Saturday, July 5, 2014

If we had blogs in 1999: Bienvenue a Paris

I may have finished posting my 1997-1998 study abroad journal, but I have a lot more. I guess I didn't keep a journal during my senior year at Miami U, but I did keep one on the six week program I took after graduation in Europe, and it is much better than the other one. My mother bought it for me as sort of a joke. It is called "Trips Are FUN! A Travel Journal for Kids." I went all out with colored pens and photos and drawings. The writing is much better than my MUDEC journal, but still very amateurish. The first few pages are inane; please see the real stuff towards the middle of the page, as well as my commentary at the end. I've scanned the pages, though some have turned out dark around the corners because the book is slightly larger than the scanning surface.

The program was called the Transatlantic Seminar on the European Union, a course on the political economy and history of the EU, and was taught by Dr. Warren Mason, a man who had been instrumental in establishing the Miami University Dolibois European Center in Luxembourg, where I had attended during my junior year. I was one of two graduate students in the seminar and had separate sessions with Dr. Mason that sometimes I felt I had to bullshit my way through because it was rather theoretical at times, though now I laugh at how I struggled to grasp the material since I live in that realm today. In fact, I learned so much from the course that I was hired by the Center for International Private Enterprise a few years later because I had demonstrated a sound understanding of institution building. I had taken Dr. Mason's EU course during the prior semester, so I was well-informed about how the EU worked. I should note that the euro didn't exist in paper form at that time, but it was already the currency of exchange and prices were written in both the national currencies and the euro.

Most of the students had never been to Europe. Brad and I were the only ones from MUDEC and we spent nearly all our time together and traveled to the same places on weekends.

As with the last journal, I will preserve all spelling, grammatical, factual, and emotional errors. My current day thoughts are written in red italics.

Before the Trip

Interesting facts about where I'm going: Paris is the place where they used to have this thing called the guillotine that chopped off people's heads when they were bad, or even if they weren't bad.

Prague is the place where Charles IV ruled at the same time he ruled Luxembourg and he has a bridge named after him and Jim Phelps fell off of it when he pretended he was shot in Mission Impossible.

Krakow is in Poland.

Berlin used to have this big wall around it but then some people got mad and started painting it but it was so ugly that they tore it down and then had a big party.

Number of miles between here and there: too many

Things I plan to see and do
Here's a drawing or picture of something I hope  to see on my trip
I plan on seeing this big tower with a flag on top and some churches and some old buildings and some skinny streets and some idiot drivers and lots of statues of famous people and a club called the tourists and some fountains and a lot of shops. They speak funny and eat strange things and drink stuff called wine and beer and I can't wait for that part. I'm going to see some rivers and mountains and I get to ride on trains and go on an airplane across a big ocean. I get to stay in hotels and see people who work talk to us and I'm gonna meet new people and go to things called bars and I'm gonna walk a lot and sleep in parks and cross old bridges to new sides of the water.

How I got ready for the trip

I packed my suitcase which is really a big backpack and another bag real full with nice clothes and stuff like soap and shampoo and toothpaste until nothing else would fit. I had to take stuff out and put it in again because it wouldn't all go in so my bag would zip. I carefully chose 24 CDs that I could not live without for the next 7 weeks and 3 of those were U2 and 3 were REM. I had to find addresses of my  friends so that I could send them post cards like to Andrea and Vicki when I was in Dublin and to Matt and Erika and the others who lived in Luxembourg when I did so I would send them post cards from Luxembourg when I got there. I didn't bring my pillow this time because it was too big. I called a few people just to say bye but it was wierd because I didn't feel like I was leaving and I knew 7 weeks would be over way too fast and I'd be back and bored before I knew it.

Stuff I got for the trip           

I got lots of stuff. I got a new suit. It's black. I got shoes too. They're black too. I got a new bag from Eddie Bauer. I don't know who he is. I got some film for my camera so I could take lots of pictures. I also got lots of batteries for my discman, and a new alarm clock. Oh, and I got some gum to chew on the plane just in case my ears started to pop so I could make them stop.

