DESKERCISE: creating harder-bodied corporate tools since 2013
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Today I woke up with a need for a pain au chocolat that could not be satisfied by any old boulangerie. This was a craving so strong that I apparently felt it was necessary to trek all the way up to Pigalle to the boulangerie that has the best pain au chocolat I’ve found so far in this city. (I walked to cancel out the pastry).
When I got there, however, I was distressed to see an empty tray sitting behind the sign that read “pain au chocolat – 90¢.” Luckily I made it there in time to purchase the last grand pain au chocolat left in the shop. It was massive – probably three times the size of a regular one, but I’d walked all the way to Pigalle for it and was not about to leave empty-handed.
With my monster pastry safely hanging from my arm in a plastic bag, I stepped into a corner of the tiny shop to wait for my sandwich (cheese, chicken and veggies on a 6-grain whole-wheat baguette. Yum…this boulangerie is awesome in so many ways). While I was waiting, I watched probably seven disappointed people come for a pain au chocolat and leave forlornly with nothing.
Apparently I’m not the only one to have discovered this tasty endroit. I was glad to find out that my sense of taste is still leading me true, and I haven’t been swept up in some kind of puppy love with French pastries. After about a week of living here, you discover the startling difference between a boulangerie and a good boulangerie, so I was happy to note that my favorite is also the favorite of quite a few legitimately French people.
When I exited with my sandwich at about 15h, I left a crowd of three young guys who’d ridden up on mopeds and sworn to wait (still in their helmets) until 16h for the new batch of pastries to come out of the ovens.
I think maybe 70 percent of my affection for this place comes from the quality of their truly superior baked goods, and the rest is from just how darn homey this place is. They actually decorated cookies and treats for Halloween, and now the windows are filled with fall-colored leaves and autumn squashes. It helps that the mom-aged woman who runs it is always sporting glasses and an apron tied over a pastel-colored polar fleece jacket. I walk through the door and feel like I’m coming home from school for my afternoon snack. I want to give her a hug when I leave.
Instead I eat my sandwich as I walk, and save my treat to eat with tea back in the kitchen of my apartment. My original intent was to unwrap the pastry and cut it in three parts, to save and enjoy later. I got as far as cutting it into three…but I definitely ate the whole thing. It was so worth the stomach ache.
Add five more berets to the official tally. White seems to be the most popular color, but in the 11 that I’ve counted in the past two days, I’ve observed a wide range of colors. Once I get my camera back, I’ll do some serious beret-stalking.
Picture credit to Luc Viatour.
Officially noted: Everything is better when you have friends.
As thrilling and fresh as living in a new city on a new continent; going to a new school; speaking a new language can be, and as bored as I think I would have been this year in Seattle, it’s rough to start over with nothing.
I cleared all the projected hurdles during the first few weeks I was in Paris – getting lost, shopping at grocery stores filled with unfamiliar food items, getting used to speaking French every day, searching for an apartment, jet-lag, life. Throughout the hard times, R and I just kept reminding ourselves that it would get better, we’d get used to the city, find a place to live, adjust to being Ameri-transplant-Parisiennes.
What I should have considered (but truthfully didn’t give much thought to) was that getting used to living in a new city, in a new country, on a new continent, in a new time zone, is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process that will probably never be completely tied up.
Now that I have the metro figured out, I only need my street map a third of the time, I know my way around the supermarchés and I have a place to call home, there’s a whole new set of adjustments to be taken into consideration. For the most part, there isn’t much that really jars me. In fact, most of the little differences tickle me rather than befuddle me, and I soak them up.
For example, it’s impossible to buy lined notebook paper – that’s okay, I’m starting to appreciate writing in graph. During the first minute of any class (at Sciences Po, au collège or école maternelle, according to Zoë and Ella), students pull out their notebooks and loose-leaf paper for note-taking and set their pencil pouches (!!) at the front of their desks. Yes, the pencil pouch – not that bizarre in itself, but the weird thing is that no student would be caught in class without one. Stored in the pouches are pencils, pens and miniature rulers (!! again) for underlining important points with the utmost of tidyness. After a week of merely being entertained at the pouches, I went out and bought one – why not? They’re useful, and when in France, right?
Maybe it’s more that I’ve become accustomed to the fact that there are differences (hundreds of miniscule oddities every day) than that I’ve become really used to living in France. Either way, the fact is that for the most part, I’m used to life here.
Last night though, I had one of those moments that really jarred me – and for the first time was really achingly lonely for Tacoma-Seattle and everyone I know there.
