Exams are done and I don’t have to deal with the French education system anymore! Woohoo! However, as good as it feels to be finally done with school for the year, it also means I’m done here.
So many goodbyes to be said. So many said already.
But in the meantime I’m running like a crazed chicken trying to do EVERYTHING before it’s all over. Including shutting down my bank account, which will be interesting. Oh the glories of French bureaucracy. You might be the one thing in this country I most definitely will NOT miss.
Having my parents and brother to visit me here was incredible. Tired as I was afterwords, it was well worth every second. The trips we did were fun, but honestly. It was good just to be together as a family and to show them where I’m living. Because, as I said before, this is really where I am living.
I got to introduce them to real hot chocolate. Which is basically like drinking hot pudding and is generally the most delicious thing ever.
I also went with them here. To Cassis.
Yeah. If you haven’t gone. Put that one on your list. Or at least some Calanques somewhere.
Oh. And Montagne Sainte-Victoire. Because it’s one of the most amazing and stunning and arresting and generally awesome views I’ve ever seen.
Paris round two was strange, frightening and just generally really nice haha. To preface, I went three days after returning from Italy, my bank card was expired, communication overseas was, well, almost non-existent and I was alone (more or less). But it was something I needed to do. And something that was beautiful to explore for just one more time. And it was well worth it.
The City of Light (La Ville Lumière) did not disappoint. I’m not sure why I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) sparkle before this trip, but I don’t think it would ever get old. Ever. All of a sudden I feel like I’m five again. And there’s some magic in that.
To explore the City of Love, journey with me to four wonderful experiences.
1) Shakespeare and Co. Why? Because I love books and English and reading and writing more than most things in this world. This is my kid in a candy shop scenario. And I spent almost two hours in this small little shop, wishing I had the money to buy, well, anything.
2) Notre Dame
Now, I’ve actually been to Notre Dame de Paris before. HOWEVER, I’m telling you right now, you have not been to Notre Dame cathedral unless you’ve been inside while there is a mass going on. Because it fundamentally changes the energy of the whole place. It feels warm and powerful. There is that sharp, yet soothing smell of incense mixed with voices rebounding perfectly off stone walls hundreds of years old. It is no longer the austere, cold, grand cathedral I knew beforehand. It becomes a true place of worship so much greater than the awe of its size.
3) The Louvre Museum
And specifically, my favorite sculpture of all time. Cupid and Psyche. I sat here and just wrote some poetry. Because what else do you do when faced with beautiful things at every turn?
4)”Les Mille et Une Orchidées” (The Thousand and One Orchids)
This was an orchid expo in the Jardin Des Plantes close to the Panthéon (which is coming up soon). Let me say two things about it. A) I never realized there was such a variety of orchids and B) it was probably the most beautiful, most wonderful smelling building I have ever set foot inside. Ever.
And now, the City of the Dead.
1) Père Lachaise Cemetary
I actually got kicked out of here before I could thoroughly explore the cemetery (which is a laughable statement because the thing is completely gigantic). However, I did find Oscar Wilde’s tomb. And boy, it’s the most…extravagant one I saw.
2) The Panthéon
This thing used to be a church until the secularists took it over and made it into a shrine for the revolution. But really. The sign below reads “Live Free or Die.”
However, cool as that may be (and a little strange in my opinion, but whatever), the coolest bit is the tombs under it in which are buried Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie and Pierre Curie, Louis Braille (inventor of Braille) and many others. Basically, it’s a history/literature kids dreamscape.
3) The Catacombs
Possibly one of the least-known cool things in Paris, the Catacombs are way more than just a bunch of bones or tombs. It is at once a place to learn about and experience history, a work of art and, yes, there are the bones of about 6 million ancient Parisians in there too.
The Catacombs of Paris are an ossuary (bone storage place) with the bones of some 6 million people in them. However, before that they were limestone mines. In fact, the mines stretched under Paris, following good veins of limestone for the construction of the city above it (most of the stone used in old French buildings is limestone). That all worked out great until the city literally started caving in and the King sent a commission down to shore up the mines.
This of course created an large space under the city that was “stable” and unused. So what would anyone do in that situation? Right! Take the bones out of the dumping pits around the city, dump them in the mines and then continue to expand the city with the now-available real estate!
And it gets better! Soon after they moved the bones, some people had the bright idea to stack them up and make the whole thing a tourist attraction. Yay capitalism!
Paris. A city of beauty and of the not-so-pretty. A city of day and night, light and dark. But I think most interestingly, a city of history.
