Thursday, October 29, 2009

view finders

old school!

Walking around the Marais on Saturday morning, I ran into a table selling old view finders. I was so surprised having even seen these, I just had to take a picture. When I was little, I used to play with a big cylinder full of round viewfinder disks and a red View Master at my grandparent's house. I'd point the disk towards the window, and see pictures of Donald Duck at the Taj Majal and the Great Wall of China. Having not seen or given any thought about them for years, seeing these brought back some good memories, hahaha. 

I wonder if kids even play with these anymore nowadays? If not, they're missing out. 

On another note, I'm going to Nice for the 3day weekend! Its fall break here- keep in mind there is no Thanksgiving (or Halloween either, for that matter). In fact, there are no major holidays in between Bastille Day in July and Christmas- no wonder there are Christmas decorations up already. I'm going with 3 other girls from my program, and we'll be hitting up Nice, Monaco, and St. Tropez. I can't wait! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

marche aux puces

In French, that literally means "flea market." There are a few in Paris that are every weekend, and they sell anything you could possibly think of -- furniture, books, clothes (including your grandma's old minks), toys, keys, silverware, you name it. It was like the vendors had uprooted a messy attic and transplanted it on the sidewalk to sell. I didn't see much that I would actually ever buy, but it was fun going around and looking at everything. 

This was a great opportunity to walk around with my camera and just experiment with taking different shots. These photos were taken at the antique market held one weekend right across the street from my building (back in September), and a few were taken at the flea market at Porte de Vanves (I went last weekend), which goes on every weekend. 

random statues and old toys

Some of the vendors specialize in just postcards, or leather chairs, but the majority of them have tables with anything and everything sprawled out with little organization. 

Babar! and suitcases upon suitcases of old books. 

The prices of these items can go from ridiculously cheap (10 embroidered handkerchiefs for 2euro) to unbelievably expensive (one picture frame for 200 euro). I ended up buying some patterned scarves for 3 euro each- half the fun was digging through the box and seeing what I could find. I also got some nice jewelry for only 5euro. 

A pretty pink chair I wanted- only 20 Euros! Too bad I have no way to take it home. 
and a little statue of Rodin's "Thinker"- I found it sitting on a tiny table with its own doily. Funny to think that I saw the actual version at the Rodin Museum in August. 

A box full of billiards balls and animal rubber stamps 

If you ever get a chance to visit Paris, I would definitely recommend a trip to the marche aux puces- it captures a bit of the spirit of the city. The old is mixed with the new, and you never know what you're going to find. As they say, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

Friday, October 23, 2009


I've done it. I caved. I went to the Galeries Lafayette today and bought a winter coat, and its charcoal grey. I now blend in with the Parisians... 

Dressing room photo- classy.  

After the barely-above-zero weather I experienced last week (in October!!), I am now anticipating need to prepare myself to survive the elements. 

Coat shopping is almost as bad as jean shopping- you try on so many that they all start to look the same. And its so hard to find a coat that fits right! Most of them are so long that they drown me and make me look even shorter- not what I need. Another thing I had to be careful of was not accidentally falling in love with a coat that was cotton/polyester blend- the goal here is staying warm- in addition to being fashionable. Definitely something new. At home, I can throw on whatever appeals to me, and material comes in as a secondary factor, if at all. 

The Galeries Lafayette- Think NYC Macy's, or Harrod's.

This place covers 3 city blocks right behind the Opera house (one block each for womens, mens, and home), has its own entrance underground directly out of the metro, and is connected by bridges over the streets. I went through all the floors just to have a look, and they have everything. And the majority are luxury goods that are ridiculously priced. The children's department was ridiculous- I never knew there was Escada, Chloe, Dior, or Burberry for kids (and the list goes on, including lots of ostentatious frippery I would never let my kids wear)- it costs just as much as  the adult versions (but is wayy cuter). I'd expected to see all the luxury brands, but seeing it for kids just really surprised me. Would you buy a 360Euro Burberry coat for your 8 year old? The children's department was definitely emptier of shoppers than the others, though.  

