Sunday, November 27, 2011

When You Can Actually Find Food On Sunday

Bon dimanche à tous!  I started out today going to the 18th annual Exposition of Gastronomy and Wine with my host father, Jean.  This is an exposition at the civic center for the vendors of different wines, cheeses, chocolates, and meats, selling them off as gifts for Christmas, and in the meantime, handing out samples of everything there was to “prend”.
Everybody and their frère is hungry!


Festive :)

He's saying "it dices and it slices!" in French, by the way

Oh yeah, that's chocolate
Just like home!

As I’ve said before, I came to France with the intention of trying everything that was handed to me, and today was no exception—but I just tried different things once for the majority of time.  Because I haven’t been able to work out on a regular basis, and because I’m already so used to walking because of the fact that I work in a restaurant, I’m having to start to watch what I’m eating here, and lay off so many macaroons and so much awesome French bread.  It was good while it lasted, but now, back to body-reality!
Even though I laid off “prend”-ing so much, I still tried many things, including:
Cheese made from sheep’s milk (liked it)
Spanish dried ham (not like jerky-liked it)
Escargot (yep-snails!—and I liked it!)
Different paté’s (liked them in small doses—they’re very rich)

Andouillettes (DEFINITELY DON'T LIKE!!!) you"re just gonna have to look that up to find out what it is...
Potages (creamy soups) of a special mushroom called Champi-Bleu, which has a bluish tint to it (liked) and asperagus (I liked the asperagus by itself, but didn’t care too much for the potage)
Dried fruits (liked. Duh.)
Raspberry macarron (Duh again.)
Paté’s made from fish (actually really liked-I think it’s because of Marie-Anne’s attempt to feed me more well-prepared fish for my dinners here in France)
Different wines (brut champagne, Borgogne wine that tasted very light, sweet lichi-infused Gewurztraminer from Alsace, and others—liked them)
My experience with the wine tastings benefitted well from being with Jean, who was only one ingredient off from winning a wine blind taste test, which asked you where the wine was from and what was in it.  I’m in good company with French food, that’s for sure!
This exposition runs all day on Sunday, which is great, considering the fact that no grocery stores are open Sunday afternoon, there’s usually only one bakery open in an entire section of town, and the restaurants don’t open until dinner.
Yep, that’s right, even the French version of Walmart is closed every Sunday.
But the big polemic right now is the idea of opening some more grocery stores on Sunday, every Sunday.  This news is HUGE for French people, and it’s causing quite a stir.
In the U.S., we have Occupy Wall Street; in Egypt, the newest democratic rebellion riots; in Greece, the crisis with the Euro…and in France, we have protests against grocery stores being open on Sundays.  You can read an article (or use Google Translate and copy and paste, bien sûr) here:

Needless to say, the French take tradition very, very seriously. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gettin’ All Drew Barrymore Up In This Piece

Good day, my darlings!  Today was the last day of the excursions that my University offers for their exchange students, and this last excursion was to visit a second set of chateaux in the Loire Valley.  Included in these chateaux are both the castle that king François I and his son, Henry II, lived in, as well as a property down the street that was lent to a special person during the same time.

Wanna take a guess at who this guy might be?

I’ll give you a hint-the kings are real, the timing is real, but if this were the case, Cinderella, played by Drew Barrymore in the movie “Ever After” (which was filmed in the Loire Valley, by the way), would actually be Catherine de Medicis, who was completely snubbed by her husband (Henry), and became (perhaps rightfully) extremely harsh, merciful, and pretty crazy by the end of her life.

I hate to spoil this story for everyone, but I was shocked to discover that someone could have written a screenplay about Cinderella, who’s, like, the most deserving person ever to marry someone who’s totally in love with her, just to find out that not only was “Cinderella” crazy, if this movie were historically accurate, but that her husband (played by dreamy Dougray Scott) was completely indifferent to her affection?

I refuse to believe it.

So I’m just going to through historical accuracy out the window, and go back to believing that the movie “Ever After” is awesome, and that Drew Barrymore (who’s totally awesome) and Dougray Scott (who’s totally handsome) live happily ever after, dangit!

Why?  Because, in the words of the comedian Eddie Izzard, “those are the rules that I just made up”. 

So there.

And besides, Dougray Scott is totally hotter than Henry II.
Maybe it's the puffy hat that just doesn't do it for me...

Alright, I feel better now.

So, getting back to the point at hand, who’s this awesome old dead guy I’m talking about?  Queue the harps and angels, people, because it’s none other than…


Je t'aime, Leo! *Muah*

Pretty nice digs, old man :)

Yep, you heard right!  My old buddy hung out here in the Loire Valley, in a chateau named “Clos Lucé”, for the last three years of his life after he was invited here by François I, and died right here in Amboise, in this large estate filled with pretty gardens and plenty of space for painting stuff-like the Mona Lisa, Saint John the Baptist, and The Virgin and Child.  The fact that he worked here, relaxed here, slept here, and died here, is really, really cool, if not a little creepy (awesomely creepy, that is).  The basement has been transformed into a museum filled with models of his inventions, and some are located in the gardens outside in full size, like a cannon, a tank, and a drawbridge.

