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Paris in the (almost) springtime March 26, 2008

Posted by Emily in blog, photography, Spain, Travel.
4 comments

How do you sum up a week of seeing and doing so much? I am going to go ahead and split this past week into two entries, this one focusing on Paris and the next talking a bit more about my Semana Santa experience here in Córdoba.

Paris was much better the second time around, for a lot of little reasons and a fair amount of luck. I think it was a little early for the classic Springtime in Paris bit, but the grass was getting green, the daffodils were in bloom, and there were lots of fancy Easter shaped chocolates in shop windows. In other words, it felt like spring to me. Rain had been forecast basically every day, but in the end I don’t think I had my umbrella open for more than an hour and a half in total. Gray skies sort of added to the general sense of relaxation. Both Adam, my travel buddy, and I commented on how quiet Paris seemed, even the center of the city, even metros full of people. My theory is that most of the people in the street, in cafés, on the metro were alone, something rare in Spain. People flying solo make less noise. It was a nice break from the horn honking and bustling cafes and bars of Andalucía.

One moment that combined calmness and appreciation of seasons was seeing Monet’s Waterlilies at the recently reopened Musée l’Orangerie. It was closed for six years for renovations, the basement now housing the art collection of Paul Guillaume, a wealthy Parisian art dealer who used to have all of this art hanging in his many Parisian apartments. The miniature apartment models were unbelievable…who knew one could hang too many master works in one living room? Upstairs, there are two oval rooms, a request Monet made when he gave the Waterlilies series to the museum. This way, there’s no sense of beginning or end and one can be completely surrounded by the massive panels. For whatever reason, there were few people there, which allowed me to sit on the center bench, far enough away to see the paintings from a distance as they were intended. I tried to identify the season and the time of day of each panel, some coming really easily to me although I couldn’t always put my finger on just why. Sitting there for some time, changing positions every five or ten minutes to stare at another panel, an overwhelming sense of calm came over me. The waterlilies and I were definitely communing. It was a really wonderful moment and a Parisian stop, between the Louvre and the Champs-Élysées, that I highly recommend. I attempted to give some sense of the room through photos, although like any art, it’s not quite the same as when it’s seen in person.

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Another new thing I did was a night bateaux mouche (boat ride) on the Seine. I had dismissed the boat rides the first time, thinking they were certainly really expensive. So I was sort of shocked to find that 9 euros covers an hour and a half cruise–in a place where 9 euros barely buys a decent sandwich. So on the last night, despite it being pretty damn cold on the old river, I rode on top and passed by so many illuminated wonders and under so many cool illuminated bridges. Took lots of videos and pictures and it was a nice way to end the trip.

cold, cold on the Seine
Me, the last fifteen minutes of the ride when it got REALLY cold

I plan to attempt to edit some of the videos together, maybe to music. But with my video skills being what they are, you may see the vids on YouTube soon, unedited and just as shaky as ever.

I ran into some rude Parisians again, people who use their French and the fact that I don’t speak much of it as a weapon, even as I was trying. But plenty of people were also friendly enough. It was nice to walk around without being looked at strangely. It was nice to be in a place and be aware that it is, without a doubt, a center of art and of culture, of fashion and of thought. Sitting alone in a café and reading or writing isn’t frowned upon; reading a book on the metro is not strange at all. I wrote more than I’ve written in a long time and every night had an urge to read, even after traipsing all over the city all day. I took hundreds and hundreds of photos.

Because I could continue writing here for much longer than is interesting to anyone but myself and have posted plenty of photos for those who are actually interested in knowing more about the trip, I am going to go ahead and just list some of the highlights. Brevity, Emily, brevity.

  • Musee l’Orangerie and its Waterlilies
  • Watching traffic under the Arc de Triomphe, where 12 roads come together and incoming traffic has the right of way
  • Discovering C.R.O.U.S., a government subsidized student cafeteria where 2.80€ buys a full meal, with dessert
  • The Egyptian wing at the Louvre
  • Entering a neighborhood boulangerie (bread shop) in Montmarte and conducting the full purchase of my daily bread in French
  • Sitting at the well-lit corner table at the bottom of the stairs at the Hostel Caulaincourt every morning and writing
  • Bateaux Mouche at night and lit-up buildings and bridges
  • Rick Steves’ podcast tour of Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter
  • 1.50€ beers at a bar full of French students
  • the cupola in Galleries Lafayette
  • Palm Sunday musicians at the St-Germain des Pres Church
  • hearing the Pogues, the Cranberries, and U2 over a Bulmer’s cider inside an Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day
  • finding 10€ on the seat of an RER train
  • Lychee juice and Volvic orange peach water
  • watching Adam’s face as he saw all of the sights for the first time
  • Daffodils and irises in parks and cut flowers on street corners
  • the sweet 1919 music of a paso doble called “Córdoba” that I bartered for next to the Seine and then cared for like my own child on the way back to Spain, chastizing French airport guards who tried to fold it into the x-ray machine
  • Nutella and banana crepes
  • Window shopping and lots of window drooling at pastry shops
  • the WWII memorial near Notre Dame
  • rounding a corner and coming upon a full-sized model of a mammoth at the Museum of Natural History
  • listening to Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” while walking along the Seine. And then “Uptown Girl.”

