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I’m walking though a new section of Paris on my way to the library now, and it’s rather different than the streets I took to the Opéra library. For one thing, I think I’m walking though part of the fashion district (I’m on the rue Réanmur), because every store I go by has the following two signs somewhere: Fabricant (which means maker) and On ne vend pas au detail (which I think means they don’t sell to individuals). Apparently for spring you can expect a lot of pink and green, with crinkly thin fabric and a ton of sequins sewed onto your skirt. Of course, if you took European fashion as a given, you’d be wearing skirts with tulip bottoms (quite straight until just past your bum, then six or eight flares with a great deal of fabric and possibly a handkerchief hem) and either pointy-toed or sneaker-like boots. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Fashionwise, anyhow.

The other thing that’s different about this area is that, at least along Réanmur, it appears to be very much a business district; if anyone lives here, they must live on the side streets, because the Réanmur buildings are office buildings for sure. However, around the square that both the BN-Musique and the BN-Richelieu front, there are several residential buildings. Well, since I can’t imagine an office squeezing six or ten potted plants onto a balcony (or should I say an outcropping edged in wrought iron), I’ll assume they’re apartments.

The square (which has a large fountain – not running now, of course) used to be the site of an opera house (the eighth, apparently) and is now the site of my lunch. Today, because it’s quite cold, I ate my lunch with my mittens on. There are a few chairs just outside the door of the reading room where today I saw two women eating their lunch – proof that the French do indeed pack lunches from home and don’t always eat baguettes – and I may try that spot tomorrow as the projected high is around 3 Celsius.

The other thought that has occurred to me lately is this: if I ever moved to Paris, and I wanted a car, I would find a place to park my car that was so far out of the city I would never have to drive here. Although it’s quite safe to be a pedestrian, a passenger or driver in Paris is really taking their life into their own hands. Drivers have no real concept of ‘lanes’ – if there is room they try to fit into the spot. Motorcycles and mopeds are by far the worst, because they are small and maneuverable. I have seen them cross three lanes of traffic, turn perpendicular to the flow of traffic to get around a stopped car and then zoom off again, weaving in every direction. When I cross the street in the morning at the Place de la Republique, there are five lanes of traffic approaching. From any of the left-most three lanes, people will go either straight or try to turn left through the Place on the next street. Sometimes they try to do this at the same time. Some of the people in the right-most two lanes are trying to squeeze into the three lanes, and some are turning. It’s an absolute nightmare.

And then there are bike lanes there. Yes, for bicycles. Tonight two cyclists were going through the Place and a SmartCar (one of those Mercedes little cars) behind them (really no wider than the two bikes side-by-side) was honking madly. Yet he was driving in their lane.

So, I think not only would I not have a car, I might not have a bike either. Oh, for the lovely bike paths of Holland, where you have your own traffic signals (although not at all corners)!

Actually, watching drivers in Paris makes me yearn for the leisure days of driving in Toronto. How very relaxing that seems now! But in Toronto it’s unlikely that I would suddenly come upon a street market and be able to buy some pre-cooked chicken for supper. No, for that I would have to go to the grocery store.

A bientôt!
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in the clandestine consummation of cheese. I want to maximize my time in the library, so I only take a short lunch (which I usually bring with me), but typically by about 4 p.m. I’m really hungry. So instead of taking a break and leaving the library, I sneak a Babybel out of my knapsack and find a quiet corner to eat it in. This was much easier at the Opéra library, because it was part of the opera house which is full of out-of-the-way corners; the BN-Musique, not so much.

The reading room has places for about 50 people, most of which were filled yesterday. Their card catalogues take up half again as much space, and then across the back of the room you find the microfilm/microfiche reading area, and several computers. It isn’t, however, as beautiful as the Opéra library, neither inside nor out.

