Ashley in Paris

Ashley, a member of the University Honors Program and a senior majoring in art history, was awarded a Richter International Fellowship to conduct independent, graduate-level research this summer in Paris, where she plans to examine primary documents and pieces of chinoiserie at the major libraries and museums. Chinoiserie was an 18th-century movement in Europe characterized by the production of goods that portrayed China as an idyllic utopia, with plump pagodes, mystic sages and enlightened philosophers.

Read more from Ashley in Paris

Bonjour de Paris!

I arrived safely in Paris yesterday afternoon, and it has been a whirlwind ever since.

I would say that the actual airport travel was the least complicated and completely hassel-free, I even got to sleep for a bit (a miracle considering my last flight to Paris). … After this, things got a little more complicated.

The person supposed to handle the check-in for my apartment had problems with his scooter; so, I was left on the side of the street for 40 minutes with all of my baggage. Luckily, the street I am living on is very small and has little to no traffic. I would have much prefered to spend my time at a nearby cafe, however, my luggage prevented this. While I was standing there, I noticed that directly across the street from my apartment is a shop that peddles goods from the Far East and a Japanese Sushi restaurant. The exoticism of the Orient is still very much alive in Paris.

The first glitch
Once I got settled in and unpacked, I was ready to explore. Unfortunately, I had not considered the fact that I was arriving on a Sunday afternoon (almost everything in Paris is closed on Sundays, certainly after mid-morning). This would not have been an issue if I hadn’t needed a meal.

After walking what felt like forever (multiplied by the jetlag), I found it, the one place that was inexpensive and open: McDo (the French slang for McDonalds). I must admit that eating my Filet-O-Fish, even in Paris, alone at a crowded restaurant was not heartening. I began to think “what have I gotten myself in to?.” Things did not improve from there.

Upon returning to my apartment, I decided to charge my laptop … Anyone who has heard my previous horror stories from last summer with SMU-in-Paris will know that the whole adapter/converter thing is what I was the most concerned about this time. Last summer I fried my converter, a battery charger, my flat iron, and turned the electricity off in my hotel room. To say the least, I was apprehensive.

Well, the good news is that I didn’t blow anything up; the bad news is that was because the adapter wouldn’t fit into the wall socket! Urg! Ok, so now I was stressed. I had spent so much time researching about the difference between converters and adapters, the voltage in France versus the U.S., the fact that my laptop power cord was dual voltage, and insuring that I got a three-prong adapter. All for nothing?

I figured that since I had a meeting with Dr. Roynier in the morning I would see what advice she had. In the meantime, why not visit one of my favorite places in Paris: Le Jardin du Luxembourg.

One of the best places in Paris
The Luxembourg Gardens are a short walk from my apartment (maybe 10 minutes). I was so happy to find a reasonably priced apartment in the 6th arrondisement (French neighborhood) near this iconic site. The other motive of this particular visit to the gardens was to find the ice cream stand I had visited during my last visit. Luckily, Paris did not fail me. Ice cream is almost always nearby, and this time was no exception. I got deux boules de pistache (two scoops of pistachio) and sat in front of le Fontaine de Medici, enjoying the general splendor.

I had forgotten some of the typical Parisian behaviors: the French are not afraid of eye-contact with strangers (to the point of staring), French couples are extremely affectionate (even in public), and the French do not have the American concept of personal space (aka the invisible bubble). My first day was a good crash course, and I was definitely looking forward to my meeting with Dr. Roynier and hoping that she could shed some light, particularly regarding my computer issues.

Fixing things and Lesson One
I was not disappointed. My meeting with Dr. Roynier was extremely productive and left me feeling so much better about the circumstances.

Firstly, she gave me my letters for the French libraries, which will be a great help in assuring access to these institutions. Also, she helped me decide on the right metro card for me (Navigo Decouverte, things have changed since I was here last summer) and told me about the FNAC (a place that I will be eternally grateful to for providing life to my computer). Sounds a little extreme, but at the time it was completely fitting.

My next adventure was my first grocery shopping trip to the Monoprix (similar to a CVS but larger and with a small supermarket) about a 30-second walk from my apartment door. I had been to the Monoprix last summer to get several things, but this was my first time buying grocery items. Well, if someone was going to mess up, of course it had to be the American tourist. There have been so many times the last few days that I’ve wanted to say, “Oui, je suis une touriste americaine” (Yes, I am an American tourist), as if that would explain it all.

Well, I got up to the checkout counter and was so proud that I had found all of the items on my list, including a mini-trashcan for my bathroom, which was previously not girl-friendly. An older French couple came up behind me in line, and the woman kept touching the handle on my cart. I kept telling myself that it was just the French disregard for personal space.

Finally, as I am putting my items on the circulation belt, the lady asks me a question in French. I was not mentally prepared to be spoken to and thought, for a moment, that she was asking where I had gotten the mini-trashcan I was holding. No. She was talking about my fruit and needing to do something at the back of the store. Soon the cashier chimed in. I thought maybe I was supposed to purchase my produce separately? I asked if I could do this afterwards. Then I realized they were saying that I needed to get stickers for my fruit so that the cashier could ring them up. They did not have the product codes or scales at the cash register like in America. I guess this is exactly like some of the products at Central Market and Whole Food stores, where you get the peanuts or something from the dispensers and then weigh and label them yourself before check out. Well, I was unaware that this was the procedure for fruit in France as well. Now I know.

Lesson One: Watch closely what the French do and imitate.

A Parisien encounter and Lesson Two
By the end of that adventure I ate leftovers for dinner at my apartment, and 6pm was fast approaching. I didn’t think that I could stand staying in my apartment for the remainder of the night, especially after my shopping experience (I am one of those people who likes to write over bad experiences with good ones). So, why not go to my other favorite place in the city? So cliche, but yes, the Eiffel Tower. However, I most enjoy the surrounding gardens (Parc du Champ du Mars) and the Avenue de la Bourdonnais (a great Parisien street).

While sitting in the garden enjoying a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower, I had a pleasant conversation with a young French boy and his father (my first conversation in French this time around that did not involve someone helping me at an establishment). It was so nice to experience Parisien hospitality; I felt so welcome. We talked about the city and art history. He seemed to really love Paris, and he was very proud that I was making a return visit. Also, he was impressed that I was an American who spoke French (I think that the French have low standards in regards to American tourists). All in all, it was a wonderful experience.

One minor glitch though … On my way to the Eiffel Tower, I was waiting to cross the street (the French have green and red walk signs, just like in the States) and had a run-in (not quite literally) with French traffic. In Paris, the cars almost always have the right-of-way, even if the green “walk” symbol is lit. Well, I was waiting for the symbol to appear and watching the traffic. The Parisiens, however, are not as patient as I. They watch the traffic and always try to get across even if it doesn’t say “walk”.

Well, keeping lesson one in mind, the Parisien lady next to me started to walk, and without even looking at the traffic sign, I started to walk too. Big mistake. She may have had enough time to run across, but I difinitely didn’t. A van honked and slammed on the brakes.

So, Lesson Two: Don’t always follow the Parisiens’ lead (they know more and are more comfortable taking risks) – pay attention and watch out for yourself.

Stay tuned
In hindsight, the past few days have been a roller coaster of emotions and adventures. The next few days on my itinerary are “looking days.” This means that I will be visiting some of the city’s museums to gain a strong visual vocabulary in regards to chinoiserie. Bonne nuit (Good night)!

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