Thursday, September 15, 2011


At the beginning of this program we all signed a pledge to speak french, and only french, for the rest of the year.  I suppose even by writing this I'm breaking that pledge, but it's not the first time! It is utterly exhausting (crevant) to live in another language. I once heard that not being fluent in a language is like taking ten years off your age, so in effect I'm a ten year old trying to operate in a world of people twice my age...that feels about right.  Even in Paris, where the cultural differences are not that drastic, it is necessary to find places where you can be truly comfortable and let the thinking stop.

While I don't want to spend much time in anglophile places, the ones that i've found (besides the american food store called "Thanksgiving") have felt like godsends.  "Shakespeare and Company" is, yes, a tourist attraction, but it has managed to retain its coziness. The downstairs is full-on a bookstore with anglophile literature crammed into every corner, some books only accessible by wooden ladders (which you can use if you want).  The upstairs, however, is my favorite part.  There is a kids books section, a reading room/ library of all the classics, couches, and a tiny type-writer you are encouraged to use to type up your letters. "Shakespeare and Company" is also a venue with readings and shows a few times a month.  I love it.

A second new favorite is a tiny cake and coffee shop in the Latin Quarter called "Sugarplum." Unlike the other cafés of Paris, this one has an atmosphere that welcomes lingering, reading, and working.  It even has a huge wooden table for just that. The coffee is not "espresso-based," but actual drip coffee in real-sized mugs, oh, and free refills.  Ice is another rarity in Paris, but here the unsweetened iced tea and lemonade are perfect. Croissants really are the best ever, but so is cake, and "Sugarplum" has lots of it.  After our first visit, one of us figured out that the man (american) we bought our drinks and desserts from was part of Ace of Cakes! This well bien sur become a regular hangout place.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I think I can safely say that in the (almost) three weeks I have been here, I have eaten more types of meat than I ever have before. I realize this is my third post on the subject of food, but it is indescribably important here (for example, we spent half an hour discussing macaroons at dinner Sunday night).

I tried the vegetarian thing once, for about a year, and didn't eat red meat (en principe) for a few years, but I honestly don't know how either of those diets would work here, or at least, be fun here (which my host mother never fails to point out at dinner).  The other day, when we suggested that we make our own dinner on a night next week when she will be in Rome, our host mother was somewhere between shocked and confused, and said: "But where will you get the meat?"

In addition to the quantity and variety of meat (poisson, paté, saucissons, steak, poulet, canard...) the style of eating it is different here than it is in the states.  The french don't really do anything to make it easier to eat the way americans do, no seedless grapes, no boneless anything, and no pre-peeled shrimp. Everything is done at the last possible moment, we saw the man at the market decapitate and skin the fish we were going to eat the next night. While the french like to get a little funky with their meats (I still have no idea what is in tripe, nor do I have any interest in finding out) the general attitude toward meat is a dual refusal to disguise it as anything but animal and to celebrate that animal by making incredible food.  Even if that means displaying rabbit with the fur coat still on.

I did have one terrifying moment my first Sunday here.  We sat down to have Sunday dinner and I was completely shocked to find a big bowl of whole shrimp on the table. Apparently, I had gotten the word for zuccini, "courgette," (which I had just learned that morning) and "crevette," the word for shrimp, very confused. I then had to learn how to rip off the head, tail, feet, and shell of several shrimp in front of some very experienced french eaters.

but, in the end, proud and happy to be a carnivore in France.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paris dans le matin

reid hall is the center for parisian abroad programs for smith and about fifteen other american colleges and universities.  my housemate and i have been walking to class everyday so far, and while this means i have to wake up at 7:15, i'm really starting to love it.  in the human hours of the day, most of the places we walk by are packed with people from all over the world, but in the morning they're close to empty. we'll see how i feel when it's cold or rainy, but for now these are the moments when i fall in love with paris.

here is a stretch of grass at le jardin de luxembourg 
that is packed with youths all day, except for 8:30am

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


in french to say that one had "a good night" is to say that one ate well, drank well, and had good conversation. while my french has improved enormously since arriving to paris, and i have paid 6 euro for a drink on several occasions, i feel that the aspect i can comment on the most at this point is the food.  the food is so wonderful you can't even call it food. really, you can't. the word food directly translated is "nourriture," but in practice it means dog/cat/rabbit food.  "alimentation" isn't much better and is more or less the section of the grocery store where one can find food.  the best word is "cuisine," which for an american sounds ridiculous.  to call a standard dinner "cuisine," particularly when you're used to smith meals, is preposterous.   but food and eating are taken so seriously here that the word fits.

the first week i made a particular effort to write down everything we ate for dinner, things like lamb, salmon, paté, sole, curry, a variety of salads, fruit and cheese for dessert and ALWAYS bread. bread is not just something we eat here, but rather a tool used for eating without which we wouldn't even know where to begin.

as amazing as french food is, some of us found it absolutely necessary to find some mexican food. which we did, and it was fine...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Le Beurre Cacahuète

after a lovely dinner of pain (bread), pommes de terre (potatoes), une salade, et un petit steak au rochefort, i did it. i revealed to my host mother (ma mère d'acceuil) my love/obsession with peanut butter.  she had, as per usual, asked us what we wanted for dessert and i said, "un banane...avec mon beurre de cacahuète!" she thought that was hilarious and continued to tease me the whole time i ate my delicious banana and peanut butter, saying "the two tastes do not work, pas de tout!" in my experience in paris so far, albeit, a week, there are two stubborn differences between the french and the americans: the french do not hug, and the french do not understand peanut butter.  but i will forgive them for these faults and embrace "les bises"(kisses on each cheek) and my bananas sauf beurre de cacahuète.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Une Smithesse

bonjour à tous!

it has been almost a week since i left massachusetts for paris, and life is beginning to feel more manageable.  i expect to walk at least five hours a day, sit down for a dinner of primarily fish or meat or both, look for cars before crossing the street, to ignore what i heard called the "aggressive heterosexuality" of comments and stares, and drink coffee in cups the size of thimbles. je suis en train d'être très à l'aise en paris!

here, we are not "smithies" but instead "des smithesses," which to me feels ever more ridiculous than our name in northampton and i can't help but picture little princesses when i hear it. although, i've never lived anywhere quite as beautiful or felt as pampered as i do here... so maybe there is a bit of truth to the princess feeling.

already, i've marché à pied (walked) through and past countless parisian landmarks. even though paris is a big city, you're never more than two blocks away from the sight of the top of a cultural icon. when we arrived friday we stayed in a hotel across from the "only skyscraper in paris," which we thought was hideous but is apparently a tourist attraction! until today, when we took the bus, my housemate and i have walked to the smith center (reed hall) everyday, we cross the seine, pass notre dame, le jardin de cluny, la sorbonne, and le jardin de luxembourg, a 45 minute walk from our apartment in the 4th but très beau!

voici, the view from a bridge on our way to school!