A real gem in my neighborhood is the glorious outdoor Turkish market. Come rain, sun or sleet, every Tuesday and Friday, the market opens at 10 AM and starts to shut down (and hand out freebies) around 6. As far as I’m concerned, the market really can do no wrong. My roommate and I split a week’s worth of groceries for about $15 each. As I’ve been there over the course of the semester, it’s become something of an institution. It’s no longer just a place where we buy our broccoli, couscous and eggs: it’s a cultural learning center. It’s the closest one can get to going to Istanbul. Some stands sell freshly-baked börek – spinach and cheese-filled flaky pastries – and boxes of baklava. Women in headscarves push strollers around while they purchase entire bushels of onions and peppers. You would never think that Berlin has a high Muslim population – Germany, of all places! But then you have never been to Kreuzberg or Neukölln, where the signs are half in German, half in Turkish, and you can walk for a couple blocks within hearing a word of German on the street. The Market forms the core of this thriving Turkish culture in Berlin. It’s where families get together to get their most basic groceries, and where we can get an insider’s view on life in a non-Western culture. In Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, he almost exclusively describes places over people. He travels around Germany and Switzerland, describing the college town of Heidelberg. He sits in Biergartens with the students and notices the way they all interact: the way professors and students mingle easily over a drink, the easy raft ride down the main river that runs through the town, the beautiful castle over at the top of the hill upon which the town is built. He describes the towns with a mixture of awe and pleasure: awe at the beauty of the town, and pleasure at being able to participate in its lifestyle. I have a similar set of feelings towards the Turkish Market. On one hand, I am simply in awe because of how radically different this environment is from anything else I would experience in New York. The contrasts between the extremely progressive, cutting-edge part of Berlin that most people know and the family-oriented Turkish parts are astounding. Every time I go to the market, I’m reminded that I am truly not just studying abroad in a Western country. I can take a trip into Little Istanbul twice a week and while I admit that I am not immersed, I am still fascinated and drawn in.
I hope this brings a little pang of nostalgia to any NYU in Paris pals who happen to read it. Out of all the amazing restaurants in Paris, yellow awning place is the one I, and I believe the rest of NYUP, have visited the most frequently, the unifying experience between all of us. It of course is not really called yellow awning place. But when we got here, when we were all to insecure to want to test our french comprehension, we would ask people who worked at NYUP where a good place was to go grab a cheap lunch, and they all recommended a little boulangerie (bakery that also sells sandwiches and various lunch items, for those of you unfamiliar with the venerable French cultural institution,) just down the street, and after we stared at them, blank-faced, when they said the name in French, they quickly supplied, "it's the place with the yellow awning."
That was easy enough to find, and it has become it's official moniker. I've bought my lunch at the yellow awning place atleast 2 days a week every week all semester long. They have a cheap lunch menu (sandwich, drink, and dessert - because apparently no lunch in France is complete without dessert - for 5 euro,) and you can even skimp more and get just the sandwich for just 3 euro. And they are big, baguette sandwiches; I always get the vegetarian-friendly gruyere (a white cheese) and crudites (the french term for tomato and lettuce, or as they conceive of it, filler) with mayo, and I kept some seedy French mustard stored away nearby to add when I got too bored with that. The place, with the best deal in the area, was always busy, so when you went anywhere from 11 to 3 you would need to wait in line, which was comprised both of NYU students and a large number of French who lived and worked in the area, and often led out the door and down the block. But the line moved quickly, thanks to the friendly staff which worked quickly to disperse it.
There was the guy who looked about late 20's with the glasses who did sandwiches sometimes, and then the four women: the one with the dark hair always pulled back who I think ran the place because she typically worked the cash register, the woman with the cropped, dyed red hair who seemed like she had also been there for a long time as she always knew how much everything was, the woman with the shoulder length brown hair who worked sandiwiches when the guy wasn't there, and the woman with the cropped blonde hair who worked desserts sometimes - these three, the two last women and the guy, were all part time I think. I would guess the woman to all be in their late 30's to early 40's, though I horrible at judging that. They were all really nice, although the redhead and the dark-haired women had a sharpness to them, especially during the lunchhour, that comes from working at one place for a long time; the only way I found to get a smile out of the dark-haired woman was to have exact change, and on particularly busy days even that wasn't a guarentee. Other than sandwiches, they had salads and pasta (neither of which I ever sampled - their salads didn't have dressing on them, a French thing I could never get behind, and their pasta looked iffy to me). But they also had quiche, which were wonderful - I can particularly vouche for the broccoli-cherve, which was a cheap and delicious masterpiece. Let's not even start to talk about the desserts; that would take up another whole blog entry. Let's just say, imagine absolutely amazing French pastries and tartes, and know that unless you've been there, whatever you're imagining: it was better than that. I can't say at this point I'm worried about missing yellow awning place. I ate there so often that it often seemed dull, and I'm really craving the variety of lunch options America (and New York in particular) offers. But I know that with time I will have pangs for that place, and it - not the Eiffel tower, or the Louvre, but the local boulangerie - will always be one of the main places that defined my Paris experience.
