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Reflections on Chicago and Paris while traveling to Puerto Rico

Walking through the O’Hare airport this morning and watching the sun rise reflecting bright pink off the clouds over Chicago, I couldn’t help but smile fondly. I have to admit, a part of me misses this city.  I’m on my way to Puerto Rico for a THAT Camp “unconference” at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez and the American Studies Association conference in San Juan.

This trip has been in the works since last summer when a friend and I decided to put a panel together at a graduate institute hosted by the Newberry Library in Chicago.  Since the ASA deadline was a little further away, giving us time to plan, and the theme was a perfect fit for our panel, we decided to give it a shot.  The location had nothing to do with it! Well, ok, maybe a little… San Juan in the middle of gray, (normally) cold, rainy November sounded wonderful to my Yale and UConn colleagues and I.  And I have been looking forward to this conference (and the late addition of the THAT Camp to my schedule) for months, but when it came time to actually leave family, friends, and home, I had second thoughts even though it’s only for a week.  Thankfully, I have friends either living in or meeting me in San Juan, and the THAT Camp is small (only about 60 attendees), so I’m sure I’ll meet a number of other scholars.  I know I will enjoy my time while I’m there, and I could definitely use a dose of warmth to go with our unusually sunny November.  However, I know I will also be happy to come home at the end.

It has been a crazy month since we returned.  I had hoped to write more on my personal blog to fill in a number of stories yet untold about our travels in Europe, but alas, I have spent most of my time in the car running to Michigan State or (happily) catching up with family, friends, meeting our nephew(!), celebrating birthdays, Halloween, and the birth of a dear friend’s precious daughter.  It’s been a whirlwind, but it has been wonderful to be home, surrounded by love and special friendships with those who know our virtues and faults and love us still.

To all those who wrote or Skyped, I just want to take a moment to thank you.  There were definitely points in the journey when I was quite lonely, and I would read your notes over and over again.  I carried you all in my heart while I was away, so if I forget to share pictures or stories, please understand that I felt like you were there with me, experiencing the colors and delectable scents of the markets, the coolness of the Mediterranean, and the awe-inspiring yet cozy city of Paris. I also don’t want to be one of those people who talk on and on about their travels and show their photos ad nauseum.  With that said, if you would like me to share more, please let me know.

I suppose it makes the most sense to start from the point at which I left off … After our trip to Italy, I traveled to Paris and Mike returned Braunton, England.  I was quickly reminded how much fun Paris can be when shared with a friend.  My first visit to Paris was two years ago, traveling alone for the first time, and it was my first time in Europe. I didn’t know a soul, so much of my time was spent journaling, doing a few sightseeing tours, and planning what I’d like to see when I could share the experience with someone else.  Little did I know that the next trip would be with my husband and best friends! We only had about two and half days in the city, but we saw about as much as one can cram into that amount of time.  I’m surprised we didn’t need new shoes after our trip to London and Paris together; we put so many miles on them! And in Paris, we decided to be extra ambitious and climbed all the stairs of the Eiffel Tower – good thing too or we would have spent the entire night waiting for the one working elevator instead enjoying the views. If one is in reasonably decent shape, it’s really not a bad hike, and it provides a fantastic justification for indulging in the scrumptious Parisian cuisine after. J

I digress. During my third trip to Paris, this time for research, I stayed with a friend from Michigan State.  As we plotted and planned for our two weeks together, she found a small apartment we could share, sent me pictures, the sublet price, and we agreed that it looked perfect for us.  When I arrived – after hauling my luggage through the metro and up four flights of stairs – she greeted me by apologizing for the miniscule size of the place.  What had looked cozy and quaint online was quite tight for two people.  Nevertheless, I loved it.  It was an artist’s apartment packed with books, her own artwork, and souvenirs from her own world travels. Living there was exactly what I had pictured life might be like as a young woman in her twenties trying to live within a tight budget.

My first night in town, we wandered down to the Bastille and found a place to grab dinner and catch up. The next day, Monday, we picked up our Navigo passes for the metro and made our way to the Bibliothèque Nationale.  What a blessing it was to have Ali to guide me through that process! She guided me to office where I had to submit my passport, letter from my professor, and explain my project in a short interview; then to the window to pay for my reader’s card; to the vestiary to drop off my bags and pick up the plastic suitcase that would house my precious research tools (laptop, camera, and money for espresso); to a computer stand to reserve a place in a reading room; and finally through the 12-foot high 8-inch thick card-access-only metal doors. If you’d like a more detailed description of the involved process of getting into the French national library, see the post on my academic blog site.

