I’ve been to Paris a few times before, and done all the wonderfully touristy things that there are to do there. I’ve visited the Eiffel Tour, the Louvre, Luxembourg Gardens, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, millions of museums, churches and monuments. I really love the city.

But the beauty of the city is in being able to explore it. And that is largely dependent on the weather. It’s not so much fun to walk for hours when it is cold and rainy!

We lucked out when we went into the city the other day with some of our teachers for a ‘sortie’. It had been grey and threatening all morning, but as we got to Notre Dame the sun came out. It was a gorgeous, if cold day. We toured the Quartier Latin, which I have to admit isn’t the most exciting area as far as tourist sites go. We did get to see the should-be-famous ‘Indiana Grill’, which apparently serves superb Tex-Mex food. Who knew Indiana was so close to Texas or Mexico? Not me. We also visited the Sorbonne, where the students were staging a serious 80s revival in the main square. Leg warmers, tight pants and leggings galore, and dancing around to ‘Fame’ and ‘Sweet Dreams’. Not what I would have expected from this revered institution.

Yesterday I really wanted to visit Montmarte, a quarter in the North of the city that is where all of the (somewhat crazy) writers and artists hung out until right after WWI. It’s also where the Moulin Rouge is, in the seedy Pigalle area, and where one of my favorite movies ever was filmed, ‘Amelie’. I should have known that it would be touristy! Montmarte is at the North end of the city, and is basically one huge hill. At the top is the Sacre Coeur, which is an absolutely amazing basilica. I was pretty awestruck (or maybe it was just that I was so out of breath just from climbing the steps!). I was determined to try and catch a little of the Bohemian ambience, so I walked all over the town. I did have a lot of fun, but basically ended up soaking wet and chilled. I’ll have to trek back someday when the weather is a bit nicer…

Quel temps fait-il aujourd’hui?

You know the old joke – if you don’t like the weather in Minnesota, wait ten minutes and it will change? It’s not such a joke here.

It literally snowed, rained, was sunny, hailed and sleeted (in about that order) in one morning. The weather here is ridiculous. Supposedly it was summer-like last week, but this week is much closer to winter than I would like. I’ve been freezing! It doesn’t help that spring had arrived in Brighton before I left, so I was hoping it would be nice here, too. But at least I’ve been learning lots of new vocabulary about the weather!

Un soir trés bizarre…

I decided to get out of my room and go to the movies – there was a film festival on through this evening, so I figured I wasn’t wasting much money on a film I would barely understand. And it was a good thing…I understood what was going on, but I probably only caught about half of the dialogue. Oh well.

I’d decided to go alone – probably partly to avoid the awkward, terrible conversation two non-French speakers would have to have to each other on the walk there and back, now that I think about it. Anyway, the film started at 8:50, so by the time I got out it was nearly 11:00. I started to walk home, and got about 5 minutes away from the theatre (if that) when two dogs started following me. They were two well fed labs, one brown and one black. They seemed to have collars on, but I wasn’t about to stop and find out. I kept hoping they were just heading in my same direction. But when I slowed down, they slowed down. When I switched to the other side of the road, they followed.

Some of you may know that I had a bit of a bad experience in East Timor with stray dogs, which I think has colored my view a bit. I have nothing against good ‘ole Spot, as long as he’s with his owner. But random dogs following me? Mmm, not so much. Luckily, these guys weren’t the bearing teeth/growling/barking types. They just trotted along happily beside me. But I admit I was a bit scared at first.

I was hoping I’d be able to duck into the gate at the Institute and leave them outside. But no luck. The caretaker and his dog were out having a smoke (ok, I don’t think the dog was actually smoking…). After a short commotion, Christophe managed to put his dog inside, and come and help me. He called someone – I’m not sure who, maybe the dog police? – to let them know he’d found two dogs with collars and no tags. Do dogs in the US have a code tattooed inside their ears? Apparently they all do here. Strange. I had to stand there with them, as I couldn’t leave or they would follow me! They’d become quite attached in our 20 minutes together, I guess.

Eventually Christophe distracted them long enough that I could go back to my room – by then I was actually warming up to the dogs, but I was starting to freeze standing outside in the cold. I hope Christophe can find their owners.

This was probably one of the strangest things to happen to me recently. I don’t think this would happen in Brighton – instead you’d just have random drunk people following you home (simply because they thought you looked like one of their friends…yeah, they’re odd).

Je suis en ciel!

I have found my own personal heaven. I visited Carrefour the other day, a huge supermarket/everything store. I was just wandering aimlessly around checking out what kinds of things were there. And then….

I walked into heaven.

A HUGE aisle, with both sides filled clear up to the ceiling with nothing but cheese.

And that is not all. There is also an entire ‘formage’ section at the back of the store, with all the specialty cheeses, right next to the piles and piles of fresh bread. Mmmm. And only a few feet away, two full aisles of wines.

Yeah, I could live here, but I’d never be able to fit on an airplane seat to come and visit any of you!

Sucking water from a fire hydrant

I love that phrase. Nick used it to describe how I must be feeling my first day of French classes. It’s too true – I’m just trying to soak up as much as I can of the immense amount of information being thrown my way. It is sooo tiring.

I’m studying at the Institut International de Rambouillet. It’s housed in a château, or literally a castle (though it doesn’t seem quite so grandiose as all that to me). It is a lovely old house, though. There are about 30 students here right now – I’ve been told this is the very slow time of year. Most live here on the property, though some are au pairs that live with families in town. It’s an eclectic group. Tons of Korean students, a few Japanese, a couple Germans and Austrians, Mexicans and a Colombian. Not many Americans.

Classes are tough. 6 hours a day on grammar, vocabulary, listening comprehension, and conversation. Then more French at meals, and what few social events there are. I haven’t really studied a language seriously in a long time. And I have to admit, I am not a natural! I keep mixing up Spanish and French words, hacking the pronunciation to death, ugh. But I am definitely learning a lot. I should really be here for a solid month, though, to really improve.

Rambouillet is a funny little town. It’s about 30 minutes from Paris (if you take the direct train, as I learned the hard way), so it’s basically a suburb. It’s quite tiny – it has one main street where all the shops are, with the exception of the large supermarket, Carrefour. It’s very cute. In the main square there is an old carousel that still works. It’s got one movie theatre with two screens – it only opens 15 minutes before the show starts, and changes its two films weekly. People here drive on the correct (right) side of the road, which really threw me – I keep almost getting thwacked. But there are really jaunty little green men on the walk signs. They make me want to dance every time I see them, they just look like they’re kicking back, whistling their way across the street. There are a million and a half patisseries, and people actually live up to the Parisian stereotype of walking around with a baguette under their arm on their way home!

The Institut is also a funny place. People come in and out every week, so there always seem to be different people around. Meals are these strange, rushed events. I think it is partly because people are dying to get out of the awkward conversations which are the only thing that most of us can have with our limited French – ‘qu’est-ce que tu a fait ce weekend?’ can get really old really quickly. Whatever the reason, people literally scarf down their meals, and if you get to dinner at 7:30p (it starts at 7), the food is already being cleaned up. Sometimes people gather in the common space in the basement of the château and watch CSI (‘Les Experts’) or some movie. But mostly people stick to themselves.

It will be an interesting two weeks…