After hanging out with the kings and Mr. Genius –guy, my friend Sandra and I made our way back towards the bus, with me spotting a tiny, tiny sign pointed towards a fountain near the parking deck.  I need to explain right now about how fascinated I am about hearing of great people in history (or in movies, bien sûr), great leaders, martyrs, and artists, and how stuff is always just “hanging out” for people to see, like it was just part of everyday life.  Here in the town of great kings and da Vinci was a sculpted fountain made by another great artist, whose inspiration came from his German upbringing, his draft by both fronts during WWI, and his capture and escape from Nazi prisons-twice.  Standing in front of our bus, just “hangin’ out”, was a sculpture by Max Ernst, entitled “In the Eaters, Too Funny, Genius”.
"So you go past that fountain by that really famous artist by the parking lot...."
So, after hanging out with kings François I and Henry II, Leonardo da Vinci, and Max Ernst, we hopped on the bus, eagerly awaiting my chance to eat real pumpkin pie, which was given to Sandra and I by other American girls who just happened to be on the same excursion, and who brought the ingredients with them, canned pumpkin and all, to make the pie for Thanksgiving.

I was truly surrounded by geniuses.

Our next stop was to the chateau in Blois, where Joan of Arc made this spot her base of operations until her issues with Jean d’Orleans occurred, starting the downward spiral of her life before being burned for heresy.  I’m posting a pseudo-awesome picture of it below, as both my camera batteries died, since I forgot to charge them after coming back from Paris:

As I said, just hanging out, you know
Lastly, we visited the chateau de Cheverney, located in, well, Cheverney.  This was my next favorite place on the tour (with da Vinci’s last dwellings being the first), which was used by the illustrator Hergé for his bande dessinée named TinTin, now a major motion picture by Steven Spielberg. 

Now where did I see that before...?

Apparently, the marquis who own this huge place still live here, on the second floor, and there’s even a space for a working garden next to the hunting dog kennel (which smelled horrible because of the damp weather and the dogs—just sayin’).  I’m not familiar with the comic strip, but I am familiar with pumpkin pie (as I’ve stated earlier in this blog), and lo and behold, I found a huge pumpkin in the garden!  It’s like Halloween and Thanksgiving were wrapped up just for me today!
That'll make a LOTTA punkin' pies!

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!  In French!

From surreal sights to surrealist artists, at the end of the day, my mind was plein de grandeur!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Least American Thanksgiving. Ever.

Happy Turkey Day to all you back in Les États-Unis!  For me, hélas, ‘tis not the same L  Pourquoi you might ask?  Well, malheureusement, I am not able to be home with the fam to eat awesome turkey, mashed potatoes, and such.  Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve continuously said before, the food here is AMAZING.  Even eating duck gésiers was good (if you can’t figure this word out, you’ll have to look it up-I’m not wanting to spoil the surprise).  I told myself that I would try everything that was handed to me in France, and by golly, I’m gonna!  Even if it’s an Autumn traditional dish from what my host father jokingly calls le campagne profond (the deep country—Kinda like “the sticks” in “American” English).
It was really tasty, I'm serious!

However, obviously, France doesn’t celebrate such homeland-American traditions as Thanksgiving.  That’s right, no classes canceled for the holiday, no meeting up with friends and/or family…and no sweet potatoes with marshmallows melted on top. 

Now I’m hungry.

My host family, finding out how much I was going to miss out on this festive occasion, snuck off to the store on Wednesday night, and bought me an apple tart especially to help make up for me missing out on Thanksgiving. 
As I've said before-I love my host family!

I have to admit, I was surprised at how much I missed my Turkey Day.  I’ve even missed out on Thanksgiving back home in the States, having to work the next day for Black Friday at the restaurant after everyone is hungry from buying TONS of Christmas presents.  But this was different.  It was like Halloween, when it came and went without even a French blink of an eye.

These are pictures from this year's Halloween at my parents' house-and my dad and little brother took it LIGHT this year!

Alors,since I wasn’t able to find a turkey to roast for the special occasion (and even if I did, I’ve had a week full of tests, so I wouldn’t have time to make it anyway), I decided to   following a much-anticipated Skype date with my family following a day FILLED (I tell you, filled!) with classes, I decided to try to be as American as possible, and planned a meeting with a couple of friends of mine to go to the Foire Saint-Martin, the local fair, to eat really bad food.  Because going to the fair is almost as American as Thanksgiving, right?
However, pretty much everyone cancelled except for my friend Ross, who, coincidentally enough, invited a French student from our university to come with us.  She brought her friend, who was also French, and the four of us spoke only in French.  This introduces us to the “Least American Thanksgiving. Ever.”  You see, this was also pretty much my first night out with real French people, so this added to the “Anti-American holiday” of it all.

