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Eglise and La Tour de St. Jacques de la Boucherie

25 Aug

La Tour de St. Jacques, or the Tower of St. James, is the former bell tower for the Eglise de St. Jaques de la Boucherie which was built during the 16th century.

The tower, which is located in Paris’ 4th arrondissement near Châtelet, recently opened in the summer of 2013 after being closed for 10 years during complete renovations. It is called “La Boucherie” because at the time there were a lot of églises St. Jacques. This one was located on the street where the butchers lived (la boucherie). Around it were the streets for soap (using animal fat) and parchment (using animal skins). The butchers were quite formidable because they were “armed” with knives (as the tour guide put it). The butchers were also very rich and had money to blow. So they funded the construction the church and bell tower… Because that would assure the salvation of their souls in heaven. The tower is the only thing that remains after the church was destroyed and the bells melted during the French Revolution. It has since served as a lookout post, a bullet foundry, the place of scientific experiments and a Faucault’s pendulum, and most recently in the 19th and 20th centuries, as a meteorology lab.

Since St. Jacques de Compostelle (St. James or Santiago) is the patron saint of the Camino, I was determined to visit.

We had stopped by the gardens randomly and seen that the “Full” sign was already posted in the afternoon. I decided to investigate a little more. Reservations are required.The tower gives guided tours on each hour and only gives reservations away in person on a first-come-first-served basis. Each person present can only purchase a maximum of two tickets. Tickets cost 6€ or 3€ for students, seniors, or out of work people. The tower opens at 9am and gives it’s first tour at 10am. Tours are given Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Yet, it is not that easy. It requires stamina– in multiple ways. I was told to arrive early, about 8am, in order to get a reservation because there is HUGE line. On Friday we arrived at about 8:30 and the reservations were already sold out… (Mind you, the tower opens at 9am). We were told that the first people arrived at 6:30 and the last reservations were taken by people arriving at 8:15.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at 6:50am and were already about 20 people deep in line. There were people with coffee thermoses and picnic blankets. And a lot of people brought books. We finally got in and made reservations for 11am (Group 2).

Why is it so hard to get in? Because they only serve about 15-20 people at a time for each hourly tour. About 140 people daily.

It was SO worth the wait!

The tower is 64 meters high and has about 350 steps (no elevator). It has a spectacular view! Montparnasse, the Sacré Coeur, and the Eiffel Tower have great vistas, but are too far away or too high to see Paris’ notable landmarks clearly. The Tower of St. James gets it just right.

There is one thing that the tour guide mentioned that added one more stop on my list– La Tour de St. Jacques is NOT the pilgrimage departure point. The departure point is from the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral just across the Seine.

Join me tomorrow to read about the St. Jacques medallion and departure from Notre Dame.










The Non-Bucket List

4 Aug

I have been thinking recently about the phenomena of a “bucket list,” about failure, and about how my blog reflects my life of never ending projects.

Many of my fellow life-lovers and, very often, travel bloggers write about doing things that they have, or had, on their bucket list. It got me to thinking about mine. I’ve skydived. I’ve written a book. I’ve been to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I’ve been to Asia. I’m about to do the Camino de Santiago. I live in Paris. I have a strong, wonderful marriage. I’m happy.

But, back to this Bucket List thing.

I do not have one. I will never have one. Don’t want one. I get stuff done.

You may have noticed that I am interested in many things which is reflected in my numerous topics on KAC Johnson Books (Food & Bev, Furry Friends, Rin’s Reads (kids books); School and Work; and Wanderings and Wonderings. I will only say this once– I do not function well with little or nothing to do. I will create projects if I’m bored. Oh, wait. I’m never bored. I do acquiesce, there are things in life that I want to do. Like: go to Morocco; compete my thesis; get some of my kid’s books published; become a mother.

I do not count this as a bucket list. I want you to notice that my list is sensible, short, and something I can definitely attain within the next few years. Once something can be crossed off the list, it will soon replaced by something else.

