where we've been and where we're going

Monday, June 30, 2008

St. Sulpice and Shopping

On Monday, on the way to school, I stopped by a church I walk past every day: L'Eglise Saint Sulpice. It's a beautiful, very old church, and it's supposedly the largest in Paris, even larger than Notre Dame. It was made famous by Dan Brown's horrible book and consequent movie, the DaVinci Code. It houses the rose line, or the marker for the original Prime Meridian, under which Silas tries to find the Holy Grail. The Rose Line itself is quite cool: a gold line crossing the church from north to south. What is also cool about the church is it's stunning design which allows it to be brightly lit by sunlight, no matter where the sun is in the sky. It also is ringed with chapels all the way around the church, each with it's own saint and sometimes two, so you might ask for the intercession of the one closest to your needs. My favorite with the Saint Louis chapel, which has a stained glass window of King Louis IX, the patron of Saint Louis, and a statue of St. Therese of the Little Flower, the saint of the church in which I was married. It was a chapel designed for me. Lovely.

On Wednesday the sales began! Paris goes on sale during the month of July, and EVERY store goes on sale, from Louis Vuitton to H&M to Cartier to Claire's. Its quite remarkable. Given the poor exchange between dollar and euro, the sale price doesn't really save me much money, so I didn't buy much, but it is still cheaper than it was without the sale...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Markets and Music

On Friday morning, in the tradition of my family, I went to the flea market, the Marche d'Aligre. Really, the market is mostly food, and food of all shapes, sizes and colors. Beautiful purple (!) tomatoes and fruits I've never seen or heard of before. It's really quite remarkable a market, and very very cheap. If only I had a proper kitchen here....the market also has a flea market, with old books, magazines, clothing, dishes, and the various trinkets one would normally find at a flea market anywhere, except in French. It was fun, though I didn't bring anything home with me. I might try a more reknowned market before I leave...we'll see.

Friday afternoon we had a meeting at the French Senat, which would have probably been cool, but they didn't have enough headsets. Being unimportant that I understand, I let the students take headsets before me, so I relied only on my French skills to listen, so the lecture and the tour were less than compelling to me. I'm glad we did it last year too, so I had an idea what the tour was about.

After the visit, we ate dinner on the Rue de Mouffetard, which also has a fun market and is filled with people. It's a great place to eat and go out, since it's cheap! Post-dinner, most of us went to a bar near our apts, Wide Open Spaces, to watch the Turkey-Croatia game (what a great game!!) and then a few of us went bar-hopping at St-Michel. Being broke, I walked back a little earlier than the others. Ah well.

Saturday was the Fete de la Musique! Paris suspends its noise laws and runs the metros all night, and there's music on every corner, bar, restaurant, square, monument, bridge, etc. It's really quite remarkable. People also get extremely drunk. It's a fantastic time to be in Paris. We saw a jazz band on guitars and saw a guy tap dance! I love this city. It just comes alive, all the time.

Sunday a student and I went to the Opera Bastille to see Don Carlo, by Verdi. The building was so beautiful! I was quite impressed even before it began, but the opera was magnificent. The conductor was so vivid and expressive and specific in his gestures, the artists were so talented, the staging was so inventive and minimalist...it was wonderful. Ah, the arts.

Monday, June 23, 2008


We took the students on a day trip to Normandy on Thursday. It was a very long day, but it was so filled with information and fantastic site visits that it was well worth the fatigue. We began the day at the cemetery for German soldiers. There are twice as many soldiers buried here as in the American cemetery, but you wouldn't guess it, since the grave markers are very minimalist and settled into the ground, with two names on each marker. It's very solemn and peaceful there, but with a dark edge. It's sometimes difficult to remember, with my American public education, that the Germans weren't just Nazis...they were also scared, 18-year-old soldiers, just like our men were.

We traveled to Saint-Mere-Eglise, which is where the Allies dropped paratroopers (think Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan) the night before the invasion, drawing Germans away from the beaches but also creating chaos with missed drops. You can still see bullet holes in the walls of the buildings there. There's also an airborne museum there, with lots of remnants from the D-Day invasions. (I also had a sausage on a baguette at the local market. It was delicious. I'm quickly getting very tired of eating so many sandwiches...)

