Tuesday, July 1, 2008

C'est la vi

This morning was sad. My host parents left the house to travel to America for a three week trip to visit their son Sebastien at a Buddhist monastery in Greenville, NY. They are extremely kind and generous people who I really enjoyed interacting with after long days of lectures and travel throughout the city. But much has been going on in my life here that I have not written much about. Like I said, my parents are Buddhist, and we have this fantastic tree in the backyard from which they have draped multi-colored flags, each with a prayer on it written in Tibetan. The idea is that when the wind blows, it will spread the positive message of these flags. Here's what it looks like:

I’ll start with the now – our dogs are hollering again. The symphony of barks can begin at any moment, and always happens when the other dogs living on this block decide they want to communicate with each other. I did not grow up with pets, so having two dogs and a kitten has really been exciting and educational. Here's a video I took of a great game of our dog and cat playing cat and mouse. The German Sheppard is Molly, and Diky is the name of the kitten. Watch this video if you like animals staring at each other, chasing each other, and head-butting each other. Thats a picture of Diky next to it hanging out on me bed.

I’ve been playing a lot of pick up basketball and ping pong lately. There are two public bball courts in the park by the Eiffel Tower. I found one court in a different section of the city populated by lots of students called cite universitae, but the court was really small and of bad quality. Playing pick up with the French has also been educational. Basketball here is much more social than it is in the US. Part of the reason might be that it just is not a popular sport here. When a player walks on the court in France, regardless of whether or not they know others, it is compulsory to greet each player individually with a high give-pound combination. It’s also compulsory when you leave the court – otherwise you are just being rude. They don’t call fouls as much here as they do in the US (foul is pronounced more like “fole”), and they always check the ball with the person who scored, not at the top of the key. Don’t you dare spit on the courts here – that just doesn’t happen. In America we flood the courts with the fluids of our salivary glands, but here, the spit stays tucked under the tongue. Picks and screens are as uncommon as NBA games here. Here is a photo of one of the nice courts i've played on, and then one in theheat of battle.

Ping pong is much more popular, and there is a great park right across the street from Humanity in Action’s office in the city with 4 ping pong tables with steel nets! It’s located right next to a playground, which only becomes a problem on Friday afternoons when school lets out and all kids want to do is run in big circles, chase each other, scream, throw water balloons, and play football. We learned our lesson this past Friday trying to play. Jokingly, my opponent looked around at the sea of screaming children and said, “this is the ultimate birth control commercial”. Anyways, there are lots of good ping pong players here, especially the homeless guys who live in the park. They are quite good and passionate about ping pong, and are always willing to keep the score (sans tip!) for you as they wait they turn to play. It feels good to escape the intellectual blitzkriegs and just go into the park, under the trees, feel the wind blow, and my worries melt away as I focus on the ping pong match. I remember playing with my dad one time in a family friend’s basement. I thought he had no idea how to play, but man was I wrong! He mastered the Chinese grip, making the ball almost impossible to return because of the unpredictable bounces it would take. Anyways, I think now I could take him on and make it competitive.

I ran into a random Armenian from Beirut two days ago. It was after a lecture from a California-Berkley professor who argued that color-blind discrimination legislation doesn’t work. I was walking towards the metro and passed a university building with a large stage under construction in the elaborate building’s main lobby. I asked a man with a security shirt what was going on, and he asked me where I was from. I returned the question, and he said in broken English “I am Armenian from Lebanon”, and so began my one hour conversation with Arka Kojayan from Bourj-Hammoud. He told me that he had live in Forest Hills, NYC in Queens about 20 years ago for a brief period. In France he found a government that took better care of blue collar workers. He prized the socialist system as a very generous one, elated that medical payments never crossed his mind twice, and that getting paid for sick days was a clever way to earn extra money on the side with a second job. “So you’ve got the system figured out pretty well,” I asked. “No, no, no,” He replied. “I’m the master of the system. I teach it to others.” I also checked out the Armenian church in Paris. It was a very odd feeling you know - I felt at home, but I also felt a very strong sense of confinement, that when I walked in I was being defined. I was chastised by one of the men at the door for trying to light my candle just before everyone in the hall was to light their candles together. Church traditions sometimes make me laugh. Anyways, here are two Armenian churches in Paris that I visited. One has traditional architecture and the other is far humbler and modern - can you guess which is which?