But it gets better (or worse, depending on how you’re looking at it).

Soo….we get to the fairgrounds, speaking only in French and walking, not sitting around watching football or the parade, only to discover that the fair is closed.  As you can tell by now, this is getting to be less American by the minute.

By this time, I’m good and hungry from waiting around all day to get some fair food, and now I’m also disparaged because there is no fair to be found.  No working Ferris Wheel.  No fast rides.  No hamburgers.   
No rien.  I want to cry.

Fortunately, we formed a plan.  Walking aimlessly back up to the main street that is full of restaurants, we work our way into McDoner, a kebab shop (notice the un-American-ness of the name?).  If I’m gonna make this a truly UN-American experience, I’m gonna go all out.  I order a kebab with my friend Ross and my new French friends, grab a Coke Light, and start in on my French fries.  With a fork.  While listening to French rap music on the TV in the restaurant. 

As I said, I’m gonna go out with a bang on this one.

After eating my fill of kebab from McDoner (not MacDo/Mickey D’s), we all walked back toward our respective chez’s, parting ways where I turned down my street.  After a sommersault of Thanksgiving mishaps, I felt happy just being able to share a night out with friends, and thanked my new French friends, and Ross, for the experience.  I came back home, ate a little more of my apple tart, and felt content in being able to make this the most Un-American Thanksgiving Ever, and I didn’t even have to try!

Historic Accuracy and a Visit to Normandy

Time for another history lesson, kids! 
But which history?  That is the question.

Today, accompanied by other students and teachers from all over the world, we went to visit the D-Day/WWII Memorial in Caen, located in Normandy.  Just to start, I would like to point out that all of us represented folks coming from France, America, Germany, China, Japan, as well as other countries.  The fact that we were all there, as a collective mass, working our way through the Memorials two sides, one representing “The World Before 1945”, and the other side representing “The World After 1945”, talking in one language but representing so many countries, blew me away.

But what blew me away even more was how much history can change.

Histories can change because of Photoshop-there was a picture of Stalin speaking on a podium, where another important figurehead was completely cut out, in order to improve the usage of the picture for propaganda.

Histories can change because of the “unknowns”: people, places, secret phone conversations, etc. that either “never happened” (but really did), or information withheld for political/media/etc. reasons.  There were many “unknown” people involved in the war, from those who died in the Holocaust, to the fathers of children who were killed in battle before their sons and daughters were old enough to remember them, and freedom fighters whose identities were kept secret because of their religion, to the unidentified soldiers who died in the Normandy battles (not just D-Day, but all of the subsequent battles in Normandy following that day as well) who are now buried in the American Normandy Cemetery, which was given as a piece of property to America from France--this was odd to think that I was "back" in America, seeing French soil that was fought for by so many from all over the world.

Yet most important to the future of the world, histories can change depending on who is passing that history on, as well as who is receiving it.  I was awestruck at the differences between what my classmates and I were taught in school about WWII, about D-Day, and about other events that centered around such a “total war”.  These differences might not be what you think.  I had Japanese students teaching me about the massacres that the Japanese people instilled on the Chinese.  I overheard German students talking about horrific events that the Germans did to one another.  My host mother explained to me that after the war, German soldiers were stuck in France, not knowing what they were fighting for and being in a lost country with no way home, and so becoming their own prisoners in other countries. 
But the real kicker here is, I didn’t know about any of it.  Or if I did, I certainly didn’t remember it.  I don’t remember learning about Nankin, or Jews that helped liberate soldiers to return under the wings of Stalin rule, or how Kamikazes were not always volunteers, but oftentimes had their families kidnapped and tortured so that these Japanese pilots would fly themselves into certain death at Pearl Harbor in order for their families to go free.

I don’t remember being taught that.

Please don’t misunderstand my point--this is not a critique about my, or your, educational system.  I am simply making an observation that history is relative and subjective, and today was a prime example of that.  Yet this difference in history was exactly what brought all of the students together, seeing the pictures together, listening to the secret phone conversations together, looking at the graves and asking the same questions to one another over and over again.  This is what brought us together on the Pointe du Hoc, where the Texas Rangers scaled an enormous cliffside just to fight occupying Nazi soldiers, if they made it to the top, while bombs carved out craters of earth from the Normandy countryside.  This is what brought us together on Omaha Beach, with eight countries worth of soldiers fought against the Axis powers. 
Seeing these places, and hearing the differences in histories among us, made me proud to know that I was able to understand more profoundly the causes and consequences that befell everyone who was affected in WWII, especially because I could speak a language that everyone could speak.  

