26 September 2009

Arrival in Metz

Now that I've shared how lovely Metz is, I can get on with the difficult arrival process. I woke up at 5am to call a cab to take my ridiculous amount of luggage from my hotel to Gare de l'Est in Paris for my train to Metz.  

My luggage included: 

TWO massive suitcases, one weighing 70 pounds, the other, 50 pounds (I paid handsomely for this at the airport.) 

A large over the shoulder carry-on containing my laptop and tons of electronic devices, batteries, chargers, cameras, etc.

A large 'purse' that really should be called a tote bag. In fact, according to Vera Bradley, it IS a tote bag.

All of my bags were bursting at the seams, and thankfully, a Frenchman helped my drag my belongings onboard the train.  The ride itself was very brief (only 82 minutes from Paris to Metz on the high speed TGV trains).  However, getting off the train was another matter.  I managed to lug one suitcase and one carry-on onto the platform, but had to reboard to grab my other suitcase and totebag/purse.  Naturally there was a crush of people exiting the train, rendering me powerless to get back onboard... Miraculously, I did get back on board, and managed to rescue my second load of worldly possessions as the doors were closing.  

I felt everyone's curiosity/amusement as I fashioned my rolling luggage into a sort of train by hooking them together.  Trudging toward the elevator, I had to wait for the crowd to diminish before squeezing inside, and then caused people waiting on the ground floor to miss the elevator as I struggled to drag everything out.  I resisted the urge to glare at the guy who laughed at me boisterously without raising a hand to help me.

Breathless, I arrived outside the station, where I was ignored by taxi drivers for nearly half an hour (the short fare and daunting amount of luggage wasn't worth their effort.)  I finally sat on the ground behind my fortress of baggage, fighting back tears of frustration, which caused one of the drivers to develop a heart and agree to take me.  We made small talk in French, and he complimented my ability, which was very sweet of him, considering the fact that I'm hardly fluent yet.

At the foyer where I'm staying, I was proud of myself for handling the check in process, paperwork, and questions entirely in French.  My studio is pretty small, but with a pleasant view of a church.  It's quite simple, with a desk and chair, bed, bathroom, shower, and bureau. There is ample shelving space, but I hesitate to unpack since I plan on moving into something better within the month.  This place is very utilitarian, and not especially welcoming, so hopefully I'll find some friendly Frenchies to reside with in the near future.

Armed with a map of the city, I set out to accomplish Mission number 1: getting a French mobile phone.  I found a centrally located SFR shop, where I was able to secure a very basic flip phone and a prepaid plan.  The owner of the shop, as well as several French customers in line behind me, complimented me, saying that they wished their English was as good as my French. I ate up that bit of reassurance like a fresh piece of pain au chocolate! Obtaining a French cell phone has been one of my dreaded tasks, but it was remarkably easy, compared to the rest of my day.  

With newfound confidence, I explored the city a bit before heading back to my foyer for lunch... I walked into the cafeteria, flashed a smile and a bonjour to the café workers, and proceeded to place food on my tray.  Fresh baked bread, salad, cheeses, and fresh fruit!  

"Mademoiselle? Votre carte! " A woman in an apron emerged from the back, demanding to know where my residence card was... I replied that I had not yet received one from the front desk, as today was my first day.  She told me that I could not eat without the card and made me put everything back that I had on my tray.  My cheeks flushed in embarrassment, and I could feel the eyes of everyone in the dining room on me. Every bit of confidence gained in the cell phone experience seemed to be deflated now.  Still, I returned to the front desk where I was able to obtain this magical card, and everything turned out fine back in the lunch room, although I still felt self-conscious when some of the diners tittered when I walked back in. I remade a tray of food, sat down, and buried my head in a book.  It would have been nice to have company... I'm one of those people who has a natural inclination to smile at passers-by, but in the foyer, not many people return this gesture... especially in the cafeteria.

