As we burst out of an incredibly loud club in London around 2:45 this morning my friend Katie checked her phone, and through the ringing in my ears I heard her wish us all a “Happy May!” It took me a minute to process what she had just said before realizing the significance of today’s date: it’s May. May: the month of finals, the month I pass the half-way-point of my undergraduate education, and the last month of my semester abroad. On Sunday I’m headed back to Paris after a two-week spring break, for a week of classes and then finals. After that I’m off to explore Stockholm, and then it’s back to Paris to pick up my luggage before heading home to Rochester.
Part of me cannot believe I’ve already spent an entire semester in Paris; I often feel as if I just got off the plane from New York, laden down with my now-even-fuller suitcases. Yet, I also feel very disconnected from my previous semesters in New York, and sometimes have to try hard to imagine my life there and not in Paris. There were some days this semester, mostly the ones I spent studying inside the windowless NYU Paris library, during which I felt as if my time in Paris would drag on forever. On other days I opened my count-down-to-home app and was shocked at how few days I had left until I returned to the USA.
Sometimes I feel that my life in Paris is not actually that different from my life in New York, and on a superficial level it is quite similar; all of my friends in Paris go to NYU in New York, we all speak English when we hang out. I still eat Special K with almond milk for breakfast and use Neutrogena grapefruit face wash every night. Yet there are major differences between living in the US and living in Europe. Europe’s geography allows for cheap and easy travel from country to country; living in France has made me realize how far America really is from so much of the world, and how much more difficult it is to travel around North America than Europe. My professor brought up the conflict in the Ukraine in class recently and it dawned upon me that the conflict’s events are not taking place all that far away from where I’m studying. In fact, it takes the same amount of time to get to the Ukraine from Paris as it takes for my family to drive from our home to our favorite beach town in Florida. And yet here in Europe this couple thousand-kilometer distance spans numerous countries, each with their own separate cultures and languages. So in many ways when I think about what it means to live in Paris, even with today’s globalization, life in Europe feels incredibly different than living in America.
I already know that when I arrive home in exactly 30 days I’m going to have a few days of pure excitement to be back home—my life will be undoubtedly easier without the French language barrier and having to navigate life in a foreign country. However, I also know that before I completely settle back into my home-life I will go through a period of Europe-mourning. Life here is simply much more beautiful than it is in the USA. New York is and will forever be my favorite city in the world, but I’m going to miss Paris’ uniformly beautiful architecture, and even the persistent silence on my street that I sometimes find annoying. Most of all, I will miss the travel. I will no longer be able to wake up in French-speaking Paris and be in Spanish-speaking Madrid in time for lunch—Paris’ location allows for such easy trips to completely different places.
When I mention this to Europeans, however, I’m often surprised by their responses: traveling around the USA is a culturally diverse experience. And they’re right, it is incredible how vast, and therefore different, America can be: California, Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon. Each state, each region is unique. My semester in Europe has reignited my travel-bug, and I’m already planning where I want to visit as soon as I have the opportunity to return to Europe. Four days was definitely not enough to explore the incredibly hipster Berlin, and I want to spend at least a week experiencing the craziness of Rome, but I’m also excited to travel more in the States. Europeans are always shocked when I admit I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, a natural wonder that seems to be part of almost every European’s American tour, and that I’ve never stood in front of the Bean in Chicago. I’m going to miss EasyJet flights from London to Paris on which there’s barely enough time to eat a snack, but I’ve realized that my own country is an exciting place to travel, too. This summer I’m visiting Hawaii with my family for the first time, and I cannot think of a place that sounds more different than where I live in Rochester, New York. This may be my last Art of Travel post, but I have many more places around the world I want to visit, and I plan to continue to write essays chronicling my
Ever since my first visit to Paris when I was twelve-years-old, I’ve wanted to live here—in the Most Beautiful City in the World. Over the years my family and I visited Paris several times and I’ve always felt at home on Paris’ uniform streets, and loved wandering through the city’s extensive museums and vast parks. I know you can always find new food trends, follow the latest fashions, and spend endless hours people watching. I cannot think of a better NYU site at which to study abroad. However, no experience is ever perfect, so what follows is a list of NYUP facts to know and lessons from a non-Parisian living under the glow of the Eiffel Tower, or a few miles away.
NYU Paris Advice:
- If you can, find your own apartment. My roommate and I used Habitat New York, but there are other services as well. NYU also sets students up with apartments; however, they do not tell you where your apartment will be located, or who you’ll be living with until you arrive in Paris.I didn’t like the uncertainty of the process. I live in the 13th arrondissment on the border of the 5th, and it’s a fantastic area—right by Jardin des Plantes, multiple metro lines, and a 25-minute walk to the NYU building in the Latin Quartier.