The building is an office building kitty-corner from the BN-Richelieu (which is a forbidding building at the moment: its stonework is a dirty grey and the upper level is enclosed in mesh all along the rue du Richeliu; I don’t know why). There’s one entrance in, and only one of the three glass doors is for incoming. A guard sits there, inside a wicket, and she told me that the BN-Musique is on the cinquième étage: that means not the fifth floor, as in Canada, but actually the sixth. I didn’t see the elevators, so I climbed the stairs. I was a little out of breath by the top, but since it’s all the goal of avoiding pain-au-chocolat-related weight gain, it’s all good. There actually are elevators, but they have room-type doors on them, so they just looked like rooms to me.

Once in the reading room, they assigned me a place; I began to set up and then they came around giving us keys to lockers so we could stow our bags, something I had never had to do at the Opéra library. There are only about 30 lockers, so you want to arrive early! Otherwise, the room feels very secure and many people left their computers at their desks while they checked the catalogue or read a microfilm.

There’s one more floor in the building about the reading room, but the room itself is open to the second floor, with a skylight giving additional light – and noise! Yesterday it rained for the first time since I’ve been in Paris, and the sound of the raindrops hitting the plastic skylights was like the sound of sleet. I was prepared for the worst when I went outside at 6 p.m., but in fact it was hardly raining at all. It is cold now, though – just above freezing, so I suppose sleet is a possibility! It snowed while I was in Holland, but it didn’t stay.

Last night I stocked up on groceries; at the Monoprix it seemed as though half my neighbourhood had or was having the same thought: there were long lines at the checkout, and the shelves were very picked over. That’s probably because many stores are closed on Sunday, and some, like the bakery just on the corner, are closed both Saturday and Sunday. But now I have food once again for the rest of week (very un-French of me, but I just don’t have the time to shop every day!)

A bientôt!
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Hello all, just a quick entry to let you know I'm back in Paris after my jaunt to Holland. I had two lovely days in Den Haag with Mat and Pat, and two lovely days in Leerdam with Eef and Teus. You already know the things I did in Den Haag; Eef and Teus took me to Utrecht Saturday, where I climbed the Dom Tower (only to 75 metres, though, it was very windy) and we took a canal boat tour. Yesterday we visited Eef's son, Harram, and had a lovely lunch at Teus's apartment. Then it was back on the train to return to Paris. I enjoyed the trip very much, but the hard part was leaving people I know and going back to where, really, I don't know anyone. I was quite homesick, until I started figuring out how many days I have left for research and realized there's only two weeks -- now I am once again worried I won't have enough time. I am planning one more excursion: to Lyon and Marseille, to check their collections. My opera was definitely performed in Lyon, and according to their catalog, the copy of the opera they have was owned by a prominent person in the musical community there. Also, Lyon is in the mountains, so that accomplishes two goals in one trip!

I will post again tomorrow; hopefully something a little longer. I am going to the BN-Musique this week, so no more Trio Viennoiseries from McDonald's for me. I have found a cafe with free wireless, and will be drinking much cappucino instead.

A bientot!
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I have just had the best afternoon ever! Mat and I biked out to Scheveningen this afternoon and we had a blast! Biking in Holland was so much fun, and I really hope to do it again sometime in the future -- and I am totally going to buy a bike when I get home. Plus we had a delicious snack at the pier (an applestrudel with vanilla sauce and slagroom (or whipped cream)). All-in-all, an awesome afternoon!

A bientot!
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Well, here I am in Den Haag, sitting in luxurious comfort in Mat and Pat's little apartment. I say little, but in fact it's quite big, with nine- or ten-foot ceilings, a big main room (about the size of my own living room, and a quite big bedroom. Perhaps the funniest thing (for people who haven't been to Europe) is the washroom: one separate room for the toilet (one of Dad's favourite styles, the 'shelf') and one room for the shower and sink. There's a boxed in section partway down the exterior wall which I'm pretty sure is an old fireplace.

