Life, theatre, and all that's post-dissertation…in Paris.
PhD (2020) in Romance Languages and Literatures (French) at Harvard University, with a focus on contemporary French theatre.
Formerly with Columbia University at Reid Hall, Paris, and the University of Paris IV--La Sorbonne.
Goals: Publish my dissertation
Further goals: get a professorship (in Paris); stay relatively sane
Instagram : @effie143
Going back to the whole ‘mini successes’ thing today because this evening I treated my mom to her first tasting menu experience as a thank you for helping me move (hauling 5 suitcases up six flights of stairs is not easy, even with two people).
I chose to take her to Le Chateaubriand partly because as far as tasting menus go, this one is pretty affordable – although there is no conceivable way I’d ever be able to make it a regular thing anyway, at least in the immediate future – and partly because I had been wanting to go back since my first visit there four years ago. There’s almost no point in going through what we ate in detail since the menu changes daily, but the basic structure is that there is a set menu of five starters, followed by a first course, a fish course, a meat course, and two desserts (although one could also choose to substitute a cheese plate here). The option for wine pairings with each course at an extra charge is also available – and which I did the first time I ate here – , but we chose instead to stick to just one glass each.
I remember the first time I came here, I mentioned to our waiter (after he had asked about any potential allergies or food aversions) that I did not like eggs*, a fact that still stands to this day. I don’t quite know why I did not bother to do the same this time around – perhaps I did not expect to see this dessert placed in front of me again – but the end of the meal saw me face to face with my nemesis the egg yolk.
But unlike during my first visit, this time I actually popped the thing in my mouth in one bite – as instructed by our server – and to my surprise, I found myself actually quite enjoying it. Maybe it was the fact that I got the yolk down first before tasting the rest of the components, or maybe it was the fact that it tasted remarkably like an exceptionally creamy crème brûlée, but I wasn’t having an averse reaction to it like I thought I would.
So I guess that’s another success for the day. I ate an egg yolk and was fine with it. This does not mean that I am ready to graduate to omelettes quite yet. Got to have some principles after all.
*exceptions to the egg-hating include things like quiche, frittata, and strata – where you really cannot taste the egg at all – as well as things that involve egg in the preparation but it’s not the star of the show.
A note to anyone who has ever thought ‘hmm I think I might want to pay Effie a visit in Paris. Surely that will be a swell, relaxing time…’ : be prepared to walk. Everywhere. All the time.
You will walk until you think you can no longer stand on your own two feet.
You will walk until the brink of delirium.
You will walk until you start to legitimately consider the merits of a Segway.
I’m pretty sure I walked my mom to the limits of her sanity today, but I firmly believe that one of the best ways to explore this city is on foot. And considering that, despite the rather ominous-looking clouds, the day was promising to be dry, I figured why not take advantage of it before the unpredictability of fall really kicks in.
And so we walked from Hôtel de Ville to the Eiffel Tower and back again, ticking off the usual sites while soaking in the almost uncanniness of Paris in August. I have only spent one August here – in 2013 when I was finishing my 1st Master’s thesis -, and back then I was so absorbed in crafting that beast of a paper that I barely noticed how quiet things got, how even with the constant stream of tourists there were these pockets, these empty spaces that were opening up. That the city seemed to oscillate constantly between activity and dormancy, never quite reaching either but performing a strange sort of balancing act, cognizant all the same of this bubble of energy growing – somewhere – underneath.
I’m still of the opinion that it was rather fortuitous of me to come here when I did, under my current circumstances. Sometimes I feel as though I am standing on the edge of a precipice dreading but also desperately wishing for that inevitable plunge into the unknown. Those who have listened to me ramble about my research interests know how much I invest in the meaning of space, its charged nature, the fact that it is constantly ‘marked’ not just by our presence but by the presence – and absence – of those who occupied it at the same moment we have. The first time I lived in Paris, I was single. When I came back, I had him. Now it’s as though I’ve entered a process of coming full circle, approaching completion but never quite getting there – because can you truly ever come full circle when you’ve been so changed, when you walk through familiar spaces juggling two different versions of yourself all while wondering where this new one fits in? I am in flux. The more my memories pull, the more I want to at once keep them and burst out of them
Then again, this could all just be the steak-frites talking. Or the wine.
Roaming around the kitchenware section of a department store is pretty much a recipe for disaster for me because 1) I want everything and 2) I immediately remember the limits of my budget (also, does one really need a spiralizer?).
On the plus side, I did manage to snag (among a couple other things) a filter coffee maker – because there are some American things that cannot be given up, apparently – and a small kitchen scale for when the inevitable urge to bake hits (as well as for my daily coffee measuring. Again, habits).
This evening I met up with an acquaintance at the Canal, and during the course of our conversation, the subject of what we were planning to do after finishing our respective PhDs inevitably came up. Maybe it’s cliché, but every time I get asked this question, I can’t help but think of the opening of The Graduate when everyone is hounding Ben about his ‘future’.
(Side note : this is also the film that inspired my affinity for bourbon because if, as a woman, you’re going to take inspiration on how to live your best life, why not take it from Mrs. Robinson?)