- Take classes in French! You may not think you’re capable of taking courses in your second language, but trust me, you are. The NYUP professors know that French is not our first language so they’re used to being asked lots of questions and they always speak clearly. If you don’t take classes in French, I don’t see how your French will improve at all; it is much easier than you’d realize to live in Paris and never speak French if you don’t put in the effort. That being said, I’m taking 14 credits (4 classes) in French and I sometimes think it is a bit much. I do get frustrated at how much longer it takes me to write essays and do reading assignments, but my French has improved immensely. So take classes in French, but maybe take one in English, too!
- You should be prepared for the fact that NYU Paris is a HUGE culture shock after studying at NYU in New York. The program is SMALL. The entire program is in one , (with arguably the best views in Paris), and you won’t be able to walk down a hallway without seeing at least 5 people you know well, and you’ll probably recognize every single NYUP student by the end of the first month. While NYUP’s small size has taught me that I could never go to a small school, it has been fun to go to school in such a small community for a semester. I definitely feel like the small size has enabled me to meet a lot of people and make new friends more easily than at NYU in NYC. While I believe in going to each and every class anyway, just know that NYUP has a no-skip policy, meaning that students are expected to attend all their classes no matter what.
I LOVE lists, so here are a few to read if you’re going to live in Paris:
My Paris Top 5 Foodie Spots:
- Go to Chez Alain in the Marché des Enfants Rouge and get a cornet vegetarian sandwich, and Nutella Crepe. You will thank me!
- Check out L’As du Falafel in the Marais for the best falafel pita in the world. The hummus and the eggplant are unbelievably delicious, too. Don’t miss this Marais experience!
- Try EVERYTHING from Eric Keyser Bakery, but especially the pistachio financier. Divine!
- Eat an entire chocolate brioche from Aux Merveilleux de Fred (right around the corner from NYUP).
- Chèvre Chaud salads are delicious from absolutely every café, except for the overly touristy places. Try to avoid these.
- Café Charlot (across from Marché des Enfants Rouge) has fantastic chocolat chaud and it’s not nearly as expensive as the super famous Café Angelina.
Life in Paris:
- If you’re looking for a café with reliable wifi that reminds you of your favorite study spot in NYC, check out Strada—there are two locations, one in the Marais and one right by NYUP.
- Carrefour is a pretty good grocery store, but don’t bother with the tiny iterations of the chain because they don’t have much selection.
- Monoprix is the closest Paris comes to Target and they have most necessities.
- Sometimes you will want to scream you’ll be so exhausted by speaking/ listening to French all the time, but you will improve and it will be worth it. I listened to NPR podcasts on the way to school each morning to keep up on the news at home and for the comfort of consuming media in my own language.
- While I didn’t spend as much time there as I thought I would, the American Library in Paris is a great place to study and do research in English. Also, it’s practically next door to the Eiffel Tower!
Must see museums:
- The Impressionism collection at the Musée d’Orsay.
- Matisse’s murals at the Musée d’Art Moderne.
- Marmotton Monet is housed in an incredibly ornate Hôtel Paricular and is home to a surprisingly large collection of Monet’s oeuvre.
Places to Visit:
- Butte aux Caille—the cutest neighborhood in all of Paris. It is out of the way, but well worth the trip. Also, the street art is fantastic.
- Rue Cler is one of my favorite streets in Paris, and it’s a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. On Saturday morning the street is bustling and the cafés are particularly crowded. Go and feel like a Parisian.
- Walk along the Seine past Gare d’Austerlitz, away from the center of the city. On warm evenings the riverbanks are full of people on picnics and there are even bars and restaurants along the water. You’ll find yourself underneath the skyline of a far more modern Paris than you’re used to.
- Bercy—far from the center of Paris, but a cute neighborhood with a pedestrian street lined with fun cafés.
- The bars off of Rue Mouffetard near the Pantheon are a lot of fun and filled with students.
- Saint Germain de Près is a chic and rather expensive neighborhood near NYUP, and a lively area to walk around.
I could go on forever, but I’m sure you’ll make your own Parisian discoveries as well! Enjoy! Bon Voyage!
Today it was 77 degrees Fahrenheit and Paris came to life. The Paris that met me when I walked out onto the street this morning could not have been more different than the chilly, continually grey, and buttoned-up city I arrived at in January. Whereas the midwinter Paris felt desolate and deserted, today the city felt like it was filled to the brim with Parisians and visitors alike, pouring out of their apartments and hotels to greet the warmth and sunshine. There have been a few other warm and sunny days in Paris this spring, but they were different. On those sunny days I watched Parisians tentatively come alive with the spring, unbuttoning their coats and eating lunch on park benches. Today, however, Paris was in full bloom, and everyone exuberantly went through their days, sitting outside and congregating on the streets, finally free of so many layers of winter scarves, sweaters, and coats.