One of the few places vital to every NYU in Prague student’s life is the Old Town Square. I’ve made brief mentions of this place before, but have largely avoided it for two reasons. First, it is the place of my everyday life, more so than any other save my dorm. Second, it is always full of tourists and, much like walking on 7th Avenue between 28th and 48th Streets, is usually very hard to get through at speed. Currently there is a huge Christmas tree and market decorating the square, which makes it even more irritating and impossible to navigate. Yet, as I said, it has become the place where most of us NYU in Prague students spend out days in one respect or another, and so my grudging and growing affection for it deserves description and explanation.
The Old Town grew out of the merging of the merchant’s quarter and the Jewish quarter. Old Town Square started out as the biggest marketplace in Prague. Though across the river from the castle, and so home to mostly untitled people, it was also the home of the vast majority of the money in Prague. Thus, huge, beautiful palaces grew up packed tightly against one another on the square, and the rest of Old Town is riddled with small passages through former courtyards and underneath arms of these buildings, leading their twisting way to the square. As the centuries passed and the Jewish Quarter was no longer regularly ransacked, the rich Christian merchants acquired titles, and political intrigue forced the King to move across the river several times, Old Town and its Square became the focal point of the entire city.
Today, this remains true. Old Town Square is the tourist center of Prague, indicated by several factors including the widespread English, the first Starbucks to exist in the Czech Republic, the country’s Hard Rock Café, the Astronomical Clock (an underwhelming event to be sure), the most important Hussite Church in the world, and the presence of hokey horse-drawn carriages and old-style motorcars that you can pay exorbitant amounts to ride around in for half an hour. Despite the blatant Disney-fication of the place, and the steep difference in prices between it and most of the rest of the city, it remains beautiful. The first time I saw the Christmas market and tree, lit up against a clear midnight blue sky, with the ancient but preserved buildings and churches lit in soft white light and Jan Hus’s dramatically bright statue, I was struck again by how strange and beautiful the place I’ve been living is. The emotional impact was so similar to another, New York-induced feeling I’ve had that it took me a couple days to figure out what it was, and when I finally cracked it, I was stunned. The sight of Old Town Square decked out for Christmas reminded me of nothing so much as Rockefeller Center at this time of year. They look nothing alike, and yet, the touristy, bustling, “this is my home and not yours you fucking tourists” feeling of Old Town Square right now is exactly how I feel standing between 5th and 6th between 48th and 50th between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’ve never felt more at home in Prague.
The Cinémathèque Française is the center of French cinema and a mecca for cinephiles worldwide. For the past few years, it’s been housed in a big angular stone-and-glass building in the twelfth arrondissement, a much more modern area of Paris that used to be pretty industrial but is now more high-end, and has become a sort of cultural center in eastern Paris (the François Mittérrand national library and the biggest stadium/music venue in Paris are nearby). The building used to belong to the American cultural center in Paris, who sold it to Cinémathèque Française at a big loss because they couldn’t pay for all the maintenance; now the French government helps pay for the upkeep costs, and there no longer exists an American cultural center in France.
I first went to the Cinémathèque Française during our two-week preliminary course, before regular classes started. I had to do a presentation on the photographer and filmmaker Raymond Depardon, and so I went to watch one of his films, Profils Paysans, at the Cinémathèque’s Bibliothèque du Film, or library of film. At first the building was confusing, and then simply intimidating (a friend had told me that it was the new favorite place for Parisian hipsters), but I paid three euros for a ticket at the BiFi desk, put my coat and bag in a locker in the coat room, and asked for Profils Paysans by its number in the giant binders of films by title or director. In exchange for my license, I was given the DVD and a booth with a pretty large TV, a DVD player, a VCR, and two sets of headphones. I’ve since gotten used to the ritual of watching a film at the BiFi, and I go back almost every Monday morning to watch a film for my cinema class.