After lunch, I walked back to the city center, to do some exploring before dinner.  Thank God for the Cathedral. It will be my favorite place in Metz. The portals are magnificently carved (some of the finest examples of Medieval carving in Europe), but one is completely unprepared for the splendor that awaits inside. Built in the 12th century, Saint-Etienne (Saint Steven) has one of the highest naves in Europe.  I gasped audibly when I stepped inside.  The sheer height of the nave and incredible amount of glass is like nothing I've seen before at even Notre Dame, Saint-Denis or Chartres.  Apparently the cathedral is one of the largest in France, and has one of the largest expanses of stained glass in the world, which has earned it the nickname: God's Lantern. At night, it's lit from the inside, exposing the stained glass to everyone outside. It's not often that beauty moves me to tears, and that's exactly what happened in Saint-Etienne today. The best part is, my favorite artist of all time, Marc Chagall, completed the stained glass windows in certain sections of the church. I spent quite some time there, even exploring the crypt from the original church beneath the foundations.  The atmosphere was warm and cleansing, and seemed to say "Rest, you'll be safe here." The lack of sleep and series of stressful events of today seemed to melt away.  

Since people tend to eat dinner much later in Europe than in the States, I assumed I'd be able to stroll down to dinner at 7:30pm without a problem.  I assumed wrongly.  The cafeteria was already closed, which meant I had to venture back out for dinner (and spend more money!)  I wandered through Metz, which is lit up beautifully at night to enhance its architectural features. Unfortunately, the sandwich stands and pastry shops were closed.  I couldn't justify eating out at one of the fancy brasseries or outdoor cafés alone, and those seemed to be the only things open.  For a Friday night, the streets seemed practically deserted, except for the nice restaurants.  I was about to accept defeat and return to call it an early night when I stumbled upon O'Kebab, a sort of mediterranean fast food joint.  After all the carb-o-licious cuisine I've been sampling, I decided on a salad.  I read some more Camus before returning to my foyer to spend my first night in Metz, looking forward to a hot shower to wash away the grime of travel.

I burst into tears when I couldn't figure out the shower in my studio... it seems that it turns itself off every 10 seconds to save energy/water, and each time I press the button to restart the flow of water, the water is frigid again, and just when it starts to warm up, it shuts back off again, and the process begins anew.

I attribute my emotional reaction to the shower to lack of sleep and the stress of being submerged in a new country with a different language and cultural norms, and being completely taken away from my world as I know it.  I reassure myself that it can only get better from here, and that with time, I become settled into life dans le pays messin. 

25 September 2009

Metz, ma ville...

I arrived in Metz today.  Before getting into my misadventures of getting settled, I thought I'd share some views of my new 'home' for the next nine months... 

L'esplanade, one of many green places to enjoy in Metz

Le Graouilly, the legendary dragon that terrorized Metz in the Middle Ages until vanquished by Saint Clement. This sculpture appears on rue Taison.

Saint Etienne, the cathedral of Metz

A closer view of Saint Etienne

Stained glass windows in Saint Etienne by Marc Chagall

Interior of Saint Etienne

The Moselle River, overflowing with Swans, overlooking le Temple Neuf, a Protestant church.

Fall colors on the Moselle

24 September 2009

More Parisian Pleasures

Today brought with it more endless wandering of the streets of Paris, with the exception of a two hour rest I was forced to take when I began experiencing painful spasms in my left foot. Perhaps I've overdone it a bit.  I particularly enjoyed exploring the grounds of the Louvre, the Tuileries, la Place de la Concorde, and the l'Orangerie museum, which features two large, oval rooms of Monet's water lilies. It feels as though you're truly standing on a bridge in the midst of his water garden, what an absolutely lovely experience that was! 

I also visited l'Opéra Garnier, and then spent quite a bit of time exploring le Quartier Latin on the left bank.  I wandered through Musée de Cluny, La Sorbonne, Saint Séverin, and la Place Saint Michel.  

I adore the Latin Quarter.  For dinner, I found myself on a crowded street of Arabic, North African, and Greek restaurants and vendors, each complete with a greeter in the doorway battling one another to beckon me inside. Several languages and lively ethnic music filled the air, and the multicultural flavor of this area is such a different Paris, which is why I love it so much.  I was rather put off by the aggressive men who tried to physically pull me inside, so when a pleasant young women quietly asked me "Couscous?", I gratefully stepped inside. Presently, I was presented with a sumptuous Moroccan feast of couscous, tender chicken that just fell off the bone, and an array of cooked vegetables and the most sensuous drink I've ever tasted, a sweet mint tea. 

After dinner, I stepped back into the chaos of the street, and made my way to Shakespeare & Company, a world renowned bookstore featuring English language texts. Those who purchase from the store receive a special stamp in their book.  

