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J’ai mal aux jambes: Paris

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

This is my last post in France, I might post one more once I get back in the States and have some time to reflect. I’ll make sure it’s well-known, if so. Otherwise, thank you all for reading. I’m glad that some of you might have been able to take something out of what I’ve written and hope you’ve gotten a glimpse of what my summer has been like.

Paris is incredible. I really was not expecting to like it because of all the things I know about Parisians in general and because I loved Provence beyond imagining. I still prefer Provence, but Paris is magnificent nevertheless. I’m staying with a friend of my host family’s in the 16e Arrondissement, just south across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

Paris is huge and that’s the reason for the title of this post, translation: “my legs hurt”. I’ve done a lot of walking because a) you have to and b) it’s much cheaper than riding the Metro, like I did during the first little bit here. Instead of trying to talk about everything I’ve seen, I’m just going to list by day and throw in a small description.


  • 3hr train from Arles to Paris and finding the apartment
  • Centre Pompidou–old factory converted into a modern art museum…really weird feminist exhibits
  • Starbucks–I was so incredibly excited, but the coffee is SO overpriced…4€50 ($6.75) for a grande caramel machiatto


  • Eiffel Tower–climbed the stairs up instead of paying more for the elevator…pretty view
  • Musée d’Orsay–old train station turned into a pre-Impressionist/Impressionist museum…cried in front of the Van Gogh paintings of Arles because I miss it
  • Harry Potter–couldn’t resist the urge to see it in English


  • Notre Dame–famous Gothic cathedral…kind of disappointed by it, actually…I’ve seen prettier churches that are less crowded
  • Catacombes–in the south of the city where they started piling bones when the rest of the city was getting too crowded
  • La Défense–the new skyscraper-filled part of the city where all the big businesses in France have their offices
  • Bateaux-Mouches–night cruise on the Seine


  • Eucharist at the American Cathedral–Episcopal cathedral off the Champs-Elysées…amazing to go to a service in English after 6 weeks of French Catholicism
  • Meeting with my EASE mentee–program at UNC that pairs a UNC student who has studied abroad with an international student…she just happened to still be in Paris, so we had apéro in St.-Germain
  • Dinner on the steps of the Sacré Coeur


  • Arc de Triomph–in the middle of a 12-avenue roundabout…incredible views of Paris from the top…better than Eiffel, even
  • Champs-Elysées–chic stores, even more on ave. George V…too expensive to eat French (6€ espressos), so I ate at the café terrace of…McDonald’s. First time in literally months I’ve had McDo, but it was cheap and on the the Champs-Elysées
  • Place de la Concorde–spot where the royalty lost their heads…literally…guillotine spot during the Reign of Terror
  • Sainte-Chapelle–royal chapel constructed to hold Passion relics…incredible display of stained glass, amongst the most in the world…more glass than stone in the construction
  • Berthillon–ice-cream maker extraordinaire
  • Deportation Memorial–the Vichy Government was the chiefest deporter to the Nazi concentration camps
  • Panthéon Sorbonne–one of the oldest universities in the world


  • Marais–means “swamp” because that’s what it was…neighborhood on the Right Bank…includes:
    • the Jewish quarter
    • the gay quarter
    • the chic quarter–place des Vosges was a royal garden…Victor Hugo’s house was here (and I saw the restoration of it inside)
  • Place de la Bastille–busy modern roundabout west of the Marais
  • Père Lachaise–above ground cemetary of the rich and famous…Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison, Alfred de Musset…
  • Montmartre–the quarter seen in the movie Amélie…quaint and hilly
  • More Berthillon–because why not?


  • Versailles–it takes a whole day by itself


  • Louvre–the world-renown art museum which would take a week to see, but I’m taking the morning
  • Invalides–former army hospital, now Army Museum and sight of Napoleon’s tomb
  • Packing


  • Getting to the airport
  • 9hr flight from Paris to Chicago
  • 2hr flight from Chicago to RDU
  • Crashing from exhaustion in Chapel Hill

So, there you have it. My legs hurt. I’m tired. But Louis XIV awaits me. And I want to get every last bit out of France I can before I leave in two days. I’m really, really sad about leaving, but I have to leave so I can come back.

See you all really soon!



À bientôt, mon cher Arles

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Today is my last day in Arles and words cannot express how sad I am about that. I leave on the TGV to Paris tomorrow for a week, staying with a friend of my host family’s, and then I return to the States on the 7th. It’s incredible how fast this six weeks has past, leaving me with an aching desire to stay here longer because I’ve still seen so very little. I’ll still be updating my blog in Paris, hopefully at least a few times (I don’t know what the Internet situation will be), so keep your eyes peeled for that.

