Monday, December 21, 2015

Adieu 2015: It's Been Real

Dear Santa, this Christmas, I want...

Well it’s finally over. The year 2015 seemed to be the year that would never end, full of waiting, surprises, tragedy, and excitement. At least it was for me in Paris. Never has a December ever really felt like the end before, but it's all in a good way.

I’m not about to let Facebook decide what the highlights were of my year. I really think I know better than it does. And if not, then we’re all doomed.

So 2015 definitely had its share of high points. It was the year I traveled to Australia, China, Amsterdam, Budapest, and around France to places like Lille and exotic Amiens. It was the year I broke my own personal record at the Berlin Marathon, sneaking in under 3 hours and 50 minutes. It was the year I became a French citizen. It was the year when, just one week ago, I defended my PhD thesis and became a doctor at the Sorbonne. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paris: November 13

It's nuts that just two weeks after becoming French, the biggest attack against everything this nation stands far happened just blocks from my apartment. But I am safe. Those close to me are safe. It's just a bit surreal. Other people are suffering, having lost loved ones, and I can't imagine what that's like.

So I'll be brief.

General de Gaulle famously proclaimed in 1944, "Paris outraged. Paris broken. Paris martyred. But Paris liberated." Three of those things hold true today, following Friday's horrible attacks. "Liberated," however, is far from how I feel in this city at this moment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

He's French!

Where is Bryan? Recorded happily in the registry of French citizens. A young boy from Bucks County has grown up to be a naturalized Frenchman. Bring on the Champagne and baguettes, please!

My letter came last weekend in a simple little white envelope, as if it held all the weight and importance of a bank statement. France doesn’t splash out on notifying its newest citizens, but I’m not concerned. I’m part of the cool crowd at last.

I was waiting to talk about my interview in February, slightly afraid that I’d be jinxing myself. Honestly, however, I actually thought I had a lot more time to post it. But here it is, a recap of the final step on the way to French citizenship. I hope it helps anyone else out there going through the process!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Berlin Marathon: Far from My Wurst Race

The Eiffel Tower of Berlin...
The poor German guy next to me was trying to get around the slow girls in front of us. He nearly tripped over me as he made his break, and I decided to wind off him for the next few miles. It was working, too.

This was the Berlin Marathon, one of the fastest courses in the world, and I was bound to get a personal record this year. Berlin is an easy weekend trip from Paris, so with no issues of jetlag, a tummy happily full of the previous day’s Chinese and Thai food, and a few gels pinned to my shorts, I was in it to win.

Well, I would win metaphorically speaking. The Kenyan who actually won had probably already finished by the time my resolve was kicking in fully. And his insoles popped out of both shoes on the way!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Live from Paris: Rock en Seine

When you think of Paris, music festivals don't immediately come to mind. Apparently the UK is where you go to see the real deal. But Rock en Seine definitely held my attention, especially since I’ve been hearing about it for the last 7 years and always ignored it. I just thought it was kind of a smaller deal than it really was. I guess I was wrong.

Heading out to Parc Saint Cloud, west of the city, I wasn’t really sure of what I was getting myself into. I was kind of imagining a big picnic with some music and dancing. Well, I was close…

Even though I really knew only a few of the artists, and a few others by name, the many English-speaking bands were enough to get excited. There were only a handful of French bands to get through, but I managed to miss all of them (funny how that happens…).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tour Saint Jacques: Tower with a View

View from the top...

Just when I thought I had seen Paris from every angle…

For the last three years, the Tour Saint Jacques, that big flamboyant gothic belfry just down the street from City Hall, has been open to tourists during the summer. While the city offered a rare glimpse inside this prominent, but mysterious structure, I missed the boat the last two years. This year, I was not going to take any chances.

Dating back to the 15th century when it was part of a church, the Tour Saint Jacques survived the French Revolution (unlike the rest of the church) and underwent extensive renovations in the 19th century.

But I won’t ruin the tour for you. Your guide will take care of the details.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The PhD Marathon

The tome, draft 1.

My thesis director once told me that writing a dissertation is like a marathon. I smiled. I’d done that before, and loved it. So I figured, easy, right?

While a marathon only lasts four hours or so (well, for me) and this project has been three years in the making, there are indeed many similarities. And I feel like I am almost at mile 25. Having finally achieved my desired page count, the very first complete version of my thesis has been printed and will join me on a journey to China and Australia these upcoming weeks. I will reread, edit, highlight, scribble, and doodle all over it, polishing its very rough edges.

Thinking about doing a thesis at the Sorbonne? Whether it’s a masters or a PhD, it’s a good idea because, as mentioned before, it’s inexpensive, flexible, and often allows for time to work a job on the side. But I’d suggest training for a marathon first in order to get an idea of what it actually entails…

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Changing Habits: On Eating in Paris

When you get excited about strawberries, something has changed inside you...

While having lunch with some tourists, I polish off my quiche while nibbling at the many fresh vegetables in my salad. 

“What’s this?” one of the tourists asks, poking at one of the veggies. 

