My Sun Also Rises

Living in another country, particularly one which speaks a different language can be a constant mental struggle. To carry out nearly every interaction in French is trying, tiring, yet also fulfilling. Smaller tasks and routines deserve more recognition. Then there's the choices. I watch movies in French, not because I have to but because I should. The same good for reading. And museum pamphlets. I'd write this blog in French, yet of course mus'nt disregard my audience. I've slowly been reading the The Old Man and the Sea in French. It's short and simple in English, but in French, and especially as it is self assigned, it is a Herculean endeavor.

Fortunately, my dear friend Allen provided some relief, sending me The Sun Also Rises, in English. Needless to say, I devoured it. A story of Americans living in Paris and traveling in Spain, Allen chose it knowing my preference for the author, and my similarity in situation. I love Hemingway for his style.

Acutely descriptive, he manages to create characters and provide insight without having them reflect on their experiences. It'd be dry without his nearly ethnographic detail and interesting events. Life is very matter of fact.

It's quite the contrast to the highly reflective Anna Karenina that I'm also working on, in which every character deeply scrutinizes every aspect of their life. Working men, Hemingway's characters live lives not dissimilar to mine, but with more liberty and less purpose, there is a certain disregard felt to anything beyond enjoying life. It's a carelessness and quasi naivete that I quite like.

There's interesting dialogue on living in Paris. Through certain characters, Hemingway reveals the true Paris, that is not the dream like city of love. I empathise with this illustration, Romanticism aside Paris is another city in the world of cities, with its  own problems in a world of problems.

It's the epoch that really sets me apart from the characters. They have few obligations, work seems to be merely a background activity. This lends to a rich life of cafe and beer hopping. In addition, there's a sense of normalcy to their attitude. It is not a big deal to b them that they are in Paris. As accustomed to the city as I become, it never ceases to b do me with wonder, both in its sights and that it is my home.

Tomorrow I take my next adventure to Istanbul, Turkey. A whole other level of wonder will soon fill meme as quickly as an empty wine glass. Constantinople here I come...

Movember Update

In case your wondering, the hair on my upper lip has been flourishing. Some might call it a mustache, others laugh. Mais je m'en fou, I like growing mustaches, especially for good causes. Here's a picture of the progress, and a reminder about what Movember is: 3 Weeks into Movember

If you don't remember or have never heard of it, Movember is a charity organization that takes the loathed / loved tradition of No Shave November and puts a philanthropic spin on it. Grow a mustache to raise awareness and money to support men's health, i.e. testicular and prostate cancer. If you are interesting in joining my team, participating at all in Movember, or donating to the cause, you can do so via my Mo-space here: I’d appreciate the support.

Movember has been interesting to explain to people here in French, French and Americans alike. I get a lot of jokes about only needing a baguette, cigarette and beret to complete the ensemble to be a vrai parisien, but in all honesty it has helped my French. Having to explain something such as this is great practice. There's one more week in November, we'll see how things go from here. If the mustache adventure is a success, I might try to take it to handlebar land. But we'll see, the adventure continues...

Fete des Vendages and some French quirks

Montmartre is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris so far.  It could be the Sacre Coeur, maybe the slightly hipster feel to it, with cool bars and interesting people, or possibly that its the biggest hill in Paris - aka the closest thing I'll get to a mountain whilst living here. Regardless, I found myself there again on Saturday, for the joint celebration of my buddy birthday and my own, as well as the yearly weekend long festival celebrating Montmartre and the wine they make there. Montmartre has the only winery still in the city proper.

My buddy Alex and I started off wandering around his neighborhood, an area in the 18th near Barbes-Rochechouart notorious for being scary and dangerous. A lot of immigrants without jobs populate the area, yelling at people and trying to sell stuff, either stolen or knockoff seemingly. Its primo for cheap clothing, but I wouldn't want to be there alone at night. Although we did find 4 packs of Guinness pints at the supermarket for 2 euro. That's over a 90 percent saving compared to a Guinness at happy hour, more during normal hours.

The first great thing we saw at the festival was the parade. All sorts of groups were there, from marching bands to farmers to wine-makers, all in costume. But by far the most memorable were the drum lines. I'll let a video speak for me (speak to about 20 seconds in to start):


We then ate some great food, drank some great wine and kept some great company until the grand event of the evening le feu d'artifices (fireworks). Sitting on the stairs in front of the Sacre Coeur, with champagne, we were treated to the best firework show I've ever seen. There was fabulous narration, classical music in the background, and a well planned out show that was epic from start to finish. I'm ashamed to say I've never seen fireworks this great, even for the 4th of July. Thanks to the internet for this great picture. I had Sacre Coeur behind me and the fireworks in front, so you can just imagine me in the middle.