I’ve been waiting to post this particular post since the second week, but I’ve been holding out to see if things would change, if my ideas might alter from different experiences. They haven’t, and I’m grateful for that.

Of everything I’ve seen in France, everyone I’ve met, I’ve come to the conclusion that the French people and American people are cut from the same fabric. We might have slightly different patterns that cover our surfaces, we may find ourselves used in different patterns for different clothes, we may even find ourselves halfway across the world. But at the end, at the heart, we’re the same.

The French were the superpower of the West for centuries, and then declined when another country across the sea began to gain power after a major economic crisis; Americans very well may find themselves in the same situation very soon. The French have a very strong pride in their cultures (note the plural) and traditions and oftentimes find them to be the pinnacle of civilization–especially if we’re talking about Paris; I think it goes without saying that Americans are the same way. The French are an extremely loving and warm people, once you can get past the stand-offishness they show towards foreigners; Americans have more of those tendencies than any of us would like to admit.

But I think there is an important message in this: people are the same everywhere. I have great faith in the kindness and goodness of people in general. I reject the notion that we are necessarily a fallen race and we can do no good in and of ourselves. We may speak a different language, or eat different food, or wear different clothing, or think differently philosophically. None of this, however, means that we aren’t the same deep down. Despite what people may think about the French, our differences are blown up by the media in both directions. Living with a host family that is not particularly pro-American and seeing them live…it’s just like living with any American family with a 5 year old and a 3 month old, except instead of yelling at the 5 year old to stop messing with something in English, they are yelling in French (which sounds pretty still then, by the way).

So, in short, let’s cut it out with the assumptions we continually make about a people we’ve never met, solely on the grounds of what their government says or does or on stereotypes that come from 60 years ago. In the past 6 months, all of us have gone from disagreeing with our own government to agreeing with it, or vice versa. Stereotyping a group of people we have never met keeps us from being able to really figure out who they are, what they are like, and how much we are similar. Instead, if you don’t know a people, go visit them on their terrain and keep an open mind, or realize that anything you might think about them is probably false. Some stereotypes, granted, are true, but you can never be sure until you go, taste, and see.


P.S. The à bientôt means “see you soon”. I have every intention upon returning to Arles as soon as the funds allow. If you want to come with, you have a travel guide and a translator.

Chez moi

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Chez is one of the most useful words in the French language, period. It’s a preposition with superpowers. It can mean “at/to the house of”, “at/to the office/store of”, “among”, “in the work/writings of”, or “for/with”, all of these in reference to people. The reason I think the word is so interesting is that all of these meanings coalesce into one word.  Your store, your work, your beliefs, and your practices–all are your home.

Two weeks ago, during Les Suds (the music festival), our immigration class went to an event called Les Passeurs, where various people from Algerian quarters of Arles, Marseille, and other places, came to share their culture and lives in the form of storytelling and music. One woman, who was born in France but whose parents were Kabyles (a Berber people who have lived in Algeria since before the Arabs arrived), told a story of having to go to Kabylie in Algeria to take care of her mother for a little while; she ended up spending fourteen years there. The organizer of the event asked her if she went back “chez elle” when she went to Kabylie; she said yes. Then the organizer asked her if she went back “chez elle” when she came back to France fourteen years later; she said yes.

As I mentioned in the second post about Barcelona, returning to Arles from travelling around in Provence really is like coming home, chez nous. All of us began the program referring to our home stays as just that, ma maison d’accueil. Now, everyone just says chez moi. This isn’t just a reflex of “wherever I lay my head is home”. It’s the fact that we all have become Arlésiens during our time here, immersed in the life of the town that has been so gracious to host us for the past five and a half weeks.

One of the overarching question in my immigration class has been of what home, chez lui, means to an immigrant. Yes, they live and work in France, but to what extent is their new land their home? It’s complicated, because an immigrant can never lose sight of their first home, even if they suffered economic or political strife there. As the lady at Les Passeurs said, both Algeria and France are chez elle.