Which brings me to failure. I was wondering if failure really exists. I mean, yeah, I did get a 36 on a geometry test in high school and I actually had to study to pass it when my teacher required me to retake it… along with much of the rest of the class. Like my bucket list, I don’t have failure, I hope to never have it, and I definitely don’t want it in my life. When I was younger I felt invincible and like no one would– or could– tell me No. I was told No a few times subsequently. It was not failure. It was because I had something that was right coming up for me. So my conclusion is there is no failure– it is simply disguised as success in a roundabout way.

With that being said it will be hard for me to unplug from all my projects while AJ and I are walking the 35 days of the Camino. I do give myself this, I will be doing something on the list, so sit back and let it lead me to my next thing. Buen Camino!

Happy New Year!

21 Jun

This week has been an incredibly busy week, but more remarkable it was a good sample of my life.

I have been on high alert about renewing our visas, because this (unsurprisingly) is not at all clear how to do it for a married couple in our situation. It is absolutely terrifying to me that there is a possibility that AJ would be sent home and I would have to remain in France all alone… with two cats. On Monday we are going to the Préfecture de Police for French Visa, Round 2.

I have also been teaching… a LOT. I had eight private lessons this week (compared to my ideal four). Last night the boy I was teaching took his assessment test to get into grade 2 in his new school in Dubai. Tomorrow my other student takes her English oral exams to see if she will get into the Grandes Ecoles business school (like Ivy League equivalent). It’s nice to see your hard work finally bloom.

I have been working on my picture books. It is almost a release of stress for me and I like playing with my dummy (mock-up) books. I got a positive response back from a lit agent who thought that one of my manuscripts needed a little polishing and wanted to see the 32 page layout. So here’s hoping! If I get this book on the path to publishing, perhaps I can get my other three that I’m also working on on the same path.

Good news, I got a yoga mat! And it’s green. Yay!

I have not made as much progress on reading for my thesis, but I know what I need to do. I also started looking for jobs and realized there are postings that I am interested. I also am hoping that applying for a PhD will work out (I guess either could be good or bad).

Lastly, I’m saying goodbye to a lot of my friends who were in school with me in Paris. Over the past couple weeks, my friends are starting to dwindle down to a small number. Who am I supposed to hang out with?!

It’s a changing of the guard in my life, that’s for certain. It’s interesting to see all these different projects I have and that things that are changing constantly.

I almost want to say “Happy New Year!” because that is how it feels.


Trip to the Vet

26 May

Remember the post about traveling with pets (Pet Travel 101)?

This week I lugged almost 36 pounds of cat down 7 flights of stairs and down a few blocks to go to the vet for annual vaccines.

As a responsible pet owner one has to make sure that our fuzzy friends are healthy and fit. If you are an expat this is especially necessary if you are planning on taking your furry child(ren) back home with you. So how did the vet visit go?

Our landlord recommended her family vet down the street at about a 5 minute walk. When I got the cat carriers out of the basement, our landlord’s parents told me that is where they took their cat and they really liked the doctor. I called and made an appointment without any problem. The hardest part was walking with the cats there.

We waited for a few minutes and the doctor came out and helped me carry the cat carriers into her office. It resembled a human doctor’s office here in France — an office desk with the examining table a foot or two away. I opted to get Willard looked at first because he panics and gets very scared in new situations with new people. Thankfully, he just growled and tried to hide (no scratches or bites). After looking at his teeth (“Very pretty,” she said) and his ears, I held him with a towel while the vet gave him his shot in the butt area. Next came Jack and he couldn’t be happier to get attention from a new person.

Overall, the visit was great. Jack is a little over weight (by 1.4 kg), but they are healthy. The cost was ~100 euros for the two of them. They got all the annual shots, but here in France they do not give cats Rabies shots. The vet explained because there has not been a case of Rabies, they do not require it. They give dogs Rabies shots because they go outside for walks and could potentially bite people.

Also, the vet said that she could do the internationally passport, which would include the exam, a Rabies shot, and the passport. All at a cost of about 25 euros each.

I am happy because AJ came to the vet and carted the cats back home. So until next year, Jack and Willard are safe and happy kitties. Next, I’m sure they will be excited to get an apartment with a window!

A Day Off

20 May

Yesterday I took a day off. All day.

