Month: March 2013

The Métro

I guess because I’m no engineer, nor a manager, nor anything that has to do with logistics, I am marveled by the planning that goes into creating a working public system transportation.

How one line seamlessly merges with another and how it’s just so logical freaking excites me. Perhaps because I’m a woman and anything logical and rational is beyond my grasp.

Let me talk to you a little bit about the métro in Paris- ye olde subway system.
The word métro stands for Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris, it was first opened, without much fanfare in July 19th, 1900 for the World Fair. Another one of Paris’ landmarks was also built for this. I’m not even going to mention it here because you should know it. And if you don’t, I want you to question your life choices that have led you up to this point in your life, ‘k?

Home base on Line 4.

Home base on Line 4.

Now, moving on, there are 16 métro lines and yes, I have been on all of them. It’s quite fun!
There’s also the infamous RER, which is the commuter train. It’s 5 of those: A, B, C, D, E. On top of that, there’s the Transilien, which is the suburban rail, which will take you even further than the RER. They’re a total of 8.
Done?
No.
Tramways!!
We got 5 of those.
Done?
I said no!
We got buses! About a trillion lines.
And night buses! The Noctilien! (to which I shall dedicate an entire post).

I think we’re done now (without counting the airport shuttles).

The mastermind behind all of this is named Fulgence Bienvenüe. Growing up he had two things in mind: “why dat gotta be my name?” and “let’s build a metro!”
Today, the 4th largest station in Paris, Montparnasse-Bienvenüe, sports his name in his honor.
(And by the way, the dieresis in his last name does NOT mean his last name was “Welcome”).

Welcomed to Montparansse-Bienvenüe, home of the worlds fastest conveyor at 9 km/h!

Welcomed to Montparansse-Bienvenüe, home of the worlds fastest conveyor at 9 km/h!

Anyway, I love the metro. I feel so free. I don’t have to worry about filling up for gas, no need to worry about car keys (because you got that métro pass!).

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The key to the city

All I really have to look out for are creepy men and pickpockets…which are both manageable.
Sometimes I feel like a little kid when two trains depart or arrive at the same time and the wagons cross each other. I don’t know why, but I just love it. I love the sound, the screeching, the little wind that gets knocked into you as those mammoth cars approach the platform.

Ehrmehgehrd et's hehrr!!

Ehrmehgehrd et’s hehrr!!

It’s fantastic. When it runs on time, life is good. Just pop your headphones in, and enjoy the ride.

There are, of course, rules to follow: no eating, no smiling, no making eye contact, no yelling; give up your place to the elderly, disabled and pregnant women, do not sit down during rush hour so more people fit. And the people get it! No one makes a fuss (save for tourists).

I’ve also learned little tricks: if there’s nothing to hang on to, just ride it like a big skateboard. Relax, bend your knees and shift your weight. If anything else happens, just hang on to the stranger next to you. He’ll understand.

I have had my share of incidents that have turned physical, which comes as collateral from living in small spaces with a million people (who are all in a hurry, even if they’re not). I have also had to run out of wagons due to emergencies (bombs and the like). Oh, and I have been delayed. Oh yes. Inside the wagon, waiting outside on the platform.

As with all things, though, there are some downsides to common transport:
Suicides.
Yep.
It’s super popular to just jump into the tracks of the metro. It’s an easy, fast way to just…get out of Paris.
Then again, one becomes desensitized at the thought that, well, that was it for someone. So you’re there (and this usually happens when you’re in a hurry) and you’re like, “Bro, did you really have to jump now? I have to meet my friends for drinks. Ugh. Selfish.”

Short of the long is you just know whenever the sound of a micrphone getting picked up starts on the wagon, something has just occurred.

There are also two ways to measure time in Paris: a clock, and metro time. A regular minute is 60 seconds. A metro minute is anywhere from 15 seconds to 20 minutes. The screen may flash a “02” for the next train but you just know it’s anyone’s guess.
Sometimes it goes from “04” to a flashing “00”, and the train magically pops out from your left. Other times, you get there and it’s at “07”, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, the train never comes at all. Lolwut?

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And sometimes…you just never know if you’ll make it home.

As with most things in Paris, you encounter art in the metro. Stations are inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, and each one has its own personality.

There are musicians, dancers, singers, beggars.
Sometimes it’s someone with a karaoke track and all you feel like doing is run out of the moving vehicle.
But sometimes, though, you stumble upon gold:

It’s here where I find myself loving the city. Loving its culture, loving its art, loving all the freedom it has provided me, even if it has been at the cost of big sacrifices.

La bouffe!

What does one turn to when one is sad? Food, of course!

