Seen/Heard/Read

Emily in Paris: Some Possibly Unsaid Things

What can I add that hasn’t been said already… Well, just in case, I could add the trailer.

The internet was talking about this so much, I just couldn’t stand aside, though I’m often able to, content to wait until the noise dies down and it’s quiet enough for me to think for myself. I got wind of the reactions and reviews before I’d even seen the trailer or had any clue Emily in Paris existed. I was enjoying the stuff people were posting and writing so much, I just had to see what it was all about. Luckily, with only ten episodes available to stream so far, this was doable in less than a week. Paris is, fortunately, a big part of my life, and I miss it very much these days. This was part of the reason, as it might have been for many others, that I dived right in. I’m neither French or American, but here’s what I have to say. Warning, minor spoilers ahead.

The whole not speaking French and getting a job in Paris thing…

OK, so the opportunity to go work in Paris for a year basically fell into Emily’s lap unexpectedly, so one could argue that she simply didn’t have time to learn French or never considered she would need to. What’s interesting is that despite the language class she does start attending during the series, or the amount of French she hears around her on a daily basis (because if you go to France, there is NO WAY to avoid hearing French everywhere A LOT, duh), neither seems to be having any visible impact on her. Her Bonjour and Très stubbornly retain the American R in every episode. Sure, some sounds take work to reproduce properly when you’re learning a foreign language. But the implication is also that it’s impossible for her to pronounce things the correct way, which brings me to my next point…

The horribly cliché representation of French people…and of Americans?

Fair point, enough said. But aren’t Americans, through our heroine, also represented in a cliché way? Just like not every single French person exhibits all the, um, qualities depicted in the show, surely not every single American disregards the importance of learning the language of the country they find themselves in, only goes so far as to look for daily interpreters, expects everyone to speak English, treats Paris as a playground and is ready to confidently instruct anyone how to do life and work? I can’t decide whether the show is meant to show actual belief in what Emily represents or her character is supposed to remind us that, yes, such people do still exist, and it’s not the best thing. In fact, I’m wondering, is she full of clichés or is she simply almost fascinatingly clueless? Basically, is the show painting ALL of its characters with the same brush, regardless of their nationality?

But back to French things and Paris

My travel-hungry eyes feasted on every single shot of Paris cleaner than I have ever seen it. Than anyone has ever seen it, probably. The visuals are wonderful and that’s fine. It was also less crowded than I’ve experienced it in tourist areas, which is also a fantasy I’m willing to accept. The city is, of course, about so much more than its visual appeal, which seems to be the only dimension capturing Emily and her phone so far. Paris is a whole world onto itself, and I’m not sure this is possible to convey through the current concept of the series. Maybe that’s not supposed to happen. But still, Emily biting into her first pain au chocolat and reducing it to a “Oh my God, butter and chocolate” combination? Non. Emily rejecting her rare steak because it’s “wrong”, without having done some prior research or politely asking before ordering? Non. Emily making fun of how the French say her last name? See above for Bonjour and Très. Non. Emily wearing berets every chance she gets, because we are clearly expecting this from Paris fashion? Non. I’m surprised the striped shirt hasn’t made an appearance yet. Emily being rudely dictated which roses she is allowed to buy by the lady who sells them? Non.

Then there’s all that stuff about French guys

My impression is that the two recurring points in the online debates on this topic are whether Gabriel is likable and how realistic it is to have an attractive downstairs neighbor when you move into your Parisian apartment. Point two gets a quicker answer: sometimes you have attractive neighbors, sometimes you don’t. But it’s definitely an issue to be addressed for all those ambitious dreamers moving to Paris. As well as the fact that said neighbor should come with the following attributes: either single and honest about it OR taken and honest about it. On the other hand, he might just want his privacy, like any normal person. Now to point one. Is Gabriel likable? He’s very attractive, he’s got that whole smize thing going on, he’s easily confident around women, he considers it a normal reaction to kiss a woman who is not his girlfriend back after she kisses him…this isn’t just a French thing or a French guy. Take away the beautiful language, the seamless flirting (let’s give him that one), and you will find this guy in many, many countries. As well as the guy who told Emily what he liked after the dinner party her friend Mindy threw, the older leering men (not so sure about the lingerie gift delivered to work, though, but hey, it’s fiction), the confident mansplainer.

Finally…

So many shows have provoked questions not dissimilar to those following Emily in Paris. Wow, see what I did there, see it? It’s a fine line between escapism and how far you can suspend disbelief while still being able to relate to characters and events. Because no matter how much switching off happens in the brain, there has to be some connection felt to what’s on the screen. Bottom line, they achieved what they set out to do. I’ve watched it all, I’ve contributed to views, I’m writing way more about it than I intended and I’m probably not even the target audience. Et voilà.

