I’m here!

So, I’ve finally taken a few minutes to set up offline mail, so I can write emails without it costing me $2/hour. (I’ll discuss that later.) Here’s a (rather long) account of pretty much everything I’ve been up to since I left America, the short version is that I’m here and enjoying it so far! I’m sure this is the longest thing I’ll ever write, since work starts on Monday. Feel free to just stop reading here, I know I never read emails this long. Feel free to pass this along to people who’s email address didn’t pop up for me – google contacts don’t work in offline mode. Miss you all,
Hugs and Kisses all around,

Anyways, I got on the plane at 6pm in Chicago, out of the C terminal with the fun walkway under the tarmac. The plane was 2-3-2 where I had one of the aisle seats on the interior. Thankfully, the plane was half-full, and no one was sitting in the middle seat, or on the other aisle across from me. The woman with the other interior aisle was friendly, on her way to visit her boyfriend at a conference in paris for three days before going to rome and florence for a week. She was from Minocqua, WI, which is where I went to summercamp, and it turned out we sort of knew some people in common. Small world. The guy in the aisle across from her kept flipping his reading light on and off while with a sleepmask on, which was impressively annoying. All of the anouncements were in both English and some jibberish I presume is French, so I certainly couldn’t make it out. But whatever, I just watched some Six Feet Under and BSG: The Plan, and managed to sleep a little. I can now recommend United’s Pasta Trio, which was edible, although the accompanying salad is nothing but iceberg. Did I mention that The Plan kinda sucked? I’m not going to spoil anything, and the copy downloaded on Tivo sure has a lot of T&A in it (I donno if SyFy showed that), but other than Six walking around in not much other than stilletos, it was some weak sauce. But it’s worth watching, even if it’s half clip show, half B-listers of BSG, just because it’s more BSG goodness.

The airplane landed at 9:30am at Charles DeGaulle Airport. CDG is pretty cool, because they don’t really expect you to walk anywhere. Instead, there are just these conveyor belts that take you around. The big difference between these conveyor belts and most other airport conveyor belts is that when going from point A to B, A and B are not necessarily at the same altitude, and sometimes they go semi-outside in these enclosed bubbles. Basically, CDG is that level of Fred’s Star Wars game with all the mushrooms and holocrons. Customs was a breeze, and I had my bag by 10:15. I grabbed a cab from the cabstand, and my cabbie was really nice. He didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much French, but good-will on both sides pushed the ball down the field. I won’t say my cabbie was a bad driver, but his safety tolerances are much smaller than even American cabbies. It reminded me of driving with Matt Blyth’s british dad. He took me right to my hotel (expressway signs make it pretty easy to figure out) and helped me get my giant bag out of the back. French cabbies FTW.

My boss thinks I’m probably staying in the cheapest hotel in Paris, and I can’t disagree. Although France rates all of it’s hotels by a common star system, and requires they post them on a specific sign out front, and this is a one star hotel. Walking around, I’ve seen a few zero star hotels, so this at least isn’t the worst hotel in France. The elevator is undergoing renovations, as is the phone in my room. There’s some phone wiring coming out of the wall, but the phone is dead. There hasn’t been much of a discussion about rates either, so I’ve just left it. It turns out the shower is complimentary, although it’s a three floor process. There’s only one key, kept at the front desk on the ground floor, I’m on the second floor and it’s on the third. That’s discounting the first floor which is in between the ground floor and my floor. There’s a small tv in my room that I’ve turned on twice – it gets eight channels, all of which are in French and include things like dubbed-over The Waltons and French PBS style documentaries. The remote is an extra euro/day, and the volume buttons have been removed from the tv. Fuck it. The hotel internet turns out to be a kiosk in the lobby, so I found an Orange.fr wifi signal that I can mostly pick up in my room, at 15Euro for ten hours. Way worth it. Overall the hotel isn’t bad, well at least as far as bad hotels go. There’s no vermin, the sheets are clean, and the front desk makes sure no one wanders in. It’s just a little worn out, kinda like what happened to Lindsay Lohan. If you’re vacationing in Paris, I recommend bumping yourself up to a class of hotel where the tv remote is included in the room rate.

So, Friday afternoon I fought off taking a nap by instead walking around the neighborhood, which is the 10th district (arrondissement). Paris is laid out in a spiral, and people really define where they live by the district. My hotel is nestled in between Gare du Nord, one of the big train stations, and the Gare du l’est, one of the other train stations. There’s a lot of places to buy a suit or an international phone card, but mostly sex toys and pornography. I’ve walked around quite a few neighborhoods at this point, and there’s a lot of sex in this town. The 13th (where my boss lives) just has lots of magazine stands where the magazines that get put front and center are the ones that would be in brown paper in the states. In the 6th, where I looked at a studio apartment today, there’s just a lot of high-end dirty underwear stores. There are parts of a mannequin you just can’t un-see. Here, in the 10th, the shops just have XXX out front and black windows. I’m a little scared to discover more, although they all use hilarious phrases out front that don’t really pop up in English like “hardsex videos” instead of “hard-core sex videos”.

