Friday, July 13, 2012

La Classe

French people are always trying to help me with my class. Since I got here, a clumsy, American country-bumpkin prone to spilling things on myself and asking for drip coffee (which the french have a universal distaste for, and judge americans greatly for drinking), I have been taken under the arm of many a do-good frenchie who decides to educate me in the ways of social behavior. It’s kind of like I’m Eliza with various Dr. Higgins (reference to My Fair Lady). The examples of these “lessons” are endless, and often come from of a badly-humoured joke that I make which, while in English would be funny, in French is just plain crass. Particularly from a young lady of my impeccable breeding (as impeccable as it can be for an American, that is). Examples are plentiful, but here I’ll just put down a few. 
A good friend of mine visited me in October of last year, and in a free moment, decided to draw an immaculate a penis in black pen. She’s a studio art major, so the quality - let me assure you - was much better than the standard dick-drawing. Pleased, and still decorating my apartment, I placed the Perfect Penis (so we shall call it) on my fridge. Since then, the Perfect Penis has received a lot of attention, proving to be a great conversation starter. 
“Is that a penis?”

“Why, yes! It is."

Then follows one of those really quality conversations that seems to always come about after one looks at a penis drawing. However, I recently had some french friends over, one of which brought another french friend I have met a few times. This friend-of-a-friend looks at the Penis, then looks back at me, visibly shocked. He proceeds to inform me that it is just “pas bien” for a girl to have something like that on display. Shaking his head at me, with a face expressing both disgust and shame in my poor decision making, he proceeds to move the penis to a side wall, so that no one can see it. This boy, my unexpected benefactor, makes it clear how much better he feels once the penis is out of sight. That, he reminds me, “n’est pas la classe.” (is not classy). Lucky for me, the penis out of sight, my reputation has since managed to remain intact. 
Another such incident happened the other day when I was talking to a new friend from work about living in Paris during the past year. After discussing museums, schoolwork, and restaurants around the city, he asked me if I’d become educated in the ways of France’s national drink: wine. There are dozens of wine tasting courses around the city, and being the penny-pinching college student that I am, I have never once considered going to one. My new friend informs me that this is a Paris “must”. I inform him that although I have not learned to drink wine, I have drank quite a lot of it in my time here. This was supposed to be a joke, as in, “Haha, I drink a ton of cheap-ass wine so no worries!”  Instead, this remark was met with consternation. I thought I had said the phrase wrong, using the wrong verb tense, so I tried a few different versions. “I drink a lot of wine,” “I was drinking a lot of wine,” “I like to drink a lot of wine,” I said. These statements did not help my case when I learned that the actual problem was that I was not being classy.  It was just neither funny nor appropriate to talk about drinking that way. Especially as a lady.  I was informed that I should say what translates to, “I have happily tasted many wines”. This, my friend told me, while still shaking his head over the serious nature of my mistake, “est la classe.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

L'été à Paris

Well this blog post has certainly been a long time coming. One thing I didn’t expect from working the whole 9-5 office life is how busy and exhausted I feel, even with no homework at the end of the day! Plus there is the fact that I have been actively engaging in the plethora of happy hour deals offered all around the city, so I don’t really get home until 11 or so... All in all, the working life in paris isn’t too bad. I feel like I’m getting to see another version of the city. I’ve done the student life - late nights, libraries, school admin, coffee from the vending machines and apartment parties. Then I’ve done the nannying/family life - waiting outside of schools, holding hands on the crosswalk, helping with homework and playing legos in family apartments. Now I’ve entered into working life. So far this has composed itself of - morning showers and ironing dress shirts, notetaking and handshaking, sitting in cafés for lunches and coffees, and craving a beer at 5 pm sharp. With the light lasting until 10:30 PM, and when we get a break from the rain that refuses to leave paris for good, getting drinks with friends in a café and watching the sunset is about as good as it gets. 

Working at the senate wavers between being insanely cool and horribly terrifying. First and foremost, I spent all of my time before my internship started agonizing over what I was going to wear. Living in Paris, one of the most expensive places in the world, working at the senate, one of the shmaniciest institutions in the city, and having hardly a euro-penny to my name, did not make for a quality combination. All I can say is, thank you zara, for dressing me head to toe. Now I’m going to add, as of last wednesday, thank you city-wide, nationally-mandated sales, for helping me look like something other than a walking zara advertisement. The point is that since I put all of my stress into my clothing options, I failed to recognize what should have been a much more pressing worry, the fact that my office will operate entirely in french. As in, I should probably have started to prepare in some way to be dealing with people in french without having a panic attack over every email. But oh no, I just wanted to look good.

