Friday, June 29, 2012

Majoring in les tourists

"The Mona Lisa is the most recognized painting in the world." 
"The Eiffel Tower is the most recognized monument in the world."
"France is the most popular tourist destination in the world."
"Paris is the most popular city for tourists in the world."
These are just some of the facts and figures I've been spewing over the last few weeks. June is high season for tourists in Paris. First my uncle and aunt arrived with another couple. Then my mom and my aunt arrived.

These people are all from rural Ontario, Canada. Traveling usually means hopping on a plane, finding your way to Arrivals and locating the guy with a sign with your name on it who will cart you to a resort where you will stay put. There is nothing wrong with this. But it doesn't train you for the skills required of behemoth cities like Paris.

Paris is no resort town. This is Balls-out-find-your-way-or-be-lost-forever Town until you get the lay of the land. "Did you know there are over 300 Métro stations in Paris?" Bonne chance.

For the last two weeks, I would arrive at their hotel and lead them through the city, whipping out superlatives along the way. Paris is the biggest, has the oldest, and is the most popular in just about every category. When they'd ask something I didn't know, I'd shrug and say, "Google it."

The Left Bank area of Paris is soooooo good about making tourists feel like they are getting the true Parisian experience. The berets, the big moustaches, the surly lipped waiters... it's all there. And the souvenir shops! I had no idea they had great stuff. I've bypassed them all up until now. But with the family in town, we had our paws in everything in those shops. I even bought an apron with a French kitty on it.

At the onset of their vacations, I did some casual interviewing on the Métro as they stood gripping the bar and trying the plant their feet as the train squealed around bends under the city. I ask questions because I need to know what they want to major in while in Paris.

Paris has a lot to offer and you have to declare a major when your here. My friend Huey declared iron as his major and photographed ornate gates during his two weeks here. My friend Alan, a movie buff, majored in movie sites and in particular, Midnight in Paris. He also spent every night wandering around Paris thinking up ideas for his new writing project.
Waiting for the 1920s on the famous steps in Midnight in Paris.
Since I live here, I'm taking a general Bachelors Degree in Paris. Some semesters I study art at the museums. I took a few weeks to study different street artists, too. For ages, I was enamored with Space Invader. Finding one of his art pieces around the city was like finding an Easter Egg. Now I'm into the street artist who literally paints on the street, as seen in this photo:
But after I read Paris in Color, I majored in finding matching colors and slapping them together.On the day I took the photo montage above, it was a black and white day. Some days, it's lemon yellow.
Or a rainbow theme:

Sometimes I major in food, too.

With a particular focus on dessert:
Hello, nata, you beautiful thing.

Or the skyline:
And music. This is my friend Paul Freeman who was here in town opening for some dude named Chris Cornell.
Listen to Paul's music if you know what's good for you. The lyrics make my teeth tingle. 
While my uncle was here, we majored in monuments. They only had three days, so we madly rushed through the city checking the biggies off the list: Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe. CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!

My mom and aunt were here longer so we majored in shopping. I made them see at least one touristy thing each day, but once that was "over with," we got back to trying on summer frocks. The French are good at dresses. Holy Lord.

My mom fell on a cobblestone street one day and needed 9 stitches in her knee, so that day we majored in the French social system. It didn't cost her a dime and they even provide a Métro ticket to get her back to the hotel. She was a trooper. Once the Advil kicked in, we were back to frock finding. But this time, walking arm-in-arm:
But now that they've all gotten safely back on their planes, I'm going back to majoring in my favorite subject:

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ooh la la la laaaa

I'm here in Paris plugging away at learning this language. Still.

I'm still befuddled by most of what people say. I still listen to my French language podcasts, still meander my way through my online courses and still flip through my offline books. I still write out the conjugations of verbs and still I wonder if it helps. So many of these verbs that are perfectly understandable on the page are completely imperfect when uttered in the real world. Especially the imperfect tense.

