la dernière semaine

The thing about studying abroad is that usually your last moments abroad coincide with final exams. The UCLA French Language Travel Study takes this into account and shifted our schedule so that we would have a free day before our final night dinner and cruise on the Seine. We ended up having oral exams on Tuesday, a written exam on Wednesday and then no class on Thursday. Unfortunately, I still felt extremely rushed. I wanted to spend my last week shopping, because let's be real, everything is too expensive until it's your last chance to get it, right? But instead I had to balance my shopping endeavors with studying. But in the end, I was able to do it, somehow. On Monday, we woke up early to check out the nearby Galerie Vivienne, which was just down Rue des Petits Champs, a two minute walk from the apartment. Galerie Vivienne is one of several historic covered galleries and arcades in Paris, most of which are scattered around the 1er and 2e arrondissements. Built in the 18th and 19th centuries, these galleries were the precursor to the modern day mall. These galleries were home to urban shops and a network of over a hundred of these galleries extended throughout the city. Today, many of them are no longer around, but there are still several preserved galleries, often hosting nice restaurants and specialty stores. Galerie Vivienne is one of the most luxurious restored arcades, with beautiful mosaic floors and high end boutiques. Walking through the gallery kind of felt like walking through the high end shopping areas of Las Vegas hotels, which tend to be unusually quiet. It's hard to imagine these being any more crowded than they were that day, how popular they used to be back in the day. Afterwards, we headed over to the Left Bank to check out some shops. We walked into a Contesse du Barry store on Rue de Sèvres in the 6e. The worker gave us samples of a thick slice of foie gras on baguette and little glasses of sweet wine. Probably the most expensive sample I've ever been offered. But it worked, we all ended up walking away with a gift "stack" of foie gras/terrine, moutarde et vin. We then walked over to the nearby department store, Le Bon Marché. Well, actually, we walked right past that to La Grande Epicerie, which is basically a food version of a department store. Aka my kind of department store. Think a grand luxurious version of a grocery store. Like a Costco sized Whole Foods. With an extensive "deli" section that includes everything from sushi to a bakery. They had a shelf section for everything. Possibly an entire aisle dedicated to just mustard. It was awesome. On a more serious note, it is a good place to grab gifts for family and friends, as they have a pretty good candy and chocolate section with nicely packaged boxes. IMG_6145
When we were shopping around, we came across a store that sold clothes from a variety of brands, one of which was...UCLA. It is more European than Californian, though. Allow me to explain. Two years ago, while sitting in the Daily Bruin office in Kerckhoff, I was enlightened that there exists a London-based brand that sells "UCLA" clothing. Apparently, people not associated with UCLA used our school as inspiration to create a line of clothing that channels our "west coast" collegiate style. But if you ask me, their clothing screams "east coast" if anything! Anyways, the entire business is bizarre to me, but it is interesting to see how international people perceive America, LA...and UCLA. I guess it is pretty flattering that they do think highly enough of us to use our school as style inspiration, however out of touch that inspiration may be. Also, this happened: we sold their clothing at the UCLA student store in a pop up shop in 2013. IMG_6147 For lunch, we went back to Flunch. Yeah, I just really wanted to say that. Well, anyways, you go through with your tray(s) and collect food from any of the stations, all of which have clearly labeled prices. Then, there is a protein section where they prepare it in front of you. Don't be appalled when they hand you a plate with only meat. Don't decide to grab bread at the stand next to the cashier like we did. Because as soon as you finish paying and move to the eating area, they have a freaking mini buffet with all you can eat mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, veggies, everything! If I had known about this place earlier I would have saved a lot of money. Yes, the food is pretty mediocre, but hey, it is fast, filling, and affordable, which is what everyone needs while studying abroad! Being the last week, I made it a point to take advantage of every waking moment to appreciate the fact that I'm in Europe. Of course I appreciated it for the past four weeks as well, but when it comes down to the wire, that's when you really feel the pressure to go out, even if it is just for a post-dinner walk around the neighborhood. TUESDAY was the day of our oral exam, which was structured as a conversation between assigned partners, on a topic drawn at random. My partner and I decided to meet up a couple hours before our exam time and in the mean time, instead of practicing or studying for the final exam the next day, I decided to go on a solo shopping spree down Rue de Rivoli. When I found myself near Hôtel de Ville, I figured it was time to turn back. I stopped by Montorgueil and picked a boulangerie at random to grab lunch on my way to class. Maison Collet was pretty busy around lunch time, at 1 pm. I saw that they had a special, which I believe was around 7€ that included a sandwich, drink and dessert. The workers there were exceptionally not grumpy (which says a lot) and were pretty patient with me as I struggled to decide what I wanted. I chose a ham sandwich because usually with these combos, a ham sandwich literally means bread and ham, where as a cheese sandwich literally means bread and cheese...same goes with chicken, etc. I thought ham would have the most flavor. And then she asked me whether I wanted mayo, and I thought, hell, why not make the sandwich less dry. Except when she finally handed it to me, it was a beautiful sight with tomatoes and lettuce and even hard boiled eggs. Of course nothing could outshine the perfect bread, though. I don't know how they do it. I'm pretty sure every time I ate bread this entire trip I would think "How on earth do they make this take soooo good?" Like the entire time. I would be thinking that with every bite. Anyways, this was an amazing affordable meal, I got to feel super French walking the streets with a baguette sandwich in hand, and it was delicious. And I don't know how on earth I finished that entire sandwich