Since arriving in Paris, I’ve never had a shortage of people to hang out with. I know a few people from Seattle (R, Amelia, Sarah, etc.), and I’ve met my share of Sciences Po people and other Parisians. Making friends (or not being able to) has never been something that’s concerned me, in Tacoma or in Paris. I tend to find that if you don’t worry about it, there will always be people around to hang out with – which is true. What I never remember to think about is that it takes time to turn friends into really good ones.
Last night there was another Sciences Po party, this time within walking distance of my apartment. R and I were supposed to go together, but she’s sick (yet again) and had to bail. I ended up getting stuck with her ticket, and spent most of the day trying to find someone else to go with me. I must have called about 8 people, and not a single one could go. I realize it was a Wednesday night, and their reasons made complete sense – they were too tired to go out, or they had classes on Thursday. I understand. I know it wasn’t me, and it’s not that I don’t have any friends – but it was kind of a shock to be sitting alone in my apartment realizing that I didn’t have a single person to go out with. So different from the UW network.
In Seattle, I probably would have gone out anyway, and assumed that I’d find someone I kind of knew to hang out with. In Paris, everyone I know is still on the level of those “kind-of-know-them” acquaintences at UW. If none of my Paris “friends” could go out, the implication is that I would not know (or even recognize) a soul at this Sciences Po party. I ended up not going and feeling kind of lame and bitter all night.
It’s a harsh change, to go from having 7 or 8 people you are really really close to and spend tons of time with, and plenty of people you know well enough to hang out with if you need to, to having no really close friends. My network has been drained to 7 or 8 acquaintences and not much else. People I’ll hang out with once in a while, but don’t feel that comfortable calling too often. It was a pretty lonely realization.
Actually, it was a pretty lonely night.
But today, as always, was a new day. There are only a few girls in my hip-hop class, so we’ve bonded more than is probably normal for two dance classes. One of them, Sonia, was really excited to meet an American to practice her English with, so we decided during class on Tuesday to meet every Thursday mid-morning at Sciences Po to get a café and croissant and practice our language skills. Today was our first day, and we spent half an hour talking about everything in French, then switched to English for half an hour. It was so unbelievably nice to have a girlfriend just to sit and talk to for an hour, rather than someone to chat with during class or an outing.
I was already in a much better mood as I went to leave Sciences Po and as I was passing through the penîche I ran into Ana, another girl from my hip-hop class. We took the metro to class together on Tuesday, and she’s one of the first people I’ve really clicked with as more than a possible acquaintence. We stopped in the middle of the foyer and talked about random anything for probably 40 minutes without realizing it, and decided to hang out this weekend and celebrate nothing in particular – life, I guess.
This was another one of those jarring moments – the counterpart of Wednesday night’s. I don’t think I completely understood why I felt so lonely on Wednesday until I realized that I had a new friend today. I never realized what I was missing until I had it again.
When you have friends, it’s hard to completely get why they mean so much to you. When you’re lacking in girls (or guys), life is rough. All the little things just feel tougher without a good buffer. So phew. Thanks to Ana and Sonia, I feel like things are looking up again, when I didn’t even know they’d been looking down.
•• It should be stated that I’m not sad and I’m not lonely in Paris – I just had a lonely moment realizing that I missed my girls in Seattle. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing my emotions – all I generally feel here is pretty darn pleased with my situation.
••• The rumors about French boys being quite romantically forward are proving to be pretty accurate. Even two-year old Georges has already tried to remove my pants. I was getting him ready for a bath yesterday and he apparently thought it would be really fun if I got in with him. I didn’t quite realize what was happening until I looked down and he was very frustratedly working on the top button of my jeans. Once he’d realized he had my attention, he grabbed my leg and began pulling me toward the tub, shouting “Ollie, là! Ollie, là!” (Needless to say, I did not bathe with him).
The daily task of supervising Paul(7)’s piano practicing has, by default, fallen to me. While Cassie makes dinner for the kids (and sometimes me), P and I head downstairs to the piano, where I typically entertain Georges while listening to P run through his exercises.
Tuesdays I have my hip-hop class and arrive to nanny half an hour later then usual. Because of Cassie’s super-mom efficiency, P was already done with his homework when I jogged in the door at 5:30, so the two of us got a headstart on practicing before G got home from preschool. P had a new song to work on (disturbingly titled “Indian War Whoop” or something equally un-p.c.) and was having a terrible time with it. It’s a complicated tempo with about four hand position changes and half in staccato. This could have been P being an airhead, but he had no clue what “staccato” mean and no recognition of its symbol. I’m a little concerned that his private teacher hadn’t explained this to him, but I magically remembered and gave a pretty good explanation/demonstration, or so I would like to think.