While on the subject of Montmartre, I went there this evening to meet with four French moms who live there. I'll be speaking English with their 12 year old kids once a week to make my lunch money. I met one of them today and he was awesome. I'm excited for the job, and to be required to be in Montmartre once a week.

A few things about French

I'm getting a lot better at French, speaking it, understanding it, reading it, writing it. It helps that I do all of those things, but what helps the most is that I think in French as often as I can. Often, when I have a thought, my first reaction is Comment est-ce qu'on dit ca en Francais? (How would I say that in French). If I don't know, I write it down and look it up. Same for things I see or hear and don't understand.

My first thing I'll share about French is the use of the impersonal subject. You probably didn't notice, but what I wrote about, while I translated it to I, actually uses the impersonal 3rd person. The French use it all the time. From on verra (we'll see) to a professor asking est-ce qu'on a d'autre? (does anyone have anything else to add), the French seem to avoid seeing we or you or I as much as possible. We definitely don't do that in English.

The next is the necessity of adverbs. They are a very important part of speaking like the French. In my grammar class at UPS, we grazed over them for a day or so, but never really used anything other than bien (good). I first noticed the trend here with the seemingly over usage of vraiment. It translates to truly, but one seems to use it to express certainty or passion behind a statement. For example Il vraiment pense qu'il va etre celebre. It is like really in English. It adds a lot of stress to the point. Franchement (frankly) is another good one. I had a whole list but promptly forget by the time I got to writing. In addition, there are tons of adverbs of place, time etc. So they are super important.

One day I'll understand enough French to talk with French kids my age or sit through a Sorbonne class and truly understand everything. Or close to it. But for now, I work through it day at a time.

Like my favorite person recently told me "Fundamentals are the building blocks of fun." Once I make it through these adjectives, and tenses, and all the other French quirks slowing me down, then I'll really have fun with it.

Oh also I ate French onion soup at Cafe de Flore yesterday, a super famous cafe where Sautre, Camus and Beauvoir (among many other famous thinkers and writers) ate and postulated. It was delicious. Beef stock with caramelized onions and croutons, with gruyere and parmesan melted on top. Although they ought to teach Americans how to eat the cheese before handing out year long visas...



A Cycling Adventure and More

Traveling not only gives one the opportunity to see new places and try new things there, but it affords one the opportunity to bring there passions with them to a new place. People have expressed their surprise over the last month that I schlepped my bike halfway across the world but it is right on par with the way I live my life. While I'm paving my own path here in Paris, it is essential that I not only take what the city has to give, but make sure I play my own cards.

I'm fortunate to be living in a family with a host-father who is an avid cyclist - on an equally crazy level to my dad and aunt and uncle. He does randoneering rides - with mileage in the excess of hundreds. He hooked me up with his club so I could have a group of people to ride with and learn the local routes. He wasn't in town on Sunday when I went on my first team ride but that was ok.

I arrived at the local mairie (local government building) to not get lost and the first woman who arrived, a total stranger was very friendly. She immediately came right up to me and put her head within centimeters of mine, and I was very confused until it registered that she was trying to faire la bise (the French custom of kissing the cheek as a greeting). Lucky my confusion was too short to be obvious. Over the next ten minutes, about 30 cyclists all arrived. I met every single one of them, as did they greet each other. It was great to see them scootching their bikes through the throng of friends in order to  say hello to each and every person. We soon started riding, after the leader verified I should go in the A group.

The beginning of a group ride is a fabulous thing in that it is a wonderful symphony. There is a lot of clicking into pedals, shifting, coasting and chatting. This is enhanced by the amount of stoplights the first 10K of the ride as we made it out of the city. It was Sunday morning, which is the day that everyone rides and no one drives, so it is the easiest to escape. There were thousands of bikers on the road. We road for about 100km, throughout the countryside. I chatted witha  lot of the guys in French, told my story a thousand times and tried magnificently to decipher the endless banter. At one point in the ride, a guys whose name I most definitely can't recreate in either a spoken or written fashion pretty much jumped the sidewalk and took a sharp left. I heard groans and French muttering that there were old people and newcomers on the ride, how cruel. Hearing this I downshifted as I expected a hill, and instead got a mur (wall). A 2km beast, mostly 12-17 percent grade saw a great ride between my difficultly named friend and I.

The ride consisted of leaving the city, town hopping and riding brilliant stretches of road in the countryside and then getting back into the city. I spoke a lot of French and was fortunate to have two anglophones on the team as well, which enabled me to get clearer explanations of things and deeper conversation. I like riding with this group, but I think I will try to get involved more with the competition team, as that is where my heart is right now.

