Monday, July 20, 2009

Bye Bye Bye: The Epilogue.

If you have ever been to my house in Court 3, then you've probably been sufficiently weirded out by Abu Sayyah, the taxidermi rooster that sits in our kitchen. His feathers are real but the eyeballs are not.

Most people can't make eye contact with him anyway.

So this rooster is a Mothers' Day gift from my brother that sort of mocks my mom's strange love for buying rooster-themed objects for the kitchen. Well it turns out that 100 years ago (kidding Mommm) back in the Middle East, a beautiful little rooster centerpiece used to adorn the coffee table in my grandmother's house. Just recently this decor made its way through the Syrian customs right to Oak Brook, Illinois.

I have to admit that the little centerpiece is quite charming. But I mean it's a rooster...

But through all the teasing from my brothers and me, my wise mother just smiles and says, "It's not the thing, it's what it means."

I'm the girl who saves every ticket stub, receipts from fun meals, notes from the 6th grade clique, and I forcefully believe in the importance of signing yearbooks. So it would only be hypocritical of me to knock clinging on to an object for its sentimental value.

When my mom was in Paris, I tried my best to show her a combination of my "regular" spots and new sites. I took her to get falafel from the Marais and eat it in the Place des Vosges- a routine well-known by any and every American student in Paris.

During this meal I realized a harsh reality: The falafel from the Marais isn't that good. (I'm not even going to pretend to be humble on this topic. The best falafel I had was in Damascus from a stand outside my uncle's apartment. Yeah. I said it.) But why I love L'As du Falafel so much is because it reminds me of our first tasting after a less-than-enthusiastic tour of Musee Carnavalet or stopping for the sandwich in between class and thrifting through Paris' best.

On that same note, Shakespeare and Co. might not be the most extensive bookstore in Paris. Regardless, I find myself constantly praising it because it brings me back to my favorite day when I walked across the city at the height of spring and ended up bumping into two of my best friends from the program after browsing the books.

The Arc de Triomphe was the last stop on my walk home and the Seine became our hangout when every other option was out of our Euro-range. I couldn't tell you the name of the opera I saw, but I remember in full detail sitting on the steps with the classiest Parisians (if classy = homeless) after the show.

I do miss Paris, but in reality I know if I were to go back tomorrow it wouldn't be the same city to me. I understand that the city can still run without Jenna Hindi (I mean it's probably way boring but whatev) but my semester is over. And I'm okay with that.

After three weeks of seeing my friends and family in non-Skype land and listening to trashy Chicago stations in the car and using dollar bills and telling jokes to waiters (just cuz I can) and being lazy by the pool, I can't help but be excited to be home.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sweet Home Chicago.

I ordered a Coke on the plane because Dana ordered a Coke on her plane because I was craving one back in January.

And then I had coffee and then landed and saw my brother and then ran up and down the stairs in my house laughing like a crazy woman. I ate Haribo in my kitchen and belly flopped onto my bed. I talked to friends on the phone who are in my time zone and sent texts to friends from my beloved mint green phone and got instant responses.

I even get to see the beautiful faces of my girls (with no pixels distorting them or time differences cutting us off) but not before I enjoy a classy meal of take-out Thai food with the Hindi's.

Reverse culture shock shmeverse culture shock. The customs line smelled like shampoo and deodorant, and the only thing that's brought me down all day is getting Chris McKim's voicemail recording. (Fix it, Chris, fix it!)

I woke up in Paris this morning, but now it is over as is this silly blog.

This hyperactive bubbly note is a horrible one to end on, however, so check back for the epilogue.

Now if you'll excuse me I must go shower with two free hands.

Come on, baby don't you wanna goooo... back to that same ol' place...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Here Comes The Sun.

"Well, Inshallah, next time you come, you will stay for a longer time."

You said it, cabby.

On the way to the Casablanca Airport on Sunday night, I spilled my heart in broken Arabic to my cab driver about how our short weekend in Morocco just did not suffice.

From take off to landing I was waiting for the inevitable Weekend Disaster. Maybe I would lose my wallet (too easy) or get heat stroke in the Moroccan sun or accidentally poison myself by eating raw veggies. My paranoia was unwarranted because now, back safe and sound in Paris, I can say that besides stubbing my toe on a rock in the Sahara Desert, everything was perfect.

Along with some spiffy souvenirs (that I used my inherent Syrian bartering skills to purchase.. I have found my calling) I managed to pick up a Berber husband. I caught a glimpse of the life of a nomad and instantly decided it really wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to ditch my French literature papers for some mint tea and tajine dinners. Our charming tour guide Yusef never faultered in enthusiasm and always led us to deliciously delicious lunches. Throughout our tour he kept teasing me about being his Palestinian wife... poor guy has no idea how seriously I am taking him.

I kid I kid.. but between camel rides, authentic hammams, freshly squeezed orange juice, mountain views, a desert sunrise and rooftop terrace hookahs, it was the first time all semester that I left Paris and didn't want to go back at the end of the trip. The hostel we stayed at in Marrakech had free hookah and tea and the friendliest staff I've ever met. Saying goodbye to them (along with Tour Guide Yusef who semi-lives in that hostel) on Sunday morning gave me the same pit-in-the-stomach/lump-in-the-throat feeling I get when saying bye to my family.

Maybe it was because we spent a third of our time in transit, but leaving Morocco felt like having an iPod run out of battery a minute into your favorite song. I can't complain because it's just another one of those study abroad problems that isn't really a problem. We checked off quite a few boxes from our Life To Do List and flew home before anything could sour our trip.

Mm, I realize that this entry doesn't dive into much detail, but I've got plenty swimming around in my mind. So in two weeks when I see you in person, ask me about Morocco. If you're lucky I'll post some pictures.

But for now the next step is my big final exam- showing Salwa Hindi what's good in this glitzy City of Lights.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)

For the full effect of this blog entry, listen to the audio clip here.

This American Life produced a show last January that featured The Most Unwanted Song on its show "Numbers." This song was created from a poll evaluating everyone's least favorite elements in music including, but not limited to, bagpipes, holidays and cowboys.

