I was finishing up cooking dinner last week when I looked down at my plate of mac and cheese next to the bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough and realized, huh. I think I’m a little bit homesick. I know I’m not allowed to complain about food in the land of the croissant, but I can’t remember the last time I went this long without peanut butter or Mexican food. The switch from my very own gadget-crowded kitchen to sharing a hot plate with 40 people isn’t helping much either. Today I went on a search for black beans and pumpkin puree and came up empty-handed on both counts. Luckily sugar, butter, and chocolate are staples here too and I reverted to childhood with chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven. Warm cookies make everything better.
Photo from Luana, who is now hired as my food photographer.
Even better than the cookies, I got the all-clear from my physical therapist to start running again! I’ve re-started my morning run routine and it feels so good. My roommate isn’t so thrilled about the 5:45 am alarm clock and I’m not near enough to anything interesting for good views, but I can smell all of the bakeries from a block away and it’s totally worth it.
School has really gotten serious in the last few weeks, which is very inconvenient for my plans to explore Paris. We have a group project working with an industrial partner to solve a current research problem, which is super cool, and mine involves reading everything I can find about the protein and starch structure of wheat. (I’m a little bit too excited about it.) We met with our clients last week and have our first final presentation for a different class this week, so needless to say I’ve been just a little bit busy. I’m not used to having homework again! Most of the time, though, it’s kind of surreal to be able to study and understand products I’ve used for years. I’m weirdly excited about starch functionality and designing milk heating systems. Doesn’t it sound so fun?!?
Luckily we still manage to get out sometimes and when all else fails, my study breaks consist of an eclair and a walk in the Paris sunshine. Theme of this post: baked goods solve all of my problems. Unsurprising.
Some friends from my program and I decided to take off for a weekend and, based on a combination of ticket prices and desire to see the ocean, ended up in Rennes. It’s only 2 hours west of Paris by TGV but about 5 if you’re a student trying to save money by going for the cheapest bus option. The city was super cute and seemed to have a lot going on–we encountered both a brass band parade and a treasure hunt in one afternoon. We also had to eat the regional specialty and had an epic crêpe brunch on Sunday.
But mostly, Rennes was a jumping-off point for the real destination: Mont-St-Michel. A sometimes-island that’s cut off from the mainland at extreme high tides, it’s a spectacular sight. There has been an abbey on the site since the 10th century, which at this point is a maze of different time periods, styles, and functions. The bus from Rennes drops you off a few kilometers away, and the walk to the island took about twice as long as it needed to because we had to stop and take pictures every few steps. The view of gothic spires against shocking blue sky and uninterrupted ocean never got old. I also loved wandering the abbey itself, from the vast dining hall to the massive wheel that once brought supplies to the abbey during its brief stint as a prison. We also watched wave after wave of parachutes land directly in front of the city. It was awesome!
I think it’s a mark of student life that one of the highlights of the trip was staying in a real house. Sitting on a couch, going to the bathroom without taking a key, having your refrigerator in the actual kitchen… it feels like the height of luxury at this point. We took advantage of the swanky digs and made a feast Saturday night–grilled (!!) steak and zucchini, green beans, epic garlic bread, and grilled peaches. It was so nice to live like a grown-up for a weekend!
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!
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?!
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.
The first days of this sort of move are always rough, between the delirium of jet lag and the overwhelming realization that you actually did just change everything about your life without really knowing what comes next. Luckily, France has an excellent antidote to that sort of spiraling in the form of baked goods: on my first afternoon here, I walked to a bakery and immediately felt better about the world with a pain au chocolat and a baguette in my hands. Any place that considers still-warm bread for the dinner table a necessity has some values I can get behind.
It’s been a quiet week of spending time with friends from the US (who live here now!), meeting some of the other students from my program, and dealing with the headaches of any move–train pass, bank account, phone setup. Every (mostly) successful conversation in French boosts my confidence for the next one, but I have to say that I’ve been a little disappointed not to need my meticulously organized folders of documents. I suppose I shouldn’t wish unnecessary bureaucracy on myself, but I do have 2 copies of my immunization records if anyone asks.
Tomorrow is move-in day! I’m looking forward to unpacking after more than a month of living out of suitcases and to being a more-legit resident of Paris!
Turns out the US is pretty big and driving from one coast to the other is maybe more of an undertaking than I really understood from looking at a map. We could have had more adventures were it not for the many, many hours we inconveniently had to spend driving, but it was pretty great all the same. Here are the highlights:
Days traveled: 12
International borders crossed: 2 (that was fun with my whole life packed into the backseat)
States driven through: 11
Miles driven: 3500
Miles hiked: 35
Miles run: 34
Waterfalls admired: 8
National Parks/Forests/Etc enjoyed: 5
Bears observed: 1
Bison encountered: approximately a million (causing the requisite bison traffic jams)
Pictures of bison taken: definitely not enough
Motorcycles seen: literally thousands (accidentally encountered the edges of Sturgis)
Pictures taken: 458 (don’t worry, this is only a few of them)
It was an amazing trip! Thank you to my co-pilots and hosts along the way!