At the moment I'm sitting in my room, with 5 days left here in Paris, eating delicious dark chocolate and drinking lait frais. Also, the walls are so thin here that I was just able to hear my neighbor tell her roommate, "Oh, a bird pooped on my face today!"
Anyway, I spent most of the day gorging myself because once I leave Paris, I'm only going to be eating healthy things. You know, mango...paella...because I'll be in BARCELONA. I didn't get enough the last time, so I want to go see one more flamenco show and take a few more walks down La Rambla and get some quality beach time in! But before I leave France, I'll be doing some writing, as I did today in the Jardin accompanied by my gouda, baguette, and the good fortune to run into some of my Sorbonne friends before we all leave Paris. It was a beautiful day, so I took the time to eat and to think of some things. So here are some items I mused on today. (Mused on? Mused about? I can't even speak English anymore. Er, write it. See?)
Item One: Contradictions. All cultures, all of humanity, each and every person comes with contradictions. The French are no exception. Aside from some of the more obvious questions— How do they eat so much rich food and stay so slender? How do they smoke so much yet live so long? How do they drink so often without becoming alcoholics?— I didn't find myself asking much about the French. As time went on though, cultural mysteries did emerge.
Take for instance, nudity. (It's the biggest one I can think of at the moment.) In interviews with European actors and actresses I always read how nudity is no big deal here. And in Paris, you'll see male joggers in shorts so terribly short that in the US one would cover their eyes and call the Fashion Police. You'll see unshielded breasts on posters and magazine covers on display for all to see everywhere in the city. And on various lawns in various gardens and parks, it's not uncommon to see couples, well, practically having sex. In fact, it doesn't have to be in a garden; once my friends and I saw a woman straddling her man on the steps of a museum. There's no problem whatsoever with PDA (probably another reason people come to Paris to fall in love, right?). All of this stuff is fine, and one quickly becomes accustomed to it after living here.
So what's the confusion? Though all of the above is pretty normal, a low cut shirt can get you some dirty looks. And it doesn't just apply to those of the full, croissant-induced figure like myself; you can be thin and in good shape and still get looks of disapproval. And while right now as I'm writing this in the Jardin du Luxembourg, I can see a woman lying in the sun in her bra, I see very few women wearing small tops or belly shirts when I walk through Paris. Yes, it's something I notice, and I think a lot of women do...it's hard not to think about what other people are wearing, especially when you're in the Fashion Capital of the World.
Bottom line? It seems that topless is fine, but cleavage is frowned upon. Well, okay. Who am I to question the French?
I think that many contradictions I've observed that had to do with French people and culture may have stemmed from a love of arguing. No, not my love of arguing, but that of the French. This doesn't apply to all French people of course, but there's definitely a trend of being dramatic and argumentative. It makes life more entertaining, more interesting. Usually it's just little things. A friend asked a bus driver to stop when we took a weekend trip, and he and our program director spent some time saying how it would take too much time, it would be completely out of the way...and then, when we stopped, it wasn't out of the way at all. I've seen girls in my foyer become momentarily angry about noise in a library or a spilled drink. One girl seemed furious with me when I took her clothes out of the washer (well after it had finished) and merely put them on top of the machine instead of in her clothing bag. But just a few minutes later, she was offering to knock on my door when my own laundry load was finished. It ends very quickly, but in that moment one can get very intimidated. I have a French teacher back home who came from France and married an American man, and she told us once that many French people just tend to sound more aggressive. In fact, when her husband overheard she and her friends talking, he'd often ask if they were arguing, but they weren't. They just have very intense discussions. And as I understand it, even when they do argue, it's only the mark of a strong relationship. It really makes you think, doesn't it? In the US it's frowned upon to argue in public because it shows weakness; in France, it shows strength, that the relationship can withstand differences.
Item Two: The End
(directly from my France Journal)
As I lie here in the grass, staring up at the sky just above the green and perfectly manicured trees of the Jardin, a plane is flying overhead. The white trail behind it stretches out and disappears, and I wonder where it's going. I'm reminded of my own flight home in just two weeks, leaving Paris and Europe for who knows how long.