This little rant is the product of my first few weeks in the office when I realized, hey now, I am still struggling to learn this language. My boss is a diplomat by profession, only working in the senate for the next few years and he was previously posted in London for four years so we work together in English (in case anyone was getting too impressed here, and thinking I was working in French). Here comes the problem. I have been living in Paris for the past year, and going to school in French. I have been reading and writing french, talking french (mostly at night, on da streets) and I have slowly been growing in confidence that I can, one day, claim to master this language. Then I entered the senate. While I understand next to 100% of what people say to me, say in meetings, and say officially, I am entirely helpless in conversations between the advisors. Just picture me on my first day, the small 21 year old American girl sitting at lunch surrounded by 40+ year old politologues speaking in super fast, casual (but different kind of casual or slang than younger folk), and heavily-referenced french about super complex inter-party dynamics of the french socialist party. Or conservative party. Or communist party. Not only did I have trouble following the language, new vocabulary, fancier syntax, but I had no idea who they were talking about! Names going back right and left, many of them first name references only that apparently needed no more introduction than “Hèlene, friends with Theirry,” or “Sciences Po with Andrè.” Even getting that much was lucky. When we left the meeting François, my boss, turned to me apologetically and said, “Sorry about that, it was like a French West Wing in there, huh.” Gulp.

Thus this summer quickly turned into: The Summer that Ariella Learns French Fluently and with Grace until she turn into a Perfectly-French-Speaking-Fairy-Princess. How is it going, you may ask? Swimmingly! Really, I’m delving into a lot of grammatical things that I never understood and never bothered to understand. I’m taking french lessons twice a week and learning SO MUCH, but mostly about how the french I “knew” is more just the french I casually made up and no one corrected me on. At first was very demoralizing - there’s nothing worse than losing confidence in your language skills. Especially when you work in a french office. But slowly and surely I’m getting there. I’ve made the stupidest mistakes, been asked questions in french (in front of everyone) and looked back blankly, and today even wished someone “Good Afternoon” at 10 am. So, it’s a process. But I am having less of those moments when you’re trying to say something, start to falter half-way through only to trip up on the hard french “r” and end up red-faced and spitting, like an angry cat (to the great discomfort of all parties involved). So that says something, right? In all seriousness, I’m advancing, figuring out how to write fancy french emails and can read with practically no difficulty at all. I’m not quite at the Fairy Princess part, but I’m definitely not the frog! Chuckle. (More than just a terrible allusion, this is also a reference to a fun bar in Paris called Princess and the Frog! Aren’t I too cool?!)

So those are my thoughts on french. I feel like that must be super boring for all of you who just read it, so as a reward for getting to this point (or for having the courage to skip down to here) I will try to think of fun things I’ve been doing. Here’s a list (because my witty, running commentary is running low): I’ve been wandering along the seine thinking of plans for next year and beyond, going to bars that Hemingway frequented (and paying way too much to do so), drinking wine in front of the Eiffel Tower with wonderful friends from CC. I’ve been shamelessly flashing pedestrians as I hop on and off rent-a-bikes, making best friends with all of the senate secretaries, and getting used to eating lunches alone in the gardens. I’ve been going to conferences on women’s rights, discovering the nuances of the stylish pant suit (taking notes from Hillary), and enjoying verre upon verre of free champagne at work events. I’ve been perusing city sales, meeting young professionals, and listening to live music on the streets. I’ve been refusing to clean my apartment, while simultaneously trying to keep out my ever-unpleasant, mousey guests (what can I say? They can’t seem to get enough of me.) I’ve been discovering addicting tv shows (Game of thrones anyone?) during the rare down moment, and planning end-of-summer trips to London, Austria and maybe even Tunisia. I’ve been dreaming and drinking and pretending that exercise is too “American” to indulge in while here. I’ve been counting down the days until I’ll be in Squam Lake in NH, and pressing down the simmering panic that my time here is coming to an end. I’ve been failing to write any blog posts and then when I do, writing them in a horribly stiff poetic format to boot!!!

