Europe | France | Paris – Paris x2 and fighting the stereotype
First off: I started a site for photos here:
(I’ll put more up in a bit)
Well after the last trip to Paris, I told myself I wasnt going to do that again for a while. But Italians are convincing and this was probably a once in a lifetime event for me. At a café yesterday evening, a Colombian student who has been living in France for a while told us about the Nuit Blanche (White night), which is a cultural event that happens once in a year in Paris. (I find it interesting how, whenever you go to a foreign country for any extended period of time, you end up befriending more foreigners from different countries instead of local people.) Anyway, during Nuit Blanche, the museums and cathedrals are open all night long, and there are free concerts, films and performances happening in the streets and in front of monuments and over bridges. People stay out all night long, and everything is free. How could I pass it up?
So it was 7pm when we decided to go (five Italians and myself). The next train to Paris was at 8 and we took it. We did indeed stay up all night, and then watched the sun rise over the Eiffel tower. We had breakfast at Montmartre, in front of the Sacre Coeur cathedral, and took a morning train back to Tours. It was extremely exhausting yes (I should mention we were up till 5am the night before dancing the the Spanish kids in Tours). I nearly fell asleep on a bench on the Champs Elysée, but the French coffee saved me. It was definitely a special day to be in Paris.
On top of that, Saturday night was the final World Cup rugby game between France and New Zealand. We arrived as the game was happening, and all the cafés were spilling over with people, glued to the T.Vs and shouting at the players, Allez les bleus! (Go Blue! – since France wears blue jerseys) None of us being particularly large rugby fans, we left the crowds and went for a quick baguette before the cultural events. Then we suddenly heard an ominous roar rise up out of the city from all the cafés and homes (or probably from nearly every person in France!). It didnt even sound human, and it took me a second to figure out what in the World was happening.
There was a group of elegantly dressed, elderly Parisians walking by at that moment, and they stopped us suddenly to ask who won the match (and therefore the World Cup). We pretty much guessed it was France, and for the rest of the night, this fact was inescapable. People were partying in the streets, carrying French flags, singing the national anthem, and honking their car and motorcycle horns nonstop. At one point, some random guy walking by stopped to give me a hug, and then continued on his way. We saw another guy in the street with a French flag, pretending to be a matador and tease the passing cars.
Two of the girls I was with had never been to Paris before, so they were super excited. We first went to Notre Dame, which was full of people watching a screen that had been put up and was streaming images from stained glass windows and the Catholic world, set to music. Outside the cathedral, amazing fire dancers were performing to djembes and digeridoos.
On the way to the Modern Art Museum, we passed an unknown cathedral that had the most impressive light show I have ever seen. Pink Floyd was the first thing I thought of. But I dare say, it put the Floyd light shows to shame, given the setting and ambiance of an ancient stone cathedral in Paris. Something like that could never happen in the States (nor in Italy so I was told). Abstract images and psychadellic swirling colors were projected onto the old vaulted stone ceiling, and back altar. It moved in sync with the music, which was equally psychadellic. Thousands of prayer candles on round tables were the only other sources of light. There was a man (a priest?) and a group of musicians (or nuns? A choir?) who were somehow creating the unearthly sounds. I couldnt tell if it was purely improvisational or not. It was actually very emotional, and strangely hypnotic. Sometimes the colors would swirl over the statue of the Crucified Christ. Even though Im not Catholic, it was very powerful and unlike anything Id ever seen.
There was art everywhere. Even the phone booths had been converted into small interactive pieces. The coolest one had a screen put into the floor and ceiling with different corresponding images. Only one or two people could fit into the phone booth at a time, where there was also a speaker. Images of ocean surf passed under your feet while forest canopies swayed above. Sometimes it would switch to a conversation between two people on the screens. Being in a phone booth, it was like eavesdropping on someones conversation, being in the middle of it.
When we did get the Pompidou (Modern art Museum), we learned that, although it was still open, there was some kind of private party going on. Boo! So we went to the Stravinsky fountain, where there was a show incorporating live modern dancers and computer images on a huge outdoor screen. The movements of the dancers were projected as they happened, but then twisted around and morphed on the screen. It was definitely modern. Or post-modern.
We sat down on the ground to warm crepes with nutella, which were much needed because it was very cold. But it was certainly fun to stay out all night. Apparently there are similar yearly events in different cities across Europe. I hear the one in Rome is even bigger than Paris.
The Italian girls have kind of adopted me in, because I have more in common with them than with the other Americans here. I am doing my best to try to ease Americas terrible stereotype. But its hard when other Americans you meet are being just as dumb and ethnocentric as the Europeans think we are. Its a constant battle, or struggle. And I answer tough questions about gun control, education, obesity, and George Bush nearly every day.
It is frustrating at times. Last night I had to really hold my tongue with this French guy who asked the group of us (in Italian) if we were all from Italy. Someone pointed out that I was from the States, and he gave this shocked expression as if to say, why would you hang out with an American? Everyone looked at me worriedly, and Monica translated for me what was being said into French. I immediately turned and confronted the guy (in French), asking why he didnt like me when he didnt even know me, just because of the country I was from. I said I felt the same way about several issues as everybody else there, and that it was unfair to judge me without even talking to me. It didnt seem to make any impression on him though. I think hed had too much wine.
On a daily basis, I am usually the only American present in a group of Europeans, so theres no one else to back me up. Its just me, trying to validate a very complex and troubled country, when I know the stereotype is partly true but mostly not. Some people say, Well you could just tell them youre Canadian. But that would be completely against the point. That would be the worst thing I could do. Europe needs to see that their stereotype of America is not all true, and that it is not a country full of inwardly turned, overly conservative, under educated, obese, radical Christians stuffing themselves endlessly with McDonalds and Pizza Hut as they drive their hummers across the street while watching MTV and refuse to recycle or leave the country or learn a second language to save their lives. Now I know there ARE those out there who must own up to one or two of these traits tsk tsk, yes I know it. But there IS another face! Yes, there are Americans who dont believe the news, who would never own a gun, who do care about the environment and eat organic and do care about the world outside the U.S. and actually have half a brain, maybe even more. So I will tell everyone I meet that, yes I am an American, not only that, but Im from Texas, and we’re more alike than you think. And I will invite whatever questions they have (because they have many).
On a positive note, I think I am starting to make a small impression. I got a nice compliment from one of the Italian girls, named Antonella, the other day. She said that, even though she doesnt like America, she has hope now because there is a Katie. Aw. (snif)