December 8, 2011 § Leave a comment
So I’m super frustrated. At the start of my last trip I dropped my beloved camera and ended its life. It was a Canon PowerShot SD880 IS, which I’ve been happily using for research and pleasure purposes for about three years. I was very fortunately able to borrow a camera for research during my trip, but camera-less since my return to Paris. I have been immersed in camera reviews for the past week as I try to select a replacement and I am incredibly frustrated. I want some kind of in-between camera that does not seem to exist. The Canon PowerShot S95 seems ideal for my purposes, but it is more expensive than I would like and I feel like, if I’m going to spend over $300, then I want a pretty cool zoom which is basically the only feature this model lacks. But then you sort of get thrown into these super zoom models, like the SX220 HS, which at least right this minute is what I will most likely end up buying. Here I feel like I wish Canon had exchanged a bit of the zoom for higher overall quality. And there is no perfect in-between. Add to that the fact that there are less and different models available here in France than in the US. And yes, I am pretty much a die-hard Canon lover and user and as much as I look at other brands, I have yet to be convinced to stray.
So this post is really a vent, and is sadly picture-less because I am tired of looking at photos I took more than a few weeks ago. My attention span is way too short for that. No matter what I am going to make a decision by the end of the day tomorrow, because walking around Paris without a camera has been torturous. I feel like I have seen more fantastic sites that I was cursing myself for missing while simultaneously mentally noting their location in the hopes that I can return and fulfill all my photo-taking desires.
Prior to this, I had never broken, dropped, or otherwise killed an expensive electronic or other similar belonging. So the whole episode has been fairly traumatic. Damn that hard Jerusalem stone…Next post will hopefully surely be headed by a new photograph taken by a new camera. Fingers crossed.
December 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
Today is Wednesday. It has been kind of a strange week. Or at least I have been feeling strange. Monday was a very good, very productive work day. Tuesday I was planning to go to an all day seminar on the history of public libraries, then in the evening to another seminar on postwar Yiddish culture. About an hour into the first seminar I started to feel really unwell. Like in my stomach. I ended up having to leave the seminar, which was a bummer.
Then, I sat in a chair for a while trying to gauge how I felt. Was I well enough to spend the day out and about in order to make it to the evening seminar, which was much more important in terms of networking? Finally I decided to just start walking. To slowly make my way across Paris to where the evening seminar was to be held. When I got hungry, I bought a plain demi-baguette and ate it very slowly.
At first I felt terrible and thought I should just go home. But I kept walking and eventually the cool crisp fall air and the delicious Paris baguette began to greatly improve my stomach and my mood. I had hours ahead of me before the evening seminar so I was really able to enjoy my stroll. During which I came across a few places I had only heard or read about.
Most happily, le Musée des lettres et manuscrits, which is really a must-visit for any book, literature, manuscript, history loving person. It is a small, dreamy, very neat and tidy intellectual and cultural destination. My foggy head meant that I was not able to focus on the exhibit, but I found some treasures in the shop.
Most deliciously, Hugo & Victor, which actually was kind of a let-down. It was beautiful, but not as jaw-dropping as I had expected. Then again, my upset stomach probably meant that I was not the best judge of mouth-watering pastries. I still really enjoyed looking and was most intrigued by the seasonal specialties created out of various citrus fruits. The tarts in particular looked really fabulous. But my only purchase was some marshmallows for my sister.
Most fun, Fragonard, which while very touristy, impressed me mostly because of its very friendly and helpful staff and for its very reasonable prices for perfumes. Once in a while I decide that I want to wear perfume. I go into a department store and smell a million different scents. I usually find one that I love and spray it on myself. Then I don’t like it anymore. Then I give up and go home and forget the whole idea for a while. But I really do like the idea of having a scent that I and others associate with me. I want it to be extremely light, an eau de toilette, not a perfume. I want it to be citrusy but a little sweet. I know what I want, but I cannot find it.
After a hail storm drove me into a bar for a green tea, I made it to my seminar. This turned out to be a great thing as I learned an enormous amount from the presenters and as it was my first experience sitting in on a French seminar/class. I was not, however, brave enough to join part of the group for drinks afterwards, which I now regret. It would have been very beneficial and maybe even fun to get to know other scholars with similar interests. I definitely need to push myself in this arena much more and overcome my insecurity and feelings of inadequacy regarding myself as a historian and regarding my ability to converse, freely and fully, about history, in French. Next time!
Today I still don’t feel 100% so I have stayed home and have been more or less productive. Tonight, a get-together. Which I will not cop out of at the last minute! I am including it here to hold myself accountable.
December 4, 2011 § Leave a comment
December 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
Recently, there has been a lot of exciting activity regarding libraries in the United States and Britain (and beyond). No coincidence that these are also the countries where libraries have been most threatened by the current economic and political crises. It is somewhat surreal to follow this movement, especially the one in New York, from far away in Paris, where I happen to be writing a dissertation on a library movement at a different time and place. One thing I ask in my research is, why was building and expanding and supporting libraries seen as so critical in the immediate post-World War II years, and why are libraries such an easy target for cutting and closing and dismissing today. Of course I know all of the easy quick answers about changes in technology and all the new ways to receive and “read” information, etc. But I think the answer is far more complex than that and all this current activity certainly contributes to that belief. It is not just librarians and not just people over a certain age (wherever that line would be) who can be found today defending, building, supporting and loving libraries.
As a librarian I am constantly asked, do you think libraries are endangered? Do you think books will soon disappear? Do you think your future job will be anything like the job you started in? All legitimate questions I suppose (but barely), but I think that they are also very short-sighted. My frustration is the all-or-nothing hysteria with which such issues are approached, which is perhaps a particularly American trait. Either we will have libraries or we won’t have libraries! Either we will read paper books or they will no longer exist! Either we need librarians or we only need technology! Either the world is ending or it is perfect! Augh!!
