La TraverSeine

At my very first Dragon Ladies of Paris dragon boat team practice (all of 2 weeks ago), I impulsively decided to join the team for an upcoming race. I didn’t get a lot of details, but I figured it would be fine. Fast forward to race day (today!), and it turns out this race was a 14 km paddle through the city of Paris. Um, the longest dragon boat race I’d ever done before today was 2 km. It was an adventure to say the least!

We all took home paddles and PFDs from practice yesterday, theoretically so everyone knew they had one but also so that some of us would get lots of weird looks on the train.

I was completely blown away by the scene at the start. It’s a race for all sorts of water craft and also a mass start, so the river was full of kayaks, SUPs, canoes, a couple dragonboats (one complete with reindeer and Mère Noël!), and outriggers of all sizes. It was chaos. To make things worse, our dragon head is exactly the height of a person sitting in a kayak and we aren’t super nimble. What can I say, the dragon was hungry.

Photo credit: Cristina

The race course was incredible: around the islands and through the center of the city, passing by all of the great monuments and bridges of Paris. It was gray most of the morning, but the sun broke through for a few glorious minutes just as we passed the Eiffel Tower–pure magic. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the best parts because I was slightly busy paddling, but it was really incredible.
Things got harder after that. Instead of famous monuments and surprised runners cheering from the bridges, we were in an industrial area with a headwind and some pretty serious waves. It felt like mile 15 in a marathon, when you feel like you’ve done quite enough, thank you, but actually there’s still SO MUCH LEFT. To make matters worse, I was in the first row, which sets the rhythm for the boat and can’t just stop to catch their breath. There was a lot of just staring at the bottom of the boat and counting to 10 in my head for this part.
Photo credit (both above): Dragon Ladies
But then we were finally (FINALLY!) at the finish line, and there’s nothing better than being done with a long-distance race. You can’t really move and everything hurts, but the sheer relief of getting to stop is an incredible feeling. (I’m re-reading this and it sounds more than a little masochistic, but I do run marathons, so…) In the end, we did 14.3 km in 1:46, which I have no frame of reference for but seems pretty damn good. Between a brand-new PR and a very cool way to see the city, it felt like a super successful morning.
Félicitations à toutes les Dragon Ladies de Paris! I’m so happy I get to paddle with all of you!

Back to school

School’s in session for real now! Things I’ve done in the last week that I haven’t done in half a decade: think about integrals, read a textbook on the train, hold a meeting at 9 pm because everyone in the group lives 200 feet from each other. Except for a heat convection problem set (wow, that was a struggle), it’s going well so far. We have a super class-heavy schedule, which means I need to learn how to cook actually simple dinners if I’m going to have any hope of getting to bed on time. But I also had this great moment in the library the other day where I looked around and ALL of the books were about food science and I wanted to read all of them–we didn’t have food science at my undergrad and it still blows my mind that I get to study it for real. (This picture is my campus. Not much to look at, but at least we get dramatic skies.)

In an unfortunate turn of events, I was on the losing end of a tussle with a root on a run a few weeks ago and (finally) went to the doctor last week to confirm that I sprained my foot. So I’ve got a super stylish orthopedic boot situation that makes running around Paris a bit more difficult for the moment. Luckily it’s not broken and the boot, obnoxious as it is, does seem to be helping. AND it led to one of my favorite Paris interactions so far: I was walking in my neighborhood talking in English when a lady walked up behind me and asked if this was the new American style. Apparently it looks like a sneaker from the back and she thought I was wearing intentionally mismatched shoes. When she saw that it was an injury boot, she felt awful but I just thought it was hilarious. I’m a trend-setter!

Despite the constant clacking that accompanies every other step (a professor called it my tap shoe), I can’t resist wandering around Paris, especially with my college roommate in town for the weekend. It also happened to be “Les Journées Européennes de la Patrimoine” (heritage days, more or less), so we found a scavenger hunt intended for children and some pretty buildings that aren’t usually open to the public. The best part, though, was definitely an organ concert where they let us climb up behind it and watch the organist play. There’s so much going on! Three keyboards, multiple sets of foot pedals, mysterious stops to pull in and out–it looked a little like an interactive activity for toddlers but it was super cool. See how fun it is to visit me? Who’s next?!

All moved in

In the last two weeks, I’ve officially moved into the city of Paris, started classes for my master’s degree, and met all of the people I’ll be spending the next two years with. So just a couple of small things.

The dorm makes me miss my tiny little studio like crazy, where at least I had an oven that worked and control over when the lights went out, but it’s honestly better than I expected. My roommate Elif is great (we’re in the same program). The miniscule shared kitchen embodies everything I remember disliking about dorm kitchens the first time around, but it also means that we sit around together eating green beans in bathrobes at 10 pm—things could be worse! I forgot how much fun it can be to run into friends in the hallway, pop over to someone’s room for tea, or summon everyone in the middle of the night for urgent birthday planning shenanigans. And I did manage to make a birthday cake, so I guess it’s functional enough.

The students in my program are amazing and from all over—23 people from 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We all have really different backgrounds, and it’s so much fun to meet a super diverse group of people all crazy passionate about the same field. I’m organizing weekly dinners with the not-very-secret hidden agenda of getting to taste everyone’s different food, and I’m very excited about it.

Photo credit: Roxanne

So far, classes have been mostly just introductions to the program, the professors, and the various life-defining choices we’re going to have to make in the next two years, followed by people telling us not to stress about said choices. We did also get to see all of the master’s thesis posters and presentations by this year’s graduating class, which was a really cool way to see where we’ll be at the end of this and get a sense for the options available to us. Some of the research was super interesting and also right up my alley (my favorite posters were about cookies and pizza, shocking). To show off the perks of being part of this program, we also got to tour a Danone research center and make blue ice cream with Hervé This, creator of molecular gastronomy. Tomorrow marks the real start of classes with homework and exams and all of those unfortunate things, so I’m enjoying the end of the easy part while I can.

Photo credit: Roxanne

Oh, and I joined a dragon boat team! We’re called the Dragon Ladies of Paris and I think I agreed to a race of unknown distance in two weeks. Should be fun!

Photo from the Dragon Ladies de Paris Facebook page.