I hope this blog was sufficiently thrilling for you all out there, despite the fact that I feel like it didn’t really say anything at all...I’m thinking I’ve got one more year-abroad post in me before I go, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Gros bisous mes amis, et pour la plupart de vous, à bientôt!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Updates from Venice

Ciao! I’m currently writing this from my hostel room in Venezia, Italy where it is beautiful, and not raining every day (cough paris i’m talking about you). Plus, it’s socially acceptable to mange on pizza/pasta/gelato a solid three times a day, doesn't get much better than that. All in all, I’m so happy I finally made it to Italy, a country that has been on my to-do list for ages now. With Sciences Po almost over (another thought that feels totally crazy), I had free time between my last class and my one, single exam and couldn’t think of a better way to both fill my time AND procrastinate studying, than going off to Italia for ten days - talk about two birds, one stone! Thus I planned my trip: Florence, Venice, Capri, Positano. I started by going alone to Florence, a city I loved and which made paris look horribly gray and huge in comparison, and where I unabashedly channeled Julia Roberts re: Eat Pray Love — sitting comfortably by myself, eating pizza, drinking rosé, journaling and feeling oh-so-sophisticated throughout the whole weekend. I felt like the shit, and pretended no one could see my sunburned face (Julia wouldn't have sat in the shade, please) and it turned out pretty nicely.

Additionally, and I am very proud of myself for this, I brought the Hunger Games #2 with me around Florence! Why "proud", you ask? Well, I bought the book in French, effectively finding a way to justify carrying a pre-teen novel around Italy with me, "its actually for educational purposes thank-you-very-much," and also I enjoyed thinking that people behind me in lines (so many long, long lines) would see me and think I was French (I do understand that this would make me a French person readying a pre-teen novel, but the French part seems exciting enough to cancel the pre-teen part out). All in all, Florence let me try on a few different personalities — primarily the lone, proud, very important, French, independent, traveling woman who happens to bear a striking resemblance to a much shorter Julia Roberts. Other Florentine personalities include the crying, stressed out American girl who just so happened to get confused and accidentally not pay for the bus. That one did not turn out nearly so well. Regardless, I do so love to travel alone if only to try on all of these different hats, so to speak. Highlights in Florence include beautiful churches, quiet afternoons eating paninis in sunny piazzas, and a nice dinner I had with a Belgian archaeologist staying in the same hostel as me. It was the nicest start to Italy. 

More on Venice, Capri and Positano later, as I’m still here! I have some time to blog right now because my venice chica, the lovely and voracious Nicola, left tonight while I spend another night here before heading South. Venice has proven to be a wonderful, windy city which puts my previously invincible sense of direction to shame. Still, I can forgive her, Venice that is, because she does feed me so well. More later. For now, I thought I’d update my woefully neglected blog with other life things.

First and foremost, I have currently joined the celebrated ranks of unpaid laborers! Meaning, I got an internship! Through a friend, I found a place as an intern this past february for an organization called the Global Forum for Counter Radicalization. It’s an NGO in Paris run by this most amazing Hungarian woman from Switzerland who spent four years in Israel and Palestine. The organization works to counter extremism through coordinating efforts with other NGOs and spreading moderate, mass media. Andrea, the founder, is hoping to conduct counter extremism workshops in Paris in the next few years. The organization is really young, and so I’m actually contributing in ways that feel much more substantial than an intern might get to in a bigger organization. I’m currently transcribing this conference that the GFCR held in October and it’s SO interesting listening to all of these speakers talk about the ways in which they work to combat extremism - from people who talk to would-be terrorists or suicide bombers on a theological level to prevent them from acting, to those in academia who study the psychology of terrorism through field work with the Tamil Tigers, for example. It’s fascinating. Not to mention that this internship brings my list of relevant experience up to a grand total of 1 on my résumé!! Wahoo! But truthfully, I’m really enjoying participating in an organization relating to conflict resolution, a field I’m considering going into after CC. Real life folks, it's coming for me!