Being from the northeastern United States, I’m used to interminable winters and am always thrilled when spring arrives; even though I found Paris’ winter to be rather mild, I was still extremely excited to finally defrost today and bask in the sun. I could not have been more excited to wear a dress with no tights, and leave for class without a coat. I spent as much of my day outside as possible, taking an extra long time to walk to class, and then finding a café with outdoor seating where I did my homework. The Paris café scene is one of the aspects of the city I like most. I never tire of visiting the tiny cafés on every corner, filled to the brim with customers and the sounds of forks clinking on plates, crowded with people sitting outside even on the chilliest of days. But today the cafés were unusually lively. I noticed on my way to classes that they were all opened up, the roofs to their porches had been removed and people were eating right on the street in the sun. Finally, Paris’ streets were as full of diners as pedestrians. At the café at the bottom of my street the owner had moved a few tables outside right onto the sidewalk, and diners happily sat at tables on the slanted, hilly street. It didn’t matter if their coffees nearly slid onto their laps—they were determined to enjoy the sunshine.
I texted my roommate this afternoon and told her that we absolutely had to have a picnic dinner tonight; Paris was finally alive and we needed to be a part of its newfound spring vitality. Around seven o’clock we packed up our salads and sandwiches and headed to Jardin des Plantes, a large park near our apartment in the 5th arrondissment. We quickly found the one area of the park where it is not “interdit” to sit on the grass; every park in Paris has just one of these not-off-limits grasses. We followed the sounds of others chatting loudly, eating large spreads of French food, and listening to music, and took a spot on the grass. We sat down on our blanket and began to eat, taking in the scene around us; some people were even dancing in their excitement at the warmth. The park closed at sunset, but we could not stand to go home quite yet, so my roommate and I decided to take a walk along the Seine.
Most people do not think of the part of Paris along the Seine south of Gare d’Austerlitz to be particularly Parisian, but Sophie and I wanted to check out the village of Bercy, so we headed in a direction we had never before ventured and were quickly surrounded by a completely unrecognizable Paris. The buildings were huge, modern, and built entirely out of glass, the traffic was loud and fast, and there were no Haussmannian edifices in sight. However, as we walked along the river at dusk we noticed ahead of us the silhouettes of crowds of people congregated along the Seine. There, in the shadows of Paris’ modern city Sophie and I discovered a part of Paris livelier than we had ever seen. Thousands of warm-weather-appreciators sat along the banks of the river drinking wine, and crowds of people walked along the riverside path. We even stumbled upon numerous restaurants on the banks of the Seine where people were eating, drinking, and enjoying a night out, even on a Tuesday! Even though we each had a lot of homework to do, we could not tear ourselves away from the scene and we continued to walk along the river and take in the new, boisterous version of Paris. When we finally crossed the bridge on our way back home, we took a moment to contemplate this previously unknown, modern city in front of us, while watching the sun set over the silhouette of old Paris and Notre Dame farther up along the river. For the first time we stood in Paris’ modern center, listening to the New York-like familiar sounds of traffic, standing under tall buildings glowing orange in the sunset. I’ll always love picturesque, old Paris, but standing in such a modern part of the city was incredibly refreshing, and the perfect way to end a day where my faith in Paris’ liveliness was restored by the warmth and sunshine. Paris is awake, and I cannot wait to be a part of its spring time rebirth.
I got up at 3:25 a.m. this morning in Barcelona, and by 8:30 a.m. I was back in France at Paris’ Beauvais airport. I checked the time on my phone as I got off the plane: two hours and fifteen minutes to get from the airport to NYU Paris for class. I was pretty sure I could make it as long as I didn’t stop at my apartment. At first everything went smoothly. I caught a bus that went directly to the Beauvais train station where I would board the train to Paris’ Gare du Nord. I stood in line at the ticket window as the few people in front of me purchased their rides. After only two-hours-of-sleep I was exhausted, and at first I was not paying attention to what was going on in the station at all. Eventually I tuned into the conversation taking place at the counter in front of me and began to decipher what the ticket salesman was saying. Did he just say the next train to Paris was at 10:37 a.m.? I couldn’t believe it—the station was full of travelers and the hum of their rolling suitcases, and did we all really have to wait over ninety minutes for the next train?
I always research my travel plans extensively, and figure out the fastest route, exactly how long it should take and how much it will cost. I use Google Maps to plan out how I will get from my apartment to the bus, then the train, and the airport—I don’t leave much to chance as far as logistics go. Yet not one of the articles I read about getting from Paris’ Beauvais airport to the center of Paris mentioned that the train did not come regularly. I had failed to research that part of the trip and now there was no way I would be back in time for my first class, which began at 10:45, just eight minutes after my hour and fifteen minute train ride into Paris would commence. With nothing else to do I headed to a café across the street for a much needed coffee and sat at a table where I would be able to see the train pull into the station. I emailed my professor to let her know I would not be in class, but I had no way of knowing if she would get the message in time.
