April 9th

Man, the fair weather days just keep on coming. Today was filled with lovely hours outside, some time in a local park with some of my students, and errands. I also was surprised with a large protest in my neighborhood as I exited the metro. I never actually figured out exactly what it was for…I saw signs for several different groups including the Young Communist Movement, but basically tried to zip across the street and get home as quickly as possible since I was tired from my day.

Perhaps the best feature of the day, however, happened when I found a lovely bouquet of cheaply priced flowers AND…a mega-strawberry score—5 euros for a HUGE crate. I’m in heaven. With the springy weather has come an inordinate appetite for fruit so I’ll be happily munching away on berry goodness all weekend! Seriously though, 5 euros for that many strawberries? I love you Franprix.

                

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April 8th

Ah Paris! You are so unbelievably gorgeous when you want to be. Today I had so many plans of different things I needed and wanted to do. I got out, and promptly forgot all of them with the glorious feel of the sun on my limbs. BARE LIMBS, people, it was that warm. So instead, a long and lovely stroll along the Seine plus some gelato in the Tuileries. Cheers!

            

April 7th: Coffee and Cake

You know those days when everything in the universe seems to be absolutely perfect? Where you just want to sing and skip and dance because there’s this insane buoyant gaiety that is totally inescapable? Today was one of those days. Paris put on her finest and was STUNNING today: sunny radiant, beautiful weather with a slight chill and pleasant breeze. The flowers were blooming and everyone was happy. Me included.

So, to best profiter, I took advantage of the weather and walked all over the Marais hitting up two different joints I’ve been interested in for a long time. And took a few shots of the streets along the way. Because I couldn’t resist.

First stop was Boot Cafe, a place I’ve been hearing about on every insider Paris blog as the hipster hangout for a coffee. And let me tell you. There were hipsters. Plenty. And they clearly were regulars. It was amusing and wonderful.

Funny story, this place is actually RIGHT next door to where one of my good friends lived when we were studying abroad. It was always hopping and I remember her mentioning it being a really popular/known spot, but I never ducked in for a cafe and therefore couldn’t judge. The cafe is TINY so be prepared to swing in and get one to go (especially if you go during rush hour or early in the morning. The menu is simple, offering espresso, cortados, americanos, and cafe cremes plus bagels, scones, and such. I got the creme and it was loverly, though very strong. My poor system which has become much more sensitive to caffeine since I dumped my 3 cafe-a-day habit was a little overwhelmed. Rabbit heart all morning. But it was worth it.

I later wandered down Rue de la Sicile to visit another hyped spot, Comme à Lisbonne—a tiny bakery dedicated entirely to the pastel de nata—a Portuguese pastry with the sweetest most perfect cream (think creme brulée in a flakey pastry crust) and cinnamon.

The spot has recently expanded with a restaurant that serves Portuguese delicacies as well as specialty food goods (all the canned sardines you can imagine and more). Unfortunately, I had already lunched when I arrived, but I will definitely be heading back for déjeuner in the very near future.

It was honestly one of the most charming places I’ve ever been in Paris, the staff was friendly and cheerful and chatty and I was loath to leave them. Moreover, I can attest that the pastel de nata is seriously the tastiest thing ever. Not too sweet and just perfectly creamy, it now ranks among my favorite pastries EVER. And if that doesn’t sum up why you need to head to this little haven I don’t know what will.

April 6th

Today a brief ode to one of my new favorite English bookstores in Paris: WH Smith.

I must say, I feel mild guilt about proclaiming this spot as one of my favs since it is a British bookstore chain, but I do love it. Now, there will always be a very special place in my heart for Shakespeare & Co’s boho charm and for Galignani’s more subdued, historic glamour, but I adore this little shop (which happens to be a metro stop up Rue Rivoli).

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I think I love it best because it’s so unpretentious. The staff are friendly, and it emits that warm glow that all book lovers find irresistible (particularly on a cold, grey Parisian day). It reminds me of an English bookshop I used to frequent when we lived in Rome and therefore has an odd comfort that the others can’t match. More than any other shop, I love to just whip in here and see what’s new, browsing as long as I please (even when it’s busy it’s not too busy) before heading home.

Sometimes I buy something, sometimes I don’t, but I rarely miss an opportunity to visit it when I’m in the area.

