Paris Summer 2006

July 2006

Pictures can't do it justice!

Click on the little picture below to see a video of it.


Shopping Paris Style

Okay, I admit that there something to be said about window shopping. I never really got into it before, but then again I was never face to face with a $250,000 Harry Winston necklace before. For fun I did the old get off at the wrong stop trick again. This time I found the world's best mall. It puts anything in the States to shame.

Have you ever seen the movie Amadeus? Remember when Mozart was conducting an opera? That opera house is now a shopping mall. Stained glassed dome ceiling, floors that go around and open to the inside. One entire floor for perfume alone. Massive in size with large sitting areas where you can rest and look at the view. They bring you water and wine in the nicer shops. There are no walls. You go from one store the next without knowing it.

Above the dome is an outdoor patio with a great view of the city and a café. See my pictures in the gallery.

PS. June and July is the best time to shop. It's their only sale time of the year. 50-70% is common and not just one a few items, but on everything.

Bastille Day

I delayed writing about my weekend because I didn't know where to start. I watched the military parade on Avenue des Champ-Elysees (shawns-a-lee-say) which was interesting. Our own West Point guys were there. Later I went to the Eiffel Tower to watch the fire works. There is a huge park on one side of the tower. That was full of people who probably camped out there early to get a good seat. I followed the crowd of other last minute people and found a comfortable seat on the other side of the tower. When the first firework was launched, it became obvious why people camped out on the other side. At least 1,000 people rushed to other side, as we noticed that we did not have a view from our side.

The theme of this year's show was Mozart. They played a medley of his most famous works from speakers all around. The fireworks were so well choreographed to the music it was unbelievable. White was for the pianos, yellow was the string section, etc. It looked like the fireworks were the conductor leading the music. I've never seen anything so cool. From the moment the first fire cracker went up, to the last noted played, there was not a moment of dead sky. When I was a kid, we would see one firework, clap and then wait for the next one. This show was solid lit sky from start to finish. I had to stop and remember to breath. Just when you thought they could possibly put up anymore, it would double until you had to turn your head to see what you were missing. The show lasted about 45 minutes and when it was done I felt exhausted. Bar none, the best fireworks display I've ever seen and probably ever will see. What a rush!

The trip home, however, is a story for another day.

First Major Lesson Learned (The great laundry room disaster)

I've been here a week now and thought it was about time I did some laundry. The wash room is located in the basement, which is the really old part of the building. To get there it took me nearly 30 minutes. Apparently you have to hit -B (that's "negative B") when on the elevator. I doubt I ever would have figured that out on my own.

The lesson I learned was this. When presented with a large sign written entirely in French which contains several bright red escalation marks, it is wise to stop what you are doing, go back to your apartment, retrieve your French-English dictionary and translate the sign before trying to do your laundry. Failure to do so will result in you getting to meet a guy named Juan.

Juan is a very nice man, about my age. I think he is from Brazil and (except for one sentence in English) only speaks Portuguese. I got to meet Juan when I flooded his apartment.

This does not appear to be the first time this has happened. Juan smiled and using hand signals, asked me to get all my towels, which I did. Together we mopped up his floor.

It turns out the sign says, Attention! Do not add soap. The machine will automatically inject soap. Adding extra soap will cause machine to overflow!!!

And Juan's one English sentence? "Buy me a beer and we will call it even."


(July 9, 2006)


The town of Vanves (pronounced, vawn... rhymes with fawn)

I had such a great first impression of Paris. Clean streets, polite people, etc. Then I found out that I had not really been to Paris yet. The lady that helped me open my bank account was so nice. She was excited about being able to use her English. She told me that Vanves is the "Ritz" as far as suburbs go. She grew up here and had to move away and start commuting here to work. It seems that this town is one of the richest areas. The studios go for 450,000 euros easily. I told her it didn't seem like a rich town. The people looked middle class to me. She said it will be rare for me to see anyone that lives here. The people that do are all presidents of something. Banks, international companies, etc. Very expensive to live here, even by Paris standards. As a result the residents of this town are all work-a-holics who travel a great deal and rarely are seen when they are home. The people I see on the streets are all their servants, local merchants, and employees of the area. My banker said she grew up in a 3 bedroom apartment. About 10 years ago her parents sold it and bought 4 one bedroom places in Paris. They rent them out for retirement income. The real estate is so high here that I couldn't figure out why I'm here. There are no hotels in this town and no tourist spots. She said that the president of the language school that I go to lives here. He donated the building many years ago but still lives on the top 2 floors. (July 7, 2006)