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My Travel

Notre Dame de Paris

My feelings after seeing the news that Notre Dame de Paris was on fire on April 15 are still quite raw and I have been finding it difficult to write this post. Even now I’m hesitating, because how can you wrap up your words in one not overdone package after decades of happily creating memories that have grown deep roots?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the headlines. You think of Notre Dame and you see soaring, stalwart stone walls and towers that have stood the test of time. You remember the overwhelming impact of history, architecture and beauty that the cathedral produces and simply assume that it will always be there. Of course I know that buildings are not going to be around forever and things can happen. They have happened. But we reach out towards that which stays, welcomes, remains, inspires. And that is one of the reasons why what happened to Notre Dame de Paris is so incredibly sad.

Buildings do not speak, but they make us speak because they are witnesses to time. Anyone can walk in, sit down, look around, take pictures, take away impressions, read up on historic structures and open up stories of the people connected to them. Whether you are religious or not, a cathedral like Notre Dame de Paris, aside from obviously being a landmark of enormous cultural, historical and architectural significance, is a place of gathering. Not just inside the building, but around it – in the little square nearby with Paris’ oldest tree and metal arches covered with roses in the springtime, in front of the two-tower facade everyone recognizes and tries to take the best picture of.

Way back in the day my sister and I first visited Notre Dame de Paris on the heels of multiple viewings of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We knew all the songs by heart and we even knew about Victor Hugo’s novel, even if we were too young to read it. Feeling quite prepared with our knowledge, we were very eager to go inside and as high as possible. We wanted to follow Quasimodo’s footsteps and see it all: the bells, the stained-glass windows, the gargoyle statues, the view of Paris from above. I remember that afterwards, full to bursting with all our impressions, we went around a corner to get some ice cream (mais oui) and there was a beautiful mime dressed as Esmeralda who pretended to read my palm. The experience was complete. As kids, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Since then I have been fortunate enough to go to Paris a lot and almost every time I stopped by Notre Dame, wherever I was coming from. Whether it was a longer sit-down with some relaxed people-watching or just a brief look, it has always been a part of my Paris. It was touching to see the same sentiments expressed online by people around the world, and the crowd singing Ave Maria as the cathedral burned is something that I don’t think I will ever forget. No riots, no violence, no fights, no pushing, shouting or discord of any kind (for a change), and thankfully no fatalities during the fire. Just pure, sincere acknowledgement of sadness and respect.

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My Travel

Learning French and Going to France

When you’re learning French and traveling to France, you naturally feel like you should try speaking French once you arrive on French soil, right? Wait, try? “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” You are not simply a tourist or a visitor anymore. You basically have an obligation.

Oui, Yoda certainly knew what he was talking about. I know the process of this particular trip to Paris and it automatically divides itself in to tasks in my head in reference to opportunities to parler français. With decisively German precision I follow my plan of producing short, but appropriate sentences.

I enter the plane and say “Bonjour, Madame”, “Bonjour, Monsieur” to the crew as I make my way to my seat, on the same volume level that I use in other languages, because, you know, je parle un petit peu français. I am rewarded with a “Bonjour, Madame” or sometimes still with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” I like being called Mademoiselle. I don’t find it derogatory and it reminds me of when I started flying to France as a student, after first moving to Germany. The German Fräulein has said farewell and disappeared in to the mist of times past, but Mademoiselle isn’t quite ready to leave just yet.

Step two of my exciting journey en français is putting to the test our extensive lesson on ordering in a restaurant. Are you ready for it? Here goes. “Je voudrais un chocolat chaud, s’il vous plaît.” The stewardess doesn’t politely ask me to repeat my request (parfait!) and gracefully hands me my little cup of hot chocolate, following the action with a sentence I can’t repeat, but I know she’s saying I should stir the liquid. She also asks, and I’m pretty sure I am typing this correctly (confidence is everything), “Vous desirez de l’eau avec votre chocolat chaud?” And because I’m an experienced traveler en France and prepared to invest my German powers of concentration in this drink before me, I answer elegantly, “Non, merci.”

I gratefully sip my hot chocolate, because I need to fortify myself for what comes next after these linguistic achievements. Step three of my interactions en français will be to put money on my Navigo pass so I can take the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. I spend the remainder of the flight painstakingly composing various versions of what I want to say. “Bonjour, j’ai mon Navigo…non, bonjour, j’ai un Navigo…is it un or une Navigo? Wait, they don’t need to know it’s my Navigo, too much information, and I have it in my hand anyway, it’s not like I just picked it up off the floor, my picture is on it. OK, how about, bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours? Or is it de cinq jours? Or just cinq jours? Bonjour (smoothly slide Navigo towards SNCF employee behind the glass), je suis ici pour (maybe I can ask them, with that little laugh as if we’re sharing an inside joke, if pour is correct, haha, hmmm, oui, le français) cinq jours et je voudrais…what do I use for “to” or “until” when I’m talking about a stop? We recently had a few lessons where we repeated how to use en, au and aux, depending on whether you were talking about a country, city or region, and what gender they were. But we didn’t cover stops of the Parisian metro!