About a week ago I witnessed something I have never witnessed in America – an entire city getting its groove on (a quote from double L Paull). It is called the “fete de la music”, a music festival with hundreds of stages scattered across Paris. The entire city was dense with bodies – hundreds of thousands of them – dancing, drinking, people-watching. We watched Kool Shen perform, a popular hip hop artist in France. Lots of people were throwing their hands in the air, including a 6 year old hanging on a lamp post. We also went to the Institute du Monde Arab to watch an Egyptian band perform by the Seine. Here's a photo of Kool Shen rocking the crowd.

Saturday night was salsa night by the Institute du Monde Arab. It was crazy. Hundreds of people salsa dancing by the river, music blasting, bodies spinning, ladies bumping, guys trying to keep up. I stood on an a large elevated flower pot and spent a good half an hour dancing with the entire group before some ladies pulled me down to dance.

The report portion of the fellowship has begun. I have teamed up with a peer born in Gabon and raised in France named Karine Rumanyika. We are writing about Memory Laws in France, specifically looking at the Gayssot Act (the law criminalizing Holocaust denial), Taubira Act (the law labeling French and European involvement in the slave trade a crime against humanity), and the act criminalizing denial of the Armenian genocide as a springboard to analyze why Memory Laws exist, whether or not they are consistent in their restrictions across an equal range of tragic historic events, if they are effective, and what the laws imply about the lawmakers and their vision of the French state. It’s a lot of work, but Karine is a fantastic partner, very intelligent, and diligent. Karine, myself, and the rest of the fellows were invited to a party hosted by Humanity in Action at the Publicis Group building atop the Champs Elysees . It was a swanky place as one might gather from the view in the photo below. All of the lecturers and friends of the organization were also in attendance, and it was a rather fun and relaxing event. The photograph below is the view we enjoyed. I like the photo (I doubt I'm the first to have ever capture this image of parallel structures) because the Arch d'triumph in the foreground La Defense mirror each other not only architecturally, but also historically. The Arch is a symbol of French history, and La Defense of French modernity, globalization, and industrialization. I like how they interact in the picture - and the photo was taken as the sun was sinking - so the lighting also gives it a nice effect.

Yesterday Karine invited me over to her home to work on our report. I love the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country and seeing how the people really live. The Parisian fantasy does not really paint an accurate picture of the French reality, so I take every chance I get to immerse myself in life beyond the city. Karine lives with her mom who works at a university teaching Spanish. After a few hours of work, we sat down with Karine’s mom and ate some delicious salmon draped in slices of tomato with rice, spaghetti, and homemade coconut rum – a specialty of Martinique, a Caribbean island colonized by France. Karine’s mom did not speak English, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to brush up on my rusty Spanish. I studied Spanish for seven years in middle school and high school, and while I can understand fairly well, speaking does not flow as easily, but I was very satisfied with the conversation I was able to have with Karine’s mom. We talked about her experiences on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage trail leading to Spain’s city of Santiago de Compostella. It is this trail, beginning in southwest France in Roncesvalles, traversing 750km of northern Spain, which I intend to hike from late August to late September (just in time for my sister’s early October wedding in Florence). Here's the map of the planned hike. I'll start in that purple box on the right to the purple box on the left!

There is, however, one factor that may withhold me from taking on this trek. I am applying for the position of Director of the Armenian Volunteer Corps. It’s an organization that I really love and believe in, and hope to contribute my skills to. If it works out then it is off to Armenia as of August 15, but if it does not, then my journey goes on. Both situations are wonderful, so I’m just happy to be in this situation, and even if I don’t get the position, I’ll still be returning to Armenia sometime in the near future.

That’s all for now. Be well.

If you're into metro musicians playing exotic instruments:

1 comment:

Anoushjan said...

i did the camino de santiago in highschool. Wonderful trip! Make sure to stop in Burgos. Great little city :) You are applying for the director position?? good luck :)