The song was amusing and cute at the time, but when a far too similar melody kept me up in the mornings this past weekend in Marseille, that charm was lost. At one point, for no clear reason, opera music played at the same time as unrecognizable hip hop right outside our hostel room window. The previous morning the most obnoxious children in the EU were released next door where they engaged in a screaming contest.

I mean, what is the deal? I expected the sounds of crashing waves along the Mediterranean coast to be the most invasive sounds I heard, not the chanting of devil children.

Regardless, the unfavorable window orchestra was only the grain of salt to a pretty spectacular weekend in the south of France.

For an inexplicable reason, port cities always seem to win my heart. And when you fill those port cities with French and Arab infused culture, you've got a pretty happy Jenna Bean. It was disorienting, in the best way possible, to be in a city that was so close, yet so far, from Paris. Street signs looked the same and the French language dominated, but the people and atmosphere hardly felt like Europe at all. Everywhere we went people were excited to hear the story of our semester. They spoke in French to us, slowly and patiently, and seemed genuinely eager to help us in our touristy quests.

You can only imagine the warm hospitality I received when I played the Palestinian card to the Algerian and Egyptian citizens of Marseille. I spoke more Arabic this weekend than I do at a typical wedding in Syria, and I loved it.

Every time I have gone on a weekend travel, I always return to Paris completely content with my study abroad decision. This trip wasn't any different, but it did open my eyes to certain elements Paris lacks. We walked through a non-touristy neighborhood that was completely covered in narrow streets, crowded buildings and colorful shutters. Kids played soccer and skateboarded in the streets and women hung laundry outside the windows. Imagining living with a family on one of these streets broke my heart, only a little bit, because I am more than positive that it would have been the extra warm, extra inviting host family I don't completely have here in Paris.

But after a money-saving walk to the apartment across the Bastille, Louvre, Concorde, Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, I won't even pretend to complain to be back "home".

PS - Courtesy of Miss Pastor, here is a glimpse of street life in Aix en Provence we were lucky enough to catch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Oh Happy Days.

I have the greatest mother in the world.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Everything Is Alright.

You know you're having an okay day in Paris when you're whistling along with the waiters at your study cafe to the background music of Mr. Andrew Bird. The next song was Heartbeats.

And it's a good day when you buy the perfect fitting vintage shirt for five euro less than you expected to pay.

I celebrated the first day of June by picnicking with a long-term friend and watching the tan lines around my rings deepen.

I officially have one month left, which in abroad time equals five minutes, so I better get back to work.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Burn This Disco Out.

Remember when DJ Tanner went to Disney World right after she broke up with Steve and kept seeing his face everywhere? I think I'm in that situation right now.

Disney World = Europe
D.J. Tanner = moi
Steve = Chicago

I spent the weekend in Amsterdam (totally love saying that casually) and the entire time I could not shake the feeling of my lovely Midwestern city. Chicago is not built on canals and the citizens do not speak Dutch but something about the friendly people and the big streets and cute boutiques brought me back to Bucktown. Or maybe I'm just secretly slipping into homesick phase.

Thursday night didn't help. I bullied my friends into checking out the Plants and Animals concert with me in a somewhat unfamiliar part of town. The night started out a little rough as we tried to track each other down around the nineteen million Metro exits and then walked through some questionable crowds along the canal before actually finding the venue. We were 45 minutes late and slightly concerned since we didn't know the protocol for Parisian concert punctuality.

If I hadn't been holding my Metro map, I would've sworn I had just walked into Empty Bottle in downtown Chicago. It was a tiny, dark place attached to a bigger restaurant where everyone stood in small clumps listening to the band. The fact that both the opening act (who we were not late for) and Plants and Animals sang totally in English didn't help my back-at-home sentiments. I did, however, keep getting those "Oh yeah! I'm in Paris!" reminders whenever the song would end and they'd warm up to the crowd in French. We were thrilled that he spoke like us (we could hear the break between words, and he used 4th semester style sentence structures.)

I won't try to claim musical intellect right now, Plants and Animals are one of my pseudo-familiar iPod bands, but if the lead singer walked by me on the street I'd be oblivious. Still I couldn't be happier that we went to go see them. It breaks my heart a bit that I haven't attended these concerts all along (I dropped the ball on M.Ward, CocoRosie... Q Tip.) I also made a fool out of myself awkwardly interrupting the conversation the lead singer was having after the show to tell him we enjoyed the concert.

"You'll be at Lollapalooza this year right!?"
"Uh, no. Pitchfork. Ugh."

Alright, asshole, throw me a bone here. You would be at Pitchfork, and you would be offended that I said the wrong Chicago summer music festival.

I digress.

It was a feel-good show, and it was refreshing to be surrounded by a different type of Parisian crowd. (I bet you can't guess how many black wayfarer glasses I spotted.) Plants and Animals are lucky because they could've played a real out-of-tune set, and I would not have known the difference since I was so entranced by the Chicago-esque atmosphere.

But no worries, I'm not ready to say au revoir to France quite yet. I still need to fill my upcoming weeks with jardin picnics and Marais thrift stores and South of France excursions.

I'll leave you with this horrifying note: In two days it will be JUNE.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'm Not There.

It's a tough life trying to live it up in Paris while reminiscing about Madison but still desperately holding on to my Chicago pride.

And by tough life I mean look how lucky I am.

Seven weeks left in Paris is just the right amount of time for me to perfect the French "rrRrrkhakhkj" sound and convince a local to rent me out a public bike (that I would never realistically ride.)

Come July I can relax, guilt-free, on the big red couch Chez Hindi with a forkfull of Salwa's spaghetti in the right hand and my OnDemand remote in the left. I miiight get up at some point to walk the quarter-mile to the pool or take a train into the city, we'll see.

And then August in Madison. Oh sweet, sweet August in Madison.
I have only two words: Terrace and Bratspatiolongawaitedreunionschipotlepicnicsurbansales-

It's a great plan so far, I'm well aware, but it only extends until Doomsday (2010 UW Graduation.) So instead of searching for a graduate school that would allow me to get my masters in Engineering of Tetris, I thought I'd clump all previous paragraphs together into my very own utopia that the rest of you can hunt down for me.

