Saturday, July 5, 2008

"I almost feel guilty closing my eyes"-Gtron

After experiencing the side effects of mild vagrancy for the first few weeks--feeling tired, lost, not entirely at home--I finally feel totally and completely settled. There are, of course, moments when I get a pang of nostalgia for wandering Elizabeth Street with a cup of iced coffee (the three things I will perpetually miss: fire escapes, coffee-to-go and iced cubes), but they've become completely overshadowed by Parisian disbelief. Walking by St. Eustache or the Seine on a beautiful day, I still can't believe this is my summer, that the Louvre is in my backyard, that I'm a native of the monthly unlimited metro card variety and that in some small way I'm as much a part of this place as these monuments.

A month into my stay in Paris, I feel like I've hit my stride. Such a good week.

I spent last weekend at Elsa's house in the 17th. Went to Le Racing, Elsa's country club near Bois de Boulogne for Giuli's bday dinner #1; hit the soldes (Paris has giant month-long sales twice a year); had an impromptu dance party at Sophie's; went to a bbq chez Elsa's high school friend: (a) leave it to the French to have sit-down bbqs (b) it was exactly what I had in mind for this summer--native Parisians, frenzied debates in French, lots and lots of really great food; and rushed off to a music show that my 6-year-old au pair girl's school put on--picture little Frenchies singing extremely high. Closed off the weekend with Giuli's birthday dinner # 2 at Chez Fernand, a cozy restaurant in the 6th (with the absolute best scallops and truffle risotto) that we americanized just enough to turn off all the lights, light a candle on top of a gateau au chocolat and have the whole place sing Joyeux Anniversaire. Not a bad way to turn 21 all in all.

I was off from work on Monday and decided it was time to be a flâneuse and find the subject for Globespotters article #2. On my way to mine the boards at Sciences Po or La Sorbonne for a hidden movie screening or lecture series, I passed by a tiny store in the 1st full of dozens of wooden boxes labeled with country names--Tunisia, Madagascar, Egypt--and walked in. The store was stuffed with postcards--some scattered, most tucked in shoeboxes and filed in the wood containers--and there was a little Petit Ecolier cookie in the window that the neighborhood sparrows flew in to nibble. The owner, an older man with a thick gray mustache and a Trump trumping combover, was chatting to a customer about the small town south of Paris he grew up in.

Two hours later, I had 12 pages of notes, 10 pictures, 3 postcards from the 1800s and my next globespotters article. It was incredible. After I left the store I was practically skipping with the feeling of yes, this is why I came to Paris, this is what I was supposed to learn, yes this is why I want to be a journalist. It also inspired me to pitch a series of globespotter articles on vestiges of paris d'autre fois, so hopefully I'll get in three more before I leave for Italia: one on this postcard store, one on a sweets shop in the neighborhood, and one based on a tour of Paris that an older woman in the postcard store offered to take me on. Glowing, I ran around to the places on the postcards that I bought and took before and after pictures. Symbolic?

Tuesday continued the everything's-going-perfectly trend. It started with the IHT human resources tour (a month late). Now I officially know every nook of the building in Neuilly and I got a copy of the handbook that all the new employees get, even the reporters.... It almost feels like I'm cheating the IHT system. I'm getting the benefits of being a full-time employee at the Tribune, being privy to all the workings of the office and its gossip (Lenny Kravitz is apparently on 13 rue de beaux arts at l'hotel with Alex Rodriguez' wife and another man), but I also have time to run around the city with my friends, write articles for Globespotters, and travel on the weekends. I guess that's my compensation for putting up with mail sorting and emailing slugs half the day.

After the meeting, I ran to lunch with Elsa on the Champs, got my carte bleue (I have a bank account in France for life!), got my restaurant tickets, and updated my navigo. Everything was shockingly easy. After work that night, I met up with Charlie, Alina '10 and Andres '10 (the NYU in Paris Program kids finally arrived) at Cafe Lazare, the restuarant off Rue Montorgueil that Charlie and I had seen a couple weeks back and made a mental note to return to. It was everything we imagined it to be. Great food, great atmosphere (Alina: "I'm obsessed with this street!") but not so sceney as to be inauthentic. It was like one of those great moments with friends at home, when you know exactly what's going on around town and there's nowhere else you'd rather be.

Another plus to this week has been working downstairs in the business section. The atmosphere's a lot more lively, I'm working a lot more closely with the editors and the journalists--they actually know my name! We banter across the tables, tease each other when we yawn or say stupid things (picnic Chuck will never live down "Pump it up"). And when I have nothing to do, I alternate between reading the NY Times and IHT (it's actually encouraged. This is why I have to work at a newspaper) and writing the Financial Communications intern bible. "Congratulations, you will soon join the ranks of picture choosing caption writing masters."Writing captions and choosing photos actually beats mail sorting and stapling any day... Apparently people do read captions: A big stir was caused on Friday when a blog entry questioning Richard Branson's "green"ness was illustrated with a picture of him on an SUV and captioned "Note the gas-guzzler. How green is he really? You decide." Bonjour angry comments!

