The French have some great old music (and some good new music too). Here is a small sampling of classics:

Minor Swing, Django Reinhardt

La Javanaise, Serge Gainsbourg

Le Plat Pays, Jacques Brel

Padam Padam, Edith Piaf

Les Champs-Élysées, par Joe Dessin

The French are still connected to the songs and artists of bygone days. For example, I danced to Les Champs-Élysées a party just this weekend.



I fell from the moon!

My favorite play of the semester so far was "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Théâtre de la Tempête.  I made the trek out to the Bois de Vincennes, où se trouve le théâtre, earlier this week.

I fell under its spell; I almost couldn't tell you what I liked about it or if the play really lasted three hours, as my watch seemed to tell me.  The production hit many good notes.  The lighting recreated a silvery night like a poem might, the creations of the pâtissier, Ragueneau, looked like they could have dressed the set of Marie Antoinette, for the final Act, the stage was covered in rose petals.  The troupe reminded me of a Greek chorus, speaking and percussing in unison, moving around each other like dancers.  The Cyrano was arrogant, noble, vulnerable, explosive, tender, romantic, heart-wrenching - a poet-magician who had the power to light up the moon.

"I fell from the moon!" says Cyrano to the Conte de Guiche...

CYRANO (beaming with joy):
I have shot back to Paris!
(Quite at ease, laughing, dusting himself, bowing):
Come--pardon me--by the last water-spout,
Covered with ether,--accident of travel!
My eyes still full of star-dust, and my spurs
Encumbered by the planets' filaments!
(Picking something off his sleeve):
Ha! on my doublet?--ah, a comet's hair!. . .
(He puffs as if to blow it away.)

My theatre teacher explained to us that the French view Cyrano as a national symbol : at once grotesque in his timidity and sublime in his sacrifice.

Maybe I fell from the moon too,


American in Paris

Thanksgiving, the most (and only) North American holiday, made me think about being an American.  As an American in Paris, I'm certainly not alone. English is everywhere and American pop-culture has a definite presence here, too.

Here are some of my favorite Parisian transplants from the other side of the Atlantic:

Breakfast In America
B.I.A., as it's called, smells like the significant part of my childhood that I spent in Avalon Diner.  Milkshake of the week a while ago: The Obama - vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, peanut butter.

The name of the store that sells a cornucopia of American grocery products.  Aunt Jemima, Pace, and JIF live here.  Go only when desperate ; I had to promise my first born son to pay for my instant oatmeal.

Tea and Tattered Pages
In the anglophone bookstore scene of Paris, if Shakespeare and Company is the twenty-something hipster who wrote a senior thesis on "The Lady of Shallot" at a small liberal art college then Tea and Tattered Pages is the grandmother who had a quietly fascinating life of writing opera and seducing world leaders to shape modern politics before you knew her and who has kept every book she and her children ever read.  Go for used books, cinnamon toast, or to pet the big tabby cat who lives there.

Bagels and Brownies
Inventive sandwiches on bagels, which are thin on the ground in Paris.  Every sandwich has an American city for its name.  I'm partial to the Detroit (pronounced deh-twah) : smoked turkey, cream cheese, and cucumber.

Cinéma le Grand Action
A movie theater in the Latin Quarter that often shows old American movies.  Favorite field trip to date : "Roman Holiday" on the big screen.  Basically, it was a dream come true.

Looking over this list, I realize that 3/5 have to do with food. Hmmm...

Expat love,


Faux Amis

From my recent posts, you make think that I no longer live in France.  Just to prove I still do, here are some French tricks:

assister à - to attend
actuellement - currently; les actualities are the news
un collège - middle school; I have to stop myself from using that incorrectly a lot
ignorer - to not know; to be ignorant of something
un préservatif - a condom (that was a surprise!)
une librarie - a book store 
la déception - disappointment (close but different)
normalement - can mean "normally," but can also mean "theoretically"
         *E.G. My host mom wasn't sure she was going to be able to travel one weekend 
          because of threats of a strike, so she said, "Normalement, je prends l'avion de 

Nice try, faux amis, but I've outsmarted you!  Better luck next time!

