Les Sous-Titres Wednesday, Sep 30 2009 

The language barrier in Paris has become so much easier to deal with since my arrival. I know think in little French phrases- “D’accord”, “oui”, “Merci beaucoup” “Aujourd’hui”, etc.

But now, the more I look around, the more I see English everywhere! Chic menu signs on the street boast “Lunch!” instead of “dejeuner”, and fabulous Parisian hair salons proudly display a little cursive sign proclaiming “English spoken” as a marketing slogan.

I also wondered how so many French people spoke English so well, if and when they deemed to speak it.

I have discovered the reason: they listen to American music, and watch American movies. I never thought about the fact that the industry of big movie-making is obviously Hollywood, and Hollywood is located in the United States, so all big budget, big star films are originally in English. And while some films are dubbed with French actors over the original voices, most films are shown avec sous-titres, with sub-titles.

French people are forced to learn and understand English if are to be able to enjoy Hollywood films without the annoyance of sous-titres. I can’t imagine reading every movie, or listening to one voice while watching an American actor’s lips speak another word. Phrases are different, expressions have different connotations, and nothing is comparable word for word, regardless of the language. American movie-goers complain when foreign films are in sub-titles- but why not, that is the original language of the film, the language the words were written in, and the way the film was created from the beginning?

There are some things that are just lost in translation, that even the most comprehensive sous-titres can’t replicate. You can’t go through life with sub-titles.

Tous Les Jours Monday, Sep 28 2009 

EveryDay

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “everyday” as :

–adjective

1. of or pertaining to every day; daily: an everyday occurrence.
2. of or for ordinary days, as contrasted with Sundays, holidays, or special occasions: everyday clothes.
3. such as is met with every day; ordinary; commonplace: a placid, everyday scene.

–noun

4. the routine or ordinary day or occasion: We use inexpensive plates for everyday.

In modern society, we use this word “everyday” to describe things commonplace, ordinary, or to describe day-to-day activities that are placed lower on our mental caste system than “special” items.

Being thousands of miles away from home and loved ones has caused me to muse on the meaning of this word and its associated contexts. Things I use every day have actually taken on more meaning to me than things I only use once in a while. Things I touch every day are not ordinary or simple- they are things that mean the most to me, so I incorporate them into my daily life.

Women sometimes use this word to describe jewelry. “Oh, I just want a plain gold chain for everyday.” “Yeah, this is my everyday diamond.” Not a stereotype or fitting for every woman, but just a generalization. We tend to associate our “everyday” clothing and jewelry with having less value, so less is at stake for loss in the rigor of day-to-day activities. Yet the stud earrings or simple chain that we wear every day actually becomes a part of us- they appear in every candid photo of us that we have not dressed for, they accompany us on spontaneous trips, and become almost like a second skin so that we feel naked without these “everyday” tokens. They are what people associate with us.

When in reality, the things we touch and surround ourselves with day in and day out end up touching us the most, literally and figuratively. Things comfort us, but not necessarily the objects of the most luxurious or expensive fabrics or materials. It is the pieces that mean something to us- either they have sentimental value, or they have simply been with us through so much-that are our true “comfort” pieces.

Fragrances are another aspect where women tend to “save up” their best and opt for something informal and “simple” for every day use. But this fragrance seeps into our clothes, and every fabric we come into contact with. It becomes our “signature”, what people associate us with when they sense an aroma. Don’t we want our signature fragrance to be our best one? Why save the good stuff for random occasions when people won’t recognize it, besides as being different than your everyday smell?

I find myself asking, “What am I saving this for?” Life is not a dress rehearsal. If we spend our days waiting to wear our favorite dress or most expensive pair of earrings, we will become so comfortable with our “everyday” wear that they become a part of our inner security and we never want to lose them. I have found myself taking more risks with my non-“everyday” items and found that I love them, and surprisingly, feel comfortable with them. We need to project our comfort level to incorporate our luxury, “special occasion” pieces, and also need to learn to love our “everyday” pieces.

Le Chateau Saturday, Sep 26 2009 

Having just toured the splendid Loire Valley chateau at Chenonceau, my mind has been racing with thoughts of the glorious, vibrant past these buildings have witness and lived through.

Today, we think in terms of minutes, or hours, or days or maybe weeks. These structures have witnessed royalty, ceremonies, scandals, intrigue and spectacle in terms of centuries. The drawbridges and moats and cobblestones surrounded the ancient architecture that has somehow survived through all the wars and attacks on French soil; the galleries and tapestries and bedchambers and paintings and staircases all played scene to experiences that we can now only read about in historic novels or see in dramatized, stylized action on Showtime television shows.