Bonus? It offers an AMAZING selection of magazines including a number of new independently published beauties. After weeks of popping in (and months of not being able to justify shipping charges) I recently got my hands on Cereal, a new indie style and travel magazine that is so unbelievably gorgeous. They also have various magazines with numerous foreign language counterparts, so I can get my English or my French fix (or Italian if I’m feeling brave). And to top it all off they have a number of truly delectable snacks (because, why not). Many come from niche British brands I’ve heard of but never seen, and it always takes all my strength not to walk out of there with a Cadbury chocolate bar. When I took a friend last week we ended up leaving with mince pies!

If  you are on Rue de Rivoli and are an anglophile or anglophone craving some solid reading material and a warm environment, I highly recommend swinging in. The bilingual staff are always willing to help you with anything you need, and be sure to check out the shelf dedicated to their top picks if you’re indecisive.

April 2nd: Nose

Today’s weather was ugly…it’s been super grey and rainy lately—not the sort that leaves you running for your umbrella, but the cool, obnoxious misting that is so infuriating and leaves you feeling exceptionally dirty. Yuck. So I was in need of something a little uplifting for the instagram feed.

I’m actually cheating slightly since these photos are from the other day, but I promise the weather was just as bad and that I was so busy I didn’t have the opportunity to take remotely interesting or exciting photos. Seriously guys the most eventful part of my day was being stared at by a French professor as I ate my sandwich in the teachers lounge—seriously, though, WHAT was his problem? So I thought I’d share two shots from my recent (and long awaited) trip to Nose—Paris’ finest fragrance and beauty concept store.

The concept is simple. Want a perfume but maybe not the same one EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG is wearing? Come to Nose and let the experts help you find your perfect scent. Ain’t nobody got time for that? It’s even easier! On their website you can create an account and fill out “perfume diagnostic” where, by identifying fragrances you’ve enjoyed in the past, you will be provided with suggestions of 5 other scents you may like. You can read descriptions of them and then order all 5 for a total of 10 euros (to be shipped or picked up in-store) and try them out at home. Once you’re done, you can go and pick up the perfume with a 10 euro discount. Or, if you don’t like any of the samples, you can annotate your profile and start the process again!

As someone who’s long been interested in perfume and had trouble finding that signature scent, I was super excited to try this out. I chose to pick my samples up in-store, but they do ship and are remarkably prompt. I ordered my sample pack plus two samples I was curious about after browsing the site.

I’ve been slowly testing them over the last few days and I must say all are lovely and unusual (in a good way). Two are too sweet for me, but that actually makes it easier to tailor things down. I’m excited to see which one I fall in love with, I’ve already worn one twice and I haven’t even sampled them all!

In the meantime, if you’re in Paris any time soon, you should definitely check out this shop. It’s already one of my favorite Parisian finds.

April 1st

Inspired by my dear and beloved mother, this month I thought I’d try something new on the blog—a month of daily photos documenting my life here in this beautiful city. I’m heading home at the end of April, and I can’t think of a better way to document my final days and get me outside to enjoy every second. So…be prepared for a lot of short posts. Let’s do this!

Today brought a perfect balance between lazy and productive. Morning involved a trip the the elementary school to teach, followed by a leisurely lunch and wander around the 6th with a new friend. And because I was in the 6th there were two things I truly couldn’t resist…

Pierre Hermé. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen me documenting my determination to taste every flavor he has for sale. I’ve tried about 10 now and I can honestly say there isn’t a single one I didn’t like. More importantly, there are a few that I find utterly irresistable.

Today’s flavor was Jardin des Prés—a delicate mix of honey and meadow seed. Perfect for spring!

I also swung into Oh My Cream! since my friend wanted a few samples. There is much more to be said about this fabulous beauty concept store…it’s one of my favorite discoveries here and one of the few beauty shops that’s generous with samples. Danger danger!

Macarons were munched in front of Saint-Sulpice, a lovely spot for a quick break from shopping. Even with the chilly weather, it made the perfect end to a lazy afternoon.

‘Till tomorrow!

M

And just like that…

Sometimes I’m struck by just how many firsts I’ve experienced in a foreign culture. I learned to navigate public transportation, secure and shop for an apartment, open a bank account, and start my first “real” job, all while living abroad. And today, for the first time in my life, I visited a police station.

I feel rather fortunate to have never had the occasion to visit one before, but it wasn’t until I walked through the intensely guarded doors and stood timidly in the hushed and unfriendly lobby that I realized why. Police stations freak me out. I wasn’t even guilty and I felt on edge as I waited for my summoner…a certain Monsieur Blanc.

