Saturday, June 11, 2011

Au Revoir: The Final Post

I've been back in the states for about two and a half weeks now and it's finally time to write the final chapter of my study-abroad saga. When I started this blog, I did it to serve the dual purposes of recording my experiences for my friends and family to see and also as a way to organize my thoughts and process the significance of my various adventures. I read back over it today and it was amazing to see how my perception of the world has shifted so much in only about 5 months. To close, I thought I'd do a Q and A sesh with some questions that I've been asked since I've returned home and some questions that have been lingering in my own mind about my time in Paris.

What was the first thing you did when you arrived in Paris?
The first thing I did, after going to Accent and meeting up with the rest of the USC peeps, was to walk around the Bastille and then at some point we wandered across the Seine...I just remember how in awe and grateful we all were...I almost walked into a lady because I was so enamored by the architecture.
What did you hope to gain from your study abroad in Paris?
I wanted to learn more french...I remember that in the beginning I wanted to be fluent, which seems hilarious now haha. I also wanted to learn more about French culture and to travel and to know what it would be like to be an exchange student.
What did you miss most about the United States?
 I missed my friends and family, obviously. I also came to realize how much more nice and laid back most Americans are in comparison to a lot of Parisians. I also missed decent Mexican food haha. Weird, I know haha.
What was your most "glam" moment in Paris?
I had my fair share of "glam" moments in Paris but my favorite was the night I went to see the ballet Copèlia at Palais Garnier. I was wearing a purple silk BCBG dress and I was with Lindsey P. When I left the opera it was surprisingly warm so I just walked around for a while and then I took the metro home. When I walked up the stairs to get to the street level a gust of wind caught my dress in just the right way and blew up a plume of purple silk while I was walking out of the metro and I remember being happy and thinking how cool the night had been.
What did you think about the guys you met?
I met a lot of cool guys abroad, it's hard to make a general statement. I feel like I grew up a lot and learned a lot. One thing I feel I can say about "European guys" is that it's refreshingly easy to know how they feel about you. No awkward friend zone in France.
What is your favorite tourist attraction in Paris?
I really liked the Eiffel Tower, I don't care how boring that sounds. Beautiful during the day, even more beautiful at night. Beautiful close up, Beautiful far away. From the top, you get an amazing, 360 degree view of the city.
Who will you miss the most?
I'll miss my madame, she was really cool and I learned a lot from her. In general,  I met a lot of really interesting people that I only got to spend a few hours with in some cases, but it was a good lesson in just letting life flow through you and enjoying it for what it is instead of trying to grasp on to things.
What's something you consider to be really important that you learned from study abroad?
I learned that when I need to be, I am extremely competent. I can live in a foreign city and be okay. I can get around by myself. This was my first time abroad, so for me it was a major achievement.
What's your favorite memory from Paris?
My favorite memories of Paris are the various amazing spring picnics that I had with the "crew". My favorite spot was Invalides. Just chillin and playing ultimate and shocking the french ppl with my female athleticism.
What's something that you learned about French culture?
 I learned that many French are ,"Reverent of the past, hesitant about the present and afraid of the future". History plays a big part and they're not a big fan of a lot of change or things that we would consider "progress" from an American perspective.
Are you fluent now?
Ha not quite. Though if I had to quantify it, I'd say I'm about 77% fluent.
What did you really like about your host university, Sciences Po?
I liked that we had a cute little courtyard garden, and that we got free copies of Wall Street Journal Europe haha. I liked the location of the school and I liked the majority of my professors. I liked that there were a lot of international students there.
What did you really dislike about it?
This is no fault of ScoPo, but I'm not a huge fan of the French style of higher education. Not a big fan of formulating problematiques and such. I dont have any major complaints about Sciences Po, I learned a lot there and I felt lucky to be there (most of the time haha)
What surprised you most about your time in Paris?
How quickly it would pass, how much I would be able to do in such a short amount of time, how much and yet how little I know about Paris somewhere so foreign can come to feel like home
What do you miss most about la vie parisienne?
Walking. I miss being able to wander around and find interesting stuff. I wish we had more walkable cities in the U.S.

Thank you to all of my friends and family, to everyone who gave me positive feedback and encouraged me to continue blogging. I'm glad that you've enjoyed my blog and I've certainly enjoyed writing it. I hope that this blog has been informative and perhaps humorous, maybe even educational at times. Thanks again for following me on what has certainly been an amazing time in my life. :)

À bientôt for now...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bonus Post:: Touring Paris with the Tastebuds

I'm no food blogger, but I realized when I went to Europe that in any country the food is a large part of the cultural experience. In France, eating and preparing food was viewed as being tantamount to a sacred ritual.  No wonder French cuisine was added to UNESCO's list of the world's "intangible cultural heritage". Sometimes when I came aross something really tasty, unusual, or something with symbolic significance to my experience there, I took a picture of it. Here is my trip, as experienced through my taste buds.

First drink purchased ever...pint of Guiness

What was to be the first of many, many macaroons. Purchased from my favorite patisserie on the corner of blvd St. Germain and Rue de Bac.

Tartine w/ tomates et fromage. Purchased during dinner with the Berkley Girls after a Welcome Week session with "Gregoire".

A glimpse into my grocery basket...