I've also been feeling a lot more integrated into work. There was an intern get together last week in St. Germain, I have plans to go to an indie cinema with Paula, the Panamanian intern, and Simon, the graduate in charge of the audio slide shows and videos on the IHT website, and I are heading to a jazz club in the 2nd on Thursday. Sweet. (Confusingly, Ignacio and Isobel are the interns in the picture.)

I think I also like working downstairs better because the tension in the office is a little less evident. The paper's been undergoing a lot of changes recently--there's been two going away parties just within the last week--and people have been more than a little on edge.Two Fridays ago, the Deputy Managing Editor Bob Marino retired after 30 years at the Tribune. Last Thursday, Michael Oreskes left the tribune for the AP. Part of it's to do with the fact that the NY Times is trying to swallow us whole. They bought the IHT in 2003 and have since added "Global Edition of the New York Times" under the International Herald Tribune heading on the paper copy. At a meeting two weeks ago, they announced their plans to do away completely with the International Herald Tribune name and to completely merge the IHT and NYTimes websites. Bad idea New York Times, bad idea. A lot of people have things against the Times and would much sooner pick up a copy of the Herald Tribune. The Times needs to realize that the Herald Tribune name really does command a lot of respect and that it fills a very different niche than the NY Times could (should?) ever. Regardless, the Tribune's hoping to move out of its office in Neuilly by the end of the year. I can only imagine what the fall interns'll have to do. I can all too easily picture them paddling down the Seine three boats in a row-- The I, the H and the T--lugging second editions, the NDR India supplement and Alison Smale.....Needless to say, this is a very interesting time to be working at the Tribune.

At both going away parties, the overriding sentiment of the speeches was that this will be a very trying period for the Herald Tribune, what with the economic model of print media being financially impractical and the NY Times trying to take us over.

Bob Marino: I'm extremely proud to have worked with journalists and editors like you. For the amount of people we have, the paper we put out is incredible. I don't think the people in New York realize how hard you all work. [Someone shouts: "They will soon!" Everyone half laughs, half sighs.] You should be very proud of yourselves.
Michael Oreskes: Everywhere I go, people know and read the Herald Tribune. It is the paper people turn to and you guys are the ones who make it. I am extremely honored to have worked with all of you. Now don't stop drinking. [More bottles of champagne pop.]

Oh! Side note about Bob Marino. After his speech, we got to talking about his career in journalism and he said (unprovoked by this foodie), "Food got me into the Herald Tribune, and 30 years later, it's food that's getting me out." Turns out he was bound for food writing in Italy the day after his going away party. He said he might try and come visit my kitchen's restaurant. Crazy.

One night after work, I was taking the train back to Paris with the business reporters and they asked me what it was i wanted to go into.
"Newspaper writing?" they asked.
"Well, yes, actually. Maybe." I said.
"Agh! No!"

With all this turmoil at the Herald Tribune and all this talk of doom and gloom for the newspaper industry, I really shouldn't be even more determined to go into journalism. ("More determined" would be a stretch. I swore off the school newspaper in high school and only dragged myself onto The Crimson when I could write a biweekly column on food.) But somehow in the past few weeks, journalism's become more and more something I just have to do.
* * *
On Wednesday, I finally had the picnic on the banks of the Seine that I've been dying for since I got here. Emily, an old friend from nerd camp (CTY) who is currently interning at the Times in Paris, called and invited me to join her and her friends on the quai under Pont Neuf. We lived up to our nerd camp past, telling jokes with allusions to Freud, and we confessed our bipolar Parisian mood swings (ah yes, I'm not alone). She may be living in a water closet in the 16th, I may live in fear of knocking my bed over if I sleep too close to the edge, but how can we complain when we're in our twenties, with our friends, and doing journalism in Paris?
* * *
I may have missed a giant Leung family reunion in New York yesterday, but my version of July 4th wasn't too shabby either. Independence Day started early here with a dinner party on the 3rd at Sophie's apartment. Sanders '10 joined the Ile-de-Harvard crowd for pan-fried chicken, a cranberry walnut salad and a patriotic berry dessert (raspberries, blueberries and vanilla ice cream).

On July 4th proper, I was off from work to babysit for a bit before a galette and cider picnic in the park by Les Halles with Charlie and Ana '10 who's visiting for the weekend from the Berlin. We decided that this summer was "Cafe Pamplona, but real life." Lying on the grass, sun shining, St. Eustache looming in front of us, we couldn't figure out how all this was even possible. Ana: "I almost feel guilty having my eyes closed." Perfect day. Perfect everything.

Met up with Elsa, Giuli, Andres and Alina at Parc des Princes for the Mika Concert. WHAT a way spend the fourth of july. 6 hours of standing for Yelle, Panic! at the Disco, Dionysos and MIKA was so worth it. How is this real life?

* * *
Now that I'm fully trained in two posts, I'll be working by myself tomorrow for the first time in the Newsroom. I'm a little scared because it's been a while since I've worked the post and I've never worked a Sunday before and they're run a little differently than normal days, but I'll study my notes beforehand and hopefully all will go smoothly. I'm glad to have more responsibility.

Oh and I emailed Alison Deighton, the owner of Hotel Vannucci, and everything is all set for the apprenticeship in Italy. I can't believe i'm leaving in less than a month. If life is surreal now and I feel like it's only going to get stranger.