Sitting in the café in Beauvais this morning I felt like I was in limbo—I was no longer on vacation in sunny Barcelona, but I had failed to make it back to my normal school day life in Paris. My feeling of lack of place this morning directly parallels the way I have felt often during my studies and travels abroad. In fact, this in-limbo period of life as a college student abroad is merely a continuation of my experience in college so far. Each year at NYU I’ve lived in a different dorm, gone back and forth between Rochester and New York on breaks, and then just as I settled into life as a college student, and no longer as an overwhelmed freshman last semester, I up and moved to Paris. My nomadic life became even less rooted this semester as I have spent many weekends traveling around Europe instead of spending time in Paris. This constant displacement can make many aspects of college life, especially abroad, feel like travail.
The last couple of weekends I’ve traveled to London and Spain, spending a mere four days during the week in Paris. I’m certainly not complaining about the amazing trips I’ve taken, but when I’m only in Paris during the week trying to cram in all my homework on top of classes before leaving for my next trip, it’s hard to not think of Paris as a place where I spend hours in the library writing papers. There’s also the added fact that whenever I’m stuck inside the library or my apartment doing homework in Paris, I feel guilty that I’m not out actually experiencing the city. When I’m wandering around Paris’ peaceful streets on a sunny day like today, I feel as if it’s the most beautiful place in the world, and I cannot fathom my life in loud and grimy New York—I stop being fed up with Paris and bask in its beauty.
I know when I arrive home in Rochester in June I’m going to have post-Europe sadness, and I’ll feel like life in America is just so much less beautiful than life in Europe. In so many ways that’s true. Soon I’ll settle into my life at home, just in time, however, to go back to New York. I’ve realized that for the next few years at least my life will go on like this, I’ll continue to move around. Yet while so much travel and moving ads a lot of unwanted travail, I cannot imagine my life any other way—I would find staying in one place to be dull, there are too many exciting places to see, and ways of life to experience.
In English and in French I am asked where I am from almost every day. Be it at a market or a museum, “Where do you come from?” and “Tu viens d’où” are phrases I hear constantly, no matter if I’m speaking English or French, and sometimes even if I’ve barely spoken at all. I’ve never lived somewhere where I am the stranger, the one who clearly stands out. After nearly three months in Paris I realize that no matter what I do, I will never completely fit in here. Even if my American accent doesn’t give me away when I speak, there is something detectably different in the way people from different places carry themselves. Just as I have learned how to spot a Parisian, the Parisians can tell that I’m not one of them.
I’ve visited London twice over the last three months, and each time my plane lands at Heathrow I feel a wave of relief at the thought of a few days of respite from the exhaustion of speaking my second language. It’s not that I don’t like speaking French; most of the time I love learning new words to express myself; however, every once in a while I really appreciate a break. Yet, even in a country that shares the same language with my own, people still ask me where I’m from every time I open my mouth. In fact, on my most recent trip to London I was speaking to my friend while riding the Tube, and on the same ride two different people asked me where I was from: “You’re American?” they each asked. In England, just as in France, I stand out.
The first thing people ask me when meeting is where I’m from. Since I’ve learned over the years that it is virtually impossible to explain the difference between Rochester, New York, and New York City, I respond that I live in NYC, which I do as a student for most of the year. This immediately propels our conversation forward—everyone has some connection to NYC. Be it an upcoming visit or a cousin that lives in the city, I have not met anyone who doesn’t have a NYC story to share, and when NYC is the topic of conversation I change from being the stranger to the aficionado, which I welcome. We talk about pizza and bagels, and how uniquely lively NYC is 24/7. Sometimes people tell me they can’t imagine why I would ever leave the city, while other times people wonder how I can stand living in such a busy place.
Have you ever seen the book, Paris Versus New York, that’s sold at almost every bookstore in the tri-state area and collects dust on coffee tables in countless New York apartments? In simple images, Paris Versus New York compares croque monsieurs with hot dogs, the Pompidou with the Guggenheim, and many other stereotypical aspects of these two cultural capitals. Sometimes I feel like I’m living inside the pages of this coffee table institution, but each time I do a comparison of Paris and New York I end up deciding that both cities are absolutely great. I love croissants from Keyser in Paris, but acai bowls from Juice Generation in New York are delicious as well. However, in my own tally of Paris versus New York, Paris falls short on one major subject: that of the stranger.
I’m not from NYC, but never once since my first day at NYU have I felt like a stranger in New York. I know I’ve only been in Paris for a few months, but I know from my experience here I will never not feel like an outsider. I consider most of my friends at NYU to be New Yorkers, even though the vast majority of them are not originally from NYC and come from many different places, such as San Francisco, California; Wichita, Kansas; and Seoul, South Korea. New York is a city defined by the fact that it welcomes people from all over the world. Paris is also an international city, yet I have not found diverse backgrounds to be one of its defining features. I don’t feel welcomed into Parisian life as I immediately did in New York, and I don’t think the language barrier is entirely to blame.
