Saturday, December 17, 2011

Final Reviews (cont.)

The past two days have had the most architecture crammed into them than the entire past two months I've been here. Yet this was the side of architecture I've been wanting to experience for a long time now, and I think it's funny that it took me to move to France to be able to participate in this. As Adam mentioned in the last post, the students in Versailles presented their semester projects with both of us, along with the two design professors, and a few visiting architects as the judging panel. So fun to finally be on the other side of the fence making comments and suggestions. But wow, talk about an exhausting day for a reviewer! Presentations went on all morning through early evening as each of us continually replenished our caffeine intake to be able to keep focus on each project. It really is a whole game in itself trying to understand the presentation, piecing together the meaning of their drawings, then coming up with something helpful, thoughtful, unvague, and architectural to say. Then to start all over again with an open mind for the next project a half hour later. The worst is when one project shines, then the one following is more lacking. Those, obviously, are the ones that need the best insight, not a slap on the wrists, but putting together a cohesive, concise critique in response to something like this, I suppose, is more of a challenge for us as designers. A good challenge to keep us on our toes.

One of the the guest reviewers we met is from Catholic University in DC and has his own group of students in Paris. At the end of the evening, he invited us to come to his reviews the following night, so we thought, what the hell. Considering we'd just met and we'd heard his setup for reviews was much more casual, we came under the impression that we'd be there to more or less enjoy the wine and cheese and just hang out in the audience. Little did we know, upon arrival, the professor introduced us along with about 20 other guest reviewers (for only 8 students?!) and split us into teams to go student by student hearing their presentation....then even grading them. So for an entire evening, Adam and I did the whole review thing again, this time on a more intimate level. We thought this method was actually great practice for the students to have to repeat their presentation over and over again, and we thought it was great for us since this time, we got to review with wine in hand. You can tell just how much mr. engineer Adam was getting into this. Here's one of his wine-induced metaphors:

"If your sandbox didn't have the box, then you'd simply be left with a beach...."

I don't even remember what he was referring to at this point. Perhaps something about giving your design rules and boundaries to alleviate sheer nonsensical chaos? On the way home, we simply had to laugh at ourselves with all our sheer 'BS' we probably spat out that night. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!!!

(This is what living in France feels like.)

We're looking forward to seeing family, friends, and colleagues so soon!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Student Reviews

The past two days have been exhausting: final exam, grading, visa (re)applications, reviews, lectures, very late night dinners, espressos, Christmas cookies, champagne, trains, metro, more wine, and now I can see some sleep in the near future.

The exam went well, no big problems, large room full of test-takers with anguished faces; proctor fighting severe boredom imposed by the 3-hour labor. The reviews were a lot of fun. It was good to see the amount of graphic progress made by the students since the pin-ups two weeks ago.

The models even made some impressive strides. We were joined by Nicolos Kelemen in the morning as a guest reviewer, and I feel he provided the students with feedback from an honest, "real architecture" perspective.

And we wrapped up the evening with a bunch of holidays cookies smothered in excitement from a semester coming to a close.

First Macarons

We FINALLY had our first delicious macarons the other day, our chosen firsts being flavored with coffee, pistachio, and raspberry. If you're thinking of those chewy little coconut things from America, think again. It's not macaROON, but macaRON. I doubt any french person would even understand macaROON, but then again, I don't think they understand most of our twangy Franglish, ha. In any case, I had the wrong idea, too, when I first came over here, thinking, why do these people have such a fascination with coconut? Yet two and two finally clicked as I saw the word macaron associated with these tiny, multicolored cookie gems. In any case these little guys are just about as prevalent as baguettes and French stinky people, so there's no difficulty being able to pick one up while you're out and about. They're pretty dangerous, too, for each one of these delightful confections costs about the same, if not a bit more, than a whole baguette. Maybe it's good we've held out so long.

For more drooling pleasure check out these sites for more details:

Intro to French Macarons
(For you super cool archie/engineer nerds like us, there's a great cookie cross-section here for ya)

Making French Macarons: Instructions and Recipes
(David Lebovitz's blog 'Living the Sweet Life in Paris' is an awesome source of info if you're into Food, Paris, Food, or more Food : )  


It's been a while since we've posted anything regarding our "hoops." So, here goes:

At the advice of my administrator, Bridgette and I visited the prefecture (again) to let them know of our plans to return home for the holidays, and to kindly ask if there would be any trouble returning to France because my visa is technically expired. We learned that my dossier is still being reviewed, and there's not much they can do besides suggest we request from the Chicago consulate a return visa in order to, well, return to France.

