Sunday, October 30, 2011


One of the best parts of living in Europe is the proximity of some truly amazing places.  Prague has been on my list for a while and thanks to fall break I was able to go for a few days this week! I was pretty anxious about the traveling bit, I knew a couple of people who would be in Prague and a friend from Paris joined my a couple of days later, but the actual 'getting there' and first days were on my own.

When I got off the RER train at the airport it was a bit confusing as to where I was supposed to go but I realized I was going in the right direction when I noticed that, like me, everyone was young and carrying all their luggage on their backs.  While walking through an tunnel to the terminal, one man started whistling the song from the 'Breakfast Club' (the one they whistle together to let you know they're going to end up friends) and people started whistling along!

Upon arriving to the terminal, I saw why my host mom called it the 'zoo'.  There were people everywhere and kids running around and very little signage. But, regardless, it was maybe the happiest group of travelers I've ever seen.

This feeling of camaraderie with the fellow travelers continued in Prague (maybe accentuated by the Soviet architecture surrounding the city) and I made some friends at the hostel to spend the first night with.

Monday, October 24, 2011

books, books, books

The Abbey Bookshop and Shakespeare and Co., both Parisian anglophile bookshops, have a notorious rivalry. And while I love the Shakes, I decided to bring my business to the Abbey today and give it a fair shot for my loyalty.

The Abbey Bookshop is only a block or so from Shakespeare and Co., but takes a little bit more determination to find as it does not appear on Google Maps as a go-to tourist destination.  It's a good thing too because the Abbey is only big enough for about one small person to squeeze though the precariously stacked mountains of books at a time, not the appropriate place for a tour group. But because of its small capacity, the Abbey allows for some quality one-on-one customer service, including a cup of filter coffee "on the house."

Maybe because it lacks the pressure of being Shakespeare and Co., the Abbey is refreshingly less pretentious; Stephanie Meyer sits unassumingly between H. Melville and H. Miller. The philosophy seems to be "no book is a pleasure to be ashamed of", or maybe "different strokes for different folks."

By the end of my visit, I'd settled on "The Sons" by Franz Kafka.  Kafka because he was born in Prague, which is where I am going tomorrow.  Since arriving in Paris I have become a firm believer in reading stories somehow related to the place I am in. I know that one of the best parts about literature is that it takes you off to new and imaginary places, but something about reading Toni Morrison in Paris is just not the same as reading her in Texas. Also, I needed something in addition to Anaïs Nin, who is amazing but "Les Petits Oiseaux" is definitely more "erotic" than it is "novel."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My rendez-vous with the french immigration office

Anything that has to do with government papers, travel, citizenship, or bureaucracy in general is a headache. But like so many other things the french take it to an art form.  At 8:30 this past Friday morning, some of my fellow Smith students and I found ourselves in a chaotic line of prospective immigrants outside the french immigration office near the Bastille, and thankfully only a 15 minute walk from chez moi. 

Once let into the building we went through the first sorting process, those with appointments and those without.  After proving that we did indeed belong there at that specific time, we eventually were told to "installez-vous" in the medical waiting room, a place that looked like a cross between a doctors office and a police station.  after a wait we had our eyes checked and our heights and weights recorded (useful because until then I no idea what my measurements were in the metric system). We then had to halfway de-robe and get pulmonary x-rays to check for tuberculosis (best part is I got to keep the x-ray).  Then came individual doctor meetings, where my doctor stressed that I should be eating more five or six times, not appreciated.

Finally, a meeting with an immigration officer, where we showed proof of residence and got a fancy sticker put in our passports.

All in all, maybe the most complicated yet most efficient bureaucratic experience of this whole study-abroad process, and an interesting insight into the immigration process. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Les Cours

 Only about a month later than everyone else in the rest of the world all of my classes have finally started, mais ça va. I am enrolled in two american university classes, a langue et composition class with Smith, and a class called "France-Afrique" hosted by the Middlebury-Hamilton consortium.  My other two classes are at La Sorbonne.

The first of these is a staple for french students the art history department, it is on archeology and art history of ancient least I think so, comprehension is a little tricky au moment. French university classes could not possibly be any more different from Smith classes.  First, there are well over one hundred students in this art history class. We sit at long, thin tables crammed up against each other in a high-ceilinged lecture hall with enormous windows. The professors (the course is composed of three separate classes taught by three different professors) sit at the front of the hall on a raised platform, behind a desk, with a microphone into which they list facts about whatever map they happen to be showing us at the time. Most notably, when the professor who specializes on Alexandria (the Egyptian city) got to the city's significance in contemporary culture, she showed a slide of this little 1970s gem:

Then when class is over we all congregate outside the art history building for a cigarette.

My second class is a master's level course taught in english, supposedly.  It's called "Le reve américain" (the american dream).  I am, unsurprisingly, not the only american.  I am also, surprisingly, not the only eleanor (although her name is spelled éléonore because she is french). 
Les séances so far have been on how to conduct research and write a solid memoire (thesis) on american culture, since part of the master's program is to turn in a research paper in september, well for everyone except me! 

Now, off to write my first 'fiche de lecture' on a book called "Discours sur le colonialisme" par Aimé Césaire!