Last post from France.
Everything is packed, and I am still up of course, after getting back late from a dinner party and saying goodbye to people, and walking home along the Seine and past the Notre Dame one last time. Its three in the morning here and I don’t think I will be able to sleep before my shuttle at 5:50. I’m worrying about traveling again, and everything working out. I’m feeling depressed about leaving, but very excited to see my family waiting for me at the airport. If I don’t sleep, maybe I will be able to sleep on the plane, and then not be jet lagged tomorrow. We shall see.
Either way, this is my last post from France which is quite sad. I will still update this blog, though. So stay tuned - you might get to hear about my trip home as I take an interesting route from Paris, France to Houston, Texas to Des Moines. Thanks for reading throughout the semester. I enjoyed keeping the blog, and its been a great way to feel connected to you, practice my writing, and reminisce about all the things that have happened on my study abroad experience. I will see you all soon!
It has been a busy weekend filled with friends and falafel. Yes, I’ve had falafel every day of the weekend. I will miss its availability in the Jewish district, and the special pita bread, sauce, eggplant slices on top, pickled cucumbers, and cabbage. There is really nothing better.
Yesterday, I went to a picnic in the Luxembourg gardens organized by my friend, Camille. It was an end of the year picnic for lots of her friends before they all go to different countries for Sciences Po’s mandatory year abroad for third year students. There is a picture (above) of all the different picnics on one lawn in the garden. It was completely full of people, mostly students. We were even a tourist photo attraction and I will now be in many people’s Paris scrapbooks.
The picnic was great for me because I got to listen to and speak French. While there, Lizzi and I met a French Sciences Po student named Kevin, who is spending his year abroad at Mizzou next year! I think he was grateful to make Mizzou connections ahead of time, and I know we were happy because now we will have our own little link to Paris next year at Mizzou. We have already taught him some necessary college campus slang.
After the picnic, I had to say goodbye to Camille. My sweet, beautiful French friend is going to be spending next year in Korea so I demanded that she send me regular updates and pictures. I am so excited for her, she is so brave and smart, but it was sad to say goodbye.
Last night was spent at what is quickly becoming my favorite hang-out spot in the city: the Pont des Arts bridge. We gathered lots of our friends, talked and drank champagne and wine for a few hours. I have packed a little today and will finish this afternoon. Just got a call from my shuttle to the airport and they will be picking me up at 5:50 in the morning. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that time of day.
A little list for you.
I want to write a little bit about what I love about being in France. And since I’ve learned in my journalism classes that people like their information in list form, here goes.
1. Politeness: People actually say “enchanté” after meeting you. Even people my age. It’s rude not to say “bonjour” before asking a sales clerk a question. I’m going to miss people greeting me when I walk into stores, and wishing me good day and goodbye when I leave. Today, I went to a big picnic where I only talked to a small group of people. When someone left the picnic, they went around and kissed everyone goodbye, even if we had never formally met.
2. No faux politeness: Your dinner or afternoon coffee in France won’t get interrupted 20 times by waiters asking if everything is OK. Similarly, waiters don’t really chat to you while on the job, there is an aloof disconnect between waiter and customer. This means that service industry people won’t act like your best friend and then complain about you to their coworkers in the back kitchen (hmmm I’ve never done that).
2. More general open-mindedness: I’ve noticed this especially on the issue of homophobia - there’s a lot less of it here. Guys are chummy, they hug, show affection and go out to dinner together. It’s not a big deal. Most of the Europeans I’ve discussed this issue with, don’t understand why a public figure or politician coming out as gay would affect their campaign or work. The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is openly gay.
3. Relaxation and friends always come first: Yesterday, I saw a bus driver stop the bus on the side of Boulevard Saint-Germain in central Paris so that a homeless man could come greet her with two kisses. Everyone picnics for hours. It’s great.
4. The French language: I love this language. It can be confusing when talking to new people whether you use the formal form for “you” or the informal form. But, it’s also a great way to know where you stand with someone. Calling people “tu” is so wonderfully informal and intimate, reserved for fellow students and family and friends. Calling people “vous” is a perfect way to show respect, for asking directions and for distracting strangers from any other annoying questions that I might have.
Lizzi and I met our friend Nick on the steps of la Grande Arche last night, in la Defense, which is the office-building, business district of Paris. I had to say goodbye to Nick since he left for a trip around Italy with his family today, and I’m leaving on Monday.
La Défense is actually a little outside of the city, but its at the very end of the metro line so we could still get there. It actually felt like we were at the edge of the earth. Mostly because the buildings struck me as futuristic after months of living next to things like gladiator rings, tiny cafés and old train stations.
When you’re sitting on the steps of la Grande Arche, you can see the Arc de Triomphe in the distance. And when you’re on top of l’Arc de Triomphe, you can see the bright, white, 20th century version of it in the Grande Arche way in the distance. Here are some Google pictures of that connection since I don’t have a good one. It was meant to be that way when the Grande Arche was built. I’m sure the two arches love seeing past and future versions of themselves across the city. It’s like their very own time-machine mirror.
