Tag Archives: France

It’s not how you go (Paris, Part III)

It’s who you meet while you’re there.

I love that moment, when everything you know is turned on its head and suddenly you realize everything you thought you understood wasn’t wrong, but oh so wholly incomplete.  You sit, not daring to speak, just listening to ideas expressed so articulately that it simultaneously fortifies and challenges the foundation of your every conception of the topic at hand.

With a blank expression, you sit as someone else explains everything you ever tried to say, but shorter and clearer than you could ever imagine.

And then, you speak.  And in doing so, you engage in the most mentally stimulating conversation you ever dared to enter.  It’s more than just academic wonder.  One can learn things anywhere, but there is some kind of excited, accelerating learning process that engages when someone who thinks just similarly enough to you to make the nuanced arguments lively and divisive.

It’s the most invigorating and safest place to ask new questions, because you can’t get away with anything, but the other person really isn’t interested in destroying the base of your thesis, just the structure your argument.

This kind of setting is almost surreal.  I don’t often get to spend much time with people who think like me, and even less who can truly understand how my experiences as a conservative at Wes have created a deep craving for this kind of company.

Take that feeling.  Transport it to Paris.  Talk about a humiliating (as in humbling, not embarrassing) experience.

Thursday night, I went to a meeting and ate dinner with several economists and what my friends only half-jokingly called the entire French (classical) liberal movement.  It’s hard to think of a country that could produce an author with such clarity as Frederick Bastiat could be what it is today, but as I sat and looked around the room during their meeting (I had nothing else to do, since I don’t speak French) I noticed a few things.

The framed photo of Milton Friedman on the fireplace mantle gave me the assurance that while I really had no idea what they were talking about, I really was at a gathering of classical liberals in France (something which I was would not have believed existed if I wasn’t friends with several of them).

I’ve had a lot of ugly thrown at me and dealt with even more stomach flipping anger and frustration, but these people deal with more on a daily basis than I have ever faced.  France is about the size of a million Wesleyans.

On the way home my friend’s husband explained to me how he’s able to communicate his classical liberal message in a way that people can begin to understand.  He does it through his work on France’s national security and emergency preparedness.  I didn’t initially get the connection he was making, but as he it explained it, it blew my mind.

The greatest obstacle in trying to explain why I think as I do to someone with an entirely different opinion is getting them to follow an argument argued from an entirely different perspective.  With different frames of mind, it’s hard to understand where someone is coming from.

I’ve worked hard to enter the (American version of the) liberal frame of mind, and while I have had many a eye rolling experience, I can respect it, however vehemently I disagree with it.

But getting people to follow where I’m coming from, that is so much harder.  To do so, you have to start where their thinking is at and succinctly work your way back to the conclusions you were making in the first place.

But that’s what everyone was doing that night.  Talking about who they should endorse for president, if anyone.  Discussing how to get their message across.  Listening to Jean-Baptiste explain how he is able to put his libertarian chalkboard economics into practice and communicate it in such a way that it can begin to be accepted by the non-Hayek loving French population made me smile inside.

It was like observing all the activism I learned at LI and the intellectualism I was exposed to at ISI working together, perfectly.

Though I doubt I would have fully understood the conversations, even if they had been in entirely in English, the topics discussed, questions posed, and problems addressed that night made me feel more at home than I’ve been in such a long time.

I always counted myself among the big dreamers, but hanging out with these guys made me think that just maybe my little five-point plan for my life might be selling myself short.  Because however far I might have already come means nothing in comparison to where I can go from here.

While reflecting on all I had done that day, an after dinner, midnight walk down the Champs Elysee with Coralie, Jean-Baptiste, and one of the guys I met that night made me realize whether it’s Wesleyan, New York, Madrid, or Paris, it really doesn’t matter how you go; just who you meet while you’re there.


Thoughtless can be good too (Paris, Part II)

Keep running, because the view around the corner would take your last breath away anyways.  Wind isn’t the only thing that ought not be metaphoric; distance is good too.

