livin the high life, studying some mad architecture in paris for the next 8 months

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

More alive than ever before

This is going to be quick post as I am in an internet cafe in Split, Croatia, but justed wanted to let everyone know that I am doing fine- haven't missed any flights or trains. Berlin was great, and I really do love the city. There is just so much unbelievable history there. We got to see parts of the wall, four of the embassys, and the Reinstag (Im pretty sure I spelled that wrong.).

We got to Croatia last night, after our flight was delayed an hour or so. We couldnt get into our apartment at first bc we are silly and didnt bring the office address, only the apartment one. We eventually found a kindly tour office and go them to call our leaser. The apartment is fantastic and right in the center of the old town. The Croatian people seem to do nothing but shop for fantastic clothing, thus there are tons of beautiful clothing stores.

Today, Elizabeth, Julie, Allie, Jessica and I found a hidden alcove off the Adriatic sea and just slept all afternoon in THE SUN!!! It was the best, though I busted my new sandles on the rocky shore. We are just having fun taking it slow and easy after the whirlwind Berlin trip with school, where we were on our feet touring from 9 am to about 7pm every day. Well, we are off to dinner (mostly seafood, as we are on the coast). Just wanted yall to know I am alive and should be home soon.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oh life and its many loops

This Tuesday, April 4th, I had my project presentation due in Frances's "Contemporary Practice" course, which really ended up being more an independent study for 3 credit hours. I enjoyed the class a great deal though- we met rarely but discussed what you can do in the "field" of Architecture. It really has broadened my view of the field.

This project was interesting, though, because we had to make up a plan for where we would be in 10 yrs- with history, projects, firms, partners, etc. Liz and I worked together, as we have talked many times about her, Jessica, and me opening a shop or firm together. It was good fun and I now have a BS in Architecture, an MBA, and an MFA. I also am a good person because I am a regular with Habitat for Humanity, whereas Liz is mainstream, writing a column for Dwell magazine. psst.

After the presentations, I went on a hunt for review materials that led me to Montparnesse. There is one really long road with great shops all along it. This is where I found the fantastic blue bowls for Jenny. So I walked up and down this street for a while, sure that there are two art stores on the road, but not being able to spot either. Oh, I forgot to mention. This Tuesday there were strikes and demonstrations again. I actually saw some on the way to class, which was down in the basement of the dorms because our school was closed again.

You know that striking is in the genetic makeup of the French when you walk by a local middle school and there are adolescent children in an organized group, rationally demonstrating. I mean honestly, middle school? I was super worried about where I was going to sit on the bus at that point, who had time for national politics? It makes me question if their parents put them up to it, or if it is so engrained in the culture and bloodlines that they came up with it on their own. My hat is off to you, French middle schoolers.

So back at Montparnesse... I hear all of a sudden lots of whistles and I freeze- " Oh God, Mom is going to kill me if I get trapped/harmed in a riot." Turns out that it is actually a parade... of "angry" nurses? I could have gotten it wrong. But thats beside the point, to some extent. So, there's all these nurses in white t-shirts with horrific French "writing" on them and they are in parade formation like they are high school marching bands- in groups seperated by unnecessarily large banners with their region's name on it. So the scene is set. All I wanted to do was cross the street they were parading, but was stopped in my tracks by a familiar sound. Something that made me think of turkey and dong tea- though not together, thankfully. Coming down the road, in the middle of this parade, was a "truck" with huge speakers. It pulled closer and, sure enough, it was playing "The Final Countdown." I would have to say that if my last 7 months in Paris had a soundtrack, "The Final Countdown would top the list, right before "Move on Up."