I mentioned that I had been considering getting back to writing again, specifically for theatre. I haven’t written a full play since high school, but I have little free-form sketches and imagined dialogues scattered amongst the pages of countless notebooks stored mostly in my parents’ house in California (if not lost forever). Part of me thinks I should just buckle down and make something out of them – especially in Paris, which up to this point has been one of the few places where I’ve felt an insatiable itch to write – but there’s this nagging fear in the back of my head of putting out something in the world that I consider to be an intimate part of myself. Maybe I just set too high expectations for myself for what I consider to be ‘worthy’ for public consumption. Aren’t we all our own worst critics, after all?
Speaking of books, I’m leaving for my annual visit to the homeland (Greece) soon, and am looking for book recommendations since I pretty much sped through the one I was hoping to save for the trip (final side note : everyone should read Wajdi Mouawad’s Anima. Non-French speakers, I’m not sure if there is an English translation available, but if there is, get it. Now. Seriously. It’s that good. TW : I should note that it gets very intense/violent at times, so it might not be the best read for everyone), and now I’m very close to just bringing my copy of A Thousand Plateaus with me.
So, any recommendations, friends and readers? I’m open to pretty much anything and everything. To give an idea, past summer beach reads have included the following :
War and Peace (this one being a particularly hilarious choice, given that a large part of it takes place in the dead of Russian winter).
Is it really that surprising that my first meal out back in this city was tacos from El Nopal?
No. No it isn’t.
As much as I lamented about the dearth of quality tacos in Boston, for some reason, even during my brief work/school trips back to Paris before the official move, I had not made it back to El Nopal since moving away three years ago. And although I cannot say the same about all my former haunts (looking at you, noodle-place-that-will-remain-unnamed), this place has not changed a bit.
Really, I should have stopped to take a photo of my pastor, alambre, and pollo tacos before chowing down – to memorialize the moment and whatnot – but sometimes the need for comfort and satisfaction through food overrides the demands of the ‘gram. Maybe I’ll remember next time I’m there, and I order a torta.
This morning also came with the discovery that I will be potentially woken up daily by the loudest church bells I have ever encountered. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the city, they have not gone on holiday.
I’ve decided that in order to recultivate a sense of optimism/general positivity, I am going to – either on here or elsewhere – list a few things I did successfully throughout the day.
Here are today’s successes :
1. Successfully moved in to my apartment. This included lugging 5 suitcases (3 of which were rather giant) up six flights of stairs. I guess all that working out paid off.
2. Successfully filed a change of address at the bank. Before my last move out of Paris three years ago, I made the decision not to close my bank account here mostly because opening an account in Paris (well, France in general) is almost hilariously complicated, and I had a feeling I’d be back relatively soon. I also found out that in the time I was gone, they never received my change of address info for Cambridge, which explains two things. First, the fact that I never received the standard letter that accompanies a request for password recovery (this was two years ago, and I haven’t been able to log in to my account since. Also, it’s 2017. There has to be a better way of doing this). Second, as a follow-up to the first point, the fact that despite my supposed “nomad” (according to their system) status, they still kept my account running, so now I know that the occasional transfers I made into it so that it appeared active were worth it.
3. Successfully purchased my year-long Navigo pass. A mini success to accompany this one is the fact that I was first in line at the window. Granted, I was also at a less-frequented station, but this just goes to show that sometimes it pays to trek out to the slightly more obscure ones.
Today also involved doing some shopping at Monoprix, with this particular location being the same one I shopped at three years ago back when I – when we – first lived in this neighborhood. It was strange walking around there again, at once familiar and unknown. Some of the cafés are still the same, others have been replaced by new ones, and still there are those that I wondered if they were always there, and if so, why they seemed so strange to me.
I also walked past the old apartment building. I feel as though this is going to be a repeated but inevitable occurrence. Maybe someday I will be able to pass it with indifference.
There were two thoughts running through my head the moment I took my first step off the plane at Keflavik Airport.
1. I really should have reconsidered trying to stay longer and camp out a bit.
2. There is something very serene about looking out into a seemingly never ending stretch of nothing.
Reykjavik is a rather small city, so seeing it in a day is very doable. Conveniently, there is also luggage storage available at the airport (via Geysir rent-a-car) for a reasonable price, so we – as in, my mom and I – did not have to lug our giant bags into the city. And at just shy of $50 total for 24hr storage for 5 bags, I’d say it’s a pretty good deal.
Getting to Reykjavik
Back when I booked my tickets, I had reserved seats on Flybus to get from the aiport to the. Reykjavik bus terminal. The ride is about 45 minutes long, and once at the bus stop, you have the option of either taking a cab downtown, walking, or – what we did – taking a smaller shuttle that drops you off at your hotel/guesthouse (Flybus provides a list of places they offer drop-off service for, which you can find when reserving a spot on Flybus+).
So you’re in Reykjavik. Now what?
As I mentioned before, Reykjavik is rather small, so seeing most everything in a day is definitely possible. There are some buses and tour groups that can take you around, but, as is my habit, I prefer exploration on foot.