“It’s a white beet,” I tell her, explaining that the rest of the vegetables are seasonal, and that the salad will be slightly different in a few months. I launch into a whole thing about how it’s springtime, and the strawberries and asparagus fill the markets. I also tell her not to repeat “beet” too loudly, because it sounds like “penis” in French. We giggled.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's Not About the Love Locks

The Pont des Arts bridge, as it was meant to look, returns!

All of this buzz about these love locks. It’s a whole lot of baloney, honestly.

On Monday, the deputy mayor of Paris announced the beginning of the end of the love locks in Paris. The idea is that lovers come to Paris and put a padlock onto one of the bridges – notably the Pont des Arts – and throw their key in the river. Cute symbol, unless you live here and have to see the result after years of the practice. I was there to watch the gates, sagging under the weight of an estimated 45 metric tons, being hauled off to some warehouse. It was strangely satisfying.

The short of it is this: the bridge was crumbling. Locals avoided it, pickpockets thrived, and it became a spot that tourists would come to, leave their mark, and rarely look back. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But for those of us living here, we saw the effects. As recently as 2008, we’d picnic here, along with Parisian students and local buskers. Today, we avoid it like the plague. Jagged metal, gypsies, falling fences, and illegal lock vendors don’t make for a very festive atmosphere.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Personal Tale: Inspiration, or the Lack Thereof

Paris France
This place...

I wonder what Fitzgerald or Picasso did when they felt like this. I mean, I could drink more, or go to a brothel. I just kind of assume that’s what these guys did back in the day when they needed inspiration. Maybe not. In any case, you’d think a city that spawns so much art, fashion, design, food, and literature would be a gushing spring of inspiration for me. But sometimes it just seems like a dusty old well, with only Timmy’s bones at the bottom (you know, that time Lassie got distracted).

I know, I know. Paris is beautiful. Its streets are bustling. Its people are gorgeous. Its monuments are monumental. I am lucky to live here, blah, blah, blah. I know. But right now, I just am not feeling it. Stuck between finishing a PhD thesis and waiting hopefully for citizenship, the joie de vivre and cancan dancing that usually mark my days has faded to the background, allowing (gulp) real life issues to come to the forefront.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Things Learned During a French PhD

Books, books, books everywhere....

I’m halfway there – or at least I tell myself. Writing a doctoral thesis, and in a different language no less, is an experience that fortunately one need only do once in life. I’m thinking back to that time I told myself, “Yes, this is a good idea.” I’m sure I wasn’t sober.

There are stages you go through until you finish the document, if you ever finish it. For the moment, I’m in what I can only imagine is something like stage 3 of 5.

Stage 1 was the easy part -- pretending to work. This is the most enjoyable part of an academic’s career where you say, “Yes, I am doing a PhD.” And that’s about it. Maybe you read a few books, but let’s be honest here, you’re relaxing. Then there’s stage 2, when the work starts and you feel like you’re actually making progress. One interview completed? Have a drink. Two interviews transcribed? Time for a vacation.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Paris Marathon: 3rd Times's a Charm

The bling...

It all starts off great. Standing in the corral you look behind you, thousands of colorfully-dressed runners set against the Arc de Triomphe, as 54,000 marathoners barrel down the Champs Elysées. It’s surreal.

I approached the starting line and too the opportunity to empty my bladder once more – the last time I’d do it for several hours. And we were off, running past Mayor Hidalgo towards Place de la Concorde, along rue de Rivoli, and past the Louvre. These first few miles are exhilarating as people from all over the world cheer you on in different languages. Then the thoughts start running through my head...

Mile 1 Already? OK by me.

Mile 2 Mexican and British tourists should be cheering for me, too, right? We're almost the same...

Mile 3 Helloooo firefighters.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Profiterole Chérie and the Very Cream-Filled Day

pastry sweets profiteroles
Caramel. Cream. That's all you need to know.

Macarons, éclairs, cream puffs, madeleines – there’s no shortage of shops dishing out one product, and doing it well. I love an éclair from Eclair de Génie or a cream puff from Popelini, but when I stumbled upon Profiterole Chérie, I was intrigued.

The last time, and maybe first time, I had a profiterole in France was at the iconic Chez Georges restaurant, where Julia Child used to dine. Choux pastry filled with ice cream and covered in chocolate – how can you go wrong?

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Spring Awakening in Paris

Marche d'Aligre florist
Parisian florists do their best work in the spring...

Goodbye dark grey velvet skies and 4PM sunsets and hello spring. Every March 20th we celebrate as if it were the first spring we ever encountered. The sins of winter are forgiven and Paris will soon be at its best. We'll all shake off the sleepiness of the winter and step outside and enjoy the prospects of warm temperatures and some sun, if the smog and clouds ever lift (thick enough to hide today's partial solar eclipse. Way to go, Paris)

Some of us are sitting inside, hammering away at a keyboard and combing through books trying to finish a doctoral thesis. Others, I imagine, aren't. Hence the unimaginative post. But it's curious to think of Paris coming out of hibernation and the different reasons that various Parisians will celebrate...

Play this in the background while reading...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Studying at the Sorbonne: 5 Myths to Forget

Study at La Sorbonne

I’ve had a lot of emails recently from potential students all over the world trying to apply to the Sorbonne. It’s been really interesting seeing how everyone interprets the process and the problems faced by all of us. It’s not easy.

