Ma Vie en Franglais
 
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Last Tuesday, the barricades at Zuccotti Park were brought down and the space was occupied again by hundreds of protesters hoping to change the culture of inequality and greed in America.

I actually went down to the park earlier this fall to check out the scene, before it got brutally cold and pre-pepper spray incident, and was pretty impressed by how well-coordinated and peaceful the movement was.

The set up down at Zuccotti Park was better organized than some political campaigns I've seen - there was a library, a daily schedule, sanitation and food stations (not to mention a pet food station which of course I donated to,) and a biking station where riders took turns peddling to charge batteries for computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

The environment was not at all aggressive - people are clearly frustrated and eager to vocalize their frustration - but I saw no signs of violence or confrontation when I was down there.

Some of the more jovial protestors even chose to write a song about their plight!

Walking around the park, the whole scene reminded me a lot of the protests and strikes I witnessed in Paris last fall - some have even compared the Occupy Wall Street movement to the May '68 protests in France.

I'll admit, I still question how effective the whole movement will be in changing the culture of Wall Street in America. I felt the same amount of skepticism toward the strikes and protests I witnessed in France last year (I am just as anti-Sarko as the next gal, and respect the French for fighting to keep their government support system intact, but I think raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 isn't that unreasonable.)

Regardless of the outcome, Occupy Wall Street has turned into a massive global movement that will surely make the history books.

As the snow starts to fall in New York City, I'll be thinking warm thoughts of support for the protestors sticking it out in Zuccotti Park. If you're interested in donating to the movement, please click here for more info.

 
 
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Bergdorf's "Carnival of Animals"
I do my best to avoid the tourist traps in New York - but I couldn't help myself when it came to the Christmas windows at the city's top department stores.

So about a week ago, I headed uptown early one Sunday morning to check out the windows at Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys and Bloomingdale's.

Bergdorf Goodman's "Carnival of Animals" themed windows were breathtaking - extremely detailed, elegant and original. They were by far my favorites (I will let the photos below speak for themselves.)

I have to admit, as much hype as the Barneys Lady Gaga inspired windows received, I was quite disappointed. The Gaga's boudoir window, with a chair made out of hair, was definitely worth a look. But other than that I found the rest of the windows quite underwhelming.

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Twitter feed at Barneys
Both Bloomingdales and Barneys utilized some social media action to bring their windows into the digital age.

At Barneys, an ongoing Twitter feed ran across a screen in one of the windows, where users could share their wishes for the year.

At Bloomingdales, a camera was put in place where people walking by the windows could stop and have their photo taken. Each photo was then posted directly to the Bloomingdales Facebook page.

Whereas in the past we were only given the opportunity to be outside observers, Bloomingdales and Barneys use of Twitter and Facebook allowed the public to become participants in this annual tradition of New York Christmas window decorations.

And on that note, I hope you all enjoy the photos below - Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

 
 
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I've been to my fair share of Christmas markets - funnily enough, the only ones I'd ever been to before this weekend were all in France.

(excluding any that my parents may have dragged me to in some rural part of Maryland when I was younger - I tend to block those out.)

When I lived in Montpellier there was a popular Christmas market right at Place de la Comédie, and of course Paris has its fair share as well - I went to the Village de Noël at place Saint Sulpice numerous times when I lived in Paris over the holidays, and always found tons of great gifts there.

So when I passed by the holiday market in Union Square this Saturday, I knew I had to face the crowds and take a peak.

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Macaron stand - Union Square holiday market
As expected, this Christmas market had a lot of the same stuff you would find at the ones in France (or probably anywhere around the world for that matter.) 
Vendors selling jewelery, local food, art, organic and/or homemade beauty products; smells of pine, apple cider and hot chocolate permeating through the air; festively decorated stands decked out in red, white and green; and crowds (and crowds) of shoppers.

As I was wandering about, I suddenly stumbled upon a macaron stand, and naturally got inappropriately excited.

These little delicacies have become quite trendy in New York - I feel like the Americans adopted the French macaron trend in exchange for the recent French interest in "les cupcakes." (Yes, this Anglo-Franco dessert comparison will inventively become a new blog post, get excited people.)

As much as I love macarons, I decided to forgo the $2.50 a piece they were charging, assuming that it would just make me homesick for Paris and crave Pierre Hermé. I mean, are macarons even worth eating if they're not made with some totally random ingredient, like Azuki bean or Églantine ? (had to Google that one, apparently it's a flavor in the rose family)

(Apparently I've become even more judgmental and snobbish than I previously thought...)

Anyways, if you're willing to brave the crowds of (mostly) tourists and New York locals partaking in some holiday cheer, the holiday market at Union Square is definitely worth exploring. Many of the goods are overpriced, but it's worth a trip for the free samples and to get inspired for the holiday season.