Being a stranger in Paris and being constantly asked where I’m from makes me realize that I, too, often comment on people’s accents and where they’re from when I’m in my own country. I’m not sure if I will stop doing this; just as people here are interested in where I come from, I’m interested in other people’s lives. But I’ve learned something after three months in Paris, my adopted city: I’d rather not be reminded every day of my outsider-ness. While conversing about NYC and America is often fun, and always easy, sometimes I simply want to fit in and forget that I’m not in my home town. I’ll remember this when I meet travelers from other places in the future, and maybe I can help them feel less like a stranger. Or maybe I won’t ask them where they’re from at all.
When I first read Charles Baudelaire’s collection of prose poetry, Paris Spleen, I was not sure I would be able to relate the 19th_century writer’s thoughts to my experience in Paris. I chose to read Paris Spleen because I recently read a selection of the poems in my French class and thought I might enjoy reading the rest of the collection. As I read the book I found the pieces difficult to understand, and quite arid in English. However, as I looked over the sections of the collection I had highlighted as I read, I found I had was continually drawn to Baudelaire’s discussion of time, and of what had drawn me to leave New York and spend a semester in Paris. In fact, I realized that in Baudelaire’s writing I found an accurate description of certain aspects of my life abroad and of the Paris I experience every day.
My favorite poem in Paris Spleen is titled, “Get Drunk.” In this poem Baudelaire states, “One should always be drunk. Drunk with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you please. But get drunk.” I love this rich analogy and feel that it explains how I feel every day as I exit the American enclave that is my apartment and enter the busy Parisian streets. It may not always be a pleasant state of drunkenness, but my days spent grappling to understand, struggling to speak, and trying to read French leave me feeling quite drunk until I get back to my apartment each night and begin to sober up. Even though I’ve been in Paris for eleven weeks, I find it impossible to not feel at least a bit overwhelmed by the city and my quotidian life here.
In his poem, “Anywhere Out of the World,” Baudelaire writes, “Life is a hospital where every patient is obsessed by the desire of changing beds. One would like to suffer opposite the stove, another is sure he would get well beside the window. It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am, and this question of moving is one that I am eternally discussing with my soul.” I’m sure that any student deciding to study abroad can relate to this belief in the need to wander to new places. I myself came to Paris not because I was tired of New York, but because I wanted to explore a new city. I also know that as much as I love my life in New York, there is nothing I like more than traveling to new places. Yet, even in my new city, Paris, I sometimes feel the need to get out, to go somewhere else. In a way, a semester in Europe has been the perfect solution to my wish to constantly travel; the proximity of so many different cultures on this continent enables me to take numerous trips to England and Spain, and soon Italy, Germany, and Sweden. Paris is the perfect city to use a base for wandering, Bauldelaire’s or mine, and I’ve found over these past few weeks, it is also the perfect city to return to.
Baudelaire, in his poem, “Windows,” relates his poetry to another one of my reasons for coming to Paris. In this pieces he writes, “Looking from outside into an open window one never sees as much as when one looks through a closed window. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers.” When I compare my past experiences in Paris as a tourist with my current experiences living in the city, I realize that to have the experience to look through a closed window into a new place, it is necessary to live in that place for an extended period of time. When a tourist visits Paris he or she sees the aspects of the city that he or she already knows—the café culture, the wide boulevards, the fashionably dressed Parisians. However, after living in Paris I’ve picked up on more hidden nuances of the culture, from the relaxed way Parisians walk down the street, to the near silence that ensues when dinner is served.
Finally, I find I relate to Baudelaire’s discussion of the passing of time, especially as I spend my semester abroad. The title of his poem, “Already!” describes in many ways the feelings I continue to experience over the course of this semester. Today I woke up and was shocked as I looked at my calendar and realized April is the day after tomorrow. “April already?” I thought. However, I often find myself thinking, “Can it please be spring break already!” Studying abroad has altered my sense of time: without the regularity of going home for breaks, or more simple daily New York occurrences, it’s difficult deciding whether or not time is passing slowly or quickly. On certain days I feel that Baudelaire’s statement, “A hundred times already the sun had sprung, radiant or sad out of the immense vat of the sea, a hundred times had plunged back, sparkling or surly, into the vast bath of evening,” exemplifies my feelings about being in Paris. A few weeks ago, almost half way through the semester, I found myself ensconced in Parisian life, while also looking at the calendar wondering how I still had so much time in Paris before returning to New York. I felt I’d been here an eternity. I still don’t know if I feel I’ve been in Paris for forever or if the semester is speeding by, yet if what Baudelaire states in his poem, “The Gallant Marksman,” is true, that “killing that monster [time] is the most ordinary and legitimate occupation of all of us,” then I know Paris is not at all a bad place to do so.