It must be a city, but not an overwhelmingly huge metropolis. It must have history. I want it to be easy to meet someone whose greatest greater than great grandfather lived in the same apartment as him. It must include a diner where I walk in and the guy with the apron behind the counter says, "Hey, Jenna! Here are your favorite fried eggs with warm pita bread and a half circle of orange slices. Just the way you like it, Hindi." It must be along some body of water and run by public transportation. I'll walk anyway because I want to forget what it once felt like to lose my car in a parking lot bigger than Camp Randall. It must have lots and lots of delicious local cuisine of every variety and I want Bobby Flay to lose.

It must be warm and sunny. I can do these oh-frost-bite-is-normal winters for only so long. But of course it can't skip Birthday Season (also known by some as "Autumn.")

And it must be populated with very legit people. The citizens will be open-minded and deep and motivated. But they will also be warm and humble. Showing newbies around is expected and being active (at political rallies, at concerts, at dinner) is necessary. I want families and bachelors and students and foreigners. They will be loud and they will smile and they will not care if you're late.

So if you've found this place, or if you'd like to help me boot it up, holla@cha girl.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Baby, I Love Your Way.

Save the date, ladies and gents. I'm getting married, and I'm getting married in Paris.

This morning, this bright-shining Sunday morning, I finally found The One. We're talking butterflies and cloud-nine feelings and everything.

I met him at the Marché de Neuilly in between scoping out fresh fruit and bargaining for scarves. I couldn't tell you his name or the color of his eyes... but oh, that sandwich.

I knew it was love when he handed me the most perfectly made sandwich I've had in a long, long time. As soon as I stepped into the market I stopped in my tracks at the sight of my beloved pita bread. I think I started to break into a sweat when I saw this man put garlic spread and baba ghanoush and tabbouleh and chicken kebab all in one heavenly wrap. A Heavenly. Wrap. It was served nice and warm, and I literally couldn't stop smiling long enough to take a bite. I never thought to put all these Middle Eastern favorites into one sandwich, but now I know. He even gave me a meat sambousek for free (See? He loves me, too.)

After admitting to myself that I couldn't keep walking around and multi-task as long as that wrap was uneaten, I sat by a fountain and gave 110% attention to my unexpected lunch. A man selling flowers tried calling out to me that his plants were better than my sandwich. Okay, Monsieur, maybe if you had falafel growing on those branches I'd take you more seriously.

The market was definitely a cool trip, but I think I started on way too high of a note to really care about anything past that Lebanese stand.

And okay, fine, maybe I'm in love with this man for the wrong reasons. (I've made this mistake once before. I thought I had a crush on Mark from the Highlander cafeteria, but it was actually just those chicken caesar wraps he made that grasped my heart.)

At one point, I think my Lebanese sandwich fiance said something to me along the lines of, "You know, I am not dating anyone. Heh. Heh?" But that makes this story a lot less cute and a lot more creepy. So I'm going to ignore that part just like I ignored him when he made the comment.

I accidentally discovered that this market is walking distance from the apartment. So next Sunday afternoon, you know where to find me. Until then, good luck trying to get, "tabbouleh, tabbouleh tabbouleh, makes me shake, shake shake my booty," out of your head.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Slow Down Smile.

I just woke up from a dream in which it was my first day back in the States.

I was happy to be home (and got really excited to see a coffee machine, which exist in Europe so I'm not sure what that's about) but during my whole dream I felt so... incomplete. All my unfinished business in Paris weighed me down.

I hadn't gone to Centre Pompidou or ordered foie gras. And I felt horrible that I hadn't even said Au revoir, merci! to my Madame. But then I opened my eyes, saw my petite fireplace and French folder, and smiled.

Plenty of friends and family make me anticipate an epic homecoming, but the reality of six whole more weeks in Paris is pretty wonderful.

Now... some Spring Break photo fun!

On my way to the Sufi Saint Shrine in Tunisia.


These beautiful, blue doors were everwhere in Tunis.

The necessary pose in front of the view in Florence.

Another picturesque view in Firenze!I had a strange obsession with these birdcages in the Roman Forum.

The Colosseum!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Island in the Sun.

Hip. Hip.

SB98. I was ten years old, and that spring break was the best of my life. I spent the week in Miami and Key West with my family and some family friends where we ate big, sloppy nacho plates and played card games by the pool. Not only that, but the Friday before we left my mom picked me up after school to go to any 5th grade girl's utopia... my very first *NSYNC concert. I wore baby blue (oh it's tots Justin Randall Timberlake's fave color, duh) and screamed the words, "Never thought that love could feel like THISSS. When you change my world with JUST ONE KISS!!"

JC totally smiled at me, too.

I've had great spring vacays since then, but that week-long heaven has been hard to top.

Well, I'd say my past 18 days fall at at least a close second.

So what now? I could blog away about the best friends visited on two different continents and the Dragoon damage and the Zeinubs, Muhammads and Esmas and the Vaticans and the strawberry juices and mint teas and the gelatto-enhanced views of Florence and the leather purchased at the Medina and the cross-Italy train rides and the Roman ruins picnics and the Sufi Saint Shrines and the Duomos and the Turkish baths and the statues of David and, of course, the freshly grilled lamb chops under neon-lighting.

But then this post will sound
a) like a list that no one will process
or b) as if I'm trying to.. show off?
or even c) like it was written by a fat kid since half of the aforementioned highlights are absolutely food-related.

So instead I present to you two stories: The Tale of Berlusconi and Jenna and Deel's Great Soccer Adventure.

The Tale of Berlusconi
A wise man once said that short people got no reason to live. Our new Italian friend would agree, at least in reference to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"We don't like him. He short guy like Napoleon. And Mussolini." Ouch. Minus one for us.

We were in Rome on our way to a leather store (What? It's part of the cultural experience..) when a small crowd and some giant professional video cameras caught our attention. Considering the important looking men standing outside the important looking building, we knew some "poop" was about to hit the fan. Stopping to investigate, we asked some people in the crowd what was going on, and they actually had no idea. Like us, they saw news cameras and stopped in their tracks waiting for something good.

