Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ghosts with Jam

Ghosts are funny things. Sometimes a ghost is an ever-lingering presence, never loud, never entirely visible, simply there. Sometimes you might think a ghost has finally left you alone when suddenly, in a dream or in a song, they slam into you, causing your head to reel and your feet to fall out from under you. Most ghosts fall somewhere in between: the ghost that only lifts its head when “Bad News” by Rilo Kiley plays but every time the song plays or the ghost that causes a slow-aching pain over the course of the week, in rain, snow, wind, or under the sun.

This morning, two ghosts haunted me. Over a scone with apricot jam and a café au lait, I couldn’t help but remember and wonder and sigh. One of my ghosts was a familiar dull pain in my stomach. He’s one that causes me to doubt myself, to go over all of my moves in my mind, trying to see what I did wrong. He likes to pop up whenever anyone says “love” or “briser” or “alone”. My other ghost is usually much easier to handle. He reminds me of flowers and being young and excited about the future. This morning, with the pink Paris light pouring through the window, he just made me think of miles and miles of ocean, uninterrupted blue stretching to the horizon.

People in Paris ask me if I’m homesick for the United States. They act so surprised when I say no, as though living abroad for a year and missing the States are tantamount to each other. If I think about it, there are small things I miss, the sun setting over the golden hills of the Palouse, for example, or the size of the sky in the West. I miss the music at Hampshire College, the way that something completely unexpected will happen in front of your dorm or on your porch in Enfield. And I miss certain people. I miss my family- my nonna, dad, mom, and little brothers. I miss Ariel and a tight circle of people at Hampshire. However, being in the States or not doesn’t really change whether I’ll miss these things or not. In Massachusetts, there is no equivalent to the Palouse. In Moscow, Idaho, there is no Eric to call at three in the morning when I’ve done something stupid or Ivàn to laugh with at parties.

The older I get (and don’t laugh, I know 20 isn’t supposed to be old, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflection this year) the more nostalgic I get for certain places and times in my life. My walls are covered with postcards from my high school graduations, pictures of Tomatlàn and Kadăn, and copies of paintings by Klimt. I have a photo to commemorate a Friday the 13th trip to Colfax, some Div III invitations, a copy of a painting from Nonna, and a watercolor from Papi in Rouen. My room is full of things I’ve seen, places I’ve been, and people I love(d). How can I be homesick in such a place? No, I’m not homesick in Paris; I just wish I could bring some of you here with me…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dreaming in Glaswegian

This weekend, I was strolling down my street, past my favourite appartment building (which I will take a picture of) and thought of an amazing post. Unfortunately, I did not write it down. I am currently in the process of remembering it. Which may never happen but I will try.

Last week, we had our reading break. I went to Scotland for five days with my friend, Michelle, a Hungarian-American with indentity issues like me sort of, to visit Navit, a friend of mine from Hampshire, and see Glasgow and Edinburgh. I seem to be having trouble transitioning from vacation to Sciences Po. During vacation, I justified eating out by saying, "They don't have tea and scones in Paris," or "Indian food is much better in Scotland," so I didn't cook for myself at all. During vacation, I just went to museums and hung out with Michelle, strolling amongst Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glaswegian buildings and along the Royal Mile, passing tourist shops playing bagpipe music and signs for ghost tours at night. During vacation, I read only Agatha Christie and tourist information in English. Life was simple, fun, and easy to understand.

But those are the little things. Really, the hardest thing for me has been to convince myself that people in Paris really are nice, or that humans in general have the possibility to be good. It's harder to believe here that it was in Scotland. This comes from two things, principly. The first is that in Scotland, I was talking to two great friends of mine about whatever topic came to mind, in a language in which I can generally express myself easily. In Paris, I tend to be in classes with a majority of French students who are (obviously) fluent in the language used in the classroom and who are, in all seriousness, very intelligent. We also tend to cover subjects that are less entertaining and more worrisome. These subjects range from the Palestinian conflict to Hugo's Les Miserables to torture and why humans can torture other human beings. In other words, the subjects upon which I dwell tend to be less than sunny.

The second thing stems from the attitude of others around me. In Scotland, Michelle and I were generally well-treated by everyone around us. The police in the airport joked with those around them, a drunk man in the line for taxis laughed when we couldn't understand his accent and told us about his family in the States, people smiled at us in the streets, and the man at our hostel on the last night woke up at 4am to call us a taxi, start the coffee machine, and give us breakfast (even though breakfast was only from 7-9am usually). In France, many of us exchange students will talk to someone during or after class, only to find that outside of class that person will not even return our greeting. Parisiens, and the northern French in general, tend to think that people that smile at them in the streets must be crazy. The general demeanor of people outside, in restaurants, or at school ranges from a little less than friendly to intimidating.

I combat my negative thoughts about the French and Paris in the following way: I try to find one thing a day that makes me think that people are good, friendly, or helpful in Paris. Last week, a girl ran to catch the RER and barely made it in time. Her bag got stuck in the door, which usually isn't too much of a problem as the door will open again at the next stop. Only on this train the door opened on the other side for the next few stops. Those around her laughed and smiled, and everyone tried to help her get her bag unstuck from the door. I missed class one Friday, and a student, V. wrote me an email asking how I was and saying he hoped I was okay. I've never had a student anywhere, in any country, at anytime write me when I missed class to make sure I was okay.

These things are what make the hard times pass. These small moments make all the rest of it worthwhile. Because by spring, I'm hoping I won't need the little things because I'll be used to the culture, people, and school life in Paris.