Because I had no wiggling G to deal with, I actually had a few minutes to concentrate on what P was trying to do. His hands were a mess and he was getting really stressed out, so I asked if I could try to figure it out for him. I sat down at the piano and played the whole song. To an unknowing reader, this may not sound like much, but I had no clue until today that I still knew how to sight-read. I gave up on the clarinet (ohhh how I hated band) after 8th grade, and my few years of piano lessons had ended years even before that. I don’t think I’ve actually looked at a piece of music since then.
For these reasons, both Paul and I were pretty astonished. Well, I was astonished for those reasons – he was astonished because he’d catagorized the new American nanny as the one who “likes to do sports” (i.e., I run and dance), not as the one who “knows how to play the piano.” The au pair I replaced was training to be a “master harpist” or something, so to a 7 year-old, the musician au pair and the sporty au pair were two completely seperate entities.
Once I’d realized I could read the song and recognized all the notes and most of the symbols, I also knew how to explain it to Paul. This is when I got to impart my staccato knowledge, and I pulled a lesson on notes and octaves somewhere out of a back corner of my brain as well. We ran into a little confusion because instead of “c-d-e-f-g-a-b” going up the scale, the French use “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-si-do.” (I know we have the do-re-mis too, but we tend to use the letter names in the U.S.) Yes, “si” instead of “ti,” whiched caused undo stress for Paul everytime I asked him about “middle c.” Once we’d straightened that out and established that “middle c” and “do moyen” were one and the same, we got into quite a productive practice.
P usually shoots through his exercises and starts fidgeting at about the five minute point, but tonight we held each other rapt for at least half an hour. I think Cassie was quite surprised when she came downstairs and found us practicing “Indian War Whoop” as a duet. I think she had a musical/sporty nanny cleavage in her head as well. Ha, we sound like the “Spice Nannies” or something. Musical Nanny, Sporty Nanny, Bad Nanny (yes there was a bad nanny), Weird French Fry Nanny, Muslim Nanny, etc. Maybe we’ll unify as one super band some day.
Anyway, it’s a trivial thing, but I was pretty excited about my latent (rusty!) piano skills. I’m going to take advantage of this yer and practice while I can – I’ll be learning alongside Paul at any rate.
In other news, Christina and I just bought our tickets to Barcelona for the Toussaint vacation. I’ll see her for the few days she has to stay with me before she flies home in December, but other than that, this is probably our last hurrah for a long time. It was nice how I only had to say goodbye to half my friends in August. December is going to be a tough month though, once I’m actually all alone over here.
•• I feel like an invalid without my camera. If it’s not back in my arms by Barcelona, I’m going to cry.
••• All I have to say to this sign is…I don’t believe you!!!
There’s a shifty (and unsupervised) character. Look at him…he’s just waiting for me to give him privacy so he can go nuts pooping all over the sidewalk.
This weekend I continued with the theme of creating Seattle-in-Paris. My main tools for this operation were two of my best girls and former roommates, Christina (who is studying fall quarter studying in Nantes and Amelia, who is doing the UW Comparative Literature program for two months in Paris. (Her school is actually only about 3 blocks from Sciences Po).
As I had to nanny off and on throughout the weekend, things were a little more complicated then they could have been, but Christina (who stayed with me) and I ended up just leaving my apartment key hidden for eachother outside my door. Don’t worry, since my door opens off of the abandoned former maids’ hallway, no one comes up the stairs. It’s me, three doors that lead to old chambres de bonnes (rooms where maids would have lived) and a communal bathroom at the end of the hall. Luckily, as I am in a renovated chambre de bonne, I do have my own bathroom inside my apartment.
After retrieving Christina from gare Montparnasse, I left her with Amelia and I ran to my art history class. It’s actually a Sciences Po class, but the séances are held in the l’ENA building. I hadn’t realized that’s where they were until I arrived for class, and after hearing about the l’ENA controversy basically since I’ve been in France, it gave me a nerdy thrill to step inside.
If Sciences Po was founded to train the future elite leaders of France, L’ENA, or L’École Nationale d’Administration is the entity that has the power to turn the elite of the elite into actual leaders of France. For anyone who wishes to enter French politics, (the French equivalent of) undergraduate studies at Sciences Po, followed by (the French equivalent of) graduate studies at l’ENA. After graduating, énarques are ushered into leadership positions reserved especially for them. Dominique Villepin is an énarque, as is Ségolène Royal. So is Jean-Baptiste, my nanny family’s dad – he’s actually not only an énarque, but an X (Polytechnique grad), and he went on to found his own investment bank.