I'm here by myself because Pat is still at work and Mat has had to go to a class at the Conservatory (still as disorganized as ever). Earlier today I took the train up from Paris. I think, somehow, I ended up in first class: the seats were arranged two and one (I sat in a single), and they fed us twice between Paris and Den Haag. The breakfast was typically European: bread, yogurt, some cheese (quite nice really) and two pieces of shaved luncheon meat, one of which smelled (and tasted) like old shoes. Old plastic shoes. Old plastic shoes that had been dipped in the Thames, and then left to dry and grow mould. In fact, almost exactly like my water shoes that I used for dragonboat practice last year. Blech.

Mat was waiting for me in the station and whisked me away by tram to his apartment; after some tea, we went back out, to the Koningbibliothek where I hoped to find scores to Hesione (and I did). It's a lovely new library that just opened its music section in September. The reading room is very nice; it has a long window (with an entryway) and lots of gloves handy for when you open the rare books. (In Paris I have yet to see a set of gloves.) I was able to look at one book of Hesione, and one microfiche (Euw, microfiche!). Interestingly, though, this library also has two other operas I'm interested in on fiche, and since the cost to reproduce the fiche onto paper is only 0.10 euros per page, I am planning to get the scenes I want from those operas on paper tomorrow. This ought to save me about 200 euros in microfilming costs in Paris.

Then Mat and I walked around downtown Den Haag, made some plans for tomorrow (like potentially a trip out to see Schenveningen) and just generally had a good time. Den Haag has some lovely architecture, some nice shopping areas, and lots of interesting buildings. Hopefully we will get to see some more of them tomorrow!

A bientot!
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I am definitely too Anglo for Paris. I'm in McDonalds, having my daily sundae, and I'm SURROUNDED by teenagers making out. Don't these people have homes to go to? Plus, McDonald's is not my idea of a romantic rendez-vous ... yet here they are! Maybe I just picked a bad time of day.

In the meanwhile, I've finished my research at the Opera, and I even had time today to poke around the opera house a little more. It's absolutely gorgeous, and I would definitely recommend a stop the next time any of you are in Paris. I think I'm going to miss the Opera library: it was just a little quirky (like the way the librarians shook your hand when they started their shift, or the one librarian who sang all the time) but I did manage to get some photos of the reading room today, so hopefully I can explain it when I get home!

Tomorrow I leave for Den Haag at the ungodly early hour of 6:55 am -- and I have to be at the station early in order to get my ticket validated. What was I thinking? Oh yes, that that way I could get to Den Haag by 10:30 and have lots of time at the library. Who knows what I will find there?

I will try and update from Den Haag, but otherwise look for me on Monday morning, when I begin my attack on the BN-Musique!

A bientot!
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1. If the sidewalk is wet, it’s probably not raining.

Every morning certain areas of sidewalk get hosed down by a machine. I don’t know what the pattern behind it is, but it keeps the streets very clean. And you really notice when the washers haven’t been by.

2. When Parisians cross the street, so should you.

Although many people suggest Paris is not a safe city in which to be a pedestrian, if you watch the natives, you can cross the street in record time. The walk/don’t walk signals are more guidelines here than actual rules. If people can cross, they will – and when they go, you might as well too.

3. Even Parisian women can make bad fashion choices.

I’m not kidding here: I saw a sixty-year-old woman today with a fuschia scarf made up of tiny balls of fur and white 80s boots. It was a scary sight. But she was very proud of her ensemble.

4. If you do step in something on the street, it’s probably what you think it is.

Especially if the sidewalk is dry.

5. Sometimes the kitchen is closed when the restaurant is open.

Today I stopped at a café that promised free internet access (the McDonald’s wireless wouldn’t connect this morning). When I tried to order supper, I was told that the kitchen was closed until 6:00 p.m. (it was just after 5). On the waiter’s recommendation I ordered a chicken curry salad, and it was excellent. How did they make it without a kitchen? I have no idea.