Now... onto summer plans! While I failed thoroughly at finding an internship through the traditional means — applying to various NGO and governmental international relations organizations in the U.S. by writing cover letter after cover letter trying oh-so-hard to hit that perfect note between eager and just plain desperate — I managed to get a lovely internship in Paris through a family I know here. Seriously, France is the land of connections. From May through the end of July I’ll be staying in Paris (it’s like the city can’t get enough of me!) working in the president of the senate’s office under the diplomatic advisor. Should be exciting, and luckily it is only about a 25 minute walk for me! Pretty worried about what I’m going to find that could possibly pass for an appropriate work outfit... but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

So! I’m still here! I’ll still be here, in my Rapunzel top floor apartment with baguettes down the street and cheese for days. With bicycles, lux gardens, smoky bars and never-ending striped shirts. Looks like my adventure’s not over just yet, and I do believe I’m about to live a very different Paris life than the one I’ve been leading so far. Hopefully this one will include a bit more exercise and cultural outings and a bit less chocolate croissant "exceptions." I’ll let you all know how this one turns out, and I’ll see if I can’t get a nice photo of Sarko and I for all of you blogger fans out there (wink wink).

Ciao amicis, à la prochaine!! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I’m sitting in Starbucks with thirty minutes to kill (read: pretend I don’t have real work) before babysitting and I thought I’d update a bit. Also I’m sitting next to this couple that must be on a first date or something, and it’s pretty hilarious. It’s an American girl and a french guy and they’re currently talking about their favorite colors. I kid you not. His is maroon (weird, right?) and hers is green. I keep thinking they’ve left because I don’t hear anything (my back is to them) but then I realize they’re just having a awkward quiet moment... isn’t it fun when you can look and laugh and say thank god that’s not me?? 

On this topic, one thing that is really different here than in the United States is the dating culture. French guys like to date. Honestly they love it! They’ll go mooney over you, ask you out to drinks, coffee, dinner etc, date you for a couple of months during which you’re their sun, their moon, their everything... And then move on, or it fizzles, or it can turn into something real (I'm not that much of a miser, I swear!) But the two month getting-to-know-you phase is much more formalized, you’re definitely seeing each other and not just “hooking up” - an idea that does not make very much sense to them in the first place, unless you are just a horndog looking for a petit d’amour pour la soirée. Whereas in the U.S. to be “hooking up” with someone can often indicate that same beginning period of a potential relationship, you would never casually say you’re dating someone! Goodness no! Facebook official usually waits a good 6-12 months until a relationship has been established. We certainly do not like to jump the gun in the U.S. While I don’t mind this “system” if you want to call it that, and dating/hooking up/getting to know someone never really follows any rules, I do enjoy getting to go on dates! Something about it feels very sweet, kind of old-fashioned, and usually you’re less drunk, or in an environment of copious drinking, than at a typical night out in college, at a house party. I don’t mean to glorify the french approach to dating, for its very easy to get trapped at a bar with a french man whispering sweet nothings into your ear until you physically have to remove him and watch him walk right up to the next girl and start in on her, but it is a very nice alternative. Grass is always greener. And maybe this does exist in the U.S. post-college?  I’ll just wrap this up and say that dates are gr8 and since you have a pre-ordained goodbye gesture (the bisous on the cheeks) you have an easy out for no kiss at the end.  And in €-strapped lives in paris, a free drink is always appreciated. I’m just glad that mine aren’t as bad as this one I’m listening in on. This guy just told his date that he “has total control of his brain” and then compared himself to the movie inception. Oh boy. Too far for the first, dontcha think?

Back to ma vie. It’s finally nice here!! 50 degrees and sunny today, I took off my coat from the heat for the first time in maybe three months - discounting Spain. I think the Winter Blues had everyone by the throat a little bit because all of my friends here seem just so much chippier! On that note, Summer fashion is quickly approaching and Spring fashion is underway - and just as I had my Winter Paris look down, too! Apparently I have to go buy a jean jacket, a jean shirt, and wear them together with a pair of jeans and big sunglasses. All the rage. I forget what I was going to talk about here, but I think it was along the lines of my babysitting yesterday. It was so cute and funny I thought it would make a nice little blog post. 

