Sunday, August 31, 2008

Political Pachyderms

Our Twin Cities have been invaded by elephants. With the Republican National Convention taking place this week in St. Paul, local officials have pulled out all the stops to welcome the thousands of right-of-center voters that have made their way to the Midwest. Their efforts include huge American flags painted in the grass near the airport runways, welcome banners posted on street lamps and signs with catchy phrases such as "Twice as Nice." But as the official animal of the GOP, the elephant plays a special role in convention decorations. Suddenly, the world's largest land mammal is everywhere.

The Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul is covered in them. Large posters of elephants, small posters of elephants, red elephant and blue elephants all adorn the sides of the building as well as the surrounding area. The St. Paul Hotel, which is near the convention site, has placed two grass sculpture elephants in its garden. Elephants can be seen on touristy souvenirs such as mugs and T-shirts in the countless area shops that are hoping to attract convention-goers. But the award for the most impressive use of the image of an elephant goes to the Premier Gallery in downtown Minneapolis. They're hosting an art exhibit that features nothing but everyone's favorite tusked and truncated animal kingdom giant.

In a few days the Republican delegates will pack their bags and head out of town. I'm pretty sure the elephants will go too. After all, Minnesota is technically a blue state. The elephants know they're living on borrowed time.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

High Hopes

When I was a kid, I used to beg my parents to drive me through downtown Minneapolis. I loved looking up at all the tall buildings. For a young kid from the suburbs, the grandeur and impressiveness of those structures inspired countless daydreams and aspirations for life in the big city. Today, I drive, walk, and bus myself through downtown, and while our skyline pales in comparison to those of New York or Chicago, I still get that feeling of awe when I see those skyscrapers soaring into the air. After months of going without, the buildings of Minneapolis have been a welcome rediscovery.

While the beautiful and historic center of Paris is thankfully protected from certain forms of new construction such as skyscrapers, the outskirts have seen the appearance of a handful of tall buildings. Unfortunately, most of these attempts have been aesthetic disasters. The most famous skyscraper in Paris is probably the Tour Montparnasse; a dark, depressing tower that, while providing a beautiful view of Paris from the top floor, mars the view from the ground. La Defense has a spattering of tall buildings; some good-looking, others not. None are very tall or impressive. Random, lonely skyscrapers dot the rest of the Parisian outskirts, looking like awkward out-of-towners. Most of Paris is architecturally gorgeous, but these obvious exceptions made me long for the Minneapolis skyline, nicely captured in this photo.

When I was in Paris, there was a lot of talk about plans for future out-croppings of tall office buildings in the environs of the city. While recognizing a general Parisian dislike of les gratte-ciel, this article in Le Monde (sorry, both of these are only readable to the Francophones out there, but the first one has a cool picture that works in any language!) demonstrates that support for such a movement is out there. On the other hand, I'm sure that in true French style there will be plenty of protesters fighting against their realization if the plans ever go through. I don't really care what the local officials decide to do regarding new skyscrapers in Paris, just so long as they don't rehire the guys who built the old ones.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Language Matters

Isn’t English great? You can find people who speak it in all corners of the globe, it constantly adapts to actual usage habits, and it doesn’t have any of those bothersome masculine/feminine codes to decipher. Speaking English has been one of the best things about moving back to the states. At the same time, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss speaking French. French is great too. It’s steeped in history, it’s the language of love, and, let’s face it, it just sounds nice. As any globetrotter will tell you, losing one language, and finding another, is incredibly bittersweet.

Living in a foreign language is fun. You get to try out new words and phrases, you get to challenge yourself by accomplishing tasks while trying to remember to use the correct verb tense, and you get to marvel at your ability to make sounds with your mouth that don’t come naturally. Even better, you sometimes get to take on a whole new persona. Because language is more than just words and phrases - it’s actually a mindset - it has the power to change your personality. In English I’m outgoing, direct, and I like to crack jokes. In French I’m more reserved, subtle, and reflective. Leaving France was like leaving a part of myself.

