Monday, January 27, 2014

That one time I studied in Paris

I've been having fun lately revisiting some of my old photos and reminiscing about stories from yesteryear.  

I spent winter semester of 2006 in Paris on a study abroad.  I lived in the 11th on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir with my roommate Brooke (on the left in the first picture) at the home of Madame des Mazery and her balding dog, Igloo.

Igloo was some type of ancient miniature poodle who was losing all his hair.  I still remember learning the word for fur.  When Madame introduced us, she said "Le chien est Igloo.  Il perd ses poils."  And there I had it.  This is Igloo.  He's going bald.  It remains one of my favorite introductions of all time.

Igloo had various coats and sweaters for the damp Paris weather.  He had a Burberry rain coat and a puffy black down vest.  He was very stylish for a pup missing half his fur.

Madame des Mazery's first name was Claude.  I thought I'd misheard her for a few minutes because isn't Claude only a man's name?  Meh. Apparently not.  She was about 5 feet tall and probably 80 pounds, with frizzy hair to match Igloo's.  She cooked dinner for us three days a week, offered us ketchup with absolutely everything, and spoke no English whatsoever (I'm thinking this may just have been a ruse to get us to speak more French...).  

Brooke spoke one semester's worth of French (which is to say, none at all), so dinner conversations wore me out on a regular basis and went something like this: 

"Vous voulez du ketchup?" Would you like some ketchup.

Brooke, looking skeptically down at the salmon we've been served.  "No, merci Madame."

"Et que faisait vous aujourd'hui?"  What did you girls do today?

Me, trying desperately to describe a Ferris wheel without any of the necessary vocabulary, but lots of hand motions and sound effects.  "Uhhhhh, uhhhh,  nous....nous..." and lots of awkward pauses followed by an awkward use of tu/toi in a vous situation and maybe a time or two of calling my dog a bitch instead of a dog.  Perfect dinner table language, of course.  Sigh.  I would pay anything to go back and be a fly on the wall for those dinners.  

At least it forced me into learning how to speak real French.

I also learned a lot about French current events.  Madame spent most of her day watching the news.  She'd sit in front of the TV with her headphones on, glued to the screen for hours at a time.  We were there during some of the car-burning riots and she was riveted to the updates.  One day we came home to eat dinner with her and she could do nothing but sit at the table looking exhausted.  We asked her what was wrong and she explained that she was much too tired to eat because she'd been watching the news all day long without a break. 

Gotcha.  The news can be very tiring.

Anyhow.  Aside from school and awkward dinners with Madame des Mazery, I spent my time gallivanting around the city with my friends.  I spent the majority of my time with a group of five or six other students, and we had what will go down in history as the best semester of all time.  We ate baguettes and chocolate for breakfast, baguettes and cheese for lunch, and crepes for dinner.  We explored the latin quarter, went to underground jazz clubs, sang to Jim Morrison at his grave, got stuck in the metro doors, accidentally went to a topless ballet, made multiple daily trips to the pastry shop, met crazy people on the night trains, and generally kept ourselves quite entertained.  

I'm ready to go back for round two.  Who wants to join me?


  1. I loved reading this abroad really was SO fabulous, wasn't it? Sigh. (Though I wish I would have hung out with you more!)

    Also, I went to the topless ballet too!! I remember thinking, "Wait, are those decorative elements on a costume bodice or....nipples???" Ha ha!

    1. I know! I feel like I only have a few pictures with you in them. Grrr. I wish I hadn't been so shy!

      And yeah, that topless ballet was a surprise...not that ballerinas have anything in that area to flaunt...

  2. ah, le sigh. I get nostalgic every year at this time.

    1. Me too! I say we all need a reunion!

  3. Hi Rachel--I know this is completely crazy and out of the blue but I spent last spring living with Claude. I googled her name to find the zipcode and your blog popped up--it was too funny not to post. I'm actually also from DC but I'm a student at UW-Madison, which is how i ended up in France. Anyway, hi--I hope you had an amazing time in Paris and that you make it back some day soon.

    1. What a small world! Did she still have Igloo? Was he still balding?

      I've been back to Paris a few times since, but it's just never the same as when I lived there. It was truly magical on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir :)

    2. Unfortunately no Igloo, I think he passed away about 6 months before I got there...I agree about the magic--there's no other city in the world like it and no feeling like wandering so freely through the little winding streets