Yep. About a month later I’ve got my grades back. Somehow I managed to pull a 14/20 in History and, rather magically, pulled a 12.5/20 in my sociology class. You know. The one where I went to Marseille and did interviews with residents, then typed up the transcripts for said interviews, then sorted and analyzed them. And then complied it all into a document that was 51 pages long. Did we do well? Well considering the fact that the two Americans in that class got in the top three grades for that “dossier,” I’d say we did pretty well!
I also got a 6/20 in cognitive psychology. That is not good. However, this is going to give me a perfect opportunity to explain what the French grading system is like.
14=A at my home university. Granted I think they give us a bit of lee-way with the fact that we’re, you know, learning in French. BUT, you should also realize that the French grade more or less on an actual bell-curve.
12.5 shifts up to 13, A- and finally. The 6. 6/20 is a 30%. And it’s also a C. Yep. Welcome to my academic life.
In other news, the rest of trip planning begins. Calander to come soon. I will show you the insanity. haha
So. Lyon. The post I’ve promised for a month now. Well. THE WAIT IS OVER. Here we go. (If any of you aren’t interested in the story and just want to know about how awesome the light festival was, go here).
So. Took the TGV (high speed train) to Lyon with two friends. Worked out surprisingly well. I was a little stressed ‘cause I was helping out my dad with some editing and I had a ton of homework to do on top of it (specifically that would be two 6 page research papers, and yes they were in French. New definitions of homework sucks). However, I managed to get all that done pretty quickly and we were on our way.
We did a bit of touring of the city, including the Christmas market, and I must say it was pretty grand. Not my favorite of the French cities, but it’s definitely cool. Sorry Lyon. You’re up against Strasbourg and Paris.
Of all the places we visited pre-light festival, my favorite would have to be the Basilica of Saint Jean (Le Basilique de Saint Jean). It’s just an impressive building. It had me awed enough to light a candle, which is actually a pretty impressive feat. I love candles, but not for 2 or 3 euro and I just leave them. But this place awed me enough and there’s definitely something to be said about that. Plus, some cool guys who I’m guessing were helping the church talked to us, which maybe seems pretty normal now that I think about it, but you have to remember that most of the French people I talk to are either non-practicing Catholics or just straight atheists so it was an interesting (and refreshing) change.
Then our real adventure began. We started at the Saint Jean Cathedral and had our minds blown by one of the most impressive feats of light projection technology I have ever seen ever.
Then came a night filled with hot wine (everywhere. Thank God. It was 0°C at most I think and silly me thought “oh. I don’t need a winter coat, I’ll be in Aix on the Mediteranean where it doesn’t get cold.” TRAVEL NATHAN. You travel. To places like Paris and Lyon which are considerably farther north. Dur*.), Nutella crêpes (that would be ker-eps. Not kr-apes which sound like some kind of genetically engineered primate), and lots and lots of lights.
We saw a three-sided, live-action dance routine at the Hôtel de Ville, two silly eskimos bouncing on windowsills, magic boxes powered by people riding bicycles, lasers that looked like sea waves, modern artwork spread across the buildings on the bank of the Rhône, a parade of animals and probably more that I forgot while worrying about how freaking cold I was.
Yet despite the cold and stress, I’m incredibly glad I went. I’ve never seen anything like it and I doubt I will again. If you ever get the chance and it’s not outrageously expensive, do it. It’s a city of art, good food, hot wine and not a small level of magic.
*I have since taken care of this problem with a rather impressive Kenneth Cole Peacoat. And I only mention Mr. Cole because all of a sudden he seems to have become the main supplier of my fashion accessories. I’m up to the coat, a messenger bag, two cardigans, a jacket and possibly something else I’ve forgotten. Yeah. I know.
You know, just the other night I was with a group of French when I saw another American studying in Aix that I know passing by, and we waved and said “hi” and she continued on her way. Very normal for us Americans, that’s just how it goes. But the French people were all confused. They were like, “Americans are so distant. It’s weird.” Because they stop, “bisent” (cheek kisses) and chat for a bit. And it made me think for a minute.
Because, in a sense they have a point. I mean, I find the French colder than Americans, but they do have a good point in that we engage in that very superficial kind of greeting very often.
But here’s a secret about me: Even if I just wave and say hello to my friends. I would hardly hesitate to do anything for them. It doesn’t matter what they need, what they have done, or even how they have treated me. I might be individual in that. But I actually do believe in love. In honesty. In helping other people. In forgiveness. And maybe that causes me pain sometimes, but that is when I turn to friends who will do the same for me. For those I count my friends, and they are many, I will say that I will always love them and listen to them.
But distant. No. Perhaps in the sense that we are far, that we don’t just engage in familiar conversation. But when I say “hello, how are you?” It’s an invitation. And that’s where us Americans get the completely opposite stereotype of being welcoming as well. Because, well. We are.