Monday, May 23, 2011

Hello Switzerland… Nice to be back.

It’s just as cute and cosy as I remember. What a déjà-vu to go back to living in a quaint village just outside of town. Except that this town seems to be populated by black suits and high heels, distinguished delegates from god-knows-where that have to ask “Do you speak English” when you speak French to them (what a nice change!) and that Swiss people seem to totally accept all the international-ness. Say whaaat? There are also things that I don’t really remember though in all their vividness, though memories come floating back as I come along. Cue stream of consciousness: ohmygodswitzerlandissooooexpensive oh no i am about to enter the supermarket wait that is the special offer? that is supposed supposed to be cheap? omg i’m not going to afford that geneva is going to suck out every rappen i own oh no i’m in now hm strawberries? cantaloupe? oh i can afford apples well they are expensive but oh well hm cheese shall i get cheese hm yes no yes no well ok i can’t live without cheese. Etc.

Also – Swiss people from Geneva are so nice. Seriously. I have had people show me the way, give me their name to add on facebook (non-creepily) and just – smile. Learn, Paris. Learn, St. Petersburg. Learn.

The view – from everywhere. The café in the Palais des Nations has a huge window front that goes out directly in the garden and onto the lake. Sigh… Want to talk about world peace, now?

And finally – OMG no more number-calculating!!! Soixante, septante, huitante, nonante, cent. GO HOME quatre-vingt dix-neuf! Four-times-twenty plus ten plus nine? France,  you lose. bad.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Things Paris taught me

So of course, whatever happens to all my diaries also happened to my blog – it got lost in the (metaphorical) drawer of semi-important, but not often used things, until in a couple of years somebody digs it out and in a fit of nostalgia decides to keep it. Nearly. Because I purposefully did not set it up as a diary – to write about the restaurant outings I enjoyed, the picknicks I attended and the long runs I achieved in marathon training was not the purpose of this blog and still feels a little self-centred and navel-gazing-ish. However, I did set it up to tell you about major experiences, funny stories happening and impressions of all my travels (by the way, a Morocco recap is still due and will be worked on in the future) and so it merits a couple of posts to reflect on the end of my séjour in Paris and the road to follow. So this is where I will pick up – and just imagine the time between my last post and this one to be filled by blissful, sun-filled days full of attempts to catch and bottle the feeling of Paris in springtime, of outings to Chantilly and Chateau Fontainebleau, of picknicks in any major picknick-worthy spot in the Paris region and attempts to forget about exposés and paper due dates. Friends visiting (hello John!) brought the opportunity to re-visit long-time favorites and to reconsider the common opinion on some gems of Parisian architecture like the Tour Montparnasse (favorite building? really?), while last days of metro-abandonment brought about new perspectives on well-known routes because I just walked them. So there – that is all the diary-ish content you’ll get. Because now I am sitting in Geneva. And that abrupt ending, those unexpected fast goodbyes and see you soon (..?)’s beg the question – what do I take away from living a year in Paris?

Firstly, as very few people will probably argue with, that it is an absolutely gorgeous city. In sunshine as in snow or even in rainy and foggy weather, even after living there for months, it still hit me from time to time – what incredible, unmerited fortune to live a year in this town! Hemingway was absolutely right when he said “In Paris in springtime, the only problem you have is where to be happiest.” I would definitely definitely consider moving back here at some point, maybe not for life – it can be a little full and stressful – but sunsets at the Seine and early morning jogs at Buttes Chaumont are so. worth. any overfilled metro.

Then, the Parisians in their appreciation of good, wholesome, fresh food definitely influenced me in my decision to go into food politics later on. Reading Michael Pollan, about buying local and organic, and having the option of just stumbling out of the door and into a farmer’s market, or to go down to Monoprix and get everything from pasta to toilet paper bio or sustainable made me realize that it is possible to live more in tune with our earth, our community and our food – and that the battle is worth it for me personally.

Paris also taught me about work-life-balance. Yes, you do not want to step on the foot of some overworked lady in the metro in the mornings or you are solely responsible for the snappy response you will get, and Parisians do tend to walk, talk, act and complain fast, but on the other hand, come late afternoon or evening and the cafes, pubs, the banks of the canal and the parks fill up with people sharing a bottle of wine or two, chatting, socializing, taking walks and just enjoying. life. I think that is what lies behind the 35-hour-week and the constant battles of unions (as well as the unspeakable metro strikes) – the French will fight tooth and nail for their right to work and play, not only in university but all their life, and to have the time to appreciate life in its every moment, and not just the couple of weeks of expensive holidays you saved up for. That is a skill I endeavour to emulate, because it seems so important for your health, your sanity, and your happiness. Carpe diem.

