Side Effects of Baguette Consumption

I’ve been in Paris for a little over three months.

And now, as I contemplate the amount of time I have left, I can’t help but observe who I am now. I try to note the differences:

  1. A significant horror at anyone who bites straight into bread. I am actually physically uncomfortable at the sight.
  2. Go to phrases, all mainly french: “ça marche“, “ouais“, “c’est d’accord“, and of course the most common: “pardon!”
  3. I speak EVEN QUIETER—so that’s bad news for everyone who thought I spoke quiet already.
  4. Master of straight, unamused face.
  5. A strange recognition of what is good wine and what is not.

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    This was, in fact, good wine.

  6. Automatically knowing that in order to switch to the 7 to Sorbonne from the 9 it is better to simply take the 10 and ride one extra stop on the 7 (and other such situations.)
  7. Being annoyed when someone doesn’t say hello or goodbye when I enter or leave a place, don’t they know that it’s rude to not do so?alice gif
  8. Getting angry at a waiter who asked me to pay immediately, did it look like I’m leaving soon? Vraiment impoli. A-t-il un problème????
  9. Casually wandering into world famous art collections nearly daily and making references with friends: “ah ouais, il ressemble l’oeuvre de Picabia…IMG_8807
  10. Having restaurant standards: “mais non, le menu est en anglais…en fait c’est mieux dans le 10ième.

The most disconcerting of these changes is struggling to maintain two languages at once. My grammar becomes deconstructed and tangled, phrases like “and so” or “in fact” trickling into my english library of terms. Sometimes it’s hard to even spit out a sentence that makes any sense at all.

But I adore it. It’s an absolute pleasure to play with two languages and cultures; I know I will sorely miss it and spend a lot of time and effort attempting to return here. I know it.

I want to introduce you to my other list (I love lists.) These are aspects of Parisian culture that I would prefer to take with me—my invisible souvenirs:

  1. Long, long, LONG dining. Multiple courses…rambling discussion…good friends. They do it right.
  2. The baiser. I find it a charming way to greet and send off friends.
  3. The attitude towards plastic bags: pay extra for one or get a reusable one: admirable!
  4. Meticulous attention and attendance of the arts: Parisians are forever at the theatre, the cinema, museums, really anything of that nature.IMG_8587
  5. Emphasis on natural beauty. It is strange to see a fully-makeuped face here, it’s allllll about that skincare.
  6. Never leaving the house in casual dress. Jeans are as casual as it gets.
  7. Wardrobe staples. They don’t own that many clothes.IMG_8566
  8. Attention to quality over quantity. (Which is a good method for avoiding obesity and greedy overconsumption.)
  9. Men’s attention to their appearance. They are coiffed and have their own idea of style—bonus: they’re not afraid of masculinity-threatening scarves.
  10. Waiting for a friend? Get a café. Have twenty minutes? Get a double. Stuck in the rain and don’t want to walk? Get a café au lait.IMG_7650

Cleveland. Friends. Family. I sorely miss you and I am looking forward to coming back to you. But there’s a bit of Parisian stuck in me now and I’ve no idea how that’s going to manifest itself.

Soyez prêt. 

Bisous,

Claire

 

Vocabulaire:

ça marche: that works, that’s ok

ouais: yeah, informal “oui”

c’est d’accord: it’s ok, it’s fine

pardon: sorry, excuse me, one uses it whenever one bumps into someone, etc (so a lot)

vraiment impoli: really impolite…really rude

A-t-il un problème?: what’s his problem? does he have a problem?

ah ouais, il ressemble l’oeuvre de Picabia: ah yes, it resembles Picabia’s work

mais non, le menu est en anglais: ugh the menu is in english though

en fait, c’est mieux dans le 10ième: actually, it’s better in the 10th arrondissment

un baiser: a kiss, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE VERB WHICH IS VULGAR

admirable: admirable (not hard, this one)

un café: usually a small espresso, the translation means coffee literally

un double: double espresso

un café au lait: espresso with steamed milk—classic choice, markedly more expensive

 

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Oulipo: the basics

It all began with two guys, a bus, and a button. At noon. Oh and at Gare Saint-Lazare. I refer to the story by Raymond Queneau, founder of Oulipo, in his legendary book. The link is of some passages from the book, where you will see what I will further explain. Oulipo stands for: “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle”, translating to “workshop of potential literature”. Essentially, a writer writes within limits that lead him/her to build a story out of less than what they’re used to. A lot of artists will tell you that working under these restraints helps their imagination invent and navigate in more interesting ways.

