Hyde Park never looked so good!
Found treasure, meandering in Le Marais.
My lovely cover (thanks, Penguin!) plus the first few lines of the book:
“I’d never been to California. For the first eighteen years of my life, it was some other girl who watched the sun rise over the hilltops of San Francisco, dipped her toes in the Pacific Ocean, and ate raspberry-frosted cupcakes from Cups and Cakes by a pier at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was always some other girl, and I’d grown used to that. Then one day it was me.” ~The Ruining
I belatedly fell in love with Mr. McEwan.
Kiki! This is a graphic biography (meaning illustrated as opposed to scandalous, but perhaps also the latter), and thus very cool.
It pains me that I once could have purchased this for, like, $1. But Junot Diaz is of course well worth full price.
I know this looks suspect (and what’s with that pen name?), but it contains several delicious-looking cocktail recipes.
I can’t remember what this is about, so it’s a good thing I took a photo.
I continue to be fascinated by Bombay—and who could resist that description? I don’t know this “Ben,” but I already like him. Extra points for including listening material.
What’s on everyone else’s wish lists? Do tell.
More than a week has passed since my last post. (Sorry! I had computer issues!) It was a really great 10ish days. A week ago Sunday, for example, I spent four hours in line waiting for admittance to the presidential palace (Palais de l’Elysee). I am impatient by nature, but I had a volume of Colette’s Creatures Great and Small on hand, so I was mostly entertained. (If you haven’t read it, it’s anthropomorphism at its finest.) Anyway, the Palais de l’Elysee is only open to the public once per year, so I wasn’t about to miss out. This is what its exterior looks like:
And here’s what the main dining room looks like:
These are the enviable pots and pans the chefs get to use—basically my dream kitchen collection (oh hi, guy in the background):
They saved the menus from when important people dined:
And check out this room – I noticed only after inspecting my pics that there’s a secret door in the wall! I want to go beyond that door!
Oh, and there was also this vintage car hanging out in the front:
So what I’m saying is, it was well worth the wait.
I also started reading a really great book last week: Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years. I stumbled across it by accident, but apparently it was quite the sensation in 2011. (I felt awfully out of the loop.) It reminded me of another good read from a couple years back, Super Sad True Love Story, but with a little more complexity and a lot more provocation. It is funny, smart, and terrifying. Read it. (Also…I love checking books out of the library. It’s a very nostalgic experience.)
Oh right, back to France. Well, I also made major improvements on the home décor front this week. Because I’m really trying to restrict my spending to my nanny stipend, and because my “studio” is like 6x12 (if that), it’s not as if I could create a grownup’s pied-a-terre. Instead, I embraced my glorified dorm room for what it is. I bought 1 meter of screen-printed wallpaper to hang like a tapestry. I bought stick-on wall decals and vintage wallpaper birds. I got crafty with miniature paper birdhouses* and I even painted one wall by my “kitchen” with chalkboard paint, so I can write grocery and to-do lists. I bought a bud vase and spent 3 euro on a bud. I bought a tiny 2 euro potted plant. I even scrubbed the grime from my faux-vinyl floor with a coarse sponge and disinfectant, Cinderella-style. There’s more work to do, my friends, but my little abode is feeling cozier by the day.
*Let it be known that I do not have an obsession with ornithology. These just happened to be the cheap/attractive paper shapes for sale. Squirrels would have worked just as well, as far as I’m concerned.
This other thing happened this week. I got my first mail! I got two awesome cards from one of my friends. (Naturally I got crafty with twine and clothespins, since the cards were display-worthy.)
One such card contained the rather depressingly named, “It’s Good To Be Alone in Paris” guide to the city. I’m super excited about this guide, however, because it contains hints re: all the best boutiques, vintage shops, hole-in-the-wall eateries, etc. Since I am by nature fairly adept at hunting out all the best shops and food, I had already been to about three of the spots named. But there are 20! I’m going to explore every single one and report back as I go.
I also got a box containing rain boots and winter boots from my mom, and had to pay 84 euros in taxes upon receipt. Sometimes you learn the hard way.
Best of all, I went out with some New York friends and some new friends, and met some even newer friends. It (meeting friends) hasn’t been as much of a challenge as I had anticipated. I think that’s because everyone over here is really welcoming and nice…and also because I’ve been through the expat thing once before, in India, which was a harder transition in general.
However, I miss my friends in New York. I love you, friends!
Oh right, writing – i.e. the whole reason I became an au pair in the first place – I got amazing feedback from both of my editors last week, feedback that I’m really excited to apply in the coming week. One project is in its initial stages (still an outline!) and one is making its way toward submission. Submission is such a nail-biting time….
…By the way, staying self-motivated is tough. Especially when you’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Also: my cousin is coming to visit from London in a few weeks, and we’re going to an awesome wine and cheese festival in Montmartre—obviously I will take a ton of pictures (see how easily I get distracted?): http://www.parisvoice.com/features/107-montmartre-fetes-its-wine-oct-10-14
Also: Notre Dame beat Michigan on Saturday. First 4-0 start to the season since 2002 (when I was a freshman there). GO IRISH!