Well ignorance may be bliss but knowledge is power so we made our move. Our friend went straight to the biggest bodyguard for more information. (Seriously, this guy was enormous. You could see the six-pack abs through his suit jacket. And each knuckle was the size of my FACE, but it doesn't even matter because he could probably kill a man with those piercing blue eyes.)

So the Big Event was this: The Italian Prime Minister was going to exit his Roman residence and enter a black SUV.

Oh, yes. It is that exciting.

Since we had some great front row spots, we stuck around and watched the crowd grow in number and confusion. People started turning to us for information, so we just started relaying back what we knew in English, French, and fake Italian (faux-talian?) It was like a bad game of telephone when we eventually heard murmurs of the president's name ripple through the crowd.

Really the only people who wanted to stick around were us foreigners. I said, "Berlusconi," to an Italian woman and the way she walked away I might as well have said, "A fat, bald man dressed as a gladiator selling pictures for 10 euro."

After all that waiting, the man finally emerged. Somehow we got pushed completely out of the way (by the crowd that we were half responsible for!) and I lost my friends in the madness. I ran to the other side of the sidewalk for a better view. Even though I stood on my tippiest tippy toes, the most I could see was Berlusconi's hand waving in the air. My 5'7"+ friends high-fived, right over my head, for being able to catch a glimpse of him.

Ahh, defeated by height, once again. Whatever though, if I did see Berlusconi I'd probably have to pick him up just to say hello.

Jenna and Deel's Great Soccer Adventure
People can really change when they go abroad. Some gain a new perspective on life's hardships and others find in themselves a newfound independence and bravery. Well, the transformation I observed in Miss Dana was way more drastic. I knew things had changed forever when she insisted we go to a professional sporting event.

For the first time this girl has a brother, a very witty and smart little brother, and his Esperance dedication had rubbed off on her. So after asking multiple cab drivers, passersby and even a Tunisian suitor or two, we found our way to the ticket office where we were amazed to find two available tickets to this competitive match.

We knew we had to be at the game by 3:30, but of course about a million and one events and half as many meals were planned for that morning. We were doing surprisingly well on time, but when we came home for a quick pit stop before catching the train to the stadium her host brother answered the door in disbelief.
"You're not at the game!? I've been watching for almost an hour!" We looked at the TV and sure enough those shin-guarded studs were running through the field. After a quick debate on whether or not we should even attempt to go, we changed in a panic, grabbed extra dinars for an emergency cab ride and bolted out the door.

Once at the stadium we ran up a random spiral staircase into our section. We made it in time to catch the first goal, high-five some Tunisians and avoid getting hit by some strange flames being thrown onto the field in celebration. We were amazed that it was somehow only slightly before halftime. We were more amazed by how easily we managed to blend in even though we stood out like... two American girls at a North African soccer game. We cheered along all the way until the Esperance victory before catching a cab home for dinner with the lovely Debabbis.

During our 80% Arabic, 20% French speaking dinner with the family we relayed back our day beaming with Esperance pride. With a huger than huge smirk on his face, that clever little brother asked us how upset we were to have missed the whole game. After giving him some wait-a-minute looks, he burst out laughing saying, "I fooled you! I fooled you!" (In English, just to kick us while we were down with his trilingual powers.)

Turns out he's a better actor than we ever could have imagined and had merely been watching the warm-up when we came home. I guess we're not the overnight soccer experts I thought since the lack of spectators and only one team on the field didn't strike us as peculiar.

Hats off, little bro. Now pass me more Harissa.

Voilà! This post was way longer than anticipated and still doesn't even begin to capture my fabulous spring break. If you've stuck it through 'til here, I'm flattered but know it's only because finals are approaching in real-people world.

Check back soon for a revised version with plennnnty of pictures.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


As many of you already know, I love birthdays. (All of them, not just my own, very special, birthday week.)

Actually, if that is new information to you, then I have absolutely no idea how you even found this blog because apparently, you don't know me at all.
October 27th. Mark it, stranger.

And you know what, it's not even just birthdays either. Holidays are when I really shine. I handed out Sweetheart boxes to all the Herald editors on Valentine's Day (Voelkel! I'm sorry..) and wore a full-fledged cow costume on Halloween in Madison. Don't even get me started on Thanksgiving.

Since I was raised a Muslim our family fasted for Ramadan, enduring everyone's favorite Arabic mini-series, and ate all those delicious sunset feasts with a Christmas tree chillin' in our foyer. Then in college it became the norm to consume about a million Latkes for Hanukkah.

My point is this: I am holiday greedy and refuse to let religious barriers stop me.

I usually still let Easter slip by unnoticed, but this year I went all out. I threw myself right out of my comfort zone and right into an Easter morning Catholic Mass at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Snap.

I've seen my fair share of churches/cathedrals in Paris, as is expected, but it still feels very different when you're doing more than just strolling through and snapping pictures. Although I had some trouble following along (I struggle with French and hardly speak Catholic) it was definitely an experience worth a Paris Je T'aime! scrapbook page. Everyone sang in beautiful unison, so I guess along with an inherent sense of style, French people are born with perfect pitch and harmony.

Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris and houses one massive organ (wiki fact!) that played for us as we entered and exited.

I skipped the bread and wine part (let's not push it here) but I did bless my neighbors and even almost fell asleep at one point. I hear those are both pretty standard church-going activities, so I'm going to go ahead and check this one off the list.

Joyeux Pâques!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Postcard To Nina.

I mean.. my half birthday is coming up.

89, Rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine
Paris, France 75011

(Please don't murder me Mr. Blogger-Creeper.)

I suppose this is where I tell you to message me your addresses for postcards, but I've already got them.

Monday, April 6, 2009

When It's Good.

Good poker players will be familiar with the rookie keep-betting-even-though-my-hand-will-probably-lose-but-I've-already-bet-so-much mistake.

It's a tricky decision during Texas Hold 'Em type games where you lose more confidence in your hand with each revelation of new cards, but you continue to keep calling bets because you feel in too deep to back out and fold your hand. (Lame man's terms: I thought I was going to win so I threw in a lot of money, but now I don't think I'm going to win but I'll keep pretending like I could win and I might as well keep throwing in money.) In poker this is a no-no.

