Dance for yourself. If someone understands, good. If not, then no matter. Go right on doing what you love. ~ Lois Hurst.
Story of my life."
I wasn’t going to make any more blog posts, but something interesting occurred to me just now about Paris and my experience that I just had to write down.
I’ve been doing an independent study this term with the French department entitled “L’Opéra à Paris: The Relationship between French Opera and Parisian Culture at the Fin de Siècle” (long-winded, I know, and a difficult topic since it’s so FREAKING broad). My biggest problem at this point is that I have a lot of stuff to research and a lot of material to work with, but I don’t know quite exactly what I’m studying.
I’ve found a lot of really interesting and beautiful things in my research, but most of them all point to the same thing, a thing that I knew subconsciously, but didn’t really believe. You see, for a long time before Paris, I genuinely believed that I was not a 21st century girl. I thought that by some cosmic mistake, I ended up here, and I didn’t know why or how that happened. I’m a very formal person. I like etiquette. I like classical music, history, ballet, and I really appreciate those who have good manners and fashion sense. I like when men are chivalrous and treat me like a lady. I have high expectations for marriage and I am happy to be Christian. Therefore, as society doesn’t hold these things in high esteem anymore, I didn’t think I belonged here.
So when I went to Paris I found a world that maybe doesn’t hold all my values in high esteem completely or fully, but as a culture they’re still more refined than I am. They operate in a structure of formality, where they value high art, specific etiquette, where a lot of men still give respects towards women like opening doors and handing them things when they drop them. The French invented ballet, and helped to compose a good bit of my favorite types of music. And since all these beautiful French things are most clear in Paris, I was happily overwhelmed with them while I was there. There’s the glamor of Coco Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent, where people care about what they wear, and still put on Dior and famous perfume in the morning.
These people and this culture were what I was always looking for in life, so it’s no wonder I was happy there.
What’s cool though is that the Paris I love now wasn’t around 200 years ago in the time I so idolize in modern history. I’ve been reading Shelley Rice’s Parisian Views (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Parisian Culture in the 19th century or art history as it examines both side-by-side), and in it she talks about how beautiful Paris was after the reconstruction, and that it became even more beautiful before the first world war, in what French people term La Belle Époque (literally, the beautiful era, not to be confused with le Fin de Siècle, which is the last 25 years of the 19th century; I confused them quite often before I began my research), because it’s the era during which the French government obtained true stability and could seriously develop their culture (this was also possible in Fin de Siècle, but even more so in Belle Époque), showing it off to the world with new marvels such as the Eiffel Tower, the newly renovated city, and Sacre-Cœur. The Paris in the time I love only had Notre-Dame, and Hôtel des Invalides, which are beautiful nonetheless. However, were I to go back to 1860s Paris, I would perhaps be let down. Like other big cities in the world, the sewer system wasn’t great, people didn’t bathe very often, and a lot of disease circulated and killed thousands of people.
So essentially, I’ve learned that I was meant to go to Paris at the time I did and that my existence in the era isn’t just a cosmic mistake. Paris has all the charm, beauty, and inspiration of the 19th century with all the governmental stability and modern convenience of the 21st.
And if you know me at all, you know that it makes me happier than anywhere else in the world.
Three last pictures. :) There’s me, in front of my music school of amazing, then my real family and my host family. (From right, Mom, Host mom, Pauline, Clémence, me, Maggie, and Emily.) And of course La Tour Eiffel.
It would be a lie to say that Paris didn’t change me.
I’ve been reading all the last blog posts from all the study abroad blogs from all my friends, no matter their location, and I must say I was a little surprised. I suppose I lived in this world of near perfection in Paris that is rare for many, many other students, whether they studied in Vienna, Barcelona, London, Buenos Aires, or Paris. Everyone talks about how great their time was, but that now they’re happier than ever to be back in the states, where there’s “hot water for showers”, where “everything is cheaper”, and where you can buy mundane things like highly processed junk food for a menial price. They’re happy to be at their home universities, where everything is all on the same campus, or where the program is easier/harder and therefore better suited to them, or with their “real life friends”.