Here is a drawing of some of the stuff I got for the trip

Stuff I packed for the trip   

1 suit                    three t-shirts                   1 sandals        
1 pants                 2 shorts                          1 shoes
1 skirt                  1 coat                             8 underwear
1 jeans                 1 hiking boots                 8 socks
three hole punch                       1 long sleeve t-shirt
1 briefcase                                towel & washclothe
toiletries                                    laundry detergent
17 roles of film & camera
discman with 24 CDs & 20 batteries
binder & notebook
waist pouch1 GAP bag Garfield PEZ dispenser and refill  

On the Road  

How I traveled (car, train, plane,etc.) 

The plane ride was rather uneventful. I was bored. It was quite painful actually, not only mentally, but physically as well. My legs bore a pain of immobility, and my skin cracked from dehydration only planes and deserts could imagine. Of course, my boredom could have been eased had I tried to do anything besides sit there. I bought Ulysses to read while on the trip, and I also had the packet with which Dr. Mason so thoughtfully provided us. The packet is packaged in blue, the color of the EU flag, and countains academic reading materials that I have since decided not to read. 

Who went with me/New friends I met along the way

Brad sat directly in front of me. Next to him was Jen, who also sat next to Adam. Behind Adam was Kate, who provided the other piece of bread that a girl of whose name I am still uncertain (Mariem?) sat between. I managed to get less than two hours of sleep, and those brief moments were sporadically interruptions of extreme discomfort. I was awakened by strong bouts of turbulance, and these rude inconveniences led me to think each time that there was something wrong with the plane. Each time I regained consciousness provided me with seconds of fear that I would be plunging into the Atlantic ocean. Anyway, I touched down safely at Charles de Gaulle and was immediately annoyed by those group members with whom I would have to interact on a daily basis. Despite the fact that we touched down a little after noon, we did not get to our hotel until three. The worst part was that we had to wait for the idiots to exchange money and eat and make stupid american comments like <<I can't understand why they won't accept american money here.>> Because it's FRANCE, you dumbasses. However, when we finally embarked on bus from the airport, I was able to drown the buzzing sound of american english and one annoying analysis of Paris by Dr. Mason in my enthusiasm for my Parisian arrival.  It was annoying because it was basic info of which I was well aware. I had probably not known the first time I went to Paris, but I couldn't recognize the newness to everyone else, even exhibiting snobbery as a result of my well-traveled experience. Nevermind that we had all acted the same way when we first arrived at MUDEC. But I also remember feeling annoyed because I wanted to show the students around and teach them what I had learned, but they didn't seem willing to, um, utilize my services.

Photo is of Rodin's Gates of Hell sculpture at the Rodin Museum. ESA (European Space Agency) and SNECMA (defense contractor) were two seminars for the course.

We settled in to our hotel. Three stars, very nice. My Parisien roommate was Megan. Nice, doesn't drink, thinks she knows everything about Paris, takes long metro routs, sycophant, clean. I wish we could keep the same roommates. We slept for a half hour before meeting in the lobby to sight-see. Mason led us on the tour of embarrassment. Here we were, 25 jet-lagged americans, loud, obnoxious tourists following the mother hen. Mason had on a black leather coat and looked as if he were European. This tour began with a trip to Gare de Saint Lazare to eat, which of course, I found to be quite annoying. Because everyone wants to eat at the train station when they go to Paris... There I found who the people were who had been to Europe before, and of course, they knew everything about the continent. Pot, meet Kettle. Eric speaks fluent French and is the picture of prentention, Abby went on a summer program, though I don't remember which, and a few others have been, but I ignored their omniscient talent.

Pics from the Paris portion of our trip.
Interesting stuff I saw along the way  
Opposite page is for "Drawings or Pictures," but I wrote (Pictures with words) and text

On the first walking tour, after the train station, Mason took us to see the department stores. Our hotel was only a couple of blocks from Au Printemps and the rue of department stores, including Galleries Lafayette, which is really amazing inside, if you can mind the crowds. It was here where I caught a glimpse of my first euro price tags, on a case of sunglasses - or was it watches - one of the two anyway. When you get to the center, there is a dome with circular balconies descending from it, and the merchandise can be seen on these balconies from below. Leaving the Galleries, we then proceeded to the Opera House which is beautiful inside and out (despite the scaffolding.) I had never before seen it. Standing inside, I imagined myself ascending the red carpeted staircase in an evening gown, about to witness one of the great Italian operas, music swirling about as a gentle breeze, only the music began to swirl like a gnat in my face when I awoke from this fantasy. I left the building, and turned around to encounter a grand structure that added to the Parisien attitude that had constructed everything to make a statement. Following the opera experience, we walked to the place de vendome, a rich man's place that included numerous jewelry stores and the Ritz, swarming with Mercedes and BMWs.