Everyone in Paris wears the same shoes. Looking down at the sidewalk as I hurry to class, or stroll the streets on the weekend, I see one pair of white Adidas sneakers after another. Most are white and green Stan Smith’s; occasionally there is a white and navy pair, and every now and then I see someone wearing white sneakers with a red Adidas logo. Both men and women, young and old, wear the same white shoes. The sneakers are worn with jeans, dresses, skirts, and suits—it seems that they are part of the Parisian uniform no matter what the occasion. Most of the white Adidas sneakers that walk past me are grey with age—the shoelaces always the strongest indicators of wear and tear, as they seem to dirty quickly.
All the food in Paris is the same. If I go out to a French café I already know what will be on the menu before I read it over. There will be the salads, usually four options—most containing a lot of cheese, some with green beans, others with ham. I always skip over the meat section, but chicken, duck, steak hache are mainstays. Most cafés serve a croque monsieur and a croque madam; often these open face sandwiches come with frites. For dessert there is an apple tart, some ice cream, a chocolate mousse. There is always the option of a cheese plate, or a café noisette. If you don’t go to a café for lunch you can always grab a baguette sandwich—ham and cheese being the common combination. All the patisseries sell croissants and pain au chocolats, and the boulangeries have baguettes. Nutella crêpes are sold on every corner.
In Paris all of the buildings are the same. Napoleon III commissioned Georges-Eugène Haussmann to create a new Paris in the second half of the 19th century. Neighborhoods were torn down and replaced with apartment buildings six or seven stories tall, all with a balcony on the same level and with the same slate roof and façade. Small winding streets were replaced with vast boulevards for easy navigation throughout the city. In each main area there is a metro stop, and many have the same art deco sign created for the World’s Fair over 100 years ago.
Throughout the areas of Paris I frequent, mostly the 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, and 13th arrondissements, the people dress the same; cafés, patisseries, and boulangeries serve the same food; and the buildings are cookie cutters of each other. Yet, Paris is renowned for its fashion, food, and architecture. Couture fashion originated in Paris, French cuisine oozes class, and everyone wants a Parisian pied-à-terre. Paris isn’t diverse when it comes to fashion, food, and architecture, but it’s always seen as the best.
When I think of Paris all of these similar features blur together in my mind, yet I t’s in the Paris that I’ve claimed as my own that the definitions are made. I remember distinctly the couple boutiques I’ve found with truly innovative designs in Canal Saint Martin, and I will always be able to taste the sandwich that stands out from all the others at Marché des Enfants Rouge. Likewise, I will never forget the croissant that is the perfect combination of flakey and doughy from the pink patisserie with all the mirrors. And when it comes to architecture, Paris is home to iconic monuments that stand out from Haussmann’s homogeneity—from the Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame, Paris’ architectural wonders are found absolutely nowhere else.
In Paris it is necessary to search, to break through the haze of similarity. Paris’ features are repetitive because they’re solid, reliably good. And every once in a while out of the similarity comes something even better. I’m not sure that the most innovative fashions, most delicious food, or ornate architecture is really what defines Paris to most people, but after living here for a few months, it’s the exceptions that keep me in love with Paris and keep me from getting lost in the blur. However, every once in a while I do slip on my white Adidas, and walk down one of Haussmann’s beautiful, expansive boulevards while eating a croissant, because there is something strangely comforting about the predictability of Paris.
Art is to Paris as pizza is to New York; whether it’s the Mona Lisa or the oeuvre of Monet, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose image of Paris does not include at least one world famous work of art. My favorite art in Paris has always been that of the Impressionists. Before arriving in France I fantasized about living in the city portrayed by Renoir, Caillebotte, Monet, Manet, and numerous other renowned painters. It’s no surprise then that I visited the d’Orsay twice during my first week in Paris, and countless other times since then, to wander around its galleries and see nearly every Impressionist painting of note.
In chapter seven, “On Eye Opening Art,” of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, I was particularly interested in the author’s discussion of the fact that many locales become far more popular destinations once they have been depicted by an artist. Thanks to the Impressionists in particular, France has many towns and landmarks that are examples of this phenomenon. From Giverny to Provence, to the Gare Saint-Lazare, and the Bois de Boulogne, these places and landmarks are undoubtedly far more frequented by tourists than they would be without their presence in the Impressionism movement.
“On Eye Opening Art” also made me wonder whether or not Impressionist paintings have changed the way I think of Paris and the way I take in the city visually. Why is a picnic in Paris such a fantasy of mine? Is it because of Monet’s picturesque Luncheon on the Grass, or Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, that I think picnics in the park or along the river are such a Parisian experience? I don’t feel this way about the relationship between art and other cities, for example, New York, but to me Paris is inseparable from the Impressionist images of its streets, parks, cafés, and theaters.