By the same token, rediscovering the US was like rediscovering a part of myself. My English self. I love the way I can play with the language and the way I can listen to the radio or watch TV without having to concentrate too hard. I’m in awe over the ease with which the words come out of my mouth. Idioms and slang make me giddy. But you can never fully leave a language behind. I still find myself saying things in English that I translated literally from French, wanting to respond to questions with a quick “oui!” and searching for some of the words I haven’t used in a long time. In a way, the confusion is kind of reassuring. It’s a reminder that although the days (and weeks) of speaking nothing but French are behind me for now, my French self will always be there, ready to spring into action when I need her.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You Know You're in Minnesota When... see signs like this on the street.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fair Play

For most Americans, Labor Day marks the unofficial end to summer. Every first Monday in September, they take their last long weekend out of town, buy their final school supplies, and mentally prepare for cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and getting back to serious business. Minnesotans are not like most Americans. For us, the end of summer is marked by an annual 12-day celebration we've dubbed "The Great Minnesota Get-Together." I'm talking about the Minnesota State Fair, and while other states might host similar events, none can possibly match the scope, grandeur, and plain enjoyability of our own.

What makes the Minnesota State Fair so great, you might ask? It might be its sheer popularity. No other state fair can match ours in terms of average daily attendance. On one particularly impressive day in 1995 the fair welcomed a record 225,249 visitors; days with more than 100,000 visitors are not unusual. Then again, maybe it's the variety of events the fair has to offer. From rides and games in the midway, to concerts, to watching local news and radio broadcasts live, to shopping at the International Bazaar, to the arts and crafts building, to the farming equipment for sale up on Machinery Hill, to visiting horses, cows, sheep, swine, poultry and goats in the animal barns, there truly is something for everyone. Many people will tell you that the food is what makes our fair great. There are the perennial favorites that everyone has to get, such as cheese curds, mini donuts, hand-cut fries, and roasted corn on the cob, as well as the new items that get a lot of press but generally only hang around for one key lime pie on a stick. Or, it might just be the fact that Minnesota's "Dairy Princess" is crowned during the state fair and her head is subsequently carved into a 90 pound (41kg) block of butter.

Of course, not everyone is as enthusiastic about the fair as I am. Some people will tell you it's over-priced, over-crowded and over-hyped. But where they see too much deep-fried food and too many weird people wearing fanny packs, I see a yearly nostalgic treat and some of the best people watching around. To me, the fair is a community builder, a memory generator and fun, innocent entertainment for all. It's a time when we all get together, share in some unique (and not altogether normal) rituals, and enjoy the fleeting days of summer. Because I've been on the move for the past few years, Saturday's visit was the first I was able to make since 2005. A few things had changed, but the corn dogs tasted just like they did when I was a kid.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wait, What's a Timecard?

It's the end of an era. As of this Monday, August 25th, 2008, I will no longer be unemployed. I found a temp job that will last five weeks and will hopefully replenish the bank account that took a beating in Europe. Amazingly enough, the more than six months I spent not working represents the longest stretch of joblessness I've had since I was 14 years old. Those who know me well know that I love having jobs, even multiple jobs, so going without was something of a personal challenge. Could I stand not receiving a paycheck? How long would it take for me to break down and find a peitit boulot in Paris? Well, in the end, I didn't break down and find a "little job." In fact, just the opposite happened. Despite the budgetary restrictions, I loved taking a break from the working world. Now the questions is, how will I handle going back to it?

For starters, I really haven't had to wake up for any particular reason in months. I'm an early bird by nature, so I wasn't sleeping in until noon or anything, but it's just nice to know that when you do wake up you can do whatever you want instead of having to rush around getting ready for work. I'm definitely going to miss that. Secondly, I'm kind of out of practice when it comes to the rituals that accompany work. For example, on the way to the grocery store yesterday I had to ask my sister what people brought to work for lunch. "Ummm, sandwiches and fruit maybe?" she replied. Oh, yeah...I used to do that all the time, but thinking about it didn't come naturally anymore. Then there's the wardrobe issue. I haven't bought work clothes in awhile, and I haven't worn them either. I like not wearing work clothes. I'm a jeans and flip-flops kind of gal. "Business casual" is going to be a serious readjustment.

