Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Best Kind of Nausea

I feel very nauseated right now, but in the best way possible. See, breakfast is included in my rent. And today, I entered the kitchen to discover that today, a huge slice of chocolate cake was an option. Obviously, I chose that. Of course, it's not necessarily good to eat what is basically a heaping mound of sugar as the first "nourishment" that enters your belly in 14 hours. So now I am nauseated. But it's good.

On a language note, I noticed a very sudden shift in my French ability exactly 4 days ago. Not gradually. Instantly. I think it might be a critical mass phenomenon, like I've either acquired a critical mass of vocabulary, or spent a critical-mass amount of time listening to French, so that I feel more confident in my French than I did before, even though there's been no significant change. A tipping point, if you will. Obviously, I'm still at an intermediate level - I'm not claiming fluency or anything - but it's a strange event nonetheless.

I was going to go to Versailles today, but the weather is crappy, so that wouldn't make for very good pictures, and since I'm not only here for a week and I have the option to go another day, I will. I should really do some schoolwork today anyway.

I would post pictures from the inside of Notre Dame, but they're not that good, because it was kind of dark, and the whole cathedral is just very gloomy. I think it's better at making you creeped out than feeling touched by the light of God. It doesn't help that bishops are buried under your feet. I do like the candle things though, but those are in all Catholic churches, I think. I like Sacré Cœur better.

Instead, I will post some pictures from Boulevard St. Germain des Pres, which is a lively street with a lot of (overpriced) cafés and bistros and crêpe/waffle stands.

Here's a street sign with some creepy eye sticker on it.

This was in the restaurant where Hannah had lunch.

This is a sculpture that's integrated with the sidewalk. I like it.

This is projected by a lamp (obviously) onto the wall of the metro platform.

There were sticky notes in the metro train we took. They were statements against discrimination. This one says "Love the whole world!"

These street performers were actually not bad, and pretty jazzy.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Toussaint

In France, Toussaint (or All Saints' Day) is a big holiday, whereas Halloween is not. Toussaint is, however, much more significant than Halloween, although there are no buckets of candy or dentists crying themselves to sleep. The day (November 1) is dedicated to remembering and honoring the dead, so cemeteries are much more decorated with flowers than your typical day of the year. Everyone gets the day off, and many offices are closed today also. I was originally planning to go to the French Riviera, but since everyone is on break, all tickets to all destinations are through the roof in price. Instead, I'm just touring Paris, and it's a good weekend for it since this Sunday is the first Sunday of the month, which means a bunch of sites are free.

My first sightseeing attempt was actually a failure. I got of work early on Wednesday, and I really wanted to see the catacombs, because it was Halloween, and what better day to see a bunch of dead people than Halloween? Alas, I didn't leave early enough. I got there "on time" (i.e. before the ticket booth closed) but since it was a Wednesday, and since it's not the Eiffel Tower, it did not occur to me that there would be - that's right - a line. So I failed.

But then I went to Shakespeare and Co. because I really like bookstores. This one (as in this exact one, not Shakespeare and Co. in general) is particularly interesting. See for yourself.



Wait. Is that a piano? Yes, yes it is.

Wait. Is that... a bed? Yes, yes it is. Also, this little alcove is all in Russian.

Sometimes my desk can look like this.

It's a mirror-turned-bulletin-board with notes and letters from customers from around the world.

The whole second floor is just for reading. None of the books are on sale. There is also a bed upstairs. And a tiny office.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Puerta del Sol

So yesterday we covered Tetuán; today we'll cover Puerta del Sol. This is the center of Madrid, literally and figuratively. I will let the pictures do the telling.

Most of Madrid's street signs are illustrated, from back in the day when reading wasn't universal.

This is an overall view of the plaza, though this picture makes it seem much smaller than it really is. It's kind of shaped like an oval, and this is from one of the short ends, if that makes sense.

This was the first post office, and it also served as Franco's headquarters. It is now the governor's office.

This marks Kilometer Zero, or the center of Spain.

The bear and this particular tree are symbols of Madrid.

I guess their lingerie is a bit more democratic than Victoria.

I really have no comment.

Ok, obviously, this is Colonel Sanders, but it also reminds me of those Che T-shirts.

