Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The past week, or week and two

Ive been busy, busy, busy.
The day after my final farewell to Paris, I departed for Amsterdam on the 1225pm Thalys (this after showing my mother around the city).
We had a pleasant, if hurried, stay on the outskirts of Amsterdam at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Two nights left time for some canals, five museums and the scattered house or palace to enter in the schedule.
I did sightseeing during the day with my mom and visited the red-light district on my own, late in the first night.
On Monday the 22nd, after leaving the Rijksmuseum, mom and I embarked on a 7 hour train ride from Amsterdam-Zuid (by our hotel) to Lubeck, Germany, by way of Schiphol, Amsterdam Centraal, Osnabruck and Frankfurt.
A hurried night in a cramped motel was followed by soaking in the awe-inspiring medieval sites for four hours. Day four ends with another long-distance train ride, to Copenhagen.
What I can say but that Scandinavia's famed social welfare system could not have surprised me more.
I had the most horrid hotel stay in my life, in a crumbling, bug-infested haunt named after Henrik Ibsen's Nora. It lay in a poorly-maintained, multi-ethnic neighborhood.
The taxation rates in Denmark are so high that they force those visitors (looking for affordable hotel accommodation) to sacrifice decency. (much less non-citizen immigrants)
Destitute and nearly homeless, the bastion of internet-era capitalism, Booking,com, finally came through with a comfortable but cramped space-age dwelling, "WakeUp".
More on this later.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Last day in Paris

Yes, C'est vrai.
Within 48 hours, I will be on a Thalys train bound for Amsterdam Centraal,
abandoning the city of life for (first) the city of herring (and weed)
and then a bunch of other metropolises (Copenhagen, Berlin, Prague, Munich) with more copious beer but cooler weather.
I will miss:
-The crisp gooey sweetness of the boulangerie's morning Pain aux Viennois and the soft, warm freshness of its afternoon baguette.
-The narrow, sloping streets of the Latin quarter, each winding to reveal another quaint café or brasserie or neoclassical Sorbonne building
-Being reminded daily (in the skyline or panoramic view) of my proximity to the "great monuments" of western civilization*
-Cheap, decent-tasting wine
-Parks crowded with picnickers, couples, old people relaxing-i.e. that serve as social spaces

I will not miss:
-The predominance of a neoclassical style of architecture: grandiose but boring (and merely a predecessor to cities like DC)
-Jam-packed subways at rush hour (though I wonder if Berlin might be the same)
-Aloof mentality of Parisian people (a stereotype that is frequently true:()
-Cliques that have started to form within the program (from which I, being awkward as I am, have felt largely excluded).

Plus, this article on the Egyptian Revolution reminds me of the class I took last fall (on the Arab Spring):

Oh well, I am rambling off into idleness again.

So long until Amsterdam.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking west from the Grand Arche of La Defense, 19:00

Westward to the pulsing mother star
Partially covered but radiating...
Caught in windows scintillating
On corporate perches
Ticks* are pinching
It burns

so beautifully reddening and waxing
Nanterre, Saint-Germain and beyond the Seine,
So striking of an impression
beyond the Parisian horizon.
Million-dollar Mitterand's arch
meets Infiniti...

On the Bordeaux coast, I can grow
Or up the Loire I can buy,
With better grades next year...
two floors I climb, or thirty
But all the way up to there ?
Perhaps la President?

Make no mistake,
we are all just scrawny earthlings
Building 10s of thousands of tiles
Against hundreds of thousands of light years?

What do we learn from challenging gravity
except for how much humans are lacking?

