About the events of November 13th

I don’t want to exploit this moment for pathos. I’m not going to give a detailed report of what I was doing on Friday November 13th. I’ll say, I live and hang out in the 11th, and yes I was out at a bar, and yes it was a little frightening. What I kept thinking about during the events of Friday night was how all the sudden everyone on Facebook was so horrified, despite that so many people live with this kind of fear every day.

I don’t blame my friends and family for being concerned about my safety. I don’t complain that people care about Paris. But collectively, isn’t it reprehensible, our disproportionate reaction to these events, versus the news that knocks daily from the middle east and from Africa?

If you do anything this week, to try understand what you, as a citizen of the US or of European nation, may be complicit in. To think about how many people live everyday in fear of being shot or blown up; to know how many innocent civilians have died at the hands of American military maneuvers; to know who we’ve sold weapons to and who we’ve supported. That is what should horrify you.


Working at the Lycée so far

In my last post, I mentioned that I was not so sure what to do with this blog now, but that maybe it would be a good place to document my thoughts on the various teaching scenarios I experience while I’m here. Unlike a real teaching position,  TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) doesn’t imply any one consistent pattern of classroom interaction. All TAPIF assistants are used differently depending on the school / department / age group they teach. Within that, each individual teacher has a different vision for what they’d like us to do. And beyond that, I have picked up teaching gigs outside of my main employment in order to supplement my income. It means my routine is irregular, which is frustrating, but it also means I get to try out a lot of approaches, which is fun.

I quick summary of what I am doing, then.

The TAPIF program is run through the French Ministry of Education. It recruits native English speakers from all over the world to be placed as language assistants in public primary and secondary institutions throughout France and its overseas territories. Assistants are employed for 12 hours a week, and our job is basically to offer native-level conversation to supplement regular English courses. For the most part, this means facilitating small breakout sessions focused on oral ability. We don’t give grades, and we don’t teach grammar lessons.

I am at a technical high school in Paris. I have six sections of “terminale” students ( = high school seniors), five sections of BTS students (“brevet de technicien supérior,” a  technical certificate that takes 2 additional years of study after the bac), and two sections of TPROE/TPROV (also a post-bac vocational certificate, but for a trade. My students are in training to become glassblowers and signmakers? Cool, right?).

My hours are dispersed across Monday through Thursday, so it’s really nice that I managed to live near my school since I have a lot of long chunks of break in between hour long classes. My schedule varies from week to week because some teachers want me to alternate between which of their classes I visit. On top of that, since in those classes I only work with a small portion of students from each class at a time, it means that there are somes students who I will not see even once every 2 weeks, but more like once a month or once every five. In another class, I take students three at a time and administer practice oral BAC exams – like the ones we had to pass for the TCF, if you’ve done that – which is kind of fun in a way (I’m sort of a vicious grader, it turns out), but not exactly much in the way of instructional experience. In another class, I work with half the students for half 20 minutes and the second half for another 20 minutes. In this case it’s nice that I get to see all of the students every week, but 20 minutes isn’t much time to get anything done.

I’m describing all of this because there are so many TAPIF blogs out there and the experience is highly variable, and I wanted to add my situation to mix for any TAPIF potentials out there looking to do research. I do really like my school and the teachers I work with. They are all very polite and receptive. The school feels good, too. It’s in a working-class neighborhood of Paris and has a really mixed student body. A good half of my students are post-Bac, and so basically my age (20-22; I’m 23), and they’re mature and respectful and fun to talk with.

One thing that is really interesting is the gender disparity. All of my BTS students are in training for computer science or electronics-related fields, and almost all my terminale students are in a science/technology/development concentration (in France, you choose a specific track while in high school, sort of general major). And they are ALL guys; seriously, in my BTS classes, there are most two girls. In most, only one. I mean, of couse I know that in general there are fewer women in science, but wow. I guess, coming from a humanities field, I am not accustomed to it – and yeah, I have one single section of terminale students who are literature-concentration students, and guess what? A whole class of girls,with only three boys.