Of course, the Cinémathèque Française also has an actual cinéma, a movie theatre that plays mostly retrospectives: Fellini, Michael Haneke, actors of the Nouvelle Vague (I saw Roger Vadim’s … And God Created Woman there last month). There’s also a small museum of cinema, with century-old movie-making machines and clips of Charlie Chaplin films; and there’s a really nice café, with chalkboard walls, long tables, and some of the cheaper hot drinks in Paris. I imagine I’ll find myself there tomorrow after I watch the next film for class, probably drinking an espresso.
After living in a large city for the larger portion of one’s life, becoming conditioned to a certain way of life is inevitable. New Yorkers, and Parisians alike, function at a faster pace with higher stress levels than most other places of the world. I generally forget this fact when escaping urban metropolises. Today, NYU in Paris was kind enough to take some of the students to Grenoble in the south east of France at the foot of the Alps. While most would consider Grenoble a city, I have a hard time understanding the way of life here.
On the streets of Grenoble, there is a sense of idleness. There’s no sense of needing to be somewhere or feeling the need to move quickly. It is slow. I truly want to appreciate this, but it seems indulgent and wasteful. In the various realms I have lived and functioned with in, I have rarely encountered this mentality and usually, I laugh it off.
This mentality is understandable given the beauty of the area. A small city tucked between the mountains, Grenoble is a cross between modern life and fairytale France. Everywhere you look, there are mountains straight of the Evian label lining the vista. It’s a calming force. While exploring the area, I am aware of the inherent beauty of the area, but it’s hard to see the appeal of living here. It’s strange to walk down the street and not get caught in clouds of cigarette smoke or not be able to walk into a store before noon. I hate to sound sheltered or set in my ways, but it seems like Grenoble is the middle ground between pastoral living and city life and the combination doesn’t seem particularly inspirational.
That being said, Grenoble is an interesting place to visit. It is the former home of the Dauphinois and the location of an impressive Bastille perched atop a mountain. There is a large Anglophone population here as well, which provides the populous with various British imports, which seem to permeate the city, and cupcakes. Overall, I’ve found France to be a beautiful and varied country and Grenoble is no different. It is very much an interesting intersection of a more rural community-focused lifestyle and city living.
There’s countless parrillas here in Buenos Aires. A parrilla is basically a grill/restaurant. However, in parrillas they are literally barbecuing the meat in front of you. As in, there is a man, tending coals, cooking meat over an open fire, in a restaurant. Obviously each parrilla is different, and there is definitely a range of the not so great cheap to the over-priced, gourmet, but in between there are many wonderful parrillas around this city. There’s a parrilla about a half block away from my place called “Parrilla Di Carlo.” I had walked by it many times when I first arrived and the sign always caught my attention. After I finally decided to walk in and try it, my stay here in Buenos Aires was instantly changed for the better.
Upon walking into Parrilla Di Carlo, one is instantly struck with two lovely sensations: the smell and sight meat over hot coals. There the “asador” (grill master) wields his saber (to call it a knife simply would not do justice to that beast) and tends both flame and meat. There’s a narrow area leading into the restaurant, with the grill and asador on one side, and a bar to sit at on the other. Next to the grill sits the dueño (owner): Carlo. A wise, turtleneck wearing, pipe smoking, older fellow, Carlo watches over his parrilla from his stool, perched like a falcon. Slow moving and deep-voiced, he calmly takes your order. While there is a whole restaurant extending further back with tables and waiters, a place where one can sit and eat leisurely, for me, I prefer sitting at the bar. After ordering, I hop on one of the bar stools and wait, drooling with the others as we watch the master at work. When it’s crowded during the lunch rush, the asador is like an artist: cutting, slicing, carving, and flipping the meat, while he’s keeping track of the orders AND tending the coals and making sure that he’s got the perfect amount of heat. The combination Carlo’s stoic leadership and the asador’s quick and meticulous work make for a fantastic parrilla experience. They create a wonderful atmosphere that is almost as great as their meat.
In the States, the market is an antiquated, though very quaint notion. The tradition has been revived somewhat in New York and other major cities, but the market still has a rarified air to it: it’s either a statement of green-ness (the “buy local, think global” crowd) or associated with a big event (the Union Square Christmas Market).
On the street perpendicular to mine in Paris, however, is a market that is open all day, every day (with each stand taking its day off on Sunday or Monday). Occupying two very long blocks, the rue de Levis is lined with shops, small restaurants, and stands; essentially, if I wanted to, I could shop for all my home goods, food, and even clothing in that one stretch.
