Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Attire and Adornment

Parisians are notorious for being well-dressed.  I've taken a few notes for you on what I've noticed.  (Images  provided by EasyFashionParis blog and GQ (except image of Hotel de Ville, and the Wedding photo).)

Men wear accessories, too
See-through shirt = normal
Casual day-to-day
Looking good is important to Parisians.  Both men and women have several types of looks, but they do not seem as varied as those in the United States; those who attempt to dress well have one basic look: classy.  This differs from America in that there are many groups of people who are very careful with how they dress, even if it is to look intentionally sloppy.  While the French do not fret about what they look like once they go out, and sometimes their hair appears un-brushed, it should not be mistaken for sloppiness.

Women wear cardigans, blazers and/or jackets, particular to an outfit and fitted correctly.  They wear blouses, never t-shirts.  Never.  Their blouses frequently are looser, and sometimes semi-transparent.  Seeing a bra through a shirt is normal, and not considered risque.  They are always a classy fit; loose should not be mistaken for baggy, which they never are.  Men typically wear dress-shirts with collars, v-neck shirts, sweaters, blazers, and/or suit jackets.

Or all three. Collared shirt, blazer, suit jacket.
Trousers/pants for both men and women are tailored and dressy.  While every type of pantaloons is worn, they are never baggy or too big, and never too tight, though may look tight to the typical American.  Women do wear leggings or tights as pants, usually under a pair of short-shorts, but sometimes under a long shirt or short dress.  Somehow they get away with it, looking great.

Tights as pants; shoes; blazer

Shoes are paramount to a Parisian.  Men and women alike rarely wear tennis shoes—only when they go running, and they go running in parks or around parks, never in city streets.  Right now it seems cobblers-like shoes, ankle boots, flats, and vintage-style spats are in style for women, while cobbler-like shoes, leather dress shoes, and spats are in style for men.

Men wear accessories: scarves, watches, and even bags are an important part of the way a man walks and carries himself around the city.  Women tend toward scarves, rings, and one necklace, always a part of the outfit--never several.  Hats are worn often in Paris, compared to what is normal in the United States.  It's part of the outfit.

Hairstyles seem more of a man’s realm than a woman’s.  Their hair is very particular to the man, though must look natural.  Women’s hair always look natural, is always perfectly cut and style when down, even if styled “naturally” (i.e. messily, to us).  Black women in Paris have long hair--extentions or otherwise, very well taken care of, curled and or straightened.  I mention this because black women in the United States typically cut their hair short, or keep them in braids.  Parisian women in general keep to natural-colored hair.  Also, Parisian women wear little to no makeup.  Younger women wear eye makeup, while middle-aged women don’t seem to care as much about mascara or eyeshadow.  Make-up, when worn is very natural-looking with hardly any color on their faces. 

Hat, jacket, loose shirt, accessories.

Worship Service
The people who attended mass were not dressed for church in the sense that we expect them to be.  Everyone’s shoulders are covered, their legs are covered at least to the knee, but most were wearing day clothes.  Older women and men wear skirts, dresses or suits, respectively.  Even the kids leading mass wore normal clothes, not anything fancy or dressed up.  I think this is a fairly normal trait of Catholic mass, even in antiquity.  To come to church with attire one could afford/work in, though the rich would have certainly come dressed for Sunday best.  Though I do think it’s a lost “art”, as it were, to come to mass dressed for the Sabbath.  It is religiously expected, however, to cover shoulders and to wear shoes.

Business attire/Interview
Businessmen are easier to pick out than are the women because their attire is how you imagine every CEO to look.  Fitted black dress trousers, a fitted white dress shirt, often with cufflinks, and a fitted suit jacket.  Leather shoes—usually black.  Business men wear ties.  That is usually how you can tell the difference.