I just stood there, searching around for anyone to share in my ridiculous joy in this instant. In Arrested Development, the oldest brother, Gob ("Joe-bh") is a magician and his stage song is The Final Countdown. On a related note, on Rue de Rivoli, in the heart of the 4th arrondisement, The Final Countdown was the catalyst for the best Thanksgiving dance show EVER! I so wished to share this moment. I heart Arrested Development and the Jessica Lord (and you other people too).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Hell's Angels have a Parisian bike branch

Bringing up French traffic again- They do have road rage here, in the land where "It's OK" for the most part to bump each other's cars and roundabouts translate into giant free-for-alls. In the style of my life, though, it is the most riduculous form of road rage and American can experience. Most of the road rage I have seen has come spouting from little 30-something ladies on bicycles. They will "chase down" cars that they feel have affronted their bike-commute, pull up to the window, and proceed to dismember the driver through their window- close enough for the spattered words to spit all over the poor, unfortunate driver. It is seriously laughable to see this waif-like, blond French lady dressed in a conservative black sweater and modest, long flowered skirt screaming her saliva out while standing in the middle of an intersection with her old, wiry bike resting against the side of a car. I'm amazed that there aren't more traffic fatalities here- just from retort alone.

Studio is for losers

You know that your studio project is "fake" and not important when the director of your program schedules a Museum tour three days before your final review. Maybe this is just how they do it here, maybe they view Tech's policy of canceling ALL classes the week of final reviews as excessive, maybe my teachers care as much about this project as we students do (very little). It isn't a bad project but when you take into consideration that about 2/3rds of us are graduating and the weather is getting warm/"vacation in Paris" is almost over, you wouldn't do the work either.

But so yes, Monday (April 3rd) after Jessica, Elizabeth and I managed somehow to buy tickets at a travel agency for our train home (Paris) from La Spezia, we walked rather quickly to the Centre Pompidou for a tour of the Charlotte Perriand, who, until that night, was only known to us as a lady that did furniture and worked FOR Le Corbusier for a while. The tour guide- I think a friend of Professor Libero's and a true Renaissance man- informed us, however, that Perriand to some extent MADE Le Corbusier. The chairs that any self respecting Architecture student can immediately identify as Corb's- though we certianly don't have to love them- were actually designed by Perriand. According to the tour maven, who actually did know and was friends with Perriand in her later years, Corbusier basically came up with a theme, like "the stages of chairs" or something like that, and then she defined the rules, did the thinking, came up with the theories, and then designed the actual stuff. She was a remarkable woman who lived in the shadow of Corbusier her whole life and still does now, to some extent. Honestly, though, of the stuff displayed, I liked her Corbusier collaborations best.

The tour not only showed me real women really doing Architecture, though maybe not succeeding as she should have, but it made me realize the "name brandism" of Architecture. If it had Corbusier's name on it, it was good design even if it wasn't his. There was actually a photo of a tent structure a French artist design and constructed for the Worlds Exposition in Paris in the late 1930s. The tour guide said that when the Perriand exhibit first openned, he noticed that his tent had been credited solely to Corbusier in the caption. When he corrected the Pompidou, all they did was add the artist's name AFTER Corbusier's. Oh world.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sacre Coeur dans ma coeur

In continuation of "Jessi and Allie Take Paris" weekend, Allie and I went to Sacre Coeur for Sunday morning mass. I got all gussied up only to walk outside to a monsoon. Sacre Coeur is probably equadistant from the metro in comparision to our apartment, but it just so happens to be equally distanced on the opposite side of the metro stops- so it was a bit of a walk but there was no real good alternative. The walk is usually nice sans rain, but with the rain the not-so-gently sloping sides of the mountain of Montmartre turned into slicks of utter doom. I had horrible flashbacks to the night of Allie's birthday when I was descending the same mountain with a happy belly of chocolate crepes when I basically "skiied" down one cobblestone road for a while due to the snow and my lack of treadful shoes. It was horrific- and I had my poor friend Julie desperately trying to grab some piece of me, herself in fancy "lady shoes," whose heels had no room for traction, let alone tread.

God must have known we were trying to be devote because we made it to the top with no more problems than frizzy hair, which I am willing to accept is not high on the Big Guy's "need to protect people from" list. There were tourists pretty much everywhere, despite the rain, so we had to muscle our way to the cathedral and then wait in a line like wet rats. All was not in vain, though.