I ended my last night in Paris in the usual place... my favorite place on earth... Notre Dame. An informative film was showing in the cathedral itself, projected on a huge screen stretched across the nave.  I was grateful for a chance to rest my legs once again, and to end my stay in Paris there. After the film, I sat outside alone, attempting to take in the glory of Notre Dame, which is golden in the moonlight, but was overwhelmed by the abundance of couples holding hands and stealing kisses as if to taunt me in my solitude.  I also was fending off the advances of amorous/ drunken passers-by, so I decided to call it a night. My thoughts returned to how much Jim would adore this city, and how I can't wait to share it with him.  Sigh.  

Tomorrow, I'm off to Metz, which I will be calling home for the better part of a year.  

23 September 2009

Bonjour, Paris

Some highlights from my first few days in Paris! My feet are raw and blistered from wandering the Marais district and throughout Montmartre all day, and I've never been happier.  It's such a pleasure to get to know Paris on my own, without being constrained by a study abroad group like I was on my last visit.  The Marais and Montmartre are areas that particularly fascinate me, and I am delighted to finally explore at my own pace.  I'm also getting by quite well with my French, which has been very encouraging! 

21 September 2009

The Farewell Tour

Tonight, I leave for France.

This past week has been a flurry of goodbye dinners and lunches with family, friends, and colleagues.  

Highlights include:

My last costume ball board meeting at the Scarab Club, where my beloved fellow artists treated me to an adorable cake, dinner, and wine!

Goodbyes to Haley and Genna, who will be sorely missed! Haley gave me a beautiful pair of fleur de lis earrings and a matching necklace, and Genna crocheted me this adorable octopus amigurumi.  

A visit to MSU to say goodbye to my lovely sister Liz and her boyfriend Nick.  We toured the campus, feasted on bubble tea and insomnia cookies, and fed ducks on the Red Cedar river. 

An intimate crêpe dinner with my parents. Not only was the menu absolument délicieux, the opportunity to spend time with my parents will be treasured in the lonely weeks to come. Enclosed in a beautiful, encouraging card was a generous wad of Euros, which will come in very useful when I arrive in France.

My last Sunday playing piano at Saint Teresa of Avila.  Father Tom called me up for a special blessing, and a reception followed Mass, complete with delightful snacks and a massive cake. I was touched by the steady stream of well-wishers (many of whom I had never met before) who approached me to tell me how touched they were by my nine years of performing with the music program.  The singers in my group also presented me with a lovely card and necklace. While Metz may have a lofty gothic cathedral complete with Chagall stained glass windows, it will never match the lovely community I've had the privilege of playing for. 

Romantic dinner with Jim at Sweet Lorraines.  We're having a hard time saying goodbye, but we know this is the start of something wonderful.  I'm not going to lie, this is very difficult and I foresee a tearful goodbye a few hours from now.

18 September 2009

Workplace Farewell

I received the most marvelous sendoff at work yesterday. While it was no secret I would be receiving a luncheon, I was completely blown away. I was summoned to the conference room to be greeted by not only my wonderful colleagues, but my family and Jim as well.  Balloons and a spectacular Bon Voyage poster graced the walls, and the conference table was loaded with a heavenly spread of middle eastern food, wine, and homemade dessert.  The owner of our company had paid for everything. I was also presented with some beautiful gifts and a card. I was astounded by the effort put forth by everyone, and will always cherish this memory.

About an hour before I left, my boss called me to his office to thank me for my hard work and let me know how valued I was, and how proud of me he was.  I very nearly began to cry, but managed to keep myself together. 

After the ritual of hugs throughout the office, I walked numbly out the door for the final time. I haven't even arrived in France yet, but my life is already forever changed.

13 September 2009

Eight days away

This week will be my undoing.  Emotions are running high, as is to be expected.  I blame lack of sleep and stress.  

It's my last week in the United States, and I don't know how it happened so fast. Suddenly, my job in France is no longer this abstract idea in the distant future.  So far this week I've succeeded in shortening my to-do list by booking my airport transfer from Charles de Gaulle to my hotel in Paris, booking my train from Paris to Metz, notifying my bank that I will be making charges overseas, and compiling printouts of all essential documents.  

I've been toiling away at freelance and pro bono design projects that need to be completed before I leave.  

I've been training my replacement at work, who is interestingly a former college acquaintance. She's very talented, and I'm positive she'll be fine, but the stress of teaching her everything I've learned in three years has been weighing heavily upon me.  I have only three days of work left before I leave, and I don't know how I'll manage to get through everything in that amount of time.  

