Métro-Boulot-Dodo

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Paris is a place of work for me. I wake up early in the morning, eat some French yogurt, and take the packed métro to the Archives or the Library. If I’m feeling fancy, I stop by the boulangerie and get a pain au chocolat.

There’s nothing luxurious or adventurous about this routine.

Parisians have the infamous expression, “Métro-Boulot-Dodo”, which basically just means “Metro-Work-Sleep”. I sometimes identify with this phenomenon. I get lost in the pursuit of my research and suddenly forget that there’s an entire world around it.

Work days in Paris are quite similar to work days in Wisconsin. I do what I’m supposed to do and when I’m supposed to do it. My schedule is quite flexible, but I work hard at what I do, yet…it’s a routine–one that I’ve built in so little time, but a routine nonetheless.

Paris may seem luxurious and fascinating (and it can be), but it’s not. After doing (very few) touristy things,  I realize just how different the tourist experience is from the I “métro-boulot-dodo” here. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Cœur? They’re all full of people and, sure, that’s the condition of living in a city, but it’s different. I seem to feel more at ease when I have a routine and when I meet up friends for a picnic outside of the city or a drink in our neighborhood.

I don’t care for the glamorous side of Paris. I don’t care for the weird stereotypes that we built up in our heads about European cities.

I care about genuine people, places, and emotions. I care about a job well done, a conversation over my lunch break or post-work drinks with friends. I care about connections, literature, philosophy and art….and, frankly, that’s hard to do in a sea of tourists waiting to capture the perfect shot.

The funny thing is that I am a tourist. I’m a tourist and I live here. I’m living abroad and I’m not living abroad here. I also do want a nice picture by the Seine or the Eiffel Tower, but I care about the experience too much to let that deter myself from it.

I don’t mean to sound unappreciative of the city, but there’s so much more to learn from it.

 

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Paris, I Love You, but…

Despite having been here for a couple of weeks, I feel like I have spent a lifetime in Paris.

I thought that the constant stimuli of the city was bringing me down, but I am slowly coming off the hump of being here. Paris is an amazing city. I love getting lost in the city. I love finding the cemetery where Alexandre Dumas and François Truffaut were buried as I finish off the crêpe from that little hole in the wall of Montmartre.

I love having great research days and feeling fortunate enough to dig into “Classified” documents from World War II. I love ordering a café from the Madame near the métro stop by the National Archives. I love being mistaken for a local and, hopefully, directing tourists to the right métro stop.

Enfin, I love all the things I get to experience in the city, but…there’s a part of me that feels uneasy in the city. A part of me that prefers to stay in with a giant mug of coffee while I read a giant book (which is frankly impossible because my roommates don’t even own a coffee maker of any kind). A (big) part of me enjoys having a routine, checking books out at the Madison Public Library (whose security is frankly a joke compared to the National Library in France), and writing my dissertation at Stone Creek Coffee.

I love Paris, but I love regularity. However, I’m open to Paris in ways that I didn’t think were possible: making tons of new French and American friends, ordering a Ricard at the old café in Pigalle, celebrating the World Cup (on a gagné !), and watching the Bastille Day fireworks by the Eiffel Tower.

More to come soon…1dZ9_RO5gNC7DRV6cUptEnwyjxjsl2LB-mkXh1vUf6wFRT8tbN38QYWBRTmbWNPuZX1c5h582WQwmtSrRTLZdj1OE-cT_XIjldUkCx-ZRrfXqmY6TvyQGfFz2z2qN2BwAPbSJbd_4xzUGuMVE8u_jxr0YAbSl_Iv0q-7bythkePJu28S0mnZo34Cvu

Paris…a week later

“He who contemplates the depths of Paris is seized with vertigo. Nothing is more fantastic. Nothing is more tragic. Nothing is more sublime.” Victor Hugo*

Ah, Paris…Victor Hugo does a wonderful job describing precisely how I feel about being in Paris. It’s only been a week since I got to Paris yet it feels like years. This city is a contradiction: radical beauty and sublime history engaging with terrible smells and unashamed disputes on the metro.

I cannot help to be amazed, surprised, and confused at this marvelous city. I am frankly never bored. There is so much to do and I’ve slowly gotten used to the hype of the city. I no longer need google maps to help me take the metro or to find out which route is better for work. I no longer get lost in a sea of unknown brands at the grocery store. I now get lost in the city and I enjoy it.

However, I keep thinking of this quote by Georg Simmel: “The psychological basis of the metropolitan type of individuality consists in the intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli.”

Paris is the city that never sleeps, not New York City (sorry, New Yorkers!). There is always something to do. I am never bored. I am constantly being stimulated by motorcycles driving down the boulevard, live music on my street, people-watching from my apartment balcony, watching football matches with mes potes, drinking French rosé by the Seine and simply talking about the wonders (and downfalls) of Paris over some falafel.

I love this stimuli, but I hate it too…and, just like that, I am a living contradiction just like my Paris.