When one ponders the history of a place like this, one pictures Catherine de Medici walking in her picturesque gardens or Louise de Loraine decorating the castle on black velvet and silver teardrops in mourning for her husband. The numerous owners and inhabitants of this archaic piece of history were actual living human beings, with feelings and thoughts and desires and fears. They slept, they ate, they laughed, they cried, they admired the beauty of nature; they also sought to acquire pieces of furniture and expand their family homes to enhance their aristocratic name and image.

I can only imagine what life must have been like for the people who actually lived in this castle and participated in the medieval lifestyle. This concept of adding on wings to marble gallery floors and decorating the parlor with ornate tapestries that were gifts from members of the royal family is a way of life that seems completely foreign and archaic; yet upon closer inspection, it somewhat resembles activities that members of the upper middle class society engage in today. Every time someone travels, do they not bring home souvenirs to decorate their home, office or garden? Do we not give elaborate decorative gifts to friends and acquaintances to enhance the appearance of their dwellings?

As I walked through each room and heard the unique story of each chateau-dweller played out, I couldn’t help but think of what their lives must have been like and what it must have been like to live such an extravagant existence.

The concept of designing a place for a family to live, something that will exemplify your status and what you consider important is a practice that has survived well into modern society. The notion of collecting ancient antiques and valuable pieces from around the globe to furnish and decorate your home is still very much alive and well in our daily culture.

Yes, the idea is still alive today, but what it must have been like to decorate a chateau!!

We’ll Always Have Paris Saturday, Sep 26 2009 

9.26.09

We’ll Always Have Paris

Paris, known across the globe as “La Ville d’Amour”, or “La Ville de Lumiere”, has an extensive and dignified history. The beaches at Normandy that commemorate the D-Day invasion of 1941, the illustrious , world renowned monuments erected at various points dating back to the earliest Roman conquests; the Revolution-era remnants of La Bastille, and even metro stops named after memorable moments in the city’s history all stand to serve as reminders for Paris’ glorious historical past.

Millions of pages have been penned celebrating the different histories of Paris, but one that continues to captivate authors and readers around the world has been the history of great love affairs revolving around Paris.

There have been countless novels and epic films capturing the glory of the romantic aspect of Paris’ history. Everyone knows the famous stories of the loves of Napoleon and Josephine- their love letters still exist, have been published in The Love Letters of Great Men, and even featured in the blockbuster film Sex and the City: The Movie.

 

There are countless other historical-and even fictitious- great love stories that center around Paris.

Esmerelda and the Hunchback- Notre Dame is a central and titular character in their forbidden love affair; the grand finale of the HBO series Sex and the City features Paris as a character in the huge, climactic moment of the central romance of the story between Carrie and Mr. Big; even the story of Beauty falling in love with the Beast in the Disney classic featured the enchanted castle of Paris as a central figure in the story.

Gaston and Gigi of Gigi, Jerry and Lise of An American in Paris, and Marius and Cosette battling love amidst the French Revolution in Les Miserables all stand as further fictitious yet epic examples of love bringing people together in Paris.

And, in perhaps the most famous Paris love story, Rick and Ilsa of Casblanca glory center their love around their long-ago tryst in Paris. “We’ll always have Paris” has become almost a cliché to describe an undying, nostalgic connection between two estranged lovers.

There has even been a film entitled Paris, je t’aime, which features little plots about couples in love out and about in the city of Paris.

When one takes the time to seek it out, there are examples everywhere that support Paris’ amorous reputation. Paris’ history will continue to grow and evolve with the changing, progressive world, but it remains clear that Paris can stand assured of her title of “The City of Love”. This allure and hope of love is something that Paris will always enjoy amidst her monuments and historical moments of greatness, and the world will always have Paris.

L’ancien histoire Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

One of my favorite restaurants in Paris is La Terrasse, directly across from l’Ecole Militaire, in the hub of the Metro stop and the crossing for le Tour Eiffel. This spot entails one of my favorite aspects of Paris: the glorious building steeped in ancient history juxtaposed with the hustle of bustle of Paris’ modern tourist industry.

L’Ecole Militaire, now metro stop on the 8th line closest to le Tour Eiffel, was created at the request of Madame Pompadour, to give lower class young men the opportunity to advance themselves through the military, by training to become an officer at L’Ecole Militaire. The extravagant, massive building is surrounded by black wrought iron gates and is frought with winding driveways throughout the premises.