So I went to pick up Neal, age 11, and Julieanne, age 7, at school yesterday as I do every Monday and Tuesday at 4:30. This time, Neal wasn’t going to go to English class, just sat with me to wait for Julieannes, and so didn’t have any homework to do. When this happens it generally means Neal gets extremely bored, thinks its the end of the world and wanders around the American church as I follow behind begrudgingly - I’m usually perfectly content to just sit for an hour and watch all of the babies (for some reason there are always a million French babies and toddlers running around, it provides very nice entertainment). However this time I got out my french homework and started it - it was a preposition worksheet. Neal looks over my shoulder, reads the first line and goes, “that’s wrong” and then laughs. I whip the paper out of sight, cheeks red, and tell him to bug off  (we have a very fun relationship). But then I calm down, tell myself he’s only 11, and ask him to help me - why not? This is for another day, but I have developed a little bit too much pride in French, making it harder to progress since I hate making mistakes and blush furiously every time I do. I just oh-so-want to sound like a smart, quirky Parisian girl, and haven’t yet conceded that it’s hopeless. Anyways, what proceeded with Neal was a veritable French lesson, from the 11 year old in broken english to me. Not on the prepositions, Neal and I were struggling equally on this, but for some reason he started telling me about the passé simple. The passé simple is a french verb tense that does not have an equivalent in English and is pretty old-fashioned, so none of my French teachers ever taught it to me. However I do come across it a fair amount in French writing and it’s pretty frustrating to not even be able to identify the tense. Neal, very calmly and concisely, walked me through the endings of the passé simple, and explains why they are so strange and accidentally kind of funny. For example, the ‘pouvoir’ form in passé simple is “put-” so for the I form, ‘je’, you say, “je putes” which means, in regular verb form, “I stink”. We had a good laugh over this one and commiserated over the horrible inconsistencies of French grammar. Just a little moment that made me smile, and honestly helped me out a fair bit in my french comprehension. Then we moved on to a 45 minute conversation detailing every single family in the Yu-gi-yo card deck, their good and bad characteristics, and which ones I would like and why. Strangely enough, this was a much more familiar topic for me having done this with Neal for every Monday since November. 

Alors, je pense que c’est tous mes amis. Oh! That’s a total lie. I have an internship now! Just for my last few months in Paris. I’m so happy to have it, if just because now I have a grand total of 1 thing to put on my resumé that doesn’t say “nanny for tons and tons of random kids for the past 8 years”. Even though I know how much nanny experience lends to politics... 

I’ll fill in on the internship another day, it’s time for work! Which is good because I’ve already forgotten at least 3 of the yu-gi-yo rules I learned yesterday. Neal is always frustrated with me, I’m a terrible yu-gi-yo student. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pictures from Berlin and Krakow

Pergamom museum in Berlin

Me and Camilla in Berlin

Making our Mark - East Side Gallery

Looking very cold in Brrrrrrlin


Krakow market

friends in Krakow

Beautiful 16th century church

First things first

A year of firsts. In many ways, I feel like this is a year in which a wet, pink, screaming baby (me) was passed across the ocean from the golden land of 24-hour-service/meal-and-housing-plans-handed-to-you-with-a-smile, to a confusing landmass full of no-we-will-not-go-out-of-our-way-to-help-you-slash-you-aren’t-dressed-as-cool-as-us. Well. Back in the beginning I stepped off of my Aerlingus plane in late August with confidence and happy nerves as to what lay ahead of me. But in reality I have had a much harder time getting accustomed to living here, and living here alone (key word), than I ever thought I would. This could just be a peter-pan-nightmare called growing up, or it could be some karmic “getting what you wanted” business (followed by evil buddhist laughter) but I actually think that this is simply the Syndrome of Firsts. It feels like every time I turn a corner in this city I meet something new or have to deal with some new situation (in french). At CC, deciding to go to Benjis instead of Rastall is enough of a novelty to send that thrill of spontaneity down my spine - but here in Paris I've started grasping anything the least bit familiar with an iron grip (just imagine running into me in the street...) To help you get one I mean by "firsts," here is a little taste of some of the extra-fun ones I've run into thus far: 

