Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Day I ALMOST Killed a Host Parent

I've decided to post this with pressure from my loving mother, who cried from laughing when I told her about this frankly horrifying encounter. Also: this was not published in the Quest. It may seem a little whiney, in an overly cliché bloggy way, but if you know anything about me, you know I need my coffee, and thusly, this is justified.

So, usually, in the morning, I wake up, getting showered/dressed, and then go into the kitchen to find breakfasty foods and coffee on.

Yesterday, I emerged, as usual, maybe a little more late than usual, to find the coffee pot upside down on the drying rack. Ghislain, one of my host parents, was in the kitchen peeling these weird, French mini apples that we always have in a bowl on the counter.

Nikki [in French]: Oh, is there no coffee this morning?
Ghislain [in French]: No, today I am eating apples. Would you like an apple?
Nikki: No...

It took me another thirty seconds to realize that there was, in fact, no coffee, and being late, as I was, I didn't have time to make any. I had to go to a 9:30am Monday class SANS COFFEE. I came dangerously close to drop-kicking the guy.

Seriously. Apples? WTF? How are apples a replacement for coffee? Are they laced with caffeine?

I miss my big coffee pot, Mr. Bean, with his wonderful self-timed ways, so I wake up to the smell of fresh coffee wafting from the kitchen.

Let's just say I woke up five minutes early today just to make sure the coffee situation was taken care of.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reed, Wherever I May Be

Two weeks into the Parisian semester, and I’ve already learned so much. Yes, I’ve learned about Baudelaire and Gauthier, about Poincaré and Millerand, about the difference between rococo and neoclassicist painting, but above all, I’ve learned about myself, and my relationship to my education. As thrilling as it is to walk through the courtyard of the Sorbonne and find myself surrounded by classical-inspired marble architecture, I find myself yearning for the glow of the blue bridge at night and the ever-familiar bricks of the Hauser Fun Dome. My first two weeks of school in Paris have been wonderful and difficult, and have reminded me exactly why I chose Reed in the first place.

Reed seems to be following me everywhere I go. I sat down in my first class of the semester, nineteenth century French art history, and as I listened to the professor go through his slides and talk about each painting, I found myself keeping count of how many times my knowledge from Hum 110 came in handy: out of the 29 paintings we studied in our first day of class, 19 of them were thematically related to the Hum material. My literature classes and history course followed in a similar fashion, despite the fact that they’re all nineteenth and twentieth century classes. It turns out that there actually is a really good reason we all take Hum.

But I started to really think about Reed later in the week in one of my lit classes, as I spent my Wednesday afternoon sitting through three hours of lecture. Three solid hours of the professor talking, and all sixty of us students listening and taking notes. And then realizing that this was the “conference” section of the course, and that immediately after, I’d be going to the two-hour lecture section with all 250 students.

Needless to say, I was fairly horrified and irritated, and missing Reed for everything it is: the small classes, the encouragement to be opinionated and vocal, and the constant emphasis on learning through discussion. I left feeling like I had gotten myself into something that I had specifically applied to Reed to avoid for the rest of my life: the necessity of shutting up and taking notes for hours on end.

I became even more Reed-sick the next day in my other literature class when my incredibly française professor, Madame Lavaud, looked up over her red, half-moon glasses and told us all to write down the password for the course’s “meu-del”: To my extreme nostalgic pleasure, the Sorbonne uses the exact same interface as the beloved Moodle, except with a great French accent.

Trudging to my next class, the last of the week, a final, one-hour lecture on Samuel Beckett, I missed the Paradox between classes and my bi-weekly tummy-scratching dates with Prefix in the hall of Vollum 1. Taking my seat in the admittedly beautiful Amphithéâtre Milne Edwards, I pulled my notebook out, readying myself for more slavish note taking, and saw the image you see above: a boredom-induced etching of, “REED COLLEGE I GOTTA GO NOW,” and I just about burst into simultaneous tears and hysterical laughter. Reed was following me everywhere, and I’m oh so glad it was.

Week two was better. I had a grip on things, and I’m coming to terms with the French educational system. It’s different, and definitely not what I want from my college experience, but it just makes me appreciate what I have coming for the next two years even more. I also know that it’s an opportunity that I’m incredibly lucky to have, three-hour lectures notwithstanding.

Taking the bad with the good, I had my first class taught in the Sully wing of the Louvre on a rainy Wednesday morning, and later in the day studied an excerpt of de Beauvoir in a room that she had likely walked past, if not studied in, herself. My professors are brilliant, and I am slowly forcing myself into bilingualism every day. And while there is no Paradox or Prefix to be seen, I carry them with me all the time, along with the rest of Reed.

For Jack V. Booch, ’57, who took Reed with him ‘til the end.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Yogurts, No Spoon

10 February

‘Two yogurts, no spoon’ is a recently acquired philosophy of mine that well describes my first three weeks in Paris. Let me start by explaining: French yogurt is the best yogurt in the entire world. It’s just delicious. And you can find yogurt from local dairies in all of the supermarkets in these great little clay pots that I really wish I had a reason to keep forever.

One afternoon, after purchasing a pack of two of these cute and creamy treats, I arrived at CUPA and sat down to eat my lunch, and quickly realized that I had no spoon. Two yogurts, no spoon.

This kind of thing has become a trend in my day-to-day adventures. The first example that comes to mind was getting lost for an hour in the labyrinthine boulevards that make up Montparnasse on my way to the first day of orientation, making my entrance into the first meeting, half an hour late, spectacularly smooth. Two yogurts, no spoon.