But my feverish race of thoughts is stopped quickly after I enter the SNCF ticket office in the airport. I only manage to get out “Bonjour, je suis ici pour cinq jours”, but something about it must have been convincing, because the lady at the counter released what sounded to my ears like a torrent of rapid French and the only word I understood was “dimanche”. I apologized in English and she reeled off the information I needed in the same language, but she clearly didn’t wish to pursue any longer interactions, so all my carefully constructed sentence parts will have to be saved for next time.

I redeemed myself the next morning by loudly and decisively telling a man blocking my path in the metro “Excusez-moi!”, only to see that he was a ticket controller.

 

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Style?!

What To Wear #66: “We’ll Always Have Paris”

It’s not quite as dramatic as all that – we’re talking about just a T-shirt here, after all. Still, I can’t miss an opportunity to quote a classic.

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I picked out the T-shirt a few years ago while rummaging in those numerous tourist souvenir (kitsch) shops near the Louvre, and not only does it have some of my favourite landmarks from Paris on it, it also has some glitter sewn on it! Score. The scarf is an addition due to Hamburg’s typical weather forecast for today, namely, we don’t know, and I don’t want a sore neck due to a draft. The boots work well both in the autumn and during warmer seasons, and the heel is comfortable both for balance and walking longer distances in. They also go with almost any outfit. Jeans? Mais oui, bien sur, the classic combo with an individual twist.

Ready to go.

T-shirt: souvenir shop in Paris

Scarf: flea market

Jeans: C&A

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My Travel

Disneyland Paris as an Adult, Day 1

“Everytime I come back, it’s like becoming a kid again,” a French colleague of mine said to me dreamily when I shared my weekend plans. “I think I never really stopped,” I replied.

I thought about this some more in the RER train en route to Disneyland Paris, making my fluent in perfect French sibling laugh with my literal English pronounciation of the Noisy-Champs station we passed. It translates as nutty fields, by the way. I don’t know which I enjoy more. But hey, to quote Daria, it’s a nutty, nutty world, and maybe with Walt and Mickey’s help I could escape it for a while.

I want to remember her as well, I realize. The child who discovered herself, not just the adult. I want to carry the things she found out then inside myself, because they still make me who I am. And she is me, just independent, bill-paying, more knowledgable about polite sarcasm and prone to sentimentality.

Somehow I felt this trip would round up all these thoughts anew, since Disney animation was such a big part of my childhood and continued to be so later on in life, coloured by a special sense of memory and appreciation for discovering the stories from an adult point of view.

Trekking along to our hotel independently at first with the aid of Google Maps proved fruitless, as despite Google’s encompassing power, the Maps failed to recognize the high rows of trees blocking our progress as impenetrable. But we were already essentially in Disneyland, with Disney thinking and Disney music inflitrating our brains, so off to the bus shuttle we went, which just didn’t arrive for a while – one of the easiest things to do if you want to make someone who’s lived in Germany for years twitchy.

Once we reached Hotel Cheyenne it was truly like stepping back in time.

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Except we were larger and the security check in the lobby was a painful reminder of current events. What I notice is also how I automatically switch to accommodating this necessary procedure in my daily routine for the moment, while simultaneously thinking it’s just sad.

Hotel Cheyenne is one of the affordable accommodation options at Disneyland Paris. Family-friendly and spacious, many buildings with apt names like Billy the Kid or Calamity Jane spread beyond the main one with the lobby, lining a broad street built like a typical scene from a town in an American Western. Not only do they look the same as I remember from the one time I stayed here as a child, but so does the interior of our room. It’s almost bizarre to see the exact same table lamp with a cowboy boot for a holder, or the horse-patterned stripe of wallpaper just below the ceiling. A short attempt to climb the ladder to the top bunk proves that this is a) painful and not advisable in socks; b) silly as the bunks are too small for us now anyway. There’s also a weight limit I’m pretty sure I exceed nowadays.

If you can walk from your hotel to the park, do! The surrounding area is green and wide in the summertime, otherwise bus shuttles from the hotels actually are frequent. As for booking the travel package and all that practical stuff, two words: in advance!

One more predictable security check and we were strolling towards the gorgeous, prominent and posh Disneyland Hotel. I was still having trouble believing where I was, so I settled for the dreamy state of acceptance.

