Monday, February 29, 2016

go away février

Happy Leap Day everyone! I'm currently staring out the window at the 3rd really sunny day we've had all month. G has his two weeks of school holiday right now, and since the family went skiing all last week, I had a glorious week to myself. This week, I have G all day erryday. Tomorrow we'll probably head to the cinema or perhaps Jardin d'Acclimatation, weather permitting.

Overall, this month has been so boring and I'm ready for it to be over. I can name the things I've done on one hand. Is that my fault? Yeah, probably. But the weather has been so cold, gray, rainy, and windy, that finding the motivation to go somewhere and have to walk in that mess has been hard. I'll just stay home and watch Netflix, thanks. All of that has contributed to my homesickness this month. I can't stand feeling like a caged animal, but that has little to do with my location, and more to do with the cold. I need to be outside. I need to feel heat and sun on my skin. I need nature, and I need it to be green and beautiful. So it's just counting down to warmer days.

I was talking to a friend of mine about how much it has sucked arriving in Paris as the colder months were starting. By the time I leave, I will have had approximately 6 months of cold weather and about 4 of nice weather. It's been a challenge mentally to stay positive and not long to return to America. But then again, America isn't much warmer, so unless someone is willing to pay for me to spend a week in the Bahamas, it's just a matter of waiting for spring. People have asked me what I have enjoyed most about my time here. To be honest, I feel like my best days are ahead of me. When the weather is nicer and I can actually spend my days enjoying the parts of Paris that everyone dreams about...the flowers, the gardens, the parks, walks and picnics along the Seine...those are the days that I long to live through. When I can do my day trips that I have planned, and perhaps visit the South of France or some other part of the country or neighboring country during my next break in April, I feel like those will be my best days. I can't wait to throw on a dress and shoes other than my boots and walk around the city taking pictures. I can't wait for the last day I take off my parka and scarf, and not have to wear leggings under my jeans to keep from freezing to death. Those days are coming, and I'm ready.

Sidebar: Here is a mini French lesson for you all in case you haven't figured it out from the blog title. February is février in French. All their months are used with lower case letters, and this month is pronounced like "fave-ree-ay." A particularly difficult month for me to say due to the French "r" smack dab in the middle. Still haven't quite mastered it. Hearing me pronounce the "r" here is about as funny as hearing the French try to pronounce the English "r" or "th" sounds. Here, the "th" takes on a "t" sound. For example, "tea" in French is thé and sounds like "tay." And whenever G tries to say something like "sorry" in English, it sounds like "sowwy." My language learning has taken a bit of a hiatus. Sometimes it's just really hard to get motivated when I can get by with the little vocabulary I already have. But my private lessons start in a few weeks, so at least that will be the pressure I need to throw myself into it again.

Since my last post, I did have a really fun visit from an old friend here in Paris. Growing up, I went to the same private school from K to 12th grade. Only about 5 of us remained from our original Kindergarten class, and one of those 5 was Jenny K (we had a few other Jennys over the years, so yes, the "K" is an important distinction). Jenny K was always the brains of our class and all of us knew it. If we ever were aiming for academic success, it was always for 2nd place in the class because she was just an unstoppable force that couldn't be beat. After we graduated, we parted ways and never saw each other again, even though she went to another local college in Lynchburg where I also went to school and was about a 15 minute drive away for 4 years.

Thanks to the wonder of Facebook, eventually we reconnected and as it turns out, she has been doing a fellowship in Rome and doing research for her PhD in Archaeology. Pretty sweet place to work on an archaeology degree. I asked her what she got her Master's in, and she very humbly said she didn't have one. I asked if it was because she was published (she is). If you are published and can get accepted into a PhD program, you can skip the Master's level. Told ya. She's wicked smart. Anyway, she planned a visit to Paris, and messaged me a few weeks back seeing if we could meet up. She was only here for a few days, but it was so cool to see someone who I spent all those years with growing up. We chatted about how strange it is to know someone for basically your entire childhood, but live your entire adult life without seeing them around. I took her around Paris to some of my favorite spots, and we had fun trying to collectively name all the people in our graduating class. There were only 20, but it took both of us to remember them all (don't worry, we did). I feel like this would be a great place to put some old yearbook photo of our class, but I don't have any with me. So instead, here is our selfie from Shakespeare and Company where we enjoyed some coffee and the view of Notre Dame.

