C’est la vie!

by Zoe Hamilton

This week was my week to be in Paris sans homework, sans stress. And it was wonderful. I spent most of my time visiting museums, meeting friends for coffee, going to the market and hanging out at home.

The art highlight of the week was Gustave Moreau. I have absolutely fallen in love with his paintings. Stéphane recommended it because it is the art museum where Olivier’s mother was born. Literally, she was born inside the museum because her father was the curator. Never having seen Moreau’s work before I was also curious. All I knew was what Stéphane had told me: that he was a professor at Beaux Arts and had taught countless later famous artists like Matisse. So one day this week my friend Madison and I went up to the 9th to check it out. It was incredible. The entire downstairs is his apartment where he grew up which was cool to see. You could read about his early life and see the bedrooms. But my favorite part by far was the upstairs. His studio was where the bulk of his paintings and a few sculptures were displayed. The room was massive with high ceilings and practically empty of tourists (a real rarity in Paris). The paintings were huge and interesting. The giant canvasses covered the walls. It is hard to describe the paintings so I will just show you a few. I was mesmerized. In the middle of the studio there was a giant wooden spiral staircase that led upstairs. All along the sides art students sat sketching.

After we spent a fair amount of time wandering from painting to painting, and room to room, we left for a café. It was my first time in the 9th and I really enjoyed the small streets. We found a corner café off Notre Dame des Lorettes to have a noisette and watch the world go by. Madison had to leave to go somewhere but I decided that as long as I was in the area I might as well go to the “la vie romantique” museum. It was a bit depressing going in by myself (“vous êtes toute seule mademoiselle?”) but oh well. I’m going to try to make it a habit to go to the Louvre as much as possible this semester. It’s free and I have one of the museums the most famous for its art literally steps away from where I go to school. Anyway I did not care for this museum at all. Even the subjects of the paintings themselves looked bored to be there. I think it was much less exciting compared to the more colorful and lively works of Moreau.

The two other museums I hit this week were D’Orsay and a Sempé exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville. The Impressionists at Orsay were impressive of course. Who doesn’t love a bit of Van Gogh before lunch? (Sorry for sounding so pretentious, it just kind of rubs off on you here). And I love the view of Montmartre through the giant clock. Gotta love this city.

And Sempé was cute. Le Petit Nicholas being one the first books I ever read in French it was cool to see his other work and how many covers of the New Yorker he has graced. Both made for fun cultural outings. After Sempé we went to the Swedish cultural center for lunch (I never thought of Sweden of being known for it’s food but my apple tart was delicious!).

Another highlight was a bit of a dream of mine. I got to ride on the back of a French boy’s scooter. So it may have been Alice’s boyfriend and it may just have been a few blocks to a lunch place where we met Alice but even so I felt like a real French girl for those glorious few blocks. Alice says I just need heels and a cigarette and then I will be legit. But for now I still hate high heels and am fond of my lungs so I will remain ½ French. It’s will have to suffice.

One way in which I am attempting to up my French points is by doing more shopping at farmers markets and less at the super markets. After visiting the market on Boulevard Raspail when dad was visiting I’ve been back only once. So this semester I am going to try every Sunday to go by vegetables, fruit and cheese there every Sunday (it’s bio!). So far it has been successful. I bought a bag of English muffins from the American stand for breakfast along with tons of clementines and a few cheeses. I also got the makings for a mean niçoise salad, which I made several times this past week. This morning I went to the Marché des Enfants Rouges (Market of the Red Children) with Olivia, Arnaud and Stéphane, which was very fun. I bought some fruits and vegetables for the week while Olivia and Arnaud (Olivias gay best friend) complained about how their market had gotten a little “Bo-bo” which means Bourgeois-Bohemian (equivalent of a hipster essentially). After we had lunch at a great Thai place where we sat for hours having many espressos and discussing travel and theatre. Arnaud and Olivia are going to take me to a play soon which I am very excited for! I got in trouble at lunch though because I had a soup as a main course instead of as a starter, I didn’t have a desert and I only had one espresso afterwards (not the Parisian way on all counts). Minus some French points there.

Last night with this same group we had a galette de rois which is for the epiphany. We are a bit late but these cakes are still all over in the bakeries. And the one we had was absolutely delicious! The outside is flakey and buttery while the inside is filled with a almond paste (way better than it sounds). Anyway inside there is traditionally a bean (nowadays it’s usually a little figurine) and whoever finds it is the king. I have a strange tendency of finding the fêve and it happened again this year. The fêve was a little golden turtle.

The final activity that has taken up the bulk of this week was going out for drinks with friends. I will note two occasions in particular that were memorable. The first bar I went to was with a few friends from school. We went to a bar called Chez Georges. It is near school and I hear it is where Sciences Po students hang out. I had been there once before but it was late in the night and we didn’t stay long. Chez Georges is the kind of place you could be a regular at. It is the kind of place that has a friendly bartender upstairs (Hugo) with a small restaurant and downstairs there is a cave where Edith Piaf plays late into the night. It is the kind of place you drink wine and dance with French boys and discuss politics with retired professors at the bar and the bartender likes you so much he starts giving you and your friends free glasses of wine. It’s the kind of place I’m going to be going back to.

The next night I went out with my ‘buddy’ that Sciences Po set me up with in the beginning of the year. He offered to take me out with his friends, which I thought would be a good opportunity to speak French and integrate more with the French students at my school. Plus speaking French is always easier after a glass of wine or two. So I went and spoke loads of French and drank quite a bit of wine (but only to improve my French). So much so that when it was time to head home and I realized the metro was long closed I was actually able to be convinced that velib’ing was a good idea. Velibs are the bike system here in Paris. For 1 euro 70 you can rent a bike and ride it wherever you want as long as you drop it at another station. Now people have been trying to convince me to try this since I arrived in Paris. It’s often faster than the metro, you get to actually see Paris and it’s fun. Or that’s what I was told. I have avoided it for so long because I am afraid of being hit by the insane drivers that inhabit this city as well as my tendencies to wear skirts here. But this night I was wearing pants and it was such an obscene hour of the night that the streets were quite literally empty. So I was convinced (who wants to pay for a cab?). I forgot about those things called hills. Those suck on a bike. Also, I do not advise anyone to bike after wine. Not that I was drunk (never happens), I was just a little tired. Anyway the curb got in my way several times and I did not look nearly as graceful as the other French girls who seem to pull off the bike thing with such grace and ease. But I have now velib’ed. It was probably the only time I will ever velib but it was an experience worth having (especially being surrounded by French boys singing at the top of their lungs a very nearly incomprehensible song).

One final note about that night was that I learned some French slang. Which brings us, ladies and gentlemen, to the word of the day: meuf. It means girl but in the “verlin” language the young people use. It was invented in the banlieues with heavy political implications but now is  seldom used. The basic concept is you flip the sounds of the word. Meuf is femme switched around and verlin is linvers (inverse). I understand practically none of it. Classes start on Monday! I would say I was excited for my new classes but I had such a great time living in this city without classes this week I kind of wish I could remain like this. Visiting museums by day and dancing by night. C’est la vie. Bisous.