In attempt to grasp the details

My AU education sprung full force yesterday morning, in French Grammar class, when Madame Morio asked us where our mothers and fathers met. 

Mothers and fathers? Boy, in today’s day and age, or at least in the bubble of American University, the assumption that our parents are of opposite sex is not really politically correct. 

Like when Madame Morio corrected one of the Swedish girls for using the male form of “small” (petit rather than petite); Madame laughed pleasantly, shaking her copper, ruffled head of curls in amusement as she joked that the girl hadn’t changed sex.

Hmph, also not PC. Because, as AU has taught me, gender is a social construction and sex can, in deed, be changed.

For a country that rates nudity lower than violence and for a society in which cheating on your spouse is culturally acceptable, there’s some steps the French are still slightly behind on.


It’s been six weeks since my arrival in Paris. I’ve moved on, slightly, from that as an observer; I do feel as if I am a part of the flow of life here—different from my initial grasp of the distinct separation between l’estranger (the foreigner) and the Parisian. I’ve grown accustomed to the quietness of a rush- hour, packed metro car and I’m aware of the Parisian faux pas, unbelievably conscious of my discomfort should I dare leave the apartment in sweatpants or yellow rain boots.

Yet in the progression from observer, it becomes easy to miss the small things—easy, because as our days takes shape around the familiar of a routine, we too begin to blend in among the nuances that become the ordinary.

While I am here to immerse myself (however one- sided I realized the ordeal would be), I am also here to observe. And with five months remaining of this experience abroad, I don’t have time to loose myself among the regular of a routine.

The Pont Neuf Wrapped Image credit:
My art history teacher presented “The Pont Neuf Wrapped,” a work by Christo and Jeanne- Claude, the famed American artists who displayed orange flags through Central Park. The pair wrapped Pont Neuf (Paris’s oldest bridge that links the left and right banks of the city) in over 450,000 square feet of polyamide fabric. The work, which was displayed for 14 days in late September 1985, attracted over three million visitors. But, as my professor pointed out, prior to the embellishing of the bridge, residents and tourists rarely flocked to see Pont Neuf, merely crossing over it as they would any other bridge along the Seine.

All Christo and Jeanne- Claude did was change a way of looking at the ordinary. Because, as they highlighted, in doing so, we regain a sense of appreciation, admiration and observation.

This is what I can learn from. I can't wrap bridges across the Seine, but I can change parts of my everyday to once more grasp the details that surround me.

So I made a right out of my grammar class this morning, rather than a left onto my regular route to the boulangerie next to the Vavin metro stop. It didn’t take me long to find a new lunch spot, a boulangerie with a fucsia pink exterior.

The boulangerie offered two vegetarian sandwiches—not even the slightest of an issue given one of the two was eggplant and cheese in whole wheat bread. Which, as eggplant (or aubergine, as referred to in Europe) is number two on the favorite food list and boulangeries don’t seem to sell avocado (number one on the favorite food list) or whole wheat sandwiches, eggplant and cheese was a fine choice.

I found a bench on the side of the road; I must have skipped over to the bench-- my excitement for my lunch clouding all better judgement to project a sense of refinement rather than giddiness. I sat myself promptly, leaning back as I undid the plastic wrapping encasing my sandwich. From the bench, I could glimpse the boulangerie I usually frequent for lunch. It looked different from the angle, a small crook in the symmetry of the road. I would have missed it had I not known it was there.

My view ahead was just of the road-- nothing more than ordinary.

It was the colors that I initially noticed—the colors of dress: the man in the mustard trousers, the woman in the earthy- brown, suede coat. I noticed the scarves, the red fabric of the man’s woolen scarf; the girl's patterned green and white scarf, wrapped loosely around her neckline.

I picked up on the delicate clink of feet hitting the pavement, conscious of the poise and elegance of Parisians’ posture. Most of the pedestrians crossing the pavement walked alone; Madame Morio likes to say Parisians are a rushed breed, purposeful in their stride. I noticed otherwise, sensing calmness and complacency among the individuals, all seemingly caught in their own worlds as they passed me by. Bicyclists zipped by, navigating their way alongside the afternoon traffic. And the scattered bustle of cars and buses added a gentle buzz to the afternoon sounds.

This is ordinary Parisian life; so ordinary that I too would miss it should I forget to step back-- forget to appreciate the uniqueness of my surroundings, the charm and character of the city. I don’t have sandpaper to wrap my surroundings in, but I do have the power to change parts of my daily routine. A
ll it really takes is a small change to make you aware once more.

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