Well today, even though my hustlin' self knows better, I applied this rookie mistake at a fancy, hidden restaurant in Paris' Montmartre.

The first Sunday of every month, the 5-tabled and cozy La Famille offers a fixed menu of an appetizer, main course and dessert for only ten Euro. (Think Free Burrito Day at Chipotle. Yeah. It's that good.) Initially we were afraid we wouldn't be able to find the restaurant since it rests on one of the small, windy streets under Sacre Coeur, but once we saw the line leading out of the not-yet-opened bistro we realized exactly what kind of deal this dinner actually was. We were actually the closest thing to tourists on that street. (And we're not even touring. We're studying, damn it.)

We waited in line for a half hour. And then another half hour. And then we were standing in the doorway being pushed by impatient and hungry French people for another half hour.

At each of these half hour intervals the four of us debated whether or not we had invested enough time to not be able to back out and go home to our pasta and canned tuna. Someone always ended the discussion with a "but we already waited this long" and that was that. We just kept throwing our chips in the pot.

Maybe the poker experts have it all wrong because that dinner was goo-ood.
The food came hot and each bite held more flavor than anything I've eaten in a long time. Sitting there being served some carroty, crab meaty salad and a lasagna that brought me right back to my childhood just like that scary critic in Ratatouille and a mascarpone aux framboises dessert, we scraped clean our plates and prided ourselves in our Paris Bobo-esque determination.

Sure I love the impressionist art, and yes it's nice to be surrounded by more history than you can imagine. But let's be honest.

This is why I came to Paris.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Sound of Silence.

I'm not quite sure why it happens, but being abroad will send you on some crazy mood swings. One day I literally feel like skipping in glee to the Metro and others I get teary-eyed when I see Obama on a magazine cover (as if he's a close friend just waiting for me at 416.)

I'd imagine it's a lot like pregnancy (see also: insatiable appetites and strange cravings.)  But being Baby Child Jenna, all I know about pregnancy is what I see on TV, so let's move on...

After a series of pretty unfortunate events (a hijacked debit card may have something to do with it) I felt myself begin to slip into a rut and needed to cure it, fast.  

That fast cure came in the form of a faster train ride to Fontainebleau.  

After dragging my grumpy self from a LOST recap column to our designated meeting point, the day only got better.  We pranced around the courtyards of a stunning chateau, we admired the beautiful, likely evil, white swans in the faux-pond and we wandered through a forest.  

Yes, a forest.  A French forest.  A French forest where the only other person we ran into was a man singing at the top of his lungs.  Maybe he was a renowned opera singer we ignorant Americans wouldn't recognize who had no other place to perfect his tune.  Maybe he was just straight-up crazy.  Either way, we support his cause.

I figured studying abroad in Paris would mean I'd have to travel outside of the borders if I wanted to climb giant rock structures for amazing tree-top views, but I was very mistaken and am very happy about it.  It was a literal change of scenery that was humbling and just so perfectly refreshing.  

I'm sure a lot of you have much more adventurous treks through Africa and South America and The Moon and Hogwart's Forbidden Forest and wherever else, but let's remember whose blog this is and share in her satisfaction.

Oh, and that isn't another Photoshopping masterpiece of mine, it's Renoir's painting of "Jules Le Coeur in the Forest of Fontainebleau."  But it's fine, people get us mixed up all the time.

Tomorrow I'm going to Versailles, but my heart will be in Madison celebrating some very special birthdays.  Joyeux Anniversaire mes petites mignons!  

Wait. One more thing.
To the Frenchie that took my card... I hope that you decide to climb up to Sacre Coeur to show off your new outfit and trip over your new, expensive shoes on those stone steps, crack a few teeth and have to pay a good $600 on hospital bills.  Okay, whew, now I am officially over it.  

Thursday, March 26, 2009

La Vie En Rose.

Yes. La Vie En Rose, baby.

While in transit today I decided to listen to some old-ecole Edith Piaf on my iPod instead of the usual Wilco and Billy Bragg (okay fine, Akon and T.Pain.) Metro-creepin' with some great classic French music coming out of those earbuds is so much better.

But a walk-to-class song can barely define my progress of blending in and feeling more comfortable in a city that was entirely new to me just a month ago.

I have yet to leave France, so that month should be plenty of time for me to obtain a certain amount of Frenchiness, right?  
Well how about we change up the pace of this petite blog and write up a little score sheet of the supposed...
Transformation of Jenna Bean to 
This is totally stolen from a column introduced to me by Miss Atassi. Furthermore, the following bullet points may or may not be filled with stereotypes, sweeping generalizations, and cliches.  And yes, that Photoshopping was heinous.  Just play along, please.

