Monday, September 22, 2008

A Lesbian In Paris Part 3: Side Trip to Ireland

A Lesbian in Paris 3
Shannon Connolly

Before I continue regaling you with stories of my European adventures, we need to have a quick flashback.

It’s August 9, 1990. I’m in Pennsylvania. It’s raining out, so my third birthday party (yes, I know, insert necessary gasp of horror that I was 3 years old in 1990) has been moved inside the garage of our suburban home. I’m wearing some little dress and have my blonde hair pulled back in a bow. We cut birthday cake, smash a piñata to pieces with a wiffle ball bat, and open presents, all under the watchful eyes of my parents and a tall, skinny 11-year-old girl. The girl is wearing hot pink fluorescent shorts and an Oakley tee-shirt. We laugh, we play, I pull and tug on the 11-year-old girl asking her for another piece of cake, and a drink, and to come play with me. We actually have all of this on home video, by the way.

Flash forward to September 11, 2008 and that same girl, the one who wore the eighties shorts to my third birthday, is picking me up from the airport in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bernadette, neighbor and babysitter extraordinaire throughout most of my childhood, is now 29 years old and lives in Belfast with her husband, Alan…and I spent this past weekend there with them.

We had a ball. Belfast is a beautiful city to visit, and I was lucky enough to experience a rare warm weekend with no rain.

Also, after living in the hustle and bustle of Paris, it was so lovely to be out in the country, surrounded by farms and trees and open land. We spent a lot of time catching up over Guinness beers and Guinness cake (yes, really, a cake made with Guinness beer as an ingredient), we visited a castle (a requirement for any trip to Ireland), and we toured around the city of Belfast for an afternoon. I have to say, my time there was easily my favorite part of this trip overseas so far.

As much as I have been enjoying this Parisian adventure of mine, I was definitely hitting a low point last week before my trip. It’s hard to always be “getting to know” the people around you.

By the end of my third week here, I had spent ten days in a hotel with seven students I had never met before, learned my way around a foreign city with those same students, moved into a home with a family of strangers, started classes with professors I didn’t know, and started speaking a language on a daily basis that I’ve really only ever used in a classroom before.

All of it has been at once exciting and exhilarating and fairly overwhelming. After several weeks of everything being foreign, I was craving being around people who already knew me. So, the trip to Belfast to visit my old friend and pseudo “big sister” came just at the right time.

Returning to Paris after my weekend away was nice though. I felt refreshed, ready to re-embrace this new city of mine, ready to appreciate and soak up all it has to offer. And in doing so, I have discovered my new favorite place in Paris. I can’t give myself all the credit for finding it though, I was actually led there by another student in my program. I would love to tell you that what I have found is the best gay bar in all of Europe, or that I have stumbled upon a restaurant where the most beautiful women in Paris are waiting tables, but in fact, my new favorite place in Paris is a bookstore. It is called Shakespeare and Company and it is fantastic.

Located in St. Michel, right across from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral, the shop has the look and feel of a used bookstore, but in fact carries a wide variety of both new and used books – mostly in English.

If you are much of a reader, or a writer, and ever find yourself in Paris, the Shakespeare and Company bookshop is a must-see. It has been a lovely spot for me to visit in the evenings and get away from my schoolwork for a few hours.

Although my classes seem to have taken a backseat to my social and cultural adventures, I must say that school here has been significantly more enjoyable than school in the United States.

My art history class in particular has been a real treat, and all because of the professor. Did you ever watch the show The Nanny? You know, the one with Fran Drescher? Well, imagine if Mr. Scheffield had had a flair for hand gestures and a combination French and British accent and there you would have our art history professor.

On top of his endlessly amusing body language, sitting in his class is bit like playing the game Mad Libs. He projects slides onto the wall in our classroom and points to a painting, usually cocking his wrist a bit more than necessary, and says, “And you see students, what we have here is a…?” And we, the students, are never quite sure what to say. His fill in the blank is always so open-ended that all we know is that it must be a noun. So, from the six of us in the room come various options:



“Impressionist piece?”

And he stands, shaking his head in mock exasperation, until finally a student tries the most obvious answer, “Woman?”

“Yes, yes that’s right, a woman,” our professor will respond, nodding fervently, satisfied that we have successfully completed his sentence.

I kid you not, four out of five sentences are fill in the blanks, and we have caught on by now that the more obvious the response seems, the more likely it is correct.

Over the past few weeks though, we have come to love this professor and his quirky ways. The six of us in the class traipse around Paris behind him, as though he were a sort of pied piper, visiting Musée D’Orsay, letting him lead us on architectural tours of Montmartre and the 16e arrondissement, filling in sentences such as:

“And, dear students, this here is a…?”


“Yes, yes that is right. And look at how the gate is the color…”


“Yes, yes of course, a green gate made to blend in with…?”


And so it goes. For four hours a week we play Mad Libs with our lovely and endearing nutty professor.

Oh, and before I go, in case you were enticed by the Guinness cake I talked about at the beginning, you can find the recipe on Oprah’s website at:

1 comment:

Leah said...

Wow, my hometown on one of my fave blogs! Glad you enjoyed your Norn Irish experience Shannon! Our country is only ever mentioned in relation to the troubles, lumped in with 'Ireland' as a whole or missed out of talks about the UK altogether. My wife and I always try to promote Northern Ireland as a great place to visit, especially Belfast which I am totally and happily biased about.