First time I had to look for an apartment. First time I had to look for an apartment in another language. First time I had to figure out an international bank transfer, in another language, over two times zones. First time I had to report my phone lost, in another language, and call insurance to get it replaced. (This ended up happening two times! Second time around, I was a champ.) First time my computer was stolen, and I had to buy another one, in another language. First time I memorized a french computer keyboard. First time I moved into a new apartment. First time my fuse blew, and I didn’t realize how to reset it for three days and all of my food went bad. First time I figured out how to turn my hot water on (and off...) First time I had to talk to the french police when my neighbor called them amidst a tuesday-night-lets-drink-whiskey serious gathering chez moi. First time I had to give a 25 minute presentation in french, and was so nervous that I forgot how to say any and all french numbers. First time I got in an argument over the bill with a frenchman, in french, over the price of my haircut - and won, just saying. First time I lost my mailbox key. First time I had to call a locksmith (need I say, in french?). First time I missed a flight, and begged the airport staff until they gave me a new flight free of charge (this experience had a very familiar ring to it, but the desperation was probably much more poignant since I was struggling even more so to do it all in french). First time I paid an electricity bill. First time I paid a €300 electricity bill. Last time I used any electricity (jokes). 

The point of this list is to say, I have had a lot of firsts, a lot of scary firsts. Calling my bank at home, my mom and CC to ask for help has been both difficult and frequent. In response to all of this onslaught of novelties, I make habits, I create routines, I do anything to make things stay the same. I say bonjour and au revoir to the same people every day, and stop at the same snack stands (self-medicating with a twice-daily pain au chocolat has proven to have great results). My schedule has me in class everyday in the mornings, with work every afternoon, and I definitely remember to turn off my lights. However something I think I easily forget to notice, and seriously fail to remember, is both the overwhelming number of GOOD firsts, and the fact that my motivation for coming to Paris was largely to do, see, and experience, something new! While the bad firsts make better stories, especially since the french make themselves so much fun to imitate (see video link at bottom to better understand this), the good firsts are what keep me so inexplicably happy here in this gray and misty city.

So I thought I’d include here some unexpected “firsts” that have made me stop, look around, and wonder at how freaking cool my life is right now.

First time my class stopped in order to explain the word “prey” to a spanish speaker who didn’t understand the french — three languages were flying across the room in order to explain it, descriptions in french, english and spanish until she understood, and class resumed. Same thing happened another day when a german girl could not remember how to say “sustainable”. Luckily, there’s almost always a german or two in my classes so a quick debate in german fixed the problem. First time I figured out that the little 7 year old I babysit for, named Julieanne, had been saying “Fac,” a shorter way to say “faculté” which is another word for university, and not something else... this one had me very confused, and laughing for a long time afterwards. First time I got to hear about “american exceptionalism” from a class full of french, irish, australian, german and english students. Fascinating. First time I was invited by my nanny-friend, 50-something-year-old Fred (short for Frederique) to her Valentine’s day community choir concert, and went. Best V-Day yet by far. First time I found myself as a translator between a desperate Dutch woman whose purse had been stolen, and the french police when neither could communicate with the other. First time I went to a Monday night reading at Shakespeare & Co, and drank wine along the Seine with the featured authors afterwards. First time I went to a debate to hear prestigious speakers, including ex-ambassadors, discuss and answer questions about the upcoming U.S. elections in a gold-gilded hotel right off of the champs-elysées. First time I shared a cup of red wine at 4 PM in the center of a convenience store with the owner, named Ali Baba, who had been welcomed so warmly and treated so well by Americans when he went to New York, that he wanted to show Americans the same treatment at his home in Bordeaux. First time I went to a Bob Dylan concert with the father for the kids I babysit for, who also happens to be the diplomatic advisor to the head of the French senate. (A repeat story, but too cool to not be included).

And of course there are the smaller moments. When I can communicate clearly and quickly in french, when I find myself in a beautiful new neighborhood in Paris and simply stop and stare, when I find myself actively interested and engaged in a class here. The little things, and the “good firsts,” as I’ve so eloquently named them, are the bits and pieces of life here that feed me, along with the chocolate croissants, and keep me going in a city that can all too easily feel alien and frightening. Since I’ve been here I’ve taken to jotting these little things down, with the goal of writing about them - in a blog or home to mom - and only now have I found a way to compress them into one blog post (a post which, naturally, turned erroneously philosophic... a tendency which internet-me cannot seem to get control of). 

On that note, enjoy the movie clip (it says it has subtitles but I don’t think they’re there, just look at his face because it is such a good imitation of what I see here in paree), and I’ll keep you posted on anymore exciting adventures (or tenuous struggles) in the life of me, your wonderful, emotional-roller-coaster-riding, ever-growing — in every way (think life experiences + constant croissants) — long-list-and-hyphen-loving, friend.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

update: spring break

Hola! Buenas días! 