 
 
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Outside Provence en Boite
One of the problems with living in Williamsburg, is that you get really lazy.

I literally have to cross the street to do my laundry - I drop it off, and hours later it's clean and folded in a nice little bundle (for about half the price it cost when I did it myself at the laveries in Paris!) I have three 24-hour grocery stores, a Duane Reade, and an endless array of bars, restaurants and vintage shops within a five-block radius of my apartment.

On the one hand, all of this convenience is amazing and makes my life super easy. On the other, I recently realized that I rarely take the time to explore all the other neighborhoods that New York City has to offer.

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Carrol Gardens
So this weekend I decided to get my butt on the somewhat heinous G train and enjoy one of the last nice days we have left before the brutal chill of winter truly hits, and made my way to Carroll Gardens, an adorable neighborhood in south Brooklyn.

(Fun fact I learned from Wikipedia: apparently Solange Knowles lives in Carroll Gardens. If you're lucky maybe you can catch glimpse of Beyonce, Jay-Z and their future insanely talented offspring.)

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the park at Carroll Gardens
When I got off at Carroll St., I immediately noticed a heavy French influence in the neighborhood. I'm used to overhearing French on a daily basis, in both Manhattan and Williamsburg (and I will admit I love eavesdropping on French conversations every chance I get.) But I overheard more French in Carroll Gardens than I have anywhere else in New York City so far - and it didn't seem like they were French tourists, but rather French families who actually lived there.

There are a ton of cute French restaurants and bistros that I plan to check out next time I visit this neighborhood, including: Bar Tabac, Provence en Boite, Sue Perette and Café Luluc - all within a few short blocks of each other along Smith St. The tree-lined streets are full of quaint brownstones, and the park in the center of the neighborhood was full of families, enjoying the beautiful sunny November afternoon.

(Please note that these places all technically overlap within Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill - thanks to Scout Paris for helping me navigate the complex neighborhoods of Brooklyn!)

I definitely plan to head back to Carroll Gardens soon, and hopefully get the chance to try some of the food available at one of the many French-inspired cafés. All in all, it was a lovely "trip" and I was relived to learn that there is life outside of Williamsburg.

 
 
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ambafrance-us.org
I was not directly impacted by September 11th.

I was in high school, living just about 20 miles from Washington D.C. My mother was at work two blocks from the Capitol, and had to evacuate. Some of my close friends lost immediate family members in both the Pentagon and the Twin Towers.

But personally, I am almost ashamed to admit, this tragic and historic day didn't fundamentally change my day-to-day existence.

I didn't think I'd wind up living in New York City during the ten year anniversary of 9/11 (frankly, I didn't think I'd wind up living in New York City period.) But being here today has allowed me to reflect on the anniversary of this day more than I ever have in years past.
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View of NYC skyline, 9.11.2011
Seven years after the attacks took place, I found myself teaching English in Montpellier, France to 7-11 year olds. On the anniversary of the attacks, I remember discussing the event briefly with my students. Many of them weren't even cognizant human beings back in 2001 - some weren't even born.

While the teachers seemed truly sympathetic, and still somewhat shocked by the event, most of the students seemed almost clueless to the impact it had on America and the rest of the world.

I realized that this generation of children, whether they were French, American or otherwise, would grow up in a totally different reality than I had.

They won't remember when September 11th was just the day that fell after the 10th, or when you could wear your shoes through airport security, or when the Manhattan skyline was complete with two identical Twin Towers that, to many, represented American strength, power and success.

Growing up, I never thought twice about the word "terrorism" and what it meant - yet for today's post-9/11 generation, this is a true fear and reality.

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Lights where the Twin Towers once stood
I made more of an effort today to try and "celebrate" New York. Granted it simply involved a leisurely brunch at Veselka, a stroll in the Village and some art purchases with close friends - but I couldn't really ask for more perfect New York Sunday.

We stopped and chatted with a man walking his 13-year old Corgi-Chow-Collie mix named Tony; I saw two random strangers compliment a woman's platinum blonde/pink hair sitting outside with us at brunch - "you're simply stunning" one passerbyer told her.

In a city that oftentimes gets a reputation for being cold and distant, I realized that I see random acts of warmth, humor and kindness on the streets of New York every day.

New York is a true melting pot, with an energy and vibrancy that I haven't experienced anywhere else. And as much as I miss Paris, I feel truly lucky to live here. I look forward to many more days of unexpected connections between strangers and spontaneous laughter as I continue to wander and explore this remarkable city.

 

24/7

08/21/2011

7 Comments

 
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The other week I walked into my local market, and politely asked the gentleman behind the counter, "Excuse me sir, what time do you all close tonight?"

Gentleman: shakes his head.

Me: "You never close?"

Gentleman: "No. We're open 24 hours."

