Halloween in Paris: Ghost Tour

While I’m not actually in Paris at the moment to celebrate the wonderful Pagan, commercialized holiday of Halloween, I did go on a ghost tour a few weeks ago in order to get into the spirit of the month.

That Halloween spirit
That Halloween spirit

I took the walking tour with Mysteries of Paris. We started in front of Notre Dame where we heard stories about the alchemist Nicholas Flamel (Harry Potter anyone?) a saint who carried his head for 6 miles after being decapitated, and the devil doors of the cathedral.

Alchemical symbols on Notre Dame
Alchemical symbols on Notre Dame. According to our guide these are the instructions for eternal life, but of course they’re not in the right order!

Our guide was lovely, at the beginning of the tour while we were waiting for other people to join, he asked us where we were from and how long we had been in Paris. It was quite amusing when he got to me and I told him I had already been here for 2 months because I was studying abroad and thus lived here. I ended up talking to the guide quite a bit about school at the Sorbonne as we walked in between the horror story locations and learned that he was studying translation in order to subtitle movies.

The tour guides
The tour guides. Mine is the one that looks like a vampire.

The stories included the following:

A young French woman and English speaking boy who were in love and because of a language barrier the idiot man proposed to her in the most cliche place in existence and the woman backed away from shock and fell off the Eiffel tower. Moral: Don’t propose to your girlfriend on the Eiffel tower.

The French Sweeney Todd, where the killers engraved the names of the young men they killed in their courtyard before chopping them up into meat pies. Moral: Don’t engrave the names of the people you’ve killed in the ground.

French vampires who literally bathed in the blood of young men, but not before chopping of their heads and preserving them as trophies. Moral: Don’t keep trophies.

The shop that inspired ratatouille:

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And an insane writer with a taste for dancers, who carried a lobster around on a robe and was found hanging in an alleyway one day, still clutching his pet. Moral: Don’t carry lobsters around or lie to your dancer girlfriend.

All in all the tour was fantastic. Was it particularly scary? No, but it perfectly met my craving for the strange and the supernatural this month 🙂

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Wake Me Up: Daily Parisian Commute

My alarm goes off. I groan. Check my phone. My room is dark. The light hurts my eyes.

Sleep more? my mind says. No. Class. Have to go to class. 

I get up. The floor creaks beneath me.

Bathroom. Contacts. Clothes. Hair and Makeup.

I resemble a human again.

To the kitchen. Creak, groan, creak go the floors.

I press the button on the electric kettle. Grab a mug. Spoon some brown flakes into a mug. Drop in 4 sugar rounds.

I look at the kettle. I look at my cup.

Drop in another sugar round. Pour the boiling water into the mug.

Milk. Stir. Sip.

It’s still bitter.

First coherent thought of the day: I hate instant coffee. 

But it does its job.

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Left to Right: Milk, Instant Coffee, Mug, Yogurt, Pear, Sugar, Honey, Special K. Sugar and Honey go in the yogurt.

I eat my breakfast in silence, preferring yogurt and cereal to a French baguette and jam. I check the news on my phone and finish my bastard coffee. I put the dishes away and replace everything in the cupboard. The floor creaks again as I return to my room to grab my bag, then I hesitate and grab a scarf, wrapping it around my neck and tucking it into my coat. I plug in my headphones as I walk out the door and hit shuffle on my phone…

Feeling my way through the darkness; Guided by a beating heart

I smile at the irony as the chilly air from outside blasts me as I exit into the courtyard.

I can’t tell where the journey will end; But I know where to start

I make my way to the street and then head towards the metro.

They tell me I’m too young to understand; They say I’m caught up in a dream

I stuff my hands into my coat as I walk quickly, nodding to the mother who passes by me.

Well life will pass me by if I don’t open up my eyes

I glance up: the Arc de Triomphe towers over me and grows closer with each step I take.

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Well that’s fine by me. 

I smile slightly, forgetting the requisite resting bitch face for Parisian commuters.

A couple blocks later I walk down the stairs leading to the metro, swipe my pass over the turnstile and then board the train.

Then I ride the line to the end… So wake me up when it’s all over 

 


 

What did you guys think about this post? Definitely different from my normal style, but I wanted to try something a little different.

Here are the *cultural* facts from this post:

1. French breakfasts are pretty small. Apparently, my yogurt breakfast is unusual as my host mom typically eats bread, butter, and jam. Nothing, nothing is better than a warm, buttery croissant for breakfast, but we can’t all live at boulangeries!

