Saturday, September 18, 2004

Paris against Province?

Today I went to the Palais Elysee, the residence of the President of France (currently Jacques Chirac). The Palais Elysee is only open once a year, for two days. What is special about these two days? They are when the Journee du patrimoine (Day of Inheritance) occurs. On this weekend, government buildings, monuments, and museums of the countries of Europe are open for the public, all for free vieweing. In Paris, this is a particularly exciting day because government bulidings like the Palais Elysee, the Senat, and the Grand Assemblie are not normally open to the public. The Palais Elysee may be the largest draw of the day. Today I waited about three and a half hours to see selected rooms of its interior. The Epcot Center's Test Track ride at Disney World may be the only thing I've waited for equally as long. Of course, the residence of the president of France is pretty different in nature from a Disney World ride.

Anywhow, the line went quite fast for the most part, mainly because I passed my time by text messaging people and then striking up a conversation with a French man who was originally from outside Paris. As most French people have asked me so far, he posed the question of what I thought of Paris. I told him that I thought that it was a great city (I probably said something silly like "j'adore Paris"), that there was so much living history, so much to see, etc. I said that the history, the style of the grand boulevards, the churces, and so forth, is what makes Paris so different from any city in the United States. This Frenchman then said that he didn't love Paris: that it was crowded, that commutes were too long, and that it was expensive. This is all true (well, my commute is relatively short, but whatever), and to judge how liveable a city like Paris is is an entirely different task then assessing it as a city worth visiting.

Now I should say that I am thoroughly glad to be in Paris right now; the experience here is a welcome change from a pretty predictable life at Northwestern. It is pretty nice not to study at a university that places almost an equal level of importance on extra curricular activities without allowing one an equal amount of time to complete one's exra curricular responsibilities competently, where getting drunk is often a focal point for an evening with friends, and where I'm not out in the 'burbs, even with Evanston being a nicer suburb than most.

There are many things I miss about the U.S., but the above aren't any of them. I hope it doesn't seem as if I'm taking my life in the States for granted, because being abroad is cause for appreciating life at home more than anything else: the many conveniences we are afforded from being Americans--not the least of which is that our language is the second language for most people who learn a language at school--are most realized when one is out of the country and gains a certain perspective on this. When theFrenchman in line with me for the Palais Elysee told me he would rather live somewhere like Nantes, that he could do without the Paris life, it cemented the truth of that matter, which is that like any other city, Paris is a place that is home to thousands upon thousands of people who have to get to work or school everyday, who have to eat and sleep in this grande ville. There is a historical rift between the city of Paris and the rest of the country, the "Province," of which we are learning about in EU class. Places like the Palais Elysee and Hotel Deville are home to just one family; everyone else lives in their more normally-sized apartments, and maybe some of them would like to leave the hustle and bustle of city life for greener pastures.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

fascinating, Elaine!