After being told by my friends that I was so easy to pick out in a crowd because of my bright red coat (Salon du Chocolat: "I just look for your red coat when I get lost"), I decided maybe a change wouldn't be a bad thing. I still love my red coat, but I've started to feel really self conscious in it. Try standing in a metro car full of people in blacks and browns. It's like on top of being a foreigner, my clothes are practically announcing it before I open my mouth. I know its stupid to care, and I wish I could be nonchalant about it, but sticking out like that does not do much for my self confidence when I am in a foreign country trying to adapt- especially when any given 7 year old can speak better French than I. Anyway, I'm glad I found a coat I like that will keep me warm, and even happier that its not the same old pea coat you see on everyone in Paris. I am officially prepared for the European winter!! 

EDIT: or not...according to some cold-climate experienced friends, I now need to start looking for a hat and something that will cover my ears. And apparently, earmuffs are not fashionable anymore.

Ugh. For the record, I am now really sick of shopping and am at that point where I will throw on anything to keep warm, even if it makes me look like a kitschy cottonball. Forget fashion. Who needs fashion when you have body heat to conserve? 

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Parc Montsouris, across from my building

I'm 21. After years of looking forward to the day I would finally become an independent adult (18 did not count- I still felt like an awkward teenager), I'm at an age that, in American culture, is the embodiment of fearlessness, confidence, and carefree optimism. 

The equation is engraved in my head after countless lectures by parents, teachers, and all educational institutions I've attended, and it is as follows:  

I'm young.

I'm educated. 

I have a solid moral foundation 

I'm unattached by responsibility. 

So naturally, I have the world at my fingertips. 

They make it sound so easy. No one mentions the oppressive, almost suffocating sense of success that you are expected to reach (although I might also set this up for myself). Failing is not an option. Amidst all my planning- for the GREs, grad school, careers options I could consider- it is easy to do and almost dangerous to stop, because the moment I pause to analyze what I'm doing, it's scary. 

I realize that my future is a blank slate, and I love it. Its the great thing about being 21. There is no set path, no ruts. But it's mapping out my future and pinpointing what I need to do in order to get there that makes me anxious. Entering college, my goal was simple: decide on a major, and graduate, then its happily ever after. Four years later, life has gotten far more complicated- I'm essentially creating a rough blueprint of my professional goals to follow. Ideally, I won't have to readjust and all will go smoothly according to plan, but I'm not stupid. Life just does not work out that way. And the possibility- no, fact - that it won't work out the way I picture is intimidating.    

I wonder how I'll answer these questions when I'm 30? 40? 60?

Did I take advantage of all the opportunities that were out there?

Am I where I always imagined myself to be, or at least going towards achieving those goals? 

What in life is the most meaningful to me? 

How do I define myself at this point in my life? My work? My family? 

How can I make my life more fulfilling? 

What alternate lifestyles could I be living? For example, working as a photojournalist for National Geographic in the Amazon. Or being a pastry chef in Paris. And would I sacrifice what I have now to do it? 

And I'm sincerely wondering,  
Are you living your life the way you'd imagined? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

chocolate heaven

Today, I went to the Salon du Chocolat. Basically, the chocolate convention. Picture the Comic-Con of chocolate, and there you go. Except its a million times better.

 A post about the Salon du Chocolat wouldn't be complete without some eye candy for you guys- so here's lots of pictures. I'll get around to posting them all on facebook eventually... 

The convention center- looks huge, doesnt it?

I was in chocolate heaven. There were free samples everywhere you looked, and every stand had chocolate in every flavor, shape, and size- I tasted some chocolate that I never even knew existed (and in my opinion, shouldn't). 

potpourri chocolate- looks pretty, but does not taste so pretty.
I tried hibiscus, and it tastes like pollen in your mouth, with a grainy texture. blechh.
But apparently people like it- the girls down my hall bought 2 bars.

Green tea chocolate and some kind of Japanese fruit flavored chocolate

I tasted both, and it took all my control not to spit it out. After tasting some of these chocolates, all you want is a glass of water to wash the taste out. Olive oil chocolate? disgusting! Who knew you could go wrong with chocolate? 

 Anyway, on to the good stuff!!