After spending nearly a year in Paris, where I was lucky if I had a store open on Sundays and after 9 pm, this whole "closing hours are for the weak" mentality has certainly been one of the many perks I've discovered to living in New York. Within a five block radius of my apartment I have three, 24-hour grocery stores - all of which carry a fine assortment of soy-based protein sources (makes you drool, I know,) organic produce and Burt's Bees cosmetics.

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Now I see why my dear friends from New York had such a hard time adjusting to life in Paris. They were constantly flabbergasted by the slower, European way of life, where places were closed at times that were convenient for the owners, but highly inconvenient for the public.

I imagine the dialog going on inside the heads of my New Yorker pals to be something like, "Why the hell is my favorite boulangerie closed on Sundays AND Mondays?" and "Why are we forced to sprint to our connecting subway train at freakin' 1am - on a SATURDAY night?" and "WHY ARE THERE NO CABS??"

(OK that last one wasn't an inner dialog but a blatant verbal complaint that we ALL had.)

Clearly this whole 24-hour access to essentially anything, anytime, anywhere makes for an extremely convenient urban existence. But it also spoils us - and not necessarily in a good way.

No where else in the world will one find this same kind of 24-hour culture. And while I have certainly enjoyed it, I also find that it makes me even more impatient than I already was prior to my New York migration.

There is something to be said for, well...waiting.

If stores are closed one or two days a week, or shut their doors before 9 pm, it forces us to plan our schedules, and (gasp!) wait around to get what we want. While it can seem inconvenient at the time, it also helps us to set realistic expectations, and probably leads to less overall frustration. Stores that are open 24-hours should be an exception, a treat even - not considered the norm.

When I lived in both Paris and Montpellier I noticed that on weekends, especially Sundays, the families were out in full force, playing with children in the park, going to museums or having long lunches at a cafe. Sure, sometimes it sucked if you wanted to have some retail therapy or get late night snacks on a Sunday night. But it also created a culture of patience and one where people naturally spent time with each other rather than out shopping or running errands.

So while I will certainly appreciate and take advantage of the 24-hour access I have here in New York, I'm not sure it will ultimately benefit me in the long-term. I'm inpatient enough as it is, and this will probably only add fuel to the fire.

But then again, I'm not gonna turn down the opportunity to pick up some chocolate cookie dough ice cream or have a quick pedicure at 4 am now am I?

Bien sûr que non!

 
 
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One of the few perks of being virtually homeless when I moved to New York was that it allowed me to get a taste for different parts of Manhattan before finally settling down in Brooklyn.

After spending time in the East Village and the Upper West Side, I got to (temporarily) live out my dream of living in New York's quaint yet lively West Village neighborhood.

I've always been a little hard on New York when it came to the city's aesthetic. I've always loved the city for its dynamism, diversity and 24-hour access to essentially everything, but I never before really fell in love with the streets, architecture and neighborhoods in the same way I did with those of Paris.

Granted, it's not really fair to compare any city in the U.S. with the beauty of Paris. The history of that city, or any city in Western Europe for that matter, can sometimes make New York seem like an angsty tween compared to a wise and sophisticated European beauty, with centuries of experience. That being said, this allows New York to give off an air of rebellion and just plain old fun that oftentimes its older European counter parts (Paris in particular) seem to lack.

People fall in love with New York for different reasons - some love the brownstones of Park Slope, the glitz and glamour of Madison Avenue or the bright lights of Time Square (although who those people are, I don't really care to know...at all.)

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West Side Story stairs
For me, its the quiet shaded streets, the West Side Story stairs (aka fire escapes) and the adorable dog-walking/hand-holding that happens along these beautiful streets of the West Village that make it so appealing.

It was really one of the first times I've felt a strong connection or, dare I say it, a love, for the city of New York. Slowly but surely I can feel myself growing attached to a city that I always assumed would be too harsh, dirty and cold (or in this case, too freakin hot) to truly love.

While I'm not head over heels yet, as I've finally settled into my new place in Williamsburg I have no doubt my emotions toward this city will only continue to evolve and grow in the next few months - or for at least as long as as my AC stays intact.

 
 
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Me w/ friends on the Coney Island Brewing Co. float
The other weekend I made my first-ever trip to Coney Island, which yes, is every bit as kitsch as you would think, but is still totally awesome and worth the hour-long subway ride.

Why, may you ask, of all the places in New York City to visit during one of my precious weekends did I venture to Coney Island?

For the Mermaid Parade of course!

What is the Mermaid Parade you may wonder?

To be honest, everyone I asked about the event couldn't really tell me what it was, why people gathered for it or what it was celebrating. From what I gathered, it was basically an excuse for people to drink during the day, girls to walk around in pasties and for everyone to wear ridiculous costumes, eat fried food, and just have an all-around good time.