Have I mentioned that Sacre Coeur is my favorite place in Paris... well, it is. I love the giant, white church with its slight, mosque-like characteristics. It is so proud and graceful sitting on the top of the green hillside of Montmartre. All around the church are painters of all sorts, laying out their sometimes good, sometimes terrible wares on the cobblestone and bumpy roads. Its narrow roads lined with small cafe after small creperie. It's terrace after terrace after terrace of grass, benches, paths, and vineyard terracing, which on sunny days are filled with little old men, families, couples, residents, and tourists, all just enjoying being. And then, there is the basilica- "Sacred Heart"- sitting as the maternal center to the neighborhood of travelers and residents. I love it there.

Allie and I finally made it inside and service has started. Sacre Coeur was actually originally where an Abbey was. The bascilica, which is relatively young in terms of Paris, being built after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871, still has nuns living (and working) in it. When Allie and I walked in, they were singing probably the most beautiful music I have ever heard. We found seats and then proceeded to be awed with a very tradtional mass, in French, surrounded by intricate tile mosiacs, stained glass, and a domed ceiling. After the reading and such were all said and done, three girls were called up to the alter. As far as I caught, they were being "sworn in" as nuns. This unusual expierence was topped off when, after the last girl recieved her blessing from the priest, the clouds parted outside and the bascilia burst into bright colors from the stained glass windows and rays of bright, white light poured in from the raised dome. It was unbelievable.

After mass, Allie and I moved closer to the front and just sat staring at the details of what I have heard is the largest tiled mosiac of Jesus in the world, located in the half-dome over the alter. I can't even describe to you how complete this mosiac is and how beautiful it is to just sit under it and take it in. I don't care what Jenny says, I am taking you there family. Wecan bribe her with crepes or ice cream, maybe. How can the French NOT be zealously faith-filled with structures like Sacre Coeur?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

sweaters are too heavy to walk with anyway

Saturday morning started off a lot earlier than my body had hoped but it was worth it. Allie and I, in the spirit of "well, we're leaving soon so we might as well do it now," decided to walk out to La Defense- the business area just northwest of Paris. It's not that long of a walk and leads you along some of the nicer, Parisian areas of Paris.

We headed out to the west, taking us through Place de Clichy- nothing new. Wrong. We go to Place de Clichy pretty much everytime we use the metro, as it is on the 2 line, which runs east-west, connecting Paris horizontally. The thing is, we don't go all the way to the actual roundabout that is THE Place de Clichy, so what happens past our metro stop I couldn't really tell you much about. Sometimes there are lots of cars honking and people yelling, but that's all I've got. This day, we crossed the line and went through Place de Clichy and beyond. You might recall the blog "O-fece De-Po," or something to the likes, in which Rae and I tried to find the "Office Depot," as we say in American, of Place de Clichy. It is actually on the nether-reaches of the line, which is why we had so much trouble finding it before.

The Office Depot is on a road called Boulevard des Batignolles. I have always thought it is a really nice road- the traditional wide boulevard with a green promenade in the center with great old trees- but always seemed nothing more than this waste of greatness past the honking and yelling people. I was wrong. This fine Saturday morning of fluffy clouds and Chicago breeziness there was a Market Biologique! This means fresh, biologically pure foods in tiny tents on a linear path. Oh fantastic. Allie and I just walked up and down the paths for a while, taking in the fresh pastries, preserves, honeys, breads, meats, cheeses, and FLOWERS! It has taken me 7 months but now there is something endearingly quaint and wholesome about a plucked chicken with his head and neck wrapped around his body. Who knew.

We pulled ourselves away from the market and continued west to La Defense. This path took us by Parc Monceau, one of the most beautiful spaces in the world. It's really not that special or anything other than that it is a giant green space in Paris, but it is ALWAYS lively with runners, walkers, skaters, and children and the beautiful, expensive homes proudly on its boarders just make it such a haven. I have been a few times to this park, to read or sit, and have always just felt so relieved to be in green.