6. Things are closer than you think.

It only takes me 25 minutes to walk from my apartment to the Opéra; 20 minutes from the Opéra to the Seine; 25 minutes from the Seine back to my apartment. So I’m glad that when I thought about paying 50 euros for a month’s travel on the Metro, I decided that it would be better to buy the carnet, 10 tickets (for 10 euros) at a time. I haven’t even finished my first carnet yet; and I probably won’t be done with it until I come back from Holland.

7. Your French skills will surprise you.

Sometimes in a bad way: today I wanted to make paper copies of a microfilm in the library and I could not think of how to ask the librarian to help me. I stammered through something until she kindly interrupted with “Une personne qui vous aider?” On the other hand, Olivier’s phone just rang and I had an entire (albeit brief) conversation in French. So you just never know when you will remember something helpful.

8. Even Parisian carry a street map of Paris.

So don't worry that consulting yours will make you look like a tourist.

I may not post again until next week, because on Thursday I’m off to Holland for a few days.

A bientôt!
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Today was my day at the Louvre. As I’m getting used to the city, and figuring out how far distances are on the super-handy map Rick lent me, I’ve been doing more walking, and so I walked down to the Louvre today. I wanted to get there at 9, because 1) that’s when it opened and 2) today is a free admission day (the first Sunday of every month), so I expected a line (which there was, but much later – I have pictures!). At first I went down the wrong street, but I soon corrected myself and had quite an enjoyable stroll down to Les Halles, past the Eglise Ste-Eustache (which is a very impressive-looking church from the outside). And as I walked I thought: Paris is kind of boring.
Well, it’s not so much that it’s boring, but it’s just that every section I’ve walked through has basically been the same: beautiful old seven, eight, and nine story buildings with narrow, tall windows with ironwork over the bottom sections. The ground levels are shops: bakeries, butchers, luggage places, motorcycle dealerships, etc. The sidewalks range from wide enough for a very skinny person to wide enough for several skinny people; sometimes they are crowded and sometimes they’re deserted. But one very good thing about the way that Paris is laid out is that every section has people living in it. As you go down the street, there are giant doors in between the shops, some with keypads, some with buzzers. These lead into courtyards, which lead to apartments (like the one I’m staying in). So, even though there are parts of the street where there aren’t very many stores, there are still people living in the neighbourhood. There are small parks all around (very important especially for the many Parisian who have dogs – in fact, today I saw a St. Bernard, and how that dog could ever fit into an apartment like mine I have no idea), groceries and other good stores on every street, and cars jammed in however they can fit, wherever they are allowed (right up to the street corner, in most cases).
The Louvre itself is a mighty big place. When I visited before I was mostly interested in their copy of the 1700 portrait of Louis XIV by court painter Hyacinthe Rigaut (I wonder if he got teased a lot, with that first name). However, today the 18th- and 19th-century French paintings were closed, so I couldn’t make a return visit. Instead I checked out the 17th-century French sculpture (as well as some doleful-looking earlier stuff), Grecian sculpture (including the Venus de Milo & the Winged Victory of Samothrace), the Napoleon III apartments (the most fuschia I’ve ever seen in home decorating), the Code of Hammurabi, the Monna Lisa (that’s how the Louvre spells it, and who am I to argue) – oh, and a bunch of other French objects d’art (including Louis XV’s crown jewels). That took about four and a half hours. Some of it, like the Venus and the Monna Lisa, you simply couldn’t stop and look at: you could only join the parade of people and pass by it. I think maybe, if you came right at 9 am, and made a beeline straight for one of them, you might actually be able to have a few moments to really see it; otherwise, you just have to hope that some of the art rubs off on you as you rush by.
By the time I was finished I was tired and hungry, but I had made up my mind to try tea at the “Mariage Frères”, supposedly the best tea-shop in Paris according to the Lonely Planet. When I got there, though, I was mightly surprised: they were serving brunch for anywhere between 35 to 40 euros (and I had thought the Louvre was expensive at 8.40 euros for a sandwich, drinks and some chips!). The tea-room was wicked busy, and I didn’t feel like exercising my French asking for this and that, so I nipped across the street to their tea shop, where I bought some loose tea to try. Then I sauntered around the corner and had a croque-monsieur (a sandwich with cheese & ham, broiled) and a drink, for much less than 35 euros! Then, tired and footsore, I trundled home along the rue des Archives (passing right past the Archives Nationales, although I don’t think I saw a door). I managed to make it home well before sunset, which meant that I could open the window shades and see my apartment in natural light, which made for a very nice change.