I spent a good portion of our time between the reading room and espresso bar at the national library while Ali met me there or back at the apartment after conducting research at another archives.  The evenings were often quite, as she read for comps, and I wrote cover letters and worked on my teaching philosophy statement. My favorite part of the day was the morning when it was cool and fewer people were out and about.  I often ran along the Seine, through the gardens, by Notre Dame and back or explored the area around Père Lachaise cemetery.

Summer is generally the time when most American graduate students conduct research, freed from teaching requirements and their own course-loads, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that a number of Michigan State history students descended on Paris at the same time. It was surreal though. The last time I had seen them was in East Lansing months before, and yet here we were in Paris! One night we met one of the other grad students and his wife for a walk along the channel, dinner, and drinks in the “secret” bar.  There are no signs for this bar, and it is hidden at the end of a long, hedged walkway.  I don’t remember how Ali found it before, but it was a fun find.  The inside is entirely furnished with second-hand and re-purposed materials, much like a dorm-room.  College wasn’t that long ago; it felt like home, albeit slightly exoticized.

With Cindy, another MSU grad student, and her boyfriend Eric, we discovered Café Industriel not far from our apartment – great food and very reasonable prices by any standard, which means inexpensive in Paris.

Just across from our apartment sat another a cute Parisian café – a bit pricier, but a fun atmosphere until about 2am when we were ready to sleep, but everyone else was still out partying.  It didn’t take long for Ali to hunt down some ear plugs, and I dug out my noise-cancelling earphones to ensure a decent night’s sleep.

On another excursion, Ali introduced me to City Pharmacie a block from St. Germain-de-Près church. What a trip! Apparently, buses pull up in front of this pharmacy for the tourists because it has such great deals on fantastic French beauty products.  After squeezing my way through the hoards, being smashed up against a glass display-case, face first, and finding myself completely mystified by the checkout lines and attendants that allowed people to cut in front of those of us who had already waited ten minutes, I decided it was time for a drink.  Fortuitously, Les Deux Magots was only a block away – a café made famous by the many artists and authors who frequented it in the days of Hemingway and later Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre.  I had wanted to check it out anyway, but having survived the traumatic trip through the pharmacy, it was the perfect moment to find a comfy place to sit, enjoy a café and people-watch. Ali agreed. The prices are ridiculous, which is why I only bought a coffee, but it’s fun to say I’ve been there.

It may not have been the most glamorous trip to Paris, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and having a friend to share it with.

 

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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Travels

 

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Combatting Loneliness and Contemplating Unusual Activities in Paris

By Bryant Arnold

Even though I didn’t get to sight-see as I had intended yesterday, I made time in the evening to do a bit of personal writing – sharing a few memories about our travels in Italy.  As odd as it may sound, in the midst of my work-work-work mindset competing with my desire to escape from loneliness through fiction and movies, last night was a victory of sorts.  It was difficult to transition to my deserted Paris apartment after living with fellow graduate students and my husband for months.  Other than a few days in which the graduate apartment in Aix was empty, I have been surrounded by lively conversation in several languages and the excitement of making new friends, learning about their lives and research, and exploring new places together.

Too much time spent alone leaves me depressed, unproductive, and takes the wind out of my creative sails.  Usually in a form of self-defense against the creeping loneliness, I lose myself in stories, but last night, I chose a different route, one that I found much more fulfilling and productive. Instead of devouring a novel to pass the time and prolong the night before the next day arrived, I found satisfaction in reminiscing about happy times and memorable experiences with a loved one. I may be doing a lot of catching up on my personal blog in the next three weeks as a result of this experiment and hopefully creating enough memories in Paris that I will have more catching up to do when I return to Michigan in October.

To that end, I’ve found Muay Thai classes nearby (I know – not the normal thing to look for in Paris!) and anticipate starting my French course next week. Muay Thai is challenging enough in English; we’ll see if I can work up the courage to try it in French! I just need a doctor’s note to prove I healthy enough to participate. I’ve found a general practitioner close to my apartment, and if I can brave both the doctor’s office and my first class, I’m sure I’ll have some entertaining stories to share. There are also jazz clubs to check out in the evenings and strolls to be had through gardens, wandering through the catacombs, and a never-ending list of museums and monuments (the more normal, but no-less-interesting things to do in Paris). Hopefully, I can fit all of this in around classes and research during the day… And if not, there’s always next time!

