Saturday, June 26, 2010

Giverny revisited

One of the perks of my new job is that I occasionally get to lead/accompany American undergraduates on their trips in and around Paris. Last Friday, for example, I got a free trip (and comp'ed lunch) to Giverny--the rural town to the Northwest of Paris that Monet once called home. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I was here in the fall for my graduate orientation, when the apples were ripe and falling from the trees. This time around I got to see a little more of the flowers.

Odd flower:

See the bee?
Another bee, in flight this time:

By far my favorite shot of the day. Considering having it printed as a poster to fill some of our blank wall space:

Fête de la Musique

Monday night was the annual summer music festival known as Fête de la Musique--a day/night where Paris gives herself over to hundreds of musicians for free, open-air performances. I emerged from the metro at Chatêlet to be engulfed by a white-clad group of Africans on a percussion parade, who swept me dancing over the Seine to St. Michel:
It was the perfect lighting for a few night shots of Paris
I met up with friends at Notre Dame, and we wandered around until about midnight, pausing at various points to listen to, among other things, a Southern rock band (complete with a badass mouth harmonica player), a heavy metal band, the world's most terrible Nirvana cover band, and some drum and bass club beats. The quality of the music wasn't always stellar, but the streets were packed with jolly, drinking 20-somethings of all nationalities, and the atmosphere was great.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mobile moments

Time for yet another installment of pictures taken around Paris with my mobile phone. To start us off, some cool graffiti in the Saint-Germain area:
A chef making noodles in a process similar to pulling wool at "the best noodle place in Paris"--aka, Pâtes Vivantes, in the 9th arrondissement:
A really gay shop window just down the street from the Amélie café:
Being in France is a good reminder than a lot of the world isn't as supportive of Israel as the US is:
This one hashes on Sarko AND Israel:
Taped up on an advertising light board in the Metro: "this space is (temporarily, alas) without an, take advantage!"
(presumably) the same artist had then commandeered the other empty spaces for political posters, encouraging anarchy, accusing the government of terror tactics, etc. Here's an example--one that goes along with the protest against the pushing back of the retirement age that I wrote about a few weeks ago: ("whip all of our leaders on to the anticipated retirement")
A smashed phone booth--part of he aftermath (also: couches, flipped cars, trash, smoldering cardboard, riot police man-handling Asians just trying to get home and the lingering, gun-powder smell of tear gas) of a riot in Belleville that we ran across trying to get Thai food on a Sunday night (because very little else is open in Paris then, and Tom had a friend in town we were trying to get dinner with. I feel bad for her--she showed up before we did and seemed rather bewildered). The riot, which had started as a peaceful protest, was a demonstration against the lack of police presence in the Asian community, and the blind eye turned to minor theft and rape. The protest turned bad after, ironically, a Chinese woman's purse was snatched, and the police sheltered the thief in the station.
A lingerie store with a cute name ('i' makes an 'ee' sound in French):
An old spinning wheel at an antiques fair that made me think of Sleeping Beauty:
A bookstore in the 13th. I liked the lettering, which was all filled with little books on shelves:
A window of Chinese Barbie-esque dolls in the 13th:
A 'formule' is like a combo meal and 'assiette' just means 'platter'. However, abbreviate it like this and it's sure to make any anglophone snicker--especially given those cheek-shaped pieces of 'steack':
This came out blurrier than I hoped, but it's a cocky French dude with a hipster beard, standing in front of an ad featuring--yup--a cocky French dude with a hipster beard:
A tour guide on an IES trip to Montmartre. In other words, a real-life Ms. Frizzle:
Picturesque street in Montmartre:
A cool, don't litter campaign in the RER that uses poetry to talk about the sad fate of debris left on the metro (including gum, discarded newspapers, and in this case, a beer can)
View out of the window of a brasserie, showing the pretty blue water 'carafe' and glasses at an abandoned table, and an old man smoking a pipe on the terrasse outside:

Chez nous

Bienvenue chez nous--welcome to our flat!

Here's our living room, looking back towards the front door. And my precious bookshelf. The couch folds out into a pretty spacious bed (onomatopoeic french term for a fold-out couch: "clique-claque!") so feel free to turn this photo tour into a real one by buying a plane ticket...
Living room from the door. Note the huge, well-lit windows.
Makin' iced tea in the kitchen. You can see our basil plant, Luhrmann, in the background.
View down into the courtyard from the kitchen window.
Full view of the kitchen.
And again at night, with the master chef hard at work.
View out the bedroom window.
The bedroom. You can't really tell, but our sheets are purple, and our duvet cover has purple stripes. I'm pleased that Tom had no qualms about submitting to my violet whims.

Bathroom, before. Note the brand new washing machine in the corner.
And after, with the pulley-operated drying rack lowered. Cool, right?
And last but not least, the shower. With its cute little window, and its temperature knobs (the left is force, the right is temperature, and it actually shows it in degrees Celsius. Tom does not seem to think that this is nearly as cool as I do).
So yeah, there you go. The photos everyone's been bugging me for. The walls are a little white and bare, yet, but otherwise, it's starting to feel pretty homey.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

La Coupe du Mondialisation

I saw this sticker graffiti the other day. For anyone who doesn't know, the "Maghreb" are the three french-speaking countries of North Africa: Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. In North Africa, the relationships between the countries are a little terse (borders are closed between Algeria and the other two, who want to distance themselves from Algeria's fundamentalism; Tunisia is the tightest with the EU and strives to present itself as Westernized, much to the disdain of the other two; Morocco has by far the highest tourism rate). However, here in France where immigrants of all three nations find themselves in the margins, they seem to be united. Or at least aspire to be:

I got to witness this firsthand at the England-Algeria World Cup match, which I went to watch in State Charlety. This stadium, with its spacey, planet-like ring around it, must have seemed like a great idea when it was rebuilt in the early 90s--rebuild stadium in the dead zone on the Paris perimeter, bring people and revenue to the area. It flopped horribly, however, quickly falling into disuse and disrepair. As an effort to use the space, the Mairie of Paris decided to open it to the public for the World Cup and project all of the French, Algerian, Cameroonian and Ivory Coast World Cup games on the jumbotron. Since the southern suburbs host a lot of Paris' Muslim families, the Stadium attracted an enthusiastic crowd for the Algerian match.