I've also elected to take a grad level course in French literature as an independent study through Wayne State.  I am nearly finished with the French degree and wanted to exploit my time in France by studying there. After months of effort, I finally found a professor willing to take me on as an independent study.  This class covers 20th century French literature like Camus, Sartre, Apollinaire, and Proust.  I've got heaps of reading and writing to do, and and I'm honestly beginning to doubt my ability to handle this heavy class while establishing myself in France.  At the same time, I know that there is no better place on earth to read 20th French literature than in France itself, and that my French would improve drastically by studying there.  However, I fear that the stress of the class will inhibit my enjoyment of living and working in France... I have to make a final decision by September 17th... Clarity? Any time now!

I've made some progress packing, but still have some issues to sort through. The mass of belongings that was taking over my bedroom last week has been subdued into either my suitcase or one of several manageable piles on my floor. I'm trying to weed as much unnecessary belongings as possible out of my suitcases so that I don't exceed the weight limit on the plane.  I've conceded the fact that I'll have to cough up the $50 fee for the extra suitcase on the flight, and quite possibly another $50 for having overweight luggage.

There are so many relatives and friends who I haven't had a chance to say goodbye to, and I realize it may not happen before I leave.  I'm kicking myself for not addressing this issue earlier, giving myself more time to say goodbye to aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends I don't see as often.  I may need to resort to phone calls. This pains me greatly.

Mom and I chatted about my leaving tonight... When she became teary-eyed, I realized how missed I will be at home, and how difficult parting will be.

When I envisioned this move to France, all I saw was happiness, baguettes, and Eiffel Towers... I failed to anticipate the difficulties and heartache that accompany such an undertaking. 

06 September 2009

Packing chaos

This is a bird's eye view of the chaos that is my bedroom at the moment, due to my efforts at packing for France. What you don't see is the mess that spills into the hallway.  I've concluded that one suitcase will simply not be enough to move across the ocean for nearly a year. Some stuff I definitely need has been packed, and then there's the vast majority of of my belongings that litters every horizontal surface... trapped in Traveler's Limbo. To pack, or not to pack?

Interesting how the condition of this room mirrors my current state of mind: confused, scattered, and overextended.  By this logic, my anxiety should be dissolved as soon as this mess is.  My mission today is to conquer this lawless cave of doom, and emerge composed, self-assured, and completely undaunted by this new life that awaits me in two weeks.  To think, my troubles can be over in a matter of hours.  

I think I'll take a nap first.

05 September 2009

New camera

Bring on the chateaux, cathedrals, lavender fields and mountain scenery! After much research (and two years with a Kodak camera that consumed batteries like it had a contract with Energizer) I have finally joined the ranks of the elite.  That's right, I finally got a Canon. Mr. Nawara (my watercolor teacher) couldn't speak highly enough about Canon, and most of my photographer and artist friends hold the brand in very high regard.

It's a Powershot SX 120 IS, and set me back about $250. 10 times optical zoom, 10 megapixels. I nearly purchased an exquisite $399 model, but thought better of it. If I'm going to drop that kind of money, I'd just as soon go for an SLR than a point and shoot. I also have visions of being mugged for it, like my cousin was on a trip to Poland. (To her credit, she put up a fight and got it back) Plus, I need to be extremely frugal from this point on, if I plan on traveling throughout Europe (and possibly Africa) during my stay there.

02 September 2009

Bring on the Bon Voyage dinners!

I really should consider moving to France more often... The bon voyage dinners thus far have been delightful, and I anticipate quite a few more before I leave in 19 days! I feel immeasurable gratitude for all the wonderful people who care this much about me. I will miss them terribly.

Last month Aunt Pat and Grandma took me to The Hill in Grosse Pointe for filet mignon and crème brulée, and regaled me with tales of their adventures all over the world.

This past Thursday, I enjoyed French fare at What Crêpe with Genna, Nicole, and Amanda, and got to meet Amanda's newborn daughter, Cleora.

And last night, Jim's parents took me, Jim, his brother Chris, and Chris's girlfriend Marianne to Waves in St. Clair Shores for margaritas and seafood dinners that couldn't be beat! It meant the world to me that they wanted to celebrate my job in France, and I'm feeling more and more a part of the family. I love them.

I spent most of today washing clothes, packing, working on my ever growing to-do list, and shopping.  While it sounds like I've accomplished a great deal, I've really only succeeded in making a huge, chaotic mess on my bedroom floor... 
Related Posts with Thumbnails