Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A stroll down rue Daguerre

Well, my master's exam is finally over (yay!) and my summer has passed with it (wah!). My feeling was that the exam went pretty well, but I'm still waiting on the results. In the meantime, I'm back at work at the study abroad company full-time until we get through new student orientation, when I will scale back to part-time to accommodate a couple of classes and some tutoring on the side.

As always, I'm struck by how tiring it can be to just sit at a desk for 8 hours. It's also a little annoying, after a year as a carefree student, to not be in control of my own schedule--to no longer have the ability to eat at odd hours or to take mid-afternoon naps. However, one thing that IS nice about a "real" job is knowing that when I leave the office, I'm done--no speed-reading novels, no 3am essays, no studying for exams. Throughout my years in university, the time I've spent on work outside of class has always far exceeded the time spent in class, and very few of those hours fell within the window of a regular workday.

Another benefit of my job is that it's located on the cutesy rue Daguerre, which is about a 15 minute walk from my front door and a microcosm of all shops/businesses that could be considered typically French. In celebration of my (relatively) new job and neighborhood, I thought I would treat you to a virtual "promenade" around the "quartier".

Here's the Tour Montparnasse, looking over the Montparnasse cemetery, just a block away from my work:

Rue Daguerre itself begins with a series of markets. First up are foie gras and cheese markets, as well as a handful of bakeries and pastry stores not shown. Next is a fish market:

(we actually bought a pair of those giant crabs, or rather Tom did, to try and cure my hankering for Chesapeake blue crab. Conclusion: tasty, but MUCH harder to open than my thin-shelled bluies, especially considering our lack of proper crab-cracking equipment. I had planned to impress Tom with my know-how of lifting the tab, popping the back off and cracking the body in two, but apparently that doesn't work so well with monster crustaceans. It took a good hour of butter-knife and rolling-pin chiseling to pick those suckers, which made a mess of the kitchen--and of me! Good thing they were delicious.)

Next is fruit and veggie markets:
And then Amorino's, my favorite gelatto chain, which does good business in the summertime (also, rollerblading is still popular in a big way in Europe):
This menu marks a cute crêperie that I've probably taken you to/will take you to if you visit(ed) me in Paris. At lunch time you can bask in the sunshine on the terasse (just visible at the end of the alley) and enjoy a "menu" of a meal crêpe, a dessert crêpe, and a ceramic bowl of Breton cidre, all for 10 euros:
Florists shops:
Epic stacks of ancient-smelling tomes in a used book store:
Rotisserie chickens, for sale to-go in front of kebab stores or quick-stop cafés:
My favorite little tea store, where you're invited to smell (and sometimes taste!) before you buy. I've been slowly tasting my way through their collection of (surprisingly inexpensive) loose teas. Current favorites are a grapefruit green and a chocolate and blood orange dessert black:
One of several wine stores, with bottles starting around 2.50 euros, staffed with wine enthusiasts who are only too willing to provide recommendations based on extensive personal experience:
A cute toy store, called "Alice's Cousins", whose decoration is based on characters from the popular Lewis Carrol books. It's one of those toy stores that sells eclectic little treasures. My favorite was a book called "Pablo le spermatazoïde" (Pablo the sperm) that was in their front window for several weeks, featuring the adventures of a little anthropomorphized sperm and his eventual victory in the big swimming contest...
A man smoking in one of the street's many brasseries (it's been illegal to smoke indoors for several years now in France, although as you can see, sometimes people barely make it past the threshold). If you look carefully you can also spy one of the graffiti Space Invaders, who has fallen victim to a street sign:
The shop across from our office, which is--I kid you not--an accordion store:

Its musical wares:
And finally, the two sets of iconic, ubiquitous yellow arches that mark the end of the street.

The Métro:
And the Macdo':

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mastery and mille mercis

Tomorrow is the day that I have been both dreading and busting my butt for : my Master's exam.

Yup. In six hours and who-knows-how-many essays, I will have to prove to the grading committee that I have a Master's mastery of more than eight centuries' worth of authors and their works, and the literary/cultural/historical context that shaped them.

The intensive review process this month has been both stressful and rewarding, and has made me realize how much better my speed-reading and my written French have become this year, and how much I now know. On the right, I have reposted the picture I showed at the beginning of this year, of the Master's book shelf (although, once again, I point out that there are a few doubles mixed into the collection). Guess what? I READ THESE.

I'm not really sure who follows this blog anymore, but just in case, I would like to offer a preemptive thank you to all of my St. Mary's and CMRS lit professors, who I think did more to prepare me for the critical thinking/analysis parts of this exam than any of my "read! read more!" coaches at NYU. As part of my review process, I made myself a 150-page study guide of notes pertaining to context and significance of the works, and for source material I relied heavily on seemingly-ancient hand-written notes from classes I took with some of the brainiest women I know: Gantz, Doggett, Adams, and Wooley. Despite what the popular (and trite) saying suggests, I did NOT learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten; however, I just might have learned everything I needed to know in my college survey courses.


As I left work yesterday, my last day of work before my Master's exam, I was treated to a heartfelt cries of "merde!" by all of my co-workers. When it comes to luck, the French are as superstitious as theater people, so the only words of encouragement they permit themselves is this (rather vulgar but amusing) variation on the "break a leg" idea. (My supervisor, however, followed her exclamation with a look of fear--"you do know that we say that right? Ok, good. I just realized how confusing that could be to a foreigner...") So in the spirit of Merde...