Today, this spot sees the passage of hundreds of people a day coming and going to and from the Metro stop, walking around on their way to Champ de Mars and le Tour Eiffel, hopping on and off the tour buses, and just strolling around, experiencing all that modernized Paris has to offer. Parisians and visitors alike swarm this area every day, most not stopping to admire the grandeur of this structure and its urban campus-like grounds that was once so prestigious.

Every arrondissement has its unique flavor and history. Le quartier Latin is so called because it was the site of the first University of Paris, for international students and Latin was the unifying tongue in which classes were conducted. Les Halles on la rive gauche is so named for the central marker built in the 12th century by Phillip Augustus to enhance commercial attraction and to gain favor with the merchant class. Each part of Paris retains some aspect of its history forever.

That’s what I love about Paris. All the buildings that are now used as cafés, grocery stores, or apartments were once designed with an ancient building plan, either for a wealthy family or a small shop. Every building has a story to tell, and each holds its unique piece of ancient Parisian history. People admire the window flower boxes, the sunlight beaming through the full-length windows, and the beautiful designs of the buildings, but I love thinking about the first inhabitants, or who commissioned its architecture and why its was created to look the way it does.

That’s something about Paris that will never grow old- everything will always keep changing and evolving as the times progress, but buildings will never lose their historical value, and Paris will never lose the charm and nostalgia of its ancient history.

La Fumer Monday, Sep 14 2009 

Everyone smokes in Paris! Everyone. All the time. Even the American students are smoking outside the school buildings in between classes. How does everyone function with the cloud of smoke constantly swirling around their skulls?

My head seems to always be spinning from all the exposure. My nose hurts and I always feel dehydrated. People are always smoking outside my window, even next to me in restaurants! I saw a young French man carrying his infant daughter in one hand, and a lit cigarette in the other. Couples sit gazing into each others’ eyes, stopping every few moments to take a puff from the stick in their hand.

In order to convince my mom to quit smoking, I have done research on the lasting, damaging effects of second-hand smoke. I have read numerous studies that warn against exposing anyone, especially children or those with weakened immune systems, to second-hand smoke. But I was shocked to read that as bad as it is for humans to be exposed to a cigarette, it is nearly five times more deadly for canines. Everyone has their little petit chiens here, carrying them in their Louis Vuitton cases or trotting them along on a leash; even letting them sit on their laps in restaurants! As much of a staple as the presence of a pooch is to the Parisian people, I can’t help but wonder if they realize the damage they are doing to their furry companion by lighting up right next to them.

And how do they enjoy their food? I have literally seen people alternate with a fork in one hand and a cigarette in the other. For as much as the French people enjoy their leisure time and their two hour lunches of gourmet dishes, they seem to be diminishing their atmosphere a great deal by surrounding themselves in a grey haze.

I used to think it was glamorous to be seen with cigarettes, or with an elegant cigarette holder like Cruella de Ville in 101 Dalmations or Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. My cousins and I even used to buy little candy cigarettes and hold them in our mouths as we walked down the street, pretending to puff away.

Now, the smell makes me nauseous. You can smell smoke on a smoker- their clothes, their hair, their hands all reek of stale tobacco. It doesn’t look cool- it looks trashy and low class. Even the chicest French city-dweller immediately becomes an ignorant, uneducated outcast as soon as I spot a cigarette in their hand.

Forget tobacco advertising, the role of the media, the surgeon general’s waning, lung cancer patients smoking next to their oxygen tanks. The dizziness of all these little cancer sticks has depleted my energy level for those arguments. But how do people do it all the time here, and claim to be so modern, and progressive, and worldly? There are recycling bins on every street; cyclists on every sidewalk; why are they going against everything else in their nature by lighting all day?

La Perte Sunday, Sep 13 2009 

Europeans must think Americans are so wasteful.

Riding “le Metro”, the quickest mode of transportation around the city of Paris, has taught me a great deal about what is and what is not important to the Parisian people.

Air conditioning? Not so much. Leisure? Absolutely. When I arrived in the midst of August heat, most Parisians were on vacation in the south of France or somewhere else enjoying their vacation time. The advent of September brought back the hustle and bustle I expected from such a cosmopolitan city, with noises and traffic and general merry business. More people flooded the Metro every day, and stops that I originally thought were “low-key” or “low-traffic” areas became noticeably more packed. The end result of these two circumstances amounts to lots of people crammed onto a tiny metal tube whisking them throughout the city, with small rectangular windows open at the top that provide very little ventilation, ergo lots of sweaty people.