Let’s rewind a couple of days, shall we? To Sunday afternoon, the day my phone and wallet were stolen.

In all honesty, it was my fault. I was at a cafe with a friend, we were drinking tea and chatting and I let my bag hang off my chair near the ground instead of keeping it closely guarded in my lap. When I went to grab it a few hours later, my phone and coin purse were missing. The guys who had stolen it were long gone. I was frustrated with myself and sad, but resigned to the fact that it was gone forever. I didn’t even file a police report…I hadn’t seen what the guys looked like and how could the police find one lost cell phone? Instead, I counted my blessings. It was an old phone that I had been hoping to replace. And the wallet they took was actually just a small coin purse with 8€ inside…hardly a great loss. By some miraculous stroke of luck I’d swapped it earlier, leaving the larger one filled with cards and i.d. at home.

The real sorrow was the loss of the phone itself. It’s silly, but I get quite attached to my technology. That phone had gone to Mali with me, school in Minnesota, and Paris two times. It had taken nearly all of the photos you’ve seen on this blog and many more. It was my companion in my first interviews with musicians and helped me document concerts for the Current. So I was sad to see it go. And I was quickly faced with daily inconveniences…when one item serves as your watch, your alarm clock, your map, your calendar, and your camera you miss it REALLY quickly.

But by some rare alignment of the universe, I received an email a few days later from the police. They had found my phone, could I come to the station? And so an hour later I was escorted past armed men into the lobby to wait for him.

Monsieur Blanc (Mr. White in English…I cannot believe that’s his name) found me quickly and guided me through a maze of hallways to his office. It looked as you would expect…several small desks in a darkish room with a larger office for the captain (a very brusque woman who liked to yell as she interrogated people on the phone). How to describe M. Blanc and his partner? I kid you not, these two could have been in a movie and no one would have batted an eye. Blanc was wearing a dark grey sweater with black elbow patches and was well groomed with short hair…he had a kind of Gerard Bulter, Richard Armitage-y thing going for him except he wasn’t QUITE as handsome. More real, more tired. And very kind. His partner had short blond hair, sneakers and big glasses. The geekier looking of the two…Robin, in other words.

M. Blanc took my statement and told me a little about what they knew had happened. Apparently the two guys were arrested within a half hour of stealing my phone. They both confessed to it, and probably gave the police more detailed information than I was able to. They were to go to trial later that day and likely to prison after.

Giving my statement was weird and hard. I felt extremely self-conscious (how much detail should I give and do I sound stupid?) and I could only approximate details. Worse, I had NO IDEA what they looked like— I’d been tunnel-focusing on the person I was talking to. M. Blanc showed me their photos anyway (to check), and they looked like normal guys. Older than my students, but otherwise no different. Unfortunately, they had 7 phones on them (mine included) and my wallet (which was still full of cash…la chance!). So when M. Blanc asked if I wanted to file a complaint, I hesitated. Against all odds I had all of my stuff back, and no matter what these guys did or what type of people they were, my heart broke a bit when I saw them. Apparently they were caught because they were “behaving strangely,” but I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d have gotten away had they been white. And as relieved as I am to have my belongings back, I don’t like the idea that I may have gotten them due to racism. In the end I agreed because Blanc insisted that it was better for “la justice” but I’m still not sure it was the right choice.

I was grateful when M. Blanc finally led me back through the station and out the French door. He told me that he’s from Toulouse and advised me to visit and profiter du soleil. He shook my hand, made sure I knew where I was going, and sent me on my way. And that was that. Fist trip to the police station and statement made, all in French. If that isn’t an expat accomplishment, I don’t know what is. And best of all, my dear, tired phone and I are reunited. I honestly feel like the luckiest girl. I never dreamed I’d see it again, nor so promptly. No matter what, this encounter has left me with a very deep respect and appreciation for the French police force, who, throughout this entire experience, treated me with great gentility. The gallant Monsieur Blanc had three more phones to return before the business was done, and I am so grateful to him for his patience and kindness during the whole ordeal. May need to plan a visit to Toulouse in the coming months…

Instagrams to follow.

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Rockability at the Balajo

There is really nothing like going to see live music. I love getting dressed up and heading out, not knowing what exactly expect beyond a good show. So when I woke up Tuesday morning feeling sick as a dog, I panicked. I REALLY could not be sick…J.D. McPherson was playing TOMORROW NIGHT at the Balajo…I’d been planning this for months. I REFUSED to be sick. So I stayed home, took the maximum dose allowed of some flu-symptom relief meds, watched YouTube, and slept. And you know what? I woke up the next morning JUST FINE. Okay, so my throat was still a little sore (and still is…oops) but really that’s not that bad…I could teach! I could go see live music!