As of yet, I have done very little, to be honest. My first week of teaching began October 5, but it was only an introductions week. A few of my classes were cancelled because of teacher illness, and in the rest I only introduced myself and talked for a few minutes. The second week, I did begin real work, but the next week school let out for the 2-week Toussaint holiday. I being again today.

At the orientation meeting at the beginning of October, the directors of the program mentioned that in a survey of last year’s assistants, 40 percent reported that they felt they were under-used in there schools. The directors all seemed very alarmed by this figure and basically recommended to us that we solve the problem ourselves by trying harder to be more involved in our schools. They don’t seem to realize that this is essentially asking us to do more work for no pay. Also, if we are underused, it is because schools and don’t know what to do with us, and don’t have the time or training to figure it out. What would really solve the problem would be to allow us to work more than 12 hours – then we could really sink in, spend more time with the students, and actually become an established part of the school community. As it is, I feel perfunctory.

That’s to be negative about it. As I say, I’ve only just begun, and since I like my school, students and teachers, I’m still quite enthusiastic about it all. I’ve also found two, possibly three private students to tutor – a highly motivated ten-year old boy (and possibly his younger brother) and a Spanish lady who works in a law firm. Good private students are treasures and I’m relieved to have had the luck to have come across them.

Anyway, in my next post, I’m going to talk about the “stages intensifs” that I taught over Toussaint. Now that was an interesting teaching experience.



Paris, round two!

I am back in Paris. Weird!!

I also am not sure what I am going to do with this blog this time around. When I came to Paris to study abroad in college, I was very invested in living my life as though it were a research project. I wanted to document and reflect upon all my experiences like an anthropologist. I don’t feel like that anymore. So, I am not entirely sure how I am going to use this blog yet. I think that once I begin teaching it may be a good place to record my experiences regarding that.

For now, though, here a miscellaneous post about how things are going so far. I arrived in Paris 11 days ago. I got really lucky on the housing front. I was staying at an airbnb right next to the high school I am assigned to, in the 11ème, and my airbnb host happened to remember hearing from the building’s concierge that there was a couple in the building who wanted to rent their studio. So I nabbed it! It’s quite nice. A lot bigger than my old place in the 12th, for only 50 euro more per month. IMG_1114 IMG_1115 IMG_1116

My favorite thing might be the fireplace, even if I can’t actually use it.

Also, my first weekend here was the Journées de Patrimoine in Paris, which are two days in France where lots of public establishments, like museums and national monuments, are open for free. It’s actually a terrible time to go to any of the really famous stuff, like the Louvre, because naturally half the universe shows up and you’ll have to stand in line for 12 hours. (And yet some people do!) I think it’s a good excuse to visit more off-the-beaten track sites, things you wouldn’t otherwise go to, and may not want to spring for entry fee on normally, but are still worth seeing for free.

The pyschiatric and neurologic hospital

On Saturday, I visited the lovely Centre hospitalier Sainte-Anne in the 14th, which has existed in its current location since 1863, as a center for neurological and pyschiatric research and care. The grounds themselves are quite pretty, with a lot of garden space and old-timey arcades. I accidentally ended up going on a tour of their MRI facility. I was at the entrance, where a booth was set up to welcome visitors and provide them with information about the special events that were happening for the Journées de Patrimoine. One of the greeters told me there were 2 places left for the [rapid blurred French] and was I interested in attending? And, being me, even though I hadn’t caught what it actually was, I was like “sure!” Then he looked at his watch, thought for a second and said, are you afraid of riding motorscooters? and I said no, and he was like, ok great! It’s on the other side of the facility and we only have two minutes to get there, so hop on!
So I got a  stranger’s scooter and scooted across the hospital grounds, and then followed him through a bunch of hallways, and into an MRI lab, where a cheery young French doctor was enthusiastically demonstrating how the equipment worked. It was really cute, actually. Also, I never really thought about it before, but I had NO idea how MRIs work, and so it was really interesting to find out.
The hospital also has a tiny little museum you can visit, on the 2nd floor (that is, 1ère étage). I think on normal days, you have to ask be let in, but it was wide open for the Journées de Patrimoine. It’s only 2 or 3 rooms, but it’s pretty funky! The displays consist mostly of old hospital equipment and correspondances between old dead neurologists. I particularly liked the section on old fashioned neurological tests, which were these complex apparatuses that I guess were meant to test motor skills: IMG_1111IMG_1141