  • Post-class picnic on the Seine with, yes, a baguette and cheese = +1
  • Getting annoyed with loud American blowing her nose during my Friday afternoon alone time at a museum = +2
  • Reading a French newspaper on the way to class in the morning = +2
  • Reading a French newspaper on the way to class in the morning with a French-English Dictionary in my lap = -2
  • Smiling awkwardly and saying "oui... uh.. oui, bonjour.. I mean bonsoir?" everytime my Madame introduces me to, well, anyone = -1
  • Falling asleep on my Metro ride home but timing it perfectly with the intercom voice and waking up two stops before my own = +3
  • Getting up and leaving immediately after paying the bill at a restaurant = -2
  • Being a single lady = -a billion?
  • Going on a 20 Euro budget week (no food or fun) because of a bea-utiful dress purchase at Palais Royal = +5
  • Being smoke-free = -5
  • Not owning a leather jacket = -2
  • Cutting down on electricity usage = +2
  • Absolutely freaking out whenever a pigeon flies straight at me  = -2
  • Drinking tea, and drinking it from a UW Journalism mug = -1
  • Being fully caught up on Gossip Girl and LOST but still never having watched any French TV = -2
  • Taking a beloved, visiting friend to a highly praised French restaurant by Republique = +2
  • Finally making it to said restaurant at 5:00 p.m. when it, and everything else, is closed = -1
  • Sitting outside at a cafe, under a heater, on a rainy day after a trip to Musee d'Orsay = +2
  • Weighing over 100 pounds = -3
  • Dodging doggie-droppings on the street like it's my job = +4
  • Making my French teacher laugh = +2
  • Learning something new every day about Parisian history, culture and language = +5
  • Spending my time with some wonderful Wisconsin folk reminiscing, in English, about State Street and The Terrace = -2
  • Eating falafel sandwiches in the Marais on the steps of the St. Paul Cathedral = +3
  • Not snarling/puckering my lips while speaking (Dana knows. Correction.. Leel knows.) = -3
  • Crepes in the morning, Crepes in the evening, Crepes at supper time (when you have banana and nutella you can eat Crepes anytime) = +2
  • Not making out with someone in between bites of my sandwich (because in what world would I ever interrupt sandwich time for such a thing?) = -4
  • Stressing about when to book the ideal trip to Italy = +3
  • Being chronically late.  All the time.  = +1
Ooh, but wait, we've got a bonus section!  Let's not be racially exclusive here.  Yes, the French locals and American students are abundant in Paris, but what about the Arabs?  I may have been born in Hinsdale and my Arabic-speaking skills are a little... shotty. But this girl seems to be going back to her roots in this country.  So I absolutely must present to you Evidence That Jenna Bean Is Slightly Foreign After All. 
  • Beginning a strange amount of sentences with "This one time in Syria..." = +1
  • Delighting in the discovery of markets selling pita bread = +3
  • Having small talk with a man, who could be my cousin, at the kebob shop about the complexity of the Palestinian identity = +4
  • Getting my haircut, having my Arab-dar go off, and totally calling that my coiffeur is Lebanese = +2
Our standings?
La Parisienne Jen-na Iiindi = +39
Jenna Arab-not-Hindi = +9
Same ol' Jenna Bean = +1,000,000,028

Well, well, well. It turns out that I still have a ways to go before becoming Little Miss Paris. But if that transformation means having to sacrifice bits of myself for a more-chic-but-kinda-scary French identity, I'll do without.  (Queue music played when Uncle Jessie reveals his softer side, please.) 

For now I can live with walking the cultural fence and eating this baguette in my Badger sweatpants.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

99 Problems.

My first paper of the semester is due on April 1st.  

I haven't written... anything... since my non-finals week last December. My Wisconsin friends will actually be already back from their spring break by the time I need to finish the essay.

The six-pager is for my Art History class, and I basically have to analyze any French painting that is displayed in a Parisian museum and dates prior to 1900.  I've never taken an Art History class before, so this is a little out of my element.  Still, I'm ready for it.  Any suggestions?

Every Wednesday our class meets at the Louvre (we move to Musee D'Orsay in April) and our professor lectures us in French about certain artists we studied in the classroom the day before.  

It's funny because class at the Louvre is still... class. And we will, without fail, still whine about having to attend.  It falls under the list of Problems Abroad That Aren't Really Problems (This fresh baguette hurts the top of my mouth, my homestay neighborhood is too safe, everyone can and will speak English to me, French men are too pretty and too well-dressed, I can't decide if I want a salty or sweet crepe, Europeans are so annoyingly relaxed, my legs are sore from walking to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral at sunset for free, and so on...)  

Even though I am programmed to complain about any assignment given to me, most of them are actually pretty wonderful.  My first composition for French class was to attend a cafe and write a description of all my fellow-tiny-overpriced-coffee-drinkers.  Basically, a people-watcher's dream redaction.  

Last Sunday I met a friend to study and had a text from her that said, "I'm down the Seine at a cafe right across from the Notre Dame."  Other than that it was very Madison-esque considering we pretended to read for about twenty minutes before giving up to go eat a greasy yet delicious sandwich.

Now don't get me wrong, classes are more challenging than you or pre-abroad Jenna might think.  They're all in French, and the shortest class is an hour and a half long.  Three hours of French literature, no matter how many sexual innuendos are in the texts or how many Haribo Gummy Bears you consume to get you through the class, is still a rough three hours.  And I obviously wouldn't trade the Louvre for Humanities, but when you're in the same wing as the Mona Lisa, tourists will always trump your professor.  I literally have to stand close enough to the prof to wipe spit marks from my notes (gross) in order to hear him properly. 

Oh, so remember my list of Problems Abroad That Aren't Really Problems?  Here's a great one.  A grève, or Metro Strike, will be taking place all day tomorrow.  This means a slow down of my usually dependable and beloved public transportation.  

And why isn't this really a problem?

Well, as a solution, my French teacher decided to cancel our morning class on Thursday.  

Any UW student can agree that cancelled classes are to be absolutely cherished.  Because even if you can't leave your Madison residence because a) the snow pile-up is the same height as the front door or b) the door hinges are frozen in place, we Badgers know better than to expect a snow day and are ready to put on our three pairs of pants and shimmy out the window to make it to Van Vleck at 8:55 a.m.  But here in Paris there may or may not be a slight delay on the subway and Poof!      Class is gone.

But of course we have to make up for a missing class somehow, right? Well now we have to wander around a rich, non-touristy neighborhood where we'll fill out a couple questions and order the plat du jour at a local bistro.  I'd say that definitely beats three hours of comparing future simple with future anteri-something.  

I should probably end this post here because with any reading assignment given to yours truly comes hours upon hours of procrastination.  And well, I'm late.  

If you need me you can find me on Facebook.  

P.S.- For those concerned, Attempt #2 at the Parisian elementary school went much smoother. All I had to do was make them do, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and threaten to call the real teacher a couple times.  Success!  

Monday, March 9, 2009

Passenger Side.

It's a common struggle for American students studying in European cities to break away from the "Study Abroad Bubble" and actually integrate themselves into that particular culture.  

Well today, I did it.  I was let into a very exclusive part of Parisian life.

A group of about ten of us were discussing literature, and I thought I was leading a pretty good conversation until one of the participants became overly distracted by a sponge.  I had to grab the sponge and pretend to eat it in order to regain her attention and make the group laugh.    

Oh yeah, she was five years old, and I was reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  

Shall I backtrack?