The parade and Coney Island itself totally embodied that slightly flamboyant, cheesy and quirky sensibility that I still think of as being oh-so American. It actually reminded me a bit of the street protests I would see regularly on the Parisian streets - just with more alcohol and sans political statement. But you still had the chants, the crowds of people and the creative slogans, and plenty of cops on the streets to make it feel like I was back at Place de la Republique.

To get a better sense of what it was like, check out my brief series of photos below.

I also want to say a big thank you to Coney Island Brewing Company (aka the World's Smallest Brewery) for letting me ride on your awesome float!

Everyone should go check them out and taste their delicious brews (Mermaid Pilsener anyone?)
 
 
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View of Manhattan skyline from Williamsburg
First off, I would just like to apologize for the ridiculous delay in posting - between long hours at work, looking for an apartment and exploring one of the most dynamic cities on the planet, I realized recently that I was totally neglecting my beloved blog!

I have been living in New York City for 17 days (but who's counting?) And I think one of the things that has surprised me the most about my experience so far, is how easily I feel like I've adjusted to the city.

Don't get me wrong - I still get confused on the subway and ask people for directions constantly. But that sensation of being completely overwhelmed and engulfed by the city that I was expecting to experience hasn't really happened to me (yet.)

I think this is in part because I went immediately from living in one massive city to living in another. Although Paris is completely different from New York in so many ways, at the end of the day, a city is a city. I was already used to managing crowds on the subway, dealing with obnoxious tourists and being forced to walk around in terrible weather (one of these days I will live somewhere with no snow and no humidity...) So overall, the transition has been relatively smooth.

(That being said, I also have yet to venture above 29th street, which means I've managed to avoid some of the busiest corners of New York. Let's see how long I can keep that up...)

I'm still very new to the city, and it will take a while for me to really grasp the core differences between New York and Paris. But going off my initial first few weeks, I would say one of the big things I've noticed right off the bat is that there is an openness about New York (and New Yorkers) that I didn't always find in Paris (or from Parisians.)
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Would Parisian restaurants serve plates w/ S&M mice?
I feel like in New York, anything goes. You can basically wear what you want, say what you want, eat what you want, whenever you want to. (I will admit, I love the 24/7 accessibility of New York - no need to sprint to catch the last subway at 1:30am!).

While in Paris I got stares for drinking out of my aluminum water bottle or for taking off my coat on the bus, here in New York a person could walk onto a subway car naked and I doubt anyone would bat an eye lash.

Living in Paris, I constantly felt the need to blend in, attempt to appear French as best I could and avoid standing out. In New York, I really feel a sense of freedom that I've never felt in any other city. New York has always thrived on being such a melting pot of people and has created an environment where, if anything, it's better to stand out in a crowd than to blend in.

Do not fear fellow francophiles - I still think that Paris is arguably the most beautiful city in the world, and I think of it fondly every day. But so far, I will admit, I can see why people fall in love with New York so easily. Although it's still too soon to tell how my feelings for this city will ultimately develop, I'm looking forward to finding out.

 
 
When I initially arrived in Paris last fall, I was expecting to stay for at least 15 months.

That all changed when I was offered a full-time job...

...in New York City.
So my glamorous life as a graduate student living in Paris has been cut short, to begin work with a company that I have long followed and admired.

As excited as I am to embark on this new adventure, tackle a new city, and be closer to my friends and family living on the East Coast, my departure is bittersweet. I have lived in France several other times, but this time has certainly been the longest, and I finally felt like a true "adult" making my way around this phenomenal city.

Despite the things that drive all us expats crazy (the crowds, the tourists, the rudeness, the dog feces, etc), I think we can all admit that there is still something magical about Paris - there is really no other place like it.

I will miss the croissants, the markets, the macarons, the cobble-stone covered side streets, the wine, the three hour-long lunches, the French sense of humor, the strikes...I will miss it all.
Aside from missing the city, I will of course also miss the fabulous friends I've made during my time abroad. I feel as though I now have family in so many corners of the world, from New Orleans to San Francisco to London to Kenya (all of whom are welcome to crash on my couch in my future tiny, over-priced apartment in New York!)

Although my time in Paris has been cut short, I have so many wonderful memories from the past eight months that I know will stay with me as I attempt to adjust to the crazy Manhattan lifestyle.

I still plan to keep up Ma Vie en Franglais, although I do apologize if there is a limited number of posts in the next month or so as I get settled back in the states.

I truly believe that hints of French culture can be found in any city around the world, and New York is no exception. The focus of the blog will clearly have to be adjusted, as I will no longer have Paris as a backdrop, but I am convinced my "vie en franglais" will follow me wherever I go.

I hope you all will continue reading, and join me on this exciting new adventure!

Bisous,

Carolyn