Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Alright, so seeing that the experience is "over" I suppose I should write about what I have thought about the whole thing , or perhaps how I believe ehow the experience in general has affected me: the truth is, though; that I have no idea how this experience will have affected me in the long run. There is always the possibility that it has xhanged me for good, that I will carry this new_found desire to travel and experience the rest of the world and its cultures forever; and then there is the possibility that I will go home an dsoon aftere fall back into my previously comfortable life, where from day to day the limits of my comfort zone are left un-touched, and my own ideas left untested by others. I think that is one of the main changes I have undergone; that in order to understand and live in another culture you have to be willing to sacrifice the stronghold you have on your ideas of how the world is meant to work, because perhaps your way is not the only or certainly not the best way, for everyone. I think I must also say that I don't mean to claim a complete understanding of french culture, and certainly not European culture as a whole. I think that knowing I would be returning home, and that the comfortable commodities that I have grown used to in life would be awaiting me in a not-so-distant future perhaps changed my point of view; it became, perhaps, necessary to tolerate and try the new things that Paris brings with it, but not to necessarily become completely accustomed to them, since I knew it was not a permanent change. I don't know if that is a negative or positive thing. ON the one hand it may have weakened my resistence to try and experience new things; but on the other hand it may have meant that I was consistently tryin to hold on to a sense of my "american-self" and maybe that limited my cultural experience to some extent.
On another not, I think that I have learned a lot in general in Paris. I have a new appreciation for art and for architecture as well, and I think that from now on I will look at cities from a different point of view''especially those that have such a rich history. I have a new curiosity about cultures that I do not understand, because I came to Paris thinking that I already had a general understanding of French culture', some of which was true, but also much of which was incorrectly assumed. I have also learned a lot about myself. Even though I was living with a family and had the support of professors and students, I also think that this was the most independent time o my life thus far, when I could do anything and go anywhere and feel as if the world truly did hold endless oppoprtunites for experience.
Another thing I wanted to mention was the concept of beauty and how it exists in every city, but I think that it would be easy to overlook it sometimes in view of the bad things''Paris is a beautifuil city, but sometimes there arre things that can taint your view, but I think it is like that anywhere, which made me stazrt thinking about my hometown and the things that are there. It might be difficult to see the beauty of it on the surface, but having not been home in 4 months I have realized all the things about it that I truly do find beautiful--the little things that I miss about it --I think that I have developpoed a greater appreciation for things in gereneral, and perhaps I will not take things for grqnted, or be able to so easily neglect the beauty that is in life that can so easily be overlooked, simply because of the regularity of it. LIke the Eiffel Tower for example, I lived very near it in Paris and saw it about every single day, and it was true that I soon became desensitized to it, I no longer wondered at it as I had the day I arrived, and in fact (and I hate to admit) I sometimes didn't even notice it. Realizing how easy it can become to simply just not see the things that are so wonderful and right in front of your eyes has made me try to see and observe as much as I can, the good and the bad, for it is all part of it, and I hope to be able to carry with me the change and appreciation that Paris has given me. I love Paris, and I will miss iot dearly, but it has also made me appreciate my home town(s) of Michigan and the people and places and culture I have left to come her, and so I think, all things considered, I am ready to go home, but with the certain hope of coming back. After all, I may venture to say that Paris is a part of who I am now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Howard asked me an interesting question this week, which made me start thinking. Okay, it wasn't exactly a question but more of a discombobulated jumble of sentences that apparently were attempting to describe my "story." Following a description I gave relating to a bees nest and attacking hornets, Howard said that he was attempting to picture the tractor (yes, my family has a big, blue, New Holland tractor, and yes, I drive it) and the bees and the "whole...thing...I'm just trying to understand." Well, I suppose I would have difficulty explaining it to him exactly, but those are simply are part of who I am. I have recently been feeling as if I am ready to "go home," and as myself and some of the other students have discussed, as wonderful as Paris is, there are things from home that we miss and are ready to be back in the comfort of once more. For some it may be simply their morning cup of coffee--in a big mug, with no small cubes of sugar, and vanilla soy milk, for example--or maybe it is a hammock, or spicy food, or the simple fact of walking outside and just being outside instead of having to walk a mile or hop on the metro to get to the nearest splotch of grass. There are things about myself that people may not necessarily relate to, or understand, but they are things that make