and half of my "pudding" (think dense walnut-ridden brownie the size of your face) while practicing conversing in French... Side note, just because I was so darn proud...I did the entire transaction in French without slipping up or having them give up on me and speak in English! I don't think they released how much joy it brought me. One month later, I may not have been able to hold a conversation in French but I got good at concealing my linguistic weaknesses with normal conversational hesitancy. An art that I managed to perfect finally, just three days before I would leave the land of French. But hey, at least I could pull it off. Another note, I really did like the speaking test and I almost wish we did it earlier. The thing about short travel study programs is that you become so focused in making new friends and safely orienting yourself to the new place that language learning takes the back seat in the sense that survival comes first. For example, if I'm really lost, I will probably opt to speak in English just to avoid miscommunication rather than practice French. And for me, speaking with my host family was always a stressful experience. At the dinner table, I would prepare a couple sentences mentally that summed up what I did that day and then just be a passive listener for the rest of the meal. In class, we were mostly assignment based and I did feel more comfortable speaking French, but was still so focused on the details that the "communication" factor got lost. With this conversation set up for the oral exam, we would just practice with different topics and try to hold a conversation, both parties understandingly patient as we stumbled our way through sentences, figured out a way around forgotten vocabulary and convoluted grammar structures, and in the end somehow develop some sort of comprehension that became more fluid as the conversation evolved. I didn't realize how much I knew until this moment, and it was a really great discovery. Yes, I still do throw in a couple random Spanish words here and there but I finally saw improvement that was very exciting, even though it was near the end of my experience. It's funny how we start getting comfortable near the end of our time. Maybe it is the threshold of how long we have been doing something, maybe it has to do with the fact that we know we are leaving and that this is it. As a child, I was always very shy. At family friend dinner parties, I would always be shy until about 10 minutes before we left, when I finally got comfortable enough to say hi to the other kids. At my internship, I was so careful and focused on learning and being the perfect intern that I didn't start reaching out and taking advantage of the resourceful employees I could talk to until the last week of my 16 week internship. It was the same here. I finally started feeling like I could have a handle on things and should try to engage with Parisians more during my final week. Maybe a semester is that magical threshold of being able to utilize this. Maybe not. Either way, I hope I can return and pick up this comfortableness sooner next time around.
  Wednesday morning, the day of our final exam, I woke up bright and early. IMG_6219 Not to study, though. Rather, it was to buy gifts from La Vaissellerie, a shop that sells café goods (at affordable prices!) such as mini espresso cups and carafes. The nearest one to me was on Blvd Haussman. They said that they open at 10. But when I showed up at 10, they were just starting to set up. Ahh, France. HOW CAN I GET ANYTHING DONE?! #culturedifference #imissamerica Anyhow, I walked around and said hi to Saint Lazare while waiting for it to open. Once they did, however, they were kind enough to wrap everything to be packable! IMG_6179 After buying my goods, just for memory sake (and for laziness), the last minute studying session happened at Exki Montorgueil. IMG_6192 Breakfast IMG_6193 and lunch! And then test. And then I ran up to Montmartre after the final to meet up with a UCLA friend from French 1-3 and buy some last minute souvenirs before rushing all the way back down to meet up with French 3/14 and French 4/5 people to see "How to become Parisian in One Hour," an English-language comedy show at a theater on Grands Boulevards. I feel like the show ended up speaking even more to the cultural difference between America and France (which is what it focused on) than even intended. While some parts were hilarious, such as the fact that an American stereotype is obnoxiously good service, other parts were more concerning, such as the Parisian nonchalant reaction to the Eiffel Tower, the American awe to the monument...and the rather distasteful comment the comedian gave regarding the African population. I guess even the sense of political correctness sets France and America apart by a lot. Afterwards, we lingered outside the theater, chatting for a while...actually for a long while...until we felt like we would get in trouble for loitering. Then we dispersed and set out to find some late night food, settling for paninis at a random hole in wall place across from a grocery market that was miraculously still open at 10 pm. Our idea of "picnicking" on the Seine or in a park at night turned into loitering by a street corner that smelled like pee before we all gave up and went home. It was a long day anyways! And finally. The last full day in France. I swear the closer to the end it gets, the weirder I become. Let's just say I started off the day métro-ing to Republique because I just really wanted to see what it looked like. I literally came out of the station, saw it, took a picture, and then métro-ed away. Somehow, Thursday became the official (gift) shopping day. Because before this point I simply could not bring myself to spend the money. Procrastination hurts. But oh how the retail therapy healed. First stop: Marché de la Bastille: for a hat, more scarves, and other trinkets. After finding out that Maille by Madeleine was closed for the month of August (which apparently in Paris starts on July 31st), we continued on. On the way to the La Cure Gourmande by Opéra, we stumped upon Fragonard, a perfume museum and decided to check out the gift shop. Considering how beautifully presented each product was, they were pretty fairly priced. I ended up buying a little Eau de Toilette in their latest scent for my mom for 15€. La Cure Gourmande has walls full of varieties of nougat, caramel, biscuits, chocolate and more. They always offer samples as soon as you enter and everything is packaged in brightly decorated boxes and bags, perfect for gifting. A quick pit stop at the oldest bakery in Paris, Stohrer on Montorgueil.
