Pourquoi Pas? Sunday, Nov 29 2009 

My countdown to departure from Paris has begun. It’s mind-boggling to think that almost four months have passed since I stepped off the plane and began my little journey to conquer Paris on my own. When I realized how rapidly my time left here in this remarkable city had dwindled, I began to reflect on what I had hoped to accomplish by this time, when I originally set out so many months ago.

Go to the top of the twinkling Eiffel Tower? Check.

Carry a fresh baguette around all day? Check.

Portrait at Montemartre? Check. Check. Check.

Force myself to eat “foie gras”? Half check.

Stay out until 5 am and come home to watching the sun rise on rue Rivoli by the Louvre? Check.

Acquire a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps from the Paris store? Check.

It’s hard to remember all the vast and tiny goals I had set up for myself when I first came to Paris and got a taste of life here. No, I never rode on the back of a Vespa, but I have been almost run over by them nearly a hundred times. The past few months are full of memories of the challenges of arriving at each monument by Metro, or weaving my way through side streets in the pouring rain, or trying to speak French to my French bank.

But now that I’m in the final stretch of this crazy ride, I try to force myself to take advantage of every little delight this city has to offer. Instead of opting for my usual pain au chocolat, I tried a new creation made of sugar and strawberries in the morning. When Paris decided to set up a seasonal ferris wheel at the end of the Champs Elysees, at first I balked and told myself I would be too nervous to be up that high on a rickety, collapsible, part-time ferris wheel set up hastily by Europeans. But during my boyfriend’s recent visit, I forced myself (or was forced) to give it a shot and just go for it. The view at the top, overlooking all of Paris, from every spot from Notre Dame to the Louvre to the Champs Elysses to the Invalides to the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero was well worth the fear of getting stuck at the top of a French contraption.

In a city that has so many unique treasures to offer, and since my time here is ticking away as fast as I can write my final term papers, I have to get in the mindset of pourquoi pas? When am I going to get the chance to see New Moon with French subtitles on the Champs Elysees ever again?

La Lange de L’Amour Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

La Langue de L’Amour

Riding the Metro throughout Paris is great for observing the fascinating acts of people. What people do when they think no one is looking at them; what people do when they know no one knows them; what people do when they are completely alone, except for the group of strangers sharing a car for a few minutes.

One of my favorite observations during a recent Metro ride to Charles de Gaulle airport led me a conclusion I had never considered before, due to my lack of language barriers in my life. I realized that, as corny and predictable and Hallmark card as it sounds, love truly knows no language.

Early on a Saturday morning, the RER B, the direct line from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport, the cars were filled with people headed to exciting destinations for getaways. Of course there was the obligatory recorder player who plays classic French songs with his recording device and then goes around asking for loose change, and there were other lone travelers accompanied by heavy duffels and suitcases, but what caught my eye was the first inter-national couple I have actually taken the time to look at for a few minutes.

They were sitting diagonally opposite my seat, barricaded in by a large silver wheeling suitcase. Clearly they were going somewhere for an extended time. The woman’s eye makeup looked smudged, so it was clear that she hadn’t been awake for very long. As her husband gently stroked her knee with his hand to keep her eyes from closing, I hear him speak to her in French. I can recognize the French language much better than I can understand, so all I could make out of his murmur was something about the morning, le matin. She rested her head on his shoulder and much to my surprise, answered him in German. A recent trip to Austria, via the airport in Dusseldorff, Germany, taught me that German is a very distinctive and, excuse me, but an incredibly ugly language. She was not speaking French with a German accent, she was speaking distinctly German. The nasality and harsh throaty accent with which she spoke immediately recalled Heidi Klum’s “Auf Wiedersein”s  on Project Runway, and of course the flight attendants’ harsh Germanic accents on my Austrian Airlines experiences.

The vast difference in the cultures of these two people, in addition to the fact that they each spoke in their own native language in the midst of one conversation, started me thinking about how they could have met and what language they communicate in most often. Do they say “Bon Jour” or “Guten Morgen” to each other in the morning when they wake up? Is it “Je t’aime” or “Ich liebe sie” to communicate love? Were they both fluent in both languages?