me who I am, and for that simple fact I am proud of those things--I like them about myself and that they are a part of my "story." I like that I know how to drive a tractor and use a front loader, and that I own work boots, and have deer that run through the back yard, and that half of my town is dirt roads, or that I know video games and like getting into mud fights and driving the four-wheeler too fast so that it rolls over into a ditch (I have a brother, come on, of course I like those things). So, addmittedly, I am a bit of a tom-boy and I come from a town where maybe people from the outside look in and don't see much of anything but to me it's my story, it's home. But that is a rather loose concept in itself, isn't it? "Home." Is that even definable? I was trying to decide why exactly I (and others here) are beginning to miss home, and what exactly it is that we miss. I don't think that it is necessarily a place or that I think an open field with a tractor is particularly better than Paris, but rather that it is a feeling of being myself, of belonging in a certain kind of surrounding. I suppose home is more of a feeling than anything else. So I suppose that it is just as likely that someone finds that somewhere outside of what is considered their "home" --where they come from--and can feel at home elsewhere in the world. I think that perhaps being removed from those things for such a length of time may have made me realize how much a part of me they really are. I love Paris, and everything it has to offer, and I love it even more for bringing me to the realization that I am who I am: I like open-air dirt roads alongside rolling hills and fields, and I don't care that the closest starbucks is a half an hour drive away. However, it has also made me realize how much of the world there is to see; there are so many people in this city from all over the world, and it has made me want to travel even more, see other parts of the world that have entirely different cultures than where I am from. Especially because I know that my home will always be waiting there for me upon return: a comforting reminder that no matter how far away you travel, you can always go back. Maybe that isn't the outlook I'm supposed to have on things, maybe I should be trying to see how well I could fit in here, which to a certain extent I have realized. I could live in Paris. But not forever. I also think that part of it is the people--who you are depends a lot upon the people you are surrounded by (in my opinion, anyway) and while I like the "me" that is here with this group of people, I think it would be harder to be that side of me with people that I met from here. But then again that is part of it isn't it? The difficulty of changing things about yourself to adjust to a new place, to new people, and to try and fit in the new picture you have thrown yourself into. I think that is part of the beauty of travel--being able to adjust, maybe change in certain ways, and yet still know who you are and where you came from. There is a definite chance that this is all jibberish and not making any sense, but I think it has helped me to understand my own thoughts...as well as perhaps be able to answer Howard's questions of "what is my story..." I may be beginning to find an answer...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Do what people wear really define them? Or perhaps not necessarily define them but rather "express themselves" to everyone else? After going to the department stores last week I started thinking about mass-culture and things that are mass produced. Even if one product isn't necessarily mass-produced, it's design or the general idea of it will eventually creep into some form of mass-production so that everyone can own something that generally looks identical to something that thousands of other people own. Another thing that got me thinking about that was finally having to face the daunting task of purchasing souvenirs for people at home. Of it should be something that has to do with "Paris" but how can you actually tell that something is from here? There are so many things here that certainly are unique but there are also things that unless I was told where it was from I could assume it to be from any chain-store in America. It's almost as if there is this mass-western culture that has taken over fashion and all other products (generally speaking, and not necessarily including food) and so everyone is expected to look the same. Something is worn here but it is worn at home as well. I suppose individuals can certainly put their own "style" together, but it is not as if we have the means as individuals to entirely create an outwardly exposed identity through what we wear, since we are at the mercy of the mass-productions industries. Unless of course you are one of the few individuals who can pay to have your clothing, shoes, etc. hand-made and to your own design. But even so, if you are such a person, whatever it is that you have hand-made for you will probably be photographed or made by someone well-known and therefore it will trickle down into the mainstream fashion industry within the year, finding that item (which of course is made of cheaper material by cheaper machines run by even cheaper labor) on the bodies of those trying to fit in. So I guess the question I am trying to get at here is whether or not the mass-production industry allows people to have more options to create their look, to "express who they are" or if in fact it simply monopolizes us, allowing only certain options for an acceptable self-representation. Does the department store and all of these other chain stores with the clothes, the shoes, the perfumes, where people from Paris, to Shanghai, to Romeo MI shop, actually try to tell us that we should all look alike, smell alike, be alike? And what does that do