 I urge you, dear reader, to seek out different histories, different accounts of the same events that occurred in humanity, in order to give a better perspective of what might have actually happened.

I follow this blog entry with a few pictures of my experience there, although, as it was for me, these pictures give only a tiny glimpse of the emotions an atmosphere of the beautiful, but sad day in person.  

A letter from a French soldier to his wife-he didn't even know what day it was...

Omaha Beach

Bomb crater at Pointe du Hoc

The cliffs at Pointe du Hoc

Friday, November 18, 2011

Egalité, Fraternité, and Especially Liberté : Free Patrimony=Foreign Exchange Student Win!

Greetings again from France, y’all!  Sporting my red boots, a new pair of longhorn-cow-shaped earrings, and HUGE bags under my eyes from all of the tests I’ve had to take this week, I’d like to share with you an amazing discovery.  I was super-excited because I found out that on Thursday, starting at 7 p.m. and lasting until midnight (just like everything else interesting to do in France, it doesn’t start until after the sun goes down, and usually not until around 10 p.m.), the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Angers was free to enter for students. 

Stoked, I tell you, stoked.  

And why was I super-stoked in particular?  Because even though I am a student, I was too OLD to get in for free at all the cool stuff in Paris.  But at this museum, they didn’t bother to check my birthdate. 
This meant that I could actually get all nerdified for art, and this time, for FREE!
Free’s fun.  You know this if you’re a student, and especially when you’re a student paying your own way.
So to lavish on my experience, I will talk about all of the cool things I saw.  For.  FREE.  Ahem. 
First of all, let me just point out the fact that Anger’s Musée des Beaux-Arts was ranked as one of the top five best kept secrets in ALL of France according to my Lonely Planet travel guide.  I would suggest to any/every one that if you’re even thinking about studying abroad, look at some travel books.  Except maybe AAA’s, unless you either a)like Winnebagos or b) are over forty.  Just saying.  Between my own experiences with travel guides, along with talking to other people who have traveled a lot, Lonely Planet is pretty good, and you can find others that are good, too, based on Internet recommendations.  Also, just to further focus on my love of stuff “gratuit,” you can often find stuff in these guide books or online to do for fun, from visiting historic places and seeing a bunch of cool historic stuff, to art exhibitions, to other stuff—for free.

So, onto the free-dom!  

Going into the museum, I was excited to find a temporary exhibit of Jacques Villon, brother of Dadaist/Surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp.  Oh, you know Duchamp, he’s the French guy who either 1)just went out and bought a urinal at a 1917-style Home Depot, or 2) painstakingly created a urinal by hand.  He slapped his signature on this thing, and called it “Fountain”, which started a movement of works of art entitled “Ready-Mades”.  My personal favorite is his The Large Glass, also named The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.  But it’s not necessarily the work itself that I love so much about this piece, it’s the history: after spending almost 10 years creating this thing, Duchamp felt that it was missing something as a finishing touch, so he named the piece Untitled in 1923.  Years later, in 1969, something happened to the glass during shipping, and it sent a HUGE crack through the whole thing.  That, according to Duchamp, was apparently the finishing touch, and he fixed the glass so that it would remain intact, and now, the finished product looks like this: 

Going back to Jacques Villon, his exhibition was not to my particular taste (I don’t really care much for Cubism, but hey, that’s just me), but I did thoroughly enjoy a small, Toulouse-Lautrec style drawing, and this self portrait:

Since I had to hurry through the museum in order to take a Grammaire test early the next day, I may try to go back soon, but in the meantime, if you get a chance to go see these works yourself in person, or online, let me point out a few works that I found particularly interesting:
A  Venitian painting with creepy smiley people and a random cat,

A huge painting with this angel in it, where you can see where the artist TOTALLY messed up and painted a new face on top of the old one!  Can you see the second pair of eyes just below and to the left under the angel’s skin?

And some others…
Pierre-Paul Rubens’Siléne ivre
Lorenzo Lippi’s L’Allégerie de la Simulation
Some other works by Jean Honoré Frangonard, whose painting The Swing is the most popular painting of the Rococo movement
Charles-François Lacroix’s Paysage
Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s Portrait presume de madame de Porcïn, which has a cute little dog in it
Karl-Ernest-Rudolph Heinrich’s Jérémie dictant ses phophéties, which has one of the most powerful facial expressions on both Jérémie and the angel of a mélange of hatred, belief, and determination that I’ve ever seen
Guillaume Bodinier’s Paysanne de Frascati au confessional
This painting of Joan of Arc (I couldn’t make out the name on the photo I took):

Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes’Paysage de bord de mer
Pierre-Narcisse Guérin’s Étude pour le visage d’Egisthe vu de profil
Alexis Jeaneau’s Femme á la coupe d’oranges (think Gaugin meets Carmen Miranda)
The sculptures at the end of the tour, where you can see the markings where the artist was never able to finish his (or her) piece of work.
And finally, although I usually don’t care too much for this movement, I was really impressed with Philippe Cognée’s Recyclage number 1.  