I was reminded of the adorable storyline in one of my favorite movies to watch at this time of year, Love Actually. The love affair between Colin Firth’s character and his maid blossoms despite a severe English-Portugese language barrier. When he finally travels to Brazil and proposes in her language, she answers him in English. The commitment to learn a new language and attempt to woo the one you love in their native tongue is a testament to the great gestures that people are capable of. The couple on the Metro made me happy- with so many depressing and tumultuous events taking place all over the world, it was nice to have a little visual reminder for a few moments that sometimes love conquers all, even if “all” in this case was just a Romance language versus a Slavic Germanic language. Their obvious comfort with and devotion to each other despite the language barrier was a quietly beautiful example to remind me that, in this international world, the language of love is truly universal and knows no boundaries.

Separation Anxiety Monday, Nov 16 2009 

On my recent airline excursions, I have made a very important observation. People all over the world, no matter what country they’re flying into or what language they speak, are attached to their cell phones. Addicted. People can’t survive any longer than they absolutely have to without being in constant contact with the world.

When the flight attendant instructs passengers on airplanes to disable their mobile devices, a collective groan and overall displeasure can be felt throughout the cabin. No one likes being disconnected from loved ones, friends and colleagues. I understand this phenomenon- does one cell phone really disrupt the enormous Boeing 747 engine? Will I really interfere with inter-space satellites by texting? The answer is no, one cell phone will not make a difference, as I have witnessed when my mom completely forgot to turn her phone off on a long flight to St. Thomas and didn’t realize until we landed, or another time, when I was mid-complaint, a kind engineer and former Southwest Airlines employee next to me informed me that it’s more for noise disruption and passenger volume control than for safety and aviation matters.

This actually makes perfect sense. Yes, I want to have my phone on to receive tests and calls and emails, but think about it: if everyone on board was able to access their emails and make endless calls, a plane would become nothing more than a noise tunnel for cell conversations and the constant beeping of BBMs. Everyone wants to continue their voyeurism and visual poaching of each other. Everyone wants to Twitter and BBM and email and Facebook and Ping and text and chat with their iPhones and Blackberries.

I have noticed that the second the plane touches down, people reach for their phone like a life preserver. Frought with separation anxiety or fear that they may have missed the greatest event on earth, everyone scrambles to turn their phone on as soon as they physically can without being detected by the nosy stewardesses. Yes, obviously I’m guilty of this also, and admit to suffering separation anxiety when I feel cut off from my world when I’m not instantly accessible and I can’t immediately reach everyone I want to talk to. But I would much rather sacrifice a few hours of “incommunicado” than endure a flight full of everyone talking to everyone else they know, and be subjected to my fellow traveller’s addiction to instant gratification and instant knowledge of every detail of everyone’s lives.

Consider an airplane flight a small break from the constant barrage of media images and instant communication with every acquaintance. Everyone will still want to talk when you land, and when you don’t respond instantly to every request and email and chat, it adds an air of mystery and prevents you from being too available to everyone who needs to reach you. I secretly enjoy the rush of turning on my phone after a few hours, to see how many texts and emails I have, and to see them all flood in at once, reassuring me that I didn’t miss anything major: my world is right there waiting for me.

Seulement Friday, Nov 13 2009 

Something I have discovered in Paris that has become one of my new favorite activities is strolling around the city alone. Not just walking to and from boulangeries, metro stations and classroom buildings, but actually slowing down and leisurely strolling along the bustling streets.

