France woes

France can be so screwed up. Here’s the story. I opened a bank account 3 weeks ago. In the mail they sent me a “welcome to HSBC” note, a “card of familiarity,” a debit PIN, and a “secret code” for the website. Yes, they sent me 4 pieces of mail. No problem. I didn’t have a phone at the time, so I didn’t give them a phone number. Seems okay right?

Last week I bought a SIM for my phone. Today I tried to add credit. In order for them to process the payment I have to get the bank to authorize the payment, which involves them sending me a text with a secret code. Now there’s a problem. My bank doesn’t have my cell number. So I sign up for the bank’s online services. But they won’t let me add a phone number. BECAUSE THEY’RE FRANCE. I have to print a document and go to the original branch where I opened the account on the other side of town.

Never mind that, all I really want to do is charge my phone card. So I go to use an American credit card, which has a different type of authentication. AND THE PHONE SITE SAYS “YOU MAY ONLY CHARGE YOUR PHONE ONCE EVERY 24 HOURS” What is wrong with this place????

Je suis en retard

I am late in posting! Well, there is no fire, and my feet don’t feel hot, but I think I should be able to post more often.

Things are going well. Work is progressing and accelerating. I’m happy about that. Th government shutdown didn’t help. Not that it affected me directly, but my attention was too much focused on the news. I found and installed a program on my computer that only lets me read the news for a few minutes per day, so my life has become much more productive.

Since I arrived 5 weeks ago several things have changed. We’ve already lost two hours of daylight. Of course that happens a lot in Fall. The weather has changed, but not significantly. It rains nearly every day, but we also get long bouts of sunshine, which makes me quite happy. Of course I’m inside a lot, especially during daylight hours. I’m trying to force myself out of the office a little during the day. So far it’s only been a little, but if take my book with me, it’s easy enough to decompress and maybe catch a few rays. I have no idea how people get enough vitamin D here.

I’ve also become much more accustomed to living in a small space. It took me a while to organize everything so that it was an efficient use of what I have. Thankfully that worked out. Of course I move next Friday, so it is not to last. I think I’ll miss this place. The neighborhood is very quiet and well connected with buses and metros. I have access to a lot of restaurants and can walk anywhere. Those last two things will actually be more true at the new place, but it won’t be as quiet or well connected.

I eat a lot less meat. It’s expensive here, especially beef. I never was much for eating chicken. That leaves pork and fish, and I’ve really taken up eating fish. They serve it in the cafeteria several times a week, and I cook it at home pretty often. I even do vegetarian on a regular basis.

I’ve discovered a wine that I really enjoy. Not that I don’t enjoy most wines, but there is one that knocks my socks off. It’s only €7.00. That doesn’t sound like a lot to someone in the US. We’re used to paying $7 for the cheapest, run of the mill wines. Those cost less than €4 here. Really good wines can go for more, but the French would never pay €40 for a bottle, even at a restaurant. And I’d put my €7 bottle up against any $40 bottle that you can find.

I’m reading a lot. I’m about 1/3 of the way through Harry Potter #1. It goes really fast, even in French. I was surprised at how easy it is to read. I read Peter Pan before this, and it took a lot longer. Of course it was written a long time ago and translated into French early. Next is 20,000 leagues under the sea, but in its original language! I have a version condensed for children, so it should be a little easier than the adult book. I’ve got other Jules Verne as well. I’m saving those for when I’ve got a better grasp of the language.

As far as that goes, my French has improved significantly since arriving. Reading has helped, so have the 3 hours of class per week. Rosetta Stone makes me pronounce things, so I’m learning on that front too. I think next semester I’ll spring for a more expensive and more extensive class. It’s worth it if I can really learn the language. The biggest change is my ability to hear different sounds. So many words sound alike. It’s really important sometimes to hear minute distinctions. I dare you to copy this into a translator “dessus, dessous”. You’ll see what I mean.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll update more soon.

3 weeks

I’ve been here three weeks now. After the big transition, it is becoming more comfortable, more homey. I’ve got a routine and benefit from friends that I made last year. That’s been the biggest improvement over last year – knowing some people. I’m not an outsider, and we do things to hang out. Three Fridays in a row now I’ve got out with coworkers. This Friday Aymeric, Charline, Lluis, and Fushim joined me for Japanese food and wine afterward. They got to see the tiny apartment, and it was fun hanging out. Last year was nothing like this, and I’m thankful for the change.

Another advancement is the weather. While it’s cold, highs in the 50s all week, we’ve had better weather. Of course it rained 4 out of the last 6 days, but that is still an improvement over last year. Any my run today was nice.

I’m reading a lot. Since arriving I’ve finished 3 books and am halfway through another. They are all for children, but each time I pick a longer book with fewer pictures. It’s great, and I’m learning a lot. I still do Rosetta Stone, but towards the end (5th of 5 disks) the learning really slows down. Either that or it never picked up, and I can handle more now. I’m looking forward to finishing, even as my opinion of the software has changed. It also helps having coworkers to talk to in French, and I’m getting to where I can have longer conversations. The people I know can be very patient.