A bientôt!
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Another successful day at the Opéra, which is pretty cool, all things considered. I ate my lunch today on the steps of the Opéra house, along with about fifty other Parisians. But for SOME REASON, although the pigeons didn’t bother anyone else, they flocked to me. Why is it that birds that live off what people drop (such as pigeons or ducks) always follow me around? Do I look like that much of a soft touch? Anyway, I took a picture of the pigeons as they crowded around.

Okay, I threw them one TINY crumb from my sandwich. One TINY crumb! Okay, and then I threw another.

I guess it’s just my own fault.

And tonight I walked home from the library; it took about 25 minutes, and that includes a picture stop for some giant arch I passed (built by Louis XIV of course) which just reared up out of nowhere. It was quite a pleasant walk; the street was quite busy, lots of stores & people, but the weather has finally warmed up a little and since the sun came out today (finally) I thought I’d better make the best of it.

Then I stopped by Monoprix on my way home. It’s a combination department and grocery store, and would take a lot longer to go through than I could spend today. My first shopping excursion was to Franprix, which is in the opposite direction of the Monoprix. Franprix reminded me very much of the grocery store Susanne and I shopped at in New York; more like a beefed-up convenience store than a grocery store like we’re used to. Monoprix was more like a Canadian grocery store, except, of course, that you can’t buy anything at all like we have at home. Crackers, for instance, are impossible to find; they have rusks, and Wasa, and I did find saltines, but that’s it. No Ritz, no Wheat Thins, no Breton. And they don’t have oatmeal – at least, if they do, it’s not in the cereal aisle. And in their cereal, if they can, they stick chocolate. Actually, they stick chocolate into almost anything, if they think they can get away with it, it seems. But I resisted the chocolate and bought pistachio ice cream, for something different.

I made a lovely dinner tonight: chicken, potatoes, and green beans – and there’s enough chicken for tomorrow as well.

While my dinner was cooking, I watched “Stargate” in French, followed by “The Pretender” (also in French) – in fact, all the stations I get are in French. The news isn’t until 8:00 on most stations, and up until then they’re mostly busy showing very odd game shows – one with a person in a recliner, surrounded by flame jets, seems particularly bizarre. In the morning, one station has a morning news show, while the rest show “Dora the Explorer” and suchlike. At night, they show movies. I started watching one the other night: there was a woman whose son was dating a woman who was doing drugs and then the son disappeared and something happened to his girlfriend and for some reason the mom went to jail, and yeah, after that I don’t know. So tonight, instead of listening to French TV, I’m listening to Avril Lavigne (she has a French last name, that’s got to count).

The library is open tomorrow, so I’ll be spending most of my Saturday there – but as I’m quickly getting to the end of the books I brought with me, after it closes I’m going to take an excursion to the 5th arrondissement to the “Abbey Bookshop,” which is, apparently, owned by Canadians, and carries a good selection of new and used English books. Provided the Lonely Planet is up-to-date, of course.

A bientôt!
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A change in operating procedure: I’m writing this in my apartment, and will attempt to post it later today. It was such a relief to have a working connection and know that I could be in contact with all of you, and it was consequently very disappointing both to lose the connection just as I finished the entry, and, for some reason, not be able to send outgoing email. I have some outbound messages in my Outlook mailbox, but I may have to (shudder) rely on my webmail. Which is a total pain in the ass.

