Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riding the wave of paperwork

As many of you have no doubt seen from Facebook photo albums (ahhh, the information age…allowing us to stalk our friends in such a multitude of ways) this past weekend marked by graduate orientation at Giverny—a small country village about an hour and a half west of Paris famous for being where Monet lived and painted. After taking a look around it was easy to see why; with lush greens and beautiful flowers everywhere you looked I felt inspired to grab a brush and canvas and try my hand at impressionism.

Alas, our orientation schedule left little time for artsy frivolities. It did, however, provide us with some really nice furnished houses to sleep in, each with our own rooms and as much bread, nutella, jam, cheese and coffee as a Francophile could ask for. We also had classy three-course French meals the entire weekend, which had the disadvantage of being attended by all the profs (meaning we had to speak in French and sound intelligent at the same time) but the advantage of good espresso and wine to accompany them. We had a guided tour of the Joan Mitchell exhibit at the local art museum (ironically, there are almost no Monets in the area, as they are all in the collections of famous art museums the world over) and got the opportunity to bike around the area a little bit in between workshops and meetings. Even the “boring” parts weren’t so bad…we had a really interesting lecture on the history of the French language from an old, very Oxford-esque (awkward vest, portly figure, nose hair and all!) French professor who I will soon have for textual analysis. We also had two very fun “gymnastics of phonetics” workshops with a phonetics expert that incorporated motion into pronunciation and made me realize how many subtleties of French I’ve been glossing over. In between lectures, I popped outside to pick a fresh apple in the apple orchard (I brought home a HUGE bag of them, too) or gave some attention to the aggressively cuddly resident cat, who would often curl up on my lap during lectures.

Before we left on Sunday we had the opportunity to explore Monet’s gardens, including the famous lily pad pond with its Japanese bridges, as well as his house (which was crowded and not so great: the garden was much more interesting). I took a deep breath as I got back on the bus, inhaling all the green that I could and stockpiling a dose of nature that will hopefully last me through the winter.

Since being back, I have been tackling French bureaucracy. On Monday, it only took me an hour waiting and about 50 signatures to open a BNP account, which means by next Monday I will finally have a debit card with the chip that is required by all machines here (next hurdle: transferring money into said account). I also applied for my student metro “ImaginR” pass (after exchanging my services as a computer techie for paper to print documents on with my new German friend down the hall), made a doctor’s appointment to get French prescriptions, bought a drying rack from a girl from Latvia (and FINALLY did laundry), and am in the process of applying for the CAF (state aid that most students are eligible for…supposedly it could knock 100 euro off of my rent! Yay France and socialism). Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day here with temperatures close to 80 by the afternoon. I met up with Brittany from the Tunisia program for a picnic in the Luxembourg Gardens before heading over to the Université de Paris IV for my first lit class…only to have the teacher not show. Not entirely surprising--more on the French education system to come later. After waiting around for a while, Laura and I opted to go find a sunny, street side brasserie near Les Halles for a demi (half pint) and a pastry, which I believe was ultimately a much better use of our time.

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