Sep 16

I had my first macarons in Paris! They were delicious. Chocolate, passion fruit, raspberry, salted caramel, and lavender.

We finished up our intensive French class this week. As the days went on, fewer and fewer people showed up to class, until we were down to just 6 people. We took our final on Friday, which didn’t go too well but it’s okay because I’m not even sure I’m getting credit for the class. Then we watched Intouchables, a movie that came out here last year and was the biggest box office success ever in France. Eh, it was all right. A little too cliché for me, but the main actors were great.

I’d sort of settled into a little routine with this class over the past 2 weeks. Go to Paris 3, sit in class a little, take a break and get my 1 euro cappuccino that was actually just warm milk, chocolate, hazelnut and sugar… it was comforting. Now, I can’t do much school-wise but wait for my student card to come through. The paperwork takes forever to process, and MICEFA handed it in quite late. Of course we weren’t allowed to hand it in ourselves, oh no, that would have been impossible despite the fact that I was within 10 feet of the office every single day! I hate bureaucracy.

Registering for classes is a very annoying process that I can’t even begin until I have my student card. At least I have 2 weeks until courses start– I know people who have already started classes, or are starting tomorrow, and are not yet registered! They just have to attend their courses and hope to be allowed to register later on. At least I’m not in that situation.

I’m in Belgium right now. Anvers. Antwerpen. Le plat pays, mijn vlakke land! I took a Thalys train this morning, and within 2 hours I was here. I’m staying with my grandmother for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashannah (the Jewish New Year). She conveniently lives about a 10 minute walk from Antwerpen Centraal, the main train station. The holiday starts tonight, and ends Tuesday night. I’m going to do lots of Jewish stuff, like going to synagogue, listening to the Shofar (a ram’s horn that is blown at certain points during Rosh Hashannah prayers) and, um… eating!

This is the first time I’ve seen my grandmother in a year and a half. She isn’t well enough to travel to the U.S. anymore, so my mom and I try to visit her at least once a year, together or separately. And since I’m in Paris, I’ll hopefully be able to visit her a few times.

The catch is, she absolutely cannot know that I am studying in Paris for the semester. She would freak out and worry herself sick — she doesn’t even let me go out at night when I’m here! If she knew I was living alone in a big city, it would be pretty disastrous for everyone involved. So she basically thinks that I’ve just flown over for a few days while I have off from school. Hey, BC does give off for Rosh Hashannah, so it’s not a stretch. Just… trust me when I say there is no other way I could go about this.

So now that you’re all updated on that. I had quite a day yesterday.

I woke up around 9:30, wanted to go back to sleep, ate an apple, didn’t go back to sleep. Vacuumed, did laundry, took a walk along the Seine, saw a brass band playing on the river bank, read the New York Times. You know. Routine.

My French teacher had told us that this weekend were the Journées du Patrimoine, two days in which buildings and offices normally closed to the public opened their doors for everyone. There were tons of locations participating, and everything was free. So I decided to go to the Champs Elysee area and check out the Palais de L’Elysée, which is the President’s residence and offices– the French equivalent of the White House!

I took my camera and set off on my journey. My first stop was at the Ministry of the Interior. I got on a line and went through a huge gate, through a metal detector, and into a courtyard where a full orchestra sat under a white tent and played Brahms. There were old police vehicles on display, and police officers and gendearmes walking around.

I got a brochure with a welcome from the Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls. No sooner than I’d seen his picture that I looked up and saw him right in front of me. Walking around, casual as you like, shaking hands and taking photos. Normalizing with the normalistas, as Selina Myers from Veep would say.

I was severely charmed by the whole thing, which I suppose was the point. (It didn’t help that he looks like this. Goddamn attractive politicians, they’re the WORST. And now I’m cringing because I’ve just found out that he’s 50 years old. Gabrielle you need to STOOOPPPP.)

You can see him, sort of, behind the blue car.