Giving it another go March 11, 2008

Posted by Emily in blog, photography, Travel.
1 comment so far

(Before the updates, an update: When I added an accent to the title of my Picasa album featured in this post, it changed the web address. Oops. The links are now updated and should work OK.)

Hello all. A few small updates.

1. Zapatero won the election, but it was fairly close. As for my comment about vice presidential candidates, I later learned that you vote for a list of all of the people of the same party, and Zapatero is just one of them. So his VP will go on ruling the country. Or so they tell me.

2. Rajoy conceded defeat without ever saying Zapatero’s name. Lame.

3. The trip to Arcos de la Frontera and Cádiz went well. Arcos is your classic pueblo blanco, incredibly charming and filled with tiny winding streets. We ate well, we walked, we had coffee at a Parador and felt quite chichi. Most importantly, I got to play dress up. Then in the morning, after Alma voted, we went to Cádiz and enjoyed a walk on the beach, some pescaito frito, and the streets of Cádiz, quite different when there aren’t a million drunk people there in costume during Carnaval.

Check out the photos.

4. On Thursday I leave for 5 days in Paris with my friend Adam. As many of you may recall, I went to Paris a few years ago and, despite being able to recognize Paris’ beauty and intrigue, mostly wasn’t able to appreciate it for a number of reasons, among them the freezing cold, the unbelievable Parisian prices I was not prepared for, a run in with French police, and a very nasty bout of food poisoning. So I am giving Paris another chance. I think going in March, and for a shorter period of time, are both good moves. I am ready to like a city I would like to like but mostly didn’t like the first time around. That was quite a sentence. So we’ll see.

5. I’ll be back in Córdoba on Wednesday morning early, after catching the 1 am bus from Madrid. This falls clearly under the heading of young and stupid, but I didn’t want to waste money on a hostel when I can get back to my own bed, recover on Wednesday, and then try to do something (beach maybe?) on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Semana Santa. I feel like I’ve been having nothing but vacations since I got here. You don’t hear me complaining. Currently everyone at my school is bitching that in April, we don’t have a single day off. Oh, the horror.

So I will report back post-Paris, let you know if it won me over. Hope all’s well. Wish me luck and an open mind!

Elections and the emotions involved March 7, 2008

Posted by Emily in Spain.
1 comment so far

Spain will vote for a new president this Sunday, March 9th. Additionally, people will vote for representatives for provincial governments. The presidential election is between Mariano Rajoy, from PP (pronounced “pay-pay,” the conservative Partido Popular) and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the current president who’s up for reelection. His party is PSOE (“pay-soy,” it’s socialist).

Unlike in the U.S., the parties choose their candidates, so this is the first say the Spanish people have had in four years, when the last (rather controversial) election was held. There’s been no real talk that I’ve picked up of vice presidential candidates, despite common chatter that the current VP, a woman, is the person really running the country.

I’m a bit fascinated by politics here, even as I sometimes struggle to understand them. Spain is not a two-party country, as advertisements for the fringe parties are sure to reiterate. Córdoba’s mayor is Communist. Andalucía has a strong Izquierda Unida presence and is generally more left-leaning (the same guy from PSOE has been in charge since Franco died…25 years or so). In País Vasco and Cataluña, two northern provinces with separatist desires (in the case of País Vasco, also sometimes called Euskadi, its Basque name) or leanings (in the case of Cataluña, where Barcelona is), nationalist parties play a big role. PNV (Partido National Vasco) has a lot of power, some might say even on a national scale. Each candidate is sure to reiterate that the other’s relationship with PNV, Catalán parties, ETA, and other aspects of separatism reflects a bigger picture–Rajoy states that Zapatero’s willingness to communicate shows he’s soft on terrorism, while Zapatero says Rajoy doesn’t accept the reality of a multifaceted Spain. Within the presidential discourse, the treatment of language by each of the candidates frames their ideas about a lot of other issues, chief among them immigration and ideas about what modern Spain is like or should be like. When Franco was in power, languages like Catalán and Euskara were outlawed, and now Rajoy speaks out against schools in Cataluña teaching Catalán as their chief language, while the webpage for Zapatero offers his greetings in Euskara (Basque), Galego (from Galicia in the NW), Catalán, French, Arabic, and English, in addition to Spanish. When someone is very derecha (from the right), they are sometimes referred to as facha…a pejorative term coming from fascista (fascist) and referring to Spain’s not so distant history of franquismo. Some of the far-left parties, including Izquierda Unida and Partido Comunista, often use the Republican flag (those who fought against Franco and his Falange in the Civil War) in their propaganda. The way you vote says a lot about you, your family history, your take on the last hundred years of history. It’s complicated in a different way than in the States, I think.