Back in school when I was taking French with other English students, I was a star. When we were learning only what was put on the page in front of us, my French was not just pas mal, it was stellar. Even my professor said, "Janice, you speak beautifully." But then he followed with, "Now if only you could understand what you were saying."

Here, out in the real French world, they don't stick to the text book page. They could say ANYTHING and I have to RESPOND IN FRENCH in REAL TIME.

Getting my hair cut is a rehearsal in front of the mirror at home. Don't want to eff that up.

Buying a summer frock starts first with trying to remember how to ask if I can try it on.

And to ask for the price of something? Oh forget it. If it's anything over the number 69, I'm screwed.

Seventy is literally translated as sixty-ten: soixante-dix
Ninety is four-twenty-ten: quatre-vingt-dix
Ninety-nine is four-twenty-ten-nine: quatre-vingt-dix-neuf

And even though it sounds complicated, it's not complicated here in the comfort of my own learning space. Here, I'm a super star student. But as soon as something costs anything that sounds like a really long number, I flub up and just keep handing over 20s until they are satisfied.

Often they ask for exact change. The French love exact change. When I understand what they've asked for, and if I have it, I hand it over. Other times I stick my nose in my change purse, pretend to be scrounging through my coins, and say non, désolé (no, sorry) which is really me saying "No, sorry. I haven't got a clue what you just said. Just give me my strawberries and let me get out of here, mmm k?"

I pull out the non, désolé  a lot. If someone on the street is trying to hand me a paper about the latest elections, I say non, désolé. If they are trying to get me to sign a petition for AIDS, Amnesty International, Green Peace or whatever group is standing around with clipboards wearing the same colored shirts, they get a non, désolé. A lady asking for spare change? Yep. You guessed it. Non, désolé.

Dear French citizens: You're getting the non, désolé until I can understand what you're saying.

I'm learning to not judge people that appear rude. They are probably just trying to learn the language.

Today, a lady handed me a song sheet because her and her friends had set up a sing song outside my apartment by the fountain. I gave her my non, désolé before I even realized what she was handing me. She replied Il faut (roughly translated, It is necessary or You must!) and she looked disheartened by my hand gesture that accompanied my non, désolé.

It was a song sheet. So I could sing songs. With a group. By a fountain. IN PARIS!

So I've got to lighten up on my non, désolé-ing.

Sometimes people on the outside remark about how lovely and easy my life is here in Paris. Try getting alterations at your French tailor and you'll realize that living in another country before you get the hang of the language is hard. (She says as she writes in the dress she altered herself because fuckiti'lljustdoitmyself)

Most of the beautiful bookstores in Paris are tragique. Each book is an ocean filled with ideas and adventures I can't begin to understand. There are characters I could love inside those books. I just know it. But, alas. Will we ever meet?

I'm not even funny in French. I'm not even my usual flirty flitting about self in French. I'm simple in French.

When Christophe was learning English, he discovered the word Boobies. He laughed his head off and proceeded to use the word in fits of giggles for weeks after. He thought it was the funniest word ever. Boobies! Ha ha ha! Boobies!

I wonder if I sound like a 5 year old when I speak French. 

It's not all bad. For instance, I learned something fascinating in French today. You've likely heard the expression Ooh la la, which roughly translates to Wow, Oh My, Oh Dear. But it has another meaning. I've heard it a lot today when people were haggling over chandeliers and dyed feathers at the antique fair that erected itself around the corner. Buyers were saying Ooh la la la laaaa, which translates to Are You Fucking Kidding Me With This Price? Then the potential buyer offers up another number (which I didn't catch, naturally) and the seller pulls another Ooh la la la laaaa, which translates to You Can Go Fuck Yourself And The Horse You Rode In On If You Think I'm Selling That To You For That Price You Crook.

And later today, watching Christophe watch EURO 2012, he stood and said Ooh la la la laaaa!!!, which translates to WTF Kind Of Call Was THAT You Arse Ref!

And the best part of this language lesson? I already know how to say Ooh la la la laaaa and it works in many instances.

