Friday, January 28, 2011

No more jetlag!

It's day 4 since my arrival here in Paris, and I am finally functioning normally.  I actually slept through the night last night!

Yesterday was a very full and exciting day.  I started off at the French national assembly (my friend Ben is a scientific advisor to the French parliament and put me on the guest list).  Walking in, it was a large room with 3 rings of tables (and very comfortable leather chairs). The important people were in the central ring, including the president of L'OPECST (l'office parlementaire d'evaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques), who I had the privilege of being introduced to after the first set of talks and debate.  The second row also had important people like members of parliament, and senators probably, and I was in the third row, which is composed probably of journalists, interns, etc.

The first set of talks were about stem cell research, called les cellules souches in French, and it was so fascinating to hear about how that research is going and what they are learning from it.  Of course, I didn't understand absolutely everything that was said, but what I did gather was amazing.  For example, a lot of the in vitro studies (that use cultured cells instead of live animals or humans) have more successful results so far than the in vivo studies (mostly mice and rats).  One of the studies in particular was focused on generating heart cells, so they also spoke about how the fact that in vivo studies aren't always as successful right now as in vitro could be due to the fact that the heartbeat of a mouse differs so greatly than that of a human--so we can't always compare what works on mice to what may work on people.  Anyway, I just LOVED listening to these lectures because I haven't kept up on scientific research since graduating.

Then I walked home (past the Invalides, where Napoleon is buried--a beautiful structure with a gilded dome in the middle) and down a lovely old street still hung with Christmas decorations.  Since I had an appointment today at my school, Marcie accompanied me on a trial-run bus ride and walk there.  It is a very easy trip.  On our way back, we ate some very tasty pizza at Pizza Tina, just down the street.

Finally, last night, I went to a Thriller Live concert. haha.  It was at a venue called the Zenith, which is very clever because it's at the very top northeast corner of the sun-shaped city.  It took 45 minutes to get there by metro and a bit of walking.  I started to feel, as we crossed the plaza to get to Zenith, that I had been there before... and I had a whole flood of memories of the first time I came to Paris with the youth orchestras of San Antonio--the museum of musical history (I forgot the real name), was right there, and I even remember having a picture of the entire group taken in front of the fountain in the middle of the plaza.  How crazy.  Anyway, it's always fun to go to a concert, even if it isn't the greatest :)  Although, I really can't wait to go see the symphony or an opera!

So today I had my appointment at the school, and it was so great to walk through the school and see all my future peers--there are classes currently going on.  Anyway, I can't wait to go there every day and be surrounded by academic energy again!  But it was really nice to meet the woman who I've been corresponding with for so many months.  I took the bus there, and used my last bus ticket, so I needed to get more, and she recommended I get some at a nearby metro station and walk home, as it would be easier than getting the tickets (which were far from the bus stop) and then walking back to catch the bus home.  Anyway, I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up having a lovely walk all over until I got my bearings again--it's not too hard to find yourself again with so many large landmarks everywhere.  The only bad thing about it was that it was 2 degrees C, whatever that is in F, and I forgot my scarf.  But I'm not complaining, because I actually really enjoyed my walk, and even chatted with an old French man who told me all about his mignon (cute, little) dog named bandit.  People are really more friendly here than they get credit for.

Marcie, my first cousin once removed on my father's side (my grandfather's sister's daughter), makes the most incredible food!  The first night I was here, she fixed some fresh salmon along with the most amazing wild mushroom risotto I've ever eaten, and some delightful roasted vegetables which were so fresh and local that they almost had a sweet flavor despite being seasoned only with salt, pepper, and olive oil.  Lunch a' la Marcie the next day was a tomato cut kind of into a flower and stuffed with some tuna salad, very lovely presentation, and so tasty too!  I'm really enjoying getting to know this side of my family better, they are very nice and so helpful.  One evening they took me out for dinner at a small restaurant that is Marcie's very favorite.  I had this creamy pumpkin soup garnished with pistachios that was absolutely incredible and I wish I could find better words to give credit to how delicious it was.  Then. I had.  A roasted fillet of sea bass on a small bed of mashed potatoes, and surrounded by a pool of morel mushroom sauce (the kind of mushrooms my family went mushroom-hunting for once while we lived in Iowa).  It was so good--the fish just melted away upon contact with the mouth.  For dessert, I had chocolate cake that was rich on the outside and gooey in the middle, and garnished with pistachios and a creme sauce.  Yummy!  I can see why it's her favorite restaurant.

I feel like I've probably caught up on recounting most of what has happened so far.

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