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/cafĂ© (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.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Half-Way There: YSL, Amsterdam and Nutty Bars

Yesterday was the day my Communicating Fashion class has been waiting for all semester—an opportunity bestowed to students studying fashion design in Paris, though since we’re studying the sociology of fashion, we got to go. Our class visited the YSL Foundation. To begin with, this place is literally a church of Yves Saint Laurent. There are pictures of him everywhere and everyone there is obsessed with him. The workshop is dead quiet and completely sanitary white, giving the utmost care of vacuuming old articles of clothing with a micro vacuum and chiffon in between the vacuum head and the garment. All of a sudden half-way through the tour while we were looking at YSL’s original sketches from the 60s in a plastic protector that they said would last 200 years, one of the girls in my class completely fainted. Out of no where. It was kind of hot in the building, but no one faints just from a little heat. A French couture seamstress (though seamstress is the wrong word, I just can’t think of the French word) gave us a tour of the facility while our teacher translated. At one point the woman gave a bio for Saint Laurent’s life, but she curiously left out my favorite detail and the most important part: that Saint Laurent checked himself into a mental hospital after his time at Dior and after serving a stint in the army before starting his own line and wooing the world. To me, that’s the best part of his story. So later on in the tour, with the help of a French student, I asked her, “Didn’t Saint Laurent spend time in a psychiatric hospital?” To which she looked at me blankly. I pushed it: “I know for a fact he spent time in a hospital before showing his first collection under his name." “Oh,” she hesitated, “he was at the American hospital, but that’s all.” “I know he was in a mental hospital,” I said, still nicely though. Later on in the elevator, out of sight of the workshop, she told me that she couldn’t talk about his time there. I guess it might be sacrilegious in the House of YSL. My friends in the class got mad at me for pushing the question, but I am a journalism student and she left out the most notable part. I had to. Later we went into the temperature controlled, sealed floor where they keep nearly everything that YSL ever designed. It’s unimaginable the amount of clothes they have back there. We mainly looked at his collection from 1988-89, which is a really weird time to look if you ask me since the 80s weren’t exactly the pinnacle of chic-ness. But it was a really cool experience, being in the Church of YSL.

A few weeks ago, toward the beginning of March, I was feeling really depressed. Inexplicably but overwhelmingly depressed. I would find myself going out in huge groups of students (I wouldn’t plan it, I would meet up with a friend and all of a sudden 10 other people would be there), no plans and no where to go, and after all the bars closed, hanging out on a street corner at 5 AM, talking to jerk French guys but everyone else thinking it’s so great because they’re French. That Saturday I just left without saying bye to anyone because I was just so unhappy being there. I just felt like, What am I doing? But the tides started to change when my friend Jess had two old friends visit her for 10 days. They both studied in Paris last year and go to NYU, and we immediately all became obsessed with each other. I would go do touristy stuff with them, and it’s just so much fun to live your life as a tourist, spending a little bit more money on the special things and going out of your way to experience things. Since then, I’ve been really enjoying Paris a lot more, every single day. It’s an active enjoyment, though. I’ll be walking home past beautiful old buildings and I’ll smell bread and I have to stop myself and remind myself, Bobby, not everywhere is like this. This is why Paris is special.

I’ve been enjoying myself a lot more, I feel like I have more friends now in this second half of my time here and the beautiful weather has made everything so much better, but also because I’ve been traveling on the weekends. Last weekend, Soo-Young and I went to Amsterdam on a semi-last minute trip. When we got to Amsterdam, we first noticed literally thousands of Scottish people everywhere. We thought, Is this a popular destination for Scots? Why is everyone in kilts? But, as it turns out, there was a soccer game that weekend between Scotland and Amsterdam. Scots, at least those that go to sports games, are really just like rednecks in skirts. They were drunk from 10 AM and they were everywhere. I would close my eyes, but still all I could see was tartan. I don’t even need to visit Scotland now. One day at 11 AM this completely wasted man, late 40s or 50s, was trying to open a beer bottle with his teeth but couldn’t do it, so he handed it to his 12-year-old-looking nephew who then almost broke a tooth off trying to open it with his mouth. Even the little Scottish boys were walking around with beers, but they were all well behaved compared to their parents.

Amsterdam is a peculiar place, but not in the way you think. Soo-Young and I went on a really good free tour, and learned a lot about the city’s history, but got me thinking about the city today. For example, the Dutch were once really important centuries and centuries ago, more wealthy than England or France, yet it was short lived, they lost it and have nothing to show for it now. A lot of their policies, like those concerning marijuana and prostitution, are very tolerant and open-minded, but I think it’s just because they’ll do anything to make money. We walked by the Anne Frank House, which has become completely Disney-fied with the line to get in going around the block and a gift shop. But it’s true that the people of Amsterdam did strike and protest against the Nazis when no other major European city was. Amsterdam is out there to make money, but they’re nice as they do it. The people were all very friendly, and the city was in fact very cute and definitely grew on us by the second day. It even felt like Boston at times, like my freshman year, in a twisted way, but it didn’t feel like the Dutch retained much of their culture and everyone spoke English. We did eat a really amazing Dutch meal one night though: Dutch green pea soup with sausage, endive stompot with meatball, and baked apple. On our last day we went to a really great exhibit of Richard Avedon’s work. I always loved him, but after watching a documentary shown there about him, he may be new hero status.

This weekend Soo-Young and I are going to London because we got an excellent deal on Eurostar tickets. We’re even staying in Portsmouth for a night with my friend Louise, a Parisian girl who lived with me in Boston for a month. But due to bad planning, we happen to be going to London the same time as the G20 Summit, when all the major protests will be going on. I’m going to try to film some of it for my Making a Documentary class…if I get around to it…

My mom last week sent a care package filled with American junk food like Goldfish, Nutty Bars (a new-found favorite) and Famous Amos cookies. I’m in heaven. Though I love the delicious treats Paris has to offer, I’ve really found myself indulging in American junk food more so than when I was in America. Perhaps it’s a sense of familiarity, but I CRAVE Coca-Cola here in a way that I never did back home. In fact, I never drank Coke after high school, though being from Atlanta, it was pretty much a staple growing up. And I go to McDonalds here almost every week or two. In part because it’s cheap, and McDonalds here are nicer and don’t have the stigma attached like the ones in the States. I get all excited for trying new sandwiches, like the Chicken Mythic. With that said, though, last week I bought running shoes and running shorts. I live near the best park in Paris, and there isn’t a big running culture here so I won’t feel completely stupid and judged for going around the park like an idiot. So, guys, guess how many times I’ve gone jogging so far?