Later during her visit, we had a beautiful (albeit cold) sunny day, so I had her meet me and my friend Amanda near Jardin du Luxembourg. Amanda hadn't set foot in the garden yet, so it was fun showing her the Medici Fountain (one of my fave spots) and Jenny met up with us later at a really fantastic crêperie. While we were waiting for Jenny to finish up at a museum, Amanda and I visited the beautiful Panthéon building. Once a cathedral, it is now the final resting place of many of France's most famous individuals, including Rousseau, Voltaire, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie. The building was so beautiful both inside and out, and had a great view of the garden and the Eiffel Tower from the front steps.

The Foucault Pendulum. This pendulum was amazing. It looks like it rotates 11° every hour, but in reality it is the earth rotating around it. It sways in the same place the entire time.

Tomb of Rousseau

Tomb of Voltaire

Last week I was on vacation, and since the weather wasn't the greatest, I spent most of the week relaxing, sleeping in, and catching up on my shows. On Thursday, the first part of the day was sunny so I went out to the Palace of Versailles. I had already been to the gardens and the Trianons, but hadn't been inside the main building yet. I got there about an hour after it opened, and only had to stand in line for about 10 minutes or so. It wasn't super crowded yet, so it was great to be able to take my time and take lots of pictures. Here are a few, but I just posted the full album on Facebook.

The Marble Courtyard

Royal Chapel

Marie Antoinette and her oldest two children, Marie Thérèse and Louis XVII.

Hall of Mirrors

The King's Bedchamber

Incredible ceiling in the Gallery of Battles

I may not have done much this month, but I did really enjoy the things I was able to get out and do. Tomorrow is March 1st and I couldn't be more thrilled since it's the month when winter becomes spring. I don't know if it'll be instantly warmer, but this should be a fun month with Easter around the corner, re-starting my French lessons, and hopefully witnessing the first blooms of spring by the end of the month. I've always heard that April in Paris is the most beautiful time of the year, so I'm anxious to see it for myself since it has been on my bucket list forever. It'll be fun to spend more time with some of my friends during the week as well. A couple of them will have some free time opening up, so that'll be great motivation to get out while I'm waiting for G to finish school. As soon as it's warm, I'm sure the weeks are going to slip by so quickly and I'm going to wish they would slow down. I guess I'll have roughly 3 months to cram in as many things as possible, but at least I'll be outside and will hopefully get to explore a lot of areas outside the city. I'm excited! So go away février, and make room for March!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

trois fêtes de France

So far, we are 41 days into the new year. Don't ask me how that's possible. I feel like I just wrote my last post and that was 2 weeks ago! But no complaints here. I'm thrilled that time is flying by so quickly. It means winter is passing by faster than I could have hoped. These past couple of weeks have been kind of a bummer because of how cloudy, rainy, stormy, and windy it has been. I don't mean overcast, but tolerable, but rather very foreboding clouds that practically mandate that you stay home in the warmth and protection of your house. Which is precisely what I've been doing for the most part. Having to walk a mile the other day in rain and 20 mph winds to pick up G from school and not being able to use an umbrella because it keeps blowing inside out isn't exactly a picnic. I'm so over this season.