I should mention that the attitude and unspoken innuendo was that as Americans, we won't have any problems and could probably claim being tourists to likely enter the country. And that's all only if they check our visas.

I've recently learned (a day or two after the prefecture visit) that my long-stay visa application has been denied, and that I need to completely restart the application process. Whoopee. Luckily the admins here are being more than helpful, and actually have commanded me not to do anything, ha! So it's in their hands at the moment.

So here I go, returning home for the holidays in a few days. Meanwhile my application will be restarted and sent to the Office / Department / Ministry / Whatevs of Labor, where they hopefully will accept my situation for working in France. Then those documents will be sent to who-knows-where. Technically, I believe they're supposed to be sent to Chicago, where I'm supposed to receive the "correct" entry visa, after which I can jump through the expected hoops in France of attaining a residence permit, medical exam, and sommelier lessons.

Oh, and Bridgette's still waiting to hear back from the OFII to keep her papers rolling.

When the legal paths are so long and tedious, is it a wonder that illegal immigration is prevalent in western countries (I'm looking at you, too, America)?

Friday, December 9, 2011

History is so IN This Season

As Adam and I expand our minds watching the French equivalent of MTV, called NRJ (they say it like 'energy' with a frenchy french accent) we notice something peculiar about video after video we see. Negating all the American videos we all know and love/hate, the French seem to have a fascination about depicting the past. So for your Friday enjoyment take a look at a few of the catchy French tunes/videos we've found going totally vintage/historic.  

History is so IN this season: 
(sorry for any commercials)

Directed by Jonny Depp, her latest video has been quite a hit...yeah, what do i know know. but hey, if JD's involved, she's probably big stuff.

This is from the animation " Un Monstre à Paris"

Check out this stylish blast to the past, 1920s style. Lorie is topping the charts with her Kylie Minouge flair and selling millions . She's even got a stature of herself her in local Paris museum.

I recommend everyone learn the dance to this for your next holiday party. there's some pretty sweet moves here.

This one really beefs up the intro...patience. it gets even more French. Prince Charming and Mermaids? And yes, watch closely, Prince charming even has the mermaid pull his finger to let out a fart. What? Why not?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How's Your Plumbing?

As I was cleaning the bathroom sink yesterday, the handle to the faucet broke. It didn't break off, it just wouldn't shut off the water. Adam was at work, and I was alone, and I started panicing as I searched everywhere for the sink's shut-off valve. Nowhere. I'm thinking, god dammit architect, if you can't find this..... after a bit of searching and tracing pipes, I found the lever in the kitchen. That's all great, but that shuts off the water for the entire apartment. So it's actually quite humorous. Every time we want to get some water or flush the toilet or whatever, we have to turn the valve and listed to the sink water just flowing away. Our landlord gave us the number for a plumber she knows, and that in itself was a whole morning exercise. And this was just to call to make an appointment! That's when your brain has to switch to full translate mode and you spend god knows how long looking up phrases for any possible scenario that might be met over there phone. It's even more nerve-racking when you know Google translate only helps you so far. What you translate doesn't necessarily come out to mean exactly what you want it to mean. This was my favorite:

Found this phrase online.

I cannot turn the tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

Thinking I could simply change 'le robinet' (the tap) to 'mon robinet' (my tap) Google Translate informed me this was a no no. Now the phrase means:

I cannot turn off my cock

Lots to learn...looottttttsss to learn.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Learning French