We passed through quickly, before I plopped down and read the afternoon away in the brillant sun to the soundtrack of the vibrant Parisian family life spilling out for the wonderful weather. Two steps later, we were at the Arc de Triomphe. Allie realized on our walk that this would be her final Saturday in Paris, so we stopped and took the obligatory photos of "us at the Arc." We saved indepth exploration for when our respective families come to visit in the coming weeks. It's better to be able to blame ridiculous tourism on family members than to have to accept the brunt of the label yourself.

We, here, took a turn "north" up the Avenue de la Grande Armée, which is probably the largest (width wise as well as length) boulevard in Paris. Well, maybe not when taking into consideration the Avenue de Champs Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, but the content is much less interesting (motorcycle shops as far as the mind can wander) making it seem to stretch on forever. But we eventually made it to the Périphérique and, before we knew it, were outside of Paris. I mean, we knew it because we had to cross the Seine and thousands of lanes of busy traffic, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by the density of Paris that I feel like there is no leaving it.

We could see the Arc de La Defense from here- Neully sur la Seine- the city right outside of Paris, but just because we could see it didn't mean it was close. I didn't realize it but I suppose I'm used to "getting to things fast" because, for me, the clock doesn't start 'till I can see it. I know this sounds weird, but I'm a "goal-oriented" person. If I am going to move, I need to have something that I am aspiring to reach. Most things in Paris you can't see until you are ON TOP of them, so the goals I set for myself tend to be visually short lived. La Defense was certainly not. Add to this that La Defense is pretty much solely a business neighborhood and it was a Saturday and you have empty squares surrounded by flat-faced buildings with no lively shops at the first floor.

This too is a new experience for me in Paris, as I am so accustomed to the standard "first floor commercial, above residential" buildings that choke Paris. It didn't hit me how unlike what I "should" be used to this is until the week before last when the GT people where here and I took one on a tour of a renovated part of the Petite Ceinture near Bastille. He kept asking me along the whole 2 MILE walk "is this a residential area?" Yes, all of Paris is a residential area- it all is.

I had forgotten how unique this is until I later reflected on his repetition and realized that I won't have that when I come home. It is so nice to always feel like you are in some part of a neighborhood and to always have people out walking around, no matter what time of the day. There is something more to this situation that I can't explain in words, but I knew it wasn't there in that square at La Defense that day. I suppose it is something to keep in mind when I try to become an urban designer this summer.

La Defense was interesting, though possibly the best part was being able to turn from the Arc de la Defense and see a truely stunning perspective opposite of the boulevard leading to the Arc de Triomphe. I'm sure that on a business day, this "boulevard" at Place de la Defense is packed, but today it was a serene blank. The boulevard is more a REALLY long deck that covers over the metro line and the cars that are coming and going into Paris. Without the cars and with no business to be doing, the area took on the feel of a memorial- but in the more relaxing way, not the creepy way. After snapping some pictures and enjoying the solely pedestrian boulevard/garden promenade at La Defense, Allie and I searched for bathrooms and food- yes, in that order.

What we found was a giant, underground mall and all the people that should have been outside in the sun. We grabbed some sandwiches and headed out to sit in the sun under the Arc de la Defense only to realize that the reason they were all inside might have had something to do with the raging thunderstorm outside. So we ate inside and did some shopping. Allie bought some white pants and I found a skirt and sandles for our Croatia trip next week. I also found a sweater that was on sale so I brought it to the register to buy. There was some crazy lady trying to shoplift some hair rubberbands, so I got distracted and didn't realize the cashier didn't take the 50% off the sweater 'till I had walked away. So I went back and told her she forgot to take the 50% off. She then directed me to another register, where I told that girl the same thing. Somehow, after some English and some French, I got the money put back on my card. Only after I walked away from the register did I realize I left the sweater there... I owned the sweater for about 2 minutes and that was all God wanted me to have of it apparently. She must have misunderstood me when I told her the price was wrong and thought I didn't want it any longer. Oh well, mom will be here soon and I can get sweaters out of her.

