Bombers in Paris

Endless bottles of wine. Fresh cheese from the local fromager. French women. The scent of warm croissants in a narrow cobblestone alley. Beautiful French women. Meticulously prepared escargot. Artistic and esoteric films. And of course, French women. Such are the wonders of life around us that I and three other Bombers have seen as we spend the summer in enrapturing city of Paris.

Having studied various levels of French, MIT’s MISTI program provided us with the opportunity to spend the summer in Paris, France interning at various institutions around the city. It is a unique program, as MISTI coordinators help to find placements for MIT students that are unavailable for the typical college student. Of course, this is not a study abroad program; students spend 5 days a week working in labs and companies. Yet it is a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend a paid summer in la Ville Lumière.

Being Bombers, we like to stick together. As such, we were able to find an amazingly lovely apartment in the 13th arrondissement through AirBnb. It is fairly spacious and quite livable, and the rent split between 4 people isn’t bad at all. More interesting though is our neighborhood. We live in a neighborhood called La Butte aux Cailles (The Hill of Quails). Located outside the busy and crowded city center, La Butte aux Cailles forgoes tourists in favor of a much more authentic Parisian feel. The streets are narrow and cobbled, and awesome street art adorns the buildings. The entire neighborhood is very unpretentious, yet people are always out late walking the streets or drinking at cafés and bars. If you visit France, make sure to stop by for a more authentic view of Paris. Also, the restaurants serve amazing French cuisine without the exorbitant prices of the inner arrondissements.

How do we spend our weekdays?

As a mathematics and management science double major (Courses 18 and 15), I, Zac, am working at a company called Kyriba. They provide a cloud-based corporate treasury management application, allowing “CFOs and finance teams to optimize their corporate treasury functions and minimize risk…” Yeah, it is much cooler than it sounds. My work has consisted of IT research in which I research and present various IT solutions to the Head of R&D and Senior Developer in order to tackle problems as the company begins rapid scaling of both engineers and infrastructure. Additionally, I’m working with a lab at INRIA in an attempt to implement a real world deployment of their research project at Kyriba that automates and optimizes the deployment of cloud-based virtual machines.

Kristen, a Class of 2014 senior studying Biological Engineering, arguably has the most interesting work. Her work involves researching the role of the mGlu7 receptor in cocaine and opiate addiction. As she says, “the blocking of this receptor could lead to a novel method of blocking addictive effects of these drugs, and could be used to prevent withdrawal symptoms in users of such drugs.” So yes, she spends her days injecting mice with cocaine and opium as a mouse drug lord. Unfortunately, lab research positions don’t pay nearly as much as actual cocaine drug lords.

Camille is the only veteran francophile, having spent her past two summers in France through the MISTI program. As a linguistics major (Course 24, Class of 2014), she is working at Le Laboratoire de la Linguistique Formelle studying the effects of hand gestures on sentence comprehension and comparing these effects as seen in healthy young people, middle-aged citizens, and Parkinson’s patients. Much to my dismay, this does not mean she yells at people while flipping them off, and then seeing if they understand her better. She also runs other psycholinguistic experiments, and spent a week on an island off the Western coast of France for a seminar on experimental methods in linguistics.

Sunanda (Course 7, Class of 2014), our fourth and final Bomber, works in the Livet Lab at l’Institut de la Vision working on a technique for genetically encoding a fluorescent expression called “Brainbow”. According to her, “it allows for cells that come from the same progenitor to express the same fluorescent color, which can be useful in identifying cell types and migration. One application, for example, would be tagging a cancer cell – as it divides, all of its daughter cells will be easily identifiable for removal.” As such, she spends her days staring at MATLAB code and maliciously cutting open quail eggs.

What do we do in Paris while not working?

Explore, eat and drink, pretend as if I know what people are saying to me.
Of course everyone knows about the artifacts in the Louvre, the impressionism paintings in the Musée d’Orsay, and the splendid Eiffel Tower at night, so I won’t bother describing those. Much cooler is the Musée de l’Érotisme. It displays displays sexual and erotic artifacts from cultures around the world, ranging from ancient China and India to 19th century France. In addition, they have some more modern expositions. I know that you probably think “who the hell would want to visit a museum of erotica?”, but get over your awkward fears and insecurities and go visit. The exhibits were strange, intriguing, beautiful, and sometimes disturbing (Google “harukawa namio maxi cula” if you are curious), but (almost) never did the museum feel crude or dirty. It is really worth a visit, as you have probably never experienced anything like it.

As you know, food in Paris is magical. The absolute best meal I have had in Paris, and my life overall, was at Le Chateaubriand. It is a small and unpretentious restaurant and bar, and for 65 euros, I had the best 8 course meal of my life. But as college students, our typical meal costs a bit less. We spend many a night are spent eating bread, cheese, and wine along the Seine. Jussieu and Invalides are always filled with people along the Seine listening to music or dancing salsa. There are few things as wonderous as looking over the river in a wine induced haze with far off lights dancing in the Seine.

Other adventures include bike rides through the Bois de Boulogne, dancing to shitty French DJs at various clubs, drinking some delicious mojitos at 2 am, discussing Drake with a lovely Moroccan girl, and salsa lessons in a menage of French and Spanish. Possibly my favorite experience was during the Paris Cinema International Film Festival where I saw directors discuss and present their films, all the while surrounded by other lovers of French and foreign film.

As the summer winds to a close, we will unfortunately be splitting up for voyages to other parts of Europe. Kristen and Camille will be searching for One Direction in London as well as adventuring in Kiev, Istanbul, and Morocco. Sunanda is going to experience life amongst the sheep in Estonia with her boyfriend’s family, and I will be heading to Copenhagen with the goal of eating as much uncooked fish as possible. And as wonderful as this summer in Paris has been, I think we are all craving a little bit of ‘Murica.