Monday, August 31, 2009


So far, so good. Everything is going fine as an au pair. I have only been living with the French family for a few days and my French skills are already improving... as a means of survival. This family is wonderful. They are always trying to make me feel at home and the children are already pretty comfortable with me. I spent all day with just the kids. We had fun, but it was pretty exhausting at times, especially since it was the first day their mother has worked in a month (ahhh... the life of the French... why wouldn't you take the entire month of August off?). Anyway, I am learning little phrases and my throaty "R" is improving, thanks to the help of the six-year-old. Who would have thought a six-year-old would be my next French teacher. It is easier communicating with the children than I thought because their language is more simple than that of the adults. This is true except when they are all yelling at the same time, two with pacifiers in their mouths, all in French. I just have to tell them to stop and that I do not understand and then they actually take turns talking. I have all day tomorrow and Wednesday with the kids and then school starts. YES! OUI!!! I will probably have more fun stories then when I have more time to myself and have the energy and time to venture out more. 

Crystal and I met up yesterday and sat and ordered drinks with Jacques, our Parisian taxi driver friend. We then went for a nice walk around the Bastille area and tried to find a garden walk. We ending up not finding what we originally set out to find, but we found something else (another garden walk), and had a nice time together. 

Oh, for those of you not familiar with what's currently popular in Paris, "coucou" is the new casual "hello." Sylvain said "salut" (the old casual greeting) was out, and coucou is in. Once Crystal said something to me about it, it was like the gates were opened and everyone started saying it to me, even the kids! And yes, it is just like the bird. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

FYI... I'm at my home for the next year

This morning, I moved into my new home. Like you all know, I am now an au pair. I met the family and they seem very nice. The mother and father, Sophie and Emmanuel, are very kind. The children are adorable and they have already warmed up to me in the four hours since I arrived. They sang "Itsy, Bitsy, Spider" to me when I arrived and they loved it when I sang along with them. 

I am very glad that I am living with a French family. I think this is the best way for me to learn the language and culture. The children know a few words in English, but they speak almost exclusively French with me. It can be confusing when there are three little French voices talking to you, but I am figuring it out. I know I will learn the language very fast here. The parents know some English, which is nice when I do not understand, but they know less than I thought. 

I am already venturing into the world of different, sometimes a bit scary, food. Some people know that I tend to be pretty picky with food, especially meat, but I have decided to try it all. When in France... Right? Anyway, for lunch today, Sophie prepared Caspacio. I'm not exactly sure what it was, but it looked like a thin slice of raw beef with some light dressing, lettuce, avocado, cheese, and mushrooms sprinkled over the top. Honestly, it was delicious.

My room is nice. It is the only bedroom downstairs. I have a comfy bed, lots of shelves for my stuff, a little cafe table and chairs, and a wall of windows. So far, so good! The children just went down for a nap, so I have a little quiet time to relax and get organized. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Magnificent Sunset

In life, when you have a chance to sit down and smell the roses, breathe deeply. Normally my life goes by so fast that I forget to sit back and basque in the magnificence of this world. Every now and then, when the stars seem to dance on a crisp winter night, or when the water is even bluer than you imagined it could possibly be, I stop and try to appreciate the beauty which surrounds me. Today, I spent my evening on the terrace of the foyer. This has become a little habit of mine. Who wouldn't make a habit out of watching the sunset behind the Eiffel Tower? It is nights like tonight that I am certain life does not just happen by chance. This beauty is so perfect that I know there must be a reason for it. From the perfection in each flower to the infinite colors held in the sky while watching the sun fall below the horizon, I see something greater than just us at work. 
The sunset tonight was one I hope I can always remember because it could not have been more perfect. I got to the terrace around 8:15 while the sun was still shining over the Western skyline of Paris. Within a matter of minutes, it made it's way to the point of the highest hill and disappeared, leaving a hot red and sizzling pink where it had just been. Then coming out from these middle colors flowed oranges, yellows, hints of green, sky blue, and then just over my head it eased into a deep, royal purple. There were only wisps of clouds that hung low in the sky far away, and the slight breeze and temperature deemed only a light sweater necessary for comfort. The sun eventually set around 8:40, and then with the sky ablaze in color, the Eiffel Tower sparkled twenty minutes later. It was truly breathtaking. As time passed, the sky filled with darkness and I could see the Big Dipper dimly lit in the sky. 
The almost-half moon hung low to my left. The moon always reminds me that my grandmother is watching over me. I looked down at my ring and smiled. It was the ring of my grandmother's mother, and it makes me think of my mother and grandmother, some of my most treasured people. I tried and tried to catch the sunset in a picture, but my camera was unable to capture what my eyes saw. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Peacefulness of Paris