On the bright side, the cash flow is going to be very helpful. And I love meeting new people and trying new things, both of which will be possible with a new job. It's downtown Minneapolis, which has a great vibe that I'm looking forward to experiencing Monday through Friday, and isn't happy hour that much more rewarding and fun after an 8-hour shift? But being without work has taught me that taking a sabbatical from time to time is a good idea. I relished having time for myself, for my hobbies, for travel, for life! I highly recommend it to anyone who feels they are in a rut or just wants to do something they've been meaning to do if only they didn't have a 9-5. I'm definitely looking forward to saving up for my next big adventure. After all, work isn't everything. Taking time for yourself to do the things you love is a must. Life is short, we should enjoy it! I have a feeling I'll be rudely reminded of this fact when the alarm goes off at 6:30am on Monday morning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Flying Can be Dangerous for Your Health

Jet lag is totally kicking my ass. Here I was, all excited to get home and run around visiting all my friends and family members, and what do I get instead? A 9pm bedtime, a 3am wakeup call, and an airplane air-induced cold that just won't go away. I've still managed to squeeze in a fair amount of activities, but I definitely haven't had the stamina or the all-day energy I planned on. One week after my return to the US I find myself wondering what I could possibly do to put this travel tiredness to rest.

Take last weekend, for example. After Saturday's afternoon baseball game, a friend and I went out for dinner and drinks. I thought it was the beginning of a very late night. I thought we would bar hop downtown and spend hours catching up. Instead, I was dead tired by 9:30 and sleeping like a baby soon thereafter. The rest of the weekend was filled with midday naps and medication efforts aimed at getting rid of my scratchy throat and cloudy head. Today I canceled evening plans with a friend, and instead of a dinnertime concert, I suggested a lunch meeting with another for tomorrow. Did I ride in the plane, or get hit by it?

Jet lag is extremely frustrating. All you want to do is pack your schedule with fun, welcome home events, but all your body wants to do is lay down and rest. And doesn't it seem that jet lag only rears its ugly head after the return trip? Maybe it's just me, but the first leg of a flight hardly ever wears me out. It's the last leg - no matter how long after the first - that gets me every time. My first week in Paris was filled with boundless energy, not chronic sleepiness. No readjusting of the internal clock needed; I was on Paris time the minute my feet hit the ground running. Minneapolis time has been a bit more elusive, but I'm willing to give it another week. If things don't improve, I just might be forced to go back to Paris.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We Need Snowboots and Sunscreen

"So, where are you from?" This is one of the most frequent questions a traveler will hear. Whether it's in the hostel, at the bar, or out on the streets, people you meet will inevitably want to know. After years of answering "Minnesota!" I've learned that there are some pretty hefty stereotypes of my home state floating around out there. Most of them have to do with our climate. You wouldn't believe how many people think we have winter year round. Or maybe you would, if you happen to be one of those people! Well, I'm here to dispel this nasty rumor once and for all. Minnesota does indeed have summer (and spring and fall), and we're currently enjoying a particularly spectacular one.

Ok, I'll admit that it gets cold here. Very cold. We usually make the national weather report when it gets down to 20, 30 or even 40 below zero Fahrenheit in some parts of the state, which is probably one of the sources of the misconception. Your average viewer's reasoning would go something like this: If it's 40 below in the winter, how could ever be warm any other time of the year? There's also the fact that Minnesotans like to brag about the cold and their ability to survive it with flying colors. Ha! Look at those people in the south. They get two flakes of snow and the whole town shuts down. We get two feet of snow plus sub-zero temperatures the next day and we still make it to work on time! We might be proud, but, unfortunately, it means that we're also misunderstood.

