On Getting Lost in Paris

By Vicky Marambio

I had a minor shock the other day when, through a seemingly innocent email from our academic director, I found out that we’re already halfway through the semester. In disbelief, I did a little mental check-up, and yup – it’s been almost two months since I first boarded the metro ligne deux with my bulky luggage, drawing exasperated looks from fellow passengers and clutching on to my host family’s address for dear life.

Reaching the mid-point of the semester is always kind of mind-boggling, but being abroad gives it a twist. All of a sudden, you are in a position to “evaluate your study-abroad experience” and make informed remarks about Bordeaux wines and fashion.  You realize you’ll soon be answering questions like “So! How WAS Paris?” and as you shudder at the thought of that past-tense ‘was’, you wonder how you could ever stitch together, into coherent language, the  mosaic of sights, tastes, frustrations and delights  that make up these last couple months – half your time here. “But wait!” you say. “I’m only getting started!” How dare the calendar contradict that?

The thing is, I’m nowhere near halfway done with my mental abroad-to-do list, that vaguely formulated set of goals for my time here. The “list,” so to speak, includes seeing as many museums as possible and attaining a respectable level in the art of wine-and-cheese tasting. It also includes getting comfortable with spoken French, which, to start on a positive note, is one area in which I’ve made decent progress. Although I’m still a little self-conscious about my slightly-Spanish, slightly-American accent, and I’m rarely able to phrase something exactly the way I’d want to, I’m not shy about talking and usually make myself understood. Plus, lately I’ve begun incorporating little phrases like “quoi” (ya know) and “bref” (anyways) in my speech, which adds a whole lot of coolness to my French, if you ask me. So there’s that.

My museum-visiting record is another story, though. On our first group visit to the Louvre I wasn’t even worried about getting distracted like I invariably do, because I figured I’d be back plenty of times. Well, not only haven’t I returned, but I haven’t set foot inside the Musée d’Orsay either, which is kind of unacceptable given that it’s a twenty minute walk from my house. And it’s free for students. In my defense, there is an unbelievable amount of stuff to do in Paris on any given day, and I keep telling myself that the museum will always be there. But I won’t!

That’s been my ongoing realization since Amy’s e-mail, and it’s prompted me to get my first street crêpe and finally go to the Centre Pompidou, another of the big museums. At least I haven’t bought a mid-semester-crisis red beret yet.

I’m happy to say my palate training is going slightly better. My host mom was impressed the other day when she saw I’d tucked away a particularly strong cheese in the fridge. Go fearless me. I just hope she didn’t realize I also have a weakness for Babybel, which I suspect is only a couple tiers above string-cheese in the cheese-quality scale… NOT a point in my favor. As for the wine, although I do very much appreciate it (and its price — it’s a breather after everything else), I am still pretty clueless when it comes to buying it. I was actually close to getting a bottle of Barefoot the other day, just because it was familiar, but I ended up pulling myself together and getting a an award-winning-French-something-or-other in the seven euro range instead. It was a close call. I’m telling myself I might not become an expert wine-taster anytime soon, and that I should maybe just aim for enjoying whatever’s in my glass. ..…yeah, not sure how poetic that sounds.

Bref, there’s a reason I refrained from making an ACTUAL to-do list before coming here: I didn’t know what to expect, and I was fine with that. In the same spirit, maybe I shouldn’t make a detailed list of goals for the second half of this semester – not if it means I’ll judge my experience according to those pre-set standards. There are certain things I should make a point out of doing (Musée d’Orsay…) but for the most part I think my greatest goal for the coming weeks will be to remain open – to allow each day to surprise me, adding however it might add to the complicated, amazing mosaic of this experience. Even if it that means the whole thing will be harder to describe after.  Pass the Babybel!