Paris

Volunteering at the American Library in Paris

by Jackie D on March 14, 2017

American Library of Paris“In my world there would be as many libraries as there are Starbucks.” -Henry Rollins

Whenever I’ve moved to a new city, I’ve gotten a library card within a month of arriving. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve found apartments so quickly – you need an address in order to get a library card, so my apartment searches have always been intense and urgent. Plus, you know, it’s nice to have a place to live.

In Chicago I didn’t visit the library quite as often as I usually do, but I had too many other places I wanted to explore: the Art Institute (I had a yearly membership, and honestly the Art Institute was basically my library for my entire first year in Chicago), new museums, new cafes, new neighborhoods. I also found a used bookstore and a Goodwill where I could get books for very cheap, and I devoured about a book a week during my regular commute.

In New York, the library was one of the only things keeping me sane. I stopped by on my way home from work at least once a week to trade out an old book for a new one, or more often to see how many books I could carry before I broke my back. In retrospect, this may be where all of my back problems began.

I even got a new library card when I moved from one part of Los Angeles to another, because Santa Monica thinks it’s special and it has its own library.* In Santa Monica’s defense: the library‘s audiobook selection is actually not bad.

In Paris, I was momentarily outraged to find out that you have to pay a monthly FEE for your card at the American Library; however if there’s one place I never really mind throwing my money at, it’s the library. They do good things. They deserve money.

Plus, this library offers a volunteer program similar to that of Housing Works in New York. As with Housing Works, I will be helping out mostly with events that the library holds each month (readings, lectures, even a wine tasting later this month).

In Housing Works I was also helping in the cafe, and even though this meant that sometimes my entire shift evolved around washing dishes and cleaning counter tops, it was still often the best part of my entire week: to walk into a shop full of books at the end of a long day at work, to be around other people who love to read as much as I do, to clean and wash and actually use my hands for something other than typing on a keyboard all day.

It’s a fun crew at the library — mostly Americans, and I imagine we all feel a similar sense of relief to spend a little part of our weeks surrounded by other people who are as far away from home as we are.

And when I exit the library at night, it’s such a strange feeling — to go from being inside this place that is so familiar and so comforting to me, with its American accents and silly thrillers and the classics I’ve seen lining so many different library shelves; and then I suddenly step outside and look up and see the Eiffel Tower RIGHT THERE, literally hovering over the library, a sight that is still so surprising and so bizarre to me.

When I was younger I thought that maybe I would never get to see the Eiffel Tower in person even once, let alone once a week. I’d thought that maybe it would only ever be one of those things I read about in a library book.

*I realize that the reason Santa Monica has its own library and city hall and everything is because it’s technically its own city, but I prefer to think of it as a petulant child.

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First Paris Visitors!

by Jackie D on February 28, 2017

Jackie DesForges blogOne of the first pieces of advice I received from a fellow expat friend before I moved to Paris: get ready for the visitors.

One of the first things people would say when I told them I was moving to Paris: I’M GOING TO VISIT YOU!

It only took three months for the first visitors to arrive: my mom and sister. My sister had some time to kill before starting a new job, and my mom is not one to turn down a trip to one of the world’s foremost shopping destinations, and so about a week ago we found ourselves curled up in my adorable little apartment for about a week this month.

Jackie DesForges blog IMG_9017I showed them what the famous Paris “soldes” are (shopping is something we all love equally) and they learned how to shower the French way: with a handheld wand rather than overhead faucet*. It was my sister’s first trip here ever, so we took her to the Eiffel Tower, up to the top of the Arc de Triumph, along the Seine to the Petit Palais, into the stunning Saint Chappelle, and onboard one of those famous sightseeing cruises. She wandered through the Louvre on her own, and she and my mom took a stroll through Montmartre and discovered some cute shops and possibly the world’s best crepe spot in my neighborhood. Also they ran a half marathon because they are insane.

Jackie DesForges blog IMG_8976They brought me treasures, so many treasures, from home: Girl Scout Cookies (!), Ann Rule books (!!), and NyQuil (!!!), all of which are now my prized possessions. I will not share these with any of you, don’t ask. They also brought me a few things I hadn’t had room for in my suitcase during the move over here, including tax documents, yay.

Jackie DesForges blog 17006291_10105299074029993_1609648061_n Jackie DesForges blogI have about 34934 other people who have promised/threatened to visit me in the next several months, and it will be interesting to see a.) who follows through, and b.) how many people my tiny French apartment can hold at once.

* I bet a lot of you thought I was going to say “rarely” as an answer to how to shower the French way, right? Well, clearly I’m nicer than you.

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Parts of America in Paris

by Jackie D on February 8, 2017

Untitled design (1)“I have two loves – my country and Paris.”  Josephine Baker

Believe it or not, there are a few things I miss about America already. Most of these things are California-specific, especially lately, but still: the US will always be home, for better or for worse.

Almost every weekend, I treat myself to a late breakfast at an American diner in an otherwise super French neighborhood. This diner has normal-sized coffee mugs, and they serve normal amounts of coffee (read: bottomless). No tiny espressos in sight. They also have orange juice. They have pancakes. They have bacon. They have ketchup for your breakfast potatoes. Old-fashioned silver toasters dot a few of the tables. The diner plays really cheesy classic rock music and the menu is in both English and French.

It’s the best. Breakfast is hard to come by in France — these are lunch people, not breakfast people — so it’s such a treat for me to be able to escape back to America for a quick, calorie-filled hour every Sunday morning. Who says you can’t have your pain au chocolat and eat your pancakes too?**

Aside from the diner, my other most important discovery: the library. There is an American Library of Paris, and I found it, and now I volunteer there a few times per month. The other volunteers are fellow Americans of all ages and backgrounds, everyone in Paris for their own simple yet complicated yet simple reasons, like I am. And during special events, there is wine — because we are, after all, in France. But everyone definitely partakes of more than just one or two glasses of said wine because we are, after all, still American.

And this means I still have a steady supply of books at my disposal, which at this point is almost a necessity for me. If I had to live somewhere without being able to stop by the library and wander through the quiet aisles after a long day at work  — guys, not to be melodramatic, but I would definitely die. I’m fairly certain my body has become convinced that library book smell is actually a vitamin it requires to function.

Other small victories: I found popcorn and peanut butter. I brought NyQuil back with me after Christmas and assigned it a place of honor in my cabinet (it is my prized possession). I asked my mom and sister to bring me Girl Scout Cookies when they visit next week, and I’ve already had dreams about them. The cookies, not my family.

The point is: I think it’s fully possible to embrace the best parts of French life without entirely giving up some of my favorite things about American life. But I do wish France would embrace NyQuil.

**doctors, probably.

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