What’s the story? One man—man 1—takes a bus, sees a man—man 2—with a bizarre, extended neck who’s wearing weird hat fight with some guy. Man 1 sees man 2 again two hours after the fact at a train station where someone is giving man 2 button advice for his overcoat. This story is then rewritten 99 times in Queneau’s book, but in varying manners. For example: one is in past tense and another in present, or; “The Rainbow” where different hues are incorporated. I recommend the book with the entirety of my being, it’s quite awesome, same with the accompanying pictures an artist decided to draw in some versions. He does the same as Queneau, but with drawing, painting, etcetera.

I couldn’t find photos of those pieces, but you might google them if it interests you enough. The point of this blog is to clue you into the context of the conference I listened in on during my vlog, should you follow them. The french continue to work with Oulipo presently, Oulipo’s following is immense, hence the ouvroir you see in my vlog.

Though understanding all of the works was nearly hopeless, as even a good knowledge of the french language can’t help one comprehend the cultural references expertly dropped onto the page. Nonetheless, there was an abstract poet who read some very enjoyable work at the conference.

One has to commend them. It’s not like Oulipo is an easy occupation to take on. In fact, I suspect that it’s a difficult choice to make things in such a style.

Oulipo, in light of my musings, is obviously an art. I thought that maybe it had complications in the past, just as graphic art continues to fight against the world of traditional books. Our grammar instructor told us that Oulipo is high art for the Parisians and their paysans but that the world opinion’s contradicts that validity. It’s not as if any of us work with Oulipo in the US.

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Example of an Oulipian drawing, styled ideogramic poetry, à la Apollonaire

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More examples of visual Oulipo for Exercices de style, the hand refers to dada and the other is styled like traditional Chinese art

 

Whew. Ok. *wipes sweat from my brow*

I don’t think you noticed, because why would you, but I did all of that up there in Oulipian style, so that each paragraph lacks one letter in my name. I.e. Paragraph one: no c’s, two: no l’s, and so on. It’s a tie between r and e being the hardest ones to go without. Let me tell you, the thesaurus was my intimate friend.

Just to clarify, Queneau’s book is called Excercices de style which is something I couldn’t type before, due to my self-inflicted restrictions.

I present to you Oulipo. An example within an explanation.

Bisous,

Claire

Vocabulaire:

ouvroir: literally work room, but can refer to a workshop, as in artistic or intellectuals ones

paysans: country folk

 

Art. (appreciation of)

Parisians, what are they known for?

Besides an amazing appetite for wine and carbs, one would be remiss to forget their unwavering intellectuality. Their need to be culturally savvy, to know of “higher things”.

One does not find a Parisian who is proud of ignorance, one does not meet a Parisian proud of reading little or not at all (which is a trait I’ve heard of in regards to some Americans in far too many anecdotes…)

No, they come far and wide to witness the grandeur of intellectual, creative, and purely interesting pursuits.

I, myself, must admire that quality. I have a strict policy of supporting and indulging in such things whenever possible. (More on that here.)

Just in this past week I found myself at:

1.) La Maison Radio: where an emission was broadcasted live in front of us, the “french” audience. A news broadcast on various hot topics, including refugees and nuclear energy, I saw teenagers, young adults, parents with kids, elderly people, you name it.

2.) La Comédie Française: a theatre, which apparently is so very, very commonplace to attend that no one even bothers dressing up. The play was a Victor Hugo interpretation of the history of the Italian superpower family the Borgias, who were just like the Kardashians in terms of annoyingly poisonous to culture in general but with more incest. The place was chock full. The crowds were respectful and had an air of “I’m here all the time I understand everything.”

3.) Atelier Oulipo à la bibliothèque François Mitterand: this library is out of this world and also this was a workshop on Oulipo (follow-up post on that to come), an obscure literary technique. I saw children, teens, students, elderly folks, and your average adult. This isn’t Stephanie Meyer, folks, this is some real, clever word play.

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Biblithèque François Mitterand

It’s no secret that the French love their art. In fact, love may be too weak of a word. This is a country founded on ideas born amongst cigarette smoke in cafés and cabarets, this is a country that actually has a philosophy section in their libraries bigger than one shelf, this is a country so affected by psychology studies that references to Freud and Lacan are made on a fairly regular basis…I admire that.

The proof is in this slideshow of my friends and I admiring art of various forms:

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In a recent conversation with an American back home, I expressed my doubt in recovering from culture shock 2.0 when I arrive back in the US. I spend my days basking in the various possibilities of experiencing culture. I can swing by a world-renowned collection or exhibition for an hour on a regular basis.

To live this life I live…one learns every day. So in lieu of calling these brainy people weak and snobby, perhaps we should take a page from one of their many books.