I feel like there’s a similar question that most college students pose at some point during their studies, some earlier or later than others: Where is home? Is home the house (or houses) I grew up in? Is home wherever my parents live? Is home my college? Or does home even exist anymore? I’m reminded of my favorite quote from the movie Garden State:

You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden, even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone…You’ll see one day when you move out, it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start; it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

It’s weird that so much of our self-identity is based upon the place we call home, but the notion of home itself is incredibly transient and is rarely uni-faceted. I constantly have to specify what “home” I’m talking about: Asheville, where my parents live; Chapel Hill, where I live; Arles, where I’ve been living for six weeks. Even more the buildings themselves: my first house, my second house, my dorm room in Oak during Summer Ventures, my dorm room in Babcock during Governor’s School, my dorm room in Spencer freshman year, my dorm room in Alexander my first summer as an OL, my dorm room in Craige North sophomore year, my dorm room in Connor my second summer as an OL, the Student Residence in the church, my host family’s apartment in Arles. And the list will never end. All of them are and will always be home, because there were “home” at one point in time.

So, instead of trying to say something profound about a way to consolidate this, I’m going to leave it as is, awkwardly hanging there. Because I’m not sure there is a way. And even if there were, I don’t think I’d take it. Some things are best left in limbo.


Lingua franca

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Lingua franca is a linguistic term that denotes a language which is used to communicate between people who don’t share a mother tongue, in particular when the third language is the language of neither group.

The best example I can think of is Latin, which was used for centuries as the common language amongst the learned elite in Europe. It was helpful, for example, for a scientist in Germany to be able to read the findings of another scientist in Italy. Because Latin was (and is) dead, it did not change and was not the native language of anyone, therefore it could be strictly reglemented. To this day, the official language of the Roman Catholic Church is Latin. The Archpriest of Arles told me a few weeks ago that he was going to celebrate a marriage in Latin because the husband and wife live in France, but their families are from China and Spain; with no way to choose one language without excluding a large, important part of the assembly, P. Cabanac chose Latin as the lingua franca.

The new lingua franca for the world is English. The reasons for this are varied, but essentially boil down to two things: the status of the United States at the turn of the millenium, and the fact that the Internet is predominately in English. People across the world predominately learn English as their second language, while we learn Spanish. This form of English is also neither American nor Commonwealth (i.e. British) nor Australian. Instead, it is it’s own form that tries to mind a middle between American and Commonwealth varieties.

Two times recently have shown how much English really is the new worldwide lingua franca. The first was that, in Barcelona, everything was listed in Spanish and Catalan, because the culture is completely bilingual. In touristy areas, however, a third language was almost always included: English. This is not to say that the majority of tourists to Barcelona are Anglo-Saxons (though there are ridiculously large numbers of British people who visit there…but the French are just as numerous). No, instead, it is to say that it is the only language that can be chosen in which a large number of tourists have some capacity for speaking, be they from France or Germany, or from Zimbabwe or Korea. In fact, on returning to France, all the menus in touristy areas and most maps have French and English per norm, to the exclusion of all others.

The second example was a film showing I attending during the opening week of the Rencontres, the photography festival I wrote about earlier. An international panel of judges was attempting to present an award for the best photography publication of the year. The chair of the jury was an Italian woman, whose French was extremely marked by Italian intonation, rhythm, and pronunciation. She got through about half of her presentation in French, and then, clearly struggling, asked the president of the Rencontres if she could switch to English. There was a disgruntled murmur that moved across the crowd comprised largely of French people, but the presentation went much more quickly with the chair speaking in English, a language with which she was much more comfortable. (The French resent the English language for becoming the lingua franca because it was French that held that distinction until after WWII, or better yet, after the fall of the USSR).

I find all this extremely fascinating because I have constantly been mind-boggled at how English is learnable for someone who didn’t grow up speaking it. A majority of English-speakers have issues with grammar, pronunciation, spelling, etc. I can’t imagine trying to learn a language where enough, dough, and plough are spelled similarly but have wildly different pronunciations.

Anyway, for the long and short of it, be happy that you were born speaking English, otherwise you would have to learn it. The world is extremely accessible to English-speakers because our language is the lingua franca, so take advantage of it and see what you can. But, at the same time, think about what it might mean for the rest of the world that our language is the new default…


It’s all so gaudy: Barcelona 2

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Barcelona was also home to the famous architect and sculptor Antoni Gaudí, whose work is sprinkled throughout the town. Just like you can’t walk 100ft in Arles without seeing something about Vincent van Gogh, you can’t walk 100ft in Barcelona and not see Gaudí’s legacy on the city.

