Jason in Paris

Jason is a junior majoring in music composition in Meadows School of the Arts and the recipient of a Meadows Artistic Scholarship. In Fall 2009 he is participating in SMU-in-Paris, where he intends to study the past and present culture. As a music and history student, he intends to pay close attention to the contemporary musical scene, the waves of cinematic history in France and the 17th and 20th century political history of France.

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Goodbye to Paris: Jason’s Top Ten List

P1010008.jpg Yes, everyone, this is the last blog from Paris. It is hard to believe that in one week, I will be back in the United States. I have experienced so much here and have been so inspired, but I can definitely feel home calling me.

Most important, I am not leaving Paris, or Europe for that matter, with any sense of regret. I guess I feel like I have accomplished a lot since I have been here; I’ve studied and seen all the great museums, went to Cologne and saw the beginnings of my family, ate a lot of Tortilla Espagnola in Spain, and oh, how many baguettes and macaroons I’ve eaten! So I do not know what else I could possibly do at this point but stuff myself with more baguettes and macaroons, live the last days here with my friends, and maybe get a little Eiffel Tower souvenir?

However, let’s make this blog count. While I have learned so much about history and art since I have been here, I’d rather give you all a glimpse of real Parisian life. For example, what is a typical French dish? What do people really wear every day? Do strikes really happen? What’s the best mode of transportation? All that and more, of-course. But, I want you all to know that if you ever want to go to France, Germany or Spain, and you have any question at all no matter how small or big, I would thoroughly enjoy hearing from you!

Starting your day

Breakfast in France can be many things. For me, I eat cereal because that is fastest, and I’m not a tourist but a student. If you stay at a hotel or are a real all-out Parisian, you’ll probably enjoy a breakfast of croissants with savory unsalted butter, slices of ham, maybe even some peach preserves on a baguette, and a coffee that is more like a shot of espresso. Really tasty!

How to get around

After that savory little breakfast, it will probably be time to make your way down to the metro station, which truly is the best mode of transportation in Paris, beating out taxis due to its speed and cheap price. You can buy day, week and monthlong passes, but for those just visiting, stick to the weekly passes that you can purchase through the electronic ticket machines. You can select English on these, so have at it!

Plus, the metro is so well-planned that you do not have to walk much at all to get to whatever destination you choose. Just know what the name is for the end of the line and take that direction. Many trains intersect at several stations, making it easy and convenient, and they also will let you off close to all the major sites in Paris.

Another helpful hint about transportation: Don’t take a taxi from the airport (unless you really need to). The RER, which is a suburban train, operates to and from Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, and being only 10 Euros versus the 50 Euro cab fare, this is much better! Just follow the signs or ask someone once you get off your flight and get your baggage.

However, if you have a lot of luggage, and I mean A LOT, then definitely do the cab because it will be difficult lugging 5 suitcases per person throughout the metro tunnels. But, an even cheaper option can be the airport shuttles. Just Google “Airport Shuttles from CDG to Paris,” and a host of options will show up. For a mere 20 Euros, they will pick you up at your designated time and place, and they will deliver you to your designated place at whatever time. You can also book these online, and you can also use these for when you have to go back to the airport!

Now the metros can be stifling hot, especially in the summertime (except in Spain where there is air-conditioning in the metro). Just bear it, and think of all the money you are saving. Paris is not hot or cold in the summer, but dress comfortably.

What to wear

A tip to pack light: a scarf changes your everyday outfit, ladies. Men: only wear them if it’s appropriate for the temperature, but they are incredibly fashionable and will make you look French if you wear one. If it’s October or later, you can bet you’ll want a big coat, but bring a little one in case it’s unseasonably warm. In any case, weather.com is your friend. It does rain a lot, but not heavy pounding rain like we have in Texas, so a nice little umbrella will do you justice.

Also, people in Paris do generally wear tighter pants than we do. Skinny jeans and pants, well-tailored suits, all the rage. You may be interested to know, however, that Wrangler’s are popular; very weird. These goes hand-in-hand with the fact that Americanism has plunged deeply into France and that pretty much everyone speaks English. So if you do not know a lick of French, you’ll probably be ok.

No one wears shorts – that is a big no-no in the city. It is better to have a list of what-not-to-wear than what-to-wear. So no shorts, no baseball caps and no sandals. You’ll be fine from there.

What to say

The infiltration of English has led France to become alarmed. No worries; I doubt they will do anything about it. However, the government is very particular about the culture, having its very own academy that sits around discussing the French language constantly.

Speaking of the French government, it is a socialist government under the wing of democracy, in fact. Six weeks of vacation is guaranteed for all citizens who work, and health care is essentially free and amazing.

Also, the French government seems to listen to its people more than ours does, or perhaps we are just not as vocal. Well, we don’t go on strikes that often either, like they do. I have not met any major strikes that have affected me, but beware, last week the Louvre and other major museums went on strike. I bet Ms. Mona Lisa had a nice long nap, though.

