“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.”
- John Hope Franklin

Friday, December 23, 2011

Last Week In Paris

Eric, Reid, Craig, Kasey & I at the Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysees
My last week in Paris was very busy! I had exams, oral exposés (presentations), and final papers due all week, but of course that didn't stop me from finding time to have a little fun!

A delicious religieuse from Thevenin
Since I spent so much time going back and forth to school, I passed one of my favorite bakeries every time I came up out of the metro, so I just had to stop and pick up a religieuse (French for 'nun'). It's a big creme puff dipped in chocolate, topped with a slice of dark chocolate and a chocolate macaron on top - at 3,50 euro a pop (almost $5!), it was definitely a treat! And oh so délicieuse

Ad in the metro - so excited to have a ticket for the sold-out show!
One of my favorite French-language singers happened to have a concert in Paris at Le Bataclan, one of the city's famous theaters, and my roommate Eric & I had bought our tickets way back in September, so we were very excited to finally get to go! Béatrice Martin, stage name Coeur de Pirate (Heart of a Pirate), is from Quebec and relatively unknown in the US (except to my nerdy francophone friends and I!) but very popular in France - this concert was actually sold-out! She sings a mixture of pop-folk music and plays the piano like a pro! The concert was amazing and since the venue was very small, we were able to stand 6 feet from the stage during the whole concert - what a treat!
Coeur de Pirate!
Picking up some last-minute souvenirs/Christmas presents for my friends & family back at home, I did lots of walking around the city and got to appreciate it all decorated for Christmas. I went to the St-Michel district quite often to get lunch that week and as it is super-touristy (a.k.a. somewhere I usually try to avoid during midday), it was a good spot to do some shopping and sight-seeing as I passed by Notre-Dame on my way there. 
Notre-Dame all decked out for Christmas by day...
...and by night!
Of course, to get in the festive spirit (since it doesn't really feel like Christmas as no one celebrates Thanksgiving in France, and that's usually the official start of the holiday season...) my friends and I made our way over to the marché de Noel (Christmas market) on the Champs-Elysees to shop, snack, and have some more hot wine while we still had the chance!

Eric, Kasey & Craig strolling through the Christmas Market
This area of the city is really lit up for Christmas, and it's very pretty to walk through at night to see all the twinkling displays! 

So many Christmas lights!
I managed to find myself a unique souvenir of Paris as well during one of my study breaks that week - a new tattoo! I got a fleur-de-lys, the emblem of France, on the inside of my left ankle. I can't help but smile and think of my amazing time spent in France every time I look at it!  

My permanent souvenir!
I made one last trip to the Musée d'Orsay, where my Impressionist art history class met throughout the semester, to take my own time to browse around outside of our structured class visits. The museum used to be a train station but quickly became outdated as trains got longer and were to big to be accommodated here.  Certain original parts of the station remain, like its big clock below which looks out across the Seine and onto the Tuileries and Louvre - what a view! 
Musée d'Orsay's famous clock window
Looking out over Musee d'Orsay's main gallery
Also on my Paris Bucket List of things to accomplish before leaving was a trip to the Catacombs. Following rampant outbreaks of disease in the city, due to poorly-manged and overfilled cemeteries in the center of the city, the tunnels of the city's underground quarry (its stone was used to build many of Paris' famous buildings) were converted into an ossuary which contains the remains of about 6 million people. Cemeteries were systematically emptied during the night and the bones were transported by priests who ceremoniously arranged them far below ground where they were no longer posing a health risk to the public. 

Carvings in the walls deep inside the Catacombs
You walk for a long time through old tunnels containing various sculptures like the one above, which was carved in the 1790's, before arriving at the official start to the bone depository:
"Stop! This is the Empire of Death"
The bones are arranged in intricate patterns, and although it is a little creepy, it's really amazing to imagine how long it all must have taken to put together. The ceilings in there are low, water drips from the ceiling in some spots, and it's totally silent save for visitors' crackling steps through the gravel paths.

"Bones from the Cimetière des Innocents (cemetery), placed here July 2nd, 1809"
One of the many cylinders made of bones!
On a happier, less-morbid note, my host family put up their Christmas tree! It was much smaller than the standard American tree, but serves the same purpose and was just as nicely decorated as the one at my home!
Our baby "sapin de Noel" (Christmas tree) 
My host parents cooked me a big "going away" feast during the week as well! We shared many laughs and memories as we spent hours enjoying our fondue dinner and a couple bottles of wine. When we finally noticed that it was 1:15 am, we decided it was probably time to go to bed! The next night, Eric & I prepared an American-style dinner for our family - yum!

My host parents, Béatrix & Quentin

Of course, we had to go out one last time to say 'adieu' to one of our favorite bars in the Bastille neighborhood - Bastille Pub. Their happy hour went until 1am, so needless to say we could nearly be called regulars!

Last night out at Bastille Pub!
Before we all left the states to come to France, we listened to a speaker from our program at a last-minute meeting who was telling us all about how we'd make some of our best friends on this trip. Considering we'd only be together for 4 months, I didn't actually believe that I'd make some closer friends abroad than I had throughout my 4 years in Providence. But I have to say he was totally right. We all chose the Sweet Briar program because we're passionate about the French language and all things French, all come from competitive schools and because we wanted the challenging but rewarding full-immersion experience, and consequently a bunch of us suddenly had lots in common. While it was really hard to say good-bye, I'm confident that it was more of an a bientôt (see you soon) than an au revoir (good-bye). Most of my close friends live along the east coast, and we're already planning to see each other over the summer! 

Maddy, Nicole, Lauren & Kaitlin at Bastille Pub
And a quick word about the debacle that was my departure....

After waking up very early, sharing one last breakfast with my host family and a misty adieu, Eric (who is staying with our host family for the whole school year) helped me bring all of my bags to the airport. Upon arriving there, we said good-bye and my friend Reid and I began our struggles with all of our luggage. And a security workers strike. 

Our departure from Paris couldn't have ended with more of a cliché, as the French are stereotypically known by Americans as those who faire la grève (go on strike) every time they want better working conditions (which we've grown to learn is quite frequently). The French equivalent of the TSA workers decided not to work that day, and consequently there was a back-up in the security screening lines - only 6000 people total were in line, we were assured by a worker. Needless to say, our double-decker plane had to wait an additional 2 hours until all of its 550 passengers made it onboard before taking off, which led to me making my connecting flight from D.C. to Hartford with literally 1 minute to spare. Thankfully, I made the plane and got home on time. Unfortunately, after greeting my family, I came to the realization that none of my bags had made it onto the flight. Oh well! At least I was home. And my suitcases got delivered to my house sometime during the night and were waiting for me to unpack them all the next morning. All in all, it was a very hectic trip home, but thankfully those were the only travel issues I had the whole time I was gone - guess I needed to go out with a bang!

I'm still getting used to living back in Westfield - experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock, I'd say. I feel like I'm living in a country of gigantic things: cars, houses, people, you name it! And I think it's funny that my taste has changed, because I am finding everything I eat here to be far too sweet or salty for me! Guess all that healthy living in France really rubbed off on me. It will be interesting to see if my little Parisian appetite grows over the holidays, or if I regain my love for sugary Christmas cookies...only time will tell!

I'll post a final update after another week or so with my reflections on the experience as a whole, once I figure out what they actually are! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!!!

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