The Chichimeca goes to France

The continuing adventures of your favorite Chichimeca, a.k.a. the mysterious "Mademoiselle X", as she takes on the Fifth Republic with the aid of the intrepid Monsieur B!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Settling In...

My first full week in Paris has been mostly about adjusting. Adjusting to really nice weather, great food, fun things to do. Yeah, culture shock is hard...

M. B and I headed to the Petit Palais to see an exhibit on the archaeology of Peru. M. B had a vigorous debate with the gentleman who sold us our tickets at the entrance. We were trying to get a discount under any of the following pretexts: I'm a student, he's a researcher, goverment employee, we're archaeologists, etc. The only one that seemed to stick with the ticket seller was being associated with history or archaeology. M. B didn't qualify in this individual's mind because he wasn't really a student and I didn't because all of my ID's (I tried both my US and Mexican credentials) said "Anthropology". "No! Not Anthropology! Archaeology!!!" the ticket seller insisted. "But Archaeology IS Anthropology!" retorted M. B. "No! It's only Archaeology!" declared the ticket seller smuggly, full of assurance and finality on the subject (Lewis Binford eat your heart out!). Imagine this to repeat itself for about 3 more rounds. But, in the end, this lively intellectual debate apparently sufficiently entertained the gentleman because we both ended up receiving the discount. As for the exhibit itself, it was nicely done and there was a good balance between education and just looking at cool artifacts.

There's plenty of opportunities to enjoy a drink on the terrace of a cafe with the great weather. We recently went to one just up the street from M. B's apartment. Everyone was in a very good mood chatting over beers, soft drinks, and glasses of wine. There are a lot of children in the neighborhood, and there were quite a few running around playing with water guns to stay cool in the afteroon. There are also more drunks wandering the streets here in the summer. One such individual made a scene slurring angrily to the father of a 4 year-old that he had sincerely feared for his life when the small child pointed a bright yellow plastic water pistol at him and that it's a shame that such violence is allowed among the young. Eventually he calmed down and wandered off (probably to refuel and spread joy in another quartier).

Saturday I went to the local public swimming pool. I suppose it may be similar in the US because I haven't been to that many there, but it seemed a bit more orderly than I expected. There is a vending machine immediately at the entrance that sells the swimming caps that are required for all users, male and female. Also, men are not permitted to wear loose swimming trunks. Instead, the skin tight "Speedo" style is required (maybe that explains in part the European men that appear in, shall we say...unflattering fashions on American beaches). After changing and then taking your mandatory shower you are allowed to enter the pool. It was a little crowded for my taste, but everyone else seemed happy to swim their laps.

Later in the afternoon M. B and I took a walk through Montmartre to visit the Pigalle neighborhood. On the way we stumbled onto a few places new to not only me but also M. B (something that doesn't happen too often). One of these was a semi-hidden p├ętanque club. That's the game of outdoor bowling, like bocci balls. We spent a few moments observing the players.

Finally we got to Pigalle. Once the home to various cabarets and artists, today it is best known for strip clubs and sex shops. But still, this is Paris, and so despite the mercantile emphasis, it's really quite pretty. And the sex shops are pretty hilarious. This is also where the famous Moulin Rouge is located.

And for those of you who are looking forward to Samuel L. Jacksons upcoming Oscar bid "Snakes on a Plane" you'll be excited to see it's making the rounds abroad as well.

Sunday, after a leisurely lunch, we headed to the Parc Floral to see one of the outdoor jazz concerts. Once there, the park/botanical garden was so pretty, the weather so nice, and the crowd around the ampitheater so dense, that we decided to just stroll and look at the plant exhibits and walk-in butterly exhibit. It's really a very nice place to spend the afteroon, especially for families. After, we passed through a neighborhood that I think was in the Marais that was originally a jewish neighborhood. Today it's pretty touristy, but the architecture is very interesting. There also lots of little bars and resaurants to sample. M. B was happy with a shawarma sandwich; I preferred an Italian gelato.

Finally, today I started my French classes in a school in downtown Paris. I'll have to update my progress. Today I just got placed into my level (B-1, not exactly sure what that means). The school's teaching methods are interesting. There are no textbooks, only "authentic documents" (ads, articles, songs, that are part of French life). There is also no formal lesson plan. The teacher brings things to read, listen to, and discuss each day and grammar and vocabulary will supposedly flow more naturally this way. We also have lessons with drama coaches who will teach us intonation, gestures, and other tricks to get through a conversation when "we have no idea what people are actually saying to us". Sounds like just what I need!


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