So at 7:30 I threw on my cutest dress and a red lip (to distract from my very tired eyes) and headed to the Balajo for their weekly soirée Rock. The venue is great…my kind of place. Old, a little run down, with nice charismatic staff and a lot of character. I heard that the designer of the Moulin Rouge did the interior, and that tons of French icons used to hang here. It felt very hip.

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And the people! Man! Parisians know how to dress up. I remember some thematic clothing the last time I saw J.D. McPherson, but this time I really felt like I’d walked into a film set in the fifties…bright lipstick, denim, mom jeans, jean jackets with slicked back hair, the whole shebang. And it was great. Best dressed? An early arriver (and one of the last to leave) wearing a full white suit with waist-coat and saddle shoes. Oh yeah. I think he had some red in there too for pop.

To my great surprise and pleasure J.D. McPherson brought The Cactus Blossoms all the way from my beloved Minnesota to open for him! Brothers Jack and Page climbed onto the TINY stage for a short (but sweet) set. I remember being impressed the last time I saw them, but I must confess, they really stole my heart this time. Maybe it was that we were in Paris and it all smelled so sweetly of home, maybe they’ve upped their game, but I was thoroughly enchanted with their performance. Their vocals are astounding—offering rich warm harmonies that truly soared through the tight space—and Jack was the perfectly charming front man, catching the eyes of the girls for just long enough that they would get the full impact of his romantic lyrics. And trust me, they swooned. Much later in the evening I played translator for them with several French ladies who were taken with the tall boys from Minnesota.

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And then J.D. hit the stage. I’ve raved before and imma do it again. This man is a king onstage. I generally go to excellent concerts, and McPherson’s are always some of my all time favorites. He brings an incredible energy and vitality to the stage which is raised by the incredible band behind him. Even in this unconventional* space he managed to give a thoroughly enjoyable and dynamic performance. And when you combine that with the fact that not only were they cramped but were also forced to play in two sets (with a DJ-ed dance break in the middle), had the audience literally being pushed up the steps into their faces, and could not hear each other well, you have an astounding performance.

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As if that weren’t enough, McPherson (and some of his bandmates) was suffering with the flu. I only know this because his bandmates told me later. You wouldn’t have known it from watching him. Because he’s really that good. And the French noticed…calling for encore after encore.

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I think what I love most about a J.D. McPherson show is that it has such amazing character. He manages to work a nostalgic sound into a truly thrilling show for all ages. I’m always struck by the diversity of his crowds and the enthusiasm. For some, he’s harkening back to a time when they were growing up, for others he’s transporting us to a time we never knew, but wish to experience. Either way it works. And in an age where many argue (myself included) that rock and roll is a thing of the past, it is thrilling to see a true rock and roll concert. We listen to him and we hear long nights of sneaking out of our bedroom windows, dancing** and drinking all night long. I never did that as a high schooler. But I think if his music had been around back then, I totally would have.

*read VERY TINY i.e. no elbow room

**real dancing mind you, not that humping business people do now

Lately in Paris

It’s been requested that I write up a post regarding the late events in Paris and the general atmosphere here since the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In a lot of ways I don’t really feel qualified to talk about this subject..I didn’t even know the magazine existed until January 7. But, since I am teaching here and have been wandering around a number of the neighborhoods, I CAN easily talk about what things have been like in Paris, and the answer is (contradictorily Parisian): different and the same.

To start with, many of us had no idea what happened on the 7th until the excitement was well over. One of the English profs discovered it as she headed home and couldn’t get to her apartment due to police. Another found out when she turned on the television later that evening. As for me (and I think a lot of the expats here had similar experiences) I had my mom call me from the States to tell me what was going on. (It feels decidedly strange to have someone from abroad tell you what is going on in your city, by the way…you feel very foolish and oblivious.) Over the next few days tensions mounted. I stood up with my class and all of the lycée and the country on Thursday for a minute of silence. I talked to the students who wanted to talk about it and created fun, diverting activities for the classes that didn’t. I think that all of us were playing things by ear. The big shift, which I think remains for a lot of us, was the heightened awareness to sirens—which have been blaring a lot more recently—and the impulse to regularly check our phones for updates from Le Monde. One of my classes was completely derailed by a kid checking his on Friday and our discovering that the brother suspects had been cornered in the North. People were relieved after that, but still jumpy…I’ve never seen the metro so uncrowded at rush hour as I did that week.