I can’t remember the last time a took a day off to just relax and watch some TV shows and movies — and not feel guilty about it. It rained all day, so I consoled myself that it was better that I stayed in.

When I graduated from undergrad I remember distinctly one day where I was home with a day off from work and no school. I didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I sat on the couch with a new kitten on my lap and read a book.

I find myself reflecting on the fact that I could be doing some research on x while AJ is a work. For example, today when I had my head in the washing machine pulling clothes out I thought, “You know, if i want to write my thesis is an ethnographic style I should read a lot of ethnographies.” I have a hard time turning my brain off.

May was an exceptionally tough month. I told myself that after finals, papers, and the end of graduate course work I would need to take some time off. Read a book, rework query letters and resubmit DRAGON BREATH (one of my picture books), maybe tackle another picture book I’m working on, MY DAD IS A GRIZZLY BEAR, and then start looking for a part time job. (See my last blog post for my to do list). I am also trying to whittle down my packing list for the Camino de Santiago.

It’s hard when we have go-go-go lives to take a day to yourself and decompress. Which is why I am looking forward to the coming months… although I have a feeling it will be just as much as an adventure as  a time to relax the mind.


Thinking about my Thesis

8 May

Last Thursday I turned in my Thesis Prospectus and today, Wednesday, I’m going to pick it up and get feedback.

The road to getting to my thesis topic was a hard and rocky one. One that kept me up at night, had little “note to self”s everywhere, and AJ constantly listening to my ideas, my crying, and the same phrase, “I just want to be a badass!”

The week of Orientation the Masters students from my program sat around in a circle and our program chair gave us a brief pep talk. She then went around to (what I’m assuming was) all of us and we got to pitch her our thesis idea. “Karin, what you want to do is History, no one here does that. You need something more contemporary.” Entendu.

They say that you should never write a paper in grad school that doesn’t advance your thesis. Well, cowboys, I wrote at least one. I can tell you about topics which, well, I just don’t have any interest and hope someone else researches them. Today in the shower I was thinking, “Why is it so hard for me to articulate what I’m interested in? Defining those g* d* research questions thwart me!” (And, yes, I really do talk like that. A bit of intelligence punctuated with curse words.)

My first EVER grad class I was mind numbed. The syllabus could have been written in ancient Greek. But that class turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. Not only because of what happened in class, but the time the professor took outside of class to teach me. And, don’t worry, the professor does not speak ancient Greek.

In that class I turned in a very broad outline and a haphazard abstract. I got an ok grade. I went in to office hours and talked through the idea with the professor. I went to the library and researched ideas that I found interesting. I printed up charts, graphs, and numbers (because, hell, who doesn’t like pictures?!). I rewrote the whole thing and sent it in, with the disclaimer, “Can I come and discuss this with you?”

After class I went and got a coffee and went up to the office. “Oh God, I thought you weren’t coming.” “I just went to get coffee, would you like one, too?” “No, I’ll just have a little chocolate to get caffeine… Anyways, Karin, how are you? How is school?” (BTW, this personal touch is always what I liked about the professor. I should have also taken a cue that the prof was worried that I wasn’t coming because he was excited about my work.)

Our conversation basically led to this, “This is a really good idea. You could use this as your thesis topic and to get into a PhD program.” Haha, I thought, yeah right.

You want to know something silly? After bouncing around ideas from Belgian culture to Thai sexuality, I sat down and thought, What do people say that I’m good at? What do I care about? And my thesis topic is the EXACT same thing as my paper topic that the prof liked… I had had it all along.

So, today I’m going to get feedback from the Dept Chair who was there through all my idea bouncing. It could be bad or good, really, I don’t know. En tout cas, whatever happens today starts the next chapter in my thesis thinking.

A Year Later

6 May

It’s been a year. No, it’s been approximately 8 months since I blogged last. What got in the way? you ask. School and work.

Here is a brief recap since last September when I last left you…

In September I started classes at AUP and AJ started classes at Ferrandi. In October I started work at two private schools teaching English. In November we visited Belgium and kinda celebrated Thanksgiving. Then winter holidays were spent in India in the much needed SUNSHINE! In the Spring semester I stressed out about my thesis until after a Spring Break trip to Thailand and Vietnam.