Today I went for a peaceful walk all by myself. For my birthday, my mother bought me a little box filled with 50 walks in Paris. I decided today would be a perfect day to do the first. The weather was perfect...slighty overcast and a comfortable temperature which helped me decide to wear a short-sleeve top and twirly skirt (Heidi and Greta know what I'm talking about when I refer to my twirling skirt). My walk took me through the original heart of the city, the island known as Ile de la Cite, where wonderful things like Notre Dame (photo above), Sainte Chapelle, Palais de Justice, and the Conciergerie are located. While a portion of my walk did put me in areas filled with tourists, some of it took me through peaceful little streets that look as if they have been untouched for centuries. These charming little streets I am referring to seem barely wide enough for a single car and are paved in cobblestone. On these streets, I was oftentimes the only person, being that they were off the beaten tourist path. I felt so at peace to be strolling down these paths, and then along the river Seine. The "walk" from my notecard ended on Pont Neuf, Paris's oldest bridge. I always giggle when I see this bridge. I find the faces on it so amusing. 
I decided to climb down the stairs to sit along the river. For nearly an hour, I dangled my feet on the slant next to the river and read my book. In a city so full of people, I felt so at peace, as if I was in my own little world. This peacefulness surrounded by beauty and history is just another reason why I love it over here. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Day Full of Walking

Yesterday, Crystal and I walked all day long...seriously. After I grabbed some breakfast and took a shower, Crystal met me at the foyer (the place I am staying) where we left for Montmartre. Montmartre is the area of Paris where I lived last year where Sacre Coeur, a beautiful basilica, is located. 
We took the Metro, which had a LONG winding staircase and then walked the bazillion steps to Sacre Coeur. Something really cool about Sacre Coeur is that you can see it from very far away because it is situated on a hill.  No matter how many times I see Sacre Coeur, I am always amazed by its beauty and uniqueness.

After checking out the area surrounding Sacre Coeur, Crystal and I continued our walk of my old stomping grounds by making our way down to Pigalle, Paris's red light district, home of the famous Moulin Rouge. Honestly, if you ever make it to Pigalle, you must realize that it is filled with sex shops and things you are not used to seeing in public. With that in mind, it is necessary to just laugh and enjoy your time. Crystal and I, as always, did exactly that. 
These rare treasures are our old favorites located at Pigalle's erotic museum...
They are just a few of the tamer things one comes across in this colorful area. 

After walking around Montmartre for hours, we decided to go somewhere to cool off. There are not many places to just go swimming in Paris, but there are plenty of fountains. There are even some where you can play. Right away, Trocadero came to mind. PERFECT view of the Eiffel Tower. It was so nice there. We felt like children playing in the water. 
We relaxed for maybe a half hour with our feet in the water, contemplating where to go next. Since we were in the general area of my future home, we decided to check it out. The area is very residential... no tourist attractions that I know of. It is peaceful and nice. I'm going to live in a fire house!!! 

After that, Crystal and I decided we had had enough walking and would just check to see if one of our favorite wine bars was open on our way back to the foyer (it was closed last summer during the month of August because the owners were on holiday). Anyway, as soon as we got off the Metro, Crystal received a call from Sylvain asking if we wanted to join him and his brother Maxime. Bien sur! Of course! I was so excited. These guys are great. It turns out they were only a few streets away drinking Coca-Cola Lights at a little cafe in front of the Odeon Theater. We sat and chatted with the boys and then decided to go for a walk. Haha. As if we hadn't walked enough. We walked to a fun area of Paris called Le Marais. There is lots of history in this area (of course, just like most of Paris). Eventually, after lots of exploring we made our way back down Boulevard Saint-Michel to the foyer in order to take my luggage to Sylvain's apartment where it is being stored for the next week. 

Crystal and I said "Au revoir!" to the boys and headed back to the foyer for some food and relaxation on the terrace. It was the perfect night for it. The sky was beautiful and the food hit the spot, even though it was fast food. At one point, the Eiffel Tower was sparkling and the sky possessed every color of the rainbow. This was our view...
We ended the night speaking French with my friend from the previous night. 

What a perfect, exhausting day!!!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reasons why I love it

I love Paris. Everyone who reads this blog knows that. It's pretty obviously. In the past, many people have asked me, sometimes with slightly disgusted faces, why I like Paris. "Isn't it dirty?" "Someone I know told me it smells." "Don't the French hate us?" "They don't even shave their pits." These comments/questions oftentimes come up in conversations involving Paris while in the United States. Yes, it is true, some people have had bad experiences over here. Maybe they were being loud and obnoxious and were treated badly by an annoyed Parisian. Or perhaps they don't enjoy being in large cities. Maybe they had to rush through the city and didn't get a change to really relax and soak it all in. Whatever. After all of the comments, I try to explain why I love being here. I explain that yes, it is dirty in some areas. Yes, sometimes it can definitely smell, especially people in the Metro. And yes, I am sure there are some that dislike Americans and don't shave their armpits. However, the same things could be said of many cities. Cities can be dirty in certain areas, some people stink, some people refuse to shave, and yes, I've met plenty of Americans who dislike the French. Their reason for disliking the French usually has something to do with the French disliking Americans. It's a vicious circle. I then tell them why I truly love it...the culture, the language, the architecture, the history, the food, etc. 

For myself, I decided to make a list of why I love Paris. During my time here, I'm sure I will continue to discover my reasons. Here is what I have from today's adventures. 