Despite the intimidating immeuble, my art class is definitely going to be my most chill. It’s taught by a professor who spends half her time at NYU and half at Sciences Po (it’s my only class in English), and I can already tell that it’s going to be really really good. I’ve never taken any kind of art history before, only physical art classes, so I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it’ll be really interesting. And what better place to learn art history then in Paris? On Friday we’re meeting at 8h (instead of our usual 14h45) at Palais Royal (behind the Louvre) to take a walking tour of artistically important areas of Paris.
Saturday afternoon I had to babysit as usual, so after hanging out with Christina and Amelia for a while, I let myself into the big apartment at my scheduled 14h arrival time. When I walked in the door, Cassie took off with Paul, told the girls to do their homework, and Jean-Baptiste took off into the kitchen to bake a tarte aux prunes (plums). This left Alexi and I in the living room to “get to know eachother” for an entire hour and a half, until the family finally left at 15h30. It was a pretty obvious set-up, but Alexi turned out to be really nice and we managed to pass the time together with minimal awkwardness. I’m still not completely over the oddness of the whole situation though. Especially after nannying tonight and hearing, “Didn’t you think Alex was cuuute?” all night long.
I feel like X’s and Pôtistes are kind of supposed to be rivals, but we’re all in the same elite squadron…or something…we’ll see what happens the next time they try to set up the two Americans in Paris.
This morning I woke up and for the first time really missed Seattle. I always miss the people of course, but as far as cities go, Paris has been doing a rather good job of pleasing me so far.
I think I was sad when I woke up because it was raining and drizzly – peering through the window over my bed into the endlessly grey sky, I could have easily been looking at the sky over Seattle (although apparently, it didn’t rain there today).
As a result of the homesickness, my mind managed to transform Paris into the Pacific Northwest for me, just for one afternoon. I spent the entire day doing Seattle-girl things, and didn’t realize it until the wet grey light was nearly gone.
In Paris, even if you spend the day doing laundry and errands, you manage to remain very chic doing so. In Seattle, sweatpants are my automatic uniform for laundry day, but here I tend to conform to the city and end up in my last clean jeans and my cute shoes even for grocery shopping.
Because I woke up today intending to run immediately, I put on my typical running outfit of yoga pants, running shoes and my T-Town (Tacoma) sweatshirt (because of the drizzle). The running was inevitably postponed until after the errands, so in true West Coast fashion I trotted around all day in my workout clothes.
My good friend (and last year’s roommate) Christina is coming to stay with me for the weekend, and I am so excited about my first houseguest that I wanted to clean and go shopping for all kinds of tasty things to ply her with. Christina, however, is a lactose-intolerant vegetarian, and it can be hard – especially in France – to find things she can eat.
I’d heard rumors of a store called “Naturalia” that sells organic products, so I walked over to Les Halles in the 1ème to check it out. I almost fainted with joy when I walked inside – just when I’d been missing P.C.C. the most, I found a perfect subsitute in a most unlikely location. I actually had fun buying things like yaourt en soja (soy yogurt) and herbed tofu – things I would never buy even in granola-green Seattle.
I tried to convey my elation and sense of being at home in Naturalia to the clerk, but he responded with a very confused look. I guess you have to have experienced the PNW to really understand what it’s all about.
After paying, I headed back toward the 2ème, my recycled shopping bag full of not only soy milk, but organic vegetable chips and organic dark chocolate-dipped rice cakes – hallelujah for Naturia. I’m trying to wait to open them until Christina gets here tomorrow, but they’re staring at me from the corner of the kitchen.
As I was waiting to cross rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré I spotted the little fleet of biodiesel cars that wheel around Paris emblazoned with slogans like “Je suis bíologique!” (I’m organic!) This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed paths with the biodiesel crowd here, but on Seattle in Paris day it couldn’t have been more perfect.
Before dropping off my groceries at home, I swung by the American bookstore (right across avenue de l’Opéra from me) to buy (finally!) American Vogue. I’m not discriminating against French Vogue – I buy that too, but it takes me about five times as long to read the articles. I paid twice as much for it as I would have in the States, but I don’t care. It was like a treasure burning through my Naturia bag the rest of the way home, just begging to be cracked open.