Here we are on Lundi, 6 mai 2013 (read that in French so you sound cooler), and we have reached the last day of Master’s classes. Where has the time gone? I’m sitting here at the kitchen table leisurely sipping my coffee, looking a the grey sky, listening to AJ snore, and cuddling with the cats. It’s almost like a weekend off from work in Houston, Texas. But it’s not. I’m in Paris. Sipping coffee, etc.

This weekend a good friend of mine pointed out this lack of work now that classes are done. She texted me, “OMG! What do I do now?” I have the same sentiments.

Indeed, what to do? Plenty.

First, I’m refilling my coffee mug… Now the obvious first choice of what to do is WORK ON YOUR THESIS! Let’s not be too hasty. First I have to find a wonderful Point of Contact to facilitate acquiring research so I CAN write my thesis. Wish me luck.

I also need to start looking for part time work. Since I do not know if my contract for teaching at the schools will be extended, I need to earn a little extra money.

Then we need to reapply for our visas. Oh bureaucracy…

We also need to find out if an apartment we gave been scoping out is still available in the banlieu of Paris.

But for now I will enjoy today, as it is supposed to be 70 degrees, and my last day of class. Then AJ and I will jaunt off to Copenhagen for our first “together” vacation since Napa Valley in 2009. Our next big trip will be doing El Camino de Santiago this summer.

Thank you for coming back, Dear Readers. I will be busy blogging about India, Thailand, Vietnam, Denmark, and the journey about sending out manuscripts for my picture books and working on my Master’s thesis. As they say in French, “Bon courage!”

The Three Hardest Things in France

7 Oct

Things have certainly picked up pace. We have been here for over a month and I have finally accomplished the three hardest things to do in France: get a bank account, get a phone, and get stuff done at the post office.

If you have not been to France if you talk to anyone about any of these three things, whether they have been here for decades or days, they throw up their hands, blow air loudly through their nose, and give you an array of choice words. This, dear readers, is why it took me forever to get simple things done.

Getting a bank account. I did some research while in the USA on the background on each then looked at their offers to AUP students. I also considered what bank our landlord has so paying rent would be easier. This is how hard it was to open an account: fill out form; email it asking to please confirm a debit card for me and AJ; upon arrival in France, picked up the debit cards; and withdrew some money. Done. Hard? Not in the least. But, fun fact- your bank is YOUR bank. If you want something done, you go to THAT bank. None of this branch servicing stuff. Oh and they are in charge. The customer is NOT king in French banking. Also, on-line banking? Still haven’t figured that out.

A phone. There was a rep from a phone boutique at Orientation. After going in to the shop to confirm the info and prices, I was blown off and got totally different info. Oh no! I think to myself, It’s true! Getting a phone is a pain! I go over to another store, Phone House. The lady gave me the prices, what was needed to open an account, and even explained why it was so hard for a foreigner… Well, because you aren’t French. The whole interaction went like this: provide passport and bank info for direct payment; choose phone (white or black) and case; and sign some forms. Presto, phone-o. Was it hard? No. Was it expensive? No. Did you have to have your stuff together? Yes.

Post office. I heard horror story after horror story about people going to the post office and having to wait while the attendant got done with her personal phone call before getting to you. Oh you, you small thing called the customer. So, I go into post office and use the automated kiosk–in english– mainly because there was no line. Bought postage, stuck the postage on. By then there was no line and I walked up to the attendant’s booth. I asked if everything looked good; yup. He even explained that the postage I bought was first class (the fastest, air mail). Was it hard? No. Would I go back? Absolutely.

So reading this you are thinking, “Damn those French are rude and think so little of their customers. What happened to customer service.” But, if you read my experience all the ideas were preconceived and I was afraid of going in for fear of bad treatment or just having to fight tooth and nail just for something so simple. Customer service is indeed different here. Your server at a restaurant is not in your face. The bank rep isn’t trying to sell you crap at every turn. I have not yet run into a rude person. Things have been different, but not hard. The easiest way for me to get things done is to ASK.

NaviGo Passe

1 Sep

We are each the proud owner of a Navigo Passe.

