Friday, September 7, 2012

Memories of Paris

Alicia Jimenez, an English Literature major in the Verrazano Class of 2013 and a Verrazano Study Abroad Scholarship recipient, shares her reflections upon returning home from her summer study abroad experience in Paris, France.

Alicia (center) with friends at Monet's garden.
I haven’t been home for very long, but even before my plane left Charles de Gaulle Airport, I started to miss Paris. Home feels good, and I’m still adjusting to being back in the same way I had to adjust to Paris at first, but the excitement and thrill of being in Paris hasn’t left me yet, and I can’t imagine those feelings ever really leaving me. I can reflect on my trip and miss the city fiercely, and I can still love the city and love the experience that I had. My trip taught me a lot about myself and about what I’m capable of, and this knowledge has made me braver. I feel like more of an adult now, and I have all of my adventures in Paris to thank for that.

From planning and executing a day trip to Monet’s breathtaking Giverny, to climbing up to the tallest point in Paris at Montmartre, every experience was new and full of interesting people and situations. My literary dreams came true as I had the chance to sit in cafés that my heroes and idols had often frequented. I passed their houses, strolled the parks that they strolled through, and I felt very close to them as I did. Paris is where all of my literary idols became real people for me, and reading and writing about them as I followed their physical footsteps was an amazing experience. 

Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) Basilica of Montmarte
It is impossible to know a city completely in a month, but I absorbed as much of Paris as I could, alternating days of sightseeing and museum visits with more low-key trips just wandering around the colorful arrondissements. I learned the Paris Metro very well, eventually coming to prefer it to New York’s hectic and often unreliable subway system. For all of the criticism about Parisian style over substance (criticism which we discussed at length in class, of course), the inner workings of Paris ran like a well-oiled machine for me, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to know it.

Paris had always seemed like a dream to me, as if it only existed in movies and books. I came to Paris determined to treat it like a real city, to learn and experience the reality of it, and Paris did not disappoint me. I think every city is what a person makes of it, and some people may think that Paris is just a beautiful collection of old buildings and pretty lights: style over substance, as the critics say. I have been lucky enough to watch Paris light up from the boat on the Seine, and I see that Paris, that magical, glittering Paris. It’s breathtaking, and everything the movies says it is. But Paris is more than that. Our class was broad enough to show us different writers’ takes on Paris, and George Orwell’s Paris is different from Ernest Hemingway’s Paris. My Paris is different, too.
Alicia (right) and her roommate at the Orsay Museum.
My Paris smells like strong coffee and pain au chocolat, and it sounds like train doors slamming shut. It’s been only a couple of weeks since I returned, and I haven’t lost the memory of those smells or those sounds, and every day I remember a new small slice of Paris to tell my family and friends about. Everyone has asked me what my favorite place in Paris was, and every time I answer I think of a different place: the cool, hushed walls of Notre Dame, the rush of the crowd up at Montmartre, or the buzz and bustle of our favorite café at lunchtime.  I am very excited now to do more traveling and collect more versions of different places to keep with me, as I will keep my version of Paris forever. And I would definitely encourage others to do the same.

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