Friday, September 30, 2011

Livin' the Life

It's a kick and also an energy sapper.  I'm talking about every single daily thing that is encountered.  I do love it, though.  Each experience is a lesson in language and culture, and I also enjoy the dual challenges of accomplishing the bureaucratic intricacies to success and doing so in French.  If I wasn't going to love it, then why do this at my age?  For example, trying to buy shoe inserts to cover the areas  of the shoe that are causing blisters was an interesting exercise in pantomime.  Buying laundry detergent, trash can liners, and most toiletries required more specific vocabulary than I have, so smiling, pointing and using really long explanatory phrases (which is my nature as a lawyer anyway) really went a long way.  I'm quite proud of the end results.  

Living the reality of Paris residency in the first few days is like moving into a new apartment anywhere in the western world.  I have visited the neighborhood hardware store, the neighborhood grocery stores  and the neighborhood drugstores three times each already.  And let's not forget the cellphone store.  I have visited no museums.  This is the major difference from every single one of my many prior visits to Paris.  And that's just fine. 

However, dealing with a seriously leaking valve on the toilet in my apartment and ensuing flood of the bathroom floor all night last night wasn't quite the "reality of living in Paris" that I had in mind for my fourth night here.  Ugh, getting up every couple of hours to bail out a full bucket of leaked water wasn't helping the jet lag recovery.  

But, last night was last night.  And today, I got to stand in line for an hour and a half to get a Navigo card for the métro.  Will I need it?  I'm not at all sure.  Could I have just gotten individual tickets or a Navigo Découverte card for tourists?  Yes, I suppose so.  But, all this is part of the immersion.  I'm stubborn that way.  Anyway, during that time spent in line, watching probably thousands of travelers with luggage pass by me at Gare Montparnasse (or pass through me - I noticed that personal space wasn't respected much around there) on a Friday afternoon, I got to imagine where they were headed - a country house, the suburbs, another country?  All by train!  So exciting (yes, I still suffer from extreme naiveté and excitement over the most minor things).  When it was my turn, I was over-ready, with passport, apartment lease and student ID card.  I've found that being over-ready is what works.  Being under-prepared and you lose in this game.

I am very excited about my Navigo card!

To which I can now add a Vélib subscription!  At least that's done online, until I have to activate it (en français, bien sûr) at a Vélib kiosk when I'm ready to take my first ride in Paris traffic.  And like the Paris American (or American Parisienne) that I am, I'll be the one wearing a bicycle helmet.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

L'été Indien

These days already don't seem real.  Jet-lagged days and nights can feel dream-like, in that perpetually groggy way they often do (for me, anyway).  But, when you add weather that has never been more perfect in all the time I have ever spent in Paris, I just keep blinking and then stepping out again, each morning, each afternoon, each evening, and (being the cynical New Yorker that I am) shaking my head in disbelief and saying to myself, "This has GOT to end soon. " Even the Paris newspapers are making note of it in headlines declaring "L'été indien."

On the other, it really does need to (end soon, that is) because I didn't pack summer clothes. That seems to not be a problem if you're not inclined to care about comfort, because many women here apparently  always (or already, I'm not sure which) dress for cold weather - multiple layers, scarves, even boots!  But there are also those who wear a pair of sandals every chance they get.  And the Texan in me really wants to, but my très petit closet has no sandals; nor do les magasins.  

No matter, I am fully convinced that once the jet lag completely wears off, so will the utterly incroyable weather.

PS - I'll quit with the scenic (oh-let's-make-them-jealous) views.  I just couldn't help myself; this dream, I want to remember for as long as possible.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What France is Known For

Strikes and protest marches.  And Paris had a big one the other day, on just my second day here.  Lucky me!  I bought a salad and baguette at a take-away place, pulled up a park bench and just watched the passing scene.  It appeared to be more block party than protest by the looks of the families and chatty friends and stereophonic live and canned rock music - even in English - blasted from vans in the parade  as they wound their way up the Boulevard Raspail.  It went on like this for hours.  It was a beautiful day, and the kids weren't in school (see below), so why rush?  This was apparently a big deal, protesting against changes in schools and teachers, and even private schools (unaffected by the changes) joined in their support.