Did I make the most of it here?
I don't know it I mentioned this earlier in the blog, but throughout the semester (including last night) I've had dreams and nightmares in which I'm home. In the nightmares, I'm confused and home far too soon, the whole experience having been for nothing. I think I have this fear of not living life to the fullest, but then I try to reassure myself that "to the fullest" is a relative concept. Right?
In the regular dreams, I'm with my family or friends in my hometown and I'm looking around, thinking, "I'm really home...it's really all over. I'm really back here again," and then I wonder if I did enough while I was here.
One thing I wish I'd done a little more was go to museums, because my European Student ID (valid til Friday) grants me free admission. That's right. I've been to the Louvre five times, all free. Most of them were just to study (not sure if it did any good), and once was to investigate the claims of The Da Vinci Code about a couple paintings. Also I had to see where they hid the Holy Grail.
Next to me, there's a group of students sitting together. One's playing guitar and singing a French song. I'll miss small things like this.
I wish I'd gone to Chartres to see the stained glass and the Orangerie for Monet's paintings, but it's not going to keep me up at night. I suppose I could have branched out of my neighborhood more often, but "to be fair" (as my British comrades would say) my neighborhood IS the Latin Quarter, and such a nice place to wander around. The neighboring Marais isn't bad, either.
NOTE: I'll be talking a lot about the Marais in my next post!
Plus, who wants to take the metro when it's warm and sunny and you're in PARIS?
I'd say I wish I'd done more yoga or paid more attention to fitness, but to be honest, I don't. Sure, I wish I were immune to the charms of French carbs and cheese and chocolate, but my time here was limited. I don't regret a single piece of brioche, pain au chocolat, or baguette.
This city has such a wide and varied palette, yet such a particular personality, that it's not necessarily about the towers, museums and old houses you visit (although they're certainly worth seeing). It's about soaking up the Parisian vibe, the way of life, the ambiance. That might come with a little lung damage, some broken sandals, some long nights of walking home when you've missed the last metro (or soreness from running to catch it), and some linguistic confusion from switching between French, English, franglais, or whatever you speak. I actually forgot the words "well done" last week while ordering a burger and could only say "bien cuite" instead. But it's all worth it.
Item Three: Last Night.
My friend Sarah, one of the best and closest friends I've made here in Paris, is leaving tomorrow morning. I can't say how much I'll miss talking to her or how much I've appreciated her company without sounding like a total pansy, so I'll just say her friendship has been important to me this semester. For her last big night out, we all (me, Sarah, Sinead, Jessica, Christiana and Barbara— all great friends, all from different places) went to an aptly-named place called Student Bar on the fabulous Rue Mouffetard. They have Happy Hour from 16h-22h (4-10pm), and all drinks during that time are 4.50 euros— super cheap for Paris. Go there, run! Then we went to another bar in the Latin Quarter cluster between Notre Dame and Blvd St. Germain. Aside from getting drinks and having a chat, we also listened to a little live music. All the songs were American ones, which made some of the lyrics the French singer sang funny to hear. It was all kind of perfect, especially when they played this Eagle Eye Cherry song I hadn't heard in possibly 8-10 years. It was pretty apropos for the end of the semester.
It's going to be pretty sad, and a little tough, to leave. But I miss my family, my friends, and my cat, and can't wait to see them. Also I miss driving. There's no need to drive here, and frankly, I don't know why anyone would want to drive through Paris. But I miss cruising through my hometown or driving to my grandparents' house or even to school. I've missed my piano, too. There's one in Shakespeare and Co, but it's not in the greatest condition. I'll appreciate a lot of weird, random things when I get home, and I'll miss others. You know, like having an H+M within walking distance. Not to mention Notre Dame. Oh, and the bakeries around every corner.
And the cheese. And the museums. Okay, I'd better stop now.