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…

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