Stand after stand was loaded with all different kinds of chocolates in all shapes and sizes. Best of all, there were FREE samples! I sampled so much chocolate, I got sick of it.

There were not only chocolates, there were sweets of every kind- eclairs, marshmallows, jellies, cookies- including every flavor and color of macaroons imaginable. Yummm. 

a macaroon rainbow!

I never knew you could mount them on a wall like that.
So cool.

chocolate fountains- I saw so many... some were HUGE.

The Opera Garnier- lovingly memorialized in chocolate.

 another ode to the glory of chocolate. 

Of course I need a picture with a Magnum bar (that I can fit inside)
(Magnum bars in Europe are the equivalent of our Dove/Haagen-Dazs bars- so  good!)

They were handing out free Magnum bars, but I was so sick of chocolate by that point it would have made me sick. 

I know- what the heck? Since when do I turn down sugar?

Needless to say, I went home, had some salt for dinner , and I was as good as new the next morning. 

I will post about something other than chocolate next time, I promise (but it's so good...)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

chocolat chaud

The days are getting colder, and its the perfect weather for hot chocolate. But who knew there were so many ways of taking it?

1. The so-thick-you-can-float-a-cookie-on-it kind.

At the Christian Constant (supposedly the best hot chocolate in Paris, but many places claim that title), the chocolate is thick. I think its meant for a true chocolate connoisseur- the chocolate is dark, thick, and complex. There are 4 different kinds of chocolat chaud to choose from, ranging from sweet and smooth to dark and bitter. There's actually a guy in the back room pulverizing chocolate and thickening it with milk for you when you order it. The one I ordered had a bitterness to the aftertaste, and it is not so rich as to be too sweet. But it was very heavy and gave me a hot chocolate coma afterwards. It comes in a little pitcher- If you ever come here, I advise you share, because one serving is too much! A friend and I ended up finishing it over 3 hours of conversation on a blustery fall afternoon. 

the cookies were delicious too!

2. The do-it-yourself style. 

This is how most streetside cafes do it. You get a cup of chocolate and little pitcher of hot milk, and you pour and mix it yourself. It definitely adds a little more fun to the experience. I forget the name of this cafe, but it was in Montmartre. I liked how they gave me my chocolate in the shape of a flower. The chocolate they serve isn't too sweet, is a little milkier and has a slightly bitter taste to it as well.

Swiss Miss will never be the same again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

je suis parisienne!

Map of the Paris Metro
My stop is the Cite U, 4th stop off the Blue line heading directly south from the Ile de Cite (the island). For class, I get off at Luxembourg.

I have a countdown going on my mac dashboard. Currently, I have 66 days left until I fly home. I remember when the ticker still said 96! Anyhow, my numbered days remind me how quickly i've adapted. Examples of my progress:
  1. Bringing an umbrella EVERYWHERE. Especially lately when the weather is so whack. Also in my purse: metro map, compact grocery bag (they charge for plastic bags at a lot of the grocery stores- very smart.), scarf, and camera. 
  2. Knowing the metro system like the back of my hand. Okay, I'm not THAT great (yet), but I can pretty much get where I want to go via the shortest route without reference to the metro map anymore (except once in a while). I have all my routes memorized- including all the stops in between, and a good idea of where all the other ones will take me. Off the top of my head, I can list you all the stops on the RER B in Zone 1 and names of the stops off Tram 3. Not that that would mean anything to you. 
  3. Knowing where to get on and off the metro- literally. As in calculating the distance of how far down the platform to walk so that when I get off, I can do less walking to my exit (especially useful when rushing to class/carrying groceries). 
  4. Finding my way through the underground metro system automatically- I hardly look at the signs because its become so familiar. And some of the stations are like little underground mazes. I need to be careful with this, though, because sometimes I'll get on the metro, and then remember 2 stops down that I need to get off in one stop. 
  5. "Pardon," "Oui," "Merci," and "d'accord" are reflexes similar to how we say "excuse me," and "thank you" in the states- I didn't even really realize this until last week, when I accidentally bumped into a guy with my umbrella and blurted "pardon" without even thinking about it. I hope switching back will be smooth when I get home. 
  6. Speaking in French. Although its still hard to understand native speakers (they talk SO fast), I'm getting better, and I can usually understand most of what they're saying and request for help. 
  7. I've also become better with numbers-- those used to give me such a hard time!! I mean, why say "quatre vingt dix sept" when you can say ninety seven? That pretty much translates to "four (x) twenty (+) ten (+) seven" = 97 (omit the math signs, but in my head thats how it breaks down). Why not "neuf sept" or something LESS of a mouthful? 
  8. People ask me for directions- in French! Like at the metro stop and to the bathrooms at the Sorbonne. And I know how to respond (with the correct directions)!
  9. Mastering the art of walking on cobblestone. Did you know, that the most comfortable way to do it is to make sure that the front pad of your foot hugs the cobblestone so it fits the contours of the front part of the arch in your foot? But I still don't like walking on cobblestone- you need to constantly watch your step so you don't trip. I don't know how the ladies in heels do it-- I marvel at their skill. I don't think I'll never be THAT good!

