It’s funny how the classes at an abroad site are concerned with that city. I mean, I get it, and it makes sense, but how many different ways can the words “France,” “French,” and “Paris” be used in the title of a course (many, many different ways, actually). I actually choose Paris for my junior year study abroad location because I’d loved its representation in art. My favorite authors wrote about it with so much passion and love that it was personified, and the photographs of Paris throughout the year give the impression that Paris is the place where things happen.
It’s funny that I associate the slow culture of Paris with the presence of so many things to do, but it’s true. I want to slow down and take everything in, but how can I when I want to fit in two museums and a quiet break in a park, followed by a crepe on the go as I walk back to the metro? Too often, traveling is like ticking things off a list. Just today, I saw a New Yorker cartoon showing a man skydiving with the whole world below him, but his eyes were focused on a piece of paper that had slipped his fingers, and he cried, “Oh no! My bucket list!” I feel that a lot in Paris, and I recognize it in the New York Times article we read:
Failure to appreciate the sights during daily activities is hardly a disaster, but what worried me was that in my rush to see it all when I travel, I was allowing too much to go unnoticed.
How much am I not seeing in my desire to see it all? I think this is where artwork becomes especially valuable because they force you to pay attention. How many times have I seen a painting or photograph of Paris and then sought out that location? In class, we learned about the May 68 riots, which took place in the Latin Quarter that I walk through every day. Seeing a street sign peak out from behind a group of rioting students reminds me that I walk past a place that has seen so much history, and it is engrained into the cobblestone roads that make up Paris.
In relation to my last post on escaping my study abroad bubbles, I too-often forget how special Paris is. France is so old. Can you believe everything it’s seen? The very streets we walk were once home to the greatest minds to have ever lived. (Now why does it seem that only artwork has been able to remind me of this fact?!)
When I look at a piece of art that depicts Paris, I am always amazed by how it can convey an idea so different from one I have seen in another artwork. Paris– and other cities, I’m sure– is so versatile. There is the Left Bank and the Right, the Bourgeoisie, the artisans, the immigrants. Throughout centuries, Paris has been something else to someone, and the variety of media that represent this idea can be found any and everywhere.
I often think about what “my Paris” would be if I chose to depict it. Right now, it would be a collage of many crêpe wrappers and leaves that I find on my walk to class. It would be the drawings of the spirelets of the Notre Dame (because that’s all I can see when I turn my head and look out the window from the 6th floor). It would be an audio tape of stuttering, bad French, coughs, and random English words. My Paris would be a mess.