We ate lunch at Utah beach, one of two American landing sites during the D-Day invasions. There were few casualties there, because the dunes are low and the beach is short, allowing soldiers to reach safety and overtake the beach easily. Omaha (which we also visited, but my camera batteries were dead) was a very different story, as anyone who has seen a D-Day movie knows. 800 dead, 3000 casualties on Omaha, since high cliffs allowed the Germans easy protection of the beach, making the invading Americans easy targets. It was very hallowing to be on that beach. We followed Omaha with a visit to the American cemetery, which looks much like any other US military cemetery (Arlington), with pristine white crosses and beautiful landscaping. The cemetery overlooks the Omaha beach, which seems quite fitting. We saw Teddy Roosevelt Jr.'s grave marker, as well as the Niland brothers, which inspired the Saving Private Ryan movie. The visitor center had a really wonderful display which gave you some insight into how some of the soldiers died, earning medals, etc. It was really something.

We also visited Pointe du Hoc, which was a cliff point of invasion. Rangers had to scale 100 foot cliffs to take the German guns, which otherwise would have made the invasion of both American beaches impossible. Air bombing left many bomb craters which are still there today. The photo is me in a bomb crater. Amazing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The city of light and perfume

On Friday, I went to the Musee Guimet, which is the museum for Asian art here in Paris. I was surprised by how large it was! It was a wonderful collection, particularly of sculpture and objects, from all over Asia, including even Central Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.). I really enjoyed it, though I moved fairly quickly through it. It became kind of overwhelming, but it was all very beautiful. One of my favorites was the golden statue of Shiva in the photo, with hundreds of hands.

That evening, a group of students and I attempted to visit the Musee de L'Orangerie, thinking it would be free for the young'uns after 6, but we found it to be closed. So we just wandered for a while, finally landing in the Saint-Michel area, which is a very busy and vibrant area of the city, filled with students and tourists. We ate at a forgettable but fulfilling restaurant with a 12 euro menu of very French, but not great, food. We then wandered until we found a bar that could accommodate us to watch the Holland/France match....everywhere was full of shouting French people. We did find a place, though, and enjoyed the thrill of European football with the locals. We ultimately returned to my favorite jazz place again, this time not for the music but the very delicious and best-bang-for-your-euro drinks there.

Unfortunately, the late night combined with alcohol made it more difficult for me to find travel partners for Saturday, when A, K and I took a day trip to Chartres. The Notre Dame cathedral there is a UNESCO world heritage site, and for good reason. However, we arrived at an awkward time. I think if I'd been alone I'd have gone into more museums, but instead we just took a lovely, tourist-free, self-guided walking tour of the medieval city, which sits along a river. The whole city closes between 12 and 2, except restaurants, which don't open until 12. It makes touristing a little awkward unless you plan better than we did. We did wander a lot, and the city is really peaceful and quaint, even on a Saturday when you might expect tourists to overwhelm you. We ate really delicious crepes for a great price at Creperie les Trois Lys (I seriously have the best guidebook ever), and then wandered some more, to increasing frustration and doubt that the trip was worth it.

However, we finally went to the cathedral, which made it clear it was worth it to come there. It's just stunning, from the Gothic architecture to the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the world to the stone retelling of the Bible that surrounds the alter. Incredible. We took the much acclaimed English tour from Malcolm Miller, a British Gothic architecture scholar who told what seemed like a million stories and facts about the place...and we only saw three windows and a door! Apparently every tour is different...next time I'll take both tours he offers in a day to learn even more. It made the place really vibrant and alive with history and spiritual meaning. It was fascinating and wonderful.

And exhausting. I stayed in last night and crashed before my movie was half finished. Phew.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


On Wednesday, we (the director, the other American prof, the Parisian program assistant, and myself---the American program assistant) took the students for a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We acquired some really delicious sandwiches and pastries from the Boulangerie Pain d' Epis (a google search yields several hits listing it among the best bakeries (boulangeries) in Paris---including CNN's list). Dir. brought some top notch cheeses to eat with our baguettes, and wines for the students to try. We lazed under the Eiffel Tower with fantastic food (especially the millefeuille--perhaps my favorite type of pastry in the pastry universe--and the pear chocolate tart, apparently the boulangerie's specialite). The students then went up into the Tower while F and I talked for a long time on the grass while the sun set behind it. It's one of my very favorite things to do in Paris. I'll do it with D when he gets here.