Funeral --> Baptism 
Since funerals are family services in Paris, and one cannot crash a funeral--nor are they often held at the churches, as the French are no longer quite as religious--I jumped on the opportunity to take notes on the attire for a baptism, which I walked in on at St. Eustache.  In attendance were the parents, their one or two children, and the baby being baptized.  Everyone--parents, children, and family and friends who attended the baptism were dressed in what we would call "Sunday best."  The Priest was dressed in his normal frock and hood, and kept his book on him always; he sung many of the prayers.  One friend of the family walked around in the chorus area where the baptism was held, taking pictures during the service, which I suppose was a normal expectation.  The children—girls—had their legs covered with tights, their shoulders and arms covered to the wrists by cardigans, and wore hairbands.  The mother and father stood around the baptismal font while prayers were said.  The women, including the mother of the baby, were dressed in skirts.  The men in colored dress-shirts and and dark-colored trousers.  Everyone was brightly dressed.  The men did not wear ties--you rarely see a Parisian man with a tie on...I can't think of a single instance.  The child being baptized was in nice clothing but was covered in a body-length white robe over his clothing.  After the baby was baptized, the father and mother were blessed.

I have so far run across three weddings at various churches, two at Notre-Dame, and one at St. Sulpice.  The two at Notre Dame contained brides and grooms in quite normal western wedding attire.  Large white ball-gown-type dresses on the brides, and typical “costume” (to use French vernacular) suits (3-piece suits).  The third, at St. Sulpice was (apparently) an Indian-Christian wedding as the entire party was dressed in traditional Indian sari’s and I think for men what are called the Sangeet kurta (please pardon me if I’m wrong on that).  The bride’s sari was red, as I believe is traditional for a wedding sari, but—here’s an interesting note—she also wore a white veil!  As her ceremony seems to have taken place in the church (I came to the church afterwards while there were still some of her wedding party in the church, but most of them were outside taking pictures), I’m assuming the white wedding veil was a sign of the Christian tradition.  They also wore necklaces of flowers.  The members of the party wore various colored sari’s and kurta’s—beautiful colors.

She's not expressing her love for any particular team.
It's just fashion.
Sports Event
I have not been to a sports event in Paris, nor do I plan on it.  All the same, I do not recall seeing masses of people wear sports paraphernalia on certain days the way I have seen in Los Angeles on Laker-game days, or in London when Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool is playing.  And because there are so many immigrants in Paris, one can always pick out the Greeks or Brazilians the day they're playing an English team.  I have never seen anything close to that in Paris.  However, during the Tennis Open, the plaza in front of Hotel de Ville was set up and reserved as a seating area for Parisians to walk in and sit down to watch the tennis matches.  No one dressed differently, but the square was always full of people.  Take my earlier comments about classiness into consideration and that may explain the lack of sports paraphernalia, though that does not mean the French are not interested in their sports.

Communicating with Attire:
The person has reached maturation
I believe a sign of maturation in Paris is beginning to smoke, as many teenagers do.  There is no particular piece of clothing a teenager in Paris would wear different from a young adult or man or woman in Paris to communicate he or she has matured apart from growing into more adult casual day-to-day attire, opposed to children’s attire.

I know it's difficult, but notice the ring.
The person is married
A wedding ring on the right or left hand—I have seen both.  There are so many immigrants in Paris, it is hard to tell which is particular to place or origin and which is particular to age, for some older women seem to wear rings on their right and left ring fingers, but younger women wear rings on their left ring finger.  Men also wear rings on their left ring-finger.

Distinctive Regional Identity
While there are very distinctive regional identities in France, and the French are very particular and proud of them, being a Parisian is a culture which swallows all others.  Therefore if a Frenchman or woman is determined on living in Paris, he or she will probably not hold on to a regional identity through clothing, but rather through patterns of speech, types of food, and their friends.  I am not talking about or including the immigrants of Paris in this assessment.  Their religious and regional identities are often more apparent, especially if they are first-generation.

