Wednesday, June 3, 2009

All Good Things Must Come to an End

The grass is always greener, goes the expression. My last few weeks in Paris have been amazing and unlike the first four months completely. With the end of school, I finally didn’t have project after paper after exam hanging over my head, and I could just go out and enjoy Paris every night. After all the stress of school and feeling like I might fail, I actually ended up with good grades. This also coincides with the fact that it took me that long to get over my timidity of speaking French. While I still wouldn't say I'm fluent, my French skills definitely improved and when asked directions on the street in French, I've been able to answer correctly every time without pausing. These last weeks I’ve met some really great Parisians and going-out partners. I wouldn’t change the first four months, though, but I’m so happy to end my Paris experience on such a high note.

The amount of tourists in Paris starting a month ago is literally astounding. ASTOUNDING. I had a few visitors stay with me in my last few weeks, including my sister Julie. She’s doing a business program in Italy for the summer, and she along with seven American friends came to Paris for the French Open. Julie and I are total opposites and we historically hadn’t gotten along, but she and I had a great time together, showing her my favorite stuff in Paris and having someone familiar around.

Brother and sister in Paris.

I’m writing this two days being back in Boston. I was really ready to be back in the States last week, back to reality, back to being able to explain my thoughts fully in my own language, back to not apologizing for my bad French every time I met someone. It’s nice not feeling stupid again. There were times in Paris I wanted to grab people and say, “I’m not stupid! I swear!” But there’s already a laundry list in my head of all the things I’ll miss.

I miss the signs at metro and bus stops that let you know how long you’ll have to wait until the next train or bus. It’s so simple but so ingenious and every city should have it. I miss that there is a café or brasserie on every single corner in Paris, and you can only get a coffee or French fries, but you can stay there for as long as you want. There isn’t a waitress coming to bug you every five minutes or people standing in a line waiting for your table. I miss the bread, oh the bread, so good. Since being back in the States, I literally haven’t been able to eat, but I think it’s because I got sick on the plane ride back. I miss bisous-ing. I miss the people watching. I miss looking at attractive people. I miss things being a normal portion. I feel so undersized here, not like a real-sized person. Even using a big tube of toothpaste makes me feel like a little kid.

So as I was so excited to be back in the states, I now miss Paris so much. It’s incredible for me to read back on entries where I didn’t like Paris. But Paris is just a fairy tale, and now I’m back in reality: a college graduate looking for a job in an economic recession. Americans romanticize Paris and France so much, in movies and TV and commercials and literature, and France works hard on propagating that image. They are a very proud people, but they have good reason for it. Living in Paris has let me confront this romantic vision that I’ve had my whole life about the city. I no longer think, “Well, if I lived in Paris, my life would be totally different…” This once in a lifetime experience will probably never happen to me again, but as Hemingway said, "Wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Year Older, and Un Peu Wiser

How can this be? How can I be 22 already? I actually like getting older, as I feel each year is usually better than the one before it, but I hate not having control over important things in my life, like something as significant as age. My birthday came in the middle of finals week, after one of my hardest semesters of college. It wasn't supposed to be this way, study abroad is supposed to be a breeze, but somehow taking 5 classes so I could graduate a year early in subjects I had no background in turned out to be pretty tough. After an incredibly stressful week--months, really--of papers and more papers and film projects and exams, I finally finished COLLEGE this past Friday. This whole time I've felt like I was going to fail, but as with every semester, I pull through and actually got good grades. It hasn't really sunken in, especially since so many things are changing right now. That Friday, the night of my birthday party, also marked most people's last weekend in Paris (I'm staying an extra two weeks). The night was the culmination of a lot of things--getting older, leaving Paris, the final stress of classes and now the excess energy, being done with school, now trying to figure out the next phase of my life in the midst of a recession--that came to a wonderful, needed drunken explosion. All in all a great way to celebrate the end of one phase of my life and the beginning of another, all in the most glamorous city in the world.

My birthday dinner on Wednesday night with Jess and Soo-Young at Derrière, the Moroccan restaurant from the creators of Andy Wahloo.

Heading to the club, that Friday

Popping my head in with my favorite AUP girls.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner

Checkpoint Charlie

Yes, yes, I know that means I'm a pastry.

This weekend I went by myself to Berlin, but not entirely. It was the first trip that Soo-Young didn't accompany me on--she went to Nice instead. I stayed with a friend-of-a-friend named Lisa who lives in Wedding, a Turkish borough to the northwest of Berlin. Lisa was actually friends with Louise, who you'll remember I visited in Portsmouth a month ago. I had long wanted to go to Berlin, it was at the top of my places to see, but I can't really explain why. It fascinates me that a city can change so quickly, and I wanted to see the conflict of being capitalist today and Communist just a few decades ago. The city has a booming art scene and is actually the cheapest capital in Western Europe. I found Berlin very interesting and modern, but there was a real pervasive sadness. It wasn't a soft, happy, pretty city, like Paris, but I really liked its toughness. WWII was still EVERYWHERE, from monuments to conversation. The first night I got to Berlin, Lisa and I went to a bar that played movies every week, and of course the topic of the Czech film shown was WWII. It's really respectable that Berlin preserves so much of its sordid history where other countries try to sweep it under the rug, like how Spain pretty much pretends Franco never happened.