When you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere, you appreciate everything so much more. You’re much more aware of your surroundings and of the people and noise around you. You notice fiercely loyal little Parisian chiens ignoring the tempting smell of each other and obediently trotting along behind their masters. You notice interactions between other people: older couples that slow down to wait for each other to cross the street, young children on scooters that try to escape their mother’s watchful eye, and even little things like a teenage girl walk more rhythmically when her favorite song plays into her headphones as she walks. You don’t even have to move your head or your eyes to look around and notice the smallest beauties and pleasures of the city- you’re walking right into them and interacting with everything. You notice which shops are open when not by looking at the sign displaying their hours, but by walking by and seeing if their lights are on, and what time the freshly made croissants are put in the display counter not by watching the baker but by smelling the delicious ingredients.

Alone, you’re not worried about making conversation with whoever you’re walking with- this promenade is all about you and your relationship with the city. Your only thought is on your steady footsteps and watching the world go by around you. I’ve found that when I don’t open my mouth to speak to another person for a while, I almost forget what I should say. My little reflex words like “Oui”, “merci”, “pardon”, and “d’accord” still hop off my tongue when I need to engage in conversation, but I almost get lost inside my own head and forget what I should be talking about to another human being.

When you walk alone, you think about what is truly important. Your priorities make a mental list and arrange themselves at the forefront of your cerebral cortex. When you walk aimlessly, free from the pleasures of little routine distractions, you are forced to confront what you are truly anxious or stressed about. Whether or not you reach helpful conclusions is not guaranteed, but you definitely have to deal with whatever you’ve been pushing to the back burner while you deal with more imminent, immediate issues.

I find myself noticing more details about other people when I walk alone, but I also notice little quirks about myself. I notice that I don’t like to cross the street when the person is lit up red, that I like walking on the busier side of the street even if it’s the shady side (unless there are small children overtaking it, in which case I avoid them at all costs!) and that it takes me several minutes to get my bearings when I emerge from a metro stop in a new area. The time I spend orienting myself is usually bristled over when I’m following a fellow traveler, since I usually just head in the direction they head and assume that their sense of direction is better than mine. If you walk enough, eventually you will get so lost in a new city but the experience will have been a positive one if you have used this time to escape to your most private and pressing of thoughts, and even if you don’t conquer them, at least you’ve encountered them.

To Heel or Not to Heel? Friday, Nov 13 2009 

Paris- the fashion capital of the world. After walking around this iconic city for over two months, I’ve witnessed some gorgeous arrays of footwear on the most fashion forward of European women. Now that the temperature seems to have permanently dipped below stiletto-and-jeans weather, opportunity has risen for quite a delicious display of boots. Winter boots. Stiletto boots. Flat boots. Riding boots. Leather boots. Suede boots. Over the knee boots. Ankle boots. Boots galore!

Those who love to dress up love winter, love the chance to delve into yummy sweaters, cozy jackets, the softest coats, fur vests and stoles, cashmere scarves, goosedown gloves, and hair-friendly hats. I have certainly learned while living in Paris that every time you step out of your door, what you are stepping out in is fit to be judged by any and all. You have styled yourself according to the weather and your own personal tastes, and the fashion show is about to begin. All accessories add flair and excitement to any outfit, but in winter when most skin is hiding beneath sumptuous layers, the accessories that everyone notices are located on your feet.

While I feel confident making the trek to and from all classes on Loyola’s campus in my highest of heels, city life is definitely an adjustment. With every season and every wardrobe change, one learns something new about their surroundings. Whether you learn to carry an umbrella wherever you go after 5pm, or to never wear long scarves on the Metro, every sartorial lesson is of vital importance to a comfortable existence in a new city.

No one needs to be educated on the psychological and physical benefits to wearing a divine pair of high heels, either stilettos, pumps or boots. But when walking around the city- window-shopping, sightseeing, crossing streets amid speeding vespas and those ruthless Mercedes taxis- I have to wonder if the heel is practical for city life? Some of the chicest and most wonderful finds in the city are located half an hour’s walk from the closest Metro station. The Champs-Elysses is over 3 Metro stations long. Walking is inevitable. If you can find an equally chic pair of boots with a slightly more walkable and comfortable insole, is it worth the exchange?