There was also this very creepy display of watercolors painted by a patient in the pyschiatric ward in 1949:
IMG_1120 IMG_1122 IMG_1124 IMG_1125 IMG_1126 IMG_1138

As well as a page of his writing, which I attempt to translate below:

IMG_1139No. 9 Saint Jean of the God Sportex, 15 Joiecoeur 1949 [did he invent his own month system?]. For piracy. Doctor Bernard.
The novena of the cycle of genre is finished. Return to the 1st of the final judgement of the world. Next: No. 2. The rosevine year sings (??) and No. 6, and this also, No. 4, Concert digestif, No. 8 Atomic snackbite. This here represents a real circular track. However, I must warn you that I will not work for you any longer, given that you have not spoken out for the putrefaction which you have told me to accept, so easily. This last engraving is therefore for your breakfast cereal. Because there is nothing to be done with you. I will come (with?) my next conceptions in or order to have tobacco bread and cheese. With these delicacies do not thing that I will get better, because a satisfied heard grows [something]. I will patiently away your verdict concerning my insanity, all while continuing to educate myself. In my heart I amstill a big child but I assure you I am I feel ready to be a man. what is pleasant to me is that I do nothing by exhaust you with my needs as regular as clockwork. Load of (juice? gravy?). I still count the hours, even in short circuits and breakdowns. The [somethings] are sweet. I beg you to excuse my candour, but really, the habit of undoing my belt during meals so that my pants fall when I forget to resinch it at the end….”

Weird, yeah? Those watercolors are pretty brutal and make me wonder what the conditions of the ward were like back in those days.

Oh, also, if anyone can identify for me what this thingyhooey is meant to do, I’d greatly appreciate it!IMG_1116 (1)

Le Sénat

If you want to experience some excellent Napoleonic architecture in a perhaps slightly-less visited setting (in contrast with, say Napoleon’s appartments in the Louvre), the French Senate building, located at the Jardins de Luxembourg in the 6th, is worth a visit! I went really early before it opened, which ended up being worth it, because the line grew quite long behind me by the time we were let in. To be honest I don’t actually know much about how the French government works, but its Senate sure is nice to look at.







It also has a gorgeous library. Two, actually.IMG_1152 IMG_1177 IMG_1178

After I left the senate, I spent some time walking around the Luxembourg gardens, and then finally ended up at the Institut de France, which ALSO has a beautiful library, the Bibliothèque Mazarin. And this one is public, so you can go anytime and work there, though I have no idea how crowded it usually is.
IMG_1202Ok, this blog post is rapidly devolving into nothing but a series of eye-ball selfies. I better check out now. Be back with more later, kids!


Parks in Paris

On the shuttle back from Beauvais airport after my recent trip to Italy, I was listening to some American and Canadian tourists chatting about what to do in Paris. “So like, besides the Eiffel Tower, what’s there to do here?” said the American lady.

Hahaha. Well, in my opinion pretty much the best thing to do in Paris is have a picnic. Because (1) there are gadgjillions of excellent street markets all over the place where you can buy delicious picnic food (2) the city is full of romantic, idyllic places to consume said food (3) the open liquour laws are, though not quite non-existent, quite low-key.

Here are some pic-nic venues I like in Paris.

Parc Monceau
35 Boulevard de Courcelles,

Situated in the 8th, near two excellent museums of Aisiatic art, Musée Guimet and Musée Cernusci. It’s a small park filled with charming architerctural follies.


Buttes Chaumont
1 Rue Botzaris, 75019
Has a lake, a temple on a hill, a grotto and waterfalls!