It clears the mind.

Nothing gets rid of pent up exhaustion like an open invitation to a new city.  The last week has been….not fun.  I just wish I could explore Spain and forget classes.

I’ve tried to look at it from a little outside perspective, but I am really at a loss as to the purpose of the educational system here.  And that eats at me.  It’s not that I’m not learning things, it’s just I don’t know why what I am learning has value.

When I consider all the philosophers I’ve yet to study, the history I can barely explain, the economists whose names I only know, the speeches I’ve never read, the 40 book queue on my Kindle that just starts to touch on these topics, and the knowledge that I can only teach myself the things I know I should know (meaning there is a lot I don’t know enough to know that I should know),  I can’t help but feel a final paper requiring me to contrast one book with Animal Farm, a book I read as a freshman in high school, is an assignment that’s not worth my time.

Combine that frustration with the need to learn things that I know has value, but really stink at memorizing, like nitty-gritty Spanish grammar rules and thousands of new words.

By the end of last week, I had about all I could healthily bare, which made waking up in Paris with no plan for the day and the freedom to do whatever I wanted all the more welcome.

It felt foreign, but not because I was in France.  I’m just not used to having that much freedom and mobility.  I had no responsibilities and the time and resources to do just about anything I wanted to with the day.

And trust me, I made it so worth the while.

I folded the free map I picked up at the airport, stuffed it in my coat pocket, and set out for a metro stop that seemed to be near important things.  When I got there, I just picked a direction started walking.

It felt a lot like those first couple days in Santiago, when I would just step outside the dorm, look around, and realize that all the pictures I’ve seen of places like this were real.  When you hear so much and about a place, but never see it, it just doesn’t feel real.  And that’s because it’s not.

No photo, video, or story can ever actually portray reality.  For that, you really have to be there.

So it was a morning of slowing strolling through new streets, admiring architecture and coincidentally finding the Paris Opera, the Tuileries Garden, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and the Arc de Triomphe.


And that was all before lunch, which was awfully tasty.  I met Coralie, and while I haven’t actually the slightest idea what we ate (other than it was some kind of cheese and marmalade on toast), it was very French and delicious.

That afternoon, I set off to find Notre Dame, which took me awhile.  But it gave me a lot of time to contemplate all the assumptions I had made about France.  I must admit, I was never too fond of it, as a country.  I might not be a real scholar of French history, but I tend to side with Mr. Burke’s arguments when it comes to the French Revolution, I see nothing to admire in their government, I don’t follow the French political mindset, and I’d always heard the people were rude.

The first two are still completely true, the third mostly true, and, in my own experience, the last one’s not true at all.

From the guy who showed me where to run to catch the last train, to the guys who held the door open as I ran down the escalator to catch that train, figured out how to help me at the store despite not knowing a word of what I was saying (a situation made worse/slightly comical when I then immediately/instinctively began speaking to him in Spanish), to my friends’ hospitality, and to the people they introduced me to, people were always very kind.

Whenever people ask me where I come from, I usually just say Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  If they inquire about my family’s pre-American roots, I’ll boast my German and English history, but I don’t often say much about the French part.

I think I might mention that first now.

Love, luck, and a prayer (Paris, Part I)

How I struck old Murphy’s law from the books and got to Paris without ever getting lost.

From the UC3M campus in Getafe (south of Madrid), to getting to and from the airports, to quickly making my own adjustments to the metro directions Coralie gave me, recognizing the apartment I was to stop at from google maps street view, and knowing that when Coralie said 2nd floor, she really meant 3rd (Europeans and their zero floors,) I got to Paris without a single misstep.

This is really quite epic, because I can’t ever recall getting someplace on my own by myself without making a wrong turn…ever.