Food brings comfort.
I, for one, have a tendency of eating my feelings (see: Carbicide)

Paris is one of the culinary capitals of the world, I would insist my house is when my dad cooks, but alas, the world is not yet ready. Anyway, escargot, baguettes, crêpes, profiteroles, millefeuilles, the french trifecta of steak-frite-salade…om nom nom.

Obviously, I eat that every day in France! At a bistro! Wearing a beret, with a super sexy French model feeding me.
What are you? Five?
The student diet does not vary from place to place.
Mind you, Maruchan is a little harder to come by here, and a little more expensive, but hey! Pasta is pasta and couscous is couscous and they are both super easy to cook and easy to nosh on while “doing homework”.  Peanuts, too.

 Everyday food is not glamurous- it’s still what you would whip up at home on a busy day, or on a day that you’re just tired as you come home from school or work. Who has time to dice stuff, simmer and all that stuff?
“Not I!”, said I.
(Delivery is quite expensive here, by the way. I would go off on my pizza delivery adventure from back in October but…it’s just such a long story).
Some days it’s couscous with some chopped shallots and red pepper. I add chicken sometimes if I’m feeling fancy. Other days is “pasta con atun”- one part pasta, one part canned tuna and parmesan cheese and a whole lot of delicious!
On the days I’m nearing a coma, I boil the water on my water boiler thingie (for tea- gotta multi-task!), transfer it to a hot pot, cook pasta, add olive oil, parmesan and cracked black pepper and bam! I have a meal before I can feel guilty about what I just put in my mouth.

We have university dining halls here, too, by the way. The CROUS people got it all figured out: you get 6 points for 3 euros and 10 cents. Not too shabby! What are 6 points? An entrée, a dessert and a glass of water. Like all things European, there’s always bread. And this bread is free! And rock hard. But sometimes, the bread is the best part of the meal.

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Exhibit A

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy going to my Sorbonne Nouvelle CROUS dining hall- mostly for the company and because I get a kick out of living “the student life”, which in Miami was faaaaaar different. We were brats! We had choices! What will it be today? Well, Bustelo’s for sure in the morning to get my café con leche and my pastelito de queso before class. Then…hmm…Burger King? Einsteins Bros? Moe’s? Salad Creations? Chili’s?
Yeah. Bratzzzzz.

Another charming thing about these halls is that it’s not only open to students. There’s faculty and staff, as well as your local struggling recent layoff. If you look around, you will see them. And it put things back into perspective.

All of a sudden, Exhibit A starts tasting a lot better.

But DO let me tell you about the fantastic discoveries I have made- the little things, if you will, that make my sejour in Paris bearable at times.

-Speculoos: Ohmysweetlordbabyjesusinfootiepijamas. These “spice cookies” are addictive, to put it lightly. They are made with sweet stuff like molasses, cloves, cinnamon and some unexpected ingredients like white pepper. They’re similar to ginger snaps but, of course, far better. I can eat a whole 250g bag in, oh, one sitting.
They’re the typical pairing whenever you order coffee at a café.
And in Mount Olympus, surely.

-Millefeuille: More specifically, that of La Grande épicerie. I mean…if this thing took on human form and it was a woman, I would totally reconsider my orientation and surely go through a deep, deep crisis.

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I MEAN LOOK AT IT! IT’S PERFECT!

-Panini “poulet tomate”: The mafia that runs crêperie Genia know what’s up (right next to the McDonald’s on Cluny, across from the Musée du Moyen Âge for those who care to know. Especially my girl Zoila…not pictured because I have not been able to, um, capture her. No pun intended. At any rate, it’s just a baguette, some chicken, mayo and tomato on a press. Boy, let me tell you about the love you taste in each bite, though! As a recent arrival, I would go there at least twice a week. I needed the pannini fix, and it didn’t hurt that my then-roommat was totes down for it too.

-Crêpe “nutella-banane”: Again, Zoila. They just slather on that Nutella, no shame whatsoever. And by “banane” they mean a whole banana on your crêpe. They just peel it, lay it there and with ninja-style slicing motions, bam! It’s fanned out all over your hazelnutty goodness. You may now start drooling.

-Grec (from my local Anthony Bourdain look-alike): This non-descript place is among one of the endless hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve your classic street fare of gyros, shwarmas, crêpes, etc. However, this guy has got the best fries. What’s so special about them, besides the fact that he just shoves them onto your gyro or “grec”, as they’re known here? This man adds lime to his salt. LIME. THE GREEN ONE. And it is a religious experience that needs to be tasted by all. I stumbled upon this place by chance, back in 2009 when I was visiting Paris for the second time with my cousin. We were starving and decided to eat there. I remember I would lean against the wall of a church in a tiny, tiny street in the Quartier Latin. As I live here, I know the church to be that of St. Severin, and the street happens to be aptly named after it. In 2012, I made my way back there by memory and ordered me my delicious grec, with the fries, and went to heaven.

