Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Le Plat du Jour

"I have something fun for you today. You're going on a sort of scavenger hunt." I was told on Monday. "I want you to go out to the island and take a bunch of pictures of balconies. I don't expect you to be back until after lunch. Take as much time as you need."

Kid in a candy store or, rather, architecture student unleashed in Paris.

But this past Monday was a rare treat in terms of the work day. Work can be slow. I mean the type of slow that makes you get up to get a glass of water, not because you're thirsty, but because it's something to consume two minutes. Lunch becomes the halfway peak of the day and, in turn, the 4 o'clock café glacé is the halfway peak of the afternoon. Time is broken down by these parameters which are fixed, not by the hands of the clock, but by a dull progression of increasing boredom; a sequence of sometimes now, sometimes then, varying daily. There is no strict adherence to the hour. This leaves room for both the hope that action will come early and the fear that it will be delayed. I cling to every duty I am given and nothing strikes more grief and terror than hearing that my superior will be out of the office for a day (ok, a bit dramatic, the Reign of Terror ended in 1794).

When work ends at 6:30 it's too close to dinner time and I am too exhausted to explore. Ultimately I do exactly what I would do for comfort's sake no matter where I am - curl up with a cup of tea and read a book or watch Doctor Who. (It has taken a full year but I'm almost up-to-date.)

A coworker of mine has been impressed recently that I've managed to speak only in French to him. I, however, am not impressed because those conversations don't even deserve to be called conversations. It's the mundane equivalent of "Hi, how are you? I'm kind of sick today unfortunately." I'm more comfortable speaking French with him than anyone else (including the Americans) because his English is good and he doesn't judge.

The awkward thing is when everyone assumes I understand all of their statements and questions. I don't. I really do not. My french comprehension is pretty darn good by now for someone so immensely out of practice, but that doesn't mean I catch all the jokes at the lunch table or understand entirely what changes need to be made to a project. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, it depends largely on how fast it is spoken.

Overall I have fallen very much into the routine of things. Work is great until there is absolutely nothing to do (a period that occurs almost daily, sometimes hourly) and even if I don't have much time to actually see Paris I am at least absorbing what I can. In fact, absorbing is what I do all day long. I feel like a giant sponge at the lunch table just sitting there in awkward silence trying to pick up on the fast French chatter. Flipping through the books in the office I try to absorb the language of the architecture too, especially to make the switch from Italian to French. Working at a desk I overhear and absorb the phrases people say all the time on the phone or in dialogue with each other. It really exercises a lot of mental power to hone in on language while drawing or designing architecturally. That's what makes this so exciting though.

For those who I have not told yet, Friday night I will leave for a short summer program in Romania. It's sponsored by Notre Dame and INTBAU/The Prince's Foundation and it promises to be oodles of fun. Apparently Prince Charles fell in love with Romania when he first visited and now he has foundations working to restore the historic architecture. We will be sketching, watercolouring, learning about masonry from a British expert, and taking part in restoring a medieval church. I couldn't ask for a better break from the office or halfway mark for my work time abroad. I've already received more requests for even more pictures so I will not disappoint.

St. Etienne doesn't really have to do with anything, but I loooove this church.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mistaking Clouds for Mountains

Oh my, this has been an extremely eventful week, and not always in the best of ways. Most recently I left my key in my apartment and could not notify the landlady because she was out of town and left her cellphone behind. After involving way too many kind souls in this frustrating issue, a housekeeper came to the rescue with an extra key a whole day later. I apologized so many times to my friend that he told me to shut up. I still feel bad about it even though this sort of thing happens to everyone sooner or later. I mostly feel that way because I specifically told myself - upon realizing that you can't walk through my door without it locking itself - that this ought to never, ever happen. The landlady even said "If you ever need an extra key just ring my door." (Challenge excepted.) Anyways, my friend put me up for the night and I slept so deeply and comfortably that it took me by surprise when I woke up the next day and instantly remembered everything. I told him that I owe him iced coffee until he graduates and, now that I think about it, crème fraîche until we go home. 

Other events in said eventful week include things we will not be able to attend. We wanted to make it to Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day but, during lunch break at work I realized that today is June 6th so that was automatically out. We also wanted to make it to Chartres on the annual pilgrimage I mentioned previously, but we have work on Monday. This means we are stuck with a variety of silly options such as walking part of the way on Saturday and turning around on Sunday without ever arriving to the cathedral. We also don't have sleeping bags which are kind of vital for the camping part. So, we're not going. 

All of that was sort of a downer I 'supose, but I think my relief at being back in the apartment softens the blow of the fallen-through plans. Also on the bright side, work has gotten more comfortable in the past few days and I have successfully (more or less...) completed one week in Paris. I could even simplify that statement to "I am in Paris" and it would still be something on the bright side. I reminded myself of that yesterday when we took the metro to my friend's apartment. Looking out the windows when the subway surfaced for a few stops, passing the numberless apartments and the Eiffel Tower itself, I had the tongue-in-cheek thought, "If I end up being homeless at least I'll be homeless in Paris, right?" 