Bastille Day and before

I've been out late for the past three nights (Friday through Sunday) my time being preoccupied by my Friday visit to Versailles, nightly bar-hopping and Bastille Day.
The French national holiday was an interesting experience. No backyard barbeques but plenty of picnics in the park and (as is the holiday custom here) the shutdown of virtually all commerce (except the neighborhood boulangerie, which took off Friday and Saturday instead).
Most strangely of all, perhaps, the crowds at the morning military parade along the Champs-Elysee and the evening fireworks spectacle at Trocadero (the two defining events of the holiday) were heavily populated by curious foreign tourists (like moi).
Also, unlike the custom in the United States, the French members of the crowd did little in the way of visible displays of patriotism, waving French flags or even chanting "France, France." Some chanting in support of the various military divisions (French, Belgian and German) was evident, but failed to impress as much as the raucous at the appearance of President Francoise Hollande: unlike in the US it seems, disapproval of tepid economic policy can justify (or enable) genuine disrespect. One could argue for the weakened strength of the French presidency (in the fifth democratic republic to succeed the French revolution), as an institution, compared with that of the United States, though I am tempted to also assign a role to France's more boisterous political culture (though might not the general political instability simply be an outgrowth of that factor?)
Anyway, at the same time-waiting two hours together before the parade and five hours before the fireworks show (both necessitated by the need to reserve a spot)-both enabled for greater bonding with pps from the Travel-study group, shy as I can be.
I also, shortly before heading over to the Champ du Mars, heard about the George Zimmerman's acquittal via the hotel lobby's TV screen.
Let me say that, regardless of who started fighting whom, the fact remains that George Zimmermann shot and killed Trayvon Martin after having stalked him solely based on rudimentary suspicion (i.e. "looking" like the majority of folk who end up in prison). According to the state of Florida's Stand Your Ground Laws, killing in the name of self-defense is entitled without a traditional "obligation to retreat" (sorry for the Wikipedia ): however, it is completely unclear as to whether Zimmermann (in shooting) or Martin (in fighting Zimmermann) was engaging in self-defense. It seems most probable that Zimmermann's pursuit of Martin prior to the police dispatch (and against common sense) set off the conundrum. (perhaps provoking Martin to fight) The taking of Martin's life rests ultimately on Zimmermann's shoulders at the very least necessitating a conviction for manslaughter.
All in all, looking at America from afar, the very controversy of the crime reflects how much of an issue race remains (regardless of proposed solutions) for my homeland.

Au Revoir and A Bientot.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What did I do today

Went to class,
rode the tram
bought baguettes
and ate them
Did the laundry
reading German
while I digested

Eating bread everyday
makes you prone to indigestion
even when it tastes like heaven.

Laptop pixels make your eyes sore
while searching begins to bore
when you've roughed up each tabloid whore

Being in Paris can be a blast,
but only if your fast
enough to leave the comforts behind
and Seize the day
before you're gone

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Vendredi et Samedi en Paris

The last two days have been interesting.
I've been wandering about various Parisian neighborhoods with little ultimate purpose
Yesterday, I traipsed from Sacre-Cour, through Montmartre, down to Pigalle and across to the Goutte de la'Or district, spanning the chasm between tourist trap and slum.
From streets filled with Caucasoids of various nationalities to those with none.
My tourbook recommended that I "stay away" from the "seedy" neighborhood around Barbes station,
but the scent of harisa and ghee, the vivid chattering of Amazigh and  Wolof, and the spray-paint décor of the cobblestones and hospital, drew my attention.
Pardon the orientalist-speak. For a middle-class Caucasoid first-world youth, these were genuine way to a "France" of Algerians, Tamils and Senegalese
neglected by the state, the nation, and the tourist industry.
I think, I will be back for three-euro Samosas,
if I do not let an evening subway ride get the better of me.

Today, I kept to the fourth and fifth.
Nearly entered the Grand Mosque of Paris (but I had to pay)
But viewed Muslim prayer shawls at the Institut de Monde du Arabe.
Tired of the museum scene, I got a ninth-floor view of Paris
Then drenched myself in sweat (and ice-cream)
passing Ile-St. Louis, Place des Vosges and the Bastille.
Back at home now, I write
partly because I'm tired
partly evading my reading for class
How will I start working on the two 10-page research papers when I'm just starting to get ideas?
for now I say good-evening
and A Bientot

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Nowhere to hide for Mr. Snowden (a break from my travel blog)

Stuck in a Moscow airport.
Rejected by Russia and China
Bolivia says persona non grata
Of course the Europeans won't give.
It's not like Obama gives crap.

America is not a superpower
but a really big and important country
China got strong through dressing us
Venezuela through fueling our SUVs
Even a principaled Morales
must, our money and power

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pantheon and other museums

Saw Voltaire, saw Rousseau
Chateaubriand and Diderot
Then Mona Lisa, De Milo
Pissaro, Picasso
Robespierre Figaro
The last a newspaper, these figures I see
What are these Greek statues doing in Paris?
How all this architecture, beautiful to eye
within only ______ km squared space?