Your vraie amie,


Damn it feels good to be a Medici

The Medici family lost power almost three hundred years ago, but from all I heard about them this weekend, you'd think they're still the Corleones of Florence.

The Palazzo Pitti? Sumptuous because of the Medici.

The best, and only, "delux" cell in the monastery of San Marco? Belonged to a Medici.

The collection of the museum of classical instruments at the Accademia? All made for a Medici.

The gelato flavor recommended to me by the girl working at the gelateria? Crema de' Medici.

I think it would sound pretty good with my name...
Maria (de' Medici)

P.S. Just in case you missed it (Dad), the title of this blog refers to this.  Homegrown gangsta rap - what up H-town?


I try not to get too worked up over famous works of art.  Ever since I saw the Mona Lisa and thought, "That's it?" I try not to believe the hype.  Michelangelo's "David", however, delivers.

In life, I am one of those people who says, "Perfection?  That's boring!"  But when I saw the David, I knew that I was wrong: David is perfect, and he didn't bore me at all.  He looks alive, like his skin would be soft if I touched it and like if I did touch his face, his cloudy expression would smooth.  His feet were a little big for him, as if he was still growing, and so were his hands, which have veins that wrap up into his forearms.


Taking pictures of David is strictly verboten.  One man took pictures of people as they looked at the statue instead.  I thought about buying a post card of him, but then I realized that the well-lit pictures took away my favorite part of him - the shadows.  It's the shadows that show the muscles of his back banding around to his chest and abdomen, the indentation where swaying hip meets extended leg, where chin tucks in and becomes mouth.

Don't worry - I'm not harboring any Pygmalion-themed fantasies.  I just wasn't expecting the David, or any statue, to look so beautifully real.  He's too tall for me anyway...



Il Duomo

The walk to the top of the Duomo is not easy.  Neither is paying the 8€ entry fee.  In fact, when I arrived at the halfway point, where you walk around the inside of the Dumo right up close to the Divine Comedy of a ceiling depicting sweet little baby Jesus, other holy people, and some pretty freaky hell-dwellers (the Italians, it appears, do not shy away from depicting human disembowelment, even in churches), I said to myself, "That's cool, but I could have seen it from the ground floor."  What I could not have seen from the bottom of the church was the view that followed.

From the top of the Duomo, Florence looks like a medieval painting.  I actually sighed when I saw it.  The clouds were parting and the butter cream and brick red patchwork quilt of Florence glowed in the intermittent sunlight.  The sky was the refreshed blue of a bird's first song after hatching its shell.  The hills were still veiled in fog and cloud; to the South, I could see buildings in the hills and the individually spiking cypress trees through the haze.

There are so, so many important Italian artists, and now I know why:  Italy is art and Italy makes us all artists.

Ché vista!


Dawn had just broken as I lost my way from the train station to my hostel.  Enormous billowing cumulonimbus clouds were lit a light satiny gold against a sky pink and blue with sunrise.  In some places, an unhealthy gray-yellow interrupted the blue making it look like it was going to rain.  It did rain, in fact.  When it rains in Paris, everything is gray - the sky, the buildings, the people even.  The rain makes Florence more vivid, the yellowing walls and red roofs gleaming.

Florence was divino.  I can't wait to go back to Italy!

Photo record of my trip:

Porto Vecchio
Banks of the Arno
Boboli Gardens
Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti
Santa Croce
Oh haaay, Dante!
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Il Duomo
Il Duomo
Baptistry doors

And I got to see an old, dear friend, too!

Amore amore amore!



I was in London over Armistice Day, when they celebrate their veterans.  About between two thirds and three fourths of the people over there were wearing plastic poppies on their coats as a symbol of remembrance and gratitude.

Trafalger Square
Trafalger Square
Outside Westminster Abbey
Votre petit coquelicot.