On Thursday, a wonderful friend of mine from my year abroad in Geneva came to Paris for a very short three hours. We filled those three hours, though, and went shopping along the Ile-Saint-Louis in the boutiques, and we just talked the whole time. Lots of catching up to do. We had lunch at Le Grenier de Notre Dame, recommended by many vegetarian and vegan travelers (J is one, and I'm doing some scoping for future guests). It was delicious! I haven't had a good meal in Paris, really, yet, other than those sandwiches from Wed, since I'm saving money, but it was really hearty and yummy. And the restaurant itself is just delightful, with tasteful, rather than touristy, French jazz playing in the background. I'll return there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


So, as a refresher, my apt is on the sixth floor of this building. While it makes getting to my room a pain, being in my room is wonderful. When I look out of my window, I see rooftops of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower. Tonight, when the sun was finally setting around 10pm, behind the Eiffel Tower, which was glittering with lights, with a cool breeze drifting into my room, I listened to an entire opera being performed in the Luxembourg Gardens, which is a mere block from my apartment. An opera. Live. Only Paris could be this perfect.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Une premiere mondiale

I went seule to L'Opera Garnier tonight. I went last year with a student to an opera that was enjoyable, but not memorable. The experience of being in that place was what was memorable.

I got a ticket in the 8th row for only 15 euros because I'm younger than 28. The opera was the world premiere of Melancholy, by Georg Friedrich Haas, who is about my parents' age. It was very very dark, with the set and cast all in black and only the two lead roles wearing all white. A very dramatic staging, with extremely slow movement at the center of character and in the blocking of stage movement. The music was all dissonance, with an atonal chorus describing the action and screeching string sections. It was very intense. And amazing.

At the end, the cast came out for a raucous curtain call. The conductor came on stage, and the composer himself. It was really impressive. Even the orchestra left the pit to take a curtain call. Incredible. I'm so glad I went.

(And it was great French practice. The opera was in German, but the projected translation was in French. I was totally impressed with myself. I understood the whole thing...almost every line.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Le Musee de Moyen-Ages

Yesterday I intended to take students to Chartres, a medieval town near Paris, on a day trip. The weather looked nasty, though, and we got a late start, so I talked them out of it and stayed in Paris. The weather, of course, never turned bad, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Instead, I went to the Middle Ages Museum, or the Hotel Cluny. The hotel was built in the middle ages as an abbey of sorts, over the ancient ruins of Roman baths. It houses a really large collection of art, sculpture, metalworks, and tapestries from the Middle Ages. The centerpiece of the collection is the famous set of six tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn. The series of tapestries depicts the five senses, and then the lady refusing to give into the temptations these senses create. They really are quite cool. At the end of the tour were these choir stools in the photo. They certainly look horribly uncomfortable, as a choir member myself. I'm glad we've progressed to posture chairs.

After an afternoon of grocery shopping, baguette hunting, napping, and some academic work, I went out to my favorite gelati shoppe, Amorino. Mmm. Then I came back once more, only to go out for jazz at Le Caveau des Oubliettes, my favorite jazz club in Paris. I've talked about it before. It really is fabulous, and I read a review somewhere that described it as becoming known for the cutting edge of jazz. Last night we heard some quartet. I wish I could tell you who it was, because they were fantastic, but the website isn't helpful.

Today I woke up and attended the Gregorian chant mass at Notre Dame. I'm so glad I did, though it was hard to wake up. Even though it's difficult to understand the French mass, the symbolism is all understandable to me. The chant is just gorgeous, and I had a chance to practice a wild different way of doing shape notes. And of course Notre Dame doesn't hire just any slacker on the organ, so that was really incredible as well.

In the afternoon, we headed to Versailles, just like last year on the first weekend. On Sundays the fountains are on, and they just explode with the extravagance of the place. This year I walked around the town with David to find us a place to eat, so I missed out on the palace, but the grounds were as beautiful as ever.

And I'm pooped.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Liza Dolittle's Hot Chocolate

I had to take a taxi, which I hate, to move luggage from our hotel to our new place of residence, but it gave me a chance to practice my French with a very nice Moroccan taxi driver. It made the whole experience less harrowing. He is undecided whether he prefers Obama or McCain, but he doesn't like Hilary. And he doesn't like Casablanca, which I'll take under advisement when planning or trip to Morocco.