Fettucini with morels. Consumed during my Welcome Week group dinner at a little restaurant across the street from the Seine and Notre Dame

First Ladurée St. Honoré

Falafels with hummus and tahini sauce. Dinner in the Marais on a cold winter's Saturday when L'As du Falafel wasn't open

Close-up of a chocolate eclair

Starving on Champs Elysées, I decided to try the first Mc Donalds that i'd had in years out of perhaps a misguided sense of homesickness? Right after I experienced a surprisingly suggestive wink from a French waiter at a nearby café.

L'as du Falafel falafel. aka "vegetarian's best friend in Paris" aka "delicious cheap eats"aka "best falafel I have had and probably will ever have in my life." Lenny Kravitz approved.

Coffee purchased on a Sunday when Pedro, Isa, and I went to hang out around one of Paris' canals.

Best Chocolate Mousse in Paris at Chez René on Blv. Saint Germain, according to Le Figaro

Pizza during a much-needed dinner outing with Elise and Prerna.  Boy talk heals the soul.

Kir, my favorite drink. Mix white wine and syrup of cassis.

Nachos-my version of comfort food. It took about 2 days to compile all of the ingredients required to make this. Not pictured: sketchy guy selling avocados out of boxes near the metro entrance.

One of my many lunch dates with Isa E. Croque Monsieur for her and Club Vegétarienne for me.

Salad au Chevre Chaude from an Ashkenazi restaurant in the Marais

And for dessert, créme brulée!

Blurry, but awesome. Piece of Mille Feuille (literally, "a thousand sheets") with a chocolate fan on top that my friend Victoria S. got me for my 21st birthday.

Fresh produce from Marché Richard Lenoir in the Bastille

60% of my diet in France: baugette and cheese

St. Honoré au Framboise (raspberry) waaaayyy better than the original. So delicious. And yes, that is a rose petal on top.
France taught me to value the preparation, the consumption, and the quality of food. Not to say that I won't eat a Dorito from time to time but I do think more about the quality of ingredients that I use in my food now than I did before. Well prepared food can be something that brings you and your friends together, or give you a reason to savor a certain evening or event. For me, each of these meals represents a memory.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Roman Holiday

The day after the French Open I jetted off to Rome, Italy. OR, should I say, Roma, Italia. This was an interesting trip because I a) flew to and from a foreign country by myself and b) went to a country where neither I nor my traveling companion could speak the language. When I arrived, I realized how little prep I had done for my trip. Basically the only things I had done to get ready consisted of printing a map to my hostel and learning the phrases scusa (excuse me), grazi (thank you), prego (you're welcome) and sono americano ( I am american). I took a bus into Rome from Fiumicino Airport and checked out the Italian contryside from the comfort of my bus window. I liken Italy (from what I saw from the plane ride in and the bus ride into Rome) to what Los Angeles wants to be when it grows up. Beautiful hilltop villas, nice Mediterannean climate. I got lost a bit on my way to the hostel but hey, that's how you REALLY learn a city, right? I was supposed to meet up with Nina  that day at Trevi fountain but ended up getting there too late to find her.

Despite the somewhat rough start, I had an excellent time in Rome. As a kid, I was somewhat obsessed with Greco-Roman history so for me all the ruins-touring was right up my alley. I even busted out my gladiator sandals for the occasion. A lot of my clothes for the trip had either a greek key pattern or could be worn column style or had some sort of ancient empire-y look about them, but I think that's mostly because that's just how I like to dress in general.
The magnificent Trevi Fountain: deceptively large fountain in a deceptively small piazza

The Spanish Steps

Ramp at the Museo Vaticani

How appropo!

On my way up to Palatine hill

Roman Forum!

Pantheon: the coolest of them all

Again, highlighting how unprepared I was for the trip, I rolled up to the Vatican City in a tank dress. Luckily, I was wearing the convertable Amer Apper scarf my sister gave me and I was able to transform it into a tunic that was longer than knee-length and covered my shoulders. The security guard laughed as he helped me adjust it before we went inside. I couldn't move my arms, but I was in!

Hemingway refered to Paris as a "moveable feast" in his memoirs but for me Rome was a moveable feast in the more literal since. Or perhaps,I mean to say that I basically ate until I was almost unable to move. Nina found a neighborhood restaurant that was highly recommended in her guidebook that I was skeptical about until the nightime transformed the humble little restaurant with outdoor sidewalk tables into a scene straight out of a Fellini film. There were plenty of regulars there, smoking and chatting and eating, living la "dolce vita". The fettuccine alfredo with porcini mushrooms was amaaazing.

Sicilian dessert called Cassata

One evening, at my behest, Nina and I got dinner in the Jewish Ghetto to try the famous Carciofi alla Giudia, or artichoke cooked in the jewish style. Unfortunately, it didn't look that good or taste much better. We befriended some Roman gentlemen that we were sitting next to at the restaurant. One of them owned a art studio where he made mosaics, and he invited us up to check them out. This sounds creepy but the awesome thing is that it totally wasn't. Both guys were nice and respectful. I could say the same of the majority of the guys I came in contact with there, which puts Rome head and shoulders above Paris in that regard.

Again, this trip was enhanced by the unplanned things. Wandering aimlessly around Rome is one of the best things in the world. I also had the opportunity to meet some really cool people at the hostel I was staying at, The Yellow. We'd hit up the local pizza joint, where the guys in the kitchen would poke their heads out and try to talk to you. One of the things that really struck me about Rome was how amazing it was that the city co-existed with the ruins. Rome was literally like a living museum. I can't imagine what it would be like to see magnificent structures like the Roman Forum or the Colosseum on a regular basis. I love Rome, hopefully I'll be back soon :)
From the top of St. Peter's