Rings. Careful that you don’t take too many idle days, or someone might accuse you of avoir un poil dans la main (to be a lazy person, literally “to have a hair in the hand”).

Or don’t worry about any of that and just have une bonne année!

Le fin d'année

Revelers on the Champs-Élysées

Le fin d'année

The Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées

L’election

Thursday, November 6th, 2008 by misty

Paris certainly turned out to embrace Barack Obama at the finish line of his race to la maison blanche. Forget about the flood of hope, Paul and I almost got lost in the flood of people at the Palais de Congrès. We stood in line for an hour with no hope of entering the giant ballroom filled with Americans and young French people. They were the privileged watching the broadcast on giant satellite tvs, blogging in the media center and noshing on Barack O’Bagels. Most of the crowd stayed outside that night, at the le palais and in other venues all over the city.

Paul and I, unable to enjoy the sardine-thick crowd of loud 18 year olds yelling over our heads, smoking in our faces, and jabbing mentionable and unmentionable places in their frenzy of obamamania, hurried to make it home before the first count was announced. Our cab ride along the right bank was actually the first time we’d seen l’Arc de Triomphe et Champs-Elysées on this visit. Racing along the Seine, weaving through other cabs while smoking and talking on his cell phone about la crise and the lack of toilets for working men like himself, our cab driver whizzed us through narrow tunnels like the one Princess Diana was killed.

And even though we love it here, there is no doubt now that we can return to the US in January and we might even like it!

The girl with Obama Blue Hair

That's right, my hair is blue, gobama!

That

Credit Crisis, Microchip Edition

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008 by Paul

There’s certainly enough French news and commentary on what’s called la crise économique, la crise financière, or simply la crise. Just like in the States, no one is sure when it will end, where it will hit the worst, and what’s going to happen next week.

In comparison with that, the credit “crisis” I’m talking about is quite a bit smaller. It’s the “crisis” of French credit cards.

Since the early nineties, the French bank system switched to using cards with microchips in them to help prevent fraud. Much like a debit card, these cartes bancaires à puce don’t require a signature — just stick your card in a little machine, enter your PIN number, and voilà.

For the French, this is wonderful. For American tourists, it’s a pain because it renders unavailable a lot of the automated payment machines that require chip-enabled credit cards, everything from buying train tickets to those ubiquitous rental bikes you may have heard about.

As Canada and most of Europe switch to this new “chip-and-PIN” credit card, Americans are increasingly being in the cold.

Let’s hope that the larger financial crisis comes to an end quickly, and that American banks start issuing credit cards that work in other countries. That is, if there are any American banks left.

On rue Faidherbe

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 by Paul

After an eight hour flight from O’Hare, an hour to get our bags and get through the airport, another hour on the train, ending with a crazy taxi ride from Gare du Nord, we finally arrived at our apartment in the 11th arrondisement in Paris:

First night in the apartment

Hunger won out over exhaustion and we managed to stumble into a local café. Misty had un hamburger, mainly because we didn’t realize it had become so difficult to find a ham sandwich in Paris these days. I had a filet of a fish whose French name I didn’t recognize, but which turned out to be pollock. Washing those down with some wine, we went back to the apartment and had a nap.

It’s about 9:30 in the evening here: a little after dinner time. The cars are driving by on the street and Jamie Oliver is in French translation on the television. So far, I’m surprised as how comfortable I’ve been this entire day. The months of language preparation seem to be bearing fruit. We’ll see how the coming days treat us.

The Last Days

Sunday, October 12th, 2008 by Paul

It’s been a gorgeous day here:

Last Days in America

Of course this isn’t Paris — and to be honest it’s a bit odd to be walking here, in Arlington Heights, Illinois, days before we’re set to leave American shores for the continental hubbub of Paris.

Just a few days before we were in downtown Chicago. Days before that I was in Seattle, petting our rabbits and teaching our friend and housesitter to give our rabbits their medicine. It’s been a lot of change, mostly taken in stride, counting the days until our flight takes off.

We’re all packed and ready, so mostly we’re just working, relaxing, and spending time with family. We’re both very excited. I expect the days after our arrival to be filled with frantic trips to buy things we forgot and to get things set up for our three month sojourn.

Until that time comes, I’m enjoying the sun.