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.