to individuality? Is it slowly fading away along with all the small shops that nobody has heard of where everything is hand-made? This past week as I was wandering about Paris shopping with my mom, we walked into a store (mostly because of the name--Les Filles de la Vanille) where everything was hand-made by the owner. It was a cute little store full of hand-stitched dresses that were not designer priced. I don't know if it was because of how much I loved the dress or if it was because it was "orginal" both in design and to Paris, but I bought one. So now are we buying things (or maybe just me) because of their seeming individuality, because it is something that not everyone else can buy. I think that to me that is also the appeal of Vintage stores; it is something that has a story, that is no longer being produced, and is in fact an item that 20,000 other people are probably not searching for in stores across the world at that same moment. I can't admit that I am not a department-store/mass produce shopper. It's cheaper, I can afford it, and that is of course part of the appeal. But at what point does mass-production begin to actually peel away at individual expression? To what extent do we allow what the stores and the magazines that advertise for them tell us how we should represent ourselves to the rest of the world, is it possible that mass-production is confining the possibilities of individual expression to one mass array of choices--and that's all you get? Is your "self expression" actually limited by the mass-culture? Is it? I don't know yet...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Social Paris

Alright, this one is about social aspects of a city. Or maybe it is about how someone adjusts (or doesn't) to a new kind of social atmosphere. I talked to a friend who did a study abroad program in Greece, and she lived in a complex where all the other students from the program also lived. It was in the center of town and they all enjoyed going around the city together and experiencing all the new opportunities that the city has to offer as a group. Initially I was not sure what I thought about living with a host-family rather than a dorm situation in coming to Paris, but I love my host-family. And it makes all of us individually learn different parts of the city. But that is the thing--individually. I suppose I would say that I am used to Ann Arbor, where yes I do have to walk and go places to see everyone. But the truth of it is that two of my best friends lived with me, and another group lived less than a five-minute walk down the street. And in my home-town you drive everywhere. Everyone has to meet up somewhere that is probably at least a 10 minute drive away, but it works somehow; there is a system. Then moving to a big city and wanting to discover all of these different parts of it and things about it while also adjusting to the new atmosphere and balancing the academic side of it all somehow seems to complicate the social-ness here. For some reason I think that most people in a city have to be...hmmm..."more social beings" than people that are from rural areas. It isn't really acceptable to sit at home all day in the city, because there are a thousand things you could be doing and people you could be meeting! So if there are those days when it is raining and I have homework etc and I simply stay at the apartment, although that is what I want to do on that particular day, I feel like I am missing something. I have a friend who hates missing parties or events of any kind, she calls this fear "F. O. M. O," fomo. Fear Of Missing Out. But then again I think it is much more difficult here for all of us to meet up and get together since it seems to take much more effort to get everyone in the same place at the same time here...for whatever reason. And so in spite of my often severe "fomo" I will choose to forgo the situation and either stick to the apartment where I can do some reading and watch out my window wondering where everyone is headed (and always in such a hurry to get to) or I choose to do some exploring on my own. Obviously yes, we have had our group wanderings about the city and cafe finding and shopping and what-not, but I do think that it is, overall, a difficult social adjustment to make. I often take to wandering the city toute-seule and although I do tend to find some really neat things, or things that I really didn't expect to come across (especially in the 16th) I still think that this a city of meeting up with people, of being headed to somewhere where a group awaits you. I've often wondered how a Parisian would survive in Ann Arbor. I had a friend who was doing his graduate studies there, but his English wasn't great and he was having a rather difficult time about it. But on top of all of that, it is a place with about one/one-thousandth of the restaurant choices, hang-out places, stores, and people. Way less people. But how easily can someone adjust their social habits? When a group of us went to Spain in April it seemed easier to roam the city, get lost, discover new restaurants, because all the while you are enjoying the company of a group of people. It seems to be more difficult here to do that. Maybe it is simply that it needs more effort on our parts, or that the effort isn't always worth it to in the end have nobody be able to show up. Changing ideas a little bit here, I often wonder about the other parts of France--the country-sides that I have heard about and picture to be so beautiful, but also very isolated in their "campagne" settings. These people can't possibly have the social-mentality of always being headed somewhere and meeting people. Or maybe they do, I have never been to another part of France and would love to go, not only to see the area but to see the people--how different are they from Parisians? I guess it is like any city vs. a rural town. A New-Yorker would probably rather die than be moved to my home-town where it is rare to see someone walking around after 9 p.m. (unless it is summer, then maybe...). So how are some people so easily flowing in the hyper-social society while others are perfectly content to have their jobs and come home...and stay there. Yes, go out now and then, go to dinner, etc., but having to see and be seen isn't exactly the social concept that is at the center of most places in the world. But this is Paris--and I am still trying to understand it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Getting Lost

