February 13, 2011 Every Sunday morning, no matter how thick the haze of sleep around my eyes or how cold the air outside, I wake up, open my double, French windows wide in a way that makes me feel like Clarissa Dalloway, climb back into bed with my covers up to my chin, and listen to the cacophany of church bells. The Church near my appartment in Ménilmontant must do mass every Sunday at 11, but I think there must be several others as well, because the bells ring in a circular, disjointed chorus that must take multiple bell towers to create. Whatever the source, it is one of my favorite parts of the week, and always inspires me to get up, however grey the sky may be.
This past weekend was a perfect, blissful end to a rather long week. I spent Friday afternoon with Han, who is a friend from Hamilton on my program and a fellow Art History major. We were supposed to meet at the Centre Pompidou and spend the afternoon in the museum, but when we realized it was 60 degrees and sunny (in early February!!!), we knew it would be crazy to stay inside. We wandered down through Beaubourg, past the Hotel de Ville, and across to Île St. Louis, where we bought ice cream at Berthillion (at Michael’s guidebook suggestion, I got the Lime and Raspberry, and actually did think I had died), wandered down to the banks of the Seine, and ate our scoops of perfect frozen bliss as we listened to a saxophonist on the other side of the river, watched barges roll by, and laughed for hours. I somehow managed to drop a knitting needle and my favorite sock into the river in the process, and poked a hole in my bag with a pen, which then proceeded to draw ALL over my khakis, unbeknownst to me, until the entire backside was absolutely covered in ink. It was so perfectly my life, we laughed the entire walk back to Reid Hall.
Saturday started early with a rather crazy idea. I had been to visit the Musée Cluny in St. Germain the week before, and, on my way back from the Unicorn Tapestries, I stopped in “La Librarie Pippa,” a tiny, red bookstore that publishes work from independent writers. I bought two of the most beautiful, gilded envelopes I have ever seen (I blame Nick for the fact that I spend more money on paper in France then most girls do on clothes!), and saw a flyer for an “atelier d’ecriture,” a free writing group that meets every other Saturday in the basement of the bookstore. Missing writing and my lit classes (which start tomorrow!), I decided I had to go to this at least once, just to see what it was like. So, inspired by Friday’s adventure, I got up at 8:30 on Saturday, boarded the bus down to the left bank, and sat in a two-and-a-half hour class with 7 middle-aged French women, as the teacher (who also speaks English and is giving a workshop at Yale next summer!) read us a lecture about “l’écriture du voyage,” explained that the group would be working on pieces they would read as part of a Parisian festival at the end of May, and passed around tea and walnuts stuffed with marzipan! The women laughed, read their work, and discussed the political events of the last week (everything from Tunisia and Egypt to the obituary of a famous journalist who died this past week, which one of them had photocopied and passed around). The two women sitting next to me were absolutely wonderful, explained any words I did not understand in patient, slow French, and by the end one asked me if we could meet to practice our French/English skills together (she is preparing to go to the US next summer and wants to better her Anglais!), and the other wanted me to give her knitting lessons! I will most certainly be coming back.
I spent Saturday afternoon taking a walking tour of the ancient parts of Paris (we started at the Hotel de Ville and walked down through Île de la Cité, before it began to rain too hard and I had to go back home to meet Marielle!), where I spent time with Emilia and Anna, talked to Sophie (the wonderful French girl who leads these “Balades,” and who is friends with Amy, who worked in the Writing Center with me, graduated last year, and studied here on my program—small world!), and made friends with a wonderful girl from Ireland, who I have plans to meet for coffee some time soon! I hurried back to Ménilmontant, to meet Marielle and take the metro to the 12th, where we sat in “La Commune d’Aigers,” a community center and restaurant (run, from what I could tell, by recovering/unemployed adolescents and adults), where a friend of hers was giving a “conte,” which was sort of like an oral retelling of a story from a famous French author. The stories themselves were marvellous (and when I could not understand, her face and demeanor were expressive enough to keep me enthralled!), the food (vegetable soup with anise, lamb couscous (only lamb for Mari and I!) with figs, apricots, and carrots, and spiced fruit salad) was probably the best meal I have had yet in Paris, and only €9!, and the other women at our table, all of whom were also “contes” (storytellers), were very interesting.
I came home Saturday night, utterly exhausted, talked to Patrick for half an hour, read Julia for 30 seconds, and fell dead asleep. Sometimes life in Paris is challenging. Sometimes it is grey, and I do not speak French well enough, and I miss my friends from home, long afternoons in the writing center, and falling into mountains of snow. Sometimes I let myself feel defeated. But then church bells ring, ice cream tastes like sunshine, and I remember to laugh again. And fall more deeply in love with this city every day.