2. The Parisian Commuter resting bitch face is a thing. You don’t smile on the Metro. What is a resting bitch face you ask? According to Urban Dictionary, a person with a resting bitch face is “usually a girl, who naturally looks mean when her face is expressionless, without meaning to

3. When it’s cold, everyone is wearing a scarf. The French would reach for a scarf first over a jacket.

Benedict Cumberbatch likes taking them off
So it makes sense the English like to take them off. I ❤ Benedict Cumberbatch.

Also, this next week I’m going to be travelling! So make sure to stay tuned if you want updates on my trip to Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice 🙂

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Old Town France, the Middle Ages, and Food

This past weekend Sweet Briar (the program I’m studying abroad with) organized a trip to Strasbourg, a city to the west in the country’s famed region of Alsace. I say famed because said territory was a point of deep seated contention between Germany and France, as it continually switched back and forth between the two countries over the last few centuries. One day you were German, the next day you were French, then a few years later you were German again! So it would make sense that such a region (15 minutes away from the border to Germany) would have a blended culture. The buildings look like they belong in a small German town and the German language is heavily present alongside the French.

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That was some delicious ice cream

Strasbourg is also called the capital of Christmas as their December Christmas markets are world renowned. Since it’s only October, I had to settle for buying their famous pain d’épices and visiting the one Christmas shop in Old Town Strasbourg.

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Christmas cookies and pain d’epices

Pain d’épices translated loosely is gingerbread, but gingerbread with a whole lot more flavor containing a wide variety of spices including honey, anise, cinnamon, and even orange.

Upon arriving in Strasbourg, we took a guided tour of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the striking Gothic cathedral that towers over the town.

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It has to be one of the oldest looking cathedrals I have ever seen.

Next year they will be celebrating 1000 years since the foundation of the cathedral was laid. The cathedral was completed in 1439 and is the highest structure built entirely in the middle ages.

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On the inside, aside from the many glittering stained glass windows, there is an astronomical clock that calculates not only time, but also equinoxes, the lunar calendar, and other astronomical information. Every 15 minutes the clock comes to life and a figure representing a stage of life moves in front of death, a scary skeleton figure, and baby cherubs strike bells.

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Despite all of the cool astronomical references and the general ancient feeling of the town,  my favorite part of the whole trip was definitely the food. Sweet Briar took us to a restaurant that specialized in Baeckeoffe, an Alsatian tradition. Baeckeoffe is essentially a giant, slow cooked hot pot comprised of potatoes, vegetables, and meat marinated in wine.

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The outside.
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The inside.

It was delicious and I don’t think I have ever left a restaurant feeling so stuffed. My table couldn’t even finish the pot, but I still made sure to eat all of my dessert!

Then the next day for lunch I tried another Alsatian specialty called Flammekueche or Tarte flambée depending on your languageIt’s basically a pizza with an extremely thin crust. I had the original which contains fromage blanc, onions and bacon.

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I ate the whole thing. Good thing I had my yoga class the following day.

Then Sunday we took a day trip to Colmar, another city in Alsace.

We took a guided tour of the Unterlinden Museum to see the Isenheim altarpiece, a series of painted panels from the Middle Ages. The symbology and detail of each panel is absolutely stunning.

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They display everything from the crucifixion and resurrection to fantastical scenes of good versus evil. The tour guide actually compared the monsters on this panel to Pokemon!

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Pikachu doesn't see it either
Pikachu doesn’t see it either

Then we returned to Strasbourg for a few hours of free time and I decided to stick to the spirit of old town France and sat at a cafe, milking a glass of raspberry Sirop à l’eau for 2 hours in good French fashion.

Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.
Basically Italian soda with flat water, but it tastes so much better than that description.

That concludes my weekend in Strasbourg! What’s next on the list? Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice! Fall break is just around the corner and I’ll be indulging in as much gelato as possible!

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Thoughts on Being an America Encyclopedia

“Emily, what do Americans think about Reagan?” my French professor asked during my Contemporary World Analysis class at the Sorbonne.

Quoi?” I squeaked, a little surprised to be called on, especially by name in a class of at least 40 students.

“Well the French think of Reagan as an actor” he offered. “So what do the Americans think?”

Reagan?  We liked him?
Reagan? We liked him?