Then, there are also some less deep, but not less important (well, maybe less important, haha) experiences. Amongst which -

  • you don’t have to pick up dog poo as long as nobody is watching. But if they are watching, you will instantly become a persona non grata if you don’t.
  • the Russian non-smiling, serious, “don’t f…. with me” face works wonders not only at busy intersections, but also with extremely pushy beggars, rose-sellers in restaurants, and nice old ladies who will cut you in line just because they can. Oh no they can’t.
  • If you don’t break off the tip of your baguette on the way home, you gave yourself away as a tourist. Just go hang out in St.-Michel now.
  • and last, but not least – don’t set your hopes of your ever-lasting love and return to Paris on one of those love-lucks at the Pont des Arts. The Ville de Paris totally cuts them off when they become too crowded. And would you really leave your romantic future in the hand of Parisian bureaucrats? Just buy a plane ticket and come back. Seriously. Because it is so worth it. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

When it snows in Paris

Ohmygosh, it is snowing. People on the street stop in their tracks in their amazement. Look down at their ballerinas and loafers in despair, only now realizing that this might not be the most adequate shoe wear in wintertime. Hang their car keys on the hook and vow not to take them up until it thaws. Cancel their vélib-subscription. And take out their warmest Canadian-Goose-jacket, with furry hood. Just in case.

Paris is definitely not prepared for snow of any kind. It is already flabbergasted when several snowflakes come soaring down from the sky, thanking the weather gods if it melts on the ground. When there are snowy gusts or even snowstorms that wrap the city overnight in a white cloak, everybody freezes in their activity and waits for the inevitable to happen. However, when even the public transport workers freeze in their activity and wait, the inevitable will roll around even more quickly and ferociously. The inevitable looks a bit like this (with a true snowball effect):

- The city doesn’t have enough snowploughs or salt or other equipment to clear the streets, so most people either slide around on their way to work or take the metro. (This winter, the city used 1/3 of their supply of salt in one weekend. Go figure.)

- Since they can’t use their car, everybody tries to use the metro.

- The metro lines, not used to so much traffic, breaks down.

- People who don’t know about this continue to try to get on, leading to a huge “pedestrian jam” in the main switching point Chatelet.

- Airports can’t clear the tarmac well enough or de-freeze the planes, so they get shut down as well. Occasionally, an airport terminal will have to be evacuated because the snow threatens to destroy the roof (happened around Christmas in Charles de Gaulle).

- The parks can’t be cleared of snow either, are apparently too dangerous for public liability reasons and are closed off.

- Nevertheless, people somehow manage to get in and go skiing and snowboarding. On a slope that wouldn’t even qualify as hill in Switzerland. In a closed-off park.

- It therefore seems as if at least (and only?) the snowboarders are happy when it snows in Paris.

End of Semester = Christmas Time?

I haven’t posted for so long that I am nearly embarrassed to start again, but honestly, those last weeks in Paris didn’t include that much blog-worthy. Highlights were visiting the Monet-exhibition in the Grand Palais (which included paintings from around the whole world and gave an enormous insight in his artistic method, since you could see two nearly identical paintings of the same scenery one next to another, with only changes in lighting or the seasons to distinguish them), exploring Paris anew with Erica in the worst snow storm ever (secret tip – we discovered that Shakespeare and Co. has an upstairs reading room, the cosiest thing imaginable, with old books which are not for sale, but only there in order to be read while the rain or snow is pounding on the windows), going to tea time with Aude to this amazingly posh tea room (Mariage et Frères? or something similar) where waiters in white smokings would pull out the chairs for us and serve us steaming hot pots of tea and delicious scones, and seeing the Youth Symphony Orchestra, also with Aude and her mom, play – leading us to the conclusion that clearly, we have already wasted our years, because what are we doing bumming around in school while others play that amazingly on stage?

Other than that, my days were filled with reading, summarizing, writing, reading, summarizing, writing, presenting, reading, summarizing, pulling my hair out over quantitative data – I had to finish up 5 papers (including a 20-pager) in 2 weeks and was going nuts. Well, it is done. It may not have been done as brilliantly or with as much insight as my teachers expect, but it is done. Plus, now I know more about the Operation Condor, the RAF, Jobbik, the Serbian Radical Party, the legal interpretations of the Iraq war, and Germany and France’s stance on that war than ever before – if any of these topics interest you, though, please don’t ask me. I am done with them. =P

What I do love about Paris in wintertime – when I am able to leave the house in a futile attempt to relax from the stress – is the atmosphere that gives the city a warm, hospitable glow. The lights. The Eiffel tower sparkling in the darkness. The Christmas markets – in La Defense, St.-Germain-des-Près, on the Champs-Élysee – that try to tempt you to have a glass of mulled wine and a Nutella-crepe. Everything about Paris in winter screams – or rather, whispers in a soothing voice – cosiness, relaxation, and the promise of a warm cup of tea in your house. Except when it starts to snow. But that is a story for another post.