The rest of the day was spent in remembrance of the riduculous loss of the sweater and planning our Spring Break trip. My spring break is from April 7th 'till April 22nd- thanks to Easter. I am actually coming back the 19th, though to meet my family. I will be traveling to Berlin for the 7th- the 11th, then Croatia 'till the 14th, Tuscany by car 'till the 18th, and then Cinqua Terre to the 19th. I just have to finish out this week.

Happy Birthday Courtney.

Friday, March 31, 2006

well, at least it didn't rain water?

Our current studio project, which is due on Thursday, is pretty much the dumbest thing I have ever encountered. It has lasted less than a month, first off, yet is an international design competition- we pretty much went into it feeling it a futile stunt. The projects are actually due to Velux, the sponsor of the competition as well as a window supplier, sometime in May, so all those other "real" schools/competitors are getting an extra month to work on them. Finish that off with the theme being "light of tomorrow" and you have pretty much killed off any design potential that a group of tired, almost free Architecture majors in Europe can muster at this point. Most people have treated this last month as a time to travel or just be anywhere but working. Certianly there is no way to focus on the "light of tomorrow" when the light of right now in Paris is finally coming out again along with the rich blue sky, fluffy white clouds, flowers, and PUPPIES!

I did manage to keep my windows closed for most of the day, working on some school work, catching up on some Lost. It came time though that my feeble little arms could no longer fight the urge to rip the curtain from its post and the sun came flowing in on the sweet fragrance of crisp spring breezes. How did I decide to toast this joyous expression of life and rebirth? Why by visiting the local cemetary, of course!

I did not go out with the immediate intention of visiting the dead, but it was there, I was there, plans were absent, so I figured whatever. A friend from school, Robert, was here recently and has been designing a "tomb" for a class at GT, so he had planned on visiting the cemetary, with me in tow, while here but we never got to it. My interest was still piqued, so I entered with no real motive but to keep moving in the warm sunshine and breeze Paris had given me today.

I had visited once before, but that was soon after I arrived in Paris and only to one of the two parts of the cemetary. Montmartre Cemetary is home to mostly not-widely known artists, writers, and a few musicians. Some of the tombs are from quite long ago but others are from just two years ago. Its really the strangest assortment of little tomb houses, stones, statues, and plants that one could ever hope to find. I would have to break them down into five groups: the old and stately, the old and poorly designed, the modern and flea-market tacky, the modern and otherwise undescriptive, and the "something presumed old because it is under/part of a tree/shrub that grows out of it and obviously has some years under its belt".

As you may be able to guess, some of my favorites were the "growing graves," the ones with great plumes of shrubs growing out and above it. There was even one there that ironically had a tree-like vegetation that grew up and gathered in a "column-like" fashion only to bloom and expand at the top- much in the fashion of the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb. This could just have been the colorless, scentless cemetary vapors messing with my head, but that was my immediate thought of this expression of "life in the wake of death."

Probably one of the most memorable "graves" was newer- i think from 199-something- and it was for a doctor. it was made mostly of white "marble" and reminded me of something greek- had a large rectangular base/platform that stretched out to you with a "shrine-like" part at the opposite end. Between two thin, white column (sort of doric and sort of corinthian- I know, its weird, but only a few of you few who read this will agree with the weirdness of this description) was a bust, I'm assuming, of the doctor. First off, I would like to remind all you readers that I am NOT A FAN of statues- they tend to make me very uncomfortable, a fear which has for some reason become inflammed here in "statue and bust world" (Europe). This bust is, I feel, a good example of why we should all fear "deceptions of human form." The bust itself was not very well done- it was kind of that crazy, sort of sloppy "I'm a natural artist and wasn't even trying but look at the jewel I made" 90s style. It starts at about the height of the bottom of the sternum and then goes up to the shoulders and arms in this manner. It's silly and makes you want to laugh and just enjoy this jolly joke at first bc of the 90s "squiggly" style as well as the perculiar detail of the right hand holding a pipe, as if mid-path, on its way to dock in the mouth. This is where you realize something is SERIOUSLY wrong. The head is gone, and not by vandalism. For some reason, the family or the artist,or by join conspiracy, decided to make the head like a counter-bust or something. I'm sure theres a word for this "technique," but I don't feel like justifying its use with spending time finding the term. So, the chest and arms are a bust, the head is a sunken sphere, cut out of a large block of matching, white marble. It has all the details of nose,mouth, creepy-slitted-eyes, and even very detailed hair, but it is all done in that "I'm such an amazing artist that my 5 yr old daughter created this masterpiece of art just by being around me" sort of style. I'm done with blaming the CPE for everything bad- I now blame 90s art.