And besides, wouldn’t you be a downer if you read so much existentialism too?

Bisous mes choux,

Claire, #claRIS

 

Vocabulaire:

emission: radio broadcast

librarie: not a library, but a bookstore

 

 

In Spite of Myself (read: logic)

I’ve got a thing for logic. I learned about this aspect of myself recently. Until a friend of mine pointed it out to me, I had always believed that I operated on an emotional scale, ruled by my wishy-washy heart.

This apparently is not the case.

I often watch myself outside of myself. Does that make sense? No? Read again, friend.

It’s an obsessive, constant self-awareness, which makes for some hilarious, self-deprecating humor—the best kind, in my opinion.

Now I watch myself act like the logic-loving fiend I am. Previously, I was simply a fiend, but now I’m a fiend with a rubik’s cube.

Just kidding, I hate rubik’s cubes.

i hate rubik's cubes.

I adore debate and not simply because I like watching other people get flustered or slowly realize that there is another side to their assertions; it’s because I like answers, or at least the pursuit of them. I poke holes in everything.  E v e r y t h i n g.

Answers are delectable treats, the bone tossed to me if I sit (though I’m not great with commands), but the real prize is new information.

Here’s some new information: I’m also a romantic. Which doesn’t make any sense. Which bothers my logical side, but delights my inner romantic.

I should just name this blog: Claire, the character study.

Writing is quite a form of narcissism, no?

Today I went to Musée de la vie Romantique. Remember my excitement over George Sand? I heard that a lock of her hair was there, so obviously I needed to see that. I did not see that lock of hair, but I did find a mold of her hand/forearm, so I was satisfied. I also saw a number of famous Delacroix paintings of her, as well as a bust of her.

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Silently my insides were screeching. Everything I knew about her was slamming together in some sort of mental collision. Along with that sentiment, I began to muse upon my love for the art I was seeing.

There is something in the direct and obvious symbolism of Romantic art (see: angels, devils, Greek tragedy) that is ridiculously overboard and ridiculously gorgeous. But Piet Mondrian’s minimalism or Les Trois Bleus of Joan Miró please me just the same.

How to compromise such contradictions of character? How does anyone live with that kind of inner opposition, preferences in art/beauty aside?

There was a quote on the wall as I was leaving the permanent collection, regarding some man (pity that even as a feature in a museum, this man goes unnamed and forgotten by me, hooray irony!): “un Romantique, malgré lui.” I laughed at this, more like a snort of breath out of my nose actually.

How true. We’re all quite occupied in maintaining some identity or another that we’ve fixated on, we hardly notice the other nuances in our character that exist—in spite of ourselves.

À bientôt mes choux,

Claire, vaguely

Vocab:

un Romantique, malgré lui: a romantic, in spite of himself

à bientôt: see you soon

mes choux: my cabbages; this is a term of endearment

A Love Letter to Kitsch

Bring on the fuzzy bears emblazoned with “I heart you”, the plush heart they’re suffocating spilling over their arms like a badly fitted bra.

Bring on the ornate chocolates, the kind that feel as if they deserve a calculation: how many seconds should I take to savor for this to be worth the cash?

Bring on the doily-framed paper hearts with the same poem time and time again:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

blankity blankity blank.

Give it to me.

If you know me well, you know I don’t usually advocate for the cliché. But there’s something about this day.

Any opportunity I can spread love, be it familial, friendly, or otherwise, I’ll take it. Today I would have stopped a teacup puppy in the street and professed my love.

Maybe it’s Paris, the city of love.

But I’m alone, this Valentine’s day, and let me tell you: it’s amazing.

I took my time, I savored my coffee, and I went out to buy myself some “I love you Claire” chocolates from a chic chocolatier. On the metro I read the proposal scene in Pride & Prejudice, the sentence: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” still underlined as it was years ago.

I smiled at the grumpy old french man and laughed at the woman who accidently set off the automatic door in the shop.

It is a day of love, my friends. Yes, it’s cheesy and Hallmark and often overboard. I did see more PDA on the metro than usual, after all.

But it’s also a day for love as a whole, a day to love the sky, the rain falling on you.

I love Paris. I love my family and my friends. And today I even love the stranger waiting for the same train.

Bons baisers!

Claire

Vocab:

Bon baisers: lots of love

 

The Reluctant Nationalist

My fellow peers back in “the States” are one of two things: wildly in love with America to the point of blind ignorance or vehemently allergic to all things patriotic.

I usually roll my eyes to yet another atrocity or lie that I learn about, reminding myself that all governments end up being corrupt somehow and selfish people are always funneling money out of someone’s pocket.

I digress.

