Monday, March 24, 2008

The French Countryside

Thank God for holidays! I had a 4 day break from school last week due to the Easter holiday so B and I decided to get away from Paris and explore a bit of the countryside. On Saturday, we took the train 1.5 hours SW to Chartres. This town is famous for their cosmetics/perfumes, baguettes (they made the 1st traditional French baguette) and the Cathedral of Chartres (also known as Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres) which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. Its one of the oldest and biggest cathedral’s in the world, dating all the way back to the 12th century, and it pretty much started the whole Gothic trend. The coolest relic was a robe worn by the Virgin Mary (see below)! I must have started at it for 10 minutes, its just hard to wrap your mind around something like that. And the town itself was absolutely gorgeous… it was freezing and it rained and snowed all day, but B and I spent hours just wandering down the little streets, along the river and through the old stairways/passageways. Absolutely stunning…

On Sunday, we went to Blois, about 3 hours from Paris in the Loire Valley. This region is all about the châteaux—their famous one being the 13th century Royal Château de Blois, home to everyone from Louis XII to Catherine de Medici and is where Joan of Arc went to be blessed in the 1400’s. It’s such a trip to wander through castles dating back thousands of years—stand in the bedrooms of Queens, the office’s of Kings, walk down stairs that were built in the Middle Ages. I don’t think of it so often, but when I’m in these medieval towns, it hits me that America is such a baby compared to France. Unfortunately, Sundays are when France shuts down (another cultural grievance of mine) so nearly everything was closed but we were able to see all the important sites and soak in the ambiance of the village...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weekend with the In-Laws

I think I’ve figured out what it feels like to spend a weekend with your boyfriend’s parents: it’s like being on a roller coaster, at the top of the lift, right before the big drop. The sensation of being suspended at a point where anything can go wrong at any moment—you’re holding your breath, heart quickening, hoping everything will be perfect, anticipating the worst—and then you get to the end of the ride and you’re still alive, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. But each time you have to encounter the parents again—having lunch, dinner, making small talk on the way to the bathroom—the roller coaster starts all over again… and it’s absolutely exhausting! I don’t know if it gets easier over time, but if we were there for any longer than 2 days, I don’t think I would have made it through.

That being said, I had a wonderful trip.

My first thought upon waking up on Saturday morning was, “Is it too late to back out?” I just didn’t think I could go through with it, I was so nervous. But then I’d read online that if you cancel on meeting the parents at the last minute, “you better be seriously injured or dead when they find you”. So I got up early and spent the next 1.5 hours getting ready.

I wore a grey sweatshirt dress, brown knee high flat boots and a leather jacket with my pink scarf. Cute but casual—I didn’t want to come off as too “city girl” and scare them (they are country folk after all) but I didn’t want to look like I hadn’t tried either. I woke B up about 10 mins before we had to leave for the train station. It was pretty funny—he was so confused as to why he only had time to brush his teeth and throw on some clothes, “Did I sleep through the alarm? I didn’t hear it”. And I said, “No, I woke up earlier and turned it off. I just needed the prep time for myself and didn’t want you hogging the bathroom… they’re your parents, you don’t need to shower”.

We arrived in Troyes around 11am and B’s dad picked us up from the station. He’s an older, handsome man, very fit, with salt & pepper hair and glasses… it gave me a preview of how B will look in 40 years… not bad. I had decided to get the parents one gift: a pot of yellow orchids which I put in a small white vase. When we got to the house, his mom was waiting for us outside and I handed the flowers to her with a “J’ai s'apporté quelque chose pour vous”. She seemed pleased and displayed them during our meals all weekend (she may have thrown them out once I left but no matter).

It was about 68 degrees so we sat in their beautiful garden (B’s dad hand built a pond in the backyard and caught fish from the lake 20 mins away to fill it with), drinking aperitifs (cognac) and eating cheese while belle-mère showered me with questions… surprisingly, I was able to answer everything with just a little help from B on the French words I didn’t know. I was even able to have actual conversations with them. She told me she was really impressed with my French and mentioned how her daughter-in-law (B’s older brother’s American wife) can’t speak any French. B told me that when the wife is with them, she doesn’t say a word—so apparently my barely intelligible, kindergarten level conversation was a welcome change.

Afterwards, B and I went “into town” to sightsee. While we were walking, a black girl ran up to us and said, “Excuse me, are you American?” She said she hasn’t met a single American the entire 3 years she’d been living here (she had the typical story: American moves to France to teach English for a year, meets a Frenchman, falls in love and stays), let alone a black American. We chatted about expatriate life in France for about 10 minutes before parting ways. Wow—that is how small and isolated this town is. Very pretty, but a quintessential French country village.

