Is any garden more lovely than Luxembourg?

Maybe Erica’s post on her first trip to Paris just has me nostalgic, but I find myself flipping through the travel journal I filled out five years ago, when I spent a summer in France. And while I’m mostly basking in the memories, I find myself cringing a little when I think of how naive I was, how much French culture surprised me. So here are some entries and accompanying photos, straight from my 20 year-old self, embarrassing naiveté and all.

An art display near l'Hotel de Ville

May 2, 2006 – First Day in Paris

Today has been a mixture of awe, but also dissappointment. I entirely misunderstood where I was meeting Danielle and Eric for the airport shuttle, and my flight was also delayed. Unaware that I was standing at the wrong gate, I thought they had taken the shuttle without me, leaving me stranded. I could hardly ask directions, and in fact couldn’t speak a word of French because I was crying. But finally I called the shuttle service and was able to find the correct gate.

Of Paris, I have so far seen a department store, and Hotel de Ville (Where Cruella lives, Professor Lee has told us). It is warm here, and everything is in bloom. But I need to wear sunscreen. It’s so bright.

The French people are not as I imagined them. They are thin, with darker colorings than the English. Everyone smokes, constantly. Smoking zones are ignored entirely, even in the airport. Fortunately, their cigarettes smell better than cigarettes in the US, and many of them smoke cigars, which smell much better.

My greatest surprise has been my own ineptitude in French. It’s as if every rule of grammar I know flees – the instant I open my mouth.

le 3 mai 2006

My host family, and my roommate, Tiffany, on her birthday.

Today I met my host family. They’re nice, even if I don’t understand all of what they’re saying. They spent a long time in Portugal (15 years), and I think that impacts how they cook and decorate, etc. They live in le Vesinet, so my roommate, Tiffany, and I have to take the RER to Paris, which apparently takes 45 minutes. It will also restrict how late we stay out. If we want to go back to Paris after dinner, it will be too late.

So, new customs: they leave their shoes on in the house. All doors must be closed. My host mother even told me to close my bedroom door when I didn’t. Dinner has more than one course, even if a course is just apple sauce. Back home, we would eat apple sauce along with the main course. They tend to eat either bread and cheese or dessert. I was surprised, however, that they sliced their bread instead of tearing it as I was expecting. Right now I’m struggling with the language, and that’s making it difficult for me to enjoy myself. My host parents keep saying how good “votre francais” is, but I think they’re speaking to Tiffany. Her French is better, or at least she speaks more. I wish I could let my host parents know that I’m quiet in general.

le 4 mai

I’ve decided that I like the frankness of the French. It’s a nice break from American hinting/overexplication. Why do we simmer and stew, instead of coming out and addressing things directly?

I prefer this view of la Tour Eiffel

Tour Eiffel

Of course it’s beautiful. I’m not sure how Eiffel was able to take metal and make something so beautiful. But it occurred to me that this is what we want when we come to Paris: romance. Forget about history when you can have hip cafes, the Tour Eiffel, and clean streets… in movies, at least. In many ways, I’m fast becoming disillusioned with Paris. But now I’m coming to appreciate it on a non-magical level.

La Conciergerie

  • Over two years, 2,700 people spent their last hours here, including Marie Antoinette and Robespierre.
  • On the wall there is a list of names of those guillotined. Belanger (my last name) is not on the list. Peut-etre c’est un nom Québecois? (Maybe it’s a Quebecois name). Here are some names I did find:
  • Jean Guillaume le boulanger (garde des bois)
  • Pierre Bellenger
  • Jacques Bellenger (merchand)