So perhaps there is a perfect way to go about discovering Paris, and then again, perhaps the only way you can truly find new and interesting things is to let yourself get lost in the city. Even if you don't necessarily come across anything spectacular, you may at least realize that there is a whole, grand city right outside waiting for you to come and discover all the neat little things about it. I decided, after class, to not take the metro home, nor did I take out my map. Instead I simply would turn whichever way seemed best to turn. I wandered past the South African embassy, which was a very neat building, and past a recreational field, where kids were playing soccer and people were running around the track. I also ran into someone, with whom a conversation was struck, and that may have been the most interesting point of my wanderings. As I was walking along the street, I had my sleeves pulled down from my coat, so that they could cover my hands, since it was so cold outside. Passing me on my left (I was walking rather slowly) was a man probably about in his seventies, and he bumped my arm as he passed. He glanced back to say pardon, and upon seeing my arm begin apologizing profusely and seemingly making a big fuss over my wrist area. I had not been ready to understand a quick jumble of french, so I thought maybe he wanted the time--so I pulled my sleeve back and showed him I had no watch. He seemed a little surprised, and looked from my bare wrist to my face and back to my wrist. Then he began to laugh. "J'ai pense que c'etait casse madamoiselle!" He had thought my wrist was broken, and that the sleeve was a wrap or a cast. So we collectively shared a laugh over that and he asked me where I was from. I told him I was American and he was surprised, saying that my french didn't sound American (which made me very happy to hear!). Then, suddently he stopped speaking french and began speaking in English, as apparently, he was from Oxford England. Not orignally, he was French but he lived in Oxford for a very long time, having moved there when he was 12. We talked about studying in Paris and what a wonderful opportunity it is for me. He is right. I will probably never have the chance to "be a Parisian" again, and yet there is so much about this city that I still don't know. We continued talking, and I just walked along with him, since I didn't exactly have an aim as to where I was going and he was keeping along the same street anyway. He told me some stories about England and some stories about France, and was very insistent that I don't see just Paris. It is a very large city, and the place where people think of when they think of France, he said, but it is not the only thing that France has to offer. The north will awe you with its beautiful countrysides and there are of course beautiful things to see in the south. Explore a little bit. I only wish I had all the time and money in the world to explore it! But for that day, I was sticking to exploring Paris. We talked for a while longer, and then he was off to meet someone for lunch (which he actually invited me along to, but he was rather dressed up and I thought I would perhaps be imposing or not able to afford wherever he was going). So I kindly refused and thanked him very much for his time and company. "Oh, not at all darling, not at all all. Cheers!" He said, and turned down a side street. So that is part of discovering Paris that I hadn't really thought much about before: the people. They all have their own stories and come from all over the world. And while I'm spending time to search about the town for small stores whose windows catch my eye or the bakery with the perfect macaroon, or the market place with the freshest and most interesting things, I forget about the people who are behind all of it. Like why did the woman open up that store where everything comes from the Orient? Who goes there? Who buys things from her? Or that bakery that I go to and love so much, why did they decide to open yet another Boulangerie in Paris--and how are all of the boulangeries in this city staying afloat? What hardwork does it take to keep a small place like that, which makes Paris what it is, afloat? I always had the dream of having a bakery, making my own creative pastries for the world to enjoy, and for those who have dared to do it in this great city, the ones that aren't these big chains, I applaud them. All the people that come here and try to make a life, it is certainly impressive. And now I wonder about all of them, the people who make this city, who open these restaurants and shops that we are all wandering about to find. I wandered around and did wander into a few of the little shops, most of them empty except the one person working there, and I just wondered how and why they do what they do, these people that make the city of Paris. It amazes me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Okay, so I have attempted one of the five things that we have to do for the blog...I have attempted to follow someone. It ended up being several people, since most of them ended up either at home or in a cafe with someone for a very long time, and I was doing my best to be an "inconspicuous spy," so I often