We returned to chez B around 7pm for dinner with the folks. His dad BBQ’d steak on a grill he built out of a trash can (his father is seriously something else) and we drank so much wine that B told me I was starting to look drunk. Its really funny considering I grew up in a household where alcohol consumption (no matter how small) is considered taboo… meanwhile, B grew up drinking wine since he was about 5 years old. That’s American culture for you—if we weren’t so strict about everything maybe we wouldn’t have so many alcoholic kids running around. Anyway, later B and I met up with a friend of his at a little dive bar in town but I was so exhausted (read: drunk) we had to leave around 12am. That night, even though we were SUPPOSED to be sleeping in separate rooms, B knocked on my door around 1am and told me the guest room was too cold so he wanted to stay in my room (I was sleeping in his old bedroom)... just to sleep... hmm...

On Sunday, B and I had decided to go for a drive in the country so he could show me his childhood—picking mushrooms in the forest, playing & fishing at the lake, biking through the wheat fields—I would laugh if it weren’t so cute. So after a late lunch of escargot (beau-père picked the snails from the forest himself) and grilled sheep (sounds scary but it was delicious!), we were lounging in the living room watching TV when beau-père walks by and says, “10 minutes”. B barely turned his eyes away from the football game he was watching to say, “Oh yeah, my parents are coming with us”. Greeeaaat.

It actually turned out to be a good time. We drove around for about 3 hours and they gave me the full history of the village and showed me all their family hangouts which was really nice of them. And the countryside of Champagne (their region) is gorgeous. We went back home for a gôuté (a torte) and then belle-mère drove us to the station to catch our 6pm train back to Paris.

As relieved as I was to leave and switch the perma-smile off, I had a really great time. It went a lot better than I had imagined. They were really nice people and I think they actually liked me (they even invited me to come back in the spring). Plus, seeing where B grew up, what his life was like, who he came from, that was pretty cool. And the best moment: B’s brother is coming to France with his family in May for his daughter’s baptism and belle-mère was talking about how full the house would be and started ticking off on her fingers who would be saying that weekend and said, “…and Stacy and B will take one room...”. It’s gotta be the best feeling to have your boyfriend’s mother include you in an important family function as though you’re a part of the family. I sent them a Thank You card the next day.

(I forgot my camera at home so I have to scan in the pics from my disposable later)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Meet the Parents

Saturday is a milestone—I’m going to B’s hometown to MEET HIS PARENTS! I am literally freaking out, I don't think I've ever been so nervous about anything, ever. What to wear? What to bring as a gift? What to talk about? Will they hate me? He’s from a small village (who even uses the word “village” to describe a place in real life?) near Troyes, about 2 hours east of Paris. My friend joked that I’ll have to call the town and alert them that I’m coming. And their one black resident will have to leave this weekend—because with my coming there, they’ll overfill their quota of the number of black folks allowed in the village at one time :o)

B said that we’ll do the typical village stuff—eat with his parents, bike ride, go to the lake, drive around the village so he can show me where he grew up, that kind of thing. And he told his dad that I’m a football fan, so his dad got us tickets to see their local team (who were relegated to Ligue 2 last year, but whatevs) on Saturday night—that was really sweet.

I’ve never met a boyfriend’s parents before—and B has never brought a girl home before either—so I have no idea what to expect. When he told his mom we were coming, she was like, “Wow, I guess this is serious then?” And he was like, “Yeah, it is”. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that she’s thinking of me as “the awful American who is planning to steal her darling baby boy away from her”. Totally unjustified because she actually seems super sweet… but you know French mothers and their weird obsession with their sons. All I know is that his parents don’t speak any English and my French is shoddy at best… so that will make for some lively discussions! And we’ll be there for 2 whole days… lordy… stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cute French Café & Velib

A friend just introduced me to the CUTEST little café near my apt... its called Séseme on Quai Valmy along Canal St. Martin. It's a tiny, bright place (seats about 10 people) selling hot drinks, beer & wine and an assortment of snacks salads, sandwiches, soup & salad. Right now, we're sitting at the bar, drinking coffee and sharing a slice of carrot cake, typing away at our laptops. The waitress is super nice and just gave us leftover sandwiches since they're about to close. Well, I know where I'll be whiling away the hours from now on!