This painting reminds me of Anselm Kiefer’s work, an artist whom I truly admire.  Born in Germany and now living in France, Kiefer’s works are made with natural elements.  This is because his works are reflective of the Holocaust, and he believes that like rocks, ash, and woods that deteriorates over time, our memories of that tragic event will dwindle and decompose as well.  I still remember standing in front of his work Lot’s Wife, mouth agape, at the Cleveland Museum of Art as the tour guide explained tried her best to explain this to a bunch of 8th graders. 

 At such a young age, peering through my huge wire glasses and frizzy hair, I gazed at the train tracks made from straw and wood splinters forming train tracks that went to a smokestack somewhere in the distance where the crematorium would inevitably be found, followed it past the painting, and then looked down to the floor at the small dustings of ash and pieces of the painting, and understood what the tour guide was straining to explain over a mass of giggly tweenie voices.  

Needless to say, that painting left quite an impression on me.  

Making my way back home, thinking of all of the works of art I spent seconds looking at, but took years to complete, I worked my mind back to Kiefer’s painting, remembering that on Saturday, I would be visiting Normandy, where D-Day occurred. 

Isn’t it strange how things free of charge, like the museum and the art exhibit I saw on the streets in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, can be so impressionnante?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Il Y A Tout Ce Que Vous Voulez, Aux Champs Elysées...BAH DAH BAH DAH DUMM!!!

Bonjour à tous from (well, now back from) Paris!  I've FINALLY made it here (for more than just a two-hour wait in the train station at the airport), but so much has happened, and this week has been filled with tests, that I can't possibly talk about it all!  So...the short, short version of Paris.

Before I talk about Paris, I would like to talk about something that occurred just before leaving.  On Wednesday, just after classes, I found out that my maternal grandmother, Eleanor (Warren) Coombs, passed away.  She had been suffering for a long time from being unable to breathe independently, and had been dependent on an oxygen tank for a few years now.  A couple of weeks ago, she caught pneumonia, and was not able to recover.  This is a sombre note which takes me to Paris, but I know that she would have wanted me to go to Paris with a positive attitude, a smile, and a thought of her as I continue to experience my journey as a foreign exchange student.  But with that in mind, Grandma, I am sorry that I was not able to be home to be with you during your last days, and I will miss you very much.  I love you.

Now, in true "Grandma Coombs" fashion, who loved word searches, hidden chocolate bars in her nightstand, bowling, golf, and bingo so much, on to the fun!

So you know what that means when I talk about's time for a list! 

Wednesday, Day -1 (the night before leaving for Paris): The "Other" Type of Dinner My Host Family Serves

After I finished with my classes, my host family made my boyfriend and me an EPIC dinner, complete with
1. An aperitif of sweet wine and a sardine spread (which was awesome, don't knock it 'til you try it!) served on crackers from a little pot of the stuff that I bought for my host parents from St. Malo.
2. A first course of potage (a cream-based soup) made of Roquefort cheese, which you can't buy in the States because it's made from unpasteurized milk
3. A main course of roasted duck, potatoes, and veggies. Which. Was. Amazing.
4. A cheese course, including the Roquefort cheese, which you have to use a different knife to cut, since the taste is a very strong blue-cheese flavor
5. An amazing apple tart made by my host father with apples from his brother-in-law's apple orchard.
6. A follow-up glass of sparkling wine aperitif with a macaron from a gift box filled with them I bought for my host mother.  Her birthday is tomorrow, and I asked my host father what he would suggest, who directed us to a chocolatier close by.  These macarons don't have any fake coloring to them, just a nice, puffy crust with a gooey paste inside.  It was the best macaron I'd had in France.

All of this was served with some of the wine that was bought during our recent excursion to Saumur, and my host father even gave a bottle of wine to the beau-friend to take back as a souvenir for us to drink when I come back to the States.

I love my host family.