Bois de Vincennes

My favorite place, maybe. Situated outside the southeastern side of Paris and reachable by the lovely Promenade Plantée. It also has a lake. With islands! On one of which is situated a temple! And canoe rental! And it’s really easy to get lost in, in a fun way. It’s called a “wood” but it’s not really woods, it’s a ginormous park with good biking paths. Grab a Velib and spend a day exploring.

the banks of the Seine

In some places, the cobbled banks of the Seine are not ideal for eating, due to the odor (piss). But if you go to the right place you’ll have a nice view. My favorite place to drink wine by the banks of the Seine is on the Rive Gauche just opposite and a little upstream of the Notre Dame, between the Pont au Double and the Pont de the Pont d’Archeveché. Go in the evening and enjoy the view of the cathedral, which in my opinion is most beautiful from the back.
notre dame


Parc de Bercy
128 Quai de Bercy 75012
Located in the 12th, across the river from the Bibliothèque Nationale, which can be reached over of the nicest yet lesser-frequented pedestrian bridges, the Passarelle Simone Beauvoir, which is cool and modern and shaped liked overlapping sinusoids. This park as a chill vibe. Sometimes I see people juggling or practicing poi there. And it has free wifi.

Luxembourg Gardins
6e Arrondissement

A classic but lovely. You can rent toy boats on certains afternoons to punt about in the pond… I used to do this when I lived in France as a child.

Jardins de Plantes 

The botanical gardens of Paris. Go to the Museum of Natural history! It has several buildings situated throughout the park, with seperate entrance fees; some are free for under 26 year olds. My favorite is the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, because of all the skeletons. There are also a menagerie and several greenhouses.

pignetto 3

Street art and graffiti: London, Paris, Rome

I mentioned in my post on street art in Berlin that I had also done tours in London and Paris. Since then, I’ve also had a chance to see some cool work in the Pigneto district in Rome. Here’s a summary of what I saw in the three cities.

We took a tour of East London with Alternative London and our tour guide was himself a street artist named Josh Jeavons, whose work I looked at later – it’s cool, especially some things he’s done recently in Vitry just outside of Paris. East London is I guess one of the hottest spots in the world for street art. I didn’t take very many pictures because I’m an awful photographer, but here are a few: london street art 3 Zio Ziegler, a muralista style guy london street art1
Roa, a Belgian street artist

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Of course there’s heaps to read about the London street art scene elsewhere on the web, written by people much better informed than I am, with better photographs, and invite you to search about it. I was overwhelmed by everything I saw, but I particularly like Jonesy’s pieces, in part because three dimensional street art attracts me (remember that cool sculpture of the slouching man in my Berlin post?), and because his installs his work so seamlessly in to the urban environment. After the tour was over, Emily and I spent the afternoon walking around the quarter find more pieces we liked. According to our guide this part of London is undergoing gentrification, developers buying up cheap property to install office and housing space for people who don’t value the art community already present in the area. This process happens everywhere, of course – I saw it in Berlin, with the now upscale Mitte district that now only has a little pocket of street art, and the trendiness of Belleville in Paris (I mean it’s been trendy probably for quite a while but it’s getting even more trendy I think), and I witnessed it again last week in Il Pignetto in Rome. It’s also kind of happening in my home town, Tucson, though in a different way. It makes me angry because it is inevitable, and because part of me knows I can’t be angry about it. Like, wealth is not exactly a dreadful thing. But the more I see of the world the more I suspect that the only good artists are poor artists. And I’m sad that ambiances, that vibes, that cultures, are so easily commodified.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’ll share what I saw on the Paris street art tour. It was booked with Underground Paris, and went around Belleville. I recommend this tour! Unfortunately I didn’t take such great notes, so I may not be able to label my photos as well. paris street art 4 These two pieces are by an artist called Le MoDule De Zeer, who conducted a giant tic tac toe game of street art all across the city. Read about it and his other work here. paris street art 2 Vihls – we saw his work in London, too. paris street art 5 Graffuturism paris street art 6 If anyone can remember this artist’s name and remind me, I’d appreciate this. This wall is up in the Parc de Belleville.  [edit: it’s by an artist named Pez. Thanks, Emily!]paris street art 8

Julien “Seth” Malland There’s a lot more to learn about Paris’ street art scene here!

And finally, here are my pictures from Il Pigneto in Rome. We were not able to book an actual tour, but we spent a day walking around and looking.  Sorry I can’t label all the artists.