Total Immersion

The concept of total immersion had a particular meaning to me. That is until now. For some reason I thought it meant that I would be surrounded by the language and have my little American hand held and introduced to French words. Not even close! The class started out with 5 people and now has 25. There are only 2 Americans in the class. Everyone else is from somewhere else and each has a different native language. Therefore, the teacher can only speak French. Which of course none of us know what she is saying. It seems important to them that we do not try to associate the words we are learning with our native lounge. The class moves very fast and if you don't memorize the phase you just learned you are lost. So I am writing them in my notebook phonically then trying to memorize them as well as look up the meaning at night when I get home. It's three days of class and I can say, Good day ,my name is Michele how are you, I am fine. But I can't do that without looking at my notes. I'm sure it will get easier…well I'm sure it will progress some how. The vocabulary and all the textbooks are only in French. In order to figure out what to do I have to spend hours looking up all the words in the directions before start an assignment. In order to ask a question you must translate it to French, then translate the answer back to your language. As a result, I stopped asking a lot of questions.

Paris is a nice city. The people have been very nice. You look around and you see what could be any American city except for two things. The first is that there does not seem to be any racial tensions. You get on the very clean subway (Metro) and 5 black gang banger types get on and sit down. In American, women would move seats, or look away. At the next stop a lady carrying a baby gets on and EVERY male on the train stands up and offers her their seat (even the gang bangers). People don't talk much to each other on the subway. Most women play a numbers game. It looks like a crossword puzzle but with numbers. (I think it's the same game you play Melissa). Most men have an iPod in their ears. The people are very diverse. No one seems to look twice at a couple from India with marks on their foreheads, dressed in ropes, or Africans with pierced everything wearing turbans, or skinny models wearing almost nothing at all. No one even turns a head. It's a great place to people watch.

The second way you know you're not in American anymore is the architecture. Most buildings are older than our country. They are mixed in with more modern things. For example, my apartment building was probably built in the 1970's. But the lobby and garage looks like they are 300 years old. Both are well maintained and everything is very clean.

In coming days I will explore the French relationship with food. There are many observations I have had, but I still need to examine what they mean. (July 5, 2006)

Apratment Living

Okay, I admit that I had not touched based with the reality of living in a studio apartment. Once in 1986 I shared a one bedroom apartment with 5 other people. But I was 18 years old back then and had no negative memories from living that winter in Honolulu. When I think about it, I've had 1,500 to 4,000 square feet homes for the past 10 years. This place is about the size that my walk in closet and bathroom were at the Monaco house. Needless to it has been an adjustment.

The good news is that the claustrophobia that I feel is an excellent motivation to spend as little time in my apartment as possible. (July 3, 2006)

First impressions

The first thing I noticed about Paris was the fact everyone I spoke to from the time I got off the plane until the time I checked into my apartment asked me the same question. "Are you staying in Paris for good?" I usually explained that I was only here for the summer then off to Antibes. The response was also the same. Something to the effect of "Why don't you stay here! Don't you like it?" It will take time to figure out what that attitude is about.

French people are exactly opposite from Americans in nearly way I've seen so far. To be formal and snooty in American is cold and impolite. In America to be friendly people are informal. France is the opposite. Informality is considered rude. No wonder so many Americans think Parisians are rude. They were probably being informal to them. I know exactly 2 words in French. Bonjour and Mercy. Those two words will get you anything you want if you say them formally.

I live in a suburban area. It reminds me of how New York probably was in 1950's. People sitting on the sidewalk in lounge chairs, gossiping ad yelling at the people above them. The streets of this area are lined with flowers. Not for sale, but flower pots welded to the street markers. The smell of flowers is everywhere. It was so hot and my apartment does not seem to have air conditioning. The office is not open on the weekend so I'll have to ask them on Monday. But my neighbors all have their doors and windows open trying to create some air flow.

There does not appear to be any convenience stores in this suburb. There is one grocery store a couple of blocks away, but they were not open. I set out Sunday to find food and locate my school where my French classes will start on Monday. The first form of transportation I found was an above ground train right by my place. But the ticket booth was not open. So I walked a few move blocks and found the subway. I bought ten tickets by mistake. But I hope they will be good for a while. The subway system is very easy to use. Especially after I got a map of it. It took me 4 hours to find my school but that was mostly my fault for walking around in circles. It is 3.5 miles from place. I think I have it down now.

Next I found a department store in a guide book. I plotted a way to get there. But when I arrive I found that were not open on Sundays. So after school tomorrow I will buy a fan so I can sleep at night.

As for food the best I could do was a baguette and a bottle of water at the train station. Tomorrow I'll do better, I'm sure.

Saturday night I thought I felt my first earthquake. It lasted for about an hour. It was accompanied by fireworks and millions of people screaming from their windows. Apparently France won the world cup came is going to the semi finals. (July 2, 2006)




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