I was literally the very last person on the last train out of the airport in Paris on Wednesday night.  I only made it because some security officer saw me fumbling at the ticket machine and yelled at me to run (and where to run) and some blessed man held the train door open for me as I ran down the escalator.  The door closed behind me, and the train started moving.

When the train stopped one stopped running one stop short of where I was to transfer, I followed the mass of people until I found an information desk, and spoke with a man there who did not know English very well, but he managed to tell me where to go anyway.

I didn’t understand his directions, but his telling me which way to walk led me to map where I was able to figure out how to get where I needed to go on my own.

Having learned the DC, New York, Boston, and Madrid subway systems by myself, Paris’s wasn’t hard to figure out, but with my whole body nearly throbbing from exhaustion (a very full day of classes then 7 hours of travel), not having the slightest idea where I was at, and the realization that I understood absolutely nothing being said around me, I could have really freaked myself out.  But I didn’t.

I thought clearly, with a peace and calm I’m not used to composing in stressful situations (which are always exacerbated when I have to get through them alone).  This is completely new for me, but it felt so good.

When I finally arrived at my destination and Coralie opened the door (proving my hypothesis that though she was writing me in English, she would not convert European style floor naming 0,1,2 to an American 1,2,3), and I saw that I hadn’t knocked on some random person’s door in the middle of the night, I let out a sigh so deep that I physically leaned forward.

And with that breath, I closed the quiet prayer that started in Madrid and was felt so deep in my chest that there had been almost no words at all.  I was there, and it was awesome, but getting there, that was just the beginning…

at the Louvre

Symbolic, maybe; metaphoric, no way

Rural Extremadura

I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a window on the street yesterday.  Having ditched the thick black plastic glasses for a much lighter partially rimless frames, with my hair pulled back in a loose braid, an elegant black winter coat almost to my knees, and last weekend’s new scarf blowing against my neck, I looked…older.

I’m not sure if I actually am older looking.  If I didn’t take careful care, my face would be as break out like a 14 year-old, my nails are always worn and picked at like a nervous kid sitting for the SATs, and I’m not positive of the best way to care for my new long hair or make it frame my face in a professional way.  But none of that seemed to change the image reflected in the window.

Despite not yet knowing the best way to care for it, my long hair has become particularly symbolic for me.  I have been steadily growing it out since freshman year.  There were several critical reasons for this, none of which are particularly important, or for that matter unexpected, but in some Anne-like romantic way, the wispy, little curls that now reach my mid-back mean something else now.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Paris.  It’s going to rush to get from school to the airport on the north end of the city in time, then I’m going to fly alone on an airline I’ve never used, to a country I’ve never been to, where they speak a language I can’t even pretend to understand.  Then I’m using multiple forms of public transportation to find a friend’s home*

If that weren’t enough, I’m doing everything in my power to get myself to Normandy on Friday.  I think I’m going to take an overpriced train there.  I thought about just skipping it, but I’ll probably never make it back to France.  And I don’t want Normandy to my version of my mother’s Grand Canyon (she was 3 hours away, they kept driving, and she never made it back).

Of all the historic places in Europe, I honestly think Normandy is at the top of my list.

So even if it’s only for a few hours, it’ll be worth it.  I just want to stand on Omaha Beach and look out on the English Channel with the shadow of American soldiers in my mind, cold, pink cheeks, my scarf blowing behind me, and a soft braid falling out of my hair.

If I were in control of every detail and writing the story of my life, I wouldn’t be alone in a foreign country right now.  But then again, I would have never gone through all the really hard stuff at all, and that’s whats made me strong enough to be here in the first place.  And there’s something cool about that, because, this, this is so much better than anything I would have ever come up with on my own.

So they’ll be no the metaphoric wind in my story.  If now is the time to be alone and independent, I want to feel it in the north of France…blowing through my long, blonde hair.

town in Extremadura

*Mom/Dad/Oma/Papa: Don’t freak.  I have a safe place to stay with people I know well, and if anything were to happen to me, they would know instantly and help me out.