Notice the diamond necklace.
Wealth in this western culture is not denoted on obvious terms the way it might be in other cultures by certain colors or types of clothing.  Noticing wealth, therefore, is a fact of noticing brand-names, of realizing that shoes are made of real leather, rather than faux leather, that someone wears a new outfit every day, rather than mixing and matching what little clothes one has.  But as looking good is important to all Parisians, it is far more likely that whether wealthy or middle-class, so to speak, what you  own you will be good quality and you take care of well.  Wealth is also, of course, denoted by where one lives, and so may not always be clear in one’s clothing decisions.  As Parisians are careful and particular about their jewelry, one would have to know how to tell diamonds and gold apart from faux diamonds and gilded jewelry.  Furthermore, it is an element of being French that you walk with confidence and certainty.  In this way, the wealthy do not appear any different from someone who might be middle-class.

True homeless poverty is simple to see in Paris.  There are many who appear to wear all they own, who beg in the streets for money, or who wander the metro carriages asking for money, or playing instruments for money.  Many of these people do not own shoes, they are seen in the same areas day-to-day, and they often stake out places where they sleep with what few possessions they own.  Poverty for those who try to integrate into middle-class life is less easy to spot on a purely observational basis.

Looking "nice"

(See Casual day-to-dayA woman is always dressed for the occasion, and looks nice wherever she goes.  Particular to looking extra “nice,” as looking well is always important to the average Parisian, are heels for women, and leather shoes for men.  Dresses for women, typically tight-fitting—what one might call “sexy” opposed to “carefree” or “windblown”—and suits or blazers for men.  Depending on the woman, she may wear more eye make-up when deciding to look nice, but still wears limited foundation, but has clear skin.  Her hair may be up or down, though this is clearly personal preference rather than tradition.

Medieval Garden piece

In the center of one of Paris’s busiest quarters—the Latin Quarter, near Boulevard St.-Michel and the Sorbonne—is the Musée National du Moyen Age and Hotel de Cluny.  This area is so busy, in fact, that one can only be alone on the intersection of St.-Michel and St.-Germain, where the museum is located, early on a Sunday morning, before Paris has awoken.  The museum is an important one for France, and also for the sharing of medieval history; inside are the famous La Dame à la licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn) medieval tapestries, numerous religious sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, and an uncovering of the site’s history back to its Roman founders.  Less celebrated, however, is a garden, which adjoins the museum, modeled after what little is known about gardens of the medieval ages.  Although open to the public, it, unlike its surrounding area, is rarely busy; there is always a place to sit.

If you know about the history of gardens, then you know that the gardens of the medieval ages were slight and humble compared to later royal gardens like those of Versailles or Luxembourg. Neither were they wild and expansive, like the now-protected Bois de Boulogne—the remnants of the old forest that spanned western Paris up to Normandy.  Instead, medieval gardens were small and manicured. Most were for growing food, but the rich kept “pleasure gardens,” specifically for the pleasure of the senses, which grew flowers and herbs.  These gardens’ various uses were usually sectioned, included seating, and sometimes—if large enough—areas for musicians or entertainment.

The park adjoining the Hotel de Cluny is separated from the busy streets of the quarter by fences and surrounded by trees, not dissimilar from most other Parisian parks.  It has a lookout area where park-visitors can see the old ruins of the Roman thermes—or baths—and another area with sand and “jungle gyms” for children to play.  This park along-side the garden is always open to the public and usually populated.  Further secluded behind a wooden enclosure or gate are le préau and la terrasse, the two areas of the park created by the museum most closely modeled after what little is known of medieval gardens.  Though its hours are regulated by the museum, it is usually open to the public.  The wooden enclosure around the garden gives less of a sense of further barrier or separation from the street and instead confirms intimacy and quiet thereby retaining its instructive quality as part of the Musée du Moyen Age.