Thursday, Day 1: Royale with Cheese

1.  Dropped off at the train station by my host father, allowing the beau-friend and me some extra time to get ready for our early day.  Again, I love my host family.
2.  TGV-ing with the Beaners (Gene, my boyfriend).
3.  Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport, which I arranged on purpose, since my ticket is round-trip, but Gene's is one-way, since he'll be flying back to the States on Sunday.
4.  Taking the RER (the "rural"-type train, which takes you into town from the suburban areas, and only stops at certain places) from CDG to Paris, where we changed trains toget to our hotel, situated close to the Arc de Triomphe.  The Champs-Elysées runs into the Arc de Triomphe, so I'll be seeing both for the first time.
5.  Holy heavens-to-Betsy:
This thing is HUGE!  Also, it being the day before Armistice Day (Veteran's Day in the U.S.), there are tons of tanks, big-screen TV projectors, and police about in preparation for a parade down the C-E the next morning.
2.  Check into the hotel after standing wide-mouthed at the magnificence of the Arc de Triomphe for a while as Gene stares at me.  I am overwhelmed by the sheer size and amount of artistry put into something that was created in remembrance of several battles France was involved in, including the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and finally, for World War I.  The tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI is here, and you can go through a tunnel that runs under the square to visit the Arc and even climb up it.  We didn't do that on this trip, but I hope to go back soon for a second chance to do so.  Seeing things like this is always profound for me; although I believe in peace, I understand that it is not always possible.  When those times come to pass, and there must be a battle to save others from enslavement, oppression, and the like, it warms my heart to see things like this, where those who live on can honor those who were fallen.  In some ways, if it wasn't for those fallen soldiers, in France, the U.S., as well as other countries, it would not be possible for me, being a working-class, non-traditional woman, to be able to travel alone to a foreign country.  It may not even have been possible for me to be able to go to school.  I have respect and appreciation for the lives that may have been lost in order to give me, and others, the opportunities that I have now.

3.  On a sillier note, after checking into our "quaint", but very nice hotel, Gene and I decided to be as American as possible and order a Royale with Cheese from Mickey D's, or, as the French call it, MacDo, à la "Pulp Fiction".  But it wouldn't be complete without the tiny can of beer that you can totally order from there, just like John Travolta said:
They serve their french fries with a mayonnaise sauce, not ketchup, by the way.
We are so American, right, John?
It's a Royale with cheese because of the Metric System, you know

3.  Nonchalantly, Gene looks at me and asks, "you wanna go to the Eiffel Tower today"?
This kind of question provokes a different kind of response from me.  Unlike many others, who freak out at the chance to go to le Tour Eiffel, I always thought it was very overrated, and was just a big ol' radio tower that no one uses anymore.

I was so wrong.

Walking down a few backstreets to save the C-E for later, we turned a couple of corners, and peeking through the fall-hued leaves of a few trees sprinkled along a small patch of green park space, I gazed at the image of what I that was something simply *meh*, and stood, amazed, at the magnitude that this symbol of Paris bestowed on the landscape...

...and I started to cry.

It was there, in that tiny park, among those tiny yellow-and-red-leaved trees, that it really donned on me that I was here, in Paris, and that I made it here to France.  I actually did it.  Really and truly.  And as a symbol of my own personal journey, this tower, a remnant of ingenuity for the 1889 World's Fair, was looking down on me, almost as if it was giving me permission to be in France, gracing me with its presence.  It was breathtaking.

Like a little kid, I skipped along the roadside, looking for a good place for pictures.  After a couple of photo-ops, we made our way to the huge line to get onto the elevator, since we found out that *you cannot walk halfway up via stairs, then take the elevator to the top*.  You can take the stairs halfway up, or you can take the elevator all the way up, but those are your only choices.  You can thank me for saving you up to two hours of waiting in the wrong line later :)

By the time we made it to the front of the line to go up the Tower, it was already dark.  However, this was a new experience for Gene, and for me, it was my first, but I think if I were to have the choice, I would have chosen to go up at night anyway.  The view is spectacular, and you get to see the Tower sparkle every hour:


You can't tell, but we're totally at the top of the Eiffel Tower!
4.  After spending a long, long time at the top of the tower (which ended up working in our favor because it was too foggy to see anything the next day), we headed back to the hotel.  Passing in front of the Eiffel Tower, there was an amazing contemporary art exhibit setup, featuring photographers from all over the world.  I wasn't able to find the name of the actual exhibition, but some of the best photographers featured in Paris can be found here: I've copied the direct web address to feature one of the photographers, Hassan Hajjaj:                             
by walking along the C-E, chock-full of stores ranging from souvenir shops to Cartier.  There were a lot of stores already decked out for the holidays, which was nice for me to see, since my dad goes all out with the Christmas decorations.  I particularly liked the Louis Vuitton window, which looked like it was decorated with Christmas ornaments from far away, but which were actually hot-air balloons up close:
5.  We finished our evening with yet another very American meal: Chinese food!

Day 2: To the Louvre!