This is a chain restaurant called the Musem of Ham. I find this amazing.

This is the inside. The waiter took a liking to me and gave me a slip of paper on which he had hand-written... get this... a website about Iberian ham.

This is an excellent bakery right by the metro stop. They have good chocolate things. Although their flan, really not that impressive.

That cup of chocolate is from my churros con chocolate. It's like the churros you'd get at an amusement park, but without cinnamon, and dipped in chocolate. It was quite good.

Monday, October 29, 2007

God is sneezing, and it is gross.

I hate the weather today. It is raining, and it is very cold. It is gross. It is like God is sneezing, but since it's God, it lasts all day. I feel like I should mention here that I am actually an atheist; I'm not trying to pretend to be religious. Perhaps an equal but secular metaphor would be that the air is dumping its trash on us. This is why snow is much more intelligently designed. It doesn't require umbrellas, and it is uplifting, rather than soul-crushing.

In order to escape from the psychological doom that comes with rain, I will post pictures of Madrid, where it was sunny and warm. The thing is, I have a LOT of pictures of Madrid, so I will have to be selective, and even then, I probably have more than one post's worth, so perhaps I ought to do this by category. Let's do the neighborhood where I stayed first. The metro stop was Tetuán, and this is definitely not tourist Madrid. I could, however, see mountains from the apartment balcony, and that is difficult to beat. Unfortunately, said mountains did not come out well on camera, but you'll have to take my word that it was a breathtaking sight.

There was a playground near the apartment building, and Candide exercised his equestrian skills yet again.

This distant view really reminded me of California. Also, you can just faintly make out the mountains in the background. Like I said, they don't come out well on camera. But it was amazing.

The area is full of these narrow, windy streets. I stuck to the main road so I wouldn't get hopelessly lost.

This is a larger road (the typical ones are the narrow, windy ones) in the area.

These are the boys having an equivalent of the "You know how I know you're gay?" conversation from The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

I like Hobbes. Whether it's the philosopher or the cartoon tiger.

This is David, wearing the lime green flamenco-style apron I bought from el Rastro, Europe's biggest flea market.

That's right. You are looking at a mortar and pestle. I'm serious.

Why Nebraska?

This picture is a feeble attempt to convey just how relaxing and amazingly beautiful Madrid is. (You may recognize this as the window that the boys were standing in front of.) The potted plant is named Cassandra. She's very... special.

Look! It's a store with my name! I'm not sure if this is for plus-size or older women, or both. But I think both.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Live-in Tourists

Yesterday, Hannah and I met at Notre Dame to have a look around, which was good since I actually hadn't been on the islands before.

The islands are where Paris started, and once upon a time, it was entirely on these two little blobs of land in the Seine. Notre Dame is located on the larger one (we didn't go in yesterday, but I'll go on a non-weekend/less crowded day with a free English tour), and Berthillon, which is extremely well-known for its ice cream, is on the other. I have no discipline when it comes to ice cream or chocolate, even when I am poor, so I had some, and the chocolate ice cream is possibly worth dying for. I would, at least, be far more willing to enlist in an army defending Berthillon ice cream than whatever it is the government is doing in Iraq. Although that isn't saying much. (Whoops, I've mentioned politics. The horror.)

Since we were playing tourists yesterday, I fulfilled my collecting duties and bought a Paris shot glass.

After walking around the islands, we went to Le Jardin du Luxembourg, which, as far as I can tell, is Paris' Central Park. It was very pretty and well-manicured, and you can rent little toy sailboats and sail them in the pond-fountain-lake thing. Hannah said that when her mom was there in the summer, they rent out the folding chairs that circle the pond-fountain-lake thing, so it must be very well-visited then.

After that, we just sort of walked around. The area has a lot of little shops, including what seemed to be a Japanese mini-version of Ikea called Muji, and to back track a bit, this insanely bright and very cutesy store was on the island with Berthillon. It was like walking into what I imagine an acid trip would feel like.


There was also a magic store, which naturally reminded me of Gob.


And a store with what I think are matching father-son boxer shorts.


There's also Picard, which is a chain "grocery store," except it sells exclusively frozen food.


Of course, people here do actually think about things too. We walked by the College de France and the Sorbonne.

The following picture speaks for itself.