There are two entrances to le préau and la terrasse: one through the park by way of the children’s play area and up a wooden ramp, and the other I quite prefer, by way of a small cobble-stone walk separated from but alongside Rue de Cluny.  The walk’s pragmatic utility is slight: it only gives entrance to le jardin or gives exit onto Rue du Sommerard.  Unless one is using the walk to get to the garden, it serves no purpose different from Rue de Cluny.  If used as an entrance to the garden, however, it is particularly effective in preparing the visitor for their experience of the garden.

The narrow walk has a Secret Garden spell to it: the trees and plants which line the walkway and its surrounding fence muffle the city sounds, or else the visitor intentionally forgets them.  Birds live in this area of green—not just pigeons, but sparrows, and robins and songbirds—they live throughout Paris’s gardens, however hard to believe.  The area is shaded; it’s secluded.  And all of these things make nature more important than the city—not unbridled, sprawling nature—but the kind of nature placed, grown and cared for by human hands.

Though the view of the pleasance garden and the terrace are far more man-made than that of the walkway, the walkway is only a preparatory step to transporting you into an older time.  Before you walk up the steps to the wooden walkway of the garden, you see the Hotel de Cluny, a seamless blend of Gothic and Renaissance architecture bursting with medieval acknowledgment.  A townhouse in Paris for the abbots of Cluny, the building was later owned by several other religious figures, an astronomer, the Revolutionary state, and Alexandre du Sommerard, an art collector.  It was finally purchased by the state and converted into a museum, which it has remained for 170 years.

As you ascend the steps, in front of you is le préau or, the pleasance.  This is a garden of various flowers and grasses surrounded by clear baths of water.  This area most closely resembles what one might expect from a pleasure garden, while off to the right sits the terrace, “evoking the domestic nature and diverse facets of a medieval garden” (translation my own,    Every aspect of the garden has a meaning or dedication.  A ménagier aligns and separates the different potted areas: basic medicinal herbs are planted in one, vegetables in another.  One potted area contains only flowers which symbolize the Virgin; a sunken path and its surrounding flowers are dedicated to the ancient Sainte-Geneviève, patron saint to Paris; another flower bed evokes l’amour courtois—courtly love—the expression of which, so the stories and poetry say, gave pleasure gardens their utility.  No area of the garden goes without purpose: pleasing to the senses, useful for survival, or in memory of beloved religious figures—all important and vital aspects to medieval life in France.  For a moment, it feels you might exist alongside an older realm.

It is curious to me, why, then, erected in the center of le préau, is a shiny, metal, modern-art installment, impossible not to be seen from anywhere in the garden.  Spanning half of le préau are several narrow strips of shiny metal, bent into elegant and clean swirls and lined up beside each other.  It isn’t that the installment in and of itself is something laughable, but that it so obviously out of place.  It is not a stone sculpture of a saint, neither is it a recognized commemorative art piece.  These obtrusive sheets of bent metal disturb one of the few places in Paris that has the potential to be somewhere truly apart and outside of modernity.  It is not the unfulfilled desire for such a place, but the sheer attainability of the space to have that unique charm which makes the breaking of that charm so disappointing.

Yes, there are children in sneakers and backpacks traipsing down the wooden walks after their teachers who are explaining about the vegetable garden.  And yes, the man sitting across from me in the park is rolling and lighting a cigarette; we’re eating lunch out of plastic bags; we’re texting on cellphones, we’re changing the song on our iPods.  Each visitor is aware we’re living in the 21st century, but apart from the people themselves, there is very little to indicate that within the garden, or amongst the trees, or beside the stone building—except those ill-fitted pieces of metal.  The garden itself is an edifice dedicated to a different time, place, and people.  There is no need for a commemoration inside of a commemoration; there is no need for a reminder of modernity; there is no need to apologize that the garden was a creation of the 21st century instead of the 14th.