And then it was off to the Marais, first to stop by La Chambre aux Confitures, a small jam and canned confections shop, one of two branches, the other being in Montmartre. The small shop had walls lined with jars of jams, in two sizes. The jams were organized by the color of the fruit and by season. For example the yellow fruit summer season jams included apricot jam. Of course they also had several interesting combinations, including strawberry and rose or rhubarb and ginger. They also had raspberry and champagne as well as green apple and vodka which tasted especially boozy. On another wall there are honeys and caramels, also in a selection of flavors, ranging from fruity to chocolaty to floral. They also have foie gras. But the best part of it all was that they had piles of tasting spoons, an entire row of taster jars (and if you can't find a taster for something you're interested in, they'll open a jar for you!), and tall glass jars to throw away used spoons. I could probably spend an embarrassing amount of time there, just tasting every single flavor.It was magnificent.The small jars were around 4-6€ depending on the flavor, and the large ones were around 8€. Definitely a good find and a worthwhile visit, as the adorable jars come with paper bags and ribbons that mean no gift wrapping necessary. But buyers beware, this will weight down luggage super fast!
We made a short consignment shop venture where the almost American-like friendly shopkeeper enthusiastically showed me all of the wallets she had as I fruitlessly searched for a birthday present for my mom. Though the (rather tacky looking) vintage YSL wallet was tempting at 60€, I left the shop empty handed, vowing to return to Paris some day, with more money and more time, to do the consignment shopping business justice. At this point, we were carrying way too much to continue, and we're in desperate need of some rest. I went back to the apartment and set out with my roommate to buy flowers for our host family at a local shop, presenting it (slightly awkwardly) to one of our host sisters and our host dad, who were the only ones home at the time. A short break and a failed Berthillon date later, it was back to the CIEE center one last time for a final end of program meeting before our farewell dinner at a restaurant on the Seine near Hôtel de Ville called Louis Phillippe. We had the entire second floor to ourselves and enjoyed a set meal (with different vegetarian, meat, and seafood options for each course) and a dense, velvety chocolate truffle cake (it basically just tasted like fudge!) for dessert.
After dinner, we were all much too full and had to slowly make our way over to Pont Neuf for our river cruise. But we got distracted by the perfect sunset. In a beautiful way, it was like a final goodbye--the last sunset. Well anyways, it was the perfect photo op bestowed upon us by nature.

This view will haunt me in my dreams.

At Pont Neuf, we boarded our boat and set off with an overly enthusiastic fast speaking guide westward on the Seine. Our guide would blurt out everything quickly in French and then again in English. I wondered if he even realized that the sounds he was making were words or if they are but a string of memorized sounds to him by now. Even though by this time of the trip, we were all long familiar with not only all the monuments along the Seine, but also some random facts about each one, so the cruise was more so about enjoying the view than listening to the rushed commentary. I never understood why this was a thing. Why would I wave to people on boats passing by? Why would I pass by a bridge and wave at the people there? I guess I understand why tourists like to do this but I still hate that it's a thing... The best thing about being ON the Seine is that there are not obstructions to the view! The cruise wasn't timed well. We missed the sparkling. When the Eiffel Tower starts sparkling at the start of each hour every night, I swear you can feel and hear it coming. Tourists all around the city sigh, exclaim, everyone shifts to orient towards the sparkling monument, cameras pointed, eyes bright. It's actually pretty funny. Until you catch yourself smiling stupidly at the tower as well. And then it was over. On my peaceful night walk home, I couldn't help but stop and linger to watch one last sparkle. Bonne nuit, Tour Eiffel. Au revoir. The second set of goodbyes happened as soon as I stepped in the door of the apartment. A series of goodbyes, slightly awkward photos of all of us sitting on the living room couch, the host family in pajamas. My roommate and I in normal dinner clothing. And then trying to communicate how to send the photos and adjust lighting. Technology is already hard enough to deal with in a language you're fluent in... Anyways, that wasn't exactly good night. At least not for me. I had a long night ahead...packing. When I finally went to bed, I took one last look out of the window before closing the shutters--I had to say bye to Louis.