Today, after a lot of studying and French writing (aka putting the study in study abroad) while waiting out the morning storm, I went down to the 5th with the intention of wandering. There I saw two wonderful things. The first was a Mosque, the second, the Jardin des Plantes. The Mosque was huge and while obviously not my religious building of habitude, it was a beautiful place of peace. The Jardin was even better, it was one of the biggest in Paris, which a focus on ecological education. It has a zoo, the natural history museum and so much more that I was unable to explore. Regardless, it was refreshing in that it was this huge and beautiful space of nature that didn't feel like it was in Paris, and wasn't too formal, as many Parisien gardens are. I was happy to be among the plants and trees yet again.

Musing, Montmartre et Macklemore (plus why I want to become fluent in French)

We went for a guided tour of Montmartre, a cool neighborhood in the northern part of Paris (the 18th), with a ton of history. Renoir, Picasso and more had their ateliers (workshops) there, Moulin Rouge is there, the Sacre Coeur is there, and there is a vibrant amount of street performers and artists. Its a nearly seamless blend of beautiful city on the highest hill in Paris (of 4), an interesting past, and huge tourist trap. Unfortunately, people don't just play beautiful violin in the street for solely love of music. There's also a lot of pickpockets. Fortunately, I've continue to keep all of my belongings to myself.

It was pretty incredible seeing the Sacre Coeur and also the smaller Montmartre parish. I saw a lot of churches and cathedrals during my first trip to Europe seven years ago and grew tired of them, but with my Art History goggles, I have a whole new appreciation for them. From the sheer awe at the size and ability to hold themselves up, to the the countless different engineering feats, they are a true feat of human creativity and building. My favorite part is that a cathedral is really a huge mixed media piece, there is the structure itself, the stained glass, marble columns, statues of many saints, paintings and more. It is truly fascinating. Expect a more in-depth cathedral post at some point.

That night, I got the best surprise of my time when I found out that a girl from my program was looking for someone to see Macklemore with that night. Macklemore is a hip-hop artist from Seattle whose music I love, and it was a great show. The French audience may or may not have understood the words, but it didn't damper their enthusiasm. Music can bring people together, and being packed in a small theatre united by energy and love for music made for a fun night. The luck continued, as we got to hang out with the group afterwords. Over a beer, the trumpet player and "definition of swag" Owuor and I had a great talk about the correlation between life and art, about living proactively versus passively or reactionary and about traveling. For a moment I was a little bummed, because I can't have the sort of conversation in French. But, as a proactive liver, I found the better angle easily and became motivated to parler le francais courrament, speak French fluently so I can have those sorts of conversations in French as well.


Another note about French. Learning French, or any foreign language for that matter is the cure to young American's reliance on the work "like." For those of you who have had the fortune to not encounter this, it is a word that fills the void when someone can't express easily what they I trying to say. An example: "I went to Paris like, to study abroad, like so I can like learn French and like, some other things like that." It is absurd. Some girl in my French class had the gall to say it while speaking French and the teacher was not having it, which brought the issue to my mind. On a larger note, learning another language really makes you think more deeply about what you want to say and how you will say it. It is a nice change from the impulsive banter I'm used to in English.

Duex jours à Paris (Two days in paris)

I've been here two full days plus my weekend of travel, and I think I am starting to get things figured out. For five hours a day I am taking an intensive language course at L'Intitut Parisien and it is very helpful. I feel my French getting much better already but it is pretty overwhelming. Until dinner tonight, when I ate with some people at the house I am staying out, I went two days without speaking English vocally. It was strange but felt good.

After class, I've been exploring, and I have seen some pretty cool things. My language course is in the centre-ville, near Garnier's Opera, and not too far from the Lourve and Les Tuleries. That makes for a lot of tourists and a lot of haute couture stores, as well as expensive restaurants, but my Norwegian friend Bjorn from class has helped me find some good sandwich places that are cheap. The neighborhood has dictated my exploration, but not in a bad way. I've seen a lot of tourists, but there are also many Parisiens, as there are numerous businesses in the area. You can tell by all the men in their tailored suits. I've got to get a few.

I've been taking the metro to class, then exploring, then taking the metro back to my house. It is exciting enough to see everything that I don't yet need crazy activities. But soon, they shall come.

Some things I have noticed: The people are well-dressed, pedestrians rule, there is a lot of smoking, things are expensive, good fruit is easily available, the Metro rocks, the French speak incredible fast, late August weather is fantastic, saying Bonjour et Bon soir et merci and excusez-moi go a long way, all the buildings are super cool looking, I'm not going to be biking inside the city. As a side note, I'm suffering from serious jetlag. Last night I barely got any sleep. I'm hoping to get back tonight. I thought I had prepped well by sleeping on the plane during Paris nighttime, but no luck.

Here are some photos from today:


Life is good. I'm making friends, eating good food, seeing good friends. Hopefully, I can be more active than just walking and doing pushups in my room soon.

A demain.