But just as voting says a lot about a person, so does not voting. Among people I know in the States, few don’t vote. Sure, we miss some of the smaller local elections on occasion, especially voting absentee. We don’t necessarily all consider ourselves really political. But when it comes to the big ones, we’re there. Sometimes we even wait in line for it. But here, I have been amazed by how many people are refusing to vote for one reason or another. There are those who feel unaffected, those who dislike both candidates, those who didn’t get around to getting their absentee ballots in on time and don’t want to travel home. But there are also a lot of people who vote en blanco–they leave the ballot blank as a means of protest–and others who don’t vote because they say they don’t want to participate in a system they find undemocratic. There’s a sense that the national elections don’t reflect Spain’s diversity as the provincial elections do.

PSOE recognizes that the people who don’t vote are mostly more left-leaning. They recognize that the more conservative supporters of PP are not those refusing to vote or voting en blanco. So they came out with this advertisement, which made me a little teary the first time I saw it (shhh…don’t tell. Sort of like getting teary over a Hallmark commerical). So many people are going home to their pueblos this weekend to vote…the normal procession from my neighborhood to the train and bus stations, a symphony of rolling wheels over Spanish tiles, has been amplified this afternoon. I’m going to Arcos de la Frontera, home of my roommate Alma, so she can cast her vote on Sunday. This commercial shows a young guy going home to his pueblo to help his mom get to the polls. He asks her, “Are you going to vote like you always do?” (inferring for PP) and she says “Of course, son.” He’s voting PSOE. And then comes one of Zapatero’s catch phrases–Vota con todo tus fuerzas. It’s fascinating to me, a commercial for one political party that shows someone voting against them, but it’s also an interesting way of saying the young people, people willing to change, are voting Socialist. Anyway, it’s precious.

This election is also interesting because there were two televised debates between the presidential candidates and at least a few between other Ministry candidates, a new phenomenon in Spain. For weeks, all of the television stations covered the planning, the building of the set, exactly who would arrive first, who would talk first. But I found the first debate frustrating and annoying, as did a lot of people, because it was a lot of saying how bad the other guy was, a lot of talking at the same time and not respecting the rules of the debate process. It seemed really unprofessional and so I missed the second one. But it also generated a lot of debate within Spanish culture–about the fact that debating isn’t taught here, about the bipolar nature of a two party election, ideas about conflict. It’s been worthwhile in other ways. Just as some think television ended the chance of an unattractive person getting elected US President, the debate brought out some difference here with politicians. Rajoy has a really serious lisp, even by Spanish standards. Listening to him drives me crazy, even when I tune out what he actually says. The PSOE Minister of Economy has a bad eye–this does not affect his intelligence or ability to balance Spain’s books, but it would make him an unlikely political figure within US culture. We are fickle creatures.

The last election, four years ago, followed days of marches throughout Spain in the days after the bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004. When the president at the time, Aznár, tried to point the finger at ETA for the bombings and not Al-Qaeda (who ended up being responsible), people were outraged. On March 14, the people voted and Zapatero, who had been an underdog, won the election. Not long after, Spain pulled its troops out of Iraq. Zapatero has made some big changes in the past few years, especially in regards to women’s rights. He appointed an equal number of men and women to his cabinet. He oversaw the creation of Spanish Courts for Violence Against Women and toughened domestic abuse laws. In 2005, Spain legalized same-sex marriages. At the same time, he tried (and failed) to negotiate with ETA. The cost of living is getting a little out of hand, everyone is always talking about their hipotecas (mortgages), and the government doesn’t seem to know what to do about immigration.

Rajoy paints a picture of a Spain that is becoming unrecognizable. I’ve seen posters that say “Unemployment! Crime! Immigration! Enough already! This is not Spain.” During the first debate, Rajoy ended with a (now much mocked) allegory about una niña española, a girl whose life would reflect the Spain he envisions, who is able to grow and get educated and afford to continue living here. It was a speech worth studying, even if people are making fun of “la niña de Rajoy.”

I’ve been snapping pics around town of some of the advertisements for the various candidates. Kind of interesting, even just from a graphic design standard.

Picasa album

And so, come Sunday, I’ll be able to pull myself away a bit and will start paying more attention to US politics. There’s always something new to read, more states swaying the votes one way or another. Recently, the most common question I’ve been getting is, “OK, but when do you people actually VOTE?” Compared to the sprint here, our elections seem painfully drawn out and incomprehensible…and that’s before I mention anything like the electoral college.