Sweaty people touching the same dingy metal poles in the middle of the train, since all seats are always occupied. I haven’t sat on a Metro since September arrived. People stand; some patiently, some anxiously. Some quietly, some yelling to their companions around the small confined Metro. Some listen to iPods or try to read; some just stare at the doors and wait for them to open.

Parisians place much more emphasis on the overall picture regarding enjoyment and leisure. Relaxation and “time off” is very important to them, whereas in America, people work much longer and tougher hours and take almost half the vacation time as Europeans do, but work in much more luxurious accommodations. Find me an American office building that’s not pumping frigid AC all throughout the business day. Find me an American retailer-a bookstore, restaurant, coffee shop, or shoe store, that’s not constantly temperature controlled with bright overhead lights beaming down almost unnecessarily.

Paris shops are smaller- no WalMarts or Barnes & Nobles here- and each are operated in its own quaint way. Most are dark, with doors and windows open for natural ventilation. Well, if you only work there 6 hours a day, 4 or 5 days a week, those aren’t bad conditions. Americans aren’t spoiled- we’re just used to more pleasant circumstances in which to slave away 85% of our waking hours.

So Europeans must think Americans are so wasteful- we waste energy, electricity and time. What they call gaspiallge.

We also waste the best years of our life putting in 20-hour days doing internships, graduate programs, or finding our careers. La perte. Waste of time.

Americans focus on making the most money as soon as we can, to pay off the credit card so we can put children through school and hurry up and retire to start enjoying life.

Europeans put emphasis on getting home at 4:30 in the afternoon to walk the dog with their children, and on going to St. Tropez three times a year for a holiday. Europeans enjoy life every day, as they go, not working and working and working for some big “pay off” in the distant future like Americans do.

Incredible waste.

L’Hostilite Saturday, Sep 12 2009 

As mentioned in the oh-so-informative Study Abroad Pre-Departure seminar back at school in April, every student reports suffering from some period of anxiety, frustration, and or hostility towards their new surroundings at some point in the first month of their visit.

Yes, it is here. I have entered the period de l’hostilite.

My birthday may have had something to do with the advent of this period of stress. I was anxious enough about celebrating my 21ist so far from home and my boyfriend and my friends, but the fact that I have no little trinkets or sentimental things from home is preposterous! I have yet to received one single birthday package from the United States. My mother conscientiously sent my packages with plenty of time for international mail and customs snafus, but to no avail. Nothing has arrived. I claim to be okay with this setback, because, after all I am in Paris. but some things, like my birthday, have been sacred to me for as long as I have celebrated them, and this is simply not acceptable in my world. Don’t tell me that people don’t do business internationally and send products and mail internationally and it takes two weeks. Maybe in 1981 or the Stone Ages, but not in 2009 do I buy that it takes 2 weeks for a package to get from Boston to Paris. Sorry. Not buying it.

I want my mail. I want my packages when I want them, how I want them. In a timely manner. Delivered to me promptly with no issues.  Visits to the post office are useless, as they rudely mumble in inaudible French and shrug their shoulders at me.

I want my debit card to work. How does BNP get away with putting a limit on my debit card usage? It’s my money- I should be able to access it and spend it and do whatever I want with it, whenever I want. So frustrating. I’m here in your country for four months, patronizing your industries and your economy, and you want to limit my spending. Brilliant. Maybe the best international marketing scheme ever created!

I want to be able to watch American TV. Yes, I know, I can’t access HBO and ABC and NBC here, but the fact that some websites don’t allow for international viewing online is ridiculous. This is 2009 and there needs to be some way for me to watch The Rachel Zoe Project! I am not asking for the moon!

Ah, oui, the hostility period is here, mon amis! So maybe steer clear for the next few days until I cool down. Or at least until the mail arrives.

Le Honeymoon Friday, Sep 11 2009 

Le Honeymoon

Describing my first few days in my strange new land, I used words like perfect, divine, delicious, exquisite, unbelievable, extraordinary! When out at my first Paris nightclub, enjoying VIP access, I declared to my roommate: “I never want to leave Paris!”

Is this really how I felt? Or is this just the obligatory “honeymoon” phase? Everything is peachy and perfect and no rain will ever fall. Everything will fit right into place, and even if it doesn’t, people will always be smiling and music will always be playing and the sun will always be shining. It really did feel like this was a paid- for, college-crediting vacation, so why not attend a few classes in between croissant and nightclubs?

Everything is new, fresh, exciting, breathtaking. Everyone at home tells me how jealous they are, how much I should live it up and enjoy every moment because it’s sure to fly by.