Again, I’m not in this last blog post to harp on anything or anyone, because I understand full well that harboring adoration for another culture the way I do for France is a difficult feat; at least, it’s difficult for someone who isn’t a citizen of said country. Of course, there is a list of things I may have missed about the United States, but if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s a list of maybe five things. And I think that’s pushing it. I fell in love with Paris for many, many reasons, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, despite my language faux pas (and oh trust me, there are many many many MANY of them), I feel more at home in French culture than I have ever felt in American culture.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a snob (well, at least no more than when I left the U.S.) in the way that a lot of people are when they return from places like Paris. Okay, maybe I’m a girl who enjoys the finer things in life, like a nice glass of Bordeaux paired with a little piece of an artisan baguette and some hot goat cheese. Yes, that’s one of my favorite things, along with the French ballet, the long and complicated history of the French people, their mindset, and the language they speak. But it doesn’t mean I’m not open to eating a hot dog at a barbecue, drumming African rhythms, studying ancient Chinese civilization, or singing German drinking songs.
My adoration of French culture started when I was 11 and I took my first French class. It was the first time I was exposed to a Western culture that wasn’t Anglophone or Germanic. I love my family, but my parents are intensely pro-American and far too proud of their German heritage. It gets to the point where they are often blinded to the beauty of other cultures because they don’t think any other culture could compete with the greatness of the good ol’ American way or the hardworking Protestant German culture. And as I said, both things of course have their merits. So there I was, learning the lyrics to the Marseillaise, and as the minutes passed, I came to the conclusion that I had never heard any other spoken words more beautiful than French, even when we sixth-grade-Americans butchered the accent to an atrocious point of no return. I resolved then that someday I would come to Paris. (This can be proven by a doodled page in my 6th grade notebook that reads, “Paris, je viens!” with a sad little drawing of the Eiffel Tower and people singing in the streets with baguettes.)
My older sister says that the reason I love France and all things French is because my family is not exactly pro-France. But I disagree. My pull toward French goes far deeper than rebelling against my father singing Deutschland Auberalis every time someone mentions a pretzel or a bratwurst. It ties in with my love of opera despite the fact that I really don’t have that great of a voice with which to sing. It ties in with my love of ballroom and ballet dancing even though my mother called me the klutziest 13-year-old she’d ever seen.
I’m really bad at digressing. Sorry. Jet lag and no sleep do not a good blogger make.
Anyway, when I arrived in Paris, I had very high expectations, hopes, dreams, and standards for that city. And while of course it wasn’t what I imagined (because there is no place on earth that satisfy the imaginations of a dreaming 11-year-old), it was so much better. If I had to put my personality in a box and make it into a city, that city would be Paris. Full of light, a lover of history, of art, of music, of quirkiness, of good food, of fashion, of awkwardness, of relative timidity, of quietness, and yes perhaps, of beauty. That is me. I love all those things like Paris loves them. After I realized this about the first week into the study abroad program, my happiness knew no bounds.
Now here comes the practical part. When you study abroad, 5,000 miles away from everyone you know and everything that’s familiar, where everything is in a different language, you take on two main things that will change you, no matter where you are in life’s journey. 1) Independence. 2) Confidence. And before I came to Paris, had to figure out which bus would take me to Porte Maillot, how to give directions to a Paris cab driver, how to truly communicate in another language, I didn’t have either of those things. I’ll be the first to admit that I was clingy, insecure, and sensitive to anything and everything that could go wrong. Maybe it was my program that taught me numbers 1 and 2, but I think it was Paris. I think it was Paris who told me, in her lovely French accent, “Calm down, think things out slowly and methodically, and then have a glass of wine.” Funnily enough, that system worked out extremely well for my over-exaggerated and dramatic tendencies. It’s clear to me and my family, as well as close friends, that I’ve changed drastically for the better. Paris taught me who I am, who I can be, and what I can do.