Upon our passage of this grand place, we came to the Tuilleries, much thanks due to Brad's persistance. Dr. Mason had obliged, but did not allow us entrance to the garden of my own Parisien memories. Instead I was made to stare at the wooden longhouses and teepees of a Quebecois cultural exhibition, and I commented on the fascination that could be evoked by a European emotion not familiar with the culture of the American Indians of which we have learned throughout our days of suburban elementaries.

How embarassing it was to line up along the grand boulevards like a giant rattlesnake that has just swallowed up the spirit of the Parisien air, shedding our American skin onto the streets and waiting for our next victim's stare so that we may prey again on its air. Relief came briefly as we returned to the hotel. Dinner came at a late 7 o'clock, and we at some sort of fishy appetizer followed by some questionable entree and desert. We did get free wine. The restaurant itself was a place of elaborate decor where I should have been 20 years older to have permission to sit there. I know that if I ever make a lot of money I will never eat like that. One day we did have this great salmon, but veal & hen are foods of the rich & snobby, and I did not feel comfortable eating there. I felt angry for having to pay so much for food I did not really enjoy. Also, the hotel, a three star, was $168 per night, which really upset me. I already have a huge debt, and some of these expenses have been completely unnecessary. Despite having learned a certain appreciation for food at MUDEC, I still had not refined my palette. I really was more upset that I was forced to spend more when I would have been happy with some brie and a baguette from a grocery store. I knew of hotels that cost $50 a night. I realize the logistics of keeping the students together, but, like at MUDEC, I was of limited means while the other students didn't have to worry what they spent.

The whole weekend was a complete blur. Jet lag descended over me and I just wanted to sleep. We went on a three hour walking tour with Mason which began with the president's palace and ended with the Hotel des invalids. Behold, an area of much grass...

Souvenirs I bought

Bought an eiffel tower key chain for mom’s shelf & a shot glass of Paris. Bought a shot glass from Prague and a Prague marathon t-shirt.


...grass, something at which to marvel in the midst of a city drowned in cemented oceans and finite space. There was a welcomed rush of activities as footballers danced through the green halls, limited by the barbed wire that was traffic and streets, emprisoned by their own city which sucked life from its colonists, only to project it back by means of a radiant energy too mythical to exist in the realms of the conscience. One throw seemed to break the confines of the city as I rushed to return a stray ball to its cell. It sailed across the street almost as if it were constructing a bridge that would allow me to traverse the river of my citizenship.

Alas, a comment blown my way by another American threw me into the pit of my own reality, and the moment disipated as quickly as it had come. Here I must mention that untraveled American tourists really are a bad breed. They think that everything should be as it is in the US and that everyone else is doing it wrong. I don't remember what was said, but I can imagine.

The day ended with a trip to the Latin Quarter, though the precise event is now unclear. There had been the night with Mason, his buzz and the crepes, now too distant to recall any real significance. The other night was the night at the jazz café, one in which insight came to me. This was the first night Bill led us to a place which did not exist, so he found an American type of entertainment to suit his ethnicity. Drunken American night #1. Brad and I left before the others and came across St. Eustace, an incredible church to which we returned later. We had no map, nor did we really need one, but we did manage to overshoot our destination by twenty minutes, so I called home from a payphone across from the Hard Rock Café. End of weekend.