I’ve seen women walk up the steps of the Sacre Cour at Montmartre in every piece of footwear from practical rain boots to hideous clogs to a pair of spectacular Dolce & Gabbana over the knee boots, and I’ve found myself not only admiring certain footwear choices but musing as to their state of comfort. Are they able to fully enjoy every scent and sound when cursing their blisters and aching soles? Are they really able to fully take in the breathtaking view when constantly shifting their weight from tortured foot to tortured foot?

So here I am, at this impasse, and I pose this question for the remainder of my winter sojourn in Paris: to heel or not to heel?

How to Choose an Airplane Seat Wednesday, Nov 4 2009 

As someone who’s traveled on every mode of transportation, but most extensively via air travel, I like to think I know a thing or two about flying and how to make the process as enjoyable as possible.

Even if you hate to fly, there is a seat on the plane that will minimize your anxiety and discomfort and maximize relaxation during the flight. You just have to know which, and how to grab it! Even if first class isn’t an option, the proper seat and location are vital to ensuring that your airline trip flies by (pun intended)

Tip #1: Chosen Few: Opt for Priority Boarding

If it’s not outrageously more expensive (and it’s usually pretty reasonable), then it is totally worth to be among the select few who are allowed first aboard the plane. The plethora of seats available to offers a wide range of options, and increases your chances of locating your perfect perch. Even when traveling alone, a proper seat is the single most important element to in-flight comfort. This also gives you preference when selecting bin space that lets you keep your bag in within your sight at all times.

Exception: If your seat is already assigned before you board. In that case, you get what you get, and there’s really nothing you can do except cross your fingers for a good spot.

Tip #2: Location, Location: Sit Near The Front (But Not the First Row!)

Avoid emergency exit seats. You never know what the rules will be, and it’s usually best to be in front of the emergency exit. There are several studies that analyze the safety of each location on the plane, but most conclude that the exact middle is usually where most the danger lies. I try to go for a row or two in front of the emergency exit- that way, you’re close enough to it if something happens, but you have none of the responsibility of prying the doors open and you don’t have to listen to the instructions twelve times.

Also, practicality: If the primary exit after landing is located in the front, it only makes sense to be among the first to de-plane. Be careful though to not put luggage in overhead bins behind you, as you would have to wait for everyone behind you to de-plane before you can backtrack to get your bag. The sooner you’re off the plane, the sooner you’re away from that stale airplane smell and off to your fabulous destination.

The first row, however, is usually overrun with airline personnel and the leg room is severely diminished.

Tip #3: Three’s A Crowd: The Full Row Rule

This way, you know who will be behind you. The quickest way to dampen a traveller’s spirits is to sit them in front of a screaming or kicking child. If you sit in front of a row full of nice, quiet looking adults, then you eliminate the risk of having feet lodged in your back for the duration of the flight. Try to also find a row that already has people sitting in the row directly in front of it. A screaming baby in front of you is almost just as bad as having it behind you.

Also, if you know the flight is full, try to find a seat that already has another person sitting in it. Once you find your window or aisle preference, grab it. If you sit next to an empty seat, you’ll only have a few minutes to bask in your extra space until an extremely large man comes and squishes himself next to you and hogs your armrest. Try to sit next to someone small and pleasant looking.

Exception: This rule needs amending if it looks as though there will be empty seats on the plane, in which case you obviously want to be next to one of those to be next to you!

Tip #4: Test Drive: Double Check!

Once you’ve located your perfect location, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth from your flight amenities. Make sure your seat reclines, your tray table stays closed, and your overhead light and air vents are working. If your flight has a personal TV or headphone plug, make sure those are working perfectly. Try to assess that everything about your seat is up to par before everyone else boards, so you can pop put and find another prime spot before the flight is full and you’re stuck in the dark in a seat that doesn’t recline.

Tip #5: To Window or To Aisle?

Be honest with yourself: is it more likely that you will want to sleep or need to use the bathroom on this flight?

If you’re a sleeper or in need of a headrest for iPod listening, then opt for a window seat. This is also nice if you happen to be seated next to a too-chatty neighbor, in which case you can stare out at the pretty clouds floating by.