Last night, I spent time with our London friends Tajha and Lalah. Tajha is taking the train back to London today, and we had to have one last night together in Paris.
Yesterday, I went to the Musée d’Orsay, the mostly Impressionist and post-Impressionist museum of Paris. It was lovely, and like the Louvre, the building was a piece of art as well. The Musée d’Orsay is in an old train station building. The ceiling is high and there are flowery designs ornately carved into the green stone. I saw the Degas dancers paintings which was a highlight. I also saw paintings by Cézanne, Rodin sculptures, Toulouse-Lautrec (one of my favorite styles after seeing everything yesterday), and all the Monet paintings I could wish for.
After the museum, my roommate and I went across the river to the Tuileries garden and people watched for an hour or two. Then we walked through the Louvre courtyard and across Pont des Arts bridge on our way home. We meant to read in the gardens, but there are some pretty interesting people who walk in the Tuileries, and a lot of them.
We marveled again at how relaxing and surreal the last few weeks have been. We are so lucky to be study abroad students who are done with classes in a city so lovely and sunny. We spend our days deciding between going to see beautiful monuments and museums, or sitting in the park all day. Sometimes we just give it up and do both. Its almost time for us to hit the brick wall of reality this summer. You remember, Sarah - reality: driving, jobs, classes for next semester, sliced bread, maybe a little light exercise.
Thank goodness reality includes my family and friends and home.
Today was the last exam of my semester at Sciences Po. I filled up four pages with coherent sentences about the differences between the authoritarian and libertarian theories of the press, and then it was all over. After the exam, what seemed like my whole class met at a bridge called Pont des Arts, across from the Louvre. Anytime its close to nice weather in Paris, people gather in large groups in true Parisian fashion to sit for hours on the bridge nicknamed the love lock bridge, drinking wine from plastic cups and eating cheese. People go around asking to borrow bottle openers and knives, and the braver ones break out their guitars and bongo drums. This really happens.
I was on the bridge for five hours today and was not the last person to leave. It was nice to talk to my classmates outside of school for a change, and watch the sunset and the hot pink clouds and the many boats of tourists who waved at us as they passed under the padlock bridge. I was proud to be a part of one of the largest groups at Pont des Arts. I’m usually just passing by. I still didn’t get to witness a couple attach a love padlock to the metal bridge, but you can’t have everything.
Today on a walk, Lizzi and I ran across a “fête du pain.” Bread party! The whole ile de la cité smelled like a bakery does in the morning. There were a bunch of tents outside of the Notre Dame, with bakers in white aprons and hats, samples, ovens, kids learning how to make bread and TV cameras. It was a great thing to run into.
We also spent some time at Shakespeare and Company bookstore. It is an English bookstore opened in 1951. It is a little green shop filled to the brim with used and new books.
Last night, I saw a concert at the Sainte Chapelle. The program consisted of Pachelbel’s Canon, Chaconne by Vitali, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. All played underneath a crazy arching ceiling, and millions of colored glass panels by two violins, two violas, a cello and a harpsichord. The ceiling made the six musicians, called the Orchestre Classik Ensemble, sound more like a full orchestra than six individual players. In the battle between the colors on the stained glass and the music, it was hard to tell which art form won. The pacifist in me wants to say they formed one coordinated, lovely, harmonious piece of art together. Neither was overshadowed by the other.
The violin soloist, David Braccini, danced around center stage of the group. He was the tallest in height, and he reminded me why live music is always better than recordings. Every venue is different, and every talented musician is fun to watch as they feel the music they are playing: hopping from foot to foot, bobbing their head or shaking their mop of sandy hair as was the case last night. String players are great to watch because they have that bow thing going on.
I loved the Chaconne. Here is a recording off of youtube. Not the artist that I saw last night, but I wanted to share it with you somehow.
On an unrelated note, I’m contemplating doing the opposite of what most people would do flying home from Paris. I might fill my return suitcase with food and leave all my clothes here.
The museum gods don’t want me in their temples this week. I had plans with my friend Camille to go to the Paris sewer museum yesterday, but they were having some problems in the area…. problems that we could smell before we knew of them. I wanted to go to the sewer museum because it sounds so cool, the sewers were built a really long time ago, and they are mentioned in my favorite musical Les Miserables.
We checked back with the museum a little later, but they were still closed. Camille then came up with numerous museums we could go see that afternoon, before we realized that it was a Monday, the day of rest for museums.
So we went to Ile de la cité (because of its numerous ice cream spots), and walked around. We sat by a fountain by the Pompidou museum, that had no water on for the day. It would have been so much cooler with water as you can probably tell by the picture. On the way home, Camille showed me the oldest tree in Paris. It is in the back of a little park across from the Notre Dame. It had concrete supports so that it wouldn’t fall over. It was planted in 1602 I believe (might have been 1604). I never would have seen it if she hadn’t shown me.
I will get back to the sewer museum, and also take a tour of the Paris catacombs. I have a whole list of things to do in the 13 days that I have left here. Lets hope that I accomplish them— maybe no more sitting in the sun for me.