This meant children were not in school (either in support, or because teachers weren't working).  At the park bench, I was surrounded by Parisian high school girls who just wanted to talk to me about Katy Perry and Rihana.  My being American didn't help me or them much in that discussion.  Who?  (especially when they pronounced Katy "Kah-tee")  But, I could name Lady Gaga, and that got me back some street cred.

Clearly I'm doing my country proud over here.

Monday, September 26, 2011


I'm exhausted after a full day of flying overseas, moving into an apartment, unpacking, dealing with the odds and ends, and registering for my course in PARIS!  But, even with exhaustion, I cannot hide my enthusiasm and my pleasure with everything that combined to make all this happen.  I am going to become a student again after 30 years!

In fact, I now am the proud owner of a Student ID (ok, so this student photo has gray hair, but also a huge smile, even with the jetlag).

And check out the view I get to walk through each day (as the seasons change) to and from my classes.
Although it looks like fall, sooner here than in New York judging by the color of the leaves and shortness of the daylight hours, it was over 75 degrees and sunny today and is predicted to stay that way through the week.  What a welcome!  Late season sun worshipers abounded (note the apropos palm trees).
That's the same park, by the way, as the first photo, just a few dozen steps apart.

I also noticed this tree trimmer (he probably has a better-sounding title), and realized that these shapes do not happen by magic.  They are the result of hard work, sometimes in the heat.  It was a timely reminder that my time in Paris to learn French will also not be something that happens by magic (it certainly hasn't been thus far).  I, too, plan to be working very hard (perhaps even harder than those, ahem, student sunbathers).
 Hello, gorgeous!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What I Will Miss

I'm already feeling those pangs of missing certain things I love about New York.  I realize I'm not moving away for good, but in my 30 years of residence, I've rarely been away from "the City" for more than 2 weeks!

Here are a few things I already know I'll miss---

1.  The Manhattan skyline while riding over the Triboro Bridge after a return flight to Laguardia, at any and every time of day, and that feeling of "being home."

2.  Zabar's and Fairway.

3.  The Central Park Reservoir and Tennis Courts.

4.  Pier 1 on the Hudson River at summer sunset.

5.  Being able to give tourists accurate directions.

6.  2,000 square feet.

7.  New York in a blizzard.

8.  A less than $150 flight from Chicago to see my college students.

9.  The price of things in US dollars.

10.  Joe Coffee.

11.  Iconic Soho architecture.

12.  Walking through the city for hours and always finding something new.

Sometimes, though, as the saying goes, it makes your heart grow fonder.  And I can honestly say that's already starting to happen.  What an odd and also wonderful feeling of love and appreciation I have for all that is New York, for all that New York has given me over almost all of my adult life, and for the warmth I'll carry with me to Paris, knowing home is always here waiting for me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I took a lot of math, but...

... never have I seen such an equation!  It was great fun to watch these two guys (right arm of the other painter - resting or bored, presumably - is at lower left) hand-painting this billboard, slowly and in real time, over a parking lot at the corner of Crosby and Broome in Soho.
It's not so common to see billboard painters these days, especially in a get-up like that one - suspenders and hat!  
And it's not just an ad using the idea of a complex mathematical equation, as I thought when I watched it being written up there.  It's in fact an actual formula with a "solution."  See this link for a better look at the problem, the solutions to the various component parts and the overall solution itself.  Very clever.  I love the idea of using math and historical events like that to scratch the brain. 

Another "Ah, New York!" moment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Radio Classique

I wrote about my favorite French language learning apps and podcasts in the past, and now need to add a new one!  (It's always fun to find something new to mix it up.)  Radio Classique is a French classical radio station.  I've been listening for about a week now, and the music is lovely.  There's a lot of solo piano, symphonic selections, most of which are familiar and many of which are French in origin, and a small bit of opera.  In between are a few, but not too many,  ads in French for classical music concerts and events in Paris.  

And every time you open the app, a deep baritone voice announces "Radio Classique."  How do they do that?  It did surprise me the first few times; I'm a slow learner.

The app is free and can be found in iTunes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I (bike) New York

(this is not my bike, by the way)
I'd like to have ridden more this summer, but for many reasons, it didn't happen much.  C'est dommage.  Much of my reasoning is fear.  I just don't feel so comfortable on New York City streets as a commuter by bike.

