S’habituer — To Become Accustomed To

February 10, 2020

by Irene Vazquez

Just like that, our first full week is done! It feels like our time in Paris is going to go by so quickly, but already we’ve already had so many rich and wonderful experiences. From our first classes to our weekend trip to Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel to cooking with my host family, this week has been full of delight. 

In the FMS program, we have one class per day, Monday through Thursday, with an additional meeting for language support once a week. So far, my favorite class has been “Gender and Feminism in Transnational Contexts.” Our professor, Aurélie, is so passionate about the material that it makes the three hour class fly by. This past week, we got started reading gender studies theorist Joan Scott (my first time reading her in French) and digging into gender theory as well as the debates in France surrounding the legalization of same-sex marriage. Though doing intense, theoretical readings in French has been a challenge, I can already tell that my French is improving with each passing day. 

My host mother and I share a love of cooking (we recently bonded over our mutual admiration of the chef and writer Samin Nosrat, the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and host of the TV show of the same name), and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning cuisine française thus far. Last Sunday, we made daurade (sea bream in English), with stewed endives and potatoes, and I also helped her prep pot-au-feu, a traditional French beef stew. But the exchange is not just one way. On Thursday, I paid a visit to the Latino Market, an épicerie in the 14th arrondissement that specializes in ingredients in Latin American cuisine. There, I picked up necessities to make mole poblano (a Mexican chicken dish with a pepper/chocolate-based sauce) and sopa de arroz (a manner of making rice — my grandmother’s recipe). It’s been a pleasure to spend time doing something I love and learning in the process. 

On Tuesday, we had an APA (FMS and Paris) outing to go see Rhinocéros, a play by the famous French absurdist, Eugène Ionesco. The play takes place in a small French village, where, one day, people begin to turn into rhinoceroses. The play is often interpreted as a response to the rise of Fascism that preceded World War II and explores ideas of conformity, mob mentality, morality, and fascism. Though it’s certainly a classic, it was certainly overwhelming to have my first French theater-going experience have such an absurd style and plot. I will say I had an advantage — when I was in high school, I directed an abridged scene from Rhinocéros for the Texas French Symposium, a French-languagage competition for schools all around Texas, so I was able to understand more of the jokes than I would have otherwise. 

On Friday, we joined some of the APA Paris students on a tour of Montmartre, a historic area in the 18th, well-known for its artist culture during the Belle Époque at the turn of the 20th century, when many artists like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso lived and worked in the area. We learned about the history of the neighborhood through the ages, and ended the tour at the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, which overlooks a spectacular view of Paris. After the tour, I joined some new APA Paris friends for a stroll through Montmartre, concluded with a cup of vin chaud (hot mulled wine) and some pastries at the Place des Abbesses. 

Perhaps the highlight of my time in France so far, was our weekend trip to Saint Malo and Mont Saint Michel, in Bretagne on the coast. Saint Malo is a historic port, well known for its history of corsairs, or French traders-turned-pirates who attacked enemy ships during war time. Saint Malo also has some of the most dramatic tides in the world, with the difference between high and low tide being up to 13 meters at its peak in March. We got to witness this beautiful landscape first hand as the tide crashed against the sea wall on our way to dinner. The window in our hotel room overlooked the beach, though a seagull did try to fly into our room at one point. We closed out the day with a delicious meal of crepes, which are a specialty in Bretagne. 

Sunday, we paid a visit to Mont Saint Michel, an island off the coast of Normandy well-known for its abbey, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a famous tidal island, accessible at low tide to pilgrims but defensible to would-be assailants at high tide. Though the wind was fierce (storms swept across northern France this past weekend — we were lucky to avoid rain during any of our outdoor tours), we had a lovely visit, with incredible views from the abbey of the surrounding landscape. 

After such an incredible first week getting on my feet in Paris, I’m eager to see what this one has in store as I get to do some more exploring. 

Introducing: French word of the week (a word I’ve selected that is topical to the week’s adventures). This week’s? Mouette — seagull. 

About the Author

Irene Vázquez is a junior at Yale, originally from Houston, Texas. She's a poet by both training and compulsion and serves as co-president of WORD: Performance Poetry at Yale. When she's not writing, she likes drinking coffee, buying too many books, and pointing out the differences between her Yale experience and that of Rory Gilmore.

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