1) Beautiful churches everywhere. Today I went to the grocery store to get a few food items to keep in my room. As I walked down Boulevard Saint-Michel, I discovered that the only grocery store I knew of was not as close as I had originally believed. After a while, I came back to my room, went on the internet, etc., and decided I needed to get back outside and explore. My main goal was to find a closer grocery store. I quickly did and just kept walking. I then came to a famous horse fountain and turned down a street. I walked a little more and then came to a small alley, which after several twists and turns led me right to a beautiful church that I had never even heard of. Isn't it beautiful? 
It is called the Eglise du Val-de-Grace, which means something like "Valley of Grace Church." Anyway, I had never heard of it or seen it, and here it was, not a person around. It is from the seventeenth century. This is not the first time I have come upon a monument by mistake. It happens all of the time. In Paris, there are so many things to see that many things get left out to the average tourist trying to squeeze everything into a short period of time. 

2) Speaking French. This evening around ten o'clock, I decided to go to the terrace to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Every hour starting I think at 9 p.m. (maybe 10) it sparkles for a few minutes. It turns out that i was too late. However, as I sat there by myself in the dark staring at that beautiful golden tower and the rest of the glowing monuments visible from my rooftop, my mood quickly changed as a very kind Frenchman pulled up his seat next to me. Right away we started talking. He is from Cannes, "like the film festival," he told me in his thick French accent. For about an hour I spoke French with this guy who wanted nothing more than to practice his English and meet someone in a city where he knew few people. It was just fun to practice and he helped me with words that I did not know. I did the same for him. Anyway, I stayed up there long enough to see the tower sparkle at 11. It always takes my breath away. After the terrace closed, I came back down to my room feeling satisfied with my slight progress. Every little bit counts. I even learned a new French word that I still cannot pronounce. Scintillement. It apparently means "to sparkle."

I could go on all night about why I love Paris, but I think it might be more fun to add things with each encountered experience. 

I'm finally in Paris!

I arrived in Paris yesterday afternoon. So far, everything has been wonderful. 

My friend Crystal has a friend who drives a taxi in Paris named Jacques. Jacques is a very kind Frenchman. They picked me up at the airport and instead of taking me directly to where I am staying, he took me on a little tour of the city. Any of you who know anything about Paris driving probably fear the Etoile, a traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe where 12 roads come together. Of course, being a Paris taxi driver, Jacques took me right there, and then down the Champs Elysees, and basically all over Paris. I got to see most of my favorite monuments before I even dropped off my luggage! Plus, this taxi ride from the airport was free! Merci Jacques.

I am staying at a student dormitory/hostel thing for the next few days until the family I will be an au pair for arrives on the 31st of August. It is a wonderful place. I found out about it through Crystal because she stayed here last summer. It is right on Boulevard Saint-Michel, across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. In fact, I went for a run in the gardens this morning! BEAUTIFUL! Where I am currently staying, there is a terrace at the top of the building with an exquisite view of Paris. I am actually on the terrace right now soaking up some sun, looking up every now and again to take in the city. This is my view...

Amazing, isn't it?! 

Last night, Crystal was able to stay with me and we decided to really make a night out of it. My friend Sylvain invited us to join him and some of his friends at a hip new bar called Rosa Bonheur. We went and had a blast. First of all, it was a little difficult to find this bar because it was in a park, but once we were close, we could hear where we needed to go. Great music, great drinks, relaxing/fun atmosphere. We drank wine with his friends outside, then once we collected enough plastic cups to receive a free beer (30), we went inside to dance. Sylvain and his friends are very nice, fun people. 

So here I am, relaxing on my second day in Paris. The weather is great...sunny and warm, and I have no obligations. I will probably go for a walk soon to explore the neighborhood. I know there is a grocery store around here closer than the one I just visited. Now that I am here, I'm sure I will have a lot to write about. Hopefully I'll have the time. A bientot!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saying Goodbye is the Hardest Part

I'm sitting in a Panera Bread all alone with my thoughts and laptop on a mission to waste time and get out of the sun and my non-air-conditioned car.  I drove down to Grand Rapids today in order to say goodbye to good friends and run a few errands.  On my drive, it really hit me how much I am going to miss those closest to me while I am away.  I always knew that it would be hard to leave everyone for a year, but that grief just slapped me in the face.  I left my house in a cheery mood after drinking coffee with my mother (one of our favorite things to do together).  As we talked, I kept looking at my dog and thinking how much I would miss this time with my mom and my sweet dog, Oliver.  I drove away thinking that in just one week and two days I will be saying goodbye for a much longer period of time.  I then thought of everyone else I will really miss: the kids I babysit, my parents, my closest friends, my dogs, and even my brothers.  It is going to be hard, but I know that I have to go and follow the path my heart so longs to walk.  One year will fly by, especially in Paris.  Perhaps I'll even get a visit from some of the people I love so much.  Last year when I returned from Paris, I experienced this same grief.  My heart is being pulled in two directions... two directions which happen to be an ocean apart.  Even as my tears flowed silently during that drive, I never second-guessed my decision to venture abroad.