Anyway, my trip so far: The flight was fine: about seven-and-a-half hours. I slept for about three of them, which is pretty good for me on a plane. We landed at Charles de Gaulle airport, which is very 70s in style: the planes dock at mini-terminals which are connected to the main terminal (where you get your baggage) by enormous moving sidewalks. The airport wasn’t very clean or well-maintained, but the transit between terminals was very efficient, and the train ride into town was a breeze. I met a girl on the train who was visiting Paris for the first time (an artist from Portland), and so, although I had meant to take a taxi from the train station to my apartment, I decided to take the Metro, since she was going in the same direction. However, once we got into the Gare du Nord, and were looking at the subway map, a Frenchman came along and took her with him. I hope she got to her hostel!

I found my apartment without too much trouble, and it’s a little bigger than I expected. The door is on one end of the apartment, and you enter right into the living/dining room, which takes up about 2/3 of the length and width of the apartment. At the end of the living room is the bedroom, which is the full width of the apartment, and has a very comfortable bed, with three kinds of pillows to choose from. Heading back towards the door is the bathroom, which you enter from the middle of the living room; it’s quite long and that’s where the all-in-one washer/dryer is. Last is the kitchen, which is about twice the size of my storage room in London. It has a tiny fridge (comparatively speaking), an oven, and a tiny stove; there is lots of cutlery and dishes, but no whisk or ladle for some reason.

Yesterday was my first day working at the BN-Opera. The library is in the Palais Garnier, which is the opera house that was the inspiration for “The Phantom of the Opera.” (In fact, they have a display about it in the museum of the Opera.) You can walk through some of the bookshelves: it’s like being in part of the library from “Beauty and the Beast.” The reading room is absolutely gorgeous – it hardly seems like a library at all. It’s about three stories high, with giant marble columns and giltwork, and three enormous gold chandelier for lights. The middle one even has an Imari vase as its centerpiece. I must confess, I spent a bit of time yesterday just looking around, but since I was there from 10 until 5, I don’t think I lost too much time. And I’m sure by the time I’m finished there I will be totally indifferent to it all. Hmph. As if.

The weather in Paris is cool (just under 10 degrees Celsius) but that wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so damp! And my wonderful new coat, which keeps me dry from without, is keeping me wet from within, as it doesn’t seem to breathe very well. I stopped in a McDonalds close to the train station on Wednesday (I picked up my tickets to Holland for next week) and thought I must have dropped my coat on the floor; the lining was soaked. However, I soon realized it was the coat and not me that was making the problem. But it keeps me warm, so I won’t complain too much.

I can’t believe that it’s almost the end of my first week in Paris – only three more to go! I miss everyone and hope to hear from you often.
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I found a good connection to the internet, but just as I finished typing my giant entry and getting ready to post, I got cut off -- and the post disappeared. However, now that I know where I'm going, I'll put up something better tomorrow.
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Just a quick note (because these keyboards are a little weird) to let you all know that I've arrived safely and will be starting my research tomorrow. I am still trying to find a place where I can connect using my computer -- the signal at McDonalds was very weak -- and then I'll post more. Stupid French keyboards.


Jan. 30th, 2005 07:43 am
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Hurray! This was so easy, and I'm glad that D and T suggested that I do it. Here I hope to keep in touch with all of you about what's happening while I'm away. I still plan to send emails and postcards, but this way everyone can check in.

In the meantime, the packing update is as follows: I have a few things thrown into the suitcase to get them out of my way, but I have a list of what I want to pack. More things will be put into the suitcase as the laundry gets finished this morning. I have a few more little things I need to pick up (a jogging strap for the Discman, for example) which I plan to get this afternoon. Then, if I'm lucky, dinner at Swiss Chalet, a fretful night's sleep, and tomorrow the final rush.

I can't believe that in 48 hours I'll be in Paris!

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