The winters may be cold and long, but the summers are glorious. The mercury regularly hovers in the 80s, the skies are a bright, sparkling blue, and our vast supply of lakes and trees and open spaces in general allow Minnesotans emerging from hibernation to enjoy nature in all her glory. Just the other day I went down to my favorite Minneapolis lake to take in some sun and a cool lake breeze. I wasn't the only one who thought this would be a good way to spend an afternoon of 85 and sunny. For a weekday afternoon, there were a fair amount of people. So no, we don't have winter all year long...but just in case that ever happens, we like to enjoy every second of summer we can.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hometown Fun

One of the things I really missed while living overseas was baseball. And unlike Diet Coke, Snickers bars and peanut butter, you can't partake in America's Pastime in Paris. Well, maybe if you have satellite television, but I prefer to see the game live. So when a friend offered me a seat in the 16th row just up from first base to watch the Minnesota Twins take on the Seattle Mariners on Saturday, I jumped at the chance. Between the cheering fans, hot dogs and beer, renditions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and game-winning action at home plate, I'm not sure there's a better way to spend a weekend afternoon.

Well, actually, there is something that could have made it better: an outdoor stadium. We won't get ours up here in Minneapolis until 2010, and it's a bit rough to spend time indoors when the weather was as beautiful as it was on Saturday. But it was worth the sacrifice (pun intended) to see my first game of the season. And what a game it was! Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth, the Twins mustered up enough energy and skill to drive home Joe Mauer for the winning run. When the crowd goes wild, the jumbo-tron flashes "Twins Win!," and the players run out of the dugout in celebration, there's an energy in the stadium that just can't be beat.

For all those expats who miss baseball as much as I did, don't worry, it will still be here when you get back.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Where Am I, and How Did I Get Here?

Why is it that coming home is always more difficult than leaving home? It seems so counterintuitive. I mean, shouldn't the place that is familiar to you, where you have a built-in system of friends, family and knowledge provide for an easy arrival? You would think so, but no. Since returning to Minneapolis on Wednesday night, I've felt as though I've entered an alternate universe where everything looks, smells and operates differently. A place where everything and nothing has changed. I feel as though I need to relearn how to live here. It's called reverse culture shock, and its effects will leave you feeling like a stranger in an un-strange land.

Reverse culture shock takes a number of different forms. For starters, you might be in shock over what you're seeing. I cannot get over the size of cars in this country. Six months of seeing almost nothing but 2-door Geo Metro-ish vehicles, and plenty of teeny SmartCars has made the sudden appearance of Suburbans and oversized pickup trucks truly astonishing. They're everywhere, and they're enormous! Come to think of it, everything is big here: refrigerators, homes, roads, stores, and space in general. Prices have been a big shock as well. You mean I don't have to add 50% to that price in order to know how much I'm paying in dollars? That's just the price, and it's that small? Sweet! You might also feel emotionally out of place. Living an amazing, wonderful, life-changing experience and then finding yourself surrounded by people who have no idea what that was like is a very isolating experience. Lastly, you'll probably feel shock at the kinds of human interactions you experience when coming home. For me, this has included the wondrous rediscovery of Minnesota Nice. So, I don't have to get scowled at by the cashier at the grocery store? Or completely ignored by the waiter at the cafe? They'll actually smile and ask how I'm doing and chat a bit about the weather with me? I'm going to need to dust off my happy face and friendly demeanor.

You expect to feel out of place in a foreign country. You're not surprised when everyday sights, sounds and activities are new and surprising. When the same thing happens at home, you're completely thrown for a loop. Why does this feel so strange to me? Why don't I fit in here, and why do I feel like "home" is that place I left on the other side of the globe? From past experience with this bizarre affliction I know that its effects will eventually wear off. Home will become home again, and if I just give it some time, and a little patience, that glorious day when I can walk past a Cadillac Escalade without batting an eyelash is just around the corner.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lasts and Firsts

What a strange feeling it is to leave one place and end up in another halfway across the world on the same day. The actual trip from Paris to Minneapolis was pretty uneventful, with all of the usual ingredients in attendance: Annoying security checkpoints, getting my return stamp at customs, trying to pass 8 hours in an airplane, and hoping my bags would end up in the same place I did. With no delays, no long waits on the tarmac, and no big catastrophes, it was your run of the mill international flight. The real action happened before I even arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport and started up again upon landing in Minneapolis. As seasoned travelers know, getting ready to leave and finally arriving can be emotionally-charged, activity-packed events. As a result, when you leave an old place and head to a new one, you can't help but get caught up in the game of lasts and firsts.