The major landmark of Barcelona, one of the only outstanding buildings on its skyline, is la Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, which is Gaudí’s magnum opus, his master work. Gaudí worked for over 40 years on the building, devoting his last 15 almost exclusively to it. It is a beautiful monstrosity of a building and it dominates any picture taken from the mountains which surround the city. More importantly, the church, which was begun in 1882, is still under massive construction. Even with the construction team of 300 workers, the building will not be finished until 2030. For those of you who are bad at math like me, that’s almost 150 years of construction. A century and a half to build this church. The interior is expected to be finished next year, so they hold normal services there; currently, Masses are celebrated in the crypt.

On the third day we were in Barcelona, we went first to the Park Güell, a park located north of the city center which was designed by Gaudí. The most famous part of the park is a mosaic dragon fountain, which is at the very front entrance of the park. Instead of taking that entrance, we had gone to a metro station on the far left side of the park and spent the better part of two hours wandering around the park, trying to find the dragon (which we had seen sculpted in chocolate at the Museu xocolata the day before) which was right under our nose for several hours.

After that, we went to Montjuïc, a mountain west of the city which has a fortress on it, used to protect the city from attacks from the sea. The easiest way to the top of the mountain is also the most fun way: by gondola. Montjuïc was also the location of the Olympic Village during the XXV Olympiad in 1992, where the Dream Team took the gold in basketball.

After Barcelona, we took the bus back to Montpellier. Before leaving Arles, Kristin, Alexis, and I had decided to buy tickets for the last train out of Montpellier to Arles so that we could see a bit of Montpellier. It’s a really nice city, classically French, and also the home of Université Paul Valéry, which is where the main UNC program in France is at. Actually, UPV has a huge number of foreign students that study there, which makes it an interesting locale.

Nevertheless, the moment I left the train station in Arles, I sighed a breath of relief to be back in what really has begun to feel like home. A lot of people on the program expressed a similar feeling of returning back to a place that we all know well.

And finally, yesterday was the 14 juillet (known in the States, but not in France, as Bastille Day), which is the national holiday. In Arles, however, it’s not celebrated with an extreme amount of gusto…largely because the artistic community in general doesn’t really have time for patriotism in any country, since many of them make their living and do their art by critiquing the society in which they find themselves. Nevertheless, les Suds provided a lot of concerts to go to, and there were fireworks over the Rhône last night. More importantly, my host family had a party both for the 14 juillet and also for the birthday of a family friend. I spent a lot of time explaining to them that what they were doing was grilling out and not “barbecuing”, as they insisted upon calling it. The food, however, was incredible. And there was so much wine. Dear God, so much wine. After I got back from a concert at the place de la République, my host family asked me to help them finish off the bottles (note the plural) of wine that was there. When all was said and done, it had turned into a dance party for the women and a conversation time for the men. One of the guys taught me a drinking game that he wants me to export for him. I finally made it to bed at 4:30, which was not a great decision because I had class at 9:00. Oh, well. It’s summer.


Xocolatl and Picasso: Barcelona 1

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

I’m going to split up my recap of my trip to Barca into two different posts (today and tomorrow) so that it’s not too tedious to read…or type.

Kristin, Rob, Alexis, Sean and I caught a 5:40 (am) bus from Arles to Tarascon, a train from Tarascon to Montpellier, and a bus (which was over an hour late) from Montpellier to Barcelona–arriving around 14:00–on Friday. We managed, after a bit of a struggle, to find our way to our apartment. It was directly across the road from Gaudí’s magnum opus, la Sagrada Familia, which is the dominant building of the Barca skyline. We took a siesta, which turned out to be just sleeping instead of napping, and rolled out to find something to eat a bit after 21:00.

What we found was an incredible tapasería, tucked back behind las Ramblas, the biggest tourist area in town. We went to the back of the restaurant, which was full of bench-lined tables, stacked as closely together as possible. We ordered about eight different kinds of tapas, four liters of sangría, and yelled across the table at each other because of the noise. It was loud, raucous, smoky, hot, and absolutely, quintessentially Spanish.

The next morning, we rolled out of bed rather late and got kababs with one of Sean’s friends, who had spent the week in Barcelona when he had some time off from his program in Perpignan. He recommended what was quite possible one of the most amazing museums I have ever had the pleasure of visiting: el Museu de la xocolata. That’s right, the Chocolate Museum. Chocolate is an extremely important passion for the Spanish and the Catalans (more on that difference here in a second); it is consumed primarily in the form of hot chocolate, which is not drinkable but only sippable, as it nothing more than melted semi-sweet chocolate. You can rest on a spoon on top of this stuff, it’s so thick.

