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GRE: J’ai fini!

I’m done! No more standardized test-taking for me, ever again!

I finally took the GRE this week in Paris. The only testing location in the city is located in a suburb on the absolute other side of the city from where I live. So, my test day went something like this:

6:10 a.m. Wake up

7:00 a.m. Leave

7:20  a.m. Arrive at train station

7:30-8:10 a.m. Ride train into Paris

8:10-8:20 a.m. Quickly locate espresso

8:20-9:10 a.m. Ride several other metro lines, to their ends

9:10-9:30 a.m Walk to the testing location

9:31 a.m. Wait. Hmm…wasn’t I supposed to be here 30 minutes early? Why is the office still closed? Oh, right, I’m in France. I forgot.

9:40 a.m. Sign some waiver that promises to give my firstborn child to Educational Testing Services if I ever tell anyone about any of the test questions. Or something like that. It sounded serious.

9:45 a.m. Stuff my possessions into a locker, say a quick prayer, and sit in front of a computer.

10 a.m  – 1 p.m. Test time

At the end of the test, you instantly receive your scores, since the verbal and quantitative parts are all computerized. I was really scared because, honestly, I felt like I was making educated guesses on all the math problems. And the verbal portions, which had seemed really easy to me during practice, were quite hard (the reading comprehension ones, anyway).  And, while I’m at it, why did I memorize 5,000 words in my GRE Prep book only to find ONE of them on the exam?

Anyhow, I ended up getting a 680 on quantitative and 690 on verbal, which made me happy. It’s above the average scores for all the programs I am applying to, so it’s good enough for me. It would have been nice to have beaten my husband’s GMAT scores, at least in the verbal area, but I was 10 points off. Darn!

I came home and immediately threw my notebooks — full of vocabulary and equations I never used — into the trash. It felt great. I’m done!!! I feel like this huge weight has been shoved off my shoulders. I can finally relax – a bit – and enjoy my last few weeks in France. I still have to finish my applications, of course, but that can be done in small spurts of work, as opposed to studying, which you feel like you could always do more, always work a bit longer, etc. There’s no end to it. Until now.

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In my next post, I’m going to tell you all about my fabulous weekend trip to Finland.

But first, I’m going to tell you a little story about two people, just trying to get out of Paris…

This story starts off in small village in a big woods. Our two protagonists decide to take the train from their village to Paris Gare de Lyon, so they can then catch another two more trains, and finally make it to Charles de Gaulle International Airport. After all, the airport is very far away, and parking is very, very expensive where they live.

Our couple arrives at the platform of their train station 15 minutes early, and begins waiting for a 11:46 train. But it never comes. They “know” it “must” be running, since they checked the Internet daily schedule just minutes before leaving their home… yet it never comes.

They rush in their car, drive like maniacs to the nearby larger town (with more connecting trains), decide to pay for parking there, and just barely manage to grab a train heading into Paris. As they board the train, they hear an announcement, “Attention! The next train to Paris has been cancelled.”

Now, it starts to make sense! For some reason, on this random Wednesday, only one train per hour is going into Paris, and the one that has been cancelled each hour is the one that goes past their village. Why? Who knows.

Eventually, after spending the last 15 minutes of the 40-minute train ride listening to an emergency siren that, mysteriously, is going off on the train (and which no one seems to want to turn off), our heroic couple ends up in Paris. After transferring several times,  they finally make it to the airport.

All is good with the world, as they are only about 30 minutes later than scheduled. And our couple is always, always early, so this is not a problem.

As they arrive in the airport, they go to the SAS airlines counter, hand the ticket agent their passports and… WHAM!

The lights turn off.

The power has gone out. All throughout Charles De Gaulle International airport. No generators.

The entire airport is without power.

For nearly TWO HOURS.

The woman in our little story needs to use the restroom, but even this proves difficult. After all, there are no lights. She fearlessly charges ahead, using only the light from her cellphone to guide her. Afterwards, she puts soap on her hands, suds them up and… realizes there is no water, because the faucets are supposed to turn on automatically.

Not one to be stopped from washing her hands, she finds her Evian bottle, and asks her husband to pour it slowly, as she rinses her hands over a trash can. Desperate times, she reasons, call for desperate measures.

At no point in the next hour-and-a-half are there any announcements made over the loudspeakers. No security guards or ticket agents know what is happening. Our couple briefly worries that this is some sort of terrorist plot, but then decides, no, it’s probably just their piss-poor luck.