My UW program offers an extra 3 credit internship at the local schools in Paris working with English teachers.  I requested working with younger kids, convincing myself that kids are the best way to learn a language with their combination of no patience and simple sentences and vocabulary.  And I was going to be doing arts and crafts with a bunch of adorable French children, how could it not be fun?  Can I work with five-year-olds, too?  Sure can!

I am an idiot.

I showed up at the elementary school for my first day (late, naturally) and as soon as I walked into a room of five-year-olds doing army crawls on the floor (I have no idea) the teacher handed me a box of books and chose ten kids to sit in some small closet with me as I read to them about animals and colors.  

It sounds simple, but when you have one kid scrubbing your foot with a sponge while his buddy is throwing the couch cushion over his head and the third punk is making up gibberish words when I ask Comment dit-on 'chien' en Anglais? it gets a bit tricky.  And let's be real here, my "stern" French words made them laugh a lot more than my sponge-eating stint.  

Now listen, in my defense, I thought I'd be able to handle a bunch of monstrous children speaking a language I half understood because it is for sure not my first time in such a situation.  Exhibit A and Exhibit B.  After spending months in Syria with my cousins' Arabic-speaking kids, I assumed these French suckers would be a piece of pie.  

But fine, hand me the white flag, I am more than ready to wave it.  
I eventually moved to the 3rd grade class with a teacher who was a pretty yet just as scary version of Miss Trunchbull.  After recess, she lectured the class on how they need to respect the American student teacher (moi) and then said something I didn't understand but all 25 kids gasped at once, so it must have been pretty awful.  She was perfectly kind to me, but the class ended when she dragged a sobbing child kicking and screaming (Note: not a cliché, the boy was le-git kicking and screaming) out of the class where she pried a notebook from his hands.  

Part of me wanted to sprint right out of L'École Trinite and e-mail in my no-weeks-notice.  Those brats can be monolingual like the rest of us for all I care.  But then right after I helped the girl who addressed me as Maîtresse Jen-na zip her coat, I walked outside and literally saw un petit écolier eat Le Petit Écolier.  (Translation: A little schoolboy eating a cookie, not another little schoolboy.)  My heart melted, and I had to remind myself that it was my first day...

My first day in my freshman dorm I was convinced my only friends would be Joey, Ross and Phoebe.  My first day at the Badger Herald I was redesigning the front page until 3 a.m. and vowed never to return to that office.  And my first day in Paris I was dragging my luggage in circles looking for an internet cafe to book the next flight home.  

Okay, I digress but the point is this: All of these aforementioned experiences carried on pretty well and produced (slash are still producing) some mighty fine friends and memories.  

So I just have to man up and not let those French midgets push me around, because if I can handle Dre, I can handle anything.

Until next time,

Maîtresse Jenna

P.S - If you have some universal child education tips, POST them.

P.P.S - Dre, if by some strange chance you read this.. I'm totally kidding and it's nothing but love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ageless Beauty.

I had a very luxurious and frivolous afternoon on Friday.

First, I went to the new Chanel store at the Champs-Elysees and bought black pumps and a very beautiful over the shoulder bag.

Just kidding, Mom.  (Breathe...)

My chic day really only cost me 6,50 Euro at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.  (I actually tried to make it cheaper by lying to the cashier and saying I was 18.  She believed me, but it's free for 17 and under only.  C'mon, Hindi!)

So imagine your Wisconsin-born best friend at Brett Favre's birthday party at the Dells where Bucky the Badger serves you home-brewed beer and Erin Andrews feeds you Jin's Chicken (free and without the line) and big screens everywhere are showing every Chicago Cubs loss and there's a live performance by, I don't know, Dierks Bentley.  

Okay so multiply that disgusting euphoria by about a million and you've got me wandering around a museum filled with over the top jewelry, intricate interior design, an exhibit of wall-to-wall graphic design, another room playing famous French advertisements and two floors of fashion sketches, dresses, etc.  I swear I half expected Justin Timberlake and Leslie Feist to be my tour guides.  

The most breathtaking exhibit for me was Sonia Rykiel's collection.  When you first walk into the room there's an entire wall of letters sent to her from Vogue, Michael Kors, God, etc.  I felt like I was playing the best game ever when I discovered another wall of sketches sent to Rykiel from every and any designer you can think of, and then trying to find those same designs in their actuality around the room.  (I think I've lost any male reader of this post when I stopped talking about Erin Andrews.)

I am lucky that this was a museum, not a department store, where I'm not allowed to touch anything, let alone make some "When in Paris!" purchase.  Sidestepped that land mine...  But really it was such an impressive exhibit and so well laid-out (and we know I love me a good lay-out.)

Perfect segway into Funky Graphic Design Exhibit of Antoine and Manuel.  I don't really understand what I was walking through, but it was literally seven rooms of wall-to-wall graphic design that all had a common style of clean lines and cool fonts.  Mmm.. Hinders Heaven...  Some of the stuff was a little quirky for me, but for the most part I was a fan.

The last exhibit Aussi Rouge Que Possible was a collection of red objects ranging in date from Medieval to Present day divided into different categories.  They had a room of Politics displaying propaganda posters from all over the world with the common theme of "red."  Another room of fashion compared things like a haute-couture evening gown to a soldier's uniform.  I should've submitted my high school yearbook.. [red.] holler!

I could go on forever, but no one wants that.  A picture says a thousand words and I have a thousand pictures, so I'll let the next million words take shape in some sort of online album in the near future.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Time To Pretend.

Although it's a description I have tried to fight off my whole life, I think it's safe to say that here in Paris, I am straight up spoiled.

I was initially upset that I had to abandon my romantic idea of living in a single apartment in Paris and choose the homestay option instead. But then I had to use the same logic I use for most things here and question- when else in my life would I be able to live with a French family with both luxury and ease?

Still, the first few days were tough. The language barrier was a bit thicker than I anticipated, and my normal social life routine had to be very different. With about 25 students in my program and only four living in the dorms, meeting up before doing anything can be annoying. But really, I have another year waiting for me back in Madison of house parties and just bumming around the apartment with my roommates.

So I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to actually see what I get to come home to every night. I live with a posh, older woman (who has sexier brown boots than I do) in a very classic, beautiful apartment supplied with antique pieces and six bedrooms and my own little fireplace and my own huge armoire (where I can store all my unsexy boots.)