veered off to find my new subject. This made me nervous at first, following someone I don't know around the streets of Paris, and I also did not follow anyone into the metro station...I simply decided to stay on foot, seeing where people walk to. I must say that in all of this "observing" the thing that I noticed most, ironically, is how little people of Paris seem to notice things. Not just things, but things around them. Maybe it makes me seem more like a tourist, or gives me away as not being "Parisian," but all of the people I chose to follow seemed more or less unaware of everything that they were passing by. For example, I know that when I am walking around everything seems to catch my eye. From the details on the facade of "just another apartment building" or the grandeur of the monuments that overwhelm the entire landscape of Paris, it is a consistent swirl of new sights, sounds, and discoveries around me. But not to people that live here. Or so it seemed, today. The first person I followed was a girl close to my age, walking along the street with her ipod on and her headphones playing music rather loudly...I walked behind her from the Avenue Victor Hugo as she wandered past shop after shop, as I was trying not to look at all of the windows of each unique store...she walked right past them as if they were simply stone walls. She continued down the road, not seemingly paying attention to the people or the stores around her...and ended up at the Arc de Triomphe. I have seen it several times but I still stare up at it and at the people around in slight awe...perhaps that is because of all the romanticized images I have seen of Paris during my lifetime, many of which have included this grand mark of the city...but she didn't even look that way. Not from what I could tell, anyway. She just continued along, as if the only thing that held importance was her object, where she was headed...nothing else seemed to be at all important. She followed the street around, and headed down the Champs Elysees. She walked very fast, and as I tried to keep a certain distance behind her, I noticed that I wasn't noticing any of the other people around, or the buildings or anything of the sort, as I was just trying to keep up with this "girl on a mission." She ended up turning down one of the side streets and after about 10 minutes and one more turn onto a small street, she stopped at a large door, and went into the building. I don't know if she lived there, but I am assuming either she did live there or perhaps she knew whoever did live there very well, since she knew the code to the door. Slightly disappointed with what I found from following her, I turned back and headed to the Champs d'Elysees, and decided to choose someone else. There was an elderly man walking down the street, he wore beige trousers and a brown over-coat with brown leather shoes, the kind that shine when the sun hits them, and a brown hat to top-off his ensemble. His white hair was peeking out from the bottom of his hat and from what I could tell from behind him he was in his late 70s, perhaps in his 80s…and he was moving very slowly up the street. I kept at a distance behind him, which made me look slightly strange, since I was more or less taking about 10 steps per minute, usually stopping to look at a store front, and then turn to follow again. He seemed to never look up or regard anything around him, but perhaps he needed to watch his step. This continued for about fifteen minutes until he stopped at a café that has an outdoor seating area. He took a small table inside, after addressing the waiter (in French, since I chose to pass this time and see if I could pick up conversation) and he sat down, having ordered a coffee. I continued to mosey my way just past the café and into a store just down from it, planning to walk by again to see if he was meeting with somebody. I could come out of the store and see into the tent-like structure that he sat in, and he remained alone. I went into several more stores and would peek again (hopefully none of the waiters noticed my suspicious and frequent reappearances in the area). But the old man remained alone at his table, he ordered some sort of small plate to eat, and sat at that small table all by himself. He has no newspaper, no book, no ipod or anything electronic to entertain him—but he had no company either. I wondered what he was thinking, or if he felt lonely sitting there all alone. From what I saw, he didn’t seem to be people watching either…he was just, well, off in his own world, enveloped in his own thoughts perhaps. Or perhaps he wasn’t thinking anything of it at all. In fact, maybe he does the same thing every day, and perhaps he has been doing that very same thing for years, and not a thought crosses his mind about sitting and dining alone in a city full of interesting people and things to talk about, he sat in lonely silence. I had to fight a momentary impulse to go and ask if I could sit down with him! I didn’t look if he had a ring on his left hand, I didn’t really get close enough…but maybe he was a widower. That thought occurred to me, and then I thought maybe he still does all of the same things that he did when he was married except now he just does them by himself. This man sparked my “question-imagination,” where you start asking all of the what, who, when, where, why, how…I was suddenly interested in everything about him. I began to wonder how long he has lived in Paris, what he has seen here, what he has experienced…there are so many questions…and in that moment, in that café, he seemed to have no one to share any of it with anymore. Then again, perhaps he lived his whole life alone, and wasn’t really one for conversation anyway. Perhaps he has seen things and lived through things that he doesn’t even want to share, or that he has never told anyone.

