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.