Paris was my city of lasts. The last time I rode the metro, the last time I saw the Eiffel Tower, the last time I went to my favorite boulangerie, and the last time I spent with friends were all being calculated in my head. This is a particularly unpleasant side effect of moving. Nobody wants to think about lasts. It's a bit depressing, really. Especially if you've had as good of a time as I did in Paris. You might be excited to see family and friends back home, but you really don't want the adventure to end. The fact that your mind can't help but dwell on that very thought isn't helping any.

Minneapolis is my city of firsts. The first time I caught a glimpse of the beautiful skyline, the first time I saw friends and family, the first time I drove a car again (it's like riding a bike!), and the first time I got a coffee from my favorite local spot. Of course, none of these are truly firsts; I've done them all before. But they are firsts in the sense that it's the first time I've done them in six months, and my mind can't help but calculate them just as I did with the lasts. Firsts are great. They're exciting, fun, and when they involve doing things you love to do they can make you really happy. Firsts also help to ease the painful memories of the lasts.

Of course, Paris isn't going anywhere. When I eventually make the trip back (sooner rather than later, I hope), my lasts in Paris will then become my firsts in Paris, and the process will start all over again. In the meantime, I'm going to keep enjoying all fun and exciting things I get to do here in Minneapolis. Thankfully, there are many more firsts to come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Art of Packing

I pack a lot. Since leaving Washington, DC at the end of January, I've packed my suitcase(s) more times than I can remember. The stopover in Minneapolis for two weeks, overnights at friends' houses to say goodbye, the big move to France, and countless weekend trips have all required that I pack a maximum of things into a minimum of space. Now that my last full day in Paris is here, I will finally have to undertake the ultimate big pack that I've been guiltily putting off. With two suitcases, one duffel, one laptop bag and a six-month collection of clothes, shoes, souvenirs, books, and other miscellany, this isn't going to be easy.

Luckily, I'll be aided in my task by the knowledge I've acquired after years of travel. In fact, I'd like to consider myself somewhat of an expert packer. If you need it to fit, I can make it fit. The key is to create compartments within your suitcases (mesh bags work wonders), limit heavy items to the smaller suitcases to there's no risk of going over weight, and keep little items together in ziploc bags. I roll all of my clothes, which also creates more space, and I try to limit my number of shoes...with minimal success. My enormous suitcase, which is roughly the size of a refrigerator, came in at 48.2 pounds when weighed at the Minneapolis airport on the trip out to France. The limit before they charge you extra is 50.

So the process begins again: throw out what I don't need, give away good things that deserve a new home, and organize the rest. I'll get there eventually, and I'll be so happy when it's done. After all, the real fun will begin when I arrive in Minneapolis. The only thing worse than packing is unpacking.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Watch Out for the Flying Cork

France is a major exporter of all thing luxury. Louis Vuitton bags, Chanel perfume, Dior sunglasses, Yves Saint Laurent suits; Paris just wouldn't be Paris without these expensive items on display. But luxe isn't limited to the glitz and glam of the Champs-Elysées or Avenue Montaigne. Drive an hour and half east of Paris and you'll end up in France's Champagne region, famous of course for it's bubbly bottles of alcohol by the same name. Tucked between rolling hills of vines and quiet little villages, big and small operations alike skillfully produce their delicious wares. A weekend visit gave me a peek into the centuries-old and modern-day beloved process.

Champagne's small, independent producers can be found throughout the region, and often let you tour their caves or partake in a tasting. If you're looking to visit the major houses, as we were, you'll want to stick to the city of Reims and the town of Épernay. Here you'll find all the major exporters: Moët and Chandon, Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and many more. Take the cave tour to learn about the the process that turns grapes into champagne....and for the tasting that follows. Taittinger's caves were the most interesting as they include areas dug during the Gallo-Roman era in the 4th century as well as all that remains of the Saint Nicaise Abbey whose Benedictine monks built caves for their own champagne creation. The rest of the Abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution. For an excellent tasting experience, request a private tasting in advance at Moët and Chandon. As you sip your Millésimé 2000 in the quiet garden you'll truly feel like a V.I.P.