So this experience made me wonder a few things: first of all, it made me realize what people notice, or don’t notice and the stories that can be read, or at least imagined, in so many things. Secondly, it made me wonder about our own stories, people’s stories, and who we share them with, what we share, and why—why tell a certain thing to a particular person? Anyway, to address the first question, I wonder if, as a tourist, we notice a lot more of the city, and perhaps we notice the other people more as well. It seems that people who live here are so in the habit of doing the same thing and are so familiar with things, that they no longer notice any of it. Perhaps staring up at every building I pass, or taking a picture of a gate in front of yet another parisian window with flowers blooming outside, or looking at people as I walk down the street completely gives me away as a tourist, but that doesn’t matter to me. I want to look at every building, every detail, and all of the people, because all of it has a story, and whether I find out the actual story or not, knowing that there is one, and that we all have one, things have happened in all of these places and in the lives of all of these people, and it is those stories that somehow connect us, I think. We tell those stories to people we know, people we care about, all for different reasons, but I think that it is the sharing of experiences that makes people connect, and it all starts with what we notice, what we think, what we imagine…and then spread that thought to those around us. Then again, there may be some who have no one to share their stories with. Like the old man, in the café…I wonder what his story is, and what he would choose to tell of it and to whom, if given the chance…

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I don't know if anything I have written below holds any importance to anyone that will read it, it is simply a thought-process I have had, thinking about people here, people at home, history, and how it all ties together. It's a bit abstract and perhaps impossible to follow, but maybe it will make people think. Maybe, lol. :)

So Wednesday we went to the Louvre to take a look at David's self-portrait. A small, easily over-looked painting in a grand room of paintings tens of times its size, it may be the painting that has made me think the most, and more in depth, about things that I have learned here, both in classes and otherwise. Although the other paintings are often works of politics, especially David's works as they are meant to speak to the public of a certain time about a certain political condition, David's self-portrait may be considered just as political of a work. Okay, this sounds extremely academic and rather boring as an observation thus far, but what I am getting at is the idea of "self" that David's self-portrait examples. During the time of the French Revolution, citizens had an idea of the "self"--who they were, what they stood for, and what they deserved by way of political leadership. For example, when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was written, it represented (although not addressing women or slavery) the equality that should be given to each citizen as an individual, undefined by social class and no longer divided by issues of wealth. Instead man had the possibility of cultivating their own abilities and seeing a greater self-worth in what they did possess rather than in what they did not possess in comparison to the nobility. People of the French Revolution were coming to a "self realization." It brought to ligth the fact that in fact they deserved to have a say in how their lives were run--give us a constitution. The poor were no longer "the poor" but they became "The Third Estate," an entity that held more power over the fate of France than they could have ever imagined prior to the beginning of Revolutionary ideas, beginning with Enlightenment thought, and the belief that equality should be not just an imagined ideal, but a reality for the citizens. The revolutionary uprisings and the Declaration of the Rights of Man set the example for the uprisings in Sainte Dominigue (Haitian Revolution) which in fact was the first successful slave-uprising in history. It started making me think about the idea of "identity" and of "self." Being in a foreign country I have begun to realize all the things about my self that I identify with home, or with being "American" The people of France at the Time of the Revolution had certain concepts of the "self," of who and what they were and what they represented. Today I think that people of France have a very strong concept of national identity, and I suppose I never really thought about my "self view" until coming to Paris where, suddenly, I was faced with a culture and people that seemed to contrast who I am. It is not that I am "contradictory" to Parisians, but rather that I, in fact, have an identity that is made up in-part by things that are inherently American, or at least that come from home, my friends and family and other things that I identify with. The previous statement sort of makes it sound as if I would identify with all Americans before I would identify with someone from France, which is certainly not true. I am simply saying that I have realized things about myself and actually thought about them since coming here. I never really thought about the "self" as something exactly definable--which perhaps it isn't really, however I do think that one can have a "concept" of the self. And it in fact does partly have to do with the environment where I have lived most of my life, part of this is certainly the political environment. The people of the French Revolution knew that they were entitled to greater rights, because of the political condition of the time citizens were faced with the question of "self"--who are you? what do you stand for? But I have never been faced with those questions, I have never had to stand up for something that I believe I represent or I believe that I am part in a situation where peoples lives are being taking because of who they are and what they believe. I don't know if any of the above makes much sense, but it is sort of a stream of thought I am having. I wonder if now, in times of more-or-less political peace in France and on American soil, people have less of a "self-concept." David's picture simply made me think. How do people identify themselves? What do they think when they look in the mirror-or rather, what do they think other people see when looking at them. They are cliche questions that have all been asked before, but my curiosity is based on why someone chooses to define themselves the way they do. For example, if I asked a random person on the street, "Who are you?" or in my French class for example, if everyone was asked to describe themselves in one page, what would they write? Most everyone in my class has a different background, comes from a different country, and are, bottom-line, very different people. So what do they think are self-defining elements? And if everyone has such a different self-definition how is it that we identity with other people? Somehow, despite all of the "differences" we have all ended up in the same country, in the same classroom, and we develop understandings of and relationships with one another there. Maybe it is an overarching acceptance that all people are equal, that the "Declaration of Rights" has in fact finally been accepted and is acted out everyday, and people choose to find similarities in others rather than differences now. Or is that really true? How different am I from the woman playing her instrument in the metro station? Or how different are the kids on their way home from private school from those who beg with their mother in the street? Would a conversation between the two bring up more similarities than you would ever see from simply looking? Maybe someone you find to be very different from yourself would paint a self-portrait alarmingly similar to your own.