“Oh, that’s nice,” you say.  It was almost as bad as getting your driver’s license at the DMV, but once we finally got everything together, it was pain free.

It took us three tries this afternoon to get our Navigo pass.  The first lady we talked to was absolutely convinced that we did NOT live here.  I shook my head and told her twice we live on the Ile-de-France.  “Where?”  “Blvd. Magenta.  We are students.”  “Oh, well.  You need a picture for the pass.  Ask for a student pass.”

We go home, up seven flights of stairs, and back with a passport sized photo.  Next kiosk, “Downstairs, please.”  Damnit!

A forty-five minute wait later one of the transport personnel, Karl, asked us what we were there for once we were admitted into the waiting room.  He told us that we needed an ID and a proof of residence.  Back again to the apartment, up seven flights of stairs, eat a sandwich (because this is taking a lot of energy going up/down these friggin stairs!), and back for a third try.  This time we brought every piece of paperwork they could possibly ask for – passport, passport photo, apartment contract, proof of work in France, USA income taxes, school admissions letter, etc.  Thank goodness the train station is only two blocks away…

Back in line, maybe only twenty minutes this time.  Karl recognized us.  I was glad because he was telling the dude in front of us that he could NOT help him because he just showed up with a piece of paper with his name on it and he just had an “imaginary” ID card.  Wow!  So when Karl saw us and said, “So you’re back!  You’ve got it?”  “Yes, our apartment contract.”  He smiled (!!!) and moved on to the next person.

When it came to our turn, I explained, “We just moved here a few days ago, we are students for the year.”  She asked if we were 24 years old or younger because that would mean a student pass.  “No.”  Next she asked if we wanted the pass where the monthly fees were auto-withdrawn or to recharge the card at the first of the month; we chose the latter.  We had our picture taken right there (wonders of wonders!) and she “gave” us the cards for free.  So, since the first of the month falls on Saturday, we will charge up the pass and be able to do buses, metro, and bikes!  Third time in the charm.

As for now, we are off to ride the metro to get some cheese!

Chez Nous

31 Aug

My legs hurt.  My hamstrings, my quads, my calves.  Thankfully the bottoms of my feet stopped hurting today.  It hurts so good!

Today is Day Four and it feels like we are finally settled in and we are “HOME.”

We have been working hard at not sleeping in too late because of the décalage (time difference).  Our first full day in Paris was full of over sleeping and lots of walking.  We slept until 4pm then did some house wares shopping at a little shop called Eureka! in Marché St. Quentin and then did some grocery shopping at Franprix.  We will go back to the lady at Eureka! because she was super nice and helpful.  The cashier at Franprix was total jerk so we will not go back.  After a quick sandwich and apple at the house, we walked down to the Seine and saw Notre Dame.  We got back a little after 1am and AJ then started dinner. Doing grocery shopping and eating AJ’s food meant “Life is back to normal.”

Yesterday we had another long day.  We decided to take the Metro and go visit our schools.  We bought a carnet of Metro tickets.  We got lost a little, but thankfully we had a bottle of water and a map.  We also stumbled across this thing you may have heard of – the Eiffel Tower.  On the way home it was so dang hot on the Metro.  I was sorry I wore skinny jeans, they were stuck to me like glue!  When we got home, the phone rang.  It was so funny AJ came to the bedroom door looking at me with puppy dog eyes, “Phone!”  He answered it and did quite well talking to our landlord’s parents, who were calling to ask us if we wanted to bring our bags to the basement.  And let me tell you how friggin cool an 1890’s building basement is – it’s like a dusty castle!  So fun!

“Grandma,” as we will call her, asked what we did for the day.  I told her that we were going to go to Montmatre that night and she invited us up and talked to us a little about Paris safety and let us borrow her Michelin guide!  I give her three stars!

Montmartre was awesome.  It is my absolute favorite place in Paris.  We had a beer across from the auberge where many of the artists stayed.  We celebrated just being here and loving life.  In just a few days regular life will have to start with school and work, so we are enjoying it while we can!

Tune in next time for – “Our Apartment!”  How we found it and what it looks like!

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