It did not take long before I began to wonder if the trip was a mistake, especially after the ESA seminar. Four hours of utter boredom later, I had yet to ask a question. Nor would I that day. I had spent eight hours and thousands of dollars to get to this giant outdoor museum, and I was wasting time learning nothing at the European Space Agency. I’d love that seminar now. I understand the global defense industry, I love space topics, I have a better academic mindset, and frankly, I was a student who was in love with Europe and wanted nothing more than to go out and explore the world. For some evasive reason, the Parisian air failed to penetrate into the depths of my lungs, and I began to think the second trip to Europe killed its magic. Something was missing - ah, yes - Matt and Andrea, already the names clashed like eighties clothing. A year had passed and the two names had ceased to be words of the same language, and even had they remained together they would not have been here, in this mythical city, their absence like raindrops in the puddles of my discontent, clinging to other droplets consisting of the obnoxious american students with whom I was in company. An unfortunate condition it was, to be drenched, standing in the cold air of Paris filled with absense.

Dressed in a black suit that was too big and unaltered and armed with a briefcase stuffed with new notebooks and purse fillings, I sought knowledge to an unknown subject. I had not an idea about the topic of my research, only that it had something to do with the new governance of Europe. Question me, question me, I will not sound intelligent, for I have not a clue as to the theme of my journey, only a vague notion as to why I have returned to Europe drives me to take interest in any of the seminars. Into and out of the American Embassy, littered with extra security as a result of involvement in Kosovo, entrance and exit the Ministry of Defense - France has nukes and Europe doesn't! Through the walls of Aerospatiale sits the heated air suffocating some american students. Kill me now at SNECMA, for I cannot bear this torture! Return my money, FX Concepts, I don't give a damn about foreign exchange rates since I won't have to exchange separate monies in France and Germany! Get me a Metro ticket, I want to go home! But the Metro will not go that far, it can only get me to the weekend, when I will board a train (bored a train) to Praha.


Current thoughts on those pages, in black to facilitate the reading process: 

You have to understand how exhausting it was. Imagine trying to sit through seminars, jet lagged and lacking sleep and trying to enjoy Paris for being Paris in the evenings. I'm not sure that I understood what the course was really about when I decided to take it. I'm sure I only signed up because it was a way to get back to Europe, though I really did have interest in the European Union. I mean, here's a continent whose history books are divided into chapters based on this war or that, and, after nearly committing suicide, found a way to ensure that if one started a war, they all would fall. This was a time when yet another war was happening in Western Europe's backyard, after the breakup of the Yugoslav states and the Dayton Peace Accord, when Kosovo was exploding and everyone was worried about the spillover effect. World War I, after all, had begun with the assassination of a Serbian archduke. Sure, there were Euroskeptics - they were the nationalists and the libertarians and the people who generally didn't understand why the EU was necessary, but though Europeans grumbled about it, there was a general consensus that it existed for the greater good. It's so different fifteen years later, when there are many people working to destroy the EU rather than trying to make it work and when some states are rethinking their participation in the euro entirely. Are we that far removed from World War II that we have forgotten all of its lessons? Have there been so many Hollywood movies about the Holocaust that people forget that wasn't why the war happened, that it was a tragic reaction to Germany's unfortunate successes? Do those who advocate against the EU as being "bad for business" not know that corporate ambitions aided Hitler's rise to power and continued to profit from the Fuhrer's exploits? 

The EU makes overbearing - and sometimes downright stupid - decisions on occasion. But this is because voter turnout is low for EU elections, ensuring that clowns find their way into office. And before you say it's not my business to judge Europeans for caring so little for or being hostile to the institution that can keep them out of war, may I remind you that we had to rescue their asses twice, at great cost to us, and that we would do it again should they need it. One would think that avoiding another continental war would be enough to motivate them to vote...

It's strange to think that my education came after I had left the university, that I ran on curiosity about the things around me and in history rather than academic ambition. I had yet to realize that I wanted to learn everything, that I wanted to understand how the world works and why people do the things they do, why wars are fought and people live in poverty or's funny, too, because then I thought I was well-rounded. I thought because I bought Ulysses and The Metamorphosis that it made me one of those renaissance folks who could tell you anything about anything in the world. It was the beginning of something, though. I was no longer confined to textbooks and required reading. A genuine intellectual curiosity was budding, and even though I felt bored in many of the seminars, it wasn't as if I weren't absorbing the information. It was exposure. I suppose you could compare it to tee ball. The ball was setting there; it was just waiting for me to learn how to make contact.

Up next: Prague 

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