I was thrilled to be in the midst of the excitement. The French, however, were not. I had already heard several racist doomsday prophesies muttered at me throughout the day ("The Algerians are playing tonight? Alas. And it had been so calm up until now. Guess everything will be broken tomorrow. Better stay in and lock the doors...") The huge lines of riot police waiting to heard us along when we got off the metro were a testament to this fear--which seemed completely unwarranted when juxtaposed with the families of women and children passing by, on their way to cheer on their country.

Almost every Algerian supporter seemed to be wearing some form of their flag, be it face paint, a jersey, or even a flag-cape. There were also a sizable minority of Tunisian and Moroccan flags being waved and worn in support of the Algerian team--and surprisingly, with the full support of the bearers' Algerian peers. It had never occurred to me before, but the Algerian flag is, quite appropriately, a visual amalgam of the three francophone countries' flags--it has the star/Moon emblem of the Tunisian flag, and the red and white color scheme, but it mixes those elements with the green of Morocco's flag.

If you watched the game, you already know that it was pretty dull and uneventful. You wouldn't have known from the Algerian supporters' enthusiasm, though--everytime one of their players merely had possession of the ball they would start cheering like crazy, and any attempt at scoring, no matter how ridiculous or off the mark, would produce a roar of approval that sounded no less joyful than an actual goal might have been (had one ever been scored). At halftime, fans stormed the bleachers at the far side of the field with flares and scaled the stadium to wave flags from the top as florescent-vested stadium workers did their best to keep things under control.
The excitement was even greater at the end of the game. Flares were lit across the field, and there was a wild stampede towards the exit to reach the riot-police lined streets, where you could hear the whoops and cries and horn-honks of "victory" (well, of 'not losing'--the game tied 0-0) for hours to come.
I'm a little sad that the Algerian team didn't score because I'm curious to know what the reaction would have been. On the other hand, I'm also glad England didn't win, because I would have hated for the suspicion and mistrust behind the scads of riot police to have been justified. As it was, the Algerian reception of our group of Americans and an Englishman was jolly and playful, and the experience wholly unifying. It's a real shame that America's two favorite pastimes--football and baseball--are so insular, because it seems that nothing brings countries together like sports.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

UK Union

The primary reason for Tom's and my recent England vacation was, of course, his brother's wedding. Between venue issues and catering catastrophes I wouldn't say that the getting hitched went off without a hitch, but in the end the ceremony was as lovely as the bride (and to be honest, is there such a thing as a wedding without a hint of chaos?). Here is the bride (in a stunning, light pink dress with an embroidered bodice and long ruffled skirts) and her groom saying their vows:
At the behest of the mother of the groom I was given an expensive Nikon and became a sort of unofficial wedding photographer. This was one of my favorite candid shots of the evening, of a very love-struck looking groom gazing adoringly at his blushing bride:
Apparently it's custom for women to wear hats to English weddings. I was a little alarmed to hear about the rule, seeing as how I've no experience in hat buying, but was quickly reassured by the mother of the groom that this was to be a casual wedding--no hats required. That didn't, of course, prevent some of the more fashionable guests from turning out hatted--or rather, feathered. Turns out that the definition of a "hat" for a wedding is pretty loose and is rarely something big enough to accommodate one's entire head, usually taking the form instead of artistically splayed feathers or a small, bellboy-esque cap pinned on to the side of the head. Odd.
Me and the handsome best man:
Being one of the only French-speaking guests at the wedding gave me a certain level of privilege because I was able to talk to the Algerian mother of the bride and the three Algerian sisters (and yes, I tried a bit of Arabic, but my skills have slipped a lot since last summer and it didn't go very well). The bride being Algerian (and Muslim) meant that the wedding was a little different than others I've attended. Rather than being held in a church or presided over by a priest/pastor, it was presided over by city officials and held in a beautiful town hall complete with stained glass windows, high ceilings and elegant staircases. Best of all, it was only a five minute walk from the groom's apartment, which came in handy when we ran into him still in jeans and a sweater, picking up canapés about 10 minutes before the wedding. He was so pressed for time that he ended up not putting his contact lenses in until halfway through the reception--a fact that Tom exploited in his best man's speech, saying that Nicholas in his blindness had "married the wrong sister"

The ceremony itself was pretty delightfully brief--basically just a civil ceremony with an audience. We then moved to the reception hall for a dinner catered by a Lebanese restaurant, followed by drinks and dancing. The highlight of the night occurred mid-reception, when the bride disappeared for 15 minutes and reappeared in full traditional Algerian dress, with flowing skirts, metal bracelets and a headpiece (pictured on the right in the photo below, with her mother in the center). The bride, her three sisters and her mother then lead the guests in an Algerian dance, complete with confetti and youyous (the call of celebration that North African women all seem to know how to make). My only regret is that we had to leave before we got the chance to admire the bride's other dresses--apparently she made a few more changes after we were gone.