My lack of French is adorable- people will make allowances for me. They’ll track down some sweet English-speaking associate to take care of whatever I need.  I’ll understand and be able to communicate soon enough. I’ll figure it out. Everyone will love me.

Honeymoons never last forever. As I was so sweetly and optimistically told in my mandatory Study Abroad Student Pre-Departure Seminar during the last week of the Spring semester. I was forced to listen, in great detail, in a sweltering hot auditorium room , on a gorgeous April Friday, to the perils of traveling abroad.

Yes, I know, don’t put my passport in my checked luggage. Thank you so much for telling me! What would I have done without this?

Yes, I know, don’t take drugs from people I don’t know. But it is okay to take drugs from people I do know? Oh, ok, that wasn’t clear.

Yes, I know, make the most of it. If one more person tells me to make the most of it, I’m going to explode- I get it, okay? I’m paying through the teeth for this opportunity, so thank you, I plan on making the most of it!

This panel of middle aged professors each took their turn hearing themselves speak, talking to us for the ninety-nineth time about foreign health insurance,  housing when we return to campus, the time differences around the globe, how to pack lightly (seriously?!) and other mundane idiotic advice.

They told us we would experience a “honeymoon” phase, where everything is bright and bubbly and beautiful, followed quickly by a “hostility” phase where we backlash against the new and different, and become frustrated when things aren’t as we are used to. Hmm. Maybe they were right about something.

Paris Time, Part Trois Wednesday, Sep 9 2009 

Life in Paris in incredibly different than I imagined. Life in Paris is not simply doing American things on a different continent with a slight French twist. “Paris time” operates in a universe all its own.

Firstly, things move slooowly. As soon as my mom and I had the apartment settled, we rushed off to open a bank account for my stay in Paris. After searching to find an English speaking consultant with the help of a kind French student, we dealt with the stressful process of banking with a grand language barrier. After all the calls to our American bank and translating with the sweet French banker, by the time we were ready to deposit funds, of course the bank had closed. And it was Friday. They graciously let us through the gentle barricade and down to the deposit counter. In America, banks close promptly at 4:30 and the world ceases to exist at that time. But these people were so warm and understanding, and let two exasperated foreigners continue our tiring journey after the close of business before the weekend. They were in no rush to open the bank, and they seemed in no rush to close it either.

My mom and I headed out to dinner late on Friday. Not venturing far, we opted for a quaint little bistro a few steps away from the apartment. As stunning as the meal was, my biggest memory was “Well, good thing we weren’t starving.” Our drinks came straight away but it was a good hour before we received our appetizers. And the restaurant wasn’t busy- they were simply taking their time, and allowing us to chat while lingering over a sumptuous meal. They have the luxury of time, not wanting to rush anyone along. The French also must really love who they choose to share their meals with, as there was probably a decent hour or two of just conversation, with no bread or meals to distract from the atmosphere.

Secondly, Sundays shouldn’t even be on the French calendar. The only shops open for a few hours and boulangeries and patisseries, and they all close unimaginable early. These people value their rest over an opportunity for profit in being the only shop open on Sunday. Everyone moves at a leisurely place, not the usual hustle and bustle one would expect from such a vivacious city. People sit in cafes for hours, just reading, talking or people watching. Waiters don’t throw the check at you as soon as they bring you your meal. In fact, I often find myself looking around for the waiter when I’m ready to leave.

When my mom returned home, leaving me to venture out on my own for the first time, I had a full list of things to accomplish. I needed to stop by the school to get a letter necessary for my bank account, find my mailbox number, go grocery shopping, etc. That Monday morning, I woke up early and made my way to the Student Affairs office at my university. I was transferred to several different people before I found someone who could help me. He agreed to draft a letter for my account, but told me I was “swimming upstream”, as they had planned to take care of this for all new students during the week of orientation. I got the feeling I was imposing on their plan of action, and jumping ahead when I should have waited for what I needed. I was also struck by the heavy amount of construction the building was undergoing. Five days before orientation activities were to begin, the building was short a few doors and looked every inch in the midst of a grand renovation. They were not rushed and anxious to finish before students arrived. They would take their time, and get it done when it got done.

The people here enjoy themselves, taking hours for lunch, and the last two weeks of August for a summer vacation. Parisians walk more slowly, taking time to admire window displays and people watch. They aren’t running from activity to activity, from stress to stress. It is a calm, inspiring mood around the streets of Paris.  “Paris time” continues to weave me around the city, and slowly but surely, I am adjusting to life on Parisian time.

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