Also important to note is what Paris’ conservatory program has done for me. I wrote a blog post about this a while ago that was rather ecstatic (and rightly so!). I don’t know if it was luck or divine intervention, but the voice teacher I had this term was the best thing that could have possibly happened. I’m so used to the American “classical music farm”, in which you start learning repertoire in high school, and from the time you get admitted to college, it’s REPERTOIRE ARIAS ART SONGS LITURGICAL REPERTOIRE REPERTOIRE REPERTOIRE YOU DON’T GET TO BREATHE. Now that’s all fine and dandy if you have good technique, have a teacher you work well with, and are in a positive learning environment. But until September of this year in France, I had NONE of the above in any capacity. When I told my voice teacher back home I hadn’t learned any repertoire this term, she flipped out. “What do you mean?” she demanded, “Don’t you know you have a jury and then a half recital? What do you expect repertoire to do, fall out of the air?” When I told my vocal classmates similar things, they were just as shocked. But there’s a dual lesson to learn here, one I will talk about via a French clichéd metaphor. Say you’re at a wine tasting. A few feet in front of you, someone has poured you a lovely glass of antique, mellow red wine, a glass you know will be delicious. Now do you a) run to the glass of wine and gulp it all down or b) slowly pick it up, circle the wine around the glass a little to free the tannins, and then take one small sip? Is this really a question here? If we go through life grabbing the first glass of red wine that’s available to us, we’ll miss out on the best part: taking things slow and savoring the moment.
My French experience in its entirety can be explained in that one sentence.
As I return to the bustling, challenging environment of a competitive trimester system, I’m going to try my absolute darndest to keep that sentence in mind. It’s going to be hard.
It’s going to be hard to be away from Paris for hundreds of reasons. Chief among them is that I’m in love. I’m in love with the city that gave me the confidence to be who I am and to be unashamed of it. I’m in love with the most beautiful city there is, with my favorite culture in this world, and the best friends I’ve ever made.
And yes, I’m in love with the way the Eiffel Tower looks from the Pont d’Alma at midnight.
Well, I’ve returned from Normandy with my family, and for the 2nd time visiting Northern France, I loved it. The beauty of Normandy is not to be believed sometimes! Despite the cold (something like high 20s, low 30s) we had an amazing time.
Our first day was spent at Mont-St-Michel, a tiny city that was built on an island mountain thing. (I honestly don’t know what else to call it!) It’s a giant monastery (no longer in use). According to the legend, the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches (a small town in Normandy) in 709 and told him to build a monastery in his name for the glory of God on a tiny island outside the town of Pontorson. Over two hundred years later, the first level of the monastery was completed, but it wasn’t totally finished until the 13th century. There’s a giant list of miracles that have occurred there. Overall, it’s a beautiful place to behold.
The next few hours were sent touring and exploring the tiny town that surrounds the cathedral/monastery, as well as the beach surrounding it. It’s a cool place, like I said, but a little too touristic for my tastes. Upon our arrival, we were one of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of tourists, which made things more stressful and difficult than originally envisioned.
We then caught a train to Bayeux, a small city in northeastern Normandy that is home to the famous beaches of Normandy where D-Day occurred. It’s surrounded by several cemeteries and memorials. But apart from that, Bayeux, like most French towns, has a rich history you wouldn’t expect. It has a giant cathedral that was built in the “Norman” Gothic style, which can be distinguished from the high French style because of its two spires at the front of the church, which end in points and pointed windows at the top of the church. Bayeux was also the place where William the Conqueror left to conquer England in the 11th century, thus it houses one of the most famous pieces of art in all French history, the Tapestry of Bayeux, which depicts the backstory, the journey, the preparations, the battle, and the succession of William. It was pretty cool!
Later in the morning we headed to the American Cemetery, which was just as moving for my family as it was for me the first time around.
Shortly thereafter, we caught a train to Lisieux. A town carved out of a hillside, Lisieux is quaint and namely, extraordinarily religious. This is due to the fact that a famous saint, Thérèse of Lisieux, lived and was a nun there. A giant basilica, her convent, and three other cathedrals can be found inside the city walls. Given that only my older sister is Catholic, Emily, Mom and I explored the city a little bit and had coffee in a stereotypical French café until dinner, and at last, we caught a train back home, to Paris.
Apologies that this blog post isn’t as eloquent as usual (if they are eloquent…? Well they are usually a little more put together at least…), but I’ve got a lot on my mind, as today is my last full day in Paris. Oh Lord. I can’t talk about it.