In the last week, the attack has still weighed heavily on most of us. Many participated in the enormous march on from Nation on Sunday. We talk about it in class a lot. The teacher’s lounge and cafeteria room are constantly filled with passionate disagreements between professors regarding their predicted outcomes of this attack and what the country should do. It’s raised a lot of interesting and important questions regarding expression, race, and integration for the French and EVERYONE has an opinion. Everyone also apparently wants a copy of the new magazine…the Presses are ALWAYS sold out.

As for me, I still feel lucky to be here. My initial jumpiness—fully realized on Friday when I discovered what was happening at Nation—has started to quiet down, although I move quickly on all of my commutes now and check the news at least every hour. I’ve tried to keep classes as normal and engaging as possible. Some students want to talk about the attack, and we’ve had interesting and passionate debates about integration and freedom of speech—I used this as an opportunity to introduce the to Salman Rushdie, whose response to the attack always evokes interesting responses from the kids. Several students who’ve never spoken up were my most passionate debaters (*note to self…more debates in the future). I try to play devil’s advocate and not weigh too heavily into things…but f there’s any part that saddens me, it’s the reports from those who are (or appear to be) Muslim saying that they’ve experienced recent discrimination from other French. One girl told me that several of the women in her family refuse to go out because were heckled and are afraid of being attacked. And perhaps even more disturbing, most of the other students are oblivious to their classmates’ problems.

Otherwise, I try to keep experiencing this wonderful city, which manages, even in the face of tragedy, to constantly wow me. I’ve been straying from the Marais some, which has been significantly quieter of late, and wandering to new neighborhoods. I cannot wait to tell you about them. If you are interested in reading more about the attack and more brilliant people’s opinions on it, there are loads of great articles online…all you have to do is google for a veritable wealth of opinions.

On the subject of French schools…

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my ticket to France came hand in hand with a contract to teach in a French public high school and although I was trepidatious about how this would pan out, it has easily proved to be one of the best parts of my new Parisian life. By some miracle, I landed a fabulous school with truly wonderful staff and students. As a whole my students have been engaged (and engaging), the teachers are helpful and wonderful (a couple proving to be very good friends), and the TAPIF program has been truly supportive throughout all of my housing madness. (Huge shoutout to the fabulous rector on this one…she’s made of awesome).

The icing on the cake, though? My high school, the Lycée Charlemagne is located in the Marais, right next to Saint-Paul, giving me a lovely and easy commute and a lot of fabulous lunch and shopping options to explore during my off-hours. Not that I need to “sortir” for lunch…the cantine (which is insanely cheap) offers a multi-course lunch complete with wine/beer/cider for the “professeurs”. Because this is France and no school will shirk entirely on food. Case and point: today for lunch I had boiled potatoes and grilled salmon (not fishy tasting at all!) with a creamy lemon sauce, a green lentil salad with slices of ham, bread (bien sur), a slice of emmental cheese, a yogurt, and two (yes TWO) clementines. I was teaching later so I skipped the alcohol, but the dining staff assured me that I am allowed it if I so desire. Absolute awesomesauce.

[I would normally have posted a picture of my meal here, but I was too excited and ate it before I could take one…]

Another way in which this high school differs almost comically from those I grew up with is in its students. I mean, first of all, they’re (for the most part) crazy respectful and well-behaved. We’re talking standing at the beginning of class until I tell them to sit down and lots of “Madame”s to go around. And they are so lovely to teach. Despite all of this incredible politeness, however, I was rather shocked recently when I waltzed up to school and witnessed this scene:

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Yes. That is a barricade of trashcans over the doors.

I actually had to call one of the teachers to figure out how to get into the school. Apparently protest culture starts young in France and once a year the students find a cause and shut down the school for  a couple of days. The level to which they are committed varies depending on the student—some were, by their own admittance, definitely just looking for an excuse to cut class—but they all amassed outside megaphone and all.

The first day they protested the recent death of a young protester in the South of France, the second, the deportation of a young student to his country of birth. And I have to say, coming from a country where I think high schoolers are generally in the dark about current events, I quite admired the initiative of these kids. That, and it was pretty hilarious to watch the whole ordeal. The police nonchalantly promised to see the protesting kids next week. The school administrators put everything in lockdown and treated the whole thing like a siege. The teachers? Generally nonplussed. Because in France, c’est la vie.