While I do make use of it, especially for produce and bread, much of the time I spend on rue de Lévis is actually just observing: it happens to be the most direct street to my metro stop, so I walk up it at least 2-4 times a day. I could probably draw a map plotting each and every store and stand, tell you which produce shop has the best apples (or greens, or grapes…) and which boulangeries are open on Sunday. But more importantly, I’ve come to see the street as a microcosm of Parisian culture, and love what it reveals in that respect.
Around 9-10am, the morning commuters rushing to the metro are trickling out. It’s the hour of the old ladies: they amble slowly, alone or in pairs, gradually filling their “caddies”—tall canvas bags on wheels, that trail behind them as they go from shop to shop. Some of them are so old, and walk so gingerly and slowly, that you can’t help but wish someone would take over the errand-running in their house. But it seems to be a matter of pride not to cede this task. I know, for example, that our elderly neighbor has her children visit nearly every day, and yet it is always only Madame Masson I see in the hallway in the morning, ready to go to the market with her caddy.
At lunch there is the local business crowd, who flood the restaurants on Lévis and the adjoining streets at 1pm on the dot. They are often in groups, rather than pairs, which strikes me as a difference from New York. Even more surprising is that they seem genuinely relaxed, and even jovial… they laugh, smoke, drink wine… and are back at their desks by 2:30. (If my father took such a lunch break, I often think to myself, he might be singing a different tune!)
Around 4, it’s the after school rush: elementary school kids on scooters (watch out, though, those boys are vicious!), babysitters (frequently immigrants) pushing strollers, and bands of surprisingly glam preteen girls. And then, of course, the hungry post-work bunch, forming endless lines at the supermarkets (yes, they have those, too, on the rue de Lévis!)
And, last but not least, there is the creepy, hooded old man who appears around 10pm… same exact spot in the middle of the street, same exact schpiel. Another day has passed on rue de Lévis, and it’s rather nice to know that nothing has changed…
The three blocks I have lived on in the past three years have never ceased to amaze me. In my first year at NYU I lived directly next to the projects and every time I walked home I was either offered drugs or called “white boyyyyy”. My second year at NYU I made the mistake of renting an apartment on St. Marks Place, the street brothel of the east village. Just by my luck I lived right above the noisiest bar on the block and each night I found myself drifting off to sleep to the lovely sounds of drunken buffoons. Naturally in the third year of my NYU experience, my time abroad in Buenos Aires I live on the hooker bar block.
Vicente Lopez between Pueyreddon y Guracahga is the realm of the high-class hooker bars. Five bars in a row, each with the symbolic emblem of 5 stars-the mark of a bar that bar something special lurking on the inside. During the day my block is as normal as they come. There’s the flower man on the corner whom only has one leg and jumps between cars attempting to sell his wears during peak traffic hours. There’s the fruit and vegetable stand, a place I go nearly every day to buy fresh produce, and where the workers are constantly watching Argentine telenovelas. There’s the ever-present “SuperKiosco”, a corner store clone that exists on almost every block in the center of Buenos Aires. But when the sun goes down, my block transforms into a different beast.
The first sign that something out of the ordinary is happening on Vicente Lopez is the guy waving down taxis on the middle of a pedestrian block. From the hours of 8PM till about 7AM, this guy stands with a huge flag in his hand beaconing cars and taxis to him as if he was working at a mainstream hotel. The second sign that Vicente Lopez is different from all other streets are the flyer boys who dance from sidewalk to sidewalk forcing you to take their advertisements. Now these advertisements aren’t your average run of the mill flyers, each one has naked woman and man, with the corresponding name of the bar in which you can find them. So every night as I casually try to make my way to my apartment I’m bombarded with flyers and other guys who are the next level workers for these prostitution rings. These guys are a little more serious and ask questions-in English- like “Would you care to see the show these evening Senor?” Now the first couple weeks I could never get to the door of my apartment without being harassed by this crew, but now they know my face and just ask, “When are you finally going to give in?”- now they ask in Spanish.
Trying to get to sleep on my block in Buenos Aires is way more intense then it ever was on St. Marks Place. I’m always hearing throngs of screams from groups of tourists below, hustling to get into the bars for lower prices, or coming out of the bars and yelling to the high heavens. Then if I’m still unable to fall asleep you get the crew of workers emerging from the bar just as the sun is rising. They tend to fraternize outside smoking cigarettes and drinking beer until god only knows what hours. Usually I can only get to sleep by turning the air conditioning on blast to subdue the noises from below. But even with the lack of sleep and the constant harassment to have sexual encounters for payment, I wouldn’t want to live on any other block. Not that I necessarily agree with whatever is happening behind close doors, in fact I’m completely against it, but what would a study abroad experience be without a little exposure to the seedy underground of a third world country. Also I think I forgot to mention that all of this late night activity occurs directly across the street from the Recoleta cemetery, one of the holiest sights in all of Buenos Aires.