So how does one learn a language? Good question. It still seems a miracle to me with any bilingual individual to be able to just get it. To be able to flip flop back and forth between one language and the next with ease seems miraculous to me. In any case, the more we learn here, the more we realize just how far we have to go to even become close to bilingual. It seems hopeless at times. Other times when a recognizable phrase comes out of the crowd or the TV or wherever, and we immediately understand without thinking, that's when the learning feels like magic. I think if there weren't any of that magic, we would have given up long ago. So in any case, how are we undertaking this seemingly impossible feat? Recently, we've been starting each morning with a 20 min podcast. Our hosts Mark and Anna have become dear friends of ours as we join them with our breakfast for a bit of enlightenment and new vocab. Another best friend besides Mr. Pocket Dictionary is Mr. Google Translate. He can talk both English and French for us, so we like him a lot. There's been many hours sitting with Mr. Translate forming sentences, and us talking to ourselves. Our neighbors probably think we're nuts. Especially when we yell out a new phrase we've just learned, then revert back to english for the rest of the thought. Adam and I have placed post-its around the apartment as reminders and try to speak in French to each other both at home, and especially in public so that our English twang doesn't fully give us away. Oh, most importantly, there's the awkward situations where we actually have to talk to people. This is a bit nerve-racking because you never know what to expect, your senses are on high alert with the hope your brain doesn't shut down when trying to form a response. One Sunday afternoon, we went out for coffee with some parisian friends we recently met. Although their English is great, they asked if we were would be speaking French this time. Through patience and persistence, and a bit of English here and there, we were able to sustain a fairly primitive conversation for over an hour. I'm sure the conversation wasn't as exciting as it could have been, but it was a start. Ben Franklin once stated that the moment you go to a place where you don't know the language, you automatically lose half of your intelligence. He's completely right. We've reverted back to the age of toddlers just starting out in society. Hopefully with enough wine, cheese, and coffee with friends, we'll hit a growth spurt soon.

Oh yeah, and there's youtube, too. Check out this gem. Learning about the word ' to go'...

Friday, December 2, 2011


Another hoop outa the way. We finally bit the bullet and went and bought phones. Ok, that was never the initial intention, but after visiting the SFR store (a particular phone company), we somehow each walked out with our own little shopping bags. The way it works, usually, is that students from the previous year sell their phones to the incoming students. Seeing that there were a few unclaimed after the students had their pick, Adam snagged two for us. We charged them up only to see a message saying our SIM Cards were invalid, and had thrown those aside for the past month thinking, ahhh we’ll figure this out later.  Yesterday, we finally made the leap. Stepping into a rather B.O. infested SFR store, we showed a salesman that our phones didn’t work…saying we needed new SIM Cards. He said something to the effect of, yeah, they’re no good. And I asked, so can we just buy new SIM Cards? He made some comment, and then brought us over to the new phones. Adam said he had understood something to the effect that if the phone hadn’t been used for 6 months, then it was no longer useable. I was skeptical, but followed the man. I wasn’t really sure how to refute this. Mind you, this was all in French, the gentleman speaking long fluent sentences with us stuttering stupid phrases. You’d be skeptical, too. So we picked out the cheapest of the texting phones, bought some minutes, slipped around getting sucked into a contract, then continued on our merry ways getting the things fired up. That man said a lot that night that flew right over my head, and that made me nervous, which made my French turn from bad to worse. For awhile, there was a long awkward standoff between all three of us as the man kept saying something about a ‘code-pin’….which sounds just like the French word for ‘friend’, ‘Copine’. It just didn’t click with us. God this language is impossible sometimes! So yeah, from smart phones back to dumb phones feeling even dumber at the phone store. For all we know, we could’ve just been ripped off. But hell, sometimes it just feels better to say whatever… at least that’s outa the way!

Thanksgiving (the store)

We signed up to bring some cranberry sauce to a Thanksgiving dinner over Thanksgiving weekend (I'll be using that word a few more times, so bear with me). Bridgette and I looked in several (4? 5?) grocery stores in the neighborhood, but alas, no canneberge to be found. We even took a looooong trip out to Auchan, some giant general store akin to a SuperTarget, but they only had tiny jars of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce for about $5 each. We needed to provide enough for 14 people at a Thanksgiving dinner.

Luckily (?), Paris has a store called "Thanksgiving" which sells year-round American goods. "Goods," meaning Pop Tarts, peanut butter, Jell-o, Mountain Dew, corn syrup, Aunt Jemima's, brown sugar... you get the point. Oh, and they have cranberries for sale, as well, at €4.50 for a 12 oz. bag.

I shouldn't make it sound like they only have sugary foodstuffs. They also prepare turkeys for American Thanksgiving meals, and provide a chance to buy some other American items, such as chili powder, canned chicken broth, chocolate chips (oops! sugar), corn meal, Mac n Cheese, cheddar cheese, refried beans, and much more than I can handle writing without needing to go eat lunch.

So Bridgette and I were able to whip together a successful cranberry sauce.