These weekends will be the stuff I crave. With a 9:45 am - 6:30 pm work day five days a week there isn't much time to sightsee. Today another intern and I went on a quest for more drawing supplies and that was the first time I stepped outside besides going to the grocery store at lunch.* The city seemed so vivacious. The thing about Paris is that there are hundreds of architectural details on every block, so there's always something fascinating to be seen. There are boulangeries that smell heavenly, fish markets that reek, and when you pass the expensive restaurants with rich customers you can smell the euros. 

I'm excited for both staying in tonight and adventuring tomorrow. We might go to Versailles. We're not really sure yet. I am sure of one thing though - all in all, again, I cannot complain.  

*The grocery store which, by the way, I should just move into. J'habite à Franprix. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Settling into Montparnasse

Tomorrow I begin my internship so I anticipate that this will be the best time to write. I think it's safe to say that the hard part of this journey is over...the hard part being the actual journey. I made my descent into Charles de Gaulle on the Feast of the Ascension and miraculously met my friend there. I say miraculously because we had no means of contact and he arrived late, which thankfully was the moment that I walked out of customs. I was so dead the entire day that I blindly followed him around with no regard for my personal being. I didn't take in my surroundings, I didn't attempt to speak French, and I didn't eat. I felt really rough and the excessive subway rides only made me feel more disgusting. However, all negative feelings vanished for a duration when we stepped into Église Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile. It's kind of a wonky church, it has elements that look train station-esque, but it is gorgeous and the small sections of plaster damage make me nostalgic for my home parish in Baltimore. I was so out of it when we first entered that when I saw the organ I kept gushing over its radiant magnificence. After seeing a few other impressive organs it's not as wondrous but at the time it boggled my jetlagged mind.

I'd rather not recap the hassle and confusion of lodging the first day or two because everything is settled now. I really like my apartment even though I've had a taste of the neighbour's Saturday night raucous. Also, in the morning I was slightly amused by whoever was attempting to play scales on a recorder. The Wi-Fi is ages ahead of the Wi-Fi in Italy and I already was able to take a break and watch Charade, the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn classic set in Paris. No one can say my apartment lacks hot water. Also, the bathroom is what the bathroom in the Albergo dreams of being. Nothing is luxurious but it's exactly the functional, glorified closet I was searching for and there is a great supermarché a few strides down the block. I'm a fan of the building across the street too because it has more decorative pinecones on it than you would believe. It makes me happy because one of my favourite buildings in Piazza Navona was a museum at the South end decorated with lions holding pinecones in their mouths (a family symbol that I took a fancy to). 
Inside the door from the street but outside my apartment.
There are signs in French around the city outside historic buildings and there happens to be one outside my apartment complex. It explains that artists, especially those who left Montmartre at the turn of the century, have long lived and worked in these studios. The studio apartments were built by the architect Taberlet using recycled materials from the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris. Othon Friesz ("inspired by Gauguin and Van Gogh"), Giorgio de Chirico (who "met Apollinaire and Picasso"), and Rainer Maria Rilke ("Auguste Rodin's secretary") are among the creative minds who lived at this address. I'll be honest, I still have little idea who these particular artists and poets are but, cool nonetheless.
The neighbours outside. There also is the resident chat.
Friday marked my first solo expedition around Montparnasse. The expedition devolved into a successful quest for jus d'orange since I had woken up that morning with a sore throat. This weekend my friend and I wandered great distances through the city, stopped in many churches, waited in a horrendously long line for delicious ice cream*, noted the staggering amount of swags on the buildings, sat on the bank of the Seine, saw details we had never noticed before on the Louvre, ate falafel (so French, right?) in Place de Voges, and witnessed a dramatic sunset. We passed up entering Notre Dame because it was throbbing with cacophonous activity and tourists but, like at many of the sites, we said "we'll definitely be back".
There is much picnicking to be had here. Le Jardin du Luxembourg is a stone's throw from my place/the firm and there are countless other places in the city that are picnic perfect. Sit down restaurants will be avoided because of expense and besides, picnics are so much more fun. After Mass today we walked to Montmartre, bought brunch on the way, and picnicked halfway up the hill to Sacré Coeur on the grass. There we had the options of gazing at the cityscape and people watching. Someone walked down the entire hill standing on his hands...I can't believe he didn't break his neck!
We walked up to the basilica, said some prayers in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament, looped the church, said "we'll be back", and made our way down to the metro where we parted ways. Upon arriving at my apartment I made coffee and sat down at the laptop. So, here I am in the bright whiteness of my "studio" with overcast clouds visible through the skylights. I have the rest of the day to myself and I think I'll devote it to books. It just occurred to me that the rain on these skylights could make a beautiful sound in a storm...which looks like it might be coming. Well, I can't complain about a thing.
*Fridge, you and your 2€ chocolate-dipped glory will still always be my one true love back in Rome.