If you plan on drinking lots of fluids (always a good idea on long flights to stay hydrated) then settle yourself in the best aisle seat you can find. Just be prepared to have your knees and elbows bumped by the carts and flight attendants. You also have to be ready to stand up and let other in your row out to use the restroom. But for those tall, leggy people, aisle seats offer a bit more room to sprawl and stretch.

So next time when you board the plane and are frantically looking at available bin space and trying to select your little home for the duration of your journey, just keep these rules in mind and prioritize your preferences. There is a perfect seat there calling your name- you just have to find it!!

Nouveau Riche Wednesday, Nov 4 2009 

On a recent flight to Italy, my only source of entertainment was to watch reruns of the MTV shows The Hills and The City. This completely frivolous form of drivel served its purpose as a temporary pastime, and I watched Whitney, Kristin, Heidi, Brody and company frolic around Los Angeles and New York City with their Chanel bags, Malibu beachfront homes, and Lamberginis.

When I later had time to ponder the amount of material wealth that was represented in the “intervention” scene with Heidi, Holly and Stephanie, I realized something. This is a group of rich kids. Okay, obviously. Everyone in the world knows these are rich kids who get even richer by having camera crews follow them around and chronicle their oh-so-dramatic lives. But when you look closer, you realize this is a group of nouveau riche kids. They have money and material wealth in the form of flashy cars and clothes and shoes, but they lack something worth far more: class.

Watching Whitney introduce so-and-so to another equally nonimportant so-and-so made my stomach turn. At a fashion (of course) industry event, surrounded by couture and thousands of dollars worth of handbags, while rubbing elbows with notable fashion directors, magazine editors, photographers and stylists, she simply points to each person and states the name of the person she’s introducing them to. You don’t have to have attended etiquette school to know that that form of introduction is tacky to say the least, and not really acceptable in the real world for someone over the age of fifteen.

In Titanic, an elderly Rose Dewitt Buckater when describing Molly Brown, uses the phrase “new money”. While this concept is not elaborated upon in the film, its consequences are certainly made clear when Rose’s mother and other “society ladies” try to steer clear of Molly Brown as much as they can, calling her “that dreadful Brown woman” and leaving their tea table so she won’t sit with them. Those from “old money” have always looked down upon self-made, hardworking people not born into money, but who earn it or come across it later in life, those nouveau riche people.

The nouveau riche appeared at the turn of the 20th century, when the so-called “working class” or bourgeoisie was exploding and coming into money during the Industrial Revolutions of the United States, England and France. Thanks to machinery and changes in class structures, more people could afford more and better luxury items-i.e. clothing and accessories. But the profession of stylists also emerged during this time to teach these newly anointed clients how to wear the latest styles and how to use accessories such as canes, hats, gloves and ties to best show off their new status. Those who had come from “old money” from generations, or even centuries, of wealth, had grown up learning how to tie neckties and lace corsets and which hat goes with which outfit. The phenomenon of coming into money created a whole sect of people who had access to the latest trends and wanted to be seen as stylish, but had no idea how to go about it.

But now, these nouveau riche are setting the trends on MTV. Whitney clearly doesn’t know politeness 101 or even how to introduce a friend to an important colleague, because she wasn’t bred that way. She wasn’t brought up to be gentile and gracious at society functions or in social situations. Nowadays, children are taught to be bold and to “go for it” and to make something of themselves. The world has lost a bit of that sophistication and class that comes with the breeding of those from money.

The opposite is also true: you don’t need to be from money, or even have a great deal of money, to have class. Having money isn’t what makes you rich or sophisticated or glamorous, as Whitney and most especially Kristin Cavallieri have so colorfully demonstrated. These 22-year old millionaires have no idea what to do with themselves. You can show up at the airport in a Ferrari, with a first class ticket tucked away in your Louis Vuitton handbag, walking around in Prada shoes and still be the tackiest, least classy person there.