With Lisa

Blowing bubbles in the park

...and on the U-Bahn.

In all these cities, I try to go on the New Europe Free Tours. They are given by college graduates, usually, who move to these cities and fall in love with them and want to share their love of the cities with you--and they're free! So I of course went in Berlin, and my tour guide happened to be a UGA graduate from Atlanta! He and I bonded over the ATL, and he even recommended a cool club to me that I went to that weekend. In fact, Berlin had a lot of the same qualities as Atlanta, since they are both relatively new cities compared to the Old Europe I've been seeing. While public transportation in Berlin is light-years better than Atlanta, they both are heavily car-using cities with wide streets, and they both have an emphasis on hip-hop streetwear.

Holocaust Memorial

Though definitely an educational trip, Berlin was also so much fun. I essentially did not sleep the entire five days and went out late every night, which I loved. I hate having to rush myself, so it was nice being able to leave at 1 am or 2. And the Germans were of course so nice, saying how excited they were to "practice their English" when talking to me. So far, every German that I've met has been smart, educated, speaks incredibly good English but still tolerant, unpretentious and nice. Lisa was a fantastic host, and it's so nice to be able to make a real friend from a weekend trip.

Behind this overly-ornate church is the East Berlin Radio Tower. The radio tower was supposed to be a sign of East Germany's prosperity, but as you can see in the picture, a cross is reflected everyday in its giant Communist disco ball. Of course Communist Germany did not support religion and many excuses were made at the time for the cross, like it was a giant Communist Plus Sign.

Berlin Wall
Die World! DIE!!!

Lots of graffiti.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Arc de Triomphe

View of La Defense from Arc de Triomphe

When I go on my trips to other cities, I try to balance seeing many of the sights, monuments and museums with getting the general feel of a place in its cafes and bars too. But in Paris, it’s so easy for me and my friends to be lazy, stick to what we like and to each other. There’s so many typically Parisian tourist things that I’ve yet to see, so this Saturday, Jess, Soo-Young and I decided to go to La Defense.

La Defense is the opposite of Paris, but it’s just right outside of city limits. It’s a futuristic business area with a giant mall, modern arch that is aligned with the Arc de Triomphe, and industrial art. There is really very little to do there, but we had the best time snapping away pictures and reveling that this weird, anti-Paris world could be so close.

From there, Jess and I walked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, back to normal Paris, and went to the top. From there we could spot our apartments and see all of Paris sprawled out. Paris is by far the prettiest city I’ve been to, but it’s also the most uniform looking city. All the buildings are (by law) the same height, usually a similar color, with typical shops on every street. All in the Hausssman style that’s been preserved today. It’s taken me a while to be able to pick up on the different neighborhoods, because while some are definitely different, on the whole it’s just all so Paris to me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

All the World's a Stage

When I meet French people and they ask me what university I study at in Paris, they are usually under-whelmed when I tell them the American University of Paris. First of all, they have never heard of it. Secondly, they always ask me, Why did you come to Paris to study in English at an American school? I tell them something along the lines of, That’s the only university my school would take credit for, but in reality I would fail miserably if my classes were taught in another language. Simply going to school at AUP has been a weird enough part of my trip.

AUP is an interesting place. It’s an American school with many American students, some of whom, like me, are studying there for a semester, others who fled the states immediately after high school to go to Paris. Sounds cool, but the small school sometimes feels like High School Version 2.0. I see the same people over and over and over again, in the school’s little bar/café (Amex) and in the three classroom buildings. Many of the American students are younger than me, counting their time there in semesters rather than years (a European thing, apparently). But many of the students come from around the world.

This Saturday was World’s Fair, AUP’s annual drunken festival. Since coming to AUP in January, everyone has been talking and waiting months for this event and I was wondering how World’s Fair could ever live up to the hype. Students represent their home countries—over 100 countries represented—with tables offering authentic food and an alcoholic drink. One of the school classroom buildings is transformed in the middle of a Saturday afternoon into a giant MTV Spring Break Beach House with blasting music and drunken people and hilarious costumes.

One of the rooms at World's Fair

At 5 or 6 PM, the party moved just a few blocks from the school to the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower park if you will. There, AUP just acted a drunk mess some more. My school in Boston would never allow such an event, nonetheless encourage drinking. But every event I’ve gone to through AUP—since the initial clubs fair to poetry readings by esteemed writers—has had the wine flowing. I say, Keep it coming!