The Tate

The Tate Modern might be the coolest museum I've ever been to - it's definitely top five, anyway.  You can take interactive coloring books and games throughout the exhibits; you can write the Tate a postcard, a selection of which are displayed on the permanent collection floor; if you read the notes on the sides of the escalators, you will learn interesting facts about modern art such as : Piet Mondrian, in addition to not using green in his art, refused to wear the color or to allow it in his work space.

 Two favorites.

I got there close to closing time, so I only had time to see one exhibit called "Poetry and Dream."  It was interestingly displayed and an interesting framework to give to a lot of famous, well-known pieces, or at least pieces by well known artists like Matisse, Picasso, and Bacon.

My favorite discovery at the Tate was Julião Sarmento, a Brazilian who works with "themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality." An especially cool series was the illustration, through drawings, photographs and words, of a sentence from a love letter from James Joyce to his wife : "there is also a wild beast-like craving for every inch of your body, for every secret and shameful part of it, for every odour and act of it." Oh là là!

Julião Sarmento, Dublin-Trieste 2 December 1909
Ecs-tate-ic about art,

London Calling

I was in London this weekend, and I have to say that I'm a little in love with it. Here are some reasons why:

London style.  It's way funkier than Parisian chic.  Wear anything, literally anything you want in London.  Bright colors, crazy make-up, wildly died hair - anything goes.  For example, in Portobello Road I saw a guy wearing a red military style jacket, royal blue corduroys tucked into beat up brown boots and a short black top hat with a butterfly pin on it.  Completely normal, if unique, in London, almost non-existent in Paris.

Good traditional English food.  Mediocre to bad English food is everywhere, however I splurged on a deliciously satisfying traditional shepherd's pie and sticky toffee pudding at the Portobello Organic Kitchen.


Markets in London have lots more pipes, canes, old rugby balls and, surprisingly, Italian masquerade masks than the markets in Paris.

Street performers in Covent Garden singing opera, walking tightropes, juggling knives, doing the cancan while playing classical music, escaping from straight jackets, and having the chutzpah to wear orange Doc Martens.

With my new best friends at the Tower of London
English politeness.  I've never encountered anything like it.  It put me in a wonderful mood.  Also, English teasing.  I had to ask a lot of people for help and directions (note to self: buy a map next time) and was often met with good-natured leg-pulling.

Harrod's : one of the more magical places in the world.  Turkish delight, instant snow, shoes!

Westminster Abbey Choir.  I went to Westminster for evensong with a friend.  The choir is made up of the boys in the Westminster Abbey Choir School and some adults, though I don't know who they were.  Evensong may be a prayer service, but the real religious experience was listening to the choir.  The divinity of their voices made my soul swell, calling to mind everything in my life that makes me feel raw or guilty and lifting up all of those misdeeds and flaws to be judged by the purity of their song.

Rugby rivals sporting their colors (or colours) and chatting amicably on the Tube.

The next time I study abroad, I think I'll go to London,


English Place Names

I'm about to wrap up my first visit to England.  I absolutely cannot get OVER the whimsical oddities that pass for real names here in London! 

Some favorites:

Swiss Cottage (the neighborhood where my hostel is located)
Frognal Lane
Parsifal Road
Elephant and Castle
St. Pancras (my new favorite train station)
Tottenham Court Road
Piccadilly Circus (Circus?! Really?!)
Crutched Friars
Totteridge & Whetstone
Goodge Street
Tooting Bec
Petty France (tell us how you really feel, England)
Ave Maria Lane
Allsaints Spitalfields (a store in Portabello Road)



It's raining, it's pouring...

It's been raining here for the past five days and it will probably rain for another five days.  This is what I thought Paris in the Fall would be like.  Standing on a street corner right now smells like wet pavement, cigarettes, moving cars and rain.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
As e.e. cummings said, "the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful."