With the dedication and study put into the gardens creation as a place inspired by medieval places of beauty, why not hold the illusion?  Let garden visitors believe for a moment, even in the busiest quarter of Paris, that experiencing a space the way it might have been experienced by that different time, place, and people, is possible.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

23 in Paris

I just got home.  As I was walking home it began to rain, and when I got in, I saw a package on the doorstep.  This was the one Mom told me about.  Have I told you how much I love getting packages?

It started pouring outside as I came in and I opened the envelope and carefully pulled out two parcels wrapped in brightly-colored tissue paper, which of course only reminds me of the boxes in Mom’s room filled with Christmas and Birthday wrapping papers and tissues.  And that reminds me of the time I pulled a box out onto my head one Christmas and Caitlin was laughing so hard she still bursts into fits of laughter every Christmas.

The CDs and the card fell out separately, so I carefully opened each letter and read them.  Caitlin’s came first, and I kept thinking how much it looked like I was reading my own writing.  Apart from a few letter differences, she’s practically got the same penmanship!  I had a good laugh at the picture of the grizzly bear.  Rachel’s came next—I was Loki’d.  But are you surprised?  Thank you, Caitlin and Rachel, for your letters.  They were similar in some ways, and individual in others.  But I want to tell you how much it means to me, and how much your approval keeps me going.  I hope you both do the greatest of things with your lives, and I can only hope that someday I can get a smidgen of the credit for helping you believe you could.  I opened Mom’s and Dad’s next.  Both of your letters had a thing or two in them that I really needed to hear; just the right amount of encouragement and pride.  I hope you know that even though you’ve never asked for me to make you proud, that’s all I ever try to do.  Thank you for those letters, family.  You are truly exactly what I need in life; I hope I do the same for you sometimes, at least.

I’m listening to The Lumineers, and it’s thundering—really thundering—loud and long.  It’s still bright outside, but flashes of lightning come into the apartment, and it pours.  God has blessed me for keeping my half of the promise.

It’s funny, I was thinking the other day that I should have brought more sleep-shirts, because I only brought two and (as you all know) I spend more time in my pajamas than I do in regular clothing!  So when I opened the parcel with the blue Idyllwild t-shirt, I laughed at how perfect it was.  I stripped off my wet clothing and put it on right then and there.  It smells of some herb that I can’t place.  The large t-shirts that I inherited from Mom and Dad for sleep shirts are among my favorite comfort clothes, and I didn’t bring any with me.  It’d odd what kind of things you regret not bringing when you leave the country.

The second shirt is perfect, also.  I love it.  I’m always wishing I had more casual shirts that aren’t t-shirt in style.  And as I’m getting my childhood tan back from wandering these streets, yellow was the perfect color.

Thank you for the package.

Let me tell you about my Birthday.

Naomi, my neighbor across the hall, and I watched Guys and Dolls together, as she had never seen it.  She found out my birthday was on Saturday and offered to spend the day with me.  Later in the week she suggested Versailles.  I've been meaning to go but haven't wanted to go alone.  I thought it was a great idea. On Friday, I met up with Brigitte, a girl I knew in one of my French classes, and a friend of hers.  She found out I was going to Versailles and decided to tag along.

Saturday morning, I met Naomi in the hallway and Brigitte down by the Metro stop.  We took the Metro to Musee d'Orsay RER station and bought tickets to Versailles and back.

It took a while to get through the line to buy tickets, but once we did we decided to go to the gardens first, as we were uncertain how long it'd be nice out.  (June gloom takes place in Paris, also.)  Also, the last time I came to Versailles I didn't go into the extensive gardens, so it was a new experience for me, and I quite enjoyed it.

I also missed Marie Antoinette's small "Hameau" when I came to Versailles in 2009.  It was quite a ways a way but Brigitte, Naomi and I all decided we wanted to see it.  We followed the map to where it said the Hameau was (hamlet) but the gate was locked, so we had to go around.  I daresay, it was the "scenic tour" as we always say.

 And we did get there eventually.