Here’s one of the random older police cars on display in the courtyard. I thought it was kind of cool. Ok then.

Here’s what the inside looks like. This is one of the meeting rooms.

At the end of the tour there were a few booths set up with demonstrations and information about the national police force (I guess the equivalent of the FBI?). Of course there were the obligatory happy cardboard employees you could take a picture with. That woman looks really confused about the whole thing, doesn’t she? I love this.

And finally, here is the lovely, perfectly groomed backyard of the French Ministry of the Interior.

It was super cool to get a look into a place I never would have otherwise been able to see! But this was only a taster, because right after I would be headed to the Palais de L’Elysee.

I expected a large crowd, given that this was one of 2 days out of the entire year that people could see the place, but I actually started to get worried when I saw the line. I must have walked at a pretty fast pace for 10 minutes before I got to the end. A police officer at the end said the wait was 2 and a half hours. He also said there had been people waiting to get in at 4 in the morning. Um, wow. I decided to stick it out, and I’m really glad I did. The wait ended up being 2 hours and it passed by quickly.

We were finally ushered in through one of the huge gates, and through another metal detector. There was a huge field in front of the buildings– you would never think all this open space was hidden behind the huge walls outside, right in the middle of Paris!

We finally got to go inside…

Can you spot me? He hehe.

Here’s the room where state dinners are held. It is huge, and there’s some amazing attention to detail.

Now this one’s for my fellow Doctor Who fans. Remember Madame de Pompadour, everyone? She was King Louis XV’s mistress and the star of Steven Moffat’s episode The Girl in the Fireplace. Louis XV bought this palace to serve as her official residence!

This room is where the President and Prime Minister meet their council of advisors weekly.

And finally, the equivalent of the Oval Office: The President’s office! Currently occupied by Francois Hollande. So cool.

And that’s it! I think it was SO cool that I got to see it given that it’s open to the public only twice a year. I’m such a nerd about these kinds of things.

Afterwards, I met 2 friends for dinner at an Italian place near our former hostel. We ate dinner and drank some wine, and meanwhile a French friend of my friend’s invited us over to hang out at his place in the 20th arrondissement. 10 am train to catch tomorrow? Yeah okay whatever, I’m in Paris! We took the metro over and found our way.

The neighborhood had a youngish scene, lots of bars and clubs on the main street, Rue Oberkampf, along with fast food restaurants like KFC and McDonald’s (which the French call McDo’s). We arrived at the mysterious friend’s apartment and I met him and 5 of his friends. They’d all recently graduated college and were working or doing internships, in engineering, construction management, computer programming, film… They were all really nice, especially about us wanting to speak French (though I’m sure it was because most of them didn’t really speak English, hah!)

After sitting around and talking for a while, we went out to a club called Nouveau Casino, where we hung out and danced to this sort of dark techno music. We realized pretty quickly that we wouldn’t be able to make the last metro back. On weekends the metro stops running at 2, but the express train– the RER– stops at 12, and both my friends had to take that home. Either way, it was past 2. So the Friend kindly let us crash at his place for the night.

(I don’t know what happened to this picture. All I can say is… ACCURATE.)

By the time we got to sleep it was almost 5. I had to leave at 7 so I could go back home, get my stuff and make my train. All three of us girls slept on the one couch bed. When I woke up I grabbed my stuff and left as quietly as I could. It was still pretty dark out, the streets were empty, and I was exhausted but happy.

I got home around 7:30, ate breakfast, showered (oh how I needed that shower), packed, and figured out how to get to the train station (Gars du Nord–take the 7 to Stalingrad and transfer to the 5, take it one more stop, you didn’t need to know that but there you are). I made it to the station with 25 minutes to spare. I am an absolute BOSS, I tell ya.

As the train pulled away from the station I put on the new Two Door Cinema Club album and felt so happy that I just sat there smiling for a few seconds.

Shana Tova!


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Gabrielle in Paris