One of the advantages of this quasi-flâneur (or flâneuse) approach to doing things is that it allows for you to stumble upon some of Reykjavik’s wonderful street art.
As well as some rather interesting bike racks :
Of course, we also took the time to see some of the more well-known monuments, like the Sun Voyager :
And the Harpa
We were only able to take a look around on the ground floor of the building, but for those interested, they do offer guided tours (or you could also choose to see a concert).
We also took some time to stop in at the National Gallery of Iceland (they don’t allow photos inside, so no pictures, unfortunately). If you choose to visit here, note that your ticket also grants you admission to the Asgrimur Jonsson Collection and the Sigurjon Olafsson Museum.
Where (and what) we ate
As I meantioned earlier, Reykjavik is expensive, and this can somewhat affect how/what you plan for your meals. Since we were only there for a day, we didn’t worry too much about strategizing going out for meals with trips to the grocery store, but I will say that we did forego ordering any alcohol during our meals out (because that’s where things can get realllly pricey).
Also, as we were planning on going to bed early in the evening in order to get enough rest before waking up at 3am to catch our shuttle back to the airport, we stuck to two full meals: brunch and dinner.
Brunch was at a lovely bakery called Sandholt (Laugavegur 36). Here you can either grabbed some baked goods to go (just grab a ticket at the entrance and wait for your number to be called), or you can do as we did and eat in.
We shared a cinnamon bun (because you kind of need to in the Nordics – and these are particularly good ones), and I ordered some skyr with granola while my mom opted for some eggs with fresh-baked bread and a small salad. Everything was absolutely delicious, but due to how busy it was, our order somehow got lost in the shuffle. Thankfully the staff was very attentive, and the mistake was promptly rectified.
Brunch pretty much filled us up for the day, although I did insist on stopping for some coffee at Reykjavik Roasters later that afternoon (pretty sure I would have passed out mid-walk if I didn’t) :
Dinner was at a place called the Sægreifinn (or Seabaron) near the old Harbor. I chose this place on the recommendation of a friend, and I’m very glad I did because not only is this place a good value, the food is rather excellent as well.
The main thing on offer are fish skewers, with most of the fish being local (although they will tell you which ones are not if you ask. We ordered a couple of different kinds (my advice: get the monkfish) and split a bowl of lobster soup to start (an appropriate choice, given the chilly wind that picked up right before we got there).
And for dessert : chocolate
We pretty much just went to sleep (or at least tried to sleep) after that. It still blows my mind how late the sun stays out when you’re so far north.
I really would like to come back to Iceland again someday. There was this moment when I was sitting by the Sun Voyager, looking out at the hills across the bay, and I could feel this pull towards them, this urge to plunge into this open expanse at once full of life and blissfully empty. Maybe that’s part of the whole renewal thing.
It’s been a year. A lot has changed, the site name being a reflection of that (hello Scènes sur Seine). What I write about is different, leaning more towards areas of interest to my dissertation and general slice of life nonsense than healing, or moving on from a point of lowness. I’ve left the original introduction below as a memory for what this blog started from, its roots, if you will. It’s partially as a sort of record of what was, partially a reminder to myself moving forward of where I was personally, mentally, and how far I’ve come (and how much I can keep growing). A memory of pain-turned-affirmation of resilience. Yes, that’s what I’ll call it.
Original introduction (July 29, 2017)
I think it’s become pretty much a given at this point that every time I move back to Paris I start writing again. Normally, these posts would just be little daily updates on what’s going on in my life and in my research (because school is pretty much always the reason behind my moves) but this time things are going to be slightly different.
If, in coming across this site, you know me well and are somewhat confused by the title, here’s your explanation : my long term boyfriend and I ended our relationship.
Coincidentally, this happened not long before we were due to move back to Paris, and although the move was something of a catalyst for the break, in the months leading up to the split, it started to become more and more clear that maybe our lives were diverging too much, that maybe the love we once had for one another was not enough, indeed, that maybe it had faded. The break was not easy. There were tears on both ends, and although I cannot say for sure, I think both of us were left somewhat raw by it. But we parted with kind words, and although it hurts to think on it now, knowing how much his presence in my life changed me for the better and helped me become who I am today, makes the thought of plunging back into the unknown again a little more bearable.
And I can genuinely say without any cynicism (which has been a constant presence in my life since November) that I wish him well, and I hope he finds happiness in his life.
And that is the last I will say of this.
So where does that leave me now?
I am still moving back to Paris into an apartment not far from the one we used share, but in which I will be living alone. Top floor, no elevator. Great.
I’ll be throwing myself back into my research, with a primary goal of getting my dissertation done (because honestly, there comes a point after 20+ years of constant school that you’re just done), and a secondary goal of doing this while remaining in Paris as long as possible.
This is called trying to see the bright side of things. I could, theoretically, find ways to stay as long as I want.
The daily updates will still come, as will (hopefully) some longer pieces as I get into my research. Hopefully seeing a lot of weird theatre will take my mind off things.
So here it is, my way of coping with personal mess, and healing again. If you’re still reading this, I hope you stick around. It should be an interesting ride.