Yet, as much as I love Degas, Gauguin, Manet, and Morisot, and the Musées d’Orsay and Marmotton Monet, the most influential exhibition I have seen so far in Paris was a retrospective of the work of Niki de Saint Phalle at the Grand Palais. I went to the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition with my Writing Paris class, and had no idea what to expect, but was completely hooked as soon as I entered the first gallery. De Saint Phalle [1930-2002] was a painter, sculptor, collage artist, and filmmaker, whose extensive work explores womens’ places in society. While the Impressionists’ works depict the city that I currently live in, I felt that de Saint Phalle’s work depicted the place I see myself holding in the greater society.
My favorite work in the retrospective was part of a series of cartoon-like stories and sketches de Saint Phalle drew in 1968. I particularly liked Dear Diana, a quasi letter in which de Saint Phalle tells and illustrates for her friend the purchases she made in order to win the heart of “Joe.” In bright colors and loopy handwriting, she illustrates and describes her “discreet Hermes crocodile handbag,” her “fatal allure makeup job,” and “eternal queen bee skin cream.” The image looked fun and cartoonish, but it carried a strong message about women and the consumerism they are expected to buy into. The most powerful, and most well known works in the exhibit were the Nanas, giant sculptures of goddess-like women de Saint Phalle created while imagining a matriarchal society in which these giant women eclipsed the men. Some of the Nanas were displayed on a rotating stand with music playing in the background, and watching them revolve was a mesmerizing experience.
I felt an extra-strong connection to the life and work of Niki de Saint Phalle because she lived her life between France and the United States. As an American student living in Paris I found it notable that de Saint Phalle created some of her works using French words, and others using English, and she switched back and forth between French and English in different interviews. The exposition inspired me to write a poem of sorts, influenced by the work of de Saint Phalle, for my Writing Paris class. So far I have found Paris not only to be a city whose image is defined by its art, but also a great place to see truly extraordinary art exhibitions. This seems to be the year for retrospectives of female artists in Paris; I recently saw a massive exposition at Musée d’Art Moderne of the lifework of Sonia Delaunay, and plan to see an exposition about one of the first female fashion designers, Jeanne Lanvin, at Palais Galleria this week.
Without a doubt, I am studying abroad in what MacCannell would call a “highly developed tourist setting.” In my arrondissement, and the surrounding areas of Paris’ vast center city, it is nearly impossible to walk more than a block or two without seeing at least one stand at a corner shop filled with colorful postcards of the Eiffel Tower. Even in areas of Paris that do not feel touristy in the least, but seem quite residential, the newsstands placed along the sidewalk display postcards on metal racks in front of the daily newspapers. All over Paris shops sell images of the city so tourists can buy a talisman to remind them of their trip; not only does Paris have a certain recognizable image associated with it, it sells its own idealized image everywhere.
During our first few weeks in Paris my friends and I worked hard to avoid tourist traps and desperately wanted to make sure we were having an authentic Parisian experience. We tried to avoid restaurants displaying English menus out front, we ate only French food, refused to step foot into a Starbucks, and complained whenever anyone spoke English to us. However, I soon realized that in an international city like Paris, a lot of restaurants do have English menus, and as Americans we have to realize that English is a far more commonly spoken language than French. Since people from different places use English to communicate, it is a nearly inescapable language in large European cities.
After a couple weeks in Paris I started to tire of eating croque monsieur and salade chevre chaud—as someone who rarely eats meat, my French food options are limited. When I couldn’t manage to eat another French meal, I did some research on Yelp to see what other kinds of food Paris had to offer. My friends scoffed at me and continued to insist on eating in only the French-est of French cafés, but I found quite a few places I wanted to try. The first place I ventured, Bon Appétit, is a vegan restaurant specializing in macrobiotic food. It was only a 20-minute walk from NYU, and I went alone at lunchtime. Bon Appétit satisfied my craving for a veggie-filled meal, and as I ate my sushi and drank ginger tea I realized that you don’t have to be eating a baguette sandwich all the time in order to have a real French experience. In fact, of all the restaurants I’ve eaten at in Paris, Bon Appétit was the only one where the waiters did not speak English, and where the other customers were speaking only French, as well. My friends are right: I can eat quinoa bowls in New York whenever I want to, but can only eat a real French meal in Paris. However, if authenticity is what you’re after, in reality the French are not eating steak frites every night, anyway.
In the last few weeks I’ve stopped worrying as to whether or not I’m having a real French experience for two reasons. First, as MacCannell states, “it might not be so easy to penetrate the true inner workings of other individuals or societies. What is taken to be real might, in fact, be a show that is based on the structure of reality.” I realized that what my friends and I thought of as “French” culture is really just a foreigner’s idea of France. Sure, bread and cheese may be a big part of the culture here, but so are hot dogs in America and I haven’t had one in years. Secondly, I stopped worrying about being a tourist in Paris because that’s what I am. Sure, I’m living in Paris for a few months, but there is no way that in that short amount of time I will become a Parisian, and no matter how hard I try to hide it, I am an American student studying abroad in Paris.