After recovering from the chocolate coma, we went to the Picasso Museum. The Picasso family moved to Barcelona shortly after his sister’s death and it became his home more than Málaga, where he was born.  He ended up spliting his time during the turn-of-the-century between Barcelona and Paris, until settling eventually in the Montmartre quarter of Paris. It was really intersting to get to see the evolution of his style, from Classical style to Pointillism to Cubism, which I hadn’t completely realized was the case. After that, we met up with some other people from my program who were also in Barcelona to go to a water show at the fountain in front of the Museu national d’art català, and then later, a few of us went out, to little avail.

A few initial thoughts about Barcelona, from those first few days, is that I am really kind of sad that I’ve let my Spanish slide as much as I have.  Kristin, thank God for her, translated for us the entire time because Spanish was her first language. But three years ago, I would have been able to communicate quite easily in Spanish and now, I struggle even to order food.

That said, I knew about Catalan, the local language of Barcelona and the larger region of Cataluña, which has an interesting relationship with the rest of Spain. The Catalans see themselves as a separate people from the Spaniards and some even want complete autonomy (or even independence) from the rest of Spain. A lot of this is reflected in their language choices. The majority of people speak Catalan (a language which is related to Spanish, but which is actually closer to Occitan–the local language of the South of France) as their first language. Only out of reluctance do many of them speak Spanish; a large number would rather speak English than Spanish. Everything was first in Catalan, then in Spanish, and then perhaps in English for the tourists. The culture really is fully bilingual, in a way that I had never experienced before, but was absolutely fascinated to see play out.

Tomorrow, I’ll finish my recounting of the trip. Right now, my host family is having an apéro and grilling out for both the birthday of a family friend and for le quatorze juillet, known in America as Bastille Day, which is the national holiday of France. Also, this week, les Suds à Arles, a huge, week-long world musical festival, is going on and I’ll be spending all of my free time at concerts. Today, for example, I got to see a band that combined the musical traditions of Bulgaria and Mongolia, using their traditional string instruments.


Le Sud qui fête

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The title of this post comes from a brochure that is put out by the Conseil régional for Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the region Arles is in; in the brochure is a listing of all of the different festivals that go on during the summer in the region. The translation is “The South that parties”. How incredibly accurate that title has proven to be.

First of all, les Rencontres d’Arles (formally called Les Rencontres internationnales de la photographie d’Arles) began on Monday night. The Rencontres is part professional conference, part festival for photography, one of the largest such in the world. It is a huge deal and there are ridiculous numbers of people in Arles right now. It’s really strange to walk through the streets of Arles and then to hear English being spoken by a large number of people. At an exposition today, I almost forgot I was in France.

The first week of the Rencontres (i.e. this week) is the professional conference and when most of the major events happen. There are soirées every night somewhere, projections at the théâtre antique (the Roman amphitheater), and huge numbers of people at the expositions. There are 66 expositions and, because I’m taking a class in photography here, I get to go to all of them. I went to two this morning: the first was all pictures of cities, whether model cities, aerial shots, or pictures of lights in buildings. The second was of postcards of lynchings and burnings from 1900-1930, inspired by the first line of Bob Dylan’s song “Desolation Row”; it was phenomenally disturbing to see, and hit really, really close to home, even all of these thousands of miles away. Also, last night I got to see a film in the théâtre antique about Robert Delpire, who is one of (if not the) greatest photo editors in France.

Another festival is something I wrote about earlier, but actually got to see yesterday: that is, a bullfight. This wasn’t the corrida (the one where the bull is killed), but the courses camarguaises, the one that is more playing games with the bull. The game in question is that a group of men called raseteurs with a metal claw on their hand, called a raset, try to pull a cocarde–a rosette–from between the bull’s horns, all while avoiding being trampled or gored. Yeah, sounds like a great idea to me, too. It was amusing to see, especially when the bulls figured out they could jump the fence separating the main ring from the smaller area where the raseteurs jump after making a pass at the pissed off bull. The raseteurs are not the stars of the show, but instead the bull, which is celebrated for particularly outstanding showings of bravery and gusto. It’s not something that I really understand, but it was interesting to see, nevertheless.

There are a whole bunch of other, smaller festivals going on, as well. For instance, my neighborhood, la Roquette, is having its major festival tonight, which I’ll be going to, at least for a little while.

This is my last post for a few days, because I’m getting up at 4:00 tomorrow morning to go to Barcelona until Monday night. I’ll have a lot to write about after that, so hold tight.