But I wanted to put a few things out there, since many of the same issues keep coming up over and over again. Here are just five of the “myths” that I’ve noticed running around about the “Sorbonne” that need some clarification:

1. “The Sorbonne” is the name of a university in Paris: Wrong. You cannot attend “The Sorbonne” so to speak. This is a colloquial term that is often misunderstood and misused. It refers to the general university system in Paris, but let's be clear.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Running A Fowl at Square du Temple

Paris wildlife
Show off...

Ever since last year’s World Cup, Paris has had a very odd couple living in one of its parks. The Square du Temple, in the upper Marais, just south of Place de la République, is green space dedicated to playing children, summertime sunbathers, and bench lovers. Man I love a good bench.

But after the World Cup, allegedly, a local who had purchased a rooster, France’s team mascot, let the bird loose in park. Later, feeling sorry for the lonesome fowl, someone bought him a hen, according to an old Frenchman who explained this to me a few months ago while I was staring at the birds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Budapest: The Paris of the East

Parliament from across the Danube...
The so-called Paris of the East, the Hungarian capital made for a wonderful February escape. Though temperatures were no warmer than in Paris, sunshine and cheap prices (1 euro = 305 forints) more than made up for the cold.

We spent three nights wandering, eating, caffeinating, and generally soaking up the vibe of this city that I hardly knew at all. It’s in eastern Europe, so generally themes of destruction during World War 2, communism, and populist uprisings were in there somewhere. I also had the keywords "thermal baths" and "paprika" in mind, but other than a few quick Google searches, I let fate guide us (along with the recommendations of a few reliable friends).

The result? An experience well-beyond my expectations and hardly a dent in my Parisian wallet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Monkeying Around in Paris

Paris wildlife
A new friend....
Target practice? Oh, tranquilizer darts...

How many orangutans have you met in Paris? It’s a question we ask ourselves almost every day, and finally, I can stand up and say, proudly, “I’ve met two, yes two orangutans in Paris.”

During last week’s event, “Paris Face Cachée,” Paris showed its hidden sides. I’d ignored this event before because, like all major events, they draw crowds. And I hate crowds. I will only voluntarily join thousands of people in the street when we can run 26 miles and eat bananas for hours (yes, the marathon is coming up in April, and I’m prepping).

But for whatever reason this year I clicked on the program to see what was happening, and decided to join a backstage tour of the Menagerie, the little zoo in the Jardin des Plantes. It was on a Friday afternoon after my class, conveniently up the street from the zoo, so I paid 30 euros for two tickets, and I dragged my partner in crime (as well as sanctioned, legal events) to the zoo’s entrance. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Living History in the Marais: An Encounter

Paris Marais district
Marais-scape...you  never know who you'll meet...

Paris miracles. They do happen.

I was walking along rue Rambuteau in the Marais, showing some tourists the many pastry shops, trying to convince them that they needed more sugar. They had hit their limit. Oh well.

One of them stopped in front of an Asian restaurant – one of those traiteurs with lots of choices – and asked what they served. He realized pretty quickly, so we were about to move on when an older Frenchman stopped us. He was impeccably dressed, with piercing eyes to match his baby blue scarf.

“Are you American?” he asked?

I thought we were about to be berated for looking at the Asian food.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Extra! Extra! A Post-Charlie World

That elusive paper...

It’s funny how a silly green newspaper can mean so much. I don’t regularly do much at 6AM, on account of the sleeping and all, but this past week I couldn’t not get up early. I had a mission.

Paris won’t go back to normal. What does normal even mean anyway? While the city will recover from the terrorist attacks on the weekly satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, it’s just not going to be the same here. The scar will stay.

But that’s OK. This is France, the land of revolution, coups d’état, and protests (and amazing over-the-counter cosmetics to cover it up). Things rarely stay the same, anyway. In the 1800s alone they went through two emperors and three kings as well as two republics. That’s a lot of change.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Unprecedented Paris Rally: A City Unites

A look up Boulevard Magenta, reportedly backed up to Gare du Nord

Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions showed up in Paris for a unity rally following the recent terrorist attacks. The AFP reported that more than 2.5 million people were marching in France, with perhaps 1.3-1.5 million in the capital. Official numbers were impossible to ascertain.

Since I live right next to the meeting place, like literally a few steps from the square, I was excited to take part in the event, as a hopefully-future-Frenchman myself. I made it out the front door, but not much further than that. The streets all around Place de la République were completely full by 3PM, when the march towards Nation was set to start. Police and news vans were all I could see in the distance over the heads of hundreds of people. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


After attacks at the weekly satire publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris, 12 are dead, and with them, the dream that a free press can exist securely and peacefully has also been taken from us. 

While the nation is shaken, citizens have rallied with no delay. Hundreds gathered at the Place de la République tonight to show their support for the lives lost and to rally against this terrorist act. 

Chanting "Charlie" and "Liberté de l'expression," the crowd raised pens in solidarity and lit candles on the statue in the middle of the square, with lights spelling out "NOT AFRAID."