Champagne is an easy day trip from Paris and well worth the drive (or train ride) to get there. The price tag for a visit will most certainly be less shocking than the one on a Hermès scarf, and bonus: unlike Louis Vuitton or Dior, whose stores can be found across the globe, the Champagne region is the only place in the world where you can drink a glass of bubbly at the source.
After all, if it's not made in Champagne, it's just sparkling wine.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Island Getaway

To discover one of the south of France's best kept secrets, you'll have to hop on a boat and leave the mainland behind. Beautifully pristine islands dot a number of areas along the coast, such as the Iles de Lérins near Cannes and the Iles d'Hyères near Toulon. These isolated corners of paradise make for great day trips, and provide a calm respite from the crowds. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend checking them out.

Off the coast of Six-fours-les-plages you'll find the Iles Paul Ricard. Yes, that Paul Ricard, the guy who's name adorns thousands of bottles of French Pastis (an alcohol often served during the "apéritif" in France). He discovered and acquired the islands in 1958, set about preserving and protecting them, and today their natural beauty can be enjoyed by visitors year-round. Looking to do just that, I hopped on a boat, taking my bike with me, and set out exploring the hidden beaches, panoramic views and even a vineyard all on the island. I could tell you how it was, but I think these pictures speak for themselves:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Crowd Control

Remember when I told you that Paris was emptying of its inhabitants and stores were closing in celebration of the August holidays? Well, I found out where they've all gone: south. Taking my own abbreviated version of a French summer vacation in the south of France, I cannot believe how many people are down here with me. I've been on the coast a number of times before since moving to Paris, always to the same little town, and I've never seen crowds like this. I even came down here in early July - a great time for the beach! - and there weren't nearly as many people around as there are now. When it comes to vacationing in France, what a difference a month makes.

I always knew that the French vacationed in August, but I never really witnessed the event or understood what it truly meant. Beaches that used to have room to spare are packed. Traffic jams appear where there used to be no cars at all. There is a line at the boulangerie to get your morning croissant. Quiet cafés have turned into bustling hot spots. In short, the sleepy little beachside town I've come to know simply doesn't exist in August. Right now it's all vacationers all the time.

It's easy to think of the south of France as the capital of glam and glitz; a sort of playground for the rich and fabulous. This is only partially true. The town I'm in, Six-fours-les-plages, is about an hour's drive from St. Tropez, but it couldn't be further from it's flashy neighbor. No Jay-Z and Beyoncé sightings here; just young families, couples and the retirement crowd. Despite it's A-list image, much of the south really is just where normal French people (and Germans, Dutch, Belgians, Swiss and even some Italians) go to get away from it all...a lot of August.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Moving On

Getting ready to leave the foreign city you've lived in for the past six months isn't easy. There are the practical considerations such as packing (how did I accumulate so much stuff?!?!), figuring what to do about your cell phone (sell? keep for next time?) and trying to find enough money to pay for the baggage fees that didn't exist when you came out here (could flying get any worse?). Not to mention all the work you know it will take to set up your new life in your new destination. Luckily, experienced travelers know how to manage these tasks while minimizing the collatoral damage that often accompanies them. But there is also an an emotional side to the transition, which is where it gets tricky. Even the most seasoned of globetrotters can be caught off guard by the feelings that accompany a trans-Atlantic move.

First of all, trying to live in the moment and enjoy everything about your current situation can be difficult to do when your mind is already thinking about the future. Some peole will try to cram in all the things they haven't done yet before leaving, while others have reached the burnout stage and are simply waiting to leave. Both situations can be exhausting. Leaving friends and others we have become used to seeing is another cause for emotional strain. There are tears, promises to keep in touch, and wondering when the next meeting will be. You start to think about your favorite stores, restaurants, parks, activities, foods; all the things you won't be able to enjoy once you leave. But mostly you just end up feeling sort of confused. Part of you is excited to head off to a new adventure, while the other part of you is mourning the loss of your current one. Which feeling are you to believe?