I gave my "Madame" a photo book of Chicago and two UW mugs. The first night we went through the entire book together and she was so impressed by the skyline (my heart strings were pulled, twisted, and snapped right off.) She asked how many floors were in the Sears Tower, and I didn't know, but I looked online and tried to bring it up the next day at breakfast. I thought my French was somewhat coherent considering I translated every word ahead of time. But after I said, "I researched on the Internet and found out that the Sears Tower has 108 stories," she replied with, "Oh wow! Did this happen today?"

But my Madame is a great lady with five kids (all moved out) and sixteen grandkids. She won't let me put dishes in the dishwasher, and there's even a cleaning lady who comes once a week (don't you dare judge my abroad life.) My Madame's son and his two kids were over one night, and I loved them. Well I actually hardly interacted with them, but they could piece together my broken French, so I wish they were around more.

I live walking distance from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees. I pass a market on my way to the Metro in the mornings, and today I will hopefully (but doubtfully) venture on my first Parisian jog down Avenue Foch.

In case you are rolling your eyes at this post, remember that I am not bragging about my life, because this is not actually my life.

And to be honest, the best part of it all is having the company of someone who, before I leave, will always wish me a bonne journée.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lost Girls.

I am a bad person and here's why.

As mentioned in my previous post, I came to France with preconceived notions of being surrounded by Parisian beauties. And fine, I wasn't entirely wrong.

It is not unusual to see a tall, thin woman with a beautiful haircut and dangerously high-heeled boots walking hand-in-hand with a taller, thinner man with a more beautiful haircut and a complementing outfit. I, however, am walking hand-in-hand with my over-sized map of Paris while trying to push through some not-so-automatic doors I had mistaken for the Metro exit.

But after figuring out exactly which underground path to take, my alone time on the Metro has become a favorite daily activity. Most of the time I have to put in my headphones once French eavesdropping starts to make my head spin. But fortunately for me, you can people watch in any language.

On my way home around midnight the other night, a Parisian girl who fit my previous general description got on to my car. All of her hair was pulled up into her hat making her look even more model-chic. I stopped staring so that she wouldn't catch the American envy in my eye. But a couple minutes later she caught my attention again for a different reason. Get this... she was completely bent over in her seat, head between her designer boots, puking into a plastic bag.


I didn't think it was possible!! I thought public hurling was reserved for college campus game days, not for a city where people don't even spill crumbs from their baguettes. But man did it feel great to be wrong.

During the whole performance I was nudging elbows with the old French man sitting next to me, chuckling as he offered her "un autre sac."

So maybe delighting in the misery of the flawless makes me a bad person. But after a week of stumbling French phrases and wrong, very, very wrong turns, I earned this one.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Now At Last

Paris, for a while, seemed to be a make believe fairy land. Everywhere I looked eager couples and independent women were planning their extravagant escape to Paris to start a new life of glamor and love. But without fail, no one ever seems to make it that far.

Well, this girl did, suckaaaas.

No Ross Gellars or Mr. Bigs or Laguna Jasons or unexpected suburban fetuses or revelations of transexuality could keep J.Hindi behind. (If you understand all of these references... I am embarrassed for/love you.)

Anyway, let's get out of the 2D world.

I am a girl who really tries to not hold expectations of the unknown for fear of being disappointed. But when you're at home for an extra month waiting to go abroad, it's hard not to daydream.

I expected Paris' population to be exclusively tall, thin and beautiful people who look like they just came out of some hipster photoblogger site.
I expected Parisians and their babies to be clad in horizontal stripes, scarves and looks of disdain.
I expected to get spit on by every waiter, cashier and passerby.
And I expected to think the Eiffel Tower was over hyped.

Lucky for me, I was wrong on all accounts.

Instead, I see a mix of people like any other ginormous city. People are young, old, black, white, circle, square, etc. My waiter was jumpy and jovial and the man at the cell phone store gave me a discount and even remembered my name when I went in the next day with some friends... "Iiiindi! Ca va!?!"

And the tourist trap?

Well first off, I didn't spot the Tour d'Eiffel until about 35 hours after I landed. (Yeah, only I could lose the Eiffel Tower in Paris.) I was in the back of the cab driving from my student center to my new homestay. For some reason, the sight of it made me so absolutely excited and emotional. If it weren't for the scary roundabout intersection we were driving on, I probably would've grabbed my cab driver by the shoulders and girlishly shrieked, "Oh my Gaaad it's Paaaa-ris, Monsieur Cabby! It's so pretty eeek! I luff ittt!" And I was just seeing it through awkward angles out a taxi window, so I can kind of understand why a thousand billion tourists get giddy and take leaping pictures in front of it.

Okay well, I've rambled on more than I swore I ever would on a silly blog. So I'll just leave you with my two favorite parts of my homestay thus far.

1- I have a sink and mirror in my room sectioned off, so I don't need to be worried about obsessing about my curly hair or dragging my lazy ass to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

2- Every morning on my walk to the Metro, I get to just stare at the Arc de Triomphe.

I think I can live with that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Get Like Me.

I have been to Paris once before in my life.

It was 1994, so naturally my memories are slim and insignificant. I remember being mortified by the amount of couples m-ing out on park benches. It might seem too cliche to be true, but this is Paris after all. I also remember ordering spaghetti (obviously) at a restaurant and wound up with plain noodles. When I asked for tomato sauce, the waiter said, "Eh? Le Ketchup?"

So with such little personal memories, I have absolutely no idea what to expect in the next four months of my European life. It's actually easier for me to think ahead to August in Wisconsin (the terrace, empty plans of bike rides, med cafe reunions, going to the plaza against my will, etc.)

Right now, the most I can do is make some reasonable, reachable Abroad 2009 Goals: Come home looking like Audrey Tautou, cooking like Julia Child and singing like Edith Piaf. Easy breezy, baby.

Okay, so maybe I'm not actually saying anything of substance in this post. But from the girl who cannot navigate anywhere west of Park Street and slept through half of her fourth semester French class, I guarantee you much better material once Le Metro takes over my life.

Until then...

Monday, January 19, 2009

mm testing 1, 2?