But I've noticed a couple of further improvements to the biking culture of the city that should, more quickly, develop a greater population of cycling commuters and, hence, more awareness, safety and comfort (at least that's my hope).

First, the proliferation of the new bike stands along our sidewalks: I can't see how more than two bikes can reside tethered to that short pole, but it's better than what's been there in the past, which is nothing.  In its absence, there was the creative method of bike-locking, which left bikes attached to street violation poles, construction scaffolding, fences, trees, etc.  Not always so easy, and usually someone else has had the idea before you.  These new additions are going to validate cycling culture just that much more, in my opinion, and will add a few more locking locations to each block.

Second, and more importantly, is finally the announcement that New York City is going to have a true bike-sharing program.  A pilot program had quietly (all but hidden, in fact) been announced earlier this year to commence during the summer of 2011, but that never happened.  This announcement was far splashier, and so we can assume that next summer, we'll have it in place.  How it will be received is anyone's guess, but I'm going to stick with optimism, at least until the program starts or the critics get louder than the cyclists, whichever comes first. 

I'm appalled at the issues some people have with bike lanes, bike sharing programs and new bike racks along the sidewalks.  The general complaint is that we need all that space for either cars or pedestrians.  I can't believe the short-sightedness of such a viewpoint.  I am grateful for the combination of pushiness and far-sightedness of this mayoral administration which is looking to New York's future with these programs.  And I continue to look forward to venturing out, gingerly, into that future, with my bike, helmet and lock.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hyde Park Eats

Downtown Chicago, after morning rain, as seen from Hyde Park
I've visited a number of times now, over the last 3 years, and have never been quite satisfied with the choices of cuisine in Hyde Park, but I think that was because I wasn't really trying very hard. Usually the big effort would be a steak dinner at Gibsons Steakhouse north of the Loop.  All else was just a quick grab, never aiming very high for a memorable meal, when the student in question was still on the college meal plan.

This time, I've been staying somewhat on my own in a Hyde Park apartment rather than downtown, and I've found that dining out, especially (well, actually, exclusively) along East 53rd Street, has been a treat.

For breakfast and an excellent latte, whether you want to relax and are lucky enough to snare one of the cush armchairs, or prefer to sit at the small wooden tables, with lots of light from the corner location's windows, and power strips throughout the café, there's Third World Café.
If a burger is craved, there's Five Guys. What a funny scene that place is.  Just go; you'll see what I mean.  But if you want anything besides a hamburger and/or really good fries, go somewhere else.  That means - no chicken or turkey burger, and a "vegetable" burger that is actually made up of all the other ingredients on a bun that can be added to a hamburger, but containing no meat.  Just picture it - ketchup, onions, pickles, tomato, lettuce.  I didn't.

For sushi and/or a large salad (and a number of other items that also looked great), I was quite impressed with The Sit Down.  Thanks, Allison, for that recommendation.

East 53rd is quite an interesting street, parts definitely gentrified, others untouched for years.  Personally, I love the Blagojevich poster in one of the store windows, which still resides there directly underneath an Obama poster.  

But there was one combination of storefronts I just couldn't help thinking was probably a bad idea.  Maybe no one else has noticed?
The South Side is nothing if not eclectic.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A New Day

Just another sunrise outside my window this morning.  But it's a very different day.  When the youngest child in the family leaves for college, and the nest is about to become empty (yes, I know they come back, thank goodness), everything looks different.

And today is that day.  Onward, to Chicago we go...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

These Boots...

...were made for walkin' (channeling Nancy Sinatra there; if you don't know what I'm talking about it, you might be too young to read this blog.  Just kidding.  If you're reading this blog, please don't stop now.)  God bless these boots, for they got me through up to 10 miles a day of walking over and through bogs, the Burren, mountain passes, fields of high grass and/or rain, and estuaries at low tide, with nary a blister, sore ankle or soaked sock.

Ireland is as green, lovely, rainy and windy as they say (note the photo of the sexy, form-fitting, waterproof rain pants that go "swoosh, swoosh, swoosh" as I walked, creating my own sound system; those pants never came off all week!).  But hiking in Ireland is worth the effort and energy (and sound effects).   