After hours of dealing with luggage and then getting to our interim hotel, I was exhausted. It was a really nice hotel in the very south of the city limits of Paris, so I literally spent all day in the hotel, venturing out only to get food to go. I did accomplish things to do off of my academic list, after an extensive nap, so it was a good day.

Yesterday we spent most of the morning and early afternoon moving from the interim hotel to the dorms. I certainly hope we/they don't have to deal with this mess next year. But we're in now, in our homes for the rest of the stay in Paris. Let me stress that I am very glad to be married, 26, and no longer living in dorms or crappy apartments. I woke up like 6 times last night, either because of the noise through the very thin European walls or because my whole body ached from the horrible thin mattress and too firm thick pillow. Ick. And then the dirty communal bathrooms...ugh.

But I do live on the sixth floor, and my window has a balcony which overlooks the Eiffel Tower. Last night it was alight over the rooftops, and it sparkled on the hour. I must say it made the whole deal better.

Several students and I went in the late afternoon to Angelina, the teahouse/cafe that Audrey Hepburn claimed as her favorite. Anything that is good enough for Holly Golightly is certainly not too good for me. The specialty of the house are the Chocolat Africain, which is this wonderful, creamy, rich hot chocolate that feels like drinking pure, melted Godiva. It was glorious. There's also a wide variety of delicious pastries. The specialty is the Mont Blanc, a filled meringue with chestnut creme topping (pictured). While some tried it, this (the chestnut part) did not appeal to me. After being out of my first choice, the millefeuille with vanilla bourbon filling, I settled on homemade, delicious, ice cream.

The cafe was built in 1903, and most of the place, including some tables, is original. It's really posh and lovely. It was great.

After that, we walked through the Jardins des Tuileries to reach the Louvre, which is free to those under 26 on Friday evenings. Unfortunately, not being UNDER 26, I didn't enter with the students and instead walked along the gardens, through the Place de la Concorde, and along the Champs Elysees. I shopped a little, not buying anything, and returned to the gardens to meet the students only to be hit on by an older Frenchman. But it was a lovely evening all the same.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The not-so-great view from the Seine

Yesterday, I just worked. It was not exciting or glamorous, but it was productive, which is something I need to occur regularly during this trip. I got a pizza a emporter from an Italian place around the corner and worked. It was nice.

Today I worked again during the day, and this evening we had a group outing. We visited a creperie on a cute little street which happens to have, like, four creperies. This one was quite good, though, in my experience. Not, say, outstanding, like the one near the cathedral in Geneva, or great atmosphere, like the one in the 14eme arrondisement, but quite good and recommendable all the same. It was called La Creperie des Canettes. A wide variety of crepes. I had a Savoyard, which would have made the Genevois jealous, and la Capitaine, which was flambee. Very exciting.

Then we walked to Pont Neuf to take a cruise of the Seine at dusk. It was not as lovely as last year, since we were on a boat with a ceiling, making it difficult to see the sights. We had a commentator whose English was heavily accented, making it very difficult to understand her. And we were mooned. Yikes. Luck of the draw, though. This is the same company as last year, and last year's was tres magnifique.

Tomorrow we move to a new hotel due to an organization problem, before finally moving to the dorms on Friday, where we'll remain for the rest of the time in Paris. It's going to rain, and I plan on working all day, with a dinner stop for French Onion soup near where I lived last year, since the hotel is near there. Mmmm.

Monday, June 2, 2008


I'm spending the summer in Europe once again this year, and after moving with D into a new home in Atlanta, I headed off to Paris the next day. My flight was the most pleasant international flight experience I've ever had...perhaps the mediocre movie selection helped facilitate easy sleep. At any rate, my good luck with flights turned into bad luck for shuttles. I took a shuttle from the airport to Paris during morning rush hour, and a normally 45 minute drive took almost 3 hours. Ugh. C'est la vie.

After I arrived at the hotel (which is fine, but not worth discussing), I dropped my bags and headed out to try and catch up with the students and profs, who were beginning orientation without me. More travel. Lunch. Walk to center, walk to class, walk to center, walk to class, walk to Luxembourg Gardens, walk to center, walk to metro.

Some of the students and I then walked (again) to L'As du Falafel. Apparently, Lenny Kravitz pegged its falafel as the best in the world. I must say, it was pretty delicious, though it was the sauces that made it outstanding. Don't get me wrong--the falafel was delicious and better than any I've had--but the hot sauces put it in the realm of rockin'.

I'm exhausted. Good night.