I am thankful that answers in life are almost never that clear cut. I think that if more of us could become more comfortable with the in-between and the ambiguity, life might even become a bit easier.
This is why some of the above- and under-ground activism that seems to be picking up, or at least being increasingly picked up in the media, in support of books and libraries is truly inspiring and exciting. Those involved are generally not luddites and are not otherwise refusing technological innovation. Most probably have a blog or twitter account or Facebook page or are otherwise active in social media. They are not all or nothing but they do understand how and why people might still be looking for the right book at the right moment.
Having recently left New York, I can’t help but wonder if I might have gotten involved in the Occupy Wall Street Library. Or if anyone I know is spending time there. Many people ask, what is the point of such protests? They won’t change anything in the long run. Maybe that’s true. But I think that any small steps taken toward encouraging questioning, pushing, debating, arguing, creating, expanding, what people are thinking and doing a bit further and a bit wider, are unquestionably worthwhile.
The problem arises when people think of libraries as ONLY places where you can borrow books. Very few libraries are only that any more, if they ever even were in the first place. And when people think of librarians as ONLY people who check out the books to you and tell you where the bathroom is. Librarians have ALWAYS been much more than that.
November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
Even though I live in the 11th arrondisement of Paris, from my kitchen window I can see the bright white searchlight at the tip of La Tour Eiffel, across the Seine in the 7th arrondisement, cutting wide circles through the night sky. Yes the Eiffel Tower is a huge tourist draw, but it is also a truly stunning and beautiful example of technological imagination and architectural achievement. It is also often devoid of crowds and beautifully lit up at night, making it one of my favorite nighttime destinations.
Recently, when my friends were visiting, we took a night bike ride to the Tour. However, the night we chose turned out to be thick with fog, extra dark and wintery-looking, making it impossible to follow the searchlight to the Tour, which would be my usual way of arriving there.
I do know my way fairly well around Paris, but I also get lost on a very regular basis. Especially when I am on a bike. But fortunately, Paris is so dotted with memorable and unique landmarks, that it is usually pretty easy to get back on track. On top of that, if I am not in a hurry to get somewhere, the little side trips that result from my getting lost often lead me to stumble across places, buildings, parks, museums, that I might not have found otherwise.
But to get back to this foggy night in Paris, after biking in circles, in the wrong direction, and in a couple more circles, we finally arrived at Avenue de Suffren, which runs parallel to the Tour. The strange and disorienting thing was that we still could not see any lights. The soupy darkness gave the impression that either the Tour was not there, that we were lost in some alternate dimension, or that the lights were not turned on. Somehow it did not seem possible, that in reality, on a relatively mild November evening, the fog could be so dense and low that the Tour would simply be swallowed up.
Once we reached the base of the Parc du Champ de Mars, however, the lights began to shine through. And that bright searchlight, usually visible to me in my kitchen 9 or so kilometers away, was barely visible at the tippy top.
I think this was La Tour Eiffel at the most beautiful that I have ever seen it. Coming upon it that night was like discovering a secret, especially because so few people were there. Maybe most could not find it either…
November 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
I often try to spend my birthday by myself. I am not sure when I started the tradition, but I really enjoy using my birthday to take time alone to visit a new place and to do exactly what I want to do. It helps that my birthday is in the fall, which is by far my favorite season. As much as I enjoy spring flowers and winter skies, as far as I am concerned, nothing compares with the colors, smells, tastes, and changes of the fall.
This year was no different. I took a morning train to the medieval town of Provins about an hour from Paris and spent the day wandering.
There can be a fine line between being solitary and being lonely. Many writers far more articulate than me have pondered the question. For myself, I really enjoy being alone, and only feel aloneness in moments, which fortunately, are usually fleeting.
But Provins! It is beautiful. And on a clear, cool, fall day in November, it is almost empty. Devoid of tourists, the sites are closed down, the town was literally already in its winter hibernation. Which made it even more pleasurable for me. Wandering the ramparts alone, walking up and down cobblestone streets alone, inspired me to let my imagination take over. Without other people on the streets I could amuse and entertain myself by visualizing what Provins might have been like throughout its history. When Joan of Arc stopped in the cathedral to pray. When guards with bows and arrows carefully watched over the towers and walls, protecting the road to Paris. When the famous rose bushes were planted. When the town began to expand beyond its original walls.
As a bonus, it was pretty good exercise to walk up the hill to the old city center, to climb the ramparts, to circle the walls three times, once on the outside, once on the inside, and once along the top (though only small parts are open).
As a treat, I began my day at a Paris boulangerie that I have long been wanting to try, Du pain et des idées. It is a must-visit. It is beautiful. It smells incredible. The breads and the viennoiserie are gorgeous. It is the perfect blend of traditional and brand-creative-new, especially in terms of flavor experimentation (much like Gontran Cherrier which is maybe a bit more hit or miss but generally YUM). I bought a chunk of the pain des amis and a chocolate and pistachio escargot (literally snail because of its spiral shape) and a banana and chocolate croissant. A lot, even for birthday indulgence, but that’s all I ended up between 8am and 10pm, during which time, apart from 3 total hours on the train, I was constantly walking. Oh, I also enjoyed this rose flavored lollipop on the ride home.
Talk about a sugar overload. Happily, a good friend staying with me had a delicious dinner waiting for me back in Paris, roast pork with leeks and garlic. Many thanks C! And much appreciation for Provins, a town I had never even heard of before, but that really merits a visit. Especially on a beautiful off-season day.
November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment