between the sounds of ethereal vocals and guitar

Before the sun rose, I left Paris on a Thursday for Barcelona with Tu and Ashley, two of my Cornell friends also studying abroad in Paris. This was my first time leaving France since my arrival, and it was all very surreal, from the plane boarding to the landing.

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I knew it was real when at the airport, all of the signs were primarily in Catalan, then Spanish, and then English. Soon we were in our hostel, anxious to explore the city of Barcelona: Gaudí and more Gaudí and lots of paella.

OBVIOUSLY we were starving. College students are always, always hungry. We had fish and spaghetti for lunch and walked around a market. One of Tu’s friends also from Cornell studying abroad in Barcelona took us to see Casa Batllo, Gaudí’s first work that I saw.

I bought some tourist keychains for my mom and then Ashley and I proceeded to the Picasso museum. We were there for literally only 15 minutes, but I learned the most about Picasso’s body of work than I ever have.

12743924_1287839104565956_1528701542193160778_nOne of the most shocking realizations was the transition of depiction (excuse my lack of better vocabulary on art) Picasso’s work illustrated after his youth. His younger years were conventionally beautiful, with his older pieces being more chaotic, divided, and multidimensional. Las Meninas, his most renowned piece in this museum, was so rewarding to stand about 3 feet away from.

 

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Art makes you very hungry. We headed to Yelp’s #1 rated restaurant for paella in Barcelona afterwards. While in Spain, we ate so much paella, which is served in a (very hot) pan, shared among two people. Like, every night we were in Spain. It almost reminded me of my mom’s Mexican rice, except with seafood on it.

Actually, much of the scenery I saw and the vibes from Barcelona reminded me of growing up Latina, and it especially brought me back to my summer in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. The livelihood of the streets, the passion in the food and in the music was parallel to something I knew, something old, something colonized, from another universe. Barcelona and San Cristobal are places that exist outside of time, I believe.

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Returning back to my itinerary, the following day we visited la Sagrada Família. It was truly emotive experience. To me, it felt extremely spiritual, a place of nature and humanity. Unlike most of the French Roman Catholic churches, la Sagrada Família felt less “institutional”, and more like a place one could find in nature. This was all Antoni Gaudí, of course, who I quote: “Isn’t it true that both the earth and the sky appear to be united?” In the interior, there were beautiful bright colors in the stained glass windows in which green and orange particularly brought each other out. Inside, we walked for around an hour and took photos. I felt extremely at peace, and connected to nature – inside a building.

 

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After, we made our way to Parc Guell, a truly sublime place where earth meets sea. The strums of a classical guitar echoed through the trees as we walked on the trails through the park. Pink, blue, orange, and lots of green harmonized together.

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And finally, the trip ended in Valencia, a beautiful Mediterranean city by the sea. One of the last nights was spent at a flamenco concert, where I truly believe resumed my feelings during my trip in Spain. The music and dance captured the collective emotions of a people, caught forever between the sounds of ethereal vocals and guitar.

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The Louvre

This weekend marks my 4th week in the city of light. All this time, I’ve been commenting to my Cornell friends how this can’t possibly be, that the notion of studying abroad for a semester suddenly seems like studying abroad for a week, that time is flying and there is so, so much to do.

After three weeks of being in Paris, I was resolved to visit the Louvre yesterday, for the first time in my life. Well, at least part of it. It’s colossal, four floors of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from 15 centuries B.C. to the 19th century A.C. I joked that it wasn’t that big because it was Paris and everything is considerably less large than in the U.S. Proved wrong by my traitor feet, I decided it WAS a lot of art – and a large span of time covered in the museum, too.

My friend Tu and I started in Denon, one of the three wings of the Louvre (Denon, Sully, and Richelieu). Mainly because of my request to see the da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, la Joconde (meaning the smiling one). Essentially, I am a tourist, a foreigner, so it was acceptable to want to do this, right? Tu and I had decided to purchase audio guides, which was cool, but after the 4th hour, not so much, as the Nintendo 3DS hanging around my neck started to feel very present. Still, I wasn’t totally anxious to see the Mona Lisa, so before wandering into the room with the huge glass case, we looked at 16-18th Italian paintings and somber and dark Spanish ones.