*Qui regarde au fond de Paris a le vertige. Rien de plus fantastique, rien de plus tragique, rien de plus superbe.

The Art of Flâne(use)rie

La rue assourdissante autour de moi hurlait.
Longue, mince, en grand deuil, douleur majestueuse,
Une femme passa, d’une main fastueuse
Soulevant, balançant le feston et l’ourlet;

“À une passante”, Charles Baudelaire*

We all know this love story: Girl meets city. Girl falls in love with City. The End.

We’re used to hearing the narrative of the City as a character. From Carrie Bradshaw to the amazing cross-dressing George Sand, women  have been falling in love with cities for centuries. What is so appealing about the city though? What makes us indulge in the fantasy of living in a giant organism full of displaced peoples trying to “find themselves”?

This is fascinating to me from the female point of view. Women have been drawn to walking the city, so much that they’ve done the impossible to do it: dress like a man, leave your husband and family (George Sand, again). All’s end that ends well, right?

Perhaps not.

The noun, flâneuse (f), and its masculine form, flâneur, come from the verb, flâner, which is cognate with the Old Norse, flana, which means to act rashly. What is a flâneur/flâneuse and why are we, as humans, so invested in the art of flâne(use)rie ?

Flâneur can simply be translated as “stroller”, but can mean someone who wanders the city aimlessly, observing, and not being observed. Perhaps this is why it’s difficult to ascertain the flâneuse within this context. Women are observed on the street. Cat-called. Humiliated. Harassed.

Paris is perhaps the queen city of flâneuserie, but it’s virtually impossible to not be noticed by men. With the French #MeToo hashtag, #BalanceTonPorc, which places blame on the aggressors rather than the victim, it is quite difficult to stroll the streets of Paris. I try to lose myself in the city, frowning, hoping to not be noticed by the passers-by, yet…it happens.

Bringing back Baudelaire’s male gaze onto the female passante, he reduces the flâneuse to the admiration of her body.^

How can I master the art of flâneuserie when I am a woman myself?

By the Seine, on the rues of Paris, down the streets of Montmartre, it does not matter, the flâneuse is not invisible, but rather seen.

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*The deafening road around me roared.
Tall, slim, in deep mourning, making majestic grief,
A woman passed, lifting and swinging
With a pompous gesture the ornamental hem of her garment (1974, Wagner)

^Some critics argue that Charles Baudelaire’s poems should not be reduced to his misogyny (*roll-eyes*), but rather his views on individualism. I want to make it clear though, he was a misogynist.

**I recommend Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,  Venice, and London. (I’d skip over the entire Tokyo chapter, for a number of reasons)

 

Lost in Paris: the art of getting lost

Coucou from Paris !

As I had mentioned before, I will be living in Paris for the Summer, which is fantastic and a dream come true, etc etc etc….BUT dang it, it is a hard city to get accustomed to!

It took me three hours to get from Charles de Gaulle to my apartment. After taking a well-deserved nap after a sleepless night, I started thinking about the art of getting lost. In the Catalan-French film, L’auberge espagnole, Xavier is in Barcelona for the first time with his luggage feeling lost and insecure. He says, “Quand on arrive dans une ville, on voit des rues en perspective des suites des bâtiments vides de sens…tout est inconnu, vierge.” [When we arrive in a city, we see streets in perspective of buildings empty of meaning…everything is unknown, virginal].

This short part of the film always always reminds me of life in a new city. Everything can be disorienting and bizarre. Even though Xavier knows the Spanish language (even though Catalonia’s official language is technically Catalan) and has a map that is supposed to guide him, he still manages to get lost. My biggest desire is always to find something to hold onto–something that feels familiar and not uncanny. Nonetheless, it is incredibly difficult to not get lost. It just happens to you. Oh, you were supposed to head west on Boulevard de Clichy, not east. Suddenly, the mind plays tricks on you spatially (regardless of how good you are at directions) and you find yourself in between two other fellow American tourists,  who are trying to find Moulin Rouge, trying to figure out where west is.

This feeling isn’t exclusive to Paris. I’ve felt this way in the many cities I’ve encountered: New York, Rio de Janeiro, San Juan and Madison (the latter two I live/have lived in for years too]. My first time driving in San Juan with my roommate turned out to be a two hour drive around the city trying to find this little bar that ended up being a block and a half away from our apartment. When I first moved to Madison, I went for a walk trying to find James Madison Park and I ended up in a crazy intersection facing Lake Monona instead of Lake Mendota. It happens, but then, magically, you figure out how to take public transportation. You figure out that the 14 in Rio is full of gatunes (thieves), so you try to avoid it. You realize that Lower Manhattan isn’t really that complicated to figure out even though it frankly feels that way after spending most of your time in Upper Manhattan.

My trick is to accept getting lost as a part of your experience in a new city. It’s not [as] tragic if you planned for it..or at least that’s what I tell myself!