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.