And Dublin?  It was full of charm, students, Trinity College, pubs, the Abbey Theatre, Temple Bar, Merrion Square, St. Stephen's Green, history, poetry, architecture, music and the nicest people I've ever encountered in a big city. 

Here are some of my hike's views (and some new friends I made) along the way.
Note the gray skies (and that was when it was clear enough that I could pull the camera out of its Ziploc baggie).  I will admit that I knew very little about Ireland before this trip.  This was the best way I can imagine to have gotten the education I just received.  That, and the fish and chips.
 - and the book "How the Irish Saved Civilization," by Thomas Cahill, which I was reading throughout the trip when I wasn't sitting in a hot bath.  (However, on the flight back, I got totally sucked into the six-hour HBO noir melodrama "Mildred Pierce," and the flight ended a half hour before the end of the movie - argh!  I had to Google search the rest of it - not quite the same thing, if you know what I mean, especially since most of the movie is so unbelievable anyway.)  But, back to Ireland...

It does seem that, even before this - my first ever hiking vacation - a few others have felt this way, about Ireland and about hiking.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ten Years Ago

I didn't know whether I would write or not write about that day in New York ten years ago, and the days that followed.  It seems that everything that could be said has been said, that everything that could be felt has been felt, and that some extraordinarily unimaginable things have somehow been imagined and realized.

But I was here, living in the same home, raising the same sons.  Everyone was younger, and we were smack in the middle of young family life.  It's impossible not to make the mental contrasts between those days and these, on a personal, emotional, political and global level.  As I said, though, many others have, many who are paid well to do so and, hence, do so much better than I ever could.  So I will stick to the personal.

What I noticed most on the 11th, on this tenth anniversary, was how seared into all my sensory memories those days are.  I can still smell the acrid smell that shifted to the north (toward my neighborhood) the next day after the first black smoke clouds initially blanketed Brooklyn to the east.  I can still hear the sirens that flew past, heading down Broadway, first growing louder, then dissipating in the downtown direction.  I also hear the roaring Air Force jets, and recall the visceral reactions and looks on others' faces in the streets and parks as we would experience them at the same moment and glance at one another in recognition and total ignorance.  I remember seeing everywhere the homemade posters and fliers tacked up on walls, fences and lamp posts, fluttering gently in late summer weather perfection...and the first big rain a couple of nights after, when I sat in bed believing that God must be crying over the failures of his final creation, man.  And then I cried, too.  I remember, too, the initial feelings of survival that kicked in, that I'd never felt before, that were driven by something deep inside - the need to buy food and water, just because we "live on an island," the need to make my way uptown to my sons' school, just because we need to be together.  

Most vivid and most painful, however, is when I told my children what had just happened when I picked them up early from elementary school and walked them home, shortly after the first tower collapsed.  (And in this, I am no different than probably ever other parent who experienced that day similarly, no matter where they lived.)  I knew that this event was going to change their young lives and become as indelible to them as the day Kennedy was assassinated was  to me when I was seven years old.  I took their hands and said, "You're going to remember this day for the rest of your life" before trying to simply, honestly and yet not too fearfully, explain in a few words what was happening, while I understood so little myself.

And yet, ten years later, we were on a transatlantic flight returning to New York from a family vacation.  No words were expressed, officially or otherwise, on the flight.  But we all knew.  I could tell when I would look into someone's eyes.  Awareness, gratitude, and perhaps a little fear.  Or maybe that was just me.  But, from airplane to a very busy JFK airport on a Sunday afternoon, to a full subway train back into Manhattan, all was quiet and purposeful.  We all went where we needed to be, and we all lived our moments, but I know we remembered and carried that with us, with all else that we carry now, ten years later.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Bit More Paris in New York

I'm not sure we need more macaron shops in New York; that trend has come and, well, not exactly "gone," but it's not the new new thing it once was.  Everyone who made cupcakes seemed to move into macarons and now maybe is going back to cupcakes (or bringing them to Paris).  It's all getting so confusing!

But I guess we can always handle a bit more Paris in New York, especially on Madison Avenue (at 71st Street), already the second home for more Parisian designer houses than I care to count.  Ladurée, the self-proclaimed creator of the macaron, is now here, and from the line inside the shop this morning, there's no doubt that there's room for at least one more macaron shop in this town.