Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm in Paris! ...sort-of!

(I wrote this whole post on Saturday morning, but it wasn't posted until I got to the lab and connected to the internet this morning.)

Well, I've safely and successfully completed the trip and transition to France! There have been some unexpected bumps along the way, but... nothing I couldn't deal with (and I've been very lucky to have lots of help and generosity from my lab PI here at Université de Paris Sud). 

I arrived at CdG about an hour late, although they apparently posted online that we were on time, and my meeting time with my PI, Lenny, was based on my arrival time (and he was watching for any delays of my flight so we could recalculate based on that). After getting my bags, I enjoyed the walk from my terminal to the RER (Paris' commuter rail), stomping through CdG as if I owned the place and politely declining (in French) any offers for taxis and the like - it feels good to be one of the ones to know a place when, as a tourist, you're so clearly expected to be lost and confused and vulnerable. So there, France! :)

After a long and sweaty train ride (apparently I brought some hot Cali weather with me - it's been rainy and gross up until my arrival date), I got to the Orsay-Ville train station and waited for Lenny on the front steps... but apparently he had already waited for over half an hour and then left 15 minutes before I arrived! Which meant that I was walking to the lab - not very far, but up a hill and in the sun for some of it, with all my luggage. Oh la la la laa. (Although I did get a preview of the very outdoorsy/woodsy campus - my walk from my dorm to my lab every day will be 15-20 min walking along a river through a beautiful, lush forest. How great is that?? ^_^)

Eventually, we had everything sorted out and I was all taken care of and moved in, although it took some improvisation to get me to that point! This dorm room is fine, but the dorm apparently doesn't provide some essentials like towels (although they offer linens - apparently just for the bed), toilet paper (luckily I made a friend down the hall who gave me some for my first day), and a refrigerator... well... I'm still working on figuring that last one out. At this point I think I'll just be making daily (or almost daily) trips to the grocery store to buy very small amounts of the perishable things I want to eat. Interestingly, French eggs are SO fresh that you don't refrigerate them (you just eat them within a few days of purchasing). Also, milk is SO pasteurized that you don't refrigerate it... until you open it. at which point you drink it. all. if you don't have a fridge. ...haha....

So I'm still working out a few kinks. But things are good overall, and I'm figuring out my research/project plans with Lenny in the lab, and it's all wonderful and exciting! I finally got into Paris proper (about a 45 min ride on the RER) and activated my phone - it felt SO GOOD to be walking around those neighborhoods that I know and remember and love!! ^_^ It's also a bit strange to be back this time, because my last venture into Paris started with so much excitement of discovery, and I was with a big pack of mostly like-minded, francophile Americans. This time, it's just me, venturing out on my own, which feels new and strange, but I'm going back to a place that is very familiar and loved, which is good but also strange because the arrival is less about new discoveries and more about... rediscovery? connections? reinserting myself into a culture I came to love? Still figuring out how to put it into words. But it's great to be back!

My cousin Charlie arrived last night, a day and a half after I did - just enough time for me to get my bearings and get my feet under myself! We're going to have lots of adventures in Paris! Yay!

Also, tidbit about Haiti: I've started reading the first of my heavy stack of self-inflicted pre-departure summer reading! I picked the straight-up history book first (Haiti: The Tumultuous History - from Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, by Philippe Girard), thinking a good background in Haiti's story would be useful before I get into Paul Farmer's awesome stories and adventures. My other books are Pathologies of Power, Infections and Inequalities, Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Spirit Catches You and then You Fall Down, and Cutting for Stone. I've already read a couple of them, but not for a long time, and they all seemed like important, valuable additions to the pile. Meanwhile, I also have a Haitian Creole - English dictionary that I'm using while I practice my Creole phrases on a free download of a language program. I'm really trying to prepare myself mentally, emotionally, in whatever way I can.

Anyway, this history book about Haiti is pretty shocking at times. First of all, it's not exactly that well-written throughout, and the author randomly inserts "unfortunately"s and other similarly biased words, but he sometimes does it for both sides of each conflict he's describing... It's suddenly very clear to me why history textbooks are supposed to be written without any apparent opinions or bias. Not only does it present one side as better or worse than the other, but it just gets downright confusing! And second of all, the history of Haiti is far more intense than I ever realized! Granted, I've only made it up to 1850 so far, but it seems like every single ruler of Haiti, whether they were Spanish, French, or even a native Haitian that got to power by helping lead a revolt against the oppressive, "evil" whites, ends up corrupt and doesn't make any moves to actually make a positive change for his people! There were multiple examples of the leader of a revolt or revolution who then becomes the country's new leader and... ends up making virtually no changes in the slavery system, only to profit as much as possible from the rich sugar economy. Another shocking moment: after a triumphant Haitian Revolution against the French and a declaration of independence, the new Haitian leader declares that it's time to massacre every white person on the island, as revenge for all their past offenses. Not only does this seemingly reduce him (and others backing the decision) to nothing more than the same kind of people that the French were, but it eliminates all of the educated citizens from the island (and scares off any potential immigrants). The first of many "brain drains" to occur in Haiti.

I could go on and on. Very interesting stuff. (I thought I didn't like history?!) Anyway, I'm off to wake sleepy Charlie up and we'll go to a local market, in traditional French style! YAY! And then to Pareeeeee

À bientôt...

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