After getting some Starbucks coffee for breakfast (oh, how I love French coffee, but miss you at the same time, oh Starbucks mermaid!), we watched the end of the Armistice Day parade, and walked down the C-E to the Place de la Concorde.  This is where there are two gorgeous fountains, and in true Archaeological-nerd style, I was particularly excited to visit the *real* Egyptian obelisk in the middle of the square.  The base, in French, explains how it was transported, by boat, to France from Egypt.  Although I know that Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of the State for Antiquities Affaires, likes the idea of bringing all Egyptian artifacts back to Egypt in order to boost the tourist industry, I have to admit that following the recent uprising of revolutionaries in Egypt for democracy, the pillaging and destruction made by Egyptian troublemakers during the ruckus to the Egyptian museums and pyramids breaks my heart.  I'm glad that this obelisk is here in France, where it is now protected, for even though Hawass' dream makes sense, Egypt is not stable enough to protect its ancient artifacts--it has bigger problems to deal with right now.

Trust me, folks. I know what I'm doing.  I'm an archaeologist.

Speaking of pyramids, here's a picture of me in front of the one at the Louvre:
So, my French language teacher told us that the Louvre has so many objects in it, that if you spent 30 seconds looking at each one, it would take you over two months to look at everything.  With that in mind, if you have a student card, and you're under 25 (not the case for me, hélas), you can get in for *free*.  Zip. Zilch. Nada. Gratuit.
Some of the highlights of my (hopefully first of many) visit(s) to the Louvre which I found interesting:

The Venus de Milo

Winged Victory of Samothrace (statue of Nike)

Mona Lisa-but don't be this dude who's trying to take a picture with his HUGE iPad, ruining a nice shot for everyone else, please :)  Keep in mind that this painting is tiny!

Sarcophagus of the Spouses (Etruscan)
They look so happy together :)

Code of Hammurabi (example of cuneiform, the first form of writing)

"It is imperative that you use the French Future Simple if you're giving commands!"  My grammar teacher would be so proud of me for saying that!
And just a start of some others:
The Clubfoot (1642, painting, Naples)
Paintings by Peter Paul Reubens
Paintings by Holbein the Younger and Holbein the Elder (check out "The Ambassadors" when you get a chance, even though it's not in the Louvre, it's in the National Gallery in London)
Paintings by Arcimboldo (trust me, you'll want to look this guy up!)
Paintings by Caravaggio
Paintings by Rembrandt, including his older works
Paintings by Albrecht Dürer
The Mesopotamian exhibit
The Ancient Egyptian exhibit
18th Century Hellenistic sculpture exhibit

As I said before, this is just a starter list.  Two other things to keep in mind while you're wandering the halls is to *LOOK UP*--the ceilings are painted, too!--and to *LOOK DOWN*.  I recently had a discussion in French with a friend of mine here where we talked about the fact that the marble *stone* stairs are curved from so many people walking on them.  Just think!

Remember folks, the Louvre pretty much takes all day, so plan accordingly!

Day 3: The Red-Light (and Red Windmill) District

This day we visited Montmartre, going first to the Sacre Coeur, which was built, on purpose, in the shadiest part of Paris as an attempt to make up for the Church's indulgences (different than paying the church for Indulgences, which is the reason why Martin Luther broke off from the Catholic church), during the turn of the 20th century.  A word of caution: do *NOT*, I repeat, *NEVER EVER EVER* let those guys come up to you to try and knot a bracelet together by using your finger, *NOR* let someone get you to sign a petition.  The petitions, at the bottom, state that you agree to give the petition people money, and it also gets you to stop dead in your tracks for the same reason that the bracelet-making people come up to you: FOR PICKPOCKETING.  Paris is beautiful, bien sûr, but please, please be wary.  You're a tourist, people can tell you're a tourist (i.e. camera is out, map is out, lost look on your face trying to find directions, you're carrying a bag from a souvenir shop, etc., etc.), so you need to do everything in your power to keep your stuff safe.  I know it's very "Eurotrip" of me, but I wear a money belt with a slightly oversized shirt.  I've had occasions where I've stopped somewhere to get something out of my bookbag, just to find that all of my zippers have been partially opened.  These people are professionals, folks.  Please be wary, be cautious, and help each other.

That being said, aside from those folks, Montmartre was beautiful:
1. The Sacre Coeur was beautiful
2. The view of Paris from the top was beautiful (the church is the highest point in Paris)
3. The French accordion player at the top of the hill was beautiful (I have a personal weakness for accordion music, but don't tell anyone-that would really make me sound nerdy!)
4. The Moulin Rouge was beautiful
5. The Art Nouveau-style Metropolitain signs were beautiful
6. Even the adult stores were beautiful, in their own funny way.

Gene also bought me a music box, which plays the song for the C-E.  At first I was really annoyed by the song, that I heard everywhere (even from Gene) around the time we arrived here, but having a music box that plays that song makes it a nice memory now.  I got my love of music boxes from my paternal Grandmother, with whom I lived for three years, until she passed away from cancer a few years ago.  She always wanted me to go back to school, and she passed just after I got out of the hospital from complications due to a malfunctioning gallbladder (which I think had to do with my very unhealthy diet at the time).  Seeing myself now, healthy and not only back in school but studying abroad, warms my heart to think of her.  