IMG_2669pignetto    These two were across the street from one another. pigetto5 pigetto10 pignetto 2 pignetto 3  pignetto4 pignetto5 pignetto6 pignetto7 pignetto8 There were more political messages written around Pignetto than in other places I’ve been. I wondered about whether this was just a difference in political atmosphere, or whether it had to do with the fact that Pignetto is perhaps earlier in its development as a venue for street art and grafitti. I wonder whether once a place becomes quite known for art, the politcal writing decreases? pignetto9 pignetto11 pignetto12 It has been interesting to get to know that within the world of grafitti writing and street art, as within an artistic setting, different media evoke strong opinions. Apignetto13 pignetto14 pignetto15 So. There. My adventures with street art and grafitti. After taking the three different guided tours, and the one self-guided one, I concluded that though I needed the tours guides to introduce me to street art and to teach me about its history, politics and current trends, in the end, street art and grafitti are best experienced when not sought after. It’s a bit paradoxical. I want to be places where it is going to be, but I don’t want to seek it.

Thoughts & tips on finding places to stay

I have already written a bit about couchsurfing in Glasgow, and about the boat hostel I fell in love with in Berlin. I stayed in two other hostels while in Berlin (yeah… long story, don’t ask) and comparing the three over a one-week period got me thinking about how lodging affects how you experience travel.

The first hostel I stayed in in Berlin was a very commercial one, Wombat Hostel. It was a last-minute booking, so I just went with what was obvious. It was a nice hostel, clean and friendly and it had a cheap bar on the top floor with a view, but I didn’t like it. I was drinking a beer on my first night there, looking over the city towards the TV tower and I heard this guy say in the bro-iest of SoCal drawls: “…yeah. Like, I was surprised at how much of Paris I was able to see in only one day.” I withered a little inside.  I’m sorry for being so judgmental, but I’ve spent a lot of time this year being a tourist and watching other tourists. I love to travel – I love to adventure – but sometimes you see people going about it, and you can’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t have had a better time, and been a better person, for just staying at home and being themselves. If you’re just going to do that: just hit highlights and drink beer… I mean you might as well just drink beer and surf the internet.

I think that it’s possible to travel without ever leaving yourself, and that where you stay when travel plays role in whether you’re able to. Your lodging is your temporary home, and it should be a place where you recreate yourself a little bit, not a place that feels like the same pair of jeans you wore yesterday.

The second hostel I stayed in was the magical boat hostel, Eastern Comfort. The third was East Seven Berlin, which was maybe a bit less magical but cozy and friendly and also a bit more convenient because it had a kitchen. Also I fell completely in love with the man at the front desk. I don’t know why. Maybe because when I arrived, for some reason there had been a mistake and the bed I had reserved wasn’t made up yet, so he made me a cup of tea while I waited. I guess when I’m feeling tired and vulnerable, my affection comes cheap?

I like cooking in kitchen hostels. You have to navigate the simultaneous projects that are taking place and cooperate with them and maybe make friends. There’s a weird and nice clamor in a room where a bunch of strangers are trying to make dinner at once.

But anyway, I do really recommend the East Seven if you’re in Berlin, it’s well located and has all the accommodations: a good kitchen, laundry service, cheap beer at happy hour, internet and computers, a nice courtyard, and a lot of information about things to do. And tour guides stop by the place to pick you up so you don’t need to find the meeting place. It’s located in Schoeneberg which is upscale and hipster, not as fascinating and gritty as the Kreuzberg / Freidrichshain neighborhood that Eastern Comfort is moored around, but nice, and located near all the central attractions.

Since the Berlin trip, I’ve discovered Airbnb which is a service that helps people rent their rooms out. This is what Emily and I used when we went to London. We stayed with a nice lady who lives in Brixton and is an actress.  We had a private room all to ourselves, instead of having to bunk with strangers who go bang in the night. And she had this sweet deck! Image

Brixton was great, I’m glad we stayed there. Brixton Market had tons of good cheap ethnic eats.