I would like to point out at this point that no one can buy snacks, soda, wine or water, or even a magazine, because all the cash registers are down.

With just 30 minutes to go until the flight is scheduled to take off, the lights come back on. Miraculously, the flight only takes off about 45 minutes late. Strong headwinds, however, make it take even longer than planned to go to Finland.

Oh, our couple’s luggage? And the luggage of every single person on that airplane? Not on the plane. Since the electricity was down, they couldn’t route it to the plane.

And so, our couple spends the next 36 hours of their lives in the same clothes, without anything but the coats on their backs and a few books. And carmex. Because the woman never leaves home without it. Add it’s really dry on airplanes.

When the two arrive in Helsinki, at 10:30 p.m. , the cheap cab they planned to share with other passengers into the city is not running. So they have to pay about 40 euros just to get to the hotel.

Whatever, Alexander. This couple knows how to have a  really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

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When I first saw this article last night, I thought it was a joke. But no, it’s not.

McDonald’s is coming to the Louvre.

You know they all want a Big Mac...

You know they all want a Big Mac...

 That’s right. Well, not exactly to the museum itself. The company is planning to open a restaurant in the Carousel, the underground shopping area between the Louvre-Rivoli metro stop and the entrance to the museum. This area is already full of shops and a food court. There’s even a Starbucks there, which I’ve never stopped at, but which is always packed.

Still, of course, the decision to open the fast-food joint at the doors of the world’s most famous art museum is  provoking some “outrage” and a lot of bad puns in newspapers all over the world.

Meh.

What’s the big deal?

I mean, other than the greasy McDonald’s smell that will no doubt waft through to the museum’s entrance (not really what I want to smell when I’m gettin’ my art on).

There are McDonald’s all over France. It’s hardly like this is some new, crass, corporate American invasion of  Paris, Capital of World Gastronomy.

I’m much more annoyed by reports I’ve read in the past about McDonald’s trying to open outlets near the Aztec ruins in Mexico, or on the plaza in Oaxaca. But this? Is it that big a deal?

When I first moved here, I was shocked to see so many McDonald’s, actually. Even more surprising is on Friday and Saturday evenings, they are packed! 

So I learned more about this while reading a fabulous new book,  “Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine and the End of France,” by Michael Steinberger. The book contains a very eye-opening chapter about McDonald’s in France. Not that Steinberger is exactly praising the chain’s proliferation in the country (France is the second-most profitable market for McDonald’s, after the U.S.A) but he explains why it’s such a hit among French people, and he takes a very balanced approach to looking at the benefits, and problems, coming out of the company’s operations there.

Among the tidbits I picked up from the book:

* McDonald’s European operations are run by a Frenchman, and many people think he will be next in line to take over the entire Chicago-based company. Yes, a Frenchmen could someday run McDonald’s.

* Retirees are among the chain’s most loyal clients in France.

* French McDonald’s sources 75 percent of its ingredients domestically.

* French people visit McDonald’s in their own, very French way. Americans, for example, visit McDonald’s more often than do the French, at all hours of the day, frequently alone, and they opt for takeout 70 percent of the time. The French spent more money per visit, come in groups more often, and they do 70 percent of their eating during regular lunch and dinner hours.

* McDonald’s purchases their macarons for their McCafes from the same company that owns the famous Ladurée bakery.

*By 2005, more than 40 percent of all French were considered overweight or obese, a figure that had doubled in less than a decade and which is rising by more than 10 percent annually. On a per capita basis, if that trend continues, the French will rank up there with the Americans in terms of obesity by 2020. Is this McDonald’s fault? No, no one is sying that.

*By 2007, McDonald’s had nearly 50,000 people on its payrolls in France,  making it the country’s largest private sector employer. Also, in 2006, McDonald’s was ranked the 8th best company to work for in France.

*Many of  the company’s outlets are in predominantely immigrant neighborhoods where unemployment rates among youth are often as high was 50 percent. It provides jobs for many of they young people there. I’m not really sure if I buy this, but listen to what Steinberger writes about  October, 2005, when the suburbs around Paris exploded in riots, with young people  torching many cars and trashing local businesses.

McDonald’s outlets were generally spared.  “We were very protected,” Henneguin (head of European McDonald’s)  told me. “The kids would  say, ‘ Hey, my sister works there. ‘  We’ve rarely been hit.”