Monday, March 8, 2010

On Friday I took a very long walk around my neighborhood, the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. It was a really good walk, I think I took close to 100 pictures on Friday alone. I saw so many things just in a matter of hours! I always go the same direction from my apartment, toward the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero metro station...so I decided to go the other way. Maybe 100 yards down the street and I hit the Avenue Victor Hugo--full of beautiful shops and boutiques and all kinds of cool stuff! There is one store that is entirely different kinds and shapes of candles, and another that is an apparently really famous chocolate shop where the owner makes all sorts of different shapes from chocolate, HUGE shapes, I mean like bears that are almost as big as me...there were actually eggs made of chocolate across a table, one with a chicken on top of it that was about 5 feet tall. Then the street hit the Place de Victor Hugo, so I just continued around the circle down Victor Hugo...and hit the Arc de Triomphe! Yep. 15 minute walk from my house...who knew? So of course I had to follow where curiosity lead me: right down the Champs d'Elysees! There were sooo many people, so I just continued walking. I was simply noticing the people that were out and about and how many different kinds of people are in this city. Compared to the town I come from Ann Arbor is pretty diverse and seems to have people from all kinds of places...but Paris is exceptional in its diversity. I have met people (some in my French classes) from Russia, Africa, Sweden, London, The Netherlands, Korea, Germany, Italy, China, Australia, and various areas of the U.S. It is just such a cultural center of the world that I am still trying to comprehend it. So I simply people watched...taking in the different languages that I heard and the way people would interact with each other. I was sort of trying to see if I could tell the tourists from the true Parisians. I still have no idea unless I hear someone speaking English...even then I suppose they may not be tourists. So I people watched, taking in how much of the of the world is represented in such a small part of it. Then I got to the end of the Champs d'Elysees, to the Les Invalides and took a lot of pictures, especially from the view I had on the Seine River. Some of the architecture of that spot was absolutely magnificent. I found myself paying close attention to little parts of much larger, grander things...like on small statue that was situated on the edge of the bridge...it was a small, winged figure that had some grafitti in red on the side of its abdomen. I wonder why someone chose to put the graffitti there, if it was supposed to symbolize something. It was actually quite sad to see; it almost appeared as if the it was bleeding, being made from very dark stone the red stood out very well, you can sort of see the red in the photo on the right...I tried to cut it out at the time but looking back I wish I had taken a picture of the whole thing so that the effect of the red could be seen. Anyway, I turned around and began walking along the Seine river. I took pictures of the boats that were alongside of it, tied up--not because they were necessarily pretty or extravagant or anything of the sort really, but simply intriguing. They reminded me of an old movie I have seen (and certainly don't remember very well) where the grandfather has a boat and takes his grandkids for a ride down the river. They all seemed sort of old, well-loved. That's why I liked them I think...I know Paris is know for it's beauty and high-class sort of things, where every building looks fit for the king from an outside perspective, but to me it is the little things that people have here, the small places that are well-loved and little-known that I think are interesting. In other words, what is the "Parisian lifestyle" on a smaller scale? What happens when we think of it in the context of someone we normally wouldn't think twice about, like the old lady who "slowed you down" as she walked in front of you on the sidewalk, or the blind man who sat across from me on the metro this weekend...what is Paris to them?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3, 2010

The Apartment