An old open-aired piano sat on the cobblestone street under the Argentine sun. It was accompanied by a 20-something year old banging on its beaten keys. He was also accompanied by 6 others that were playing away on violins and xylophones. In harmony they created perfect beats in a tango-ish tune. Blocks away, dreadlocked amigos sat on the street corner drums in hand. A completely different beat flooded the street. Yet, another block away a rock band sang a Beatles song. Every Sunday at San Telmo there is a two mile long street fair compacting hundreds of diverse people into a skinny cobblestone strip. Looking over it from the end of the fair you can see a swarm of hundreds of moving heads far into the distance.
The items being sold vary from antique trinkets to hand woven sweaters. One end of the fair resembles a second-hand vintage store. Old dresses and shoes line the streets, but so do buttons, hooks, sunglasses, and radios from the nineties. Further along the strip, leather belts and bags are sold, an Argentina specialty. Fur hats and coats seem a bit ridiculous in the streets, but many ladies still buy them anyways. Racks of leather jackets are on the corners. The jewelry is amazing. It is so bright and exotic. There are many woven necklaces and bracelets. The ring assortment is insane: spoons, wired and beaded, buttoned, and jeweled. Photographs and paintings color the street. Argentine CD’s are laid out for the curious tourists. Every type of matte (a typical Argentine tea) gourds are at your reach. And for some odd reason, gnomes are a big hit. Many hand-crafted gnomes dressed in various outfits are for sale on every block.
As you manage to stroll your way down the extremely busy street, you come across the culture of Argentina in a day. All the locals come together to sell their goods and hang out with their friends. Medialunas and empanadas are being sold along the street. Orange juice is being squeezed right before your eyes. Music fills every block. Tango dancers pose for pictures. Art galleries are situated behind the booths. It is full of commotion and chaos, yet is delightfully relaxed and laidback, just as the Argentine approach to life. Today I walked out of San Telmo empty handed, but with a day full of experience. You do not need to buy a single item. Just the experience of La Fiera is all you need.
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."-Tolkien
Here in our London dorms, most of the NYU students have access to a communal kitchen on their floors. We share it with about 10 other students (all NYU affiliated). The idea behind it is that we all hang out and get to know one other through shared usage.
Most of the space in the kitchen is taken up by a long table surrounded by about 8 chairs. The refrigerators, storage cabinets for food and freezers are on the right side from the door. The refrigerators are interesting. From the outside, they look like the normal ones we're used to. However, once you open it, you find multiple metal compartments with room numbers on them. Each of us has a key that opens a compartment that yields... well.. not too much space. It's enough for about a week's worth of food, if you're good at packing stuff together. The problem is that sometimes you forget what you have in there simply because you can't see it all. The cabinets however, are much larger, which makes it seem like it's trying to make up for the fridge. On the opposite end is where the microwaves, stoves and ovens (yes all plural) are. Above those are cabinets which contain a random assortment of pots, pans and key ingredients like salt and pepper (though these are often easy to forget about; too commonplace to remember perhaps?). The counter space is limited due to the microwaves, stoves and sink and isn't helped by the boxes of utensils sitting around.
The walls are what make the kitchens on each floor different from each other. Some floors have red walls, others all white. Each kitchen has two pictures, one on each wall. In my kitchen, there is a picture of a gargoyle of Notre Dame overlooking Paris and one of Big Ben reflected in a puddle of water. In the corner near the sink, there's a TV on which people watch everything ranging from Judge Judy to X Factor.
On any given day, the kitchen will be a place where I run into my hall mates, some of whom are also classmates. Usually, we'll both be making dinner or putting away groceries. Conversations are struck up with those I know; brief greetings are exchanged with those I don't know well. However, sometimes the kitchen becomes the meeting place. Some days it's where the group meets before going out. Other times, it's where we meet to hang out because we just don't want to leave the building. The kitchen on the 9th floor of the building is the most common choice for the simple reason that most of my friends happen to live on that floor. These communal kitchens do what kitchens in homes tend to do: bring people together. Food has always been seen as something to gather people around. The kitchen is where that food comes from so the fact that the kitchen is used as a place of socialization isn't surprising. But it still manages to amaze me at what people can turn a kitchen into. Something that is so specific in function is somehow flexible to the will of the people in it.