Ooh la la la laaaa (translated, I'm Onto Something And It's Goooood.)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Top 5 Coffees in the World

Coffee... come to mama.

Before I was living and writing in Paris, I was nomadic, traveling the world in search of everything beautiful and tasty. So naturally, I spent a lot of time sipping coffee in cafés to rest my weary feet and refuel for the next leg of my journey. In this time, I've found five coffee establishments worthy of my love. And the awards go to...

The Best Coffee Of. My. Life. Award goes to Downes Grounds at the Waimea Farmers Market on The Big Island of Hawaii.  The coffee was so fresh that it tasted... alive. It was the first time I dared not mess with perfection by adding cream or sugar. Do yourself a solid and order it online.

The Best Coffee/Atmosphere Combo Award goes to Sant Eustachio Café in Rome, Italy. This jet fuel has been growing hair on the chest of Romans for ages. The best part of this coffee, aside from the strength of the brew itself, is that it's served in the famous Sant Eustachio yellow mug in a piazza. And this piazza is in the shadow of the Pantheon. Could you feel more Italian? I think not.

The Strongest Coffee Ever Award
goes to the home-brewed coffee of Poland. Imagine being invited to a Polish grandmother's house. She serves you coffee with the grounds brewing the coffee as they sink to the bottom of your mug. There are no filters for these bitter underdogs of Europe. Back when Poland was still being held by Russia's communist grip, they didn't have much in the way of appliances, namely coffee makers. So, ground coffee went straight into a glass of hot water. Once the grounds sank to the bottom, your coffee was ready. Horrified by seeing my grounds inside my glass, I reached for cream. And when I poured it in my coffee, the brew didn't change color. At. All.

The Most Eye-Popping Caffeine Award goes to the collective of cafés in Paris. Parisians refuel constantly throughout the day with thimbles of espresso laced with sugar. You can walk into any café, tabac shop, bar or restaurant and get a quick fix for a Euro. Whenever I hear a mass of car horns, I know it's a traffic jam created from someone parking their car IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET to run into a café for a quickie. Honorable Mention goes to La Maison Angelina in Paris that offers up hot chocolate so thick it almost stops your heart.

The Coffee that Tastes Like Home Award goes to Starbucks. Wherever I go in this big world, I know I can walk into a Starbucks and travel back to wherever I'd rather be. Because let's be honest, traveling is hard work and sometimes a girl needs a little gentrification of the neighborhood to get a decent chai tea latte. That green Starbucks sign is a beacon that leads me to someone who speaks English and can provide me with directions around town and to a non-scary restroom. Honorable Mention goes to Peet's Coffee & Tea, which has fantastic coffee but only has store locations in the USA.

Speaking of Starbucks, there is one around the corner from my apartment. I know I probably shouldn't, what with Paris being a café culture, but I think I will. Mmmm.... coffee.
In Prague. This had to happen.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Jubilant Diamond Jubilee

London is sooo into me.

Every time I visit, Londoners unravel their strings of flags and roll out red carpets. Last year, they had a big wedding while I was there, and this year, they gave a 21-gun salute and went all out with a boat parade. Oh, and the queen had her Diamond Jubilee. 60 years of showing up on coins, waving and dressing in monochromatics. Good job, your majesty.

My timing is impeccable, if I do say so myself.

A few highlights of the Queen's big weekend... 
Waiting for the parade.
Looking for a throne in Victoria Station.
Ran into these black beauties.
The biggest collection of nutcrackers I've ever seen.
She looks good in red.
Just as well that the UK didn't win Eurovision this year. First, Engelbert Humperdinck is a tough sell. Second, with the Diamond Jubilee AND the Olympics, London is having a costly year. No need to host another shindig. Dig?
But offloading royal paraphernalia might help.
"Hey Janice! Didn't I see you here last year?"
Flags ahoy representin' too. 
I thought about picking up my copy but I had packed one book bag for 5 days away, which required precision packing. I would have had to hold it under my arm for a week. Still, I was tempted.
The celebratory biscuit collection was consumed onsite. Yum.
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