Although I’m not the USA’s number one fan, with the distance I’ve gotten in Paris, I’ve become proud of my home country.

At first I was under the impression that Americans were a breed hated by most, if not all, countries outside of it.

Then I wanted to buy some leather gloves on the metro (if you’re not in the metro friends, they’ll be at least 50 euro) and the men selling them detected an accent among my scattered french words. He asked: where are you from?

I took my time, relishing the last moments of interaction sans judgement.

Les États-Unis.”

“America?” he screamed. “I love America!” He began to fumble with something and I watched him pull a single dollar bill out of his pocket.

“An American man gave this to me and I’ve kept it in my wallet ever since.” He proceeded to tell me all of the places he wanted to go in America and, despite the fact that most of them were on the coast and also party destinations, I was smiling and felt proud.

“Merci, merci beaucoup. C’est trop gentil.” I kept repeating, over and over.

What was this? This phenomenon. All the travel blogs and websites told me to hide my American-ness. It was a stain. Something people hated to hear. Claim Canada is your home.

But Canada isn’t my home. I’m proud of where I’m from. I think it’s lovely. Are there problems? Of course. There are problems in France too. In Algeria. In Taiwan. In Iceland. They’re everywhere.

It doesn’t stop at glove salesmen here. My host family is enthusiastic and wishes to visit. Most other french people excitedly tell me: “I love America!”

Though I suppose my favorite has to be one middle-aged man’s answer: “C’est un beau pays. Il était un plaisir à visiter.” (This was so polite and proper, I had to control my reaction, as not to laugh at him.)

So, in the spirit of my darling homeland, I’ll sign off just like groups of hyped sports fans do:

USA! USA! USA!

 

Claire

 

Vocab:

sans: without

Les États-Unis: the United States

C’est trop gentil: you’re too kind

C’est un beau pays: it’s a beautiful country.

Il était un plaisir à visiter: it was a pleasure to visit.

 

 

Sweatpants: Interdit

drake.gif

In case you didn’t already know, that gif is of Drake (you know, the famous rap artist) singing his song Best I Ever Had.

Why did you include the gif, Claire?

Bon question, ami.

Today I went to french university and let me tell you, they’re basically doing street style inside, sitting in desks. I self-consciously tried to armadillo roll myself out of reality when I saw everyone was straight vogue-ing it.

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I mean, they won’t even let me into YSL.

But, it’s all gucci, mes amis. (It actually all probably is Gucci.)

Let me set the scene for you.

Claire, wrapped up in a scarf because a skirt and tights wasn’t a good choice this morning, desperately trying to load wi-fi so she can text “I’m think I’m experiencing a second wave of culture shock” to someone—ANYONE, finally deciding to attempt to ask the girl next to her what the password is and needing to perfect the sentence in her head 10 times before actually going through with it.

By the time the professor came in, I was practicing my deep yoga breaths as inconspicuously as possible. Thankfully, I understood the woman and was feeling pret-ty french tastic for about two minutes.

Then tragedy struck.

She began to call out names from a list. Attendance. I was a freeloader, a non-lister, a hitchhiker riding the rails in search of freedom and fresh air. Undoubtedly she would ask me who I was! She would at least ask if someone hadn’t been named!

The Claire Strategy? Silence and absolutely no eye contact. Intense interest in contents of empty notebook.

What’s worse, she did ask. What’s even worse? I said nothing. Me? I was named. I’m super french. Please don’t ask me something quickly and with sophisticated construction.

I won’t draw out the suspense any longer. I made it through class. She never called on me to read or answer, THANKFULLY. I planned my sentences to say to her so that by the end of the class, heart wildly beating, I talked to her and we figured it out.

What’s the point of this story?

I hate to break it to you all, but no one studies abroad because it’s easy.

Of course it’s fun, it’s amazing, it’s enriching! But it is not for the faint of heart. I was sitting there in that classroom thinking: somehow, I’ve come from a very familiar situation in a language I speak fluently to living in one of the biggest cities in the world, speaking a language I have been studying for less than ten years.

I’ll be honest with you all, I am honestly constantly lost, very often confused, and usually making it all up on the spot.

I felt a mix of exhilaration and terror sitting there, roasting in that stupid sun beam blasting through the window onto me. What a metaphor. Spotlight on the foreigner.

At least I learned something today: no french college student is rolling out of bed in sweats, no matter what Drake says.

If I learn at least one thing like that a day, I’m making it up a little less, right?

 

(Wrong. I am always making it up.)

 

Bises,

Vague, Claire, whatever my identity is now.

 

Vocab:

interdit: prohibited, often on signs

bises: kisses! much like the ones one uses to greet french people (see below)

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