Woke up a tad early (never a chore when you’re in Paris), packed and prepared to leave the youth hostel. We were heading to our homestays that afternoon! I walked down the twisted, uneven spiral staircase to the ground floor of the hostel (they always reminded me of Alice in Wonderland stairs…) and picked up a steaming bowl of café noir avec un peu du sucre, chunks of fresh baguette, jam, and butter. WHAT? C’mon U.S.A. Please get with the program. This is how I am eating at youth hostels. C’est délicieux.
Claire, Emily, Laura and I teamed up and decided to walk to church (1st Church of Christ, Scientist, Paris) for their French service. We left plenty early and spent our morning strolling through Sunday morning markets, chatting with French people (or have Claire translate for us, seeing as she is more or less fluent…) and exploring the streets of Paris en route to our final destination. The service was so beautiful; ’tis not necessary to understand all the words to feel inspiration. I especially enjoyed singing the hymns in French because I can read French just fine, so I could sing though I didn’t understand a lot of it. I felt really cool.
We regrouped after church with everyone on the abroad (we had all gone to church for either the French or English service) and walked to lunch. Let me tell you that it is an acquired talent to eat in France. Breakfast is so good that you eat two pieces of bread. Ok, fair enough. Then you go to lunch and have a three course meal. Mon Dieu… It’s so good, but you really need to pace yourself. And then you need to learn how to calculate how many things with cheese of chocolate you’ve eaten that day so you can remember to restore a little balance to your meals via a well-timed salade de fruit. This may sounds like “torture” to you, but I am not kidding. Learning how to balance eating in culture with very particular ways of dining and very rich food takes work. But, luckily when there’s a mousse au chocolat on the finish line, somehow one manages to make it to the end.
In the afternoon, we toured Notre Dame de Paris. You know, it was beautiful. But I did not feel the holy-factor kick in. It was stuffed with people and while it was fairly silent, the presence of so many on-lookers was distracting. Needless to say, I am very glad I went because it is such a stunning historical monument, very worth my time. Afterwards, we visited another beautiful cathedral, l’iglise Saint Etienne du Mont. It was a lot emptier which allowed me to have a little more solo time with the structure which was nice, but it didn’t “get to me”. My friend Elisabeth is in love with cathedrals. Her obsession is as beautiful as it is unusual (in the truest sense of the word.) I have never met a Protestant so in love with everything Catholic. Fascinating! Listen, I love cathedrals but they are just not my jam.
Ok, now what I have really wanted to talk about this entire time is my homestay family. Uh, can I just say that I think I may have been switched at birth? (yes, internationally…just go with it.) I live in the 17th arrondissement on Pereire Bd in t.h.e. m.o.s.t. b.e.a.u.t.i.f.u.l. apartment on the 5th floor–there are 6. There are two levels to the apartment, it is very tastefully and comfortably decorated, and is very old. There are white reliefs of fleur de lys and other vegetal motifs in the ceiling corners, every square inch of the dark paneled wooden floor creaks, it’s a little cold. It’s awesome. But what is even more beautiful and awesome is my family, the de Corns. I literally had no idea what to expect. We were given no previous information about them nor did we have any contact prior to our arrival. There were a few times that butterflies threatened to nest up in my stomach but I was so excited that any anxiety melted away. My French is as good as a great 7 months worth, for which I am grateful but 7 months in a classroom is not enough to be conversant. There’s nothing like jumping in the deep end though. If you’re not falling (over your tongue) you’re not learning. You’ve got to just go for it.
I am the first one to be dropped off at the big wooden door that is the entrance to the de Corn’s side of the complex. I need a code to get in that we don’t have (somehow we got the door open) and I head up a winding staircase to what I learn is the 5th floor. The door is ajar and lively French is being spoken on the other side?
“La famille de Corns?” I ask, popping my head into the door. Almost as soon as I ask, I am embraced (it felt like it, but the French don’t hug) by the matriarch of the family who gives me two little kisses and Henri, her husband, an engineer, who warmly greets me with a firm handshake. It takes me several hours to realize that they have six children. They all come in at different times and it’s only when I see that they are not leaving that I realize they belong to Mme. and M. de Corn. There is the eldest son who went to UC Berkeley and now lives and works in San Francisco (I don’t remember his name), Marc who studies French and German literature at Cambridge University (who is home on holiday now….I think. We actually arrived at the same time, he with all his bags and all I did was open the door for him, not realizing we were going to the same place; he didn’t say anything either, and now I don’t know enough French to apologize and say I would have helped him if I’d known…oh, well), Anne-Victoire who attends one of the colleges of La Sorbonne, Edmond who is 19 but looks 23, Ambroise who is 14 but looks 19, and little Augustin who is 9 and looks 9. Augustin has kindly sacrificed his room for me and it is perfect— a desk, a bed, furnished with fun things a fourth grader would have. Check out my photos for the view from my window.
My French has improved noticeably since I arrived. Hard not to when you are having so much fun! I first got to talking with Mme. de Corn, Marc and Victoire, and then the most with Ambroise, and then Augustin while Mama de Corn (I need to refresh myself with her name) made dinner. *Side note: I could literally go on for pages, but it is midnight and I have my first day of school tomorrow. I am going to be brief.* We all sat down to dinner (which I am so grateful was light and only one course with salad and dessert) and we all talked and laughed about everything from travel, to movies, to politics, to what I study, what sports we all like, what we love about les États-Unis (USA; they lived in Raleigh, NC, for 2 years for Henri’s job), Edith Piaf, Justin Bieber, and more. First of all, I am SO proud of myself that I can even tell you that we talked about all those things! Yay me! Also, that I could indeed talk about such as range of ideas. Merci beaucoup à ma professeur! I really have been learning something over the last 7 weeks, while at the time I felt that most of it was going over my head (I was put in a class above my level.)
After dinner, Marc, Ambroise, Edmond, Augustin and I watched YouTube videos before Mme. de Corn showed me how to use the code and my two keys for the different doors to their apartment and the fastest way to school in the morning, and Henri helped me set up my Wifi. Everyone is so warm and genuine that I feel very, very much at home and taken care of. So much for Parisians being snobby and cold! Really nothing has proven those stereotypes to be true thus far on my trip. In fact, everything has been quite the opposite. The de Corns are a really modern family, well-educated, approachable, welcoming (I have already be invited to tutoye vs. vouvoyer them when I address Mme. and M. de Corn; this refers to a grammatical structure that does not exist in English in which a different and more respectful verb conjugation can be used as opposed to a more informal one reserved for friends.) I have not worked up the courage to tutoyer my French parents yet but I am sure I will get there. In short, everyone is laid back, fun, very good at carrying on a conversation (a tv was never on once, instead they played the piano or unself-consciously danced around to French club music in the living room–when that happened I was like, “I can’t believe this is happening. This is the best.” Now, I am tucked away in Agustin’s room, very comfortably typing away, too grateful for this perfect set up to care that my fingers and toes are freezing. (I have also included my photos from Verdun yesterday.)