I’m writing this on the train from Valencia to Barcelona! It’s so fun being back in Spain and seeing how much spanish I remember from the summer I spent in Salamanca (none). It’s the strangest feeling trying to switch between two foreign languages. It feels like your brain is trying to do backflips, or maybe a better comparison is what it feels like when I try to raise an eyebrow (which I cannot do and have always been irrationally jealous of people who can) - I screw my face up in all these strange positions, and end up little else but a bright red face, and in the case of speaking spanish, a lot of spit. The prideful creature that I am, I decided that I would take on spanish like a game. I only had about three verbs to work with - tengo, quiero, soy - and a veeryyy shaky knowledge of some semblance of grammar. The challenge was muy grande (see what i did there?) and it was actually quite fun. In Valencia in particular the service-sector, so like waiters, store keepers, hotel staff, speaks much less english than that in Paris (which is composed almost entirely of fluent english speakers), so every request really did turn into quite the task. None of this stuffy Paris attitude of perfecting my disaffected, slightly bored face coupled with rapidly spoken french (striking the right cord you see, proving that I was both a super cool fluent foreigner but I didn’t even care about how cool I was). Instead ordering dinner became a series of stuttering, pointing, gesticulations and laughter. Que bueno! 
So, if you have skipped the entire introductory paragraph up to here, (by this point no doubt you are an avid-Ariella-in-Paris follower and have realized that the first part is always usually jibber jabber) I will state again: I’m on spring break mothafoookah! Naturally, since Sciences Po gives us our spring break the last week of February, when the weather is nice and balmy, my friends and I decided to head up north to Krakow! T-Shirt Contest anyone??... chuckle chuckle. Krakow. It was truly the first Eastern European city I’ve been to, excluding Berlin which I would not place in the same category (and where we stopped over for a day on the way to Krakow -I’ll try to post pictures later this week). It also is one of the only Eastern European cities that was not bombed to smithereens during WWII. While I don’t have much basis for comparison, I can say that Krakow is absolutely STUNNING and probably has one of the most beautiful midieval churches that I have ever been inside. My friends and I spent the first day walking around the city and found our way to the old castle. Needless to say, we practised bowing through the royal court for a good half-hour in the rain until the castle closed and we were oh-so-politely “bowed” out. Polish food is absolutely amazingly potato-y delicious meaty goodness with which we identified just one teensy problem: while it puts a smile on your face, it certainly does not on your digestive system... let’s just say that I really missed my “special” tea while in Poland. 
Now on a much more serious note, I’d like to put in a little bit about going to Auschwitz and Birkenau. We took the better part of our Sunday to make our way out to the camps, 45 minutes outside of Krakow. The 3 hour long tour was given to us by a grandchild of concentration camp survivors, and the details, images, stories, and preserved documents from the third reich were absolutely horrifying. While auschwitz is preserved almost in its entirety, Birkenau was burned and dismanted so while we spent less time there, the giant field empty except for rows of standing chimneys, gave you a true sense of the enormity of these concentration camps. There’s an extremely moving memorial that was constructed next to a half-destroyed gas chamber at Birkenau as well. Just writing about this brings me back, I can feel the gloom and sense of disbelief that felt like almost knocked me off my feet throughout our time there. I’m so happy that I got the chance to learn more about the holocaust and maybe get an inkling of knowledge of the depravity that went on there. 
However, it was a nice relief, and felt like an unbelievable luxury, to head out to spain. Even if our trip did not make the most sense - going from Berlin and Krakow down to Spain - we were certainly ready to get to warmer weather, and hopefully participate in more spring break like activities (sangria being a primary goal). We explored Madrid, and Camilla and I got to meet up with CC grad Jenny Natelson for a delicious lunch of calamari sandwiches and tinto verano. Valencia was beautiful and grandiouse and now I am off to find some long lost CC boys in Barthalonahhh. I’ve been having too much fun with the lisp, it makes me feel like my bad spanish is more authentic because I’m willing to jump right into sounding just as much like a toothless grandma as the locals. Solidarity, you know?  
That’s all I got for esta momenta (...its like im trilingual, sabes?)
Until next time, 
Ciao ciao amigos !