My new boss, Daniel Comparat, invited me over to dinner on Friday night, so I hopped on the metro to go to his house. He lives in a cute little residential neighborhood in the 13th. I was rather early, so I walked around the 13th for awhile. There’s a chinatown a few blocks away, which Daniel and his wife had hilarious things to say about (“It’s great that it’s right there, it means the schools are really good!”) I bought some flowers to bring to dinner from a nice local florist. Finally at 7pm I went over for dinner, which was guac and chips and bread rolls, a baked goat cheese entree with salad, and raspberry cake for dessert. I met Daniel’s wife, Marie, who’s an astrophysicist in central paris, and their two children Lucie, 7 and I think Pierre, 4. Dinner was delightful, we talked about apartments in Paris and the differences between the American and French advanced education systems. Their bathroom has a bookshelf filled with mystery novels, lots of van Guliks, so we talked about mysteries some. I also found out that Marie stayed at Cite Universitaire for the last year of her PhD, and had nice things to say about it. Daniel said on Friday he heard from someone that if he fills out some form for me that I could get bumped up to the top of the queue for housing at Cite Universitaire because I’m affiliated with CNRS, so he said he’d do that Monday. At the end of the night Marie checked again to make sure my hotel “was really alright”, and Daniel walked me back to the metro station. Oh, and Daniel’s wife gave me two kisses on the cheek, with the subtext of “you’re american, so this will be awkward”, and poof! it was! But they’re clearly both Good People.

After sleeping for a solid twelve hours, by Saturday morning I was comfortably awake by like 11am and feeling rested. Take that, jet lag! Shortly after I woke up, the hotel was filled with noises. Sex noises. Strangely, it turned into hotel-filling sobs. I have no clue what was going on, but it could really be anything from odd-sexual response to raped hooker. Since it’s now 11pm and I haven’t heard any noises in hours, I’d lean more towards dead hooker.

So, rather than stay for the excitement of my hotel, I took the metro down the the bottom of the 14th, where the Cite Universitaire is. The Cite Universitaire is a bunch of residences for grad students and some researchers, divided up somewhat like Epcot. There are 47 houses, each of which are a different nationality. I had heard from my Aunt Marla’s BFF Susan that Cite Universitaire “isn’t very Parisian”, and I can see what she means. But it has the familiar feeling of the academy, and there seems to be a lot of young people running around. I liked it. Plus, it’s the closest place to live to the closest trainstop to work that’s still in Paris. Two blocks away seems to offer many of the traditional Paris features, butchers and breadshops and cafes.

I then hopped back on the metro to look at an apartment in the 6th arrondissement, which is very posh. The streets were lined with clothes shops, some I recognized on the low end – H&M, Zara, Benneton, and many smaller higher-end stores. There were huge crowds in the streets, going from store to store. There was also some sort of march/parade/protest going down Rue de Vaugirard. Something about students and democracy or something. The studio was down a flight of stairs and then up seven, which made for some great views of Paris out the hallway windows. The room, however, had only one window that looked at an adjoining apartment. There were five or six other people looking at the apartment, and the bathroom was in the hall. However, the apartment was too small to fit more than two or three people standing in the studio at the same time. One hundred square meters for $950/month plus utilities – too rich for my blood! The other people looking at the apartment were quite nice, and I ended up riding the subway back with a few of them and gave them a business card for if they find a place to split. They all seemed a little exasperated by the apartment hunting, I’m glad I’m not the only one.

On the way home I saw a fun little turkish place right near my hotel, so I dropped off my bag and got a Donner kabob sandwich. They asked me what I wanted on my fries, and at first I didn’t understand the question. But when they said the options, “Ketchup, mustard, mayo…” I knew right away! “Oh, mayo!” I love Europe! Plus there wasn’t ice in my water, just how I like it! And everyone wears scarves and clothes that fit! Supercool!

My french is coming back slowly, although faster than I expected it to. My spoken french is still terrible, but my reading comprehension seems decent and if someone speaks slowly I can usually follow. Thankfully mayo is just “ma-yo”.

It turns out my hotel is really safe at night, since the whole neighborhood seems filled with riot police on patrol. They’re actually pretty cool looking, with assault rifles and black football shoulder pads. Some even have plastic shields. But since I’m still working on not getting hit by a car or running into a cyclist (the bike lane system here is impressive, but still a little confusing to me – it’ll be a bit before I feel comfortable cycling here), I got off the street before whatever needs riot police starts up.

Tomorrow I’m taking the train down to Orsay to figure out exactly where the Lab is (google maps has no idea). There’s another studio apartment being shown by the same woman tomorrow that I was going to go see in the 14th, and it’s 12m^2 rather than 11m^2, but she told me that there were a lot of people interested in this apartment, unlike today’s apartment with the half-dozen. I’m leaning towards just holding out for Cite Universitaire. Monday is when things get exciting – I get to buy my monthly transit card, and sign a contract, so I can open a bank account, so I can buy a cell phone, etc. etc.

I’ll write again when I’ve got a better internet connection and a permanent address and phone number. Good job for reading all this! Gold star!