What to eat

JasonandMedees.jpg So let’s say you took Metro Line 1 to Musee de Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, and after visiting only a little section of the Louvre’s 50,000 square meters of art (not exaggerating), you want lunch. There are thousands of restaurants in Paris, all very good. Well, I haven’t found a bad one yet. Sit outside if the weather cooperates because the people-watching is fantastic. Order “Steak Frites,” which is steak and French fries (pronounced stake-freets). You can even get ketchup. Watch out, though, things can get pricey quick, and that can of Coke is almost always at least 3 Euros. Get dessert; it’s often the cheapest thing on the menu, and the most satisfying. Anything chocolate goes.

You’ll find that French food is not really shockingly different. Sandwiches, salads, chicken, and many other typical American foods are on the menu. Nothing really sticks out as overly awkward.

But if you want something lighter, pop in to one of the many “Boulangeries.” These are the places that French people go for mainly bread, but little tarts, chocolate macaroons (like a brownie but better), sandwiches and other really tasty desserts can be found here, all for a cheap price.

Another great little idea are the “Creperies.” Here, you can get that infamous Parisian delicacy, which is like a pancake meeting a tortilla with anything you want inside of it. My personal favorite is chicken and cheese, SO GOOD – but my friends enjoy them with Nutella especially.

Whenever you pay for food, always place your payment in the little tray. The French are not unusually particular about this, but it’s just a little thing they do, so respect it. Also, you never use your index finger for 1; use your thumb. Just another little difference between us and them.

How to have fun

If you still need to walk off that big tasty lunch, and you don’t have exams to study for, just walk around. You’ll stumble into something. The Jardins du Luxembourg are beautiful, and the palace in the middle of it all is absolutely lovely. Who knows what flowers are growing from week to week, so keep checking back. Perhaps you should even get yourself another macaroon in case you get hungry. Or, you can just go shopping.

The Galeries Lafayette house the popular chain brands and department stores of Paris, but streets like Etienne Marcel (near Place des Victoires), St. Honore (near the Louvre) and Champs-Elysees – and the areas around the metro stops such as St. Paul, Hotel de Ville and Chatelet – also have great shopping with all their little boutique stores and what-nots. You’ll definitely find something no matter what; it is Paris.

Beethoven-1.jpg If you want to hear a nice concert, check out Opera de Paris (composed of Opera Bastille and the Palais Garnier), the Orchestra National de France, The Philharmonic Radio Orchestra of France, Cite de la Musique or Theatre Chatelet. Just Google, buy your tickets, and then pick them up the night of the performance (they all have their websites where you can buy your tickets).

Or if jazz is more your taste, just Google around for jazz clubs; they are everywhere. Perhaps you want more popular music? Definitely do Bercy. The website is Bercy.fr, and you can use Google translator to get it in English with a fairly decent translation.

Dinner is always late, by the way. Most restaurants will not start serving food until 8 PM, but because of tourism, some will serve food before then. Anything is game for dinner; I have no specific recommendations. Just walk around for a little bit again, check out the menu (since it is posted outside with prices; it’s the law), and then pop in to whatever you choose. Generally no one will be hosting, so you just sit down wherever. Tip and tax are already included, so you don’t have to worry about that so much either. Bon appetit!

Four months ago, I was afraid. I feared for my musical abilities; will I just be too busy? I thought I’d never really survive, but well, I did! Like Hemingway suggested, Paris is a moveable feast that one can take with them for the rest of their life. No doubt this trip will continue to influence me in so many ways, especially through my music.

Here ends my journey, for now. Who knows what is really in store for me in the future? But I feel that after this experience, I am in decent control of what I want to do with my life, and I have stronger convictions than ever. I guess I have grown up a little, but I am not afraid to say I miss my family!

Jason’s Top 10 Things to Do in Paris

1. Go to the Louvre. See the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and the Medici Cycle. Reserve one full day; lunch break at nearby Rue d St. Honore.

2. Find a Boulangerie, get a chocolate macaroon or a baguette, or both! Or perhaps you’ll see my infamous summertime treat, the Strawberry Tart (Tarte de Fraise).

3. Visit Jardin du Luxembourg. Utterly awesome.

4. See a concert, anywhere, anything. Especially opera; go for the gold!

5. Jump up to the top of the Eiffel Tower (via elevator) – totally worth it!

6. Visit Notre Dame, St. Chapelle, Sacre Couer, and any other church. Absolutely amazing.

7. Go to Chateau de Versailles; compare it to the Louvre.

8. Visit Musee d’Orsay. This is the museum across the Seine from the Louvre with much more modern art (late 18th century to upper 20th).

9. Eat lots of crepes. Eat more crepes. Never forget what a crepe is.

10. Learn how to make crepes at home.

Finally, as we like to say in France, “Au Revoir!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

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