Singing (on the inside) in the rain,

Marchés aux Puces

In my last documentary cinema class, I learned a new word : chiffonier.  After class I learned its scrumptuous English translation "rag and bone man." A rag and bone man is a scavenger that finds cast-off things, remakes them and sells them second hand. 
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the chiffoniers sold their goods all around the outskirts of Paris.  These markets around the périphérique have been reincarnated into the marchés aux puces or flea markets of today.

I've been to the markets at Porte de Vanves and St. Ouen (which is nearly impossible for me to pronounce correctly - my host family told me to give up on it...) and they are overstimulating and overwhelming, at times delightfully magical and at others a little shabby, dirty sometimes.

At Porte de Vanves I tried on hats with friends, dug through trays of trinkets and jewels, talked myself out of buying a handsome leather overnight bag for no less than 100€, according to the vendor, and flipping through hilariously unconventional comic books.

At les puces de St. Ouen, I found a part of the market that is in permanent buildings, every store a cubby-like stall in the winding narrow corridors of the labyrinthine structure.  There was a store full of only Burberry raincoats; one with a button store that had miniature stuffed vegetables; several outstanding vintage places, including one where the sellers were wearing various fantastical get-ups, filled with fur coats and incredible dresses; a place where I had my choice from an array of vintage dental instruments; a tempting place with shelves and shelves of leather bound books; and more than I have the power to recall or describe.

Baubles and trifles and tchotchkes, oh my!


Un billet doux pour le Général Beuret

I live across the street from a groovy little bar/bistro called Général Beuret.  It appears that there's no real story behind Beuret, however it is a clever homophone of "beurré," which I believed can be translated to the colloquialism "plastered."

Général Beuret is a total neighborhood hangout.  From my window I can see the enormous blackboard where they write the day's specials and I can spy on the diners and drinkers.  There are always tons of people of all ages and sorts there.  It's friendly, relaxed, and (gracias a Dios) reasonably priced.  The staff always ask what you're having three or four times, but I like 'em, so that's alright.

The General has nourished my body and need for people-watching for some weeks now, so it's time to give a little back with a haiku:

thanks for that one time
when I got beer and fries
they changed my life

So local,


It's official!

It is only today, November 4, 2010, my 70th day here, that I am fully a legal resident of France. Sometime the efficiency of French bureaucracy is astonishing.

Before I came to France, I got a visa. When I arrived, I sent in my housing information and visa to the OFII (Office Français de l'Imigration et l'Intigration) office. Today I had a doctor's appointment to be cleared healthwise and got my OFII sticker.

That's it?
Traveling outside of the Schengen area (most of Europe) before receiving the OFII thing in not advised, because you can be deported. England is especially inflexible about it, apparently. Good thing everything went well in Jordan!

Me: Am I supposed to keep this? OFII Woman: Yes, that's for you.
During my less than short wait at the OFII office, some friends and I revisited the wise words printed at the top of the pages in American passports.  I leave you with a favorite...

"We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world.  They have many things to teach us as people.  We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so."  
Excerpt from Thanksgiving Address, Mowhawk version


*Morte de rire (≈lol)


Les Petits Mouchoirs

I went to go see Les Petits Mouchoirs, the new film from Guillaume Canet, last week.  It's a story about a group of friends that goes on vacation together and all the complexities of their relationships.  The French title literally translates to "The Little Handkerchiefs," but the English title is "Little White Lies."  Isn't that an interesting gulf between languages?  And what are white lies but bits of insubstantiality we use to cover things up?

The film is excellently played and directed. It's also beautiful. If it's out in the U.S. I recommend going to see it.  It is long, but it's worth it.

All of the actors are friends of Canet's.  Some of the people in the movie are not actors by profession, but rather are people out of Canet's life.  One of these people is Maxim Nucci, the singer of group Yodelice (with whom Marion Cotillard, Canet's partner and actress in the film, sometimes performs).  He sings this song in the film, and I haven't been able to get it off my mind.

Hope you're talking to the people in your life,