Little girls dressed like Belle and Snow White skipped past me along Main Street. Bachelorette party (or hen do) groups from England popped up every few minutes in a flurry of sequinned Minnie Mouse ears and young sisters holding hands dashed in to shops overflowing with Elsa and Anna dresses, some emerging as two Elsas or two Annas. Yes, Frozen was being marketed very heavily indeed, despite being released all the way back in 2013.

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Lunching and snacks immediately and predictably wander in to the fast food area, especially if your weekend budget revolves around the € and not the €€€. Service is efficient and quick, though, and visitor traffic moves fast enough so that seating opportunities don’t require major waiting time. The Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlour beckons from accross Casey’s Corner, bringing back memories of reading The Langhorne Sisters by James Fox, but the hot dog and fries I had don’t leave room for more.

Leaving the beautifully decorated shop window displays on Main Street behind us, we proceed towards Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Blush pink and blue-capped, just as I remember, it’s animation come to life without being overdone and the elegant landscaping around it reminds of the various aspects of hard work connected to putting Disneyland Paris together.

A major point of excitement was exploring the castle inside, where I promptly went Disney crazy with my camera among all the carefully reproduced scenes from the eponymous animated classic.

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And then off to the Dragon Lair we went. The wailing I heard inside confirmed what my Disneyland Paris app said – some of the scenes could frighten younger guests. While I wasn’t one, I still clutched my sibling’s hand simply because it was so dark in there.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant was the first ride stop on that day and the slight nerves I had about going up and down (I know, pathetic, it’s a carousel that kids go on) dissipated as soon as I took in the view seated atop our little soaring elephant.

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I’ll just have to suck it up and watch Dumbo to the end, because when I was little the scene with him and his mother in separate cages broke me and I couldn’t continue.

My logically thinking sibling successfully took us through Alice’s labyrinth, leaving me only slightly dizzy, but not late.

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A quick dash in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups (no, we didn’t want to turn the wheel in the middle of our cup to make it spin when the WHOLE PLATFORM of the ride was already doing so) made us laugh. And then, like any self-respecting Disneyland visitors, we set off for the Princess Pavillion, me singing along loudly to various instrumental Disney soundtracks wafting from hidden speakers around us.

While waiting in line I busied myself with my camera once more, particularly enjoying the glowing Disney artefacts displayed behind glass panes and accompanied by a short snippet from the relevant story in French and English.

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“Is there anyone else here without kids?” My sibling whispered. “I don’t know,” I replied, “But look, it’s from The Little Mermaid, it’s the shell, the shell!” I succeeded in getting the lady in front of us to turn around and give me a look, though I didn’t care. The shell! Yes, the Princess Pavillion is essentially for kids, but once we were there, I wanted to see it through. Snow White was lovely, by the way, and she said she liked my earrings. She also compared us to Elsa and Anna, so a good day’s work for us, I say.

The boat ride through Storybook land followed all this princess excitement – a ride I thoroughly enjoyed, with all the recognizable details in the careful miniature reproductions of some of Disney’s most iconic animated features.

To shake things up and with more memories running through our minds, we lined up to go on Pirates of the Carribean just as it started to rain. Savvy! Deeper and deeper we ventured until we reached our boat. Even my limited French was enough to understand the dad seated in front of us saying excitedly to his kids, “Descente!” and I screamed my head off even if it was a short drop, because I’m a scaredy cat. Points out of ten to this ride in terms of atmosphere, though, and I could understand the British teenagers dashing past us to line up again. “We’ve already been three times!” Due to the movie(s) having already come out since I last visited as a child, scenes of looting pirates laughing were all the more impressive and for a few minutes you forget where you are.

One more stop was on our list and as we rounded a corner, the Phantom Manor suddenly came in to view.

During my last visit I was successfully scared in to not going inside, and I said I would come back. Convincingly draped cobwebs adorned the lamps above our heads and the darkness in the antechamber we entered was immediately intimidating. My feverish visual scan of the premises strengthened the hope that this house didn’t include hidden roller coasters, as did the presence of small children around us. I don’t want to include spoilers, of course, but I will say that the wait of many years was worth it and the interiors are fantastic. Surely fun stop at Halloween.

Sated with impressions and walking as we already were, there was one more special point of the evening left to attend to – Disney Dreams, the evening show. Darkness was starting to settle as we approached Sleeping Beauty’s Castle later. People were lining Main Street as we grabbed some hot chocolate and found a good spot.

Music began to play and the castle became an illuminated mesmerizing stage for a medley of Disney animation and music. With the rest of the crowd I sang my heart out to Elsa’s Let It Go amid one of the most beautiful fireworks I have ever seen.

A truly enchanting end to a special day, not without “adult” thoughts (How much does it cost to put on such a display? How eco-friendly are those flames? Is all the merchandise produced under the same unfair employment conditions we read about so much?)

But I do still remember her, the girl I was thinking about on the train ride here.

 

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