The Parisians are certainly used to living in much smaller spaces. That is one of the first things that hit me here. There is only the space that is necessary, in most cases anyway. For example, the bathroom is two separate rooms, one for the toilet with a small sink, and the other is the shower and a sink, and about enough standing room for one person, no more. When I first arrived here the apartment seemed pretty small, but I am getting used to it. Not only did it seem small but also, well...disheveled. but in living here a week I have begun to understand it a little more. Living with a single mom and her three kids, I realize it can't be easy to keep everything in it's place, or to even necessarily have a place for everything. The living room seemed extremely over-crowded with things, little "trucs" all over the place: two couches, two chairs, a bureau, two desks, a television, two computers (one shared by the kids and the other my host mom's), a fireplace stacked-full of old newspapers that are topped by a very large, old pumpkin. She says she is planning to cook the pumpkin when she gets a chance... :) There are small things from the kids filling the room, little toys here and there, across the floor, under the couch, stickers randomly on things, etc. I believe that my "room" was actually a kind of parlor or office and that some of the things now in the living room were once in there. My room is definitely not mean to be a bedroom, it had bookshelves all along the one wall, a t.v., a piano, a large, round marble table with four chairs, and my bed. The room is attached to the living room by small double french doors that have wooden blinds on them, so I wonder if before my arrival the two rooms may have been connected, and one of the couches, and the chairs or perhaps a desk were in here. Since I arrived though we have rearranged the living room from how it was when I first got here. It is much more spacious now and my host-mom did a lot of cleaning in the room. The newspapers and the pumpkin remain in the fireplace though. The kitchen seems to have been in the midst of a remodel, of which the floor and the cupboards were completed but not the appliances. there remains in the small entry-way to the apartment a partly-packaged stainless steal range-top oven and a sink. I wondered for a while if it would ever be explained why that was there, and my host mom finally offered the information the other day that someone is coming soon to fix a leak in the kitchen ceiling which is coming from the fifth floor (I live on the first (European first-floor, so the 2nd floor). So once the leak is fixed then the appliances can be installed I guess. The kitchen is positively packed with things too--there is not much space in it at all, and yet that is where we eat, at the tiniest little table, on little stools. On the table there is a pink Hello-Kitty cereal dispenser (a birthday gift to the little girl from her brother) that they really use! It's quite cute. I don't know how anything is found in the rest of the kitchen, it all seems to be a sort of "organized chaos" to my host-mom: there are random jars and small cups full of batteries, all kinds of vitamins and supplements (the oldest son, 12 is allergic to gluten and the other, 10, won't eat meat). The little counter space that there is has been occupied by a microwave, a bowl of very old fruit (which I am learning they keep here for much longer than at home), a food processor, toaster, water boiler, coffee pot, and various little bowls and baskets that seem to find themselves in stacks randomly around the place. There is a small window in the kitchen that looks out to the courtyard, and the windows in my room and the living room look out over the street. I like being able to see the street, but it is rather unfortunate to be so close at 5:30 a.m. when the garbage trucks come. Also, when I look out the window, since the street is narrow and the apartment is low on the building, I cannot see any sky at all, which is slightly disheartening, especially when the sun is actually out.
In spite of all the differences that this place most certainly has from home, I am surprising myself in saying that I actually already feel kind of at home here. My host-mom is extremely nice, and during dinner and other times we have good conversations, all in French. She does speak English, but not wonderfully. It is funny actually, I ask her all kinds of questions about the French word for something, or if I don't know a word she explains it in French and she will ask me questions about English words, and I will explain an English word to her in French. For example, the other day she was reading a book and another work by the author (who is American but whose book had been translated) had the word "Bliss" in it. She didn't know what it meant so I had to explain it to her in French. I am actually glad that she doesn't speak to me in English. We have had a few small mis-communications, but nothing tragic as of yet :) As far as the kids go, I am not sure how it will be "living" with them yet, since they left for vacation to their grandparents the morning after I arrived, and then came back for one night last weekend and left Sunday to go to their Dad's place. They have been there since! So I have spent little time with them, but they are very sweet from what I know so far!