Allie met up with me in the cemetary right after I found a fantastic black cat that loved nothing more than snuggling with the tombs, thus ensnaring his color-challenged relatives in many more years of the continued association with death and eerieness. We then decided to walk from the foot of Montmartre, through the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur area, past the Gare du Nord, along the number 2 metro line, and to the Martin Canal. This was quite a pleasant walk, though certainly not through the most picturesque areas of Paris. This was roughly the reverse of the route that my father and I took when he came to visit me from Brussels in September, so I shuddered the whole way realizing that my father must think I live in the armpit of humanity.

We finally made it to the canal, which I had read online was pretty to see, nice to walk down, and interesting due to all the pedestrian bridges and the locks that boats must pass through to get from the Seine up to the la Villette area (northeast- 19th arrondisment). It for the most part is in the 10th arrondisement, where it runs from Place de la Republique to Place de la Bastille and Stalingrad. Some parts of it are actually underground to get down to the Seine. We found it fine enough after about a 40 minute walk and started on our trip south along it when I saw one of the locks and went in for a closer look. The "edges" of the canal have been turned mostly into parks, so Allie and I entered a practically deserted, narrow "park" and I walked over to the canal edge to try and get a better look at the beautiful waterfall created by the tall, green-petinaed, iron gates of the lock. They were made up of green grids, only apparent by the "x" shape created by overlapping metal details- green, square, and repeated... you know I was salivating. I was almost to the edge of the canal when I was suddenly struck in the chest by a small rock or an acorn- I actually stumbled backwards because it hit me so hard. My first thought was that the word was out that I wasn't blaming all things bad on the CPE any longer or that my navy blue and red ensemble was being read less "French.", as I had hoped, and more "American!" Much to my mixed-emotions, when I looked down, I discovered not a crater left over from some lethal projectile, but a blob of green goo. "Oh, green, this can't be that bad," I thought to myself. I was wrong and the pigeon above me was, I'm going to estimate, at least a pound lighter now. Allie interpreted my shocked mutters as "I've been hit" and I somehow made it to the nearby bushed where I proceeded to pull of the tiniest leaf and then develop the best tactic for removing the ketchup bag sized glob of bird-leftovers (remember this image next Thanksgiving when pulling out those leftovers) with this ridiculous excuse for "the best leaf to clean myself off with." Allie in the meanwhile has pulled off a leaf of practical size and is zeroing in on my already once violated chest.

We had planned on walking all the way south to the left bank and the moufatard area (also known as a "sweet piece of latin quarter") for dinner and friendliness with friends, but we decided that, while t-shirts might be acceptable, no one can pull off pigeon poop as an accessory. We did make it to dinner- with my clothes already in the washing machine- and had a great night, pigeon pooped on and all.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

context- it's the next best thing to learning a language

The French word for "traffic" is "circulation." When a French man asks you for "glass for scotch" he means "ice."

On a slightly related note- the ridiculous word "dichotomous," which means seperated, has for its synonyms the "words" bifid, bifurcate, bifurcated, divaricate, furcate, and furcated.

I think I will stick with "traffic seperated me from my ice laden Coke" instead of "Circulation bifucated me from my 'glass' laden Coke." I feel it confuses some people- though, honestly, just by the looks of "bifucated" it surely can't be anything good.