Monday, August 31, 2009

from NC to Paris

When you first get to Paris, it's surprisingly easy to forget or not truly realize in the first place that you're really in a new city, in a new country, on a completely different continent. When I was taking le Car Airfrance from the airport, I kept falling back into the idea that I was just on my way to someplace kinda new but not astonishingly so. It was like I was just going to Boston or NYC–definitely different and great places to be, but still the same country, with the same language, etc.

But after you see all the curvy streets and smart cars and signs in French and beautiful old buildings, it finally starts to hit you. And it's fantastic. The average bakery is in a building more intricate and beautiful than most of our historic monuments. And there are French monuments everywhere! But people just hang out there, reading their books, making phone calls, jogging––there were tons of joggers when I visited the Château Marly with my host family (who only went there to walk their dog).

It's just a completely different standard, but it's an upgrade.

As an example, here's a picture of some people just playing with their children in a square next to one of the oldest churches in Paris, the church of Saint-Germain-des-Près:

It's simply mind-blowing that there are millions of people that get to live in a city like this for their entire lives. And I don't say that to suggest that they don't appreciate it––they do––but because there's just no place like Paris in the US. We certainly have out own enviable monuments and buildings, but they're beautiful in a way that's not more than 220 years old or so. Coming here has completely changed my perspective on the foundations of a country and its culture, and I've only been here for three full days!

À bientôt,

Ramsay Leimenstoll
Parsons House
Comp. Lit./Jewish Studies

Nice people, and not so nice people

Thus far, Paris has been delightful. Predictable. Some Parisians are nice, some are less so. Many are happy to speak French, to help, to take their time with us. Others...*shrug*

An ATM swallowed Isabella's card today, and the woman at the bank branch refused to give her any information. Ten minutes later, we had a wonderful conversation with an older man at Les Deux Magots. He told us all about the history of the quarter, showed us where Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre lived, explained the expression "gauche caviar," then gave us directions to the square where Hemingway lived. He kind and patient. He even smiled a bit.

But it is the "gentillesse" of the teenagers here that has really struck me. Mind you, my sampling is not impressive; I have talked to only 3. They are my home-stay sister and Isabella's home-stay sister and brother, who live in an apartment two floors directly over my head. Their ages are 14, 15, and 13 respectively. Over the past three days, they have been sweeter and friendlier than I thought possible for adolescents. They are polite to their neighbors and their own parents on a regular basis! They interact happily with us linguistically clumsy American girls—they ask questions about our day, they join in conversation at the dinner table, they tell us about their schools and their pets. They willingly spend time with their families on walks through the park, at the dinner table, watching movies. I can only hope all the teenagers in France are this nice.

It's good to know that teenagerism (symptoms include: slumping, frowning, mumbling, whining, resistance to interaction with other human beings and a lack of sense of humor) is an American affectation rather than a genetic component of growing up.

First Night with My Host Family

Even though I was jet-lagged, overwhelmed, and completely exhausted, the first night that I spent with my host family was incredible. After dropping off my luggage at their apartment, we hopped back in their car and zipped through the streets of Paris to a secret location to "faire un pique-nique tres francais." Within a few minutes, I saw the tip of the Eiffel Tower peeking out from behind the skyline, and my host sister revealed that we would be eating on the lawn beneath la tour Eiffel. We munched on fromage, saucisson, and baguettes, and I had my first taste of Camembert (and hopefully my last... mais on verra!). I definitely felt like a tourist, "oooooo-ing" and "aaaah-ing" each time that the Eiffel Tower lit up, but I couldn't help it -- I've never been to Europe before, so everything that I've seen so far has been completley foreign to me and just breath-taking. Afterwards we drove to la rue Mouffetard to "prendre un verre." We didn't get back to the apartment until well after 1am, but I had long ago forgotten how tired I was... it was the most amazing introduction to Paris that I could possibly imagine. I feel so lucky to be here!

Nous voila

This blog is an attempt to capture the many essences of a year abroad. The authors of the majority of the posts are the 22 women in the Smith JYA program in Paris in 2009-2010. Occasionally, the director of the program will chime in (his postings will be easily recognizable as not having been written by a 20-something woman).
Unlike many blogs, this is not intended to be an exercise in narcissism. Rather, we are hoping to create something unique, sassy, thoughtful and ultimately interesting. We will see.