Monday, January 18, 2016

Catacombs, d'Orsay, friends, and frigid weather

It seems like winter has finally arrived in the City of Light. Until now, there have been a smattering of cold days here and there, but for the most part, being outside was fairly tolerable with the right outerwear. But this past week, like the rest of the world it seems, it's been frigid and intolerable. I even saw a puddle that had been frozen over the other day on my way to the RER station. First time it's been cold enough to freeze water. This past Friday was so cold, that when my host parents got home from work, I didn't even want to go into the city. I was quite content to stay warm in my pjs. But I'm only living in Paris one time in my life, so the next morning, I begrudgingly layered on clothes and my parka, and headed into the city for the day.

I was meeting a new friend from Russia and her friend from Croatia, and we spent the day getting lunch, eating gelato (in a very warm shop, not outside in the freezing cold), and wandering around Bastille, République, and the area near Notre Dame. This new friend was wearing holey jeans, sneakers with ankle socks, and a jacket not nearly as thick as my parka, and she didn't seem particularly bothered by the icy temperatures. Meanwhile, I'm trying not to picture myself on a Caribbean beach and how wonderful the sun would feel beating down on my skin. If the wind wasn't blowing and we were walking, it wasn't horrible. But for those who know me well and know my disdain for all things cold and winter, you would probably be surprised to have seen me wondering outside all day on Saturday. That evening, I said goodbye to my warm blooded friends, and made my way to the apartment of the friend I met at Hillsong. She and I had dinner last week after meeting at church, and this time we met at her place near the northeast side of Paris. This is as far east as I have been so far within the city. I've really enjoyed getting to know her though. Sometimes you just know you were meant to meet someone, and I know it wasn't an accident that I went to Hillsong church on that random day and sat in that random seat. Definitely wasn't just a coincidence. Her boyfriend lives in Germany and she invited me along for a weekend next time she goes. They are also planning a trip to the US late this summer, so it would be really fun if they were able to visit me.

Since my last post, I've really made an effort to check items off of my list of must-do items while I'm here in France. I don't always have people to go with, so getting motivated to head out into the cold weather by myself is hard sometimes. When the warm weather rolls in and everything starts to bloom, I'll probably never see the inside of my house until it's time for me to go to bed. But for now, it requires an extra boost of energy and a desire to make sure I do everything I want to do.

A couple of weekends ago, I set out for the Catacombs of Paris and Musée d'Orsay. The catacombs are the final resting place of about 6 million Parisians due to the limits of space in graveyards at the time. You can read more about the history on their official website. It was really interesting. I opted for the audio guide which was a few euros more than the ticket to enter. The catacombs are about 5 stories underground, and actually lie below the level of the metro. However, the tunnels were not nearly as dark and dank as I was expecting. At 5'6", I could walk the entire length of the tunnel without ducking, although at some points, the ceiling was about 6 inches above my head. People close to or over 6 feet tall might not find it as comfortable since there would be a lot of ducking in some areas. But the entire tunnel was well lit, and there were a lot of people walking through, so was it scary? No, not at all. Although, some might find it creepy that the bones were generally arranged in decorative ways. The entire length of the tunnel had a black line painted on the ceiling. Since the catacombs are a labyrinth of tunnels (most of which are closed so people don't get lost and die...which did happen originally), the line on the ceiling was to guide people through without getting lost. I took a lot of photos, but here are a few.

After leaving the catacombs, I headed to Musée d'Orsay. Most of the time, the lines for museums are pretty long. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got out of the RER and saw that I could walk right into the building. The museum is beautiful on the inside. The main part of the museum is open with rooms around the outer edges which display permanent paintings and other art. There was even another mini Statue of Liberty where the sculptures were located.

I really wanted to see the paintings of Monet and Van Gogh first. The impressionist section of the museum was on the 5th floor. 5th? Where is there a 5th floor? I was so confused, but turns out, there is no 3rd or 4th floor to visit. Instead, when you walk to the back of the museum, there is an escalator that takes you to the very top, in a separate wing of the museum. It was here that I got to see the work of Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, and many more I wasn't as familiar with. I am no art expert, nor do I feel the need to sit on a bench and stare at a single painting for half an hour. But I can still appreciate the beauty of the work I was able to see, and it felt surreal to see paintings firsthand of artists I've heard about my entire life. Here are a few of the ones I saw.

Renoir (this one reminds me of the painting in an episode of Gilmore Girls. Kristy, if you're reading, the exact one from GG is in Boston, so go find it!)

Monet, from his "Water Lillies" collection.

Monet, the bridge at Giverny that I cannot wait to visit this spring.

Degas, whose work primarily consisted of paintings of dancers.

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

I forgot to take a picture of the artist's name for this one, I just really liked it with the French flag.