So there you have it, a glimpse into real people food here. Not what you thought it would be like, huh? 

PS: I do enjoy a good onion soup now and then. Nomnomnom. 

Parisians

(Disclaimer: many f-bombs. Hi, mom!)

Or more specifically to open the post: parisiennes.
Parisian girls have this reputation for being extraultraincredibly fashionable because, hellooooo Coco Chanel started here (or whatever).

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Franprix deal of the week: Buy wine, get a free puppy!

Um…can I say that you can find more style at your local Salvation Army?

Seriously, the only stylish parisian I have ever met is not even from Paris. She’s from Grenoble. And single and ready to mingle, if anyone is interested!

So, uh, yeah. Another big fat lie.

“BUT FASHION WEEK, GIRL! FASHION WEEK!”, you’re probably thinking. Yeah, we have fashion week. Does not mean there is fashion in the streets of Paris, though.

Walk around any old street in Paris- everyone looks the same: it’s all about those neutrals, those ankle boots and the rolled up pants. Everything is so put together, so…boring.
What’s worse, I found myself dressing like them. You don’t want to stick out. You want to fall in with the rest of them lest you get “the look”, which basically means you’ve been singled out as a foreigner. Tsk motherfucking tsk.

Imagine hopping on the métro and looking down the wagon. Everyone has more or less the same hair texture, the same features, the same height, the same clothes! Jesus, everyone wears the same black thing! Is this commuter hour or a funeral procession?

Granted there is one thing that I enjoy about monotonous parisians: men’s clothing.
Oh, yes. They all look like they were pulled from a high-fashion catalog (I’m too poor to know if high-fashion has catalogs, so just bear with me, ‘k?).
The suits are somehow all tailored, the pants where they should be, shoes are a little pointy but it’s ok. It balances out their noses.

These people could, however, use a smile…or five. So many pretty girls, so many handsome boys and damn! Everyone has that stoic look. I’m sure they have a soul but I think it’s a highly guarded secret.

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X-Treme napping on Line 1.

Even when hanging out with friends (because I have seen it!) they do not smile. I always have to make my way through the cool kids and their cloud of cigarette smoke to get inside La fac (university) and nope…never a smile. They’re all steeped in conversation about some important matter. They always are. There’s no light conversation with a parisian. Even if it’s small talk about the shit weather, all of a sudden they all become linguists and ask “tu viens du sud?” (do you come from the south?)
“Non”
“T’es sûre? T’as un accent…”
You sure? You have an accent
“Bah…ma langue maternelle est l’espagnol”
Um, my mother tongue is Spanish
“Ah, oui! C’est ça, c’est ça!”
Oh, yes! That’s it, that’s it!
Of fucking course you’re a linguist. I for-fucking-got! For fucking nothing because I went to this infamous sud and was labeled a parisian because of my accent. Thank you, bathroom linguists.

Even when I was an English teacher assistant at a prépa, my students would come up with topics that would make Sartre blush! I asked when it was ok to lie and these people come up with Rousseau.

Well, damn!

On the other hand, however, these people are incredibly proud of their heritage. They are all well-versed in their history. And let’s not forget there was a war less than a hundred years ago. These people are not wasteful- they are resourceful. They appreciate the little things like having a nice glass of wine or a pint (even if they only discuss super important topics like the crisis of the EuroZone and the pitfalls of the Treaty of Maastricht).

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Accordion player on a lazy saturday afternoon.
He’s probably from the South.

If I have to say there’s one little thing people back in the States should emulate, is the habit of stopping to smell the roses. Those clients can wait. Go out and enjoy yourself. Meet your friends for a drink on a Wednesday. Take the little ones to a park on a Monday. Place a little more emphasis on learning about the world around you, even if you live in sleepy suburbia.
Really live life- don’t just exist! It hasn’t hurt anyone yet.
(But whatever you do, don’t wear all black, please!)

Montparnasse-Bienvenüe? Montparnasse-Bienvenüe!

First things first. My absolutely, hands-down favorite thing about Paris is my appartment. My fifteen-meter-squared château is my respit, my little hole where I come to think, relax, listen to questionable music and walk around without pants on. I also may or may not be typing this as I gorge myself on toast with goat cheese drizzled with honey.
And no one can tell me no.
If I don’t feel like doing dishes today, they can hang out there for a minute. Or a week. Ain’t no one gone tell me nothin’!

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Not picking these up! Ha!