Some of the things I’ve done to adapt to living in a tiny apartment may seem odd to someone in a big house. I have a clothes washer, which is awesome. Next month I’ll move to a place without, and I’ll have to walk 6 or 7 blocks carrying all of my luggage and wait 2-3 hours while everything gets clean (more blog posts then). Now I load the washing machine every night. It’s tiny, so it can only hold a few days worth of clothes, but that’s better than having a pile on the floor. They dry on a rack in about 24 hours, so that gives me maximum floor space. I also go food shopping a lot more often. My fridge can’t hold more than 2-3 days worth of food, but even if it could, I need to buy bread every other day (no preservatives in this fantastic French bread), and meat is too expensive to let waste. It helps that between my house and work I pass several supermarkets. And by supermarkets, I mean stores that have the basic needs but not a good selection. You won’t find a Kroger or HEB here!

Work is going slowly. I spent a lot of time last week preparing slides for my colleagues in Boulder. They are advocating for an extended mission to keep our instrument turned on. They need input from the team to keep that up, and I have several things to contribute. Now I’ll go back to writing my south pole paper, which is already well past due but nearing completion (I hope!). Aymeric has set me up with a work computer, besides the laptop, so I can now begin running simulations and checking the output. This is important and the reason I’m here. There is plenty more to do, but those are the big things.

I’m eating well, probably too well. Being surrounded by Japanese restaurants is always a temptation, but I find pleasure in cooking and eat at home most nights. The kitchen is small but well enough stocked with cooking utensils that I don’t need much. Glad I brought my good knife though πŸ™‚

Well, it’s time for more tea and some good reading.

Sunny Days in Paris

Paris! I do love sunny days here. To my great surprise, we’ve had a number of sunny days. The weather has been very cooperative, so I’ve got a lot of photos for you. πŸ™‚

It’s been a nice two weeks. I arrived on a Saturday. There was some waiting to meet my landlord, but after that I walked around the neighborhood. I have a really nice neighborhood. Immediately across from my building is a Japanese restaurant, and there are another 30 or so within 3 blocks. This district is known for Asian, especially Japanese, food. I’ve already eaten at 5 restaurants. Ramen (the French say lamen) and sushi are awesome here.

I live about 10 minutes walk from the Louvre towards the river and the Opera House towards the north.

The Louvre is famous for art, but it also has a very huge park next to it. This is where I begin my runs, but it is often too crowded on the weekends.

You can’t be afraid of seeing statues of naked men in this city.

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is walk along the river. From here you can see so many things: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, Musee d’Orsay, awesome bridges, and many other fascinating things. Besides looking at Notre Dame, I love to watch the water flow by. Sunny days make things so much better. I’m not the only one. Many people love to sit on the right bank and let the sun warm them. Parisian lizards?

And speaking of our lady, she sure is lovely. I don’t even enjoy churches that much, but this one is special to me. I guess she was basically my neighbor for two months last year, when I knew few people and didn’t leave the river banks. That was when I had a lot of great opportunities to photograph her at night, which can be very stunning.

Mentioning parks, there are a lot of good ones in town. Flowers are still out, and the leaves haven’t fallen yet, so it is a nice time. Pretty soon everything will be gray or brown. Not yet!

The first one is right by my apartment. I run through it on my way to the river. It is very well hidden, and few people take advantage of it. The last one there is Jardin du Luxembourg, a famous one. You can see the castle there. I’m pretty sure most Parisians would go insane without the parks. Apartments are small, the streets are crowded, and it is difficult to find any place to stretch out. Running in the parks is often a game of frogger, where I’m the frog.

While walking around, there are many great things to see.

and of course this pops up everywhere. You can’t miss it!

I’m glad I’m not a paranoid person. Did you see those black helicopters?

I had to get a closer look.

I’ve only been here two weeks, but already a visitor has graced me. Also, my friends are always welcome to hang out. I make a pretty good tour guide, especially if you want to visit one of the many sex shops next to Moulin Rouge.

I’ve been eating well, too well maybe (especially with cheese… OMG!!!). Mostly I cook. I’m definitely trying to use more butter and sauces in my cooking – out of respect for where I am living. Thank goodness I walk a lot more than in the US!!!

I said I don’t care for churches much, so this has to fill in that part of me.

My apartment isn’t really worth showing, but here it is. It’s tiny and messy. At least I have a washing machine. I hang up clothes on a rack that takes up most of the floor space. At least clothes only take ~2 days to dry. I put a fan on them to speed things up. You can’t see the bed (thank goodness this isn’t a studio – although you’ll be sleeping on the couch if you visit). You have to go up the ladder to see the “bedroom”. It technically doesn’t count as living space because you can’t stand up. So it’s perfect for sleeping.

I’m subletting, so all of the landlord’s stuff is here. At least he is a cook, so I have plenty to work with. My office (temporarily with graduate students until someone leaves later in October) is alright.

Oh, and pictures of food πŸ™‚

That’s about it so far. I’m pretty much settled in with a good schedule. I take a French class, have already read 3 children’s books (reading Peter Pan now), and use Rosetta Stone when there is time. Cooking takes up a lot of my time, and walking of course. Without walking, I would be pretty unhappy here. But thankfully, there has been a lot of sunny days so far, and I get out to stretch my lets. πŸ™‚ Cheers.