But on the more interesting side, France has celebrated 3 specific holidays or festivals since ringing in the new year, none of which are widely celebrated in the U.S. the way they are here. The first was Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany, which was celebrated on January 6th. This is the 12th day after Christmas and essentially celebrates the 3 biblical magi visiting the Christ Child. It is not strictly a religious holiday, and is primarily celebrated by eating a galette des Rois or King Cake.  The name for this cake and the type of cake varies by region and even by country (this isn't just a French festival). In northern France, the galette des Rois is a round, flat pastry with a la fève, a small figurine, hidden inside. They also come with a paper crown.These galettes are sold in every single boulangerie by the dozens all throughout the month of January. From what I understand, the galette is cut and the children hide under the table and call out the name of the person who gets the next slice. This is to keep things fair, because the person who ends up with the figurine in their slice gets to be "King" or "Queen" and wear the paper crown. The King or Queen is responsible for buying the next galette at the next party. My host family bought a couple of these galettes, and I ended up Queen with the last one. Huzzah! Mine came with a cute little snowman figurine. Definitely keeping it and the crown as souvenirs.

The second festival was La Chandeleur or Fête des Crêpes celebrated on February 2nd, 40 days after Christmas. La Chandeleur is also known as Candlemas. This religious background of this holiday is to commemorate the presentation of Jesus in the temple. But today it's mostly know as the day the French eat a lot of crêpes. No complaints here. My host family made a stack of crepes and we ate them throughout the day. My favorite crêpes are with ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) but since these were made with a sweet batter instead of salty, I opted for some nutella or jam.

The third festival was Carnaval de Paris, which took place this past Sunday on February 7th. This is similar to other Carnaval celebrations around the world, and is essentially a giant parade with costumes and music from around the world. I had just found out about this the day before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. A little online research told me which metro stop to go to and what time. After church, me and a friend went, but since we were a bit late, we never did find the full parade that walked along an established route to Place de la Republique. However, we did find several groups that were stationary and we enjoyed sitting and watching the costumes and the men and women playing drums and dancing. I was a little bummed though because a friend of mine was playing with one of the groups, but I couldn't find her, and I never did see the entire parade which would have given us the full Carnaval de Paris experience. It was still fun though.

On Saturday, after my sad but honest FB post about being a bit homesick and missing Lynchburg, my French friend Isabelle invited me to hang. We drank tea, watched The Parent Trap and chatted about life, then she took me somewhere I had never been, Bercy Village in the southeastern corner of Paris. I loved it there! It will definitely be somewhere I go more often. It was this really pretty cobblestone street with small stone buildings on both sides, filled with stores, restaurants, and even a pet shop which we visited to look at puppies. :) On the end is a movie theater, so it is a perfect spot to chill on a Saturday night. She took me to a place with amazing cheesecake, and after we devoured slices of the raspberry flavored ones, we headed to a movie with another friend of hers. We saw The 5th was bad, don't waste your time.

Other than that, my church's life groups have started for the spring. They finally have one that's specifically for au pairs since our schedules are so abnormal. I went to the first, but somehow completely forgot about the second week since it was so gloomy and I was having a homesick kind of day. But it's good to have something to look forward to on Fridays.

I've also started brushing up my French skills with Duolingo. I haven't scheduled my private French lessons yet (hoping to start those next month), but sitting down with my old notes from last semester hasn't really helped me determine if I've really learned the material. But I've been flying through Duolingo's lessons and it has boosted my self-esteem a little in terms of what I am grasping.

Next week G's two weeks of school holidays start, and I will have him during the first week and I will be free from the 20th to March 1st. I'd like to get out of town during that time, but I'm not sure it'll happen, so we'll see. If it doesn't, I plan to use that time to really cross a lot of things off my must-do list. Since my vacation is only a week and a half away, and by the time I'm back to my normal schedule it'll be March already, I imagine this month is going to speed by. Not complaining though. Every day that passes is another day closer to warm weather and longer days. *sigh* I can't wait.

Well, that's pretty much all that's been happening the last couple of weeks, hence the shorter post compared to the rest. I haven't been able to get out much during the week, but I have been able to catch up on a little R&R and was able to chat with a couple of friends I've been missing. Hopefully, things will pick up and I'll have a lot more to share once I'm on vaca.

À bientôt!