Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Paris daily

Ah, how quickly we've settled into routine...

There's a gentle rhythm to days when you have a few things that you have to do but plenty of time in which to do them. That means there's time for all those other little things, like writing in a journal, planning out a day-trip for later in the week, and gazing out the window at the roof across the courtyard and the gray sky above it, with the clouds that slowly move across the whole scene.

That's what's happened in our second week here; we've got our little routines, but that doesn't mean we've sunk into ruts! Hardly. I made a day-trip to Fontainbleau this week.
The Library, CC*BY Mark Schlemmer
I am not sure I've ever seen a man-made thing so over-the-top, though I no doubt will find Versaille even more so than Fontainbleau, from what I've heard. But then there's the Grand Canyon, the desert at sunrise and Big Sur. I get chills just thinking about places like that. Not so much with castles.

But chocolat chaud, absolutely incredible. I will swoon over a good hot chocolate any time. I had one this week. It was served with an empty cup and two little pitchers. The smaller pitcher was filled with smooth-as-silk melted hot chocolate; the second with steamed milk. Being a novice, not knowing just how to proceed, I just poured *all* the chocolate into my cup and then topped it off with a little hot milk. I could have died right there after the first sip and been completely content. So this is now the chocolate trip, like our earlier trip was the gelato trip. We had for that trip a daily budget for gelato of about $15, and that was a decade ago. This time chocolat chaud, oh, and croissants.
Chocolat chaud, à la Carette

French is coming along well. There are times I hear and understand whole conversations, short ones to be sure, but still. Every word! Yea! Other times I understand nothing, but those are usually other people's conversations where I lack context. And most people talk so fast. I think I'm disadvantaged by being from Texas. I just talk slower and I hear slower too, I guess. I love the classes though and can't imagine missing even a single day. We're reading these lovely little stories about "minuscule pleasures." Exactly my kind of thing. One need only notice to find life an incredible thing.
Premiére Gorgée
The book is called La Premiére Gorgée de Biére, by Philippe Delerm. The first sip of beer, out of the bottle. Dennis has always said it was the best. My favorite story so far, "Helping to shell peas." Imagine that.

The morning classes, as much as I love them, make my trips to the bakery a very early morning ritual because I have to fit them in along with quite a few other things before I go to class. So, leisurely mornings are reserved to the weekends. Sounds so familiar, like a time far away and long ago.

So, 'en avant la troisiéme semaine!'
Eric Kaiser Bakery

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ten days in Paris

What an adventure! I’ve barely been able to catch my breath this first 10 days because Road Scholar whisked me into gear only hours after we arrived in Paris. The first 3 days were a seemingly unending series of dinners, breakfasts and lunches, with meetings in between, or trips around the neighborhood where most of the students in the French course I’m taking are staying, or to the Sunday morning market. For that one, we had a French restaurant chef as our guide to picking the best fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olive oils and fish!

That’s all very good information for me, as I love to cook, and our little Paris garret has a nicely equipped kitchen. 
Rainy day courtyard

La cuisine!
The Road Scholar program offered a “commuter” option, which let us choose our own place to live. I wanted somewhere centrally located, and with a real kitchen and a few other features that the Adagio (the apartment that students stay in who don’t choose their own accommodations) didn’t offer. So I found this wonderful apartment through AirBnB, right on the Seine, across from the L’œuvre, in a 300-year-old five-story building. 

Le salon
We love it!

There is an elevator...
Take today: Paris is more like winter than spring for us this Sunday. It’s cold, rainy, and we’re inside, warm as toast, listening to Vivaldi and having our dejeuner of ‘pain avec du beurre et de la confiture, et café, bien sûr.’ 

Le dejeuner
But tonight I’ll get to cook a homemade pasta sauce and serve it over spaghetti, with a salad of fresh greens and other goodies from our local market, Marché Saint Germaine des Prés.

No way this will compare with the dinner we had last night, Saturday, at La Buca, down near Place Buci – a 3 course affair where we could easily have called it a night after the first course! And that fabulous dinner had followed an equally impressive beginning at Prescription, our “neighborhood” bar, where we had wonderful cocktails and a copita of Del Maguey’s Tobala. We literally fell into bed after our walk home.

So, that is our first free weekend. During the week we were much more like ‘des tourists.’ I walk to my class each morning, after a quick trip to our local boulangerie for the day’s bread, and a breakfast with Dennis of bread (sourdough, croissants, pain au chocolat) with butter, jam, and fruit, with yogurt and orange juice and coffee. Actually, that’s an enormous breakfast by French standards, but it’s what we love. All fresh, and delicious.

Nôtre Dame
My classes are incredible. I can’t recommend the Road Scholar independent live and study in Paris program more highly. Class meets 3 hours each morning, Monday through Thursday, and then all day on Friday. Fridays are devoted to learning about French culture, art and history. Last Friday we had a lecture about the middle ages, up to the time of the revolution (1789). We visited the Conciergerie, Saint Chappelle and Nôtre Dame. The lecturer is really wonderful. He’ll be joining us next Friday for the continuation of this theme, with our day trip to Fontainbleu.

The rest of the time we are in Paris, outside the class times, we are totally on our own, free to do whatever we want, when we want. Like being retired! La vie est belle!

Dennis isn’t taking the classes, so he’s off exploring in the mornings, and in the afternoons after I get home, he and I take long walks, usually with a destination in mind, or errands to run. We ride the busses and take the subway as needed (weekly and monthly passes), but mostly we walk. One does not come to Paris to lose weight, but it would be nice not to gain too much… This week we explored little pockets of "old neighborhoods" hidden within larger quarters of the Paris districts. Such hidden gems were the subject of our first week's study in our French classes, as taught by our talented Madam Bocquet, or, as she prefers, Odile. The first neighborhood was La cité floral. Indeed.

In the evenings we prepare our little repas, do emails, spend a little time on FB, and then watch some little BBC or PBS drama, or science program, or an Australian murder mystery like the Miss Fisher series, all on YouTube of course, and off to bed!

I am learning French, and really having so much fun doing so. I’ve studied off and on for more than 10 years, but I’ve learned the most when I was here, especially the two weeks I spent with my friend Zarah, who lives in Lyon. We spoke nothing but French the whole time. That’s what it takes, really, being here. I don’t have quite the “only French” situation now, because when Dennis and I are together, we don’t speak French, but, on the other hand, I’ve never had classes quite like these, geared precisely to where I am and what I need to progress. They are very practical, not so much about grammar and all (which it’s assumed, for those who are intermediate to advanced, we all have had plenty of), but more about vocabulary and how to say things like they are actually said, rather than how we as speakers of English might think they would be said. The subjects about which we speak are all relevant and interesting (like learning all about the character and differences among the neighborhoods in Paris, first week). And the classes are entirely in French, though the beginners’ courses are not. The course is offered through the IESA, Institut Supérieur des Arts, Paris. Their instructors are fabulous.

Flower market
So, highlights of these first 10 days for me include visiting the flower market on Île de la Cité, understanding more and more of what I hear around me, as well as understanding my teachers (we have two) when they speak quickly as well as slowly, getting braver about speaking with people I meet in social situations, and vendors, cashiers, waiters, etc., being able to walk several hours without getting hot and tired (being from Texas), visiting the markets, whose sights, smells, and sounds I simply love, and the view out the “front door” of the building, onto Quai Voltaire, each time we take off on an excursion. Oh, and the food, and the drinks, and the course I’m taking, and our apartment, and having Dennis here, and the fact that we’ve got another 35 days!!!

But I do miss my kitty. Yes, I do.
Kitty girl - Minou