Alas, I saw the Mona Lisa. Her smile was as mysterious and deceiving as ever, but more distracting and amusing than her smile were the crowd of tourists fighting at taking a front-row selfie with her, some being scolded by a Louvre officer for bringing out their selfie sticks. I, too, took several photos with la Joconde.12657289_1279075572108976_6431038254982501888_o

After recovering from the initial tourist shock of the Mona Lisa, we wandered into the room with the large 19th century French paintings. Of course, we saw and appreciated La liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, reminiscent of the turbulent past of class struggle in France. This one, too, had its own crowd, and we asked some French girls for a picture, the picture to symbolize the Paris study abroad experience (after the Eiffel tower photo).

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Nonetheless, one of the most strange and bothersome things I felt at the Louvre was not the tourists nor the incessant walking (8 hours straight). It was the massive collection of Egyptian artifacts. I was immensely impressed by all of them, by the sarcophagi, by the sphinxes, and possibly most by the hieroglyphics and the complex [French] instructions on how to read them. What I kept reflecting on was the fact that France owned precious Egyptian antiquities.  It didn’t rest well with me. Naturally, I thought about colonialism, racism, [cultural] appropriation, and Napoleon, who ransacked Egypt in the 18th century.

While the grandeur of this ancient civilization appealed to me and posed many more questions to me than the European paintings, I think an acknowledgement and a critical analysis on how institutions such as national museums have a crucial role in political domination is essential to having a complex understanding on art and politics.

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Frank in France

I apologize for the great break I have assumed from my blog, especially to all of my readers, but I wanted to wait to have a truly excellent story for your eyes.

I don’t remembering breaking the news, but I am abroad for a semester in Paris, France. I’m currently staying at an amazing foyer, or French-style dormitory (but functionally more independent than its American counterpart), and I’m taking classes at Sciences Po, one of France’s leading social science research institutions, in the intellectual-y and expensive-y Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood (think Sartre and Beauvoir). There is so much I need to process, and in need of dire reflection, I turn to my blog.

First, this is my first time overseas. Living in a country you’ve never been in is quite an emotional experience. While I’ve spent the past 7 years of my life studying la langue française, nothing truly prepared me for this kind of social immersion. As a “foreigner”, being constantly “the other” is often tiring, having to traverse across cultural expectations of “correctness” at all times. The French are very fond of politeness rituals, and initially it was a shock as in the United States, these rituals are more or less unnecessary, or rather contingent on the relationship with that person/group. Moreover, being an underrepresented student studying abroad (I am the only Latinx person in my cohort), and being underrepresented in France as a Chicanx at elite institutions is a very strange dynamic of navigating foreign spaces, which is something I’m aware of in the US, but not in very different contexts such as this one. Nonetheless, this consciousness allows for a greater awareness of inequality, which is very delineated in Paris (more on this later).

Still, it’s very, very fun to partake in this experience. One of the very important aspects of this “experience” is food and ordering it. Thanks to Yelp, my friends and I have come across some exquisite plates, and some less-than-Yelpworthy restaurants. In Paris, customer service is a hit-or-miss, but it’s part of the social ritualization of the grand culture here. Another noteworthy food experience is the French restaurant universitaire institution, which is a government-subsidized dining experience for students. For 3,25 euros, you can get a full hot meal, dessert and appetizer included. It’s amazing. And lastly, of course, bread, chocolate, and macarons are a must, and highly pleasing. Boulangeries and patisseries are located at walking distances everywhere in Paris, rendering the ability to fill your sweet tooth easy, provided the monetary resources, of course.

Public transportation is another interesting facet of my Parisian life. The métro in Paris is wonderful, as access to everywhere within Paris is present. Never have I ever felt so mobile in a large city. I particularly love the métro, as I will always remember the night I saw the beautiful, glittery lights of the Eiffel Tower on Line 6 for the first time. It was a quasi religious experience (the actual religious experience was entering Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur). While on the métro, people are either always reading a classic novel, wearing their headphones, having a passionate conversation in rapid French on the phone, and/or having a penchant for picking up the frenzied English of my friends and I when riding together. Public transport also allowed me to live my Amélie Poulain fantasy – to have chocolat chaud and crème brulée at the famous Montmartre café from the Amélie film.

Paris is really, really picturesque, and simultaneously, a very complex city with an intricate social and political scene. I’ve recently joined a couple of student associations at Sciences Po, and I’m really excited to learn more about contemporary social issues passionate people are working together to tackle. I can only hope I continue to améliorer mon français, and learn more through these diverse and rich experiences. À bientôt!

 

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P.S. If you are a first-generation college student and have any questions about studying abroad, please do not hesitate to ask me any q’s you may have!

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