Marie Antoinette would often come to the little home away from Versailles to get away from customs and guests.  She would only invite close friends to visit with her here, opposed to people with high rank, which greatly upset the upper classes of France at the time.  While here with friends, she would often wander the house and gardens in her chemise--her white underdress, rather than wearing the big, heavy, hot and extensive fashionable dresses all the time.  As she was with friends, I don't think anyone minded but those who weren't invited.  It made her quite revolutionary for her time, which many didn't like, but somehow makes me like her even more.  She valued people for their friendship to her, rather than for their place in society, and freely showed how she felt.


We next resigned ourselves to waiting in the enormous line to get into the palace and walked all the way back to it from the Hameau.

Brigitte - Me - Naomi

It was quite a walk, and Brigitte was pretty tired, so when we got into the palace after the long wait in line, she told us she was going to go through at her own pace and then get back tot he city.  Naomi and I still planned on going back out to the gardens to see the fountains turn on (they're on at only certain times of the day), so we said our goodbyes and continued through.

Now I've been through the palace before and have some good pictures of it, because it was markedly less busy the day I first went than it was on my birthday this trip, so I'm including below only some details which I really appreciated this time around.  I know you've never seen my Versailles pictures--I've hardly even seen them--but that's how it'll have to be.  (There are a lot here anyway, so don't fret.)  In no particular order--and I can't remember the order of the rooms.  Here are some interior shots.

The grandeur gets me.  Also, this is the door Marie Antoinette ran out of when she heard the people of Paris were coming to take she and the King back to Paris from Versailles.

Oddly enough, this is one of my favorite paintings ever.  Well this picture here is just a small part of the painting.  It's a huge painting.  It's the coronation of Josephine, wife of Napoleon.  This is the original.  There is a copy in London.

Remember me telling you I like the ceilings and the floors of places?  People forget to look up in most places.  It would be a real shame if you forgot to look up in Versailles.  They also forget to look down at the floor.  I like to look at the floor because no one ever thinks of it, and therefore it is the one part of many buildings that goes untouched or unchanged.  You are often stepping on the very same stones/marble/wood that were laid down or installed at the building of the original building.  And I find that fascinating.  So, here are too many pictures of the ceilings and the floors at Versailles.

At the Hameau.

Naomi humoring me in the last two photos.

After we walked through the palace, Naomi and I returned to the gardens with some hot chocolate and walked through a little bit more before the fountains turned on.  This is where I found my favorite fountain.

There was a 'spectacle' supposed to happen at the big fountain in the North gardens, so we walked there and got a seat on a green piece of grass.  It turns out that it was just music playing as they turned the fountain on.  Naomi and I had a good laugh about that.

We took our time getting back to the RER station, and walked around a bit in Versailles, a lovely little town.  Versailles looks like the child of Paris and a small coastal California town like Carmel-by-the-Sea.  No joke.  It's beautiful, a bit quaint, and does have a bit of a ocean-side feel to it.

Naomi and I returned to Paris.  We had Italian for dinner--as is only right on my birthday and then saw Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which is called "Les Saumons dans le desert" here -- Salmon in the Desert.  A bit more poetic in English, if I do say so myself.

It was a good birthday.  And I'm back on track with my outings since turning 23.  Thank you, family, for your support.  I love you, and appreciate your messages and the package.  It was just what I needed.

Also, Mom & Dad gave me $75 for my birthday.  That's about 60 euros.  I spent 18 on dinner at that Italian restaurant.  The rest I spent on a creperie--a crepe pan which I am most certainly packing to bring home with me.  A french measuring cup, so now I can bake with grams without issue.  And a book of photography by Eugene Atget which should come in the mail soon.  I will write more about Atget soon, it's quite a story, and he's been one of my favorite photographers for years.  It'll be a surprise.  Thank you for the gifts, its been a lovely birthday, and I wish all of you were here to celebrate with me.