I think I muttered something about how religious he was, which was fitting since we were analyzing Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech in class. (For those who don’t know here’s a snippet: let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness–pray they will discover the joy of knowing God” ) Whew. It is a class on history from the Cold War to present day, which meant we talk about America a lot.

Which means that automatically makes me, the American, an expert on the subject!

Secret Here:
No.

Secret here: If I was an expert on the subject I wouldn’t be taking this class!! 

But it’s been really interesting to hear about the Cold War from a 3rd party’s perspective. I almost started laughing in class when the professor first said “American aggression”  because we never learn about it like that, and yet if you think about it aggression is as good of a word as any to describe some of our policies during the Cold War.

That day after class the professor waited for me to ask how things were going and if I was understanding everything. So contrary to what I had been led to believe, some French professors do actually care about their students!

I already explained classes a bit in a previous post, but there are two parts to French university classes.

1. The CM (Cours Magistral): This is your basic lecture class. One professor, a microphone, and a PowerPoint (if you’re lucky) and at least 200 students. Typically meets for one hour once a week.

2. The TD (Travaux dirigés): One professor/Teaching assistant, and max 50 students. This is the class where you get graded. Here you go in depth, beyond what you’ve learned from diligently attending the CMs. You read articles and discuss/present them in class. Typically meets for 1.5 to 2 hours once a week.

I’m lucky. I have one CM and TD for the same class where both professors use PowerPoints so I’m sure to get down 70% of what they’re teaching with the right spelling. For the Cold War TD (the one I was discussing at the beginning) the professor speaks slowly and writes important things down on the chalkboard so I get by. The CM for the same class is another story. Let’s just say I’m glad I already know a little bit about the Cold War, because it might as well be useless.

But, back to my original point: I’m constantly reminded that here in France, I truly do represent America.

 

For example, the other week I was getting coffee and grabbed 3 packets of sugar. Someone noticed and asked me “If all Americans like a lot of sugar in their coffee.”

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But I guess that’s part of the experience of studying abroad! I portray American culture and values while living abroad so I have to make it my mission to make sure that others perceive me (and consequently America) in a positive light.

In America if I don’t know the name of the President from a random year in history, it’s overlooked because no one expects us to remember that. But if I don’t know something about American history while I’m here in France I feel terrible! I should be the most knowledgeable resource in the class about the United States because that’s my country.

Nothing like living in another country to bring out your deeply buried patriotism
Nothing like living in another country to bring out your deeply buried patriotism

Honestly, I’ll probably be musing about this the entire year. (In between studying up on Cold War American stuff of course) What do you think?

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Fête des Vendanges: A French Harvest Festival

Imagine endless booths of wine and champagne, sausages roasting on an open grill, French mashed potatoes stewing over the counter, the scent of hot spiced wine, and limitless varieties of cheeses handed out as free samples: Welcome to La Fête des vendanges de Montmartre: A “grape” harvest festival located just around Sacré-Cœur, one of Paris’ most iconic churches.

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The festival under the basilica
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Various sausages roasting
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Mashed potato stuff, chili con carne, and things I don’t know the names of
Sausage from around France
Sausages from around France
Hot spiced wine and hot chocolate booth
Hot spiced wine and hot chocolate booth

I spent the day wandering through the festival, drinking hot chocolate and admiring the variety of booths the festival offered. I even picked up this for lunch:

A sausage in a French baguette topped with caramelized onions and ketchup and mayo. Then that mashed potato thing.
A sausage in a French baguette topped with caramelized onions and ketchup and mayo. Note the American flag on the wrapper. Then my friend ate that mashed potato thing.

After dinner we returned to watch the fireworks…

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It was a mosh pit

Once the fireworks started though I felt like I was at one of Gatsby’s parties.

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They shot off the fireworks to go along with some music and poetry. The theme of the entire festival was in fact poetry so we were listening to poems about what it means to be a poet, which meant that the entire show was just a big poetical thing

Just a little inception there
Just a little inception there

But the results were absolute astounding.

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Photographs never do fireworks justice!

Then when it was over we almost got trampled leaving. I swear I would have fallen over if I wasn’t pressed up against other people on all sides to keep me from falling!

Since I’m on such a Leonardo DiCaprio theme I’ll just leave you guys with this:

Cheers!
Cheers!

I’ve got some longer posts coming up about classes and a weekend trip to Strasbourg so stay tuned!

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