They also had an exhibit in the back of the museum of Charles Garnier's famous opera house, better known as Palais Garnier. They had a huge model of the opera house, but cut in half to display the interior layout. They also had a model of the city near Opera under a glass floor that you could walk on. I wasn't entirely sure of the purpose of this, but it was pretty cool. I kind of wish they would have hidden a little Phantom of the Opera in there somewhere. Would have made me laugh.

Last week, my old roommate happened to be in Paris. She is a professor at my alma mater, Liberty University, and will be leading a trip of students to eastern Europe this spring. In order to be a leader, the tour company requires an orientation. So she and a few other profs from LU came to town this weekend. Katy came alone a few days early to have more time to explore the city. She even brought me some American goodies that are priceless commodities on this side of the pond: Jif peanut butter and Utz crab chips. I was thrilled, and have eaten peanut butter toast every morning since. Last night, I made my host mom try a small spoonful of peanut butter. She said they had seen peanut butter on American tv before, but she had never tried it. She looked at it apprehensively, then took a bite. Her face was pleasantly surprised, and I got a C'est bon! (It's good!). So I considered that a victory. I explained that peanut butter and chocolate were basically a staple in American baking, and told her I'd find a recipe for peanut butter chocolate cookies and make them. G tried my crab chips (my host mom wouldn't touch them) and gagged. I made his older brother try a couple too, and he said "It's weird." I went on to explain that not everyone in America liked crab chips or Old Bay, and it was a pretty "Maryland" specific taste.

I had fun showing her around the city, even though our time was limited. But I did get to cross something off my to-do list while she was here. My host mom had told me to visit Tour Montparnasse, which is a skyscraper that overlooks the entire city of Paris. 56 floors up, the views were incredible. It was cold and windy, but not a bad day to visit. It rained for a few minutes, and we went to the inside of the top floor to seek refuge and noticed that a rainbow was spreading across the city. Excited, we sprinted back up to the outside deck and took a bunch of pictures. What was really awesome was seeing the rain behind the Eiffel Tower. The rain in the photo was situated right over my suburb, Houilles, and sure enough, when I got back home it had rained there. I thought that was so cool to have seen it rain in my town from so far away.


Rainbow over Jardin du Luxembourg.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmarte in the distance, and the Louvre toward the bottom of the picture.

Awful shadow over my face, but oh well.

Although it was absolutely beautiful up there during the day, I can't wait to visit again at night and see the city lights. Although, the one downside to this particular visit is it will forever be the location I found out Alan Rickman (our beloved Severus Snape) died. Thanks Soph.

As far as updates on my French, I was able to set up private lessons, and I will start those in March. They are more expensive, so based on what I've already paid, I will only be able to do 1 per week over 8 weeks. That's ok though. It'll give me more time to do other things in Paris. I have to say though, most people here speak some level of English, particularly people my age. Learning English is required in the public school system here, and even G has some English vocabulary to learn from time to time. This is why G's older brother who goes to university speaks such good English. I'm sure some Parisians may be less inclined to be helpful, but everyone I've met so far has been very gracious about the language barrier. There have been a couple of times when I went to Chipotle where I walked in intending to attempt to order in French. They speak English well there, so I tend to use that as a crutch. But the first time I resolved not to speak English, I walk in and say one word: assiette. This doesn't translate to the word "bowl," but rather "plate" or "dish," but it is the equivalent of ordering a burrito bowl. The first time this happened, as soon as I said this one word, the response was a friendly "ok, white or brown rice?" Alright then. So I proceeded to order in English. I get to the cashier, and we had a funny moment where she meant to ask if I wanted water, but she said "agua" (Spanish for water), then shook her head and apologized then said "water." Then after I paid, she says a friendly "Bon appetit! Whoops, sorry, I mean, enjoy!" I walked away laughing to myself because a French girl just apologized to me for using French in her own country. The second time I attempted to walk in and order the same thing, I said the same word again: assiette. And I got the same reaction of asking if I wanted white or brown rice in English. There was no one behind me in line, so I started laughing with the girls asking what gave me away, and that I would come in to try to order in French and somehow I seemed very American. They laughed and said that it was my accent. I told them I was trying, and I'd have to work on that. I really enjoy going there, not just because it's Chipotle, one of my favorites, but because they are so fun and friendly. Although, I guess I have to work on my accent when speaking French.

I have to say, this week I have been thinking a lot about how frequently I meet new people from all over the world. I remember being in Lynchburg and sitting in my house with just wishing I could meet new and interesting people. I was at the point where I was just bored with life until I came here. Now, it seems like a distant memory that I ever was bored or had a lack of new people in my life. This weekend alone I hung out with 4 new people over a period of a couple days, and that's not including those I met in the last couple of weeks. I love it. I love hearing about someone's life that was not in the same bubble that I have been in for the last 11 years. It's just a really exciting time in my life, and I'm so thankful for it. I may be cold, but I'm never bored, and as of late, the loneliness I had been feeling before the holidays has subsided greatly. Now if it would just get warm outside ASAP, then life will just really be awesome.

Until next time!