I am on my way to becoming a well-seasoned Parisian (or maybe i'm just adapting in my own weird way). How sad that all this knowledge will become useless once I get home. 

On a completely other, nonrelated note, I saw the CUTEST golden retriever puppy walking to class today!! She was a little bigger than Bartholomew, maybe, and she was the fluffiest little otter walking along on her leash! I wanted to take a picture but she was on the other side of the street :(

Friday, October 9, 2009

autumn in paris

The Luxembourg Gardens. I walk this path to class every day. 

This is my first time actually experiencing fall- sad, isn't it? And in Paris, of all places... it's so lovely! Minus the freak rainstorms and sudden drops in temperature. But really, I don't know how i'll go back to the monotonous California landscape after this.

 Just look at those trees! 

The concept of autumn is so new to me- I mean, of course i've heard of it and seen numerous pictures, but I'd never actually experienced it. Fall in San Diego means going to the beach as much as you can before winter comes and the weather gets slightly cooler. The eucalyptus smells and looks the same year round (ugly), as does campus and the city in general. Nothing really changes. Here, you can tell the season has changed in the way the air smells of rotting leaves, the way the people dress on the streets, how the metro is more crowded, and the extra bite to the cold at night. Its just... different. I also find it very strange that the French seem to have an aversion to colored clothing. I feel like a sore thumb sticking out in my bright red coat. But I can't resign myself to blacks, beiges, and grays- even to blend in. With such gloomy weather, how can you not throw a splash of cheerfulness into the mix? 

I took the picture two weeks ago, and even now the trees look even more bare and more red/brown. 

Luxembourg Gardens last weekend (same exact spot)- see the difference??

We also haven't had bright sunshine like in the first picture for a while- its been mostly overcast, and the light just comes in differently-- you can definitely tell its fall. I walked to to the market this afternoon to get some groceries, and it was raining (note to self: go to the market when its raining- the lines are shorter). The moody weather we've been having lately just struck me as so dark, gloomy, and depressing weather. How depressing to think that soon it will be like this every day.... *sigh.* How does one be cheerful with such weather? It presses down on your mood...I'm a California girl, I need my sunshine!!

The cocktails we ordered at a bar we went to earlier tonight..."taste the rainbow!" 

I now understand why people drink in colder climates- it seriously keeps you a little warmer and lessens the harshness of the cold once you get outside. At least it did for me walking back to the metro stop in the rain. 

heading home

Thursday, October 8, 2009

biking versailles

Me, biking on the grounds of the Versailles

On the very last nice weekend of the year - I'm not kidding you, and this was only two weekends ago - I was lucky enough to go on a bike tour of Versailles. The sun was shining, there was a perfect breeze- perfect weather for being outdoors!

We started out at the bike rental office in Paris. This means we had to transport our bikes to Versailles. You wouldn't think that its that complicated, but combined with 24 girls, it can get complicated for the reasons below:  

1) We biked through Paris to get to the train station- this means we took up whatever street we happened to be on at the moment (for safety reasons) so that cars could not get by us. I bet the cars hated us. 
2) Once we got to the train station, we had to carry our bikes down the stairs. The wonderful rail transportation system in Paris, granted convenient, is not very consistently handicapped-friendly. Thank goodness for our tour guide who could carry 2 bikes up the stairs at once (impressive, no?) for the weak that could not succeed (I can proudly boast that I was able to do this myself). But then again, its her job. 

