Well, hello there, stranger! It sure has been a while, hasn’t it? I promise, I have a good excuse for being absent for so long. As you might recall from the spate of tardy posts I made in late May / early June, I had The Never-Ending Stream of Houseguests, which continued right through June (with a weekend jaunt to Berlin, thank you very much). My parents also came into town for two weeks in June to celebrate my birthday, which included dinner at Taillvent! So delicious, and only for the price of one month’s rent! A bargain, really.
Anyway, we had a great time, and even managed to get down to Nantes for a couple of days to visit some friends of the family, where we had some excellent food and wine (of course). After that, I spent about two weeks at the end of June doing an intense set of interviews, which turned into hours and hours and hours of transcription work. I easily spent 8 hours transcribing one hour of interviewing. It didn’t help that I let my interviewees choose the location of the interview and it was summer, which meant that everyone wanted to meet on the patio of a café somewhere, usually facing a noisy street. After the first badly-recorded interview, I switched from my iPod/Griffin iTalk setup to a new Olympus digital Dictaphone, which has served me magnificently ever since.
So I spent 12-14 hours a day working on transcriptions, during some of the hottest days of the summer (35ºC/95ºF), in my tiny attic apartment, with skylight windows and no air-conditioning. I think I lost a few pounds a day just from sweat. I got a break when I went south to visit a friend near Rocamadour, in the Lot region of France (south-west). I would work on transcriptions during the day, and then head out on hikes in the neighboring valleys and fields before dinner. It helped that the days were a bit cooler there and that my friend’s place was an old sheep’s pen, built out of stone and half-embedded into the hillside for natural air-conditioning. Oh, and the food was delicious. Rocamadour is the region that produces Rocamadour cheese, which are these little discs of goat cheese that are just on the border between crumbly and creamy. The south-west in general is the land of everything duck, so there was lots of foie gras and confit de canard (duck cooked in its own fat). And in addition to all of that, it was the tail-end of strawberry season, and the mara des bois type of strawberries were available, which is a variety that resembles Ontario wild strawberries in their sweetness and intensity of flavor. All in all, good times.
I was only in Lot for a few days, then I came back to Paris and kept working away at my transcriptions. For the last two weeks of July, I rented out a room in a flat in Berlin for super-cheap and spent two weeks saying goodbye to my favorite techno paradise. I also treated the trip as a writing retreat, and I have to say that I’m impressed with my self-discipline. I would work on my chapter from 9 or 10am until 5pm, then I’d save everything, close my computer, and head off to meet friends, go for walks, etc. Saturdays and Sundays I did no work and concentrated on just partying hard—to do justice to the Berlin scene.
I came back to Paris at the beginning of August and tried to keep up the same work schedule I had developed in Berlin. Since it was still excruciatingly hot and I had no air-conditioning, I adjusted my schedule a bit. I would get up early and work until noon, then bike over to the Bois de Vincennes and lay out in the sun until the late afternoon, then head back to my apartment and do a bit more work. Sometimes, when I was in a section of my chapter that required less citation and more argumentation, I would bring a notebook with me and just write by hand, later editing and inserting it into the chapter.
By mid-July, I finished a chapter, which was pretty much perfect timing. I sent out the chapter to my committee, partied like a fool over the weekend, and then started planning my return to Chicago. Some things were really simple, like doing a thoroughgoing purge of my wardrobe, cleaning the apartment, and sending some of my books off by mail. Other things were complicated, like arranging the closure of my French bank account when I still needed it to receive my safety deposit from my landlord here.
My friends here gave me a great farewell, including a surprise party at a friend’s place that came with this amazing photo-montage of all of us together made by one of the crew that is a professional graphic designer. I also organized a dinner during my last week here as well as a night out at the clubs that I dubbed “Luis se déchire avant de partir” (Luis gets tore up before leaving). Despite all of my preparations, the final few days were a bit hectic, but I was able to spend my last night in Paris having a pleasant dinner and a bottle of wine with some of my friends. Yay, Paris! As you can imagine, I’m really sad about leaving Paris, even if I’m also thrilled to see my Chicago friends again. Thankfully, the pain was alleviated a bit by the knowledge that I was coming back for a few days later in September. Paris, I don’t know how to quit you.
So you might wonder what I’m going to do with a blog called Luis in Paris, now that I’m no longer in Paris (well, I’m writing this from the airport in Paris, but you see what I mean). I’ve been wondering, too. Much like while I was in Berlin, I’m hoping to keep posting about my nighttime adventures and so on while I’m in Chicago, although the frequency of my party notes will vary according to my teaching workload. Also, once in awhile, I’ll post little anecdotes or short observational essays about France and Paris; little fragments that never made it into my day-to-day postings in Paris.
For example, take these pictures:
These are the little paper bags that most grocers at Paris’s open-air markets and corner shops use to sell you tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas, and pretty much anything that fares better in paper bags than plastic. I’m kinda fascinated by the images that are printed on them. In one, you have this rather simple collection of fruits, vegetables and flowers. On another, you have this basket character with an insane grin on his face, stuffed full of the same groceries. On another, you have a mixture of fruits with a palm tree looming in the background. What’s interesting is that all of these conspicuously present at least one “exotic” fruit—that is, a product that isn’t grown naturally in France. In the first image, the pineapple dominates the image from the center; in the second, the half-kiwi is one of only two items that is not in the basket; in the third, you have both the banana and the pineapple, not to mention the palm tree. Considering that most Parisians (at least the middle-class and bohemiain-bourgeois folks I know) tend to place a lot of value on products in season and grown locally, it’s an odd contrast that the bag designs used by the grocers of Paris features exotic fruit prominently. Anyway, I’m going to miss these bags, which I would re-use to store my garlic, steam-peel peppers, and preserve cut vegetables.
Stay tuned for upcoming stories of Luis’s return to Chicago!