I am also thinking of my maternal grandmother now, and it puts my heart at ease to think that she is no longer suffering from the inability to breathe.  Standing in Paris, taking in the Parisian air with my lungs working at full capacity, I am glad to have my health, glad to have my friends, and glad to have my family.  For those of you who have been so supportive of me, and to you both, Grandma Coombs and Grandma Thomas, I am grateful for you all, and hold you all dear in my heart.
Alright, where's Ewan McGregor?!?!
7. But another reason we stopped in Montmartre was to visit the "Café des 2 Moulins", the restaurant that Amélie worked in, in the movie of the same (U.S.) name.  It is, of course, different in real life than in the movie, mainly because the movie made the restaurant so popular and tourist-y, so instead of showing what it really looks like, I want to maintain the glamour of the restaurant in the film, so I'll just show this picture instead:

 8.  After leaving Montmartre, we took the métro back by the Eiffel Tower, where we went on a guided boat tour along the Seine.  

You have to do this.  I'm just saying.

During that time, we went up and down the Seine, passing by the Eiffel Tower, along with plenty of other awesome places.  As we passed the Musée d'Orsay, which used to be the main Paris train station (and which was graphically reconstructed to it's train-station heyday in the movie "A Very Long Engagement"), I saw, along with plenty of other cities in France carved into the stone face of the Musée, my town:
Angers, c'est moi!
We finished off the day with a trip to a Japanese restaurant (which was really good), and packed for an early start tomorrow.  Gene has to leave early in the morning, and I'm going with him to the train station, but I will be free to roam the rest of Paris until around 9 o'clock, when I board the train back to Angers.

Day 4-The Last Day
Waking up at the crack of dawn, Gene and I headed to the Métro in order to buy our RER tickets for us to go to the airport.  I wasn't leaving Paris yet, though, so I bought a daily pass card, that gives me access to all Métro stops in Paris, the RER to get to and from suburban areas (including the airport), and all buses.  This was by FAR a good investment if you're thinking about going to Paris and wanting to see lots of things, which you will have to take the Métro to get to, anyway.  I found a really good site that explains the differences between tickets and stuff for Paris here:

Our trip to the airport ended up really being a journey, since the direct RER line to CDG Airport was shut down for repairs.  An additional 45 minutes later, Gene and I said our tearful goodbyes, and I was back on a shuttle ("navette" in French) to get back to the RER line to go back into town.  Although we are used to not seeing each other for weeks on end at times (he lives in TN, a 3.5-hour drive away), it was different this time, being in such a romantic city together, and knowing that he came all the way to France to see me.  Even though I was still excited to be in Paris and to be able to see different things, I was also very saddened to see him go.

I made my way to the Latin Quarter after checking out of the hotel, and walked around Notre Dame, the Place St. Michel, and also passed by the Sorbonne and crossed the Pont Neuf.  It was a beautiful day, and I managed to find a seat on the Pont Neuf to do a bit of homework (yep, I'm that big of a nerd, bringing homework to Paris).  After visiting the MacDo closeby for a bathroom break (*hint* they're free to use there, you don't need to buy something to use it like you do at the other MacDo's) and walking through a Parisian artists' studio building, I made my way back to the métro.  

This time, since I was already seasoned with the huge detour to follow in order to get to the airport, I was able to help several people, sometimes in English, sometimes in French, to explain to them what was going on, and where to go to get to the Airport Shuttle.  After a long conversation in French with a nice older man, a very cramped RER ride to the shuttles, lots of questions to me in French and English, and seeing a video that a New Yorker named Daniel took when he was pulled up on stage at the 30 Seconds to Mars concert at the Zenith the night before, I ended up being at the airport with two hours to spare.  

This actually ended up being perfect, because I was able to ask for a good place to eat in the Terminals.  My best advice to you, if you're going to Paris via CDG Airport, is to get there with plenty of time to spare.  This is because of Terminal 2D.  Terminal 2D has plenty of restaurants to choose from, not just overpriced and overbaked patisserie stands, and if you go downstairs, it is nice and quiet and no one else is there.  The bathrooms are also very clean downstairs, there's a grocery store (along with MacDo, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks among the restaurants upstairs), as well as a big fiberglass cow and a tiny fiberglass frog perched atop of a platform that tells a story about the two.  

After eating a sandwich and doing homework with the vache by my side, I made it to the train station, sat down, and opened my "Français des Affaires" book just to look over and see the exact same book in the lap of the guy beside me.  It was another student from my class, and we had a nice conversation before boarding the train and coming back to Angers just before midnight.  Crawling into bed, I felt satisfied with my first trip to Paris, and hope to go back again before I leave back to the U.S. in January.  

But for now, onto a week filled with tests!