Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Week In Paris (by a mediocre tourist)

This week, I've been re-thinking my thesis topic's field work location.  After talking with a professor, I've more or less come to terms with the impracticality of going to Australia.  There are numerous reasons why Australia would be ideal; however, the main problem is financial.  It's difficult to get grants for M.A. research, and I would seriously need a backup topic in case that fell through.  With a lot of work already ahead of me, forming two research proposals simultaneously (just in case), would be too much.  Also, none of the Anthro faculty has a background specifically in that region.  And so, I'm turning my attention back to Disney World.  Financially, I can most likely work as a cast member again (having done it twice); and from a research point of view, I've already done enough work to form a solid foundation for my thesis work there.


Today, I turn my thoughts to Paris, and what it means to be a "good" tourist.

When I recall my week-long trip to Paris in 2009, I first think of the marvelous opportunity I had to see the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Versailles, and Disneyland Paris (perhaps not as important to most American tourists, having seen Disneyland & Disney World, but it was important to me, anyway), and of the wonderful people I befriended during my stay at a particular hostel.  Following this, I can’t help feel a bit of regret about the things I didn’t see – or just see properly.  Perhaps because I was on my own, I didn’t feel the same urgency to follow a schedule as I might on a family vacation; and unfortunately, my tendency to stay awake late affected the time I would have otherwise spent in a productive, worthwhile manner, e.g. visiting the Bastille and the Père Lachaise Cemetery (nearly did – I arrived shortly after its gates closed for the day), exploring numerous patisseries & fancy shopping centers, or re-visiting the Eiffel Tower during daytime. 

When I woke on my first full day, I was alarmed to find it was already the middle of the afternoon!  The day was wasted. I spent the remaining daylight absentmindedly exploring the surrounding neighborhood; as night fell, I purchased a street map from a bookshop, and sought out some of the more famous arrondissements, making my way over to the Eiffel Tower.  To be sure, it was a worthwhile experience.  It reminded me of the first time I saw the Yosemite Valley; in the car with my mother and sister, we passed through the long tunnel just before – the music loud and appropriately gaining speed in anticipation (we were listening to the “Pink Elephants” song from Dumbo) – and suddenly, greater than I could have imagined, the whole of Yosemite Valley appeared before us, mile-high monoliths and all.  In a similar way, I emerged from the underground Metro tunnel and walked along the sidewalk by a large stone building; turning a corner and reaching the top of some steps, the famous Eiffel Tower glowed before me, and for the first time, the iconic form – memorized through photos, films, illustrations, and every other imaginable form of media – collided with reality.

I encountered numerous famous, enchanting, and characteristically Parisian things during that week; I even had a couple unintentional adventures – e.g. being locked in the Versailles gardens after-hours, encounters with a few rather forward Parisians (or maybe I'm too prudish), and getting lost after 2 AM & remaining on a bus all the way to the depot (without a common language, I mimed my confusion to the bus driver, who gestured for me to stay on the bus while he went on his break).

On the whole, I felt like a mediocre tourist.  There are certain things which I suppose are expected of each successful tourist, and my choice to “wing it” didn’t work out as well as hoped.  By not doing extensive reading and planning, I had hoped to experience Paris a little more naturally, at my own pace.  I expected the unexpected, preferring to follow a loose plan organized more or less by whim.  Instead, I slept in and didn’t cover as much ground as I would have liked.