May 2, 2009

part of the motion

This is only my fifth day in Paris, but I think I already have a "favorite spot": le Jardin du Luxembourg. It's a beautiful park in Montparnasse where I took my first "promenade" for my Paris Walks class on Thursday. The book gave us a little checklist of things to find on our stroll through the park:
  • Beehives
  • Old men playing petanque (This is a game that reminds me of horseshoes, except it's played with balls.)
  • Park security men keeping people off the grass
  • A mini Statue of Liberty (Unfortunately, the statue had been moved to another display, so I missed it.)
  • Children riding donkeys (It's true! Not sure why that happens, but it does...)
  • People practicing martial arts
  • A couple kissing on a bench (Here, I thought he just meant "a kiss," but actually the Parisians are completely okay with making out in pulic.)
  • People jogging (The professor said this was a rare sight in Paris, but there were a lot of joggers; another American we ran into told us that jogging has come into fashion since the French President Sarkozy jogs.)
  • Chess players (Bobby Fisher, anyone?)
As for the chess players, they were intense. I think it would be interesting to join them one day, but I don't think I have enough talent or strategy to be taken seriously. Not to mention, those timers they use always make me nervous. Near the chess pavilion, we saw a woman in a short, shiny blue dress and high heels, modeling in the park for a bunch of photographers. I wonder if she was a celebrity, or France's Next Top Model. I definitely want to return to the Jardin du Luxembourg for another afternoon of reading, relaxation, and people-watching. That's actually one of my favorite things to do here in Paris. It's extremely interesting to me just to watch how different people dress, act, speak, and what they are doing. In some ways, it's extremely different from the "American way" of doing things and in other instances, it's quite similar. For example, the fashion here can be quite different. Black is extremely "in" and everyone looks like they've been shopping at Salvation Army. Most of the clothes look old, worn-in, and trendy. Even the old men are fashionable. They wear dark-wash jeans, black shirts, cool jackets, and soccer-style sneakers. They definitely put our old men to shame. In general, French fashion just doesn't seem as forced as American fashion. One of the biggest differences is that, in spite of all the walking you do in Pars, none of the locals wear white sneakers or running shoes. Doing that will brand you as an American faster than anything else.

As for how they are the same, one big thing around here is iPods and American music. When we first rode into Paris in the BluVan, the driver told us that the French love American music. He was listening to jazz the whole trip. At the hotel, we heard a lot of songs that are (or have been) popular in the United States. In spite of the fact that the French have appropriated a lot of American pop culture into their own, our professor asked us to "cut our American strings," referring to things like The Office, McDonalds (which they call "Mac-Do" here), Oreos, English, and stupid tourist habits. After some convincing, he said we could use Facebook sparingly. I can see why he brought it up though; it'd be so easy to be here and miss what is actually Parisian about it while we're so absorbed in our technology and our American ways. Still, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing Oreos, Fanta, Subway, or Beyonce Knowles (who is currently on most of the huge posters in the Metro).

One huge manifestation of American-culture-meets-French-culture was La Foire de Trome. It's a fair that they had yesterday for le premier mai (the first day of May, which is a holiday here). Our group decided to go and, let me tell you, I felt like I was back in Coldwater, Michigan in no time. Other than the fact that everyone spoke French and they served crepes at the food stands, there was almost no difference between that French fair and the ones we have for 4-H. It was kind of uncanny, actually. We didn't do much at the fair besides order some crepes and Nutella. The place was seeming with people who were "louche" (creepy or sketchy), to say nothing of all the pickpockets and smokers. Even elementary school kids smoke around here. I kept thinking "I would never bring my child here," but there were a lot of children. In general, it seems like the Parisian kids are like little adults. They just walk around by themselves, ride the Metro, smoke, talk on cell phones, and generally function like a teenager or a young adult. It's a little strange, to say the least. I think most of them feel like more of an adult than I do.

On the way to the fair, my friend Maren and I witnessed a most interesting scene. We were waiting to cross the street. The pedestrian light was red, but many Parisians pay no attention to things like that. A little old lady began crossing the street at the same time that a car was making a right turn and nearly hit her. The old lady didn't seem angry... maybe just a little crazy. She hit the back of the car with her purse and was about to go on her merry way. UNTIL. The car screeched to a halt and a young woman in a leopard print jump suit came out for the confrontation. Leopard Suit Woman pushed Crazy Old Lady and the two began hashing it out in French. I didn't understand most of what was going on, probably because they were speaking fast and using a lot of swear words that I haven't learned. Even when the pedestrian light turned red, Maren and I were afraid to traverse the street and into the cross-fire. We waited for about three minutes until Leopard Lady looked like she was getting ready to hop back into her car. The old lady motioned to us and said something; I think she was expecting us to vouch for her right to cross the street, or say that she had done nothing wrong. The Leopard Driver said something like "On connait la verite" (We all know the truth). As Maren and I were making our way back onto the sidewalk, we heard a man approach and ask another woman, "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" The woman answered, "Il y avait une lutte entre la fille et la grand-mere!" (There was a battle between a girl and a grandmother.)

Maren and I laughed all day about "la lutte entre la fille et la grand-mere." All day.

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