Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paris for Coffee, grad school musings, and La Toussaint

Yesterday I went to Paris to get coffee with the French guy I met at the housewarming I mentioned in a previous post. We met up at the Place Saint-Michel in the middle of the Latin quarter, which is quickly becoming my favorite, if not one of my favorite, portions of the city. I must admit this is probably because the Latin quarter is the heart of all things academic in Paris, not to mention it's perched across the Seine from Notre Dame, and the cafes and shops are quaint and wonderful.

I arrived about an hour earlier than our agreed upon time of 3, so instead I ate an egg crepe for a late lunch and wandered about in Gibert Joseph, which is the key supplier of all things book related to the Sorbonne (Paris IV, or the historic University of Paris), the New Sorbonne (Paris III), and the Ecole Normale Superieure (ENS). Paris restructured its public university system a while back, so while the Sorbonne (the one that's been around since, oh, the 13th century) is now Paris IV, there's also Paris III. The University of Paris 3 and 4 deal strictly with the humanities, while for example, 5 focuses on Math, Law, and social sciences. Why this partitioning exists I know not, but alas, it does. This partioning has translated over to its bookshop, which is spread across five smaller shops or so bordering the Place Saint-Michel. They're hard to miss considering their awnings are bright yellow.

I went to the first shop to buy a new "lifebook." My lifebook is what keeps me sane. I put all kinds of important "life" information in there--useful phone numbers, addresses, daily to do lists, and as of the moment, essential information for applying to the aforementioned universities. Apparently if you want to find lined, rather than gridded, notebooks in France, you need to find a paper supplier, because gridded paper is just how it's done over here. Needless to say, this American found a properly lined purple "lifebook" to keep her sane for the time being, and finds it more appropriately hilarious that this lifebook comes from Paris. I've found that if I don't write down what's in my head, I'll play it in my mind like a broken record worrying about it all, so my lifebook can be thought of as a preventative measure.

After acquiring the necessary lifebook, I spent a while in shop for lettres modernes and drooled. The more I'm around French university life, the more strongly I feel the intense need to be here again next year as a student. I successfully scheduled a meeting with the head of the French Lit Masters program at the Sorbonne, and as my mom put it, he "had better be ready to be interview by Lindsay and not the other way around." I'm crossing my fingers it goes well.

The more I learn about the ENS, however, the more I want to study there as well. ENS was founded after the French Revolution as a way to train teachers to support new pedagogical initiatives. Small provinces and towns elected individuals to attend this "teachers college," where they were given room and board, as well as a monthly salary, in exchange for service to the state as educators.

Today the ENS is part of the system of grandes ecoles outside of the public system of higher education, and among the most fiercely competitive. ENS has about 2500 students who live together on campus at its historic rue d'Ulm site; French nationals and students from the E.U. are given, as per tradition, room and board and a monthly salary of 1000 euro in exchange for 10 years of service to the French state in the public sector. Foreigners, such as myself, if admitted are given a scholarship and aren't required to give 10 years of service. There are two ways to enter as a foreigner: through competitive national exam, which should be called "The Most Hellacious Academic Bloodbath you Will Ever Encounter," which consists of a 6 hour written examination and a trial-by-fire (oops, I mean...jury) where a candidate alone must prepare and defend a presentation OR through direct application. Considering most French students spend two years in competitive private preparatory classes for the national exam, I'm thinking a direct application is my better route...though it feels like cheating. Enough of grad school.

Around 3:15, said Frenchman arrived and apologized profusely for being late; the poor fellow came in on RER line B, which is, of all RER lines, the most volatile with the strike. I told him not to worry and we traipsed across the Ile-de-la-Cite past Notre Dame and found a cute icecream/coffee/pastry shop and got out of the cold.

Frenchman is an interesting guy--to the correction of my mistake, he's just finishing up his Masters, not his undergrad, at the Sorbonne and studies North American history, aka, the US. I laughed and joked that he probably knows more than I do about my own country. He spent two years in the states: one in Michigan, the other in Washington, D.C., where he interned for the French Embassy. He was also one of France's Fulbright scholars to the US, and his dream would be to eventually get dual citizenship. He's attempting to find a job in the states right now so he can return, but alas, the job market is not at its finest. With that said, if there's anyone in my readership willing to give a poor guy a visa, let me know LOL.

We had great, intellectually stimulating conversation. We talked about American politics, French politics, religion, race, cultural differences, and so on. It was enlightening, and also rather ironic given that currently there are armed forces out everywhere in Paris--men in camo with large guns patrolling the Metro and RER stations, out amongst the benches near Notre Dame, quietly watching. The retirement legislation has been passed in the French assembly, and now it's going through the Senate; you had better believe if it passes all hell will break loose and this country will more or less shut down. Oh, the joys of socialism!

I do have to appreciate socialism for one thing, however, and this is the fact that I more or less have 2 week vacations every 2 months. I'm currently enjoying La Toussaint vacation as I write this. Also, THANK JESUS the Bears bounced back against Arizona. I swear, the Bears are all over the place this season and I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Nonetheless, I give thanks for victory.

A toute a l'heure.


  1. O Linds...

    I enjoy your "alases" They make me smile.

  2. Visa? Lids? Just marry the guy, that will get him to the states!

    Now I don't want to sound whatever, but I hope you stay safe.

    Much love

  3. Haha Robert...if I was attracted to the guy, I'd *maybe* consider that. He's definitely more of the friend type, at least in my book.

    I've been very safe--nothing beats strike violence more than living in an affluent suburb of the nation's capital, though now the gas stations are joining in too, so depending on his the retirement legislation goes, we'll see what happens.

    much love to you too.