I’ll be Airbnbing again in Italy, and I’ll let you know how that goes.


Street art and grafitti in Berlin

I knew next to nothing about street art and grafitti when I came to France, other than what I learned from having once watched the Banksy movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, on a plane. I became more interested in it after exploring the concrete-lined arroyos around my neighborhood in Tucson, and later still after my visit the Tour Paris 13. I had heard that Berlin was a good city for street art, so I decided to book an alternative city tour when I visited. I’ve since decided that alternative tours (a term that usually designates a tour dedicated to street art and grafitti) are one the coolest things to do while being a tourist, and I will try to do them wherever I go now. So when my friend Emily came and visited me two weeks ago, we did a alternative Paris tour, and then another one in London on a weekend visit. In the following few posts will offer a recap and comparison between the three tours and maybe by the end of it I’ll even come up with something intelligent to say.

Alternative Tours Berlin offers a lot of fun-looking options… in addition to the street art tour, I went on their pub crawl, which was good too. I can’t recount our exact route, but we started at the TV Tower and made our way to the Hackescher Markt, and then took the U-bahn to Warschauer station, where we saw the artwork near some clubs in that neighborhood (Freidrichshain) and then crossed the lovely Oberbaum bridge and got a view of the famous Leviathan piece by Blu.
I took a lot of notes on the tour, but, cringe, I lost that notebook a few days later in a museum. (Fortunately there wasn’t much else of interest in it). So though I can assure that our tour guide conveyed a lot of interesting history about street art and graffiti in Berlin, I can’t relay it to you here with much precision. I can say that Berlin is rich in street art partially because it’s a poor city (so no money to clean it up) and because er, it had a big wall running through it for quite a while, up until somewhat recently. Here are some my favorites from the tour:

it's time to dance

the “it’s time to dance” is by SOBR and the crazy little girl is by El Bocho


El Bocho does this series with a little girl who always kills her cat. Often the cat is located a block away from the girl, so you have to go find him. It’s a fun game.


Rallito-X in Freidrichshain


Leviathan, by Blu


In the Hackesher Markt – knit street art! brilliant!

: fish knittting passageway 2 passageway 3 passageway 4 passageway1 passageway4 passageway5 sculpture suicide city suicide city2

I later took some time to just wander and look at the local art myself, mostly in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. This is where you’ll kind the famous East Side Gallery, of course, but there’s a lot of cool stuff deeper in the neighborhood to be found if you explore. IMG_1789

Another place that had a lot of work going on was Mauerpark, where there’s a massive flea market on Saturdays, and where I saw Darth Vader walking around.IMG_1969 IMG_1971 IMG_1972 IMG_1973 IMG_1976 IMG_2019

Finally, these are some pieces I came across in … I think it was Shöneberg, but I can’t quite remember. This was on my last day in Berlin, and because I took the tour early on, I was able to use what I learned to identify some the art I saw.



More Rallito-X

More Rallito-X

IMG_2004 IMG_2005 IMG_2007 IMG_2013

This is why taking a street art and grafitti tour is a great idea when you’re going to go be a tourist. Once you learn about the artists whose work is present in the area, you can spend the rest of the trip looking out for it. It keeps you on your toes and encourages you to notice all the details about the city. Unlike going and seeing a single monument, a city’s street art follows you around. I really liked the work of SOBR (the “it’s time to dance” person), SOON, Rallito-X and El Bocho (the homicidal cat girl is morbid but pretty hilarious).

Because street art and grafitt are illegal (except when they are not), by learning about a city’s relationship to its street artists and grafitti writers (an important distinction I learned), you learn about its politics and its cultural values. The interaction between the state and the people is visible. I’m always interested in how constraints influence art. In the case of street art, I’ve learned that because paste-ups are often fined less than paint (spray or otherwise), paste-ups may be more common in heavily policed areas. We then get to see the development in the medium of the paste-up (of which I think the work of SOBR is a good example), but you could aslo see how that may lead to the perception of the paste-up as an “easy” and lesser art form (which in some ways it is, at least in terms of badassery).

All of this was an awesome way to provide contrast to my hard-core museum tripping.