McDonald’s, in his view, was helping to assimilate a large and rapidly growing immigrant population that generally felt marginalized in French society, and it was  promoting diveristy and solidary in a country that badly needed more of both. .. “In alot of these neighborhoods,  there arent alot of options. McDonald’s is one of them,” he said.

He went on to explain that McDonald’s tries to maintain certain ethnic and racial balances in their outlets, and will sometimes even send workers to different neighborhoods in order to achieve this goal.

It’s interesting to know all these facts about French McDonald’s. Now, does that mean I want to eat a Big Mac at the Louvre? No. I want to go to Cafe Richelieu, in the Richelieu wing of the museum, and eat outside on the terrace overlooking the glass pyramid.

But, you know, if I’m a mom visiting with her family of four from, say, Minneapolis, and I don’t have a ton of money, and I want something quick to eat before seeing the Mona Lisa with my kids – maybe I would go for it. I know it’s hard to find inexpensive food in Paris, especially around the tourist sites. Not everyone has the time, or the money, to visit the town’s best bistros. And, frankly, some people don’t want to.

To each his (or her) own.

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Today, D. had a meeting in Paris. Since I have honed my Paris-metro-and-map skills in recent months, while he’s been in the library studying, I offered to come along and help him find his way.

Of course, this meant that when he went in for his meeting, I had nothing to do. I had planned to go to the Middle Ages Museum, but today was Tuesday — the day almost all the museums are closed in France. So what did I do? I found one museum that isn’t run by the government, and therefore, was open —  Le Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.

Even better, it only cost 6 euros, and was small enough that I thought I could see it during the time D. was in his meeting.

I found the museum just off the Rambuteau metro line. To enter, I had to go through pretty tight security — the entrance is locked and manned by several security guards. To get through, they X-ray your purse, then you go through a metal detector. THEN they unlock the door. It makes sense, though — think about the recent shooting at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., and even the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires some years ago… I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that thoughts of those events crossed my mind as I went to the museum this afternoon. So the security made me feel more comfortable.

It looks much cooler in person...

It looks much cooler in person...

I picked up my English audioguide, which was included in my entrance fee, and started walking. The museum includes items like Jewish gravestones from the 1200s, and many other really old pieces of art and artifacts from Jewish Europeans — a painting of a circumcision in 1700s Italy, old French-style ceramic plates inscribed in Hebrew,  and, my personal favorite, centuries-old ketubahs, or marriage contracts, elaborately painted. It was very cool.

They don’t allow any photos inside the museum, and I couldn’t find any photos of the ketubahs  online. But the museum’s web site does have photos of some other very beautiful things, such as this Holy Ark Curtain from 19th century Turkey…

D. called me when his meeting was done, and I went to the neighborhood he had been in – which was near a Korean store a friend had told me about. We walked there and bought tofu — for a euro. In the grocery stores here, it costs 3-4 euros and is very poor quality. D. bought some other snack mixes and kimchee ramen noodles.

Then we took the metro to the Gare de Nord station, near the Indian neighborhood, where we went to our old standby, V.S. Cash ‘n Carry, to purchase some things we’ve run low on — turmeric, cumin seeds, chana masala mix, urad dal and chana dal. And, since we were so close to Ganesha Corner, our old standby Sri Lankan restaurant, we went there and had our “usual” — a masala dosa with coconut chutney and two dals/subjis for $4.50 — prices almost unheard of in France 🙂

An almost-all-eaten dosa... except this time, ours was much crispier!

An almost-all-eaten dosa... except this time, ours was much crispier!

 After a long ride back to our station, and then an even longer wait for a train to Fontainebleau, we finally made it home. Overall, it was a pretty good day in town – although, admittedly, not your “typical”  tourist day in Paris.

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I’m on a boat…

Blurry... like my recollections of the night

Blurry... like my recollections of the night

Last night, there was a party held in honor of the European “National week” at Insead. They organized it on a barge, which was anchored in the Seine River, in the heart of Paris.

It was awesome.

As we stood, waiting for the bus to pick us all up at Insead, there were bottles of beer and champagne being passed around. This continued during the 1.5 hour ride into Paris – champagne, freely flowing.

It’s pretty cool driving into Paris at night. We could see the Eiffel tower all lit up and everything.