And…French classes start next Monday. I am sure to be humiliated. Stay tuned.
Lessons learned after one full week of trial and error:
1.) The French double-cheek kiss is baffling. I have somehow screwed it up twice already. I could write a whole post on just this and probably will.
2.) Romantic forays with non-Americans ought to be preceded by intense advance study complete with manuals and a decoder. I am officially bad at dating. (Maybe I was before, too? Ex-boyfriends, feel free to weigh in.)
3.) It’s going to be difficult to keep my young charges alive on the playground. Children are like dogs that still need tons of training. Most of you know that I am no good at training dogs.
4.) It is possible to consume 6 mini-ice cream bars and a half pound of cheese in a week’s time and still lose four pounds. <—This is excellent news.
5.) The best things (sometimes, like once in a lifetime) come in large Ikea bags: I just inherited an entire Catherine Malandrino wardrobe in my exact size from a woman I’ve never met. The fashion gods are smiling upon me.
6.) Relying on freelance for income is terrifying, even if you don’t have to pay rent. I’ve got (other) bills to pay, yo. <—I’m blushing at this, but it harkens back to my love for Jesse Pinkman.
7.) French people are indeed beautiful, as my New York friends insisted. I’m not sure why I had my doubts?
8.) Demanding a toilet for one’s personal use is not untoward. Everyone ought to have his/her own toilet after they leave college. It should be mandated by the government. Everyone’s governments.
9.) There is probably not a phantom maid cleaning my hallway’s shared toilet, as I’ve been wont to imagine.
10.) Not as many Parisians speak English as one would think. I need to learn French right now.
The playground is a war zone. That’s what I learned my first day on the job. Children are scary creatures, but never in all my years babysitting (15—I come from a huge family) have I seen such organized acts of defiance.
The playground where I take Big C and Little C (sisters, I’ll call them Clotilde and Chloe for the sake of the family’s privacy) is split between two warring factions: the public school kids and the private school kids. C&C belong to the latter. The public school ruffians apparently want to oust the private school kids for good. Every day, they work toward this goal. Chloe (Little C) is content swapping stickers with her first grade friends, but Clotilde (Big C) likes to play with the boyz. This is what it looks like, except more violent, and with sticks and girls:
Initially I was inclined to dismiss the public/private school warfare as an early form of flirtation, since it’s pretty physical and both girls and boys get involved. I thought, no big deal. Kids figuring out where they stand. Negotiating gender relations and stuff. But as Clotilde informed me, red-faced, “It is not a game!!!”
I knew something bad was brewing when one public school kid (dressed in pretty fancy duds) began to crack his knuckles in an exaggerated display of menace. Then out came the sticks. I told Clotilde, “No sticks.” But Clotilde is rebellious.
Sure enough, moments later she began pelting handfuls of dagger-like branches at another child. I jumped up, grabbed her by the arm and scooted her right outta there—she cried, but then I regaled her with a (fictional) cautionary tale about a girl I know who was blinded by sticks. Alas, little Chloe’s response? “But we have TWO eyes” (implying that one’s just there for backup).
I can see that it is going to be difficult for me to keep these children alive. Just as difficult as it is going to be for me to order lunch. (I ordered steak tartare just now in order to justify my use of the internet at this cafe, and I got duck confit, not that I’m complaining.)
However, we rounded out the evening with some lovely bonding time over dinner. In case you’re curious, it’s true: French kids DO eat healthily:
Yup, those are roasted veggies you’re looking at, which they ate with a side of ham. Healthiest dinner I’ve had in months.
Given that I’ve never really had my own place (sans roomies), I never properly grasped the significance of having my own room. Nor did I think about what one must sacrifice in order to have as much in a place like, say, Paris. I have had extraordinary luck finding awesome apartment shares for cheap in NYC. Once I lived at the famed Apthorp: http://ny.curbed.com/tags/the-apthorp
Most recently, I had a huge room with a huge antique bookcase and marble fireplace in a Park Slope brownstone. There was also a bathroom with a claw-foot tub.
One of the reasons I moved to Paris was to have a chance to write all day—all expenses paid—with my own studio separate from the family I’m nannying for. I’d seen pictures of the studio (it was small). If I squinted, I could see a shower. I was told there’d be a shared toilet. I decided to overlook the trees (crappy room) for the forest (Paris). I thought it would be okay. But nothing prepared me for the panic I felt my first night in my new space. I was alone. Friendless. In a FILTHY, GROSS room.
There were hairs stuck to the wall. A cleaning lady had supposedly come, but she did a shoddy job. The floor was mucky and dusty and one light fixture didn’t work. Soap scum abounded in the shower (which was elevated at least a foot off the ground, making for treacherous descent). One clothing rack dangled precariously from the wall. There was a faux-wood floor (of the stick-on, vinyl variety) and it had dirt clumps ground into its surface. There was a hair on a fork. Check out my “new,” “clean” stove. (I tried to cook an egg last night and after an hour, the water had still not boiled.) You look at this picture and tell me with a straight face that it’s been cleaned:
Surprise deliveries! There is nothing I like more.