As a side note, I came here by bike. I just signed up for the Velib bike service which is this initiative the Mayor (?) started in Paris last summer. For 29€, you get a year-long subscription to ride the city bikes as much as you like. I've only used it once so far, but I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity. said it would take 12 minutes to walk from my apt to the café so I decided to bike it, thinking I'd arrive in about 2 minutes. Naturally, I got lost. And 40 minutes later, I finally found the place. I nearly killed myself in the processgoing through the huge roundabout in République, nearly getting run over by a bus and sideswiped by scooters. Ahh, the joys of biking in Paris...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Habitat for Humanity

As part of the humanitarian bit of my Parisian adventure, I joined the Paris chapter of Habitat for Humanity through the American Church of Paris. This August, we’ll spend 2 weeks building a home for an underprivileged family in Macedonia. Right now we’re in the process of raising the money it will take to fund our trip (airfare, building supplies, food, etc) and each of us are charged with doing our own personal fund raising as well. This week I spent an evening creating (awful) Easter cards to sell, I’m helping to plan a concert, we’re organizing a dinner, and so much more… we need to raise a pretty substantial amount but we are seriously on our hustle so I think we’ll get there.

I really love the premise of H4H’s Global Village: these houses are SOLD to the family (at a very low rate, of course) rather than given to them for free—the idea being that people respect something more and take care of it when they actually have to pay for it themselves, rather than when its just given to them. So they’ll make monthly payments to Habitat on this home and at the end of 5 years or so, they own the house outright. I think its going to be an awesome experience and cannot wait to go—although Lord knows I am not a builder, do not like doing anything with my hands or any physical labor whatsoever (especially not in the dead heat of August) and am pathetically weak… so it should be interesting!

Anyway, here’s the link if you want to make an online donation (in the part where it asks for your name, please also put my name in parentheses):


Thanks for your support, friends! And remember, all donations are tax deductible! :o)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Weekend Getaway

Last weekend, B and I went to Lille (a town about an hour north of Paris on the Belgian border) to celebrate his college friend’s birthday. B went to University in Lille, but since he was doing an apprenticeship program in Paris, he only spent about 1 week every couple of months up there. We went up early on Saturday morning so that we’d have time to sightsee before the party that evening. Lille is about 2 seconds big so you can literally do it in a day. It was supposed to rain all weekend but we got really lucky and had beautiful sunshine (granted it was about 40 degrees but that’s ok) all weekend. We followed the walking tours in our guidebook and went to see all the famous sights. Lille is an absolutely gorgeous old French town with a really interesting history and just won the title of “culture capital” of France.

Later that day, we came across a small, kiddie amusement park. Hundreds of kids on merry-go-rounds, rollercoasters, etc… and then I saw it—a moon bounce! I haven’t been on one of those in ages and B and I looked at each other, grinning. He was like, “Do you want to?” and I said, “I’m DYING to but we can’t! Its for kids… look at all those parents standing around watching their children play—how crazy would we look asking if we can get in there with them?” So we walked off and laughed about how much fun those childhood days in the park were. Suddenly, B grabbed my arm and said, “Lets just go ask… who knows, maybe they’ll let us get on anyway”. I was really skeptical about looking stupid or like some child molester, but I reluctantly agreed to go back and ask. And it turns out anyone can get on the rides! So we bought our ticket and got in, and let me tell you, I haven’t laughed so hard in ages! It was so fun! The funny part was, after we got out, suddenly all the other adults decided that they wanted to go on the moon bounce too—we started a trend!

Afterwards, we went to a bar to meet up with B’s friends for a drink. Then we went to the hotel to hang out for a bit before heading to his friend’s apartment for pre-drinks (yes, they do A LOT of drinking in Lille). It was interesting because his friend’s don’t speak English very well and of course, when the boys reunite, they launch into telling hilarious jokes and stories from their college days—all in French (great practice for me). By 11:30pm I was exhausted and they were just getting ready to go to dinner before the night on the town. So B walked me back to the hotel then went back to meet up with his friends for a boy’s night out—he returned at 3am while the rest of them were out till 7am.

Sunday was more sightseeing after a long, lazy brunch, and we caught the train back to Paris around 5pm. It was an absolutely lovely weekend—just spending time with B, eating good food, drinking tons of beer, hanging out with the boys and getting lost in the streets of a charming little French town.

(random ridiculousness... had the nerve to have hydrolics and blast westside hip hop)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Paris Fashion Week

My first byline. Last week was Fashion Week and my editor at Paris Voice charged me with reviewing the shows of the Anglophone designers. The French press are notoriously difficult with their guest lists, but I did manage to score a few invites. Problem was, the majority of those shows were on Saturday and Sunday, and this was the weekend B had planned a getaway to Lille (more on that later). I wrote an article for a US-based fashion magazine a few weeks ago but that doesn’t hit newsstands till April so this is my first published piece (click below).

Very exciting…

Jeremy Scott's Funhouse