Such is the fate of those who are never happy to stay in one place for too long. We accept it because the alternative is to never travel, but that doesn't make it any easier to live through. What's more, experience doesn't necessarily make us better at handling this in-between period of time. That's the thing about traveling: the baggage you carry is often more than just your suitcase.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What the Future Holds

I owe you an explanation. You've probably noticed that my blog is called Parisian Spring and that my "about me" section described me as a student in Paris finishing up her last semester of grad school and wanting to write about her experiences. You've also probably noticed that it's no longer spring and it's no longer my last semester as a grad student. And you'd be right. So what's the deal? Why am I still writing from Paris? Why keep the blog name, which at one time symbolized the time frame for my trip, but doesn't anymore? Not to worry, I have answers.

As my original departure date, June 30th, crept closer and closer, I decided I wasn't ready to return to the US. New friends, the French lifestyle and a summer with nothing else to do but enjoy them both kept me from jumping on that plane and leaving it all behind. So, I did what any rational person in my situation would do: I changed my ticket. The new return date is August 13th, which, unfortunately, is fast approaching. And this time, there will be no last minute travel adjustments.

What, then, is to become of my blog? For countless reasons, I have decided to keep it going even after I leave The City of Lights. I love writing, I love sharing information with people, I love being part of the travel writing community...I mean, blogging is just plain fun! At first I worried about the title. I worried that it wouldn't make sense to call it Parisian Spring when it was no longer spring and I was no longer in Paris. But then Christine, a fellow blogger, ever so wisely told me that Parisian Spring didn't just represent a moment in time, it also represented a mindset. A mindset that ecapsulates art de vivre, enjoying life, new experiences, travel and curiosity; all the things I hoped, and still hope, to demonstrate through my blog.

When I finally leave this amazing country that has become my second home, I invite you to discover friendly Minneapolis (I will be there for a month) and then exciting Washington, DC (I will hopefully be working there) through the eyes of a local: me! Hopelessly infected with the travel bug, I will have plenty of experiences from other cities and countries to share along the way. I hope to see you there! After all, what could be better than an eternal Parisian Spring?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Closing Time

It's official: August in Paris has arrived. Although it's not so much the actual date that gives it away as it is what's happening in city. Everywhere you look, shops are closing up or reducing their already French-reduced hours. Just the other day I tried to buy my favorite creamy cheese from my favorite local cheese shop only to be turned away on arrival by a shuttered store front. But don't blame the economy; these closings have nothing to do with lack of customers. August is the time that most of the French take their annual, long vacation, and if they own their own business, that business goes on vacation too. Buying a baguette for dinner just got a whole lot harder.

The fact that stores in France will actually close for the summer, sometimes for more than an entire month, can come as a shock to Americans. We live in the land of 24 hour everything. A land where you don't have to think about what day or time or month it is before you head out the door to do your shopping. If the owner of a family-owned business goes on vacation, they might just have their employees keep watch over things. But in France, it doesn't work like that. A vacation is a vacation, and since the employees themselves are entitled to abundant time off, they just shut the place down.

Now, a lot of Parisians won't notice the closing of their favorite salon or mini-mart. After all, they're on vacation too. But for those of us who stay behind, the neighborhood can start to feel like a ghost town in August. Sure, there are tons of tourists in the city, and the businesses that cater to them stay open this time of year. But if you live in an area far from the main attractions, your options for everything start to diminish. I spent a half an hour just walking around trying to find an open boulangerie the other day when usually there's one on every corner. I mean, I'm happy for the owners and employees who get to enjoy the lovely summer weather without going to work everyday. I'm happy they're getting to spend some quality time with their family or friends or even alone if that's what they prefer. And I hope they've escaped the city to greener pastures, maybe the beach or the mountains. In the meantime, I'll be here, gazing longingly at the fromagerie around the corner, counting down the days until I can once again indulge in my favorite creamy cheese.