On the platform waiting for the train

3) Getting our bikes onto the train. We had to strategically split up into groups of 4, positioned in front of each door. Once the train arrived, we had to place our bikes in the compartment. 
Sounds easy right? Nope. Mine almost didn't make it. Thanks to a marathon going on in Versailles that day, and Sundays being extremely popular days for going outside the city, some compartments are full and do not even have space for you to fit your bike. Like me. Luckily, at the last minute I was saved by our director's husband, who swiftly plopped my bike into the next car over. Thank god for men. 

Once we got there, we biked to the local market, held every day of the week. We put together a picnic lunch for ourselves, but I would have been happy to just look. 


The market was HUGE- it took up 4 street corners, and extended to the indoors (for the winter). I wonder if Versailles has a supermarket, they're obviously not needed.

We picknicked by the huge pond behind Versailles. 

My lunch: ham, cheese, baguette, and raspberries. YUM

the pond- its really long and extends all the way up to the palace fountains. It was such a nice weekend, everyone was out with their families. I so wanted to rent a boat, it looked so fun!

Of course I had to take Bartholomew along. He was long overdue for an adventure. He rode happily with the baguette while I did all the hard labor. 

And then, of course, there was the actual palace of Versailles. After biking around the grounds all day, I have to say that I wished we'd done the tour earlier. We were all tired out from all the biking and weren't able to appreciate the palace in its entirety. But it was still extremely impressive. 

Bartholomew in front of Versailles. 

In the hall of mirrors. 
Like my ultra stylish lanyard/audioguide?

Also: A little portion of one of my favorite painting of all time. The glare was horrible, so I only took this one part of it, but the actual painting is HUGE. It takes up an entire wall of a huge room

Napoleon Crowning Josephine, by Jacques-Louis David

It was the perfect weekend. Since then, we've had cloudy, chilly, rainy, overcast, and altogether unreliable days. Autumn. So beautiful that autumn in southern California (nonexistent) will never be the same again. But i'll post about that another day. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the cite U

I know you've all been dying to see- this is where I live: The Cite Universitaire. 

This is the main entrance to the Cite U. Behind the arches you can kind of see the Maison Internationale- that's where the bank, cafe, dining hall, theater, library, etc. are. The Cite U is like an enclosed park with 38 dormitory buildings bordering it, all for students and themed after a country. Ours is pretty ordinary looking, but the Japan building has a porch like a pagoda, Morocco has a beautiful mosaic-ed entry, Mexico has cactus in the lobby and is painted to look like adobe inside, etc. 

the front of the building 

The back faces a huge park with 37 other "Maisons"- other international houses like Japan, Spain, Mexico, Morocco, etc.- bordering it. I'm in the Maison Des Etats Unis, or the United States building. Most of the students here are graduate students, some are with abroad programs, like me, and most are American. There is a rule that at least 20% of the inhabitants need to be foreign, so there is still a little bit of a mix. I'm still trying to figure out what language the girl next to me speaks (the walls aren't very thick). 

My desk, window, and fridge. 

Luckily, my room faces onto the back of the building, to the nice park. Some of the girls in the program face the front, and the noise is horrible at all hours of the night because we're right across from the metro/tram stop and huge road. I'm on the second floor near a huge stairwell, and since we have such high ceilings and stone/marble staircases, you can always hear people coming and going. 

My sink, towel rack, and part of my closet. 
I'd take a picture, but its not as presentable as Mel's 
(see her facebook photos of her closet at her new place in SF.)

my bed 
not made, but I figured I should take a photo before I forget. 
(Plus, I usually leave my bed half-turned because I don't trust sitting on the blankets they give us.)

I'm hoping that it doesnt get too cold here in the winter- although I hear our building is like an icebox. I'm not surprised though, since it was constructed in the 1920s, and it has high ceilings and tile floors. Yikes. 

I'll take some pictures of the other buildings around the campus, and the library downstairs,  and post them later.