I’ve always been fascinated by ex-pat culture in Paris, and recently I’ve been exploring what Paris has to offer for ex-pats. Last week I went to the American Library in Paris—it made me realize just how many Americans do choose to live abroad, as it was jammed with ex-pats and books. I’ve also found the perfect café for long afternoons of studying, and it’s not at all a traditional French café. In fact, from what I can tell everyone who works there is either American or Dutch, but they have almond milk lattes and make a mean carrot cake. And sure, my non-French café is filled with other American students, but there are French students as well, who seem to enjoy the ultra-New York feel of the place. No matter what I do with my time in Paris, I’m experiencing the city, and if that includes a trip to Starbucks, hey, it’s ok—every once in a while I need a mongo-sized coffee, and a tiny noisette isn’t going to fill my craving!
From start to finish, On Paris, a collection of travel essays Ernest Hemingway wrote for the Toronto Star between 1920 and 1924, is not as much compilation of writing about Paris and Parisians, but more a view of life and culture in Paris through the eyes of an ex-pat. Hemingway did not live in the time of the Internet where countless opinions of a certain place can be found in a millisecond; therefore, his singular articles undoubtedly impacted his Canadian and American readers’ impressions of the world’s most idealized city.
Americans often dream of life in Hemingway’s Paris, and On Paris makes it clear that the author himself created this idealization of the city during his époque. In the first article of the collection, Hemingway gives advice to ex-pats on what hotels to stay in, and at which restaurants to eat, in order to live in Paris on only 1,000 dollars per year. From the 1920’s when Hemingway wrote his travel essays, up until today, ex-pats have relocated to Paris to live in the city he described; the city where “At the café tables, men huddled, their coat collars turned up, while they finger classes of grog Americain and the newsboys shout the evening papers.” Yet, Hemingway also wrote of the disillusion ex-pats realized they’d bought into by moving to Paris. In his essay, “Christmas in Paris,” Hemingway narrates the conversation between two young Americans who have just moved to Paris: “The girl began to cry. “I didn’t know Paris was like this,” she said. “I thought it was gay and full of light and beautiful.” The boy put his arm around her. “Never mind, honey,” he said. “We’ve been here only three days. Paris will be different. Just you wait.”” Essentially, Hemingway lays bare the disappointment ex-pats feel when they arrive in the city whose image he helped create. Hemingway shared even less positive opinions of the tourist’s experience in Paris, writing, “The trouble is that no matter how much he pays for it, the tourist is not seeing what he really wants.” The question is, does the Paris that Hemingway and other ex-pat authors wrote about actually exist?
In his essays, Hemingway often shared his grievances with Paris’ ex-pat culture without noting that he himself was at the center of this group of foreigners living abroad. In his article, “American Bohemians in Paris,” Hemingway wrote, “The scum of Greenwich Village, New York, has been skimmed off and deposited in large ladles on the section of Paris adjacent to the Café Rotonde.” He paints a picture of pathetic ex-pats who moved to Paris hoping their artistic careers that ended in failure in New York would bring them success across the Atlantic. Hemingway claimed, “You find more famous American dancers who have never been heard of in America, per square yard in Paris than anywhere else in the world.” Yet, Hemingway himself did find success overseas, which is why nearly 100 years later we still read the newspaper articles he wrote, even if he did criticize the stereotypical life of an American “artist” in Paris. It’s also amusing to note that Hemingway wrote that the Paris of his day was no longer a city full of successful writers and artists, saying, “Since the good old days when Charles Baudelaire led a purple lobster on a leash through the same old Latin Quarter, there has not been much good poetry written in Cafés.” Little did Hemingway know, his own writing about the death of “good” writing in the rather clichéd Parisian café, would be revered nearly a century later.
As I write this commentary on Hemingway’s On Paris, I myself am partaking in the Paris café-culture that Hemingway and his colleagues so aptly depicted; I’m at Café le St. Medard, located on the boarder of the 5ème and 13ème arrondissements, sitting at a tiny round table facing the street, and drinking a café noisette. I’ve happily bought into the idealized image of Paris that Hemingway not only critiqued, but also helped create—I’m an ex-pat living in Paris, thrilled to be writing in a café just as did Hemingway, himself. I’m sure that the books I’ve read by the countless ex-pats who lived in the City of Light before me have completely skewed my vision of Paris, but for now I’m content to live this delusion. I may even find myself scanning the crowd walking past me on the sidewalk, just in case a Parisienne walks by wearing the hat à la mode, prompting Hemingway to write “Sparrow Hat on Paris Boulevards” in March of 1922: “a brown, mushroom-shaped affair with a girdle of stuffed English sparrows.” At least the red-zigzag-line of Microsoft Word’s autocorrect will keep me from trying to imitate Hemingway’s writing style as well as his Parisian life; fragmented sentences must not have looked so incorrect when written with pen on paper.