France, Paris

Paris – Not Quite a Eulogy

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

Sometimes Paris doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that the French don’t like to work as is (and this is a true stereotype, I’ve found), the city itself just doesn’t hang together properly. Aside from 6 decades of failed immigration policy, 5 governments since the founding of the Republic, the incessant onslaught of developpers trying to ruin the city, problems with crime, Islam, post-colonial guilt, the echos of WW2, Muslims, the decline of the French language in popular use (it as once literally the linga franca of Europe, no more), the loss of her religion, the increasing wealth gap, the development of a new underclass, the fact that soldiers have to patrol my neighborhood, and, lastly, the fact that Anne Hidalgo thinks that skyscrapers will work within the city itself (hint: no one but real estate developers want that) – aside from this the city just feels wrong sometimes. It feels angry and ambivalent all at once.

It’s difficult to explain but think of the last time you walked into a room and something just  fell out of place. Now thing of a time that you have walked into a room after a tenuous truce had just been made between enemies and their anger still hung in the air. that is a decent approximation of the Parisian atmosphere on many days. It is not just the looming and ever present threat of terror, nor the gaping wounds that last attacks opened. It’s something else; maybe the city changed to quickly, who knows? But it is palpable, not always but when it is, it is a thick viscous feeling that that slows everything down and makes the city repugnant.

But it is not always like this. And during the moments when the weakened but enduring spirit can pierce the fog that has fall – those moments are incredible.

It is during those brief moments that one can understand why the city used to capture the imagination of the greater part of the worth. In these moments the City of Light is dimmer but shining nonetheless. You can’t prepare for these times, sometimes you can’t even stop to enjoy them – they pass like one of those rare strangers with whom you make an immediate connection but never see again.

Artists drawing in museums.

The odd couple on a lonely quai.

Children yelling bonjour monsieur to you as they go to school you to work.

In and of themselves they mean little, but together with a million other tiny, indescribable details, the picture of the old spirit comes together. I can no more tell you how these moments come to be than describe why Marat’s posture in Jacques-Louis David’s painting makes such an abhorrent man so pathetic.

These moments are unpredictable but they tend to lie where the stone better bore the weathering of time. At Sunday organ concerts at Saint Eustache, where Parisians line up to listen to a half hour of music on one of the most beautiful organs in the world. When you attend mass at Saint-Nicholas-Du-Chardonnet, a mass performed in the old way and a congregation whose faith would have been more home in the 12th century than in ours. It can be found in lost corners of museums, on roofs in the 6th, on quais in the 4th, in cafés in the second. The sap of the old city varnished some of these places, so it is harder for the problems of today to penetrate and rot what soul remains.

This is perhaps the most interesting time to live here since the Germans marched down Champs-Elyéee and the future of the city as hurled into doubt. But whatever her ails may be right now, the city comes out of hiding when she feels playful or reminiscent.

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English, France, Literature, Writing

I Believe in Fairies

Well I just returned from an excellent meal on Montmartre (de Leopold if anyone is interested) this evening, and I consider myself to be at the perfect level of contentment to write this article. How’s that for a title, eh?

I’ve long had a semblance of an idea in the back of my head that, to me, seems relatively novel. And like all ideas that seem novel to the individual, it is likely an idea that someone has articulated far better than I ever could (and is quite famous to boot). Regardless of the fact that it is likely not novel in the slightest, it certainly seems uncommon. That is, I rank my beliefs by how much I believe in them. It doesn’t seem that strange at first but think about it. If someone said ‘I believe in God but not as much as I believe in gravity’ it seems odd. Or at least it ought to. If you believe in God at all, that is, the omnipotent God. Then by saying that you believe in God less than you believe in gravity, then you are more or less denying the existence of God.

To say I believe in Hell but less than this apple is to damn yourself. Frankly it is ridiculous, if a single shred of you believes in an eternal pit of fire (eternal – try to imagine an eternity), then you damn well better believe in it more than the apple you hold in your hand – or at least hold it equal, as most people have a binary view of existence (real or not). This is a concept with which I have always struggled – if one is truly Christian and believe that there is the possibility of eternal torture because of things that you have done on earth – then the only logical thing to do is become a monk and devote yourself wholly to being holy. In comparison with eternity, the human lifespan is non-existant. With such a brief trial and such a long, long, long reward, why would ANY believer be anything but a devout hermit praying every waking hour?

This is kind of a demonstration of the ‘levels of belief,’ sure one many believe in God, but manifestly not so much as he believes in what is in his hand or right before him.

This is something that my mind ran with as a child. I stratified my beliefs – and by doing so I was able to believe in things that many people found ridiculous without putting them on par with my core or observable beliefs. In some cases it runs along the lines of provability or how ridiculous I would sound if i shared it with someone (although ever since one of my English professors at University told me that he believed wholeheartedly in fairies, I have had a much easier time with this belief).

So here is how this works for me – at the highest strata I have things that are core to my existence or directly observable. Here you find the belief in God (more on this in a minute), gravity, evolution, apples, etc. In the next level you have things that seem likely to exist or possible but we haven’t confirmed it yet – things like aliens and other civilizations falls under this category (I mean there are trillions of galaxies, we can’t be that special). Just below this is the eponymous level: here I have fairies, dryads, fauns, elves, etc. Then there is the level of larger things, things that I can’t tell myself ‘oh they’re hiding from us’ and that would be larger things like dragons, griffins, etc. Then there is non-belief.

If you were to ask me: ABlaine, so do you believe in God? I’d say yes, then if you asked me if I believe in fairies, the answer would be the same. I believe they both exist. It is the fact that I believe in the former that that I can believe in the latter. And as someone raised Catholic, it is very hard to just become wholesale atheist. As I said earlier, if a single fiber still believes, you may as well go for it all the way. In a way this is something like Pascal’s wager. And if an omnipotent god exists and he made us, why couldn’t these other things exist?

An it makes life so much more interesting to read Arthurian legends or Ovid’s Metamorphoses as though they actually happened (although Ovid was quite clear that he did not believe in the things about which he wrote). And there is a strong western bias here, for example I don’t believe in voodoo and the like. I am a product of Western culture, what can I say? When I go to Brittany to visit Merlin’s Tomb, the Mirror of Fairies, or Morgan Le Fay’s home – it is inexplicably more exciting for me than others.

And this is an excitement that can be found in gardens, forests, plains