We partied on the top of the boat, looking at the Paris skyline, for several hours, and eventually made it home around 4 a.m.

Needless to say, when I was awakened early this  morning by a jackhammer directly outside our door ripping up the road… ugh. Felt like my head was ready to explode, for more than one reason!

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A while back, D. and I went into Paris with some friends and paid a visit to the famous Cimetière de Montmartre. This above-ground cemetary reminded me of the one in Recoleta, in Buenos Aires, where Evita Peron is buried.

Except here, you can visit the graves of such famous Frenchmen as Emile Zola and Jacques Offenbach. At the front of the cemetery, there is a large sign listing many of the deceased and their claims to fame.

Look below and guess what caught our eyes:

The list of graves

The list of graves

“Romancier.”

In case it’s too small for you to read, the number 72 grave spot, between a “poete” and a “danseus”  is occupied by “Stendhal: Romancier.”

Really? That’s a job?

We all four sat around trying to figure out what kind of a country lists being a romantic lover as a career. Ha ha ha, we laughed.  I liked imagining this Stendhal character, whoever he was, wandering around in a red velvet bathrobe, smoking a pipe, reeking of a strong eau de toilette and spitting out Byron quotes at every turn.

So,…it turns out “romancier,” is just a French term for a novelist. Oops. Jokes on us.

But it also turns out I was right on the second one – Wikipedia tells me that “Stendhal was a dandy and wit about town in Paris, as well as an inveterate womaniser who was obsessed with his sexual conquests.”

He later suffered miserable physical problems later in life from complications of (and treatment of) syphilis.

I wonder what it says about the French that “novelist”  has the same root as “romance.” Linguistics people, where are you?

And, are you still considered a romancier even if you write novels about, say, mountain climbing and survival?

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Paris - View from the (almost) Top

Paris - View from the (almost) Top

Sorry I haven’t posted anything for so long – but D. finally had his short school break last week, and we took advantage of it by traveling to Annecy, a little tourist town in the French Alps.

Before that, however, we went to Paris – and FINALLY saw the Eiffel tower. Well, I’d seen it once before, but it was from miles and miles away, from the freeway, so that didn’t really count, in my opinion.

It was a pretty cold day, but it wasn’t too bad. We purchased the “mobilis” ticket from the train station, which allows us unlimited train and metro rides for the day for 16 euros, and we were off for a day of exploring.

We took the metro to the Eiffel Tower stop, got off, and started walking around, wondering why we couldn’t see it anywhere. Just as I started to say, “hmm… don’t you think it would be easy to spot?” I looked up and BAM, it was right in front of me. Pretty startling, actually, to look up and just suddenly see one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world, you know?

This was our first view

This was our first view

Us, in front of it

Us, in front of it

D. and I walked around, then finally decided to walk up the first to levels. I think it was about 680 steps. When we came down, we walked across the way to get some popcorn and a crepe from a street vendor. Then we walked across the river and around the city for about 30 minutes, until we looked up again and, BAM! Saw the Arc de Triomph.
Awful photo - but look at the size of that sandwich!
Awful photo – but look at the size of that sandwich!
By this time, we were getting hungry. I had read about a great falafel place in a magazine article my mom cut out for me from Bon Appetit, so we headed to the Marais neighborhood to find it. After wandering around and seeing both a Subway sandwich shop AND a Starbucks (can you believe it?) we finally found the right area. It was in a Jewish neighborhood, and it was pretty cool to start seeing the French signs giving way to store shop windows and signs in Hebrew. There were a bunch of falafel places, but we
found “L’As du Fallafel.”
 It was a bustling, fun, bright place with speedy waitstaff. I ordered a coke and a falafel sandwich, which came in about 4 minutes flat.
Basically, it was the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.
The actual piecesof falafel were good, although they weren’t quite as good as The Best Falafel Ever, which is made by my old friend from college at his restaurant,  “King of Falafel” in Madison.
However, this sandwich was second-to-none. The falafel came in warm pita, surrounded by hummus, some garlicky sauce, roasted eggplant pieces, shredded cabbage, tomatoes…. yum! And it was only 7 euros!
Our camera was dying by this point, but D. tried to quick capture a photo of the sandwich… as you can see, it didn’t really work.
After the food, we were ready to go home. We went to the station, caught the train back to Bourron-Marlotte about 20 seconds before it left, and took the hourlong ride back to the house. All in all, it was a great day!

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