Maria (Left. Swedish, though representing England since she went to high school there) and Susanne (Right. German) were my student advisors when I first got to AUP. I think they're also younger than me.
With Jess, one of my best friends here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


I writing this from the AUP library where I’m having a hard time focusing on my many papers and assignments at hand. Most prominent is a paper for my Impressionism/Post-Impressionism class about whether Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte” is politically charged or not. I’m putting so much pressure on this paper because if I don’t get a good grade on it, I fail the class. It’s so difficult being scientific about something that should be enjoyed, like art. Mainly, I just don’t want to do it. But I need to do all these papers (and make a documentary) right now because I have a friend visiting me this weekend—the week that four papers are due! Everything right now is just magnified by the fact that I’m (hopefully) going to be graduating at the end of this semester, and then having to find a job, and I have no idea what I’m going to do or where I’m going to live. It’s becoming much more of a reality to me that I may have to move back home to save up money, which I understand is normal, especially for this economy, but it just feels like failure. A month from tomorrow is my 22nd birthday. Twenty-two? How could this be? And I think I’m going to fail school! Why did no one tell me how hard AUP is?

And also while we’re at it: Why did no one tell me the sheer amount of ham I’d have to eat here? Someone really should have warned me about that.

But on another note, I love spring in Paris. Simply being outside is a legitimate way to pass your time here, whether it’s with a cheap bottle of wine on Pont Des Arts or what have you. Being able to drink outside is probably my favorite thing about Paris. That, and the excellent people watching. You can drink on the subway—my first week in Paris, I was drinking with my friend on the way to our location, and as we were exiting, policemen were checking people’s ticket stubs. I handed him mine, took a sip, he handed it back without problem and was on my way. I’ll never be able to sing the praises of outdoor drinking enough.

Today I dragged my friend Jess to Montmartre to help me film for my horrible documentary project, and it was beautiful out. Such a weird place, like a little village within Paris, yet can be so overwhelmingly consumed by tourists. I interviewed local artists there and filmed weird stuff I saw around, like a middle-aged man in the middle of the afternoon completely wasted and heckling a really lovely violinist.

All the tourists make me feel better about myself. I don’t know a lot, but I know more than them, and that’s all the satisfaction that I need.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Buckingham Palace with the Queen, y'all!

This weekend Soo-Young and I went to London, and I can report back saying London is a shameless, shameless place, and for that I loved it.

Our school had a really good deal on extra round trip tickets to London because a class trip going there wasn’t full. We snatched them and took the Eurostar. Settling into my seat, I realize that the simultaneous class trip was headed by my Art History teacher—the meanest, hardest teacher I’ve ever had—and I started to get nervous. She walks by my seat to go to the bathroom, looks at me but doesn’t acknowledge me. As I’m starting to dose off, she goes, “Robert,” from her chair rows in front in her nasally voice, asking me if I’m staying in the same hotel as the class (We didn’t). Get me off this train!

A gray morning in Hyde Park.

Soon after we touch down in London, Soo-Young and I catch a bus for Portsmouth. Yes, Portsmouth, the dirty little sailor town in the south of England. My friend Louise, a Parisian girl who lived with me in Boston for a month while she studied abroad at my university, was currently studying in Portsmouth, so I HAD to see her for the night. A few hours later, Soo-Young and I were welcomed by Louise and taken to her neighborhood gay/karaoke bar that her roommate managed.

My struggle with French is well documented in this blog, but it’s truly embarrassing when you can’t understand people who speak the same language as you. However the people in Portsmouth were so incredibly nice and friendly, and, yes, shameless. Soo-Young and I left for London early the next morning, but it was so nice to see Louise and get to know some crazy Brits.

The weekend we were in London coincided with G8 summit, so we were expecting protests, bomb scares and diverted Tube lines, but on the whole, I think we missed the madness just by a day or two. We of course also went to Topman/Topshop, kind of the whole purpose of the trip. We were there until they closed the store. Almost all the museums in London are free, so we went to the National Gallery and the Tate Modern, which I felt was really darkly themed. We went on a Free Tour which was mainly centered around the Royal Family. The Queen kind of freaks me out, she’s this omnipresent Big Brother icon. Everything is the Royal this and Royal that. It’s really no surprise dystopia novels like 1984 came from England. TV cameras monitor the whole city and you're always hearing eerie chimes and repeated announcements on overhead speakers. During the day, everyone is so orderly concerning things like standing on the right side of the escalator, but the night is a whole different story.

Trafalgar Square: The sculptor of these lion statues had never seen the animal before, so the heads is of a lion and the body is of his pet dog.
Fish and chips!

Going out in London is great. For whatever reason, I felt great about myself the whole time. I know that sounds weird, but I think it had to do with the fact that I didn’t have to apologize for speaking English. But back to the shamelessness: You see all the girls dressed so shamelessly slutty when they go out, way more than any other country I’ve seen, and end up taking off their stripper shoes at the end of the night and walking barefoot in the gross city streets. Disgusting. England shamelessly loves celebrity gossip, and they don’t feel the American guilt for loving mindless pop music.

Tate Modern

London is the masculine city to Paris’s femininity. London is industrial, big, heavy with wooded parks and known for menswear and tailoring. Again, I’m just so astounded how different cities and countries in Europe can be when they’re so geographically close.