I found this place by chance. It was on the ClubMidd network (for those of you in dire need of details, I am a Middlebury College student. Google it up. We’re supposed to be royalty. You’re welcome) and it was the second cheapest option. I chose it on a whim, and because it had a bathroom inside.
Turns out there is much, much more charm to it than meets the eye. I’m on the last floor of the building, which dates from 1889, by the way. This used to be the servants’ quarters. They would live here in very tight conditions. There’s only one spigot for the whole floor and they had one latrine as well.
I have to take the “service” stairs after an elevator ride 6 stories up to get to it. It sounds uncomfortable, but in reality, it is not. I think it’s all part of the charm. 
Was I terrified the first time I was going up to the apartment? Oh, yes! After riding a tiny, tiny elevator, I found myself in this odd landing with old wooden floors, funny wallpaper and a dark hallway. All the makings for The Shining II. But now, it’s home. And I look forward to it every day.  

I have a kitchen, a washer/dryer, a fridge, a TV I never use, a huge desk, Narnia-sized storage units, a comfy queen bed that folds into a couch (NOT the other way around), a complete bathroom with shower, sink and toilet. Areas are, of course, interchangeable: the bed area doubles as a dining room/guestroom/extra storage unit; the bathroom serves as an extension of guest areas…you get the idea.

Have I eaten out of the pot? You bet I have!
Have I left dirty dishes in the sink for so long that Public Health will one day have to come and arrest me? The answer is…. 😀 (girls can be bachelors, too! Though I prefer to think it will just be a scientific discovery that will take place. Gotta look at that positive side!)
Is my diet based on tuna, pasta and couscous? You read minds now?

I used to cook more, of course. I’m not completely useless in the kitchen (after all, I am a woman. Roar) but after living alone for a few months I figured making elaborate meals for one person was 1)not cost-effective 2)boring.

I have been officially living on my very own since January. I had a roommate at some point, but he already found his own place.

I remembered how terrified I was of the silence- of the loneliness at first when we parted ways. People I talked to would say that I would learn to love it and, though I do thoroughly enjoy it, it does get a little dull sometimes.
I have watched every season of Say Yes to The Dress, Honey Boo-Boo (I can admit it), My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and I am currently working through Law and Order: SVU. Christopher Meloni is super hot, by the way. 

Back to the point at hand. It is in this little piece of Haussman architecture in the heart of the 6ème arrondissement that I have done most of my learning. And I don’t necessarily mean it in the academic sense. Here is where I sit and think about my life choices, analyze the situations I put myself through, pick myself up by the bootstraps and carry on.
Also, did I mention my house key weighs like a hundred pounds? and is probably the size of a small child? Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But seriously, it’s pretty huge:

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Is that a flashlight in your pocket? Naw, girl! It’s my house key!

 Also, my lovely landlady, Madame Gagliano is pretty…BOSS (for lack of a better term). No, really. When I moved in, she had already stocked up my tiny fridge with essentials like milk, jam, cheese, and the like. I had some bread and pasta, too! She also gave us a tour of the neighborhood. She made me and my parents eat her dust as she dashed through the streets and red lights for pedestrian crossings. She happens to be 86. And has an arthritic knee. Good thing, huh? 

She also told me charming stories of the apartment and the building. The time before the elevator was installed, the annoying neighbors from the 60’s, how a thief tried to break into my apartment but fell to his death because of false-footing his landing jumping from my kitchen window to the window of the hallway that leads to other apartments (think of an “L” shape, where the big stick is my window, and the small one is the other window and the empty space is, well…space). 

It’s tiny, it’s cramped. I can fit only so many people at a time, but if home is where the heart is, then this is where my heart will forever remain in Paris.

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Paris. Blegh.

Paris.

The city of love, the city of lights, the eternal city. “Paris vaut bien une messe”, “ver Paris y morir”. 
Endless quotes have been inspired by this place; every teenage girl dreams of promenading down Champs-Elysées, of taking a picture with the Eiffel Tower. Yeah, it’s pretty. 
As a tourist.
What if I told you that this place is nitty-gritty? What if I confided in you the little-known fact to outsiders that Paris is a big city? It is chaotic, the people do not smile. There is no romance in every nook and cranny as every movie will have us believe. Take the RER B, I dare you. It will crush your soul. 

But, surely, something drew you to Paris! Yeah, it bewitched me. I was sixteen and it was my first time on the other side of the world. Paris had this incredible vibe that american suburbia does not. I came back to the States after 3 weeks of bliss to the thought that I would return. And so I did. 
As luck would have it, I applied for a master program here and I got in. A whole year in Paris! Surely this would be THE year of my life. 
Quite the contrary.
I found myself alone, far from my family, far from my friends and my culture.
The sky is mostly gray, the people dress in neutrals. 

A far cry from Miami. 

In other circumstances, this would have been perfectly fine. But then I realized I was way in over my head. I found myself thinking “hmm…maybe this city is not for me after all”. 

As I type this, I have roughly 90 days before departure. I want to fall in love with Paris all over again. I want to miss it- I want to return. Follow me, if you will, as I visit all the beautiful things that this place DOES have to offer to the locals.