Before I could settle down with the Vogue though, I still had to get my run in. Still drizzling, I enjoyed a Seattle-style rain run down to Montparnasse and back. As the day could not possibly have been complete without a stop-off at Starbucks, I splurged on an overpriced café americano on the way home.
It was, typically, overflowing with American tourists, but I didn’t care. The shop around the corner from my building is progressive enough to fill carafes of nonfat milk on the sugar/milk bar. (Not all French Starbucks offer this – the last time I was in one, the options were cream, half and half or whole milk). Again I’d paid twice what I would have in Seattle, but with one sip I was transported to the parking lot of the Westgate Starbucks, on my way home from running the Point Defiance trails with Wilbur (the dog).
After stopping by the corner boulangerie to pick up a chausson aux pommes (basically an applesauce-filled pastry), I was officially back in Paris – but it was nice to have a little vacation.
••• The Franco-American nephew of Jean-Baptiste (whose family lives in America) is spending all year studying at École Polytechnique (nicknamed “X” for some unknown (to me) reason), the engineering and math equivalent of Sciences Po. He lives elsewhere in Paris, but will be spending the weekend at Cassie and Jean-Baptiste’s. In the preparations for his arrival, there has been a lot of very blatent hinting that he and I should probably fall in love and get married.
It’s perfect, apparently – we’re both from America studying in Paris, him at X, me at Sciences Po. We’re apparently both intelligent and nice, and he is, selon Cassie, “just adorable.” I think this all started as a joke, but in the middle of one conversation this evening, C, Z and E were getting more and more serious about his and my compatible qualities. I don’t even know this guy yet, but I’m sure I was beet red.
Alexi (oh yes, Alexi) will be over tomorrow, so I guess that’s when we’ll find out if the Toulouse family’s grand dreams of a union between their American nephew and American nanny will ever be realized. As it is, I’ve been hearing about this guy for so long I hope I can introduce myself without turning red and running to hide.
My disturbing encounter of the day was made even more bizarre by the fact that the person who caused it was honestly trying to be nice.
Tonight is the first night R can spend in her new apartment, so after nannying I had the wine guy at Monoprix pick me out a nice bottle of Saint Emilion, threw some plastic glasses into my bag and hopped onto the metro to christen her new apartment. She’s now living in the 11ème, which is a mostly nice “bobo” area with a few sketchy bits (like any part of town, really). When I exited the metro, an older gentleman with a pipe saw me consulting my map and immediately knew I was American.
He was quite excited to practice his English on me and share stories about his trip to California several years ago. After consulting my map, he informed me that he’d lead me to where I needed to go because I was a girl, and according to him, there are “dirty people in the street.”
He got me to the corner of rue Léon Frot and rue Emile Lepeu, but would not believe me that there existed a passage Gustave Lepeu a little further up the road. Finally I managed to convince him that I’d go look for it myself, that I’d be fine and he could go on with his evening. I thanked him, and he removed his pipe from his mouth long enough to say,
“Be careful, there are a lot of Arabs around here.”
I stared at him for a minute, but he was completely serious, so I just waved and continued up the street. It was a little unnerving.
Anyway, Rachael’s apartment is kind of hilarious at the moment. I arrived at what I thought was number 7, but there was no address on the building. There were also no names on the interphone outside, and since she’d mentioned that the building was currently under construction, I assumed that had to be it. I had to call her since the interphone was set up, and she came all the way downstairs to manually unlock the heavy front door.
The second I stepped inside I started laughing. The floor was bare concrete spattered with paint. There are clear tarps, dirty pieces of carpet, electrical wires and assorted hammers and drills strewn everywhere. The lights are just lightbulbs dangling from the ceiling. She led me upstairs to her apartment, where we had to step over a toolbox to get inside.
She and her roommate Vita are apparently the first ones to move into the building, because the construction is contintuing all month. They currently have no electricity (or hot water), except for a tiny generator lighting a few lamps in the living room.
Except for the fact that they’re living in a construction site, everything is pretty perfect. Their apartment is brand new and completely furnished – complete with brand new Ikea dishes and cookware. They have tables and lamps and curtains and a futon for the living room. In fact, all they have to buy are mattresses or futons for their own rooms and they’re all set.
Their street is also very quiet and cute, with boulangers, restaurants and fromagers lining the adjacent rue Léon Frot. With the exception of racist old men wandering the street and trying to impart their bigotry on young American girls, it’s a very cute little area.
ªªª My sink is fixed – Cassie asked how it was and I had to tell her the truth. It was broken!! She ended up coming up here while I was giving P and G their baths and fixing it for me – although she did concede that it was very difficult to take apart.