Paris Meets the Plains

My French mother-in-law is absolutely enamored of Native American culture: the music, the dance, the clothing, the history. So, when French Mother’s Day rolled around this year, we did something very out of the ordinary for us. Instead of having dinner or lunch around the family table, we took a trip to the Musée du Quai Branly to see an exhibition on the Plains Indians of the American West. Knowing my mother-in-law, there really was no better way for us to celebrate the day with her. It was a special moment for me as well — as her American son-in-law — to share our mutual appreciation of the native peoples of my homeland.

Continue reading Paris Meets the Plains

Once upon a time …

First of all, allow me to apologize for the delay in writing something for you, but things have been in a state of flux since we officially became a French family a fews weeks ago. That little red family register has changed a lot of things for us, the most immediate of which is that now I don’t have to be a full-time student to stay in the country! Given that I was already feeling both overqualified and overwhelmed in my last academic pursuit, I decided to just drop out. In the long term, that means that my schedule will be much more conducive to holding down a full-time job. In the short term, it means my schedule will be much more conducive to pursuing all kinds of personal projects ranging from the mundane like writing for je parle américain, to the utterly useless like learning Irish Gaelic, to the extremely ambitious like … writing a novel.

Yes — writing a novel.
Now, I know that might sound like a pipe dream, and
I know that living in Paris hasn’t transformed me into Ernest Hemingway,
but bear with me for a moment. Continue reading Once upon a time …

The Thin, Wet Line of Khaki

Saturday, I took a day trip to Normandy. Although I’ve lived in France as an American expat for more than three years and I’ve commemorated D-Day twice on French soil, I’d never before visited the D-Day beaches. When my in-laws invited us to go to Colleville-sur-Mer to visit Omaha Beach and the American cemetery there, I heartily accepted. I’d seen photos and read accounts of the débarquement — I’d even written an article about it for this blog — but I didn’t know how moving the experience would end up being. Continue reading The Thin, Wet Line of Khaki

Saturday Afternoon Gardening

© 2013 Michel Denis Pouradier, all rights reserved

Photo credit: © 2013 Michel Denis Pouradier,
all rights reserved

Yesterday, Babydog proposed an impromptu outing to escape from La Courneuve for the day. Given the way I generally feel about my neighborhood, I was all in favor! We initially planned to take the train to Beauvais to see the cathedral, but then decided to make a less expensive excursion to Versailles. Because of early closing hours this weekend, though, we finally settled on an afternoon at France’s chief botanical garden …

Le Jardin des Plantes Continue reading Saturday Afternoon Gardening

Pretty in Pink

One of the advantages of being a perpetual student is spring break. At my new school, we actually have two spring breaks: one this week and one at the end of April. Not a bad deal, huh? Unfortunately, because of Michel‘s schedule and our lack of disposable income at the moment, there are no exotic spring break excursions on our calendar this year. Two years ago this month, though, I took a weekend jaunt down to a beautiful spot in southwest France, which made me think, “If I can’t travel this time around, I can always remember … <sigh> …

Continue reading Pretty in Pink

Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

It’s been ten days since my last post and, although I’m currently in the midst of end-of-semester exams, I feel compelled to share something with you. But what? It’s not as if I’m experiencing anything new and exciting lately; all that seems to occupy my mind these days is French grammar … French literature … French cinema … and French history. Just yesterday, in fact, I took the final exam for my seminar on the history of Paris from its origins to the French Revolution, which was — obviously — heavy on the Middle Ages. That brought to mind one of the weekend trips Michel and I have taken, one that’s a definite must for any medieval history buff living in Paris …

(pronounced [pʁo.vɛ̃] — no “s” — otherwise French people will hear “provinces,”
the generic word for somewhere other than Paris,
and they’ll just ask you again where you’re going specifically)
Continue reading Provins: Wool Tunics, Honey, and Roses

Saint-Malo: Traveling Saints, French Pirates, and the Best Crêpes Around

Back when I started this blog, I imagined that I’d have an entire series of posts about my travels around France. As often happens with projects like this, I ended up going off in other directions and I never really returned to the theme of sharing my favorites places in France with my readers. Well, oversight rectified …

Welcome to Saint-Malo!

Continue reading Saint-Malo: Traveling Saints, French Pirates, and the Best Crêpes Around

“An angel; or, if not, an earthly paragon.”

— William Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Being the American expat in France for most of my friends back home brings with it a certain cachet … and certain responsibilities. When someone is planning a Paris vacation, I’m usually the first person my friends think of to ask for advice about restaurants, hotels, and neighborhoods. I love this role; it’s a bit like being an ambassador, or — more appropriately, I suppose — a scout for an advancing foraging party! Sometimes, though, it gets more interesting than simply giving my expert advice about this city; sometimes I actually go on a mission for someone …

Continue reading “An angel; or, if not, an earthly paragon.”

I Love Trains, Especially French Ones

© 2005 Romain Martin

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been a fan of trains and railroads. Maybe it was my first electric train set that did it but, like lots of little kids, I fell in love with this mode of transportation that glides along iron rails stretching off  into the horizon. Growing up in the rural South, I often watched trains passing in front of me at railroad crossings, but it would take a long time before I’d ever ride on one. In fact, I’d been flying for years before I ever took my first train ride. It was in Germany in 1992, and I still remember the novelty of walking into a station and buying a ticket on the spot for a train to take me to another town about half an hour away. There was something very charming about that moment, and it would mark rail travel — in my mind — as something quintessentially European. Later on, working in the DC office of a New York law firm, I got a lot of experience riding the rails between Union Station and Penn Station. I had a few travel adventures on the rails between DC and South Carolina, too (when Amtrak‘s fares were low enough to warrant an 8-hour roll instead of a 50-minute flight), but it wasn’t until my return to Europe in 2009 that my love affair with trains really blossomed. Why? Because for the first time in my life, I was living in a place where I could take a train to almost anywhere — whether 500 miles away or only 5. Continue reading I Love Trains, Especially French Ones

Weekend Bourguignon

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

Monday was Memorial Day in the United States and, thanks to the timing of Easter this year, it was also le Lundi de Pentecôte (Whit Monday) here in France. While Pentecost Monday was removed from the list of French state holidays in 2005, traditions die hard here and it made a quick comeback just a few years later. No one wants to be deprived of a three-day weekend, of course, and the French have rebelled for less. So, while my American friends were hitting the road to go to the beach or were gearing up for a weekend of barbecues and pool parties, I was doing the same.

My destination: the Burgundian countryside.

A friend of ours has a country home in Burgundy — an old farmhouse renovated into a magical little oasis far from the bustle of Paris — and we were invited along with three other friends to spend the long weekend there. How could you say no to that? So, Saturday morning, we headed off down the A6 and the A77 to western Burgundy, towards a little hamlet called Picarnon. And when I say “hamlet,” I mean it. Our friend’s country home is nestled among ten or so other houses located just off the main road, surrounded by rolling fields and woods. It was postcard picturesque and absolutely peaceful … even with the self-described “charming” neighbor, who seemed just a little too intrigued by the presence of six obviously gay guys splashing around in the inflatable pool next door. But she was nice all the same.

Continue reading Weekend Bourguignon