Tonight I set out to find a health food store. Exiting the metro station, I had a good mental picture of where it was, but finding it ‘on the ground’ proved to be more difficult.  Usually I have a really good sense of direction and haven’t had any trouble finding things before, but as I walked past all the shops selling clothing and wares I could never afford, I didn’t see the street I needed to turn down. Before too long I found myself in the now-familiar St. Germain district. With a mental shrug, I revised my plan for the evening and braved another visit Cité Pharmacie (a story yet to be told about a previous visit to Paris) to pick up the juice I had intended to purchase at the health food store.

St. Germain des Près Church

Since I was close and saw people exiting St. Germain des Près Church, I figured it must be open and decided to stop in and take a few moments to pray and enjoy the sense of peace that pervades the oldest church in Paris. Parts of it date back to the sixth century! I also remembered reading that there was a fantastic bookstore tucked in near Les Deux Magots and decided to investigate.  La Hune has actually moved but was right across the street from the church and therefore easy to locate (and for those who are keen to visit, it is only open until 8pm, not midnight).  The bibliophile in me thoroughly enjoyed perusing the bookstacks, and my fingers literally itched to grab several new tomes as titles tickled my imagination. Reminding myself repeatedly that I had more than enough reading material to keep me busy for months, I managed to pass through the doors empty-handed.  Besides, three other bookstores are calling my name – two that specialize in books on Africa, and the third, a famous English-language bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which I browsed very quickly on a previous visit.

First Image: “Old Tree Watches Over Boy Reading at Night,” by Bryant Arnold. Published 4 February 2012. <http://www.cartoonaday.com/old-tree-watches-over-boy-reading-at-night/> (25 September 2012)

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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A Graduate Student in Paris … Again

https://i2.wp.com/www.hdwallpapers.in/walls/eiffel_tower_at_night_paris_france-normal.jpgI arrived in Paris for my last three weeks of this European trip on Thursday evening. After dropping my suitcase off in my fourth-floor apartment, thankful for the elevator, I headed back out to meet a friend for dinner.  Unfortunately, the following two days did not live up to this auspicious beginning.

Illness and an awful headache kept me in, and though the time was productive, academically speaking, it was rather depressing to be stuck inside when I had planned to explore Paris a little more and hit the ground running with my research.  Oh well.  C’est la vie.

This morning after dragging myself out of bed, I discovered I finally had a little more energy and put it work cleaning the kitchen and putting my belongings in some semblance of order.  After a quick shower, I prepared to step out of my apartment for more than groceries.  Though I didn’t get to the Latin Quarter as I had originally planned today, I had a great visit with my mom, which reminded me how fortunate I am to be here, and that I vowed to make the most of my time here, sick or not.  So, armed with my laptop and a general sense of location, I set out to explore my neighborhood and find a café in which to work.

My apartment, though beautiful, is chilly, and believe it or not, does not have a single blanket in it, apart from the enormous comforter on the bed. Since I hadn’t packed many winter clothes for this trip, I decided I had better find a café.  After all, if Simone de Beauvoir spent more time in her favorite café than her chilly abode, why couldn’t I do the same?  Besides, the life and activity of cafés drive the loneliness away and often provide great people watching.   Maybe it will inspire ideas for a story or two as well…

On my brief promenade, I discovered that most of my neighborhood is residential. There are a number of grocery stores and boulangeries (bakeries) within a five-minute walk, a beautiful brick elementary school, a park where the sounds of ping pong and giggles reach the street through the surrounding hedges, and a sports and activity center.  My apartment is also near the Eiffel Tower, which greeted me when I arrived my first night and welcomed me back home after dinner.

Since it was a Sunday, few restaurants were open, so I ended up essentially where I began my walk at Café Lutetia. The hum of the café crowd, familiar sounds of a cappuccino maker, and the comforting smells and warmth of my usual café allongé provided the perfect setting to return to my project on the conceptual development of civilization in French discourse.  What more fitting location could I find to inspire work on this paper than Paris in the fall with plans to return to the national library the next day and a visit to Musée du Quai Branly in the near future?

After finishing my work in the café, I set out for an evening run – my favorite way to enjoy the city.  I had intended to head towards the Eiffel Tower, but I think I took the longest way possible to get there from my apartment. However, my meandering route allowed me to explore areas of the city I hadn’t seen before. I knew the general direction I needed to head, so I continued making turns as the mood struck, letting my inner compass guide me.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when the trees gave way to the grass and gravel of Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower.  I had just passed several cafés that looked familiar and knew I was getting close, but popping out from the shadowed street into the park and watching as the Eiffel Tower was lit for the night still took my breath away.

Tomorrow I have a little time before the Bibliothèque Nationale opens (2pm) and plan to explore a little more before getting back to work. I hope to make some time soon to relate stories from my last trip to Paris as well. Stay tuned!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Travels

 

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