During my reviewing this month, I have permitted myself brief pilgrimages to the burial sites/monuments of some of the writers whose work I admire. I saved the photos for now, to offer as a last-minute tribute to their ghosts, who I hope will provide me with inspiration (not to mention hand endurance and cramp resistance!) in my furious writings tomorrow.

In the Latin Quarter's Saint-Etienne du Mont church, in the shadow of the Pantheon, I found Racine:
And Pascal:
And outside the same church, their compatriot Corneille:
Diderot, beneath the Pantheon's dome:
In the Pantheon's catacombs, Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas on the left, and Emile Zola on the right:
Also in the catacombs: Rousseau...
...and Voltaire:
The entrance to the Pantheon's catacombs bears an inscription in honor of the "writers who died for France"
Flaubert, in his family vacation spot of Trouville:
Moving on now to the Montparnasse cemetary, the shared grave of kindred spirits and love and philosophy, Sartre and De Beauvoir:
Close up of their grave, bearing Oscar Wilde-like kisses:
And of the metro ticket and centime tributes left by visitors:
Marguerite Duras:
Baudelaire (who, unfortunately, was forced to share a tomb with a stepfather he hated):
Beaudelaire's tributes:
My favorite absurdist, Eugene Ionesco:
And his anglophone contemporary, Beckett:
And, last but not least, Guy de Maupassant...
...and a hand-written note of appreciation, shoved into a crevice in the stone:

Monday, August 23, 2010

No longer the City of Lights

I've mentioned several times now that Paris is deserted during the summer months, but I finally found a way to capture the ghost town ambiance on film. This is a picture of the apartment building that faces ours at around 10pm--a time when most French families would be home and finishing up dinner. The complex is generally pretty, with a whole collection of lighted windows providing distant glimpses into people's balconies and living rooms. Not anymore.I know that most countries' tourism industries have suffered during the recent economic crisis, but judging by the number of absent Parisians I'd bet that France is still doing pretty well on that front.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

à la plage

In spite of my busy studying schedule, we decided last minute not to entirely forgo a vacation and spent a weekend in Trouville and Deauville, two sister beach towns on France's northern Côte Fleurie:
I loved Normandy's beach culture. It had this really humble, authentically French feeling. It was much less trashy than Nice became in the height of tourist season, and sophisticated in a less ritzy way than the smaller Côte d'Azur towns. This is Trouville's equivalent of a boardwalk--consisting of playgrounds and pony rides for children, gelatto and cocktails for their parents, and a plethora of cute sea-side cafés that were surprisingly cheap given their location. We went to a salad place for lunch (smoked samon for me; roquefort, ladons and norman apples for the boy) just to the right of where I took this photo.

Trouville is also where Flaubert (the author of Madame Bovary) used to take his holidays, so there were various tributes to him scattered around the town. The swan on the side of the hotel in this picture is actually bearing a sleeping Flaubert on its back--it's the "Hôtel Flaubert".
I was in love with this little girl and her huge floppy white hat. Here, she and her sisters are demonstrating one of the favorite French pastimes: pétanque (a ball-rolling lawn game, kind of like bocce ball). The beach had a special roped-off pétanque area (it's ideally played on dirt/sand that is packed down really firmly) and sets of the heavy metal balls to loan, but many families brought their own, plastic, beach-friendly versions.
Trouville town hall:
Trouville patisserie/chocolaterie. The decorative anchors and flower balls were the keystones of the town's picturesque landscaping efforts.
We managed to score a lovely hotel room with a last-minute discount.
The room even came with a sunny balcony, overlooking the center of town:
View of the pub, from the balcony:
And the night view, looking towards the strip of seafood restaurants. The restaurants' menus were virtually identical, but the hoards of French families on holiday didn't seem to mind. In fact, they seemed almost to expect it as a vacation rite: a bottle of white wine chilling in an ice bucket, an appetizer of terrine or smoked meats, an overflowing shellfish platter to share, or, of course, the French favorite: moules frites (mussels and fries). We opted for a fish dinner (with whelks as an appetizer...not sure how I feel about those). Ordering fish in France is always a bit of an adventure, because if the catch of the day varies from basic salmon or tuna I'm usually at a loss for the English translation. We had "julienne," which, looking it up now, is something called "sea burbot," a relative of cod. (It was delicious, in any case.)
We spent our second day in Deauville, separated from Trouville by a stream that empties into its exclusive harbors and boat clubs. Deauville is known as a haven for the rich, and it was evident from the moment we crossed the bridge and were met with polo, private yachts, and fancy homes and condos that were, rather oddly, built in a Strasbourg-esque, tudor style, and looked more like a winter ski home than a beach house to me:
The beach at Deauville was wider and more well-kept, but lacking the seaside cafe/bar culture of Trouville:
Little beach tents for overheated children to rest in seemed to be all the rage:
I don't see many children in Paris (or at least that don't fall into the category of either a) belonging to tourists, or b) the acting and dressing too-old-for-their-age inner-city teenagers) so it was kind of refreshing to see so many happy families and their very adorable, very French children:
Late afternoon shot of the Deauville beach, and its low tide wet sand. I've never seen so many hermit crabs in my life.
Even the stop in Liseux for a train transfer on the way home proved scenic; Tom took this shot of a hilltop basilica in the late evening sunlight.