Seven Empty Seats

In Arrivals, Paris, The Art of Travel Spring 2015 by Rose Gilroy6 Comments

My arrival into Paris was lonely. I could have been the subject in a 21st century Hopper painting as I sat in the back of a taxi-van, surrounded by seven empty seats and seven unbuckled seat belts hanging limply beside me. Entering any city from the airport is like entering a no man’s land; as Alain de Botton discusses in On Traveling Places, it is an area tourists never recognize nor visit again. I’ve been to Paris many times; however, once the cab drove away from the airport, I wasn’t immediately driving down the Champs-Élysées in front of the Arc de Triomphe, and I didn’t even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower—at first nothing was familiar. The apartment my friend Sophie and I rented is in the 13eme arrondissement, an area of Paris I had never gone to on my past visits to the city, but as the cab got closer to my destination, the streets began to be recognizable. Thanks to the hours I had spent on Google Street View before my arrival, I had a rough layout of the neighborhood already in my head; I knew which door was my own as the cabbie drove down my new street.

I was particularly interested in de Botton’s discussion of a traveler’s preconceived notions. Today, thanks to the Internet, nothing is new; I’m not sure if I’ve ever been to a city without previously seeing at least a few images of its skyline or monuments. Yet, the images I’d seen of my neighborhood in Paris didn’t do it justice. The streets are far more bustling and lively than I thought they would be and the buildings far more ornate. Google Street View didn’t show me the shop windows filled with kings’ cakes and croissants, or the Roman ruins hidden between two boulevards just a few blocks from my apartment. Even though I saw pictures of the 13eme before I arrived, being here is a new and exciting experience.

As soon as the taxi pulled away, leaving me alone in front of my new building, my roommate came out to greet me and I was no longer lonely in Paris. One of my favorite parts of studying abroad so far has been the fact that everyone here at NYUP is open to meeting new people. I’ve met many other NYU students whose paths I probably would not have crossed had it not been for studying abroad. I’m studying creative non-fiction, women’s studies, and art history at Gallatin, and since all of my classes here in Paris fit into those categories (they’re conducted in French and not English here) I’ve also made friends with many students whose interests are similar to my own.

I’m really excited about my classes here so far. On Monday my art history class is headed to the Louvre where we’ll get to see the paintings and sculptures we’ve read about. I’m taking a class called Gender and Sexuality and it’s particularly fascinating because we’re learning about the women’s rights movement in France, starting with the French Revolution! I hadn’t realized how much impact being in France would have on my studies, but obviously there are many differences between the evolution of the women’s rights movements in France and in the United States.

My main goal while I’m in Paris is to work on my spoken French and to get to a point where nothing gets lost in translation when I talk to a French-speaker; I want to be able to clearly express my own opinions in French. Pico Iyer’s comment on the connection between “travel” and “travail” really resonates with me as far as speaking a second language is concerned. Living in a new place is a lot of work, especially when daily interactions are conducted in another language. Going to the grocery store is a lot more work than normal when it’s necessary to read labels and speak to the cashier in French.

I’d say my semester in Paris is off to a pretty good start: I’ve eaten lots of bread and cheese, explored quite a few neighborhoods in Paris, been to my favorite museum, the d’Orsay, twice already, and my French is already improving. It has only been thirteen days since I drove into the city in the back of the near-empty taxi, but weirdly enough I feel like I’ve been here forever. I don’t feel like the subject in one of Hopper’s melancholy paintings anymore. In fact, after visiting Luxembourg Gardens this morning, I’m already planning a Renoir-style picnic come spring.

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  1. Hi Rose! Your experience abroad seems very eventful already, but it’s great that you’re enjoying your time. I really have to agree with your opinion on preconceived notions. I found myself also looking through various photos and reading up about Prague before I arrived. However, once I arrived, I noticed that actually being here was completely different than any photos or travel brochures. Pictures just never live up to the real thing! I hope your French has still been improving, and I hope you reach the other study abroad goals you’ve set. I look forward to hearing more about your experience in Paris!

  2. Great post Rosey! Your concentration sounds awesome, and I wish you the best with your classes. I was surprised as well. A big reason I chose to go to London was because of the literature classes I’m taking. It all seems to fit in together very well abroad. I love the d’Orsay! I’ve been once, and def plan on going back. I plan on visiting Paris for a weekend, so I look forward to seeing some of the things you’re going to be doing, and hope to get tips. Pics of your surrounding area in the 13th arrondissement!

    1. Author

      Michael! I’ll get on the pics and tips! Hope London is going great, tons of my friends are studying there this semester as well 🙂

  3. Hi Rose! I am also studying at NYU Paris this spring. When I first arrived in Paris I felt the same sense of unease, but each day I’ve been here I have fallen more and more in love. I also share the same goal in becoming more conversational with my French. You’re right, everything, including the market, is a lot more work when you’re doing it in a different language! I haven’t been to the d’Orsay yet, but I am dying to go! It’s definitely one of my favorite museums too. Hopefully we get to meet at some point this semester. Bonne chance!

    1. Author

      Yes, Elizabeth, we should meet sometime! And definitely check out the d’Orsay–it’s a quick walk from campus!

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