Thursday, 22 January 2015

Great Expectations

I was sat in my History lecture today and we were discussing the representation of Paris in Woody Allen’s film Midnight In Paris (incidentally I can’t stand the film – I blame you Owen Wilson) and I was thinking about what I thought Paris was going to be like when I moved here.
I seem to remember thinking I was going to be going to lots of galleries and sitting in bars having deep meaningful conversations with dark, handsome strangers who were painters or sculptors. I’ve been to a few galleries but no such luck on the handsome strangers’ front. It’s weird the impression that everyone has of Paris and its creative soul. In the imaginations of most it smells of cigarettes and has this ethereal presence that can’t help but enchant every visitor. There is the classic quote from Hemmingway that “if you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast” and I think that is what I expected of Paris.
The point of this blog was always to document my travels around the city and what jackanapes I got up to here but I don’t think I envisaged the extent to which I think the city has changed me.  I took the title of this blog from a book I read about Paris. The Dud Avocado is about an American girl who moves to Paris and aims to go more native than the natives. She is the mistress of a civil servant, she ends up as an extra on a film in Biarritz in a bid to become an actress, she loses her passport and declares herself a citizen of the world but the main thing she does is that she finds her true self in Paris. It might seem a bit corny but I think it’s the perfect place to do just that. I haven’t quite gone to the extent that the character in The Dud Avocado goes to but I think I’ve managed to push my boundaries here and challenge myself.
I’m not sure when exactly it was that I started feeling comfortable here but I’d say it was in the last 10 months or so. The architecture, the language and the people themselves were all things I felt I had to get to grips with. The architecture must seem like such a weird thing to say but I think I felt when I first moved here like I had to fit in with the city around me and that included looking appropriate in the setting. When I used to live by the Eiffel Tower I’d always have this monument staring down at me watching my every move when I walked out of my front door in the morning. Eventually I got used to it, but it took a while I can tell you. Now I keep getting asked whether I’m fluent in French yet to which my answer is not really. I mean I’m so much better than I used to be and I think a lot less about what I’m going to say and it all comes a bit more naturally. I just don’t feel like I’m quite there yet, maybe it is just that I haven’t fully grasped all the French tenses yet but hopefully soon that will happen. Parisians get a hard rep for being a little bit frosty which is true to a certain extent but if you try with them they’ll love you forever. When my family came to visit in the summer we went to this restaurant/bar on Rue Cler for Happy Hour pretty much every day for their St Germain liqueur cocktail. The restaurant was staffed by your typical Parisian waiters – quite cocky but essentially lovely. They could tell we were English from a mile off but as soon as I started chatting to them in French they absolutely loved us and came over to talk pretty much every time we went there.

I expected to be a lot more intimidated of Paris than I ended up being and for that I’m so glad. I’d say I still have some expectations of the city but that I need to go out and make them happen. Maybe soon I shall meet my tall, dark, handsome stranger in the next bar? Paris has taught me to go out and look for that next opportunity and to embrace what happens to you. Go with the flow it might just work out for the best. 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Today in Paris something shocking has happened. One of the biggest shootings of the century was down to a satirical magazine. Journalists and cartoonists were the target of this act of terrorism. It shocks me that in this modern age freedom of expression has been attacked in this way. France is a country that fought for its freedoms and is a country that is founded on freedom. You can’t turn a corner in Paris without seeing a building inscribed with the words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” so you could be forgiven for assuming that an act like this would never be able to take place given this national ideal. Living in Paris, you hear many people complain about the various demonstrations and protests because they’ve disturbed the daily commute or you can’t cross the river because there is a march taking place. But I think it’s massively important that people can express their views in a peaceful and lawful manner. The attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is there to shock journalists and cartoonists into silence. As an aspiring writer and journalist I have been compelled to express my views on this subject. Freedom of debate and expression in the media is vital to a functioning society. I heard something that I thought was very poignant in relation to press regulation – “Don’t ban it, just don’t buy it”. I understand how the cartoons produced by the weekly satirical magazine might have been found offensive but if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Even better, if you really want to express your opinions then a peaceful protest is the way forward. There is a man outside the metro stop by uni who really doesn’t seem to like Francois Hollande which is his right. He stands there nearly every single day with his homemade signs expressing his political right to protest. If only more people were like him and could act in lawful ways to defend their rights. We must not let this subdue the press when actually these are the kinds of ideas they, in my opinion, should be challenging and writing about and not the kind of press that simply prints trashy stories about celebrities just because they sell better.

My thoughts are with the families of those killed and with Paris as a city mourns this sad loss. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Late Night Thoughts

So I got asked the other night if I liked Paris or not and this got me thinking about what it is I actually like about possibly one of the most written about cities in the world. There are so many clichéd reasons to love the city of Light and they’re the reasons people visit on their romantic breaks. But I think the residents of the capital have different reasons why they enjoy their city. I’ve previously described my admiration and enjoyment of the novel Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert hence this apology for yet again mentioning it. There is a great part in the book where see talks about living in Rome and she talks about how living somewhere is different to visiting it. Some things are just different when you are there living them and you tend to appreciate different aspects of the place when it is a part of your daily life. Thus I’ve compiled a list of things about Paris that are better when you live there than when you’re spending a weekend there.
·         Baguettes – the quintessential French foodstuff. They just aren’t the same when they are fresh out of the oven and dipped in baked Camembert. You don’t get to savour these as much as the locals do when you are staying in a hotel as not many are fitted out with a cheeky oven to bake your own cheese (on a side note neither is my flat, disappointingly).
·         The museums – I love a gallery. But I don’t think I really started liking them until I got to Paris. I’m not really sure what the reason for that is, maybe it’s something to do with trying to make the most of everything while I’m there. I think that you don’t really get the benefit of all the museums and art galleries when you visit for a holiday. You spend all this time shuffling round behind the swathes of tourists on guided tours so you don’t get to savour in the art. The Louvre is so much more magical at half nine on a Thursday evening – the time when your standard tourist digs into their generic chocolate mousse in an “authentic” restaurant complete with dodgy service.
·         The Seine – Alright it’s a bit smelly and a rather attractive shade of brown, but there isn’t much better than grabbing a pack of beers in the summer and taking them down to Ile De La Cîté and having a drinking and a gossip with mates as the sun goes down, even despite the occasional rodent!

I’m rather looking forward to going back to Paris this Friday after spending the holidays at home. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a few more things to this list after finishing my second term of my second year at uni. I know I made the best decision when I clicked that button to apply to ULIP, so hopefully more crazy stories are to come along with maybe a bit of work thrown in.