I can’t believe my time in France is coming to a close. I know more adventures lay ahead but none of them will be Paris. It’s easy to romanticize Paris—chalk it up to its bustling streets brimming with cafés and culture or its nights guided by the light of the Eiffel Tower—but I’m not a romantic. Most of my afternoons were spent nursing an Achilles with tendinitis, some of my nights were spent buckling over a gurgling stomach after an unfortunate (but inevitable) “glutamination”, and many of my mornings were spent sleeping in. After my last blog post, I began to feel restless. I believed I was in the purgatory of places, suspended in two cultures at once, patting walls built up by Parisians and hearing of walls burned down by Americans. Perhaps if I knew my situation was more permanent, I wouldn’t have felt so quick to pack up and leave. I realize now that I was just anxious to uproot myself and, yet again, attempt to flower in a newer foreign place.
The touristy parts of Paris exhausted me. There is such a thing as too much art (and too many lines). One overambitious day at the Catacombes de Paris, the Musée d’Orsay, Sainte Chapelle, and La Cartoucherie proved this to be true. I found solace in the dance studio and the spots in the city that made it seem like they weren’t in the city at all (my favorite of these places being the Parc de Buttes Chamount in the 19th arrondissement). The only day in which I was truly frustrated with dance, however, was the day I should have been weeping in the palms of my teachers. June 18, 2015 was the day of dancers’ dreams: a workshop with Paula Sanchez of the Nederlands Dans Theater, a Counter Technique class with James Pham of Australian-based contemporary company, Chunky Move, and a master class with Anna Wehsarg of the Pina Bausch Company. Pronouns, yes. Easy, no. The classes were back to back and while my body shifted gears dutifully, my mind’s cogs started to retard until I could no longer discern my right from my left.
Interestingly, the event that snapped me from my stupor was a night at a Paris cinema. It’s strange to admit, but David Sedaris (“The City of Light in the Dark”) was absolutely, unequivocally correct. The lights go down and I DO love Paris. Something about seeing an American film in a Parisian place surrounded by other teen-aged Parisians, eating over-salted popcorn, and futilely reading French subtitles, was oddly and remarkably enjoyable. The metro closes at 1h00 but that night, I raced to the metro at 00h40 with the biggest grin flashed upon my face and the most energized bounds propelling my feet. And if you must know, Jurassic World was fantastic.
Speaking of the metro, when traveling in Paris, you must allow yourself three hours before expecting to arrive at your final destination. One hour for public transit—the bus rides, the train changes, the bike lanes (if you’re determined). One hour for getting lost once you’ve surfaced from the metro or were dropped off at an unknown locale due to a normalized demonstration. And a final hour for finding a toilette (or waiting in yet another line for a sporadic street cubicle to sanitize itself) once you’ve spent the former hour forlorn. The pedestrians you see sitting outside the cafés are the ones who didn’t get lost. Notice how they’re all Parisian. Parisians always have time and change to spare. But if aimlessness is your ideal, then the best way to digest Paris is on the 6 train from Etoilé to Nation.
Fête de la Musique was yet another Parisian experience that was altogether interesting and curiously delightful. The fête is Paris’s rejoinder to the Summer Solstice. It’s a successful one too, as the entire city partakes and is granted the license to act a little crazy. (Finally, the Parisians are seen uncorked and unkempt!) Still, there remains a crazy sense of community. I spent the greater part of this day in the northern arrondissements where there were knolls to climb and slopes to peer from. Jess made the observation that I enjoy being at the top. That’s not to say I don’t like sharing the top or that I favor hierarchies. I just like the breeze on my cheeks, the cessation of time, the invincibility. I also like asyndeton.
The last performance I saw in Paris was José Montalvo’s “Y Olé!” That night, I messaged mom and upon asking me, “how’s it going?” I responded, “Just got back from a performance, I think you would have actually enjoyed this one!” At times I feel concert dance is lost on my parents’ generation. Dancing with the Stars is easier identified with than Butoh (Japanese expressionist dance). But ultimately, that’s okay. To watch dance for dance is okay. Dance serves different purposes, from the ceremonious to the recreational, and that too, is okay. What is also okay is surmising what you will from a work of art—a piece of dance. For me, Montalvo’s latest creation was a lesson in coexistence; the coexistence of technology, Flamenco, ballet, breakdancing, hip hop, culture, generations, identity, trash, treasure, tradition, blue horses, barking dogs, balloons, sailboats, voices. It should be noted that coexistence isn’t synonymous with integration. People can exist side by side without assuming one “ism” or the other. A Flamenco dancer can exist next to a B-boy without having to do a freeze or a six-step. This is the world at large. Explicitly in our day in age—globalization linking us faster than LinkedIn—it’s fruitless to regard anything (people, places, things, thoughts) as sovereign. So quite literally, when I see a sailboat positioned on stage and the entire cast congregated in it, I think, “ah, we’re all in the same boat.”
All play in Paris, it is not. I am, after all, enrolled in a course and with any course come assigned reading. “Paris in Mind” by Jennifer Lee is a noteworthy collection of excerpts from memoirs and autobiographies attending to the novelties of Paris. In reading these excerpts and by being away from the country to which my permanent address belongs, I have witnessed the augmentation of my appreciation of the past. I have always adored the history of France and Europe, noting its superior fitness to that of the United States. However, when was the last time I took a valued interest in U.S. History? To be honest, history textbooks performed better as pillows than reading material in high school. Places are plainly erected on the past—catacombs and mass graves and hundreds of thousands of people laying the foundation of empires—bearing the responsibility of remembrance. I don’t think we fear death as much as we fear being forgotten. Thus, the ritual of remembering is crucial for us as a whole. Remembering is humbling; it cannot be exacted with selfishness or bias or disdain. Remembering, though, is necessary. An excerpt from James Baldwin reads, “This is the way people react to the loss of empire—for the loss of an empire also implies a radical revision of the individual identity…”
Because this is a blog entitled, “Going Places”, I think I’m warranted to express that I believe the U.S. has found itself in a time of opportunity. Removing myself from the States has equipped me to say that I hope we lose our empire. Even the great Roman, Greek, and Babylonian empires had to crumble (but not without leaving a bajillion square feet of remnants at the Louvre). But from those ruins came rebirth. I only hope that our rebirth gives us the lungs to breathe stewardship over dominion, empathy over indignation, remembrance over oblivion.
Next stop: Firenze, Italy.