Archive for December, 2009


It’s snowing today in Paris.  I took some pictures during my day, so here’s a little slide show of snow in Paris/my daily travels.

8:15 AM, near the Pont des Invalides.  Snow had just started to fall, and was coming down a lot faster than it seems in this picture.  And, yes, it really was that dark out.

Melo is the dog I was hired to walk weekday mornings, along the Seine.  It’s a hard, hard life I lead.

He grew up on the streets of Athens (no joke!), and his feelings about the snow this morning were decidedly mixed.  This is him saying “Really, we’re stopping for a photo shoot?  There’s cold wet stuff falling from the sky!!”

After walking Melo I scurried off to my Phonetics class, which is in Montparnass, but when I was there it was snowing too hard for me to be able to take any good pictures….

Next I was off to my French Grammar class (my basic language class, which meets every day near Place St. Michel and Notre Dame)

A snow-covered Notre Dame

To get home from class I usually walk across the Ile de la Cite to catch the metro at Hotel de Ville

By the time I got there the snow was starting to go unfortunately slushy.  The green trash bags are nicely contrasted, though, don’t you think?

I take the Metro to Place de la Concorde, where I was greeted with this scene.

That gray thing poking up behind the sculpture to the right-had side is all you can see of the Eiffel Tower when it’s this overcast.  To the left is the amusingly-named Wheel of Excellence.

Finally, two blocks from there, and 5 flights of stairs up, is my lovely little apartment.

The view from the kitchen window this afternoon.


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Me and the Metro

I’m admitting it now, I have a love-hate relationship with the Paris Metro.  On the one hand, how could you dislike something with such charming Art Deco station markers?

Full Disclosure: I didn’t take this picture.  Thank you Google Images.

On the other hand, when it routinely drives you to consider faking some sort of medical emergency, or severe mental breakdown, in order to GetAllTheseDamnPeopleAwayFromMe!, you start to have slightly lukewarm feelings about it.

I’m kind of loathe to write this, actually, because I’m a serious fan of public transportation.  I’m not one of those people who complains about the T in Boston (even though, yes, the stations are far apart, it doesn’t serve huge parts of the metro area, and it’s often slow and running behind schedule – it got me from my house to work in 20 minutes, for almost three years, and I only had to get in my car when I wanted to.  Case  closed.).  I think public transportation is one of the greatest things in the world, and if the train and bus systems in the US were better developed we’d be making a huge step towards cutting the carbon emissions from all of our enormous gas-guzzling cars that are ever-more-rapidly killing the environment.  Also, trains are fun.  And the more people have access to transportation systems the more able they are to find jobs, and child care, and medical services.  So, public transportation gets a big A+ in my book.

But, here’s the problem.  Sometimes the Metro is just a little too public.  As in, publicus – open to the people – just too damn many of them.  Organizationally it’s great, and it never fails to get me where I’m going at least 10 minutes earlier than I think it’s going to.  The city is absolutely chicken-poxed with stations.  It seems you’re never more than 6 blocks from one, and changes from line to line are usually quick and easy.  Trains come every 2-5 minutes, and the stations range from simply functional to charming.

But, then, just when I’m starting to think, “Wow, Paris really does subways right”, I hit the Metro Trifecta:

1.     Heat – it’s always, for some unfathomable reason, about 80 degrees on the trains, and with a hundred people in a car I swear it reaches heat stroke-inducing temperatures.  This was worse in September and October, now it’s just kind of stifling with everyone’s winter wear taking up extra space.

2.     Smelliness – it’s true, some of the French just don’t seem to bathe.  And, bizarrely, unlike in other parts of the world, it can be very difficult to spot the offender by sight, making it hard to quietly move away.

3.     Craziness – when they start shouting, you know it’s going to be an interesting trip.

The Trifecta is most common at peak hours, especially in the evening, when you can also  be crammed in closer than I’ve ever been crammed next to other people on a moving object.  Images of the Tokyo subway, with it’s white-gloved pushers, come to mind, although thankfully there are none of those charming individuals here.  If there were I probably would have decked one by now.

There, I’ve admitted it.  I don’t love the Metro.  But, I don’t loathe it either, and it does get me places extremely quickly.  So, I’ll keep riding it, but if you read a story in the papers about some crazy girl who started jumping around and flailing her arms and screaming at the little old woman who had her elbow jammed up against the offender’s stomach for 15 minutes, in a Line 4 car between Chatelet and Etienne Marcel, can someone come bail me out of jail?

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I win!

So, it turns out that writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days kind of eats up your life.  Surprisingly, not as much as I thought it might, but definitely enough that this poor little blog was woefully neglected.  Because honestly, there was one night when I took a break from novel writing to write something else, but that was an anomaly, and most of the time that I wasn’t trying to hit my daily word count deadline I didn’t really want to try to order my thoughts into anything resembling coherency.  (I say that as if this here is coherent.  Maybe I need more than a day to recover.)

But, I managed to meet the challenge, and write the 50,000 words necessary to be declared a NaNoWriMo winner.  The prizes are mostly of the virtual-pat-on-the-back variety (and that nifty banner up there), but there is rumor of a gift certificate for a proof copy of your manuscript, coming in December.  Which means that by then I need to have actually finished the story, because I figured out around November 18 that the story I had planned out was going to take more than 50,000 words to tell.  This is exciting, because it means I actually had an interesting enough story to keep me going for more than 145 pages, but it means there’s still work to do.

For those who don’t know, I decided to write a novel as a kind of a fictional spin-off to my senior thesis at Vassar (historical fiction = pre-outlined plot!).  My thesis was about women in the Byzantine empire who were used to create diplomatic ties to foreign states through marriage alliances.  I had six case-studies of this phenomenon in my thesis, but the one I picked to write the fictionalized version of was the daughter of a Byzantine Emperor in the early 14th century, who was sent off to marry the Khan of the Golden Horde (for reals!), which was a kind of nebulous Mongol kingdom, one of the successors to Genghis Khan’s empire in the 12th/13th century, which covered the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas.  We know very little about her in real history, but what we do know comes from a Muslim travel writer named Ibn Battuta (yes, there are a lot of great names in this story), who was kind of the arabic version of Marco Polo.  He met her and travelled with her when she left the Mongol court to return to Constantinople around 1332.  So, my story goes from her childhood, through her marriage, the trip with Ibn Battuta back to Constantinople, and then will end (I think) with her looking back on it all from later in her life.

So, that’s my excuse for the sad case of blog-neglect I’ve had going for the last couple of weeks.  Thanks for all of the encouragement for my crazy project!  I’ll let you know when it’s really done, and then maybe, eventually, next year sometime, when I’ve fixed all of the historical inaccuracies and done some serious editing, someone will get to read it.

A 13th century Byzantine painting of the Wedding at Cana


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