A week an a half into my time here, I wake up early one morning feeling sick and miserable, but seeing as I’m scheduled to tour the maze that is my new school, La Sorbonne, I force myself out of bed and make the trek. While sitting on the metro (which I love), I realize that I really am about to throw up, so I toss myself off of the train and get intimate with the nearest trashcan. And then, of course, hop on the next metro and ride the rest of the way. Cherry on top: as I ascend the metro stop, I come to find that, sans doute, it has begun to snow. A twenty-four hour stomach flu and fever was to follow. Two yogurts, no spoon.

The next day, to my everlasting delight, my computer charger completely stops working. Thanks, Mac. And obviously, the single Apple store in Paris doesn’t have an availability for an appointment for another five days. Two yogurts, no spoon.

However, there is a second part to this philosophy. Going back to my initial, tragic story of not being able to eat my clay pot full of vanilla-y heaven, I later that night indulged in my yogurt, and after a long day of yearning, it was intensely satisfying. And therein lies the beauty: spoons are to be found.

Looking back at my rendezvous with Mac, there is a whole other part to the story. It turns out that this one Apple store in Paris happens to be in the mall located in the basement of the Palais du Louvre. After a long day of classes, I hopped off the metro on my journey to the Genius bar and found myself standing in the courtyard of one of the most magnificent palaces in the entire world, the glass pyramid entrance to the museum just yards away. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever experienced. Things only got more awe-inspiring when out of the corner of my eye, I saw something flashing, and turned to see the Eiffel Tower lighting up on the hour. Here I was, casually making my way to the Apple store, except I just happened to be in Paris, a city dominated by beautiful, old structures, many of which are older than America itself.

My shock was further perpetuated when I realized that my nineteenth century French art history class would be meeting in that very courtyard every Wednesday morning, and that I would learn to look at it not just as a stunning historical landmark, but also as a place of learning and familiarity. Alas, the spoon.

So clearly, stomach flu and computer issues aside, these last three weeks have been amazing and eye-opening. As I try to find my niche in this big city, I’m realizing that my entire lifestyle has undergone a shift in a matter of weeks. With classes starting this week, I can only imagine the things I have to learn that lie ahead. In the meantime, I’m content to enjoy the simple pleasures of yogurt, the smell of French laundry detergent, the countless street florists, and pain au chocolat straight from the oven.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Beginning

Published 27 January

And so begins another semester, but this time, in Paris. My hope for this on-going column is to provide a weekly “bubble-burst” for you, my beloved Reedies. I am currently a student of the University of Paris IV, the infamous Sorbonne, through CUPA. It’s still orientation here, and, lucky as I am, classes don’t start until 8 February. For the three-week orientation period, however, all 31 CUPA students have to do a slightly tedious but generally very helpful methodology and language course, in order to better prepare us for integration into the French university system. As much as I may groan after a day of said course, I’m really grateful for it. The university system here is so different from what I’m used to, particularly as a Reedie that has, for a year and half now, been spoiled with first-name-basis profs, brilliant, motivated peers, and a beautiful, all-encompassing-never-have-to-leave campus. This, my friends, is not the case in the City of Lights.

Case-in-point: a professor giving out his or her personal email addresses is still an up-and-coming trend.

I am constantly being reminded of one fact throughout my methodology classes: I am now in a socialist system. The University of Paris is a free institution, and any French student that has passed the baccalaureate exam is eligible to attend. As such, the schools and the classes are enormous, the smallest school having about 9, 000 students, the largest, 30, 000. Another consequence of the socialist system is that a lot of the students are simply going to school because they can, and it’s just another few years to put off getting a real job. I’m not quite sure how this is going to affect my experience, but I have my predictions. There is only one University of Paris that actually has a campus, and the rest of the schools are spread out around the city. This is really cool in one way, but I know it won’t be long before I miss sitting on the steps of the Paradox and knowing everyone that walks by.

However—and this is a big however—there are some incredible benefits to the socialist system (preaching to the choir?). I was simply astounded the other day when my methodology professor, Michel, handed us a sample introductory handout for a class on the history of immigration, complete with bibliography of about fifteen books. He then went on to explain that hypothetically, if we were enrolled in this class, we would be expected to buy maybe three or four of the books. “We are in a socialist system,” he went on to explain, “where people go to school for free. A professor would never expect someone to spend money on a book that they would only need once or twice.” I was just stunned. Memories of hauling those technicolor bookstore bags full of books through the quad flooded my mind, and I realized that this semester is going to be a lot easier on my wallet and on my back.

Other benefits of the social system… Oh, did I mention it’s free? How about the fact that all university students have nearly unlimited access to all of the municipal and national libraries and museums in the city? Or, perhaps, that there are special restaurants all around the city for university students wherein you can have an entire meal for about $3?

All of the course listings just went up on the website on Friday night, and I’m getting that Same Old Feeling of excitement mixed with anxiety over the fact that there’s no way I’m going to be able to take all of the classes I want.

To put it frankly and succinctly, I miss you, Reed, but not too much. The city is amazing, and the food and the people are incredible, but there aren’t any free bagels, and I can’t go hang out with Pancho in his office way more than he wants me to every week. So, until next time, happy spring semester, my Reedies. Take care of each other, and feel free to live vicariously through me as I sip my Bordeaux and eat my body’s weight in bread and cheese.

For those who are listening...

Hello family and friends!

It was pointed out to me by a newly found friend that I should be posting the column I'm writing for The Quest about my adventures in Paris for all non-Reed people in my life to see!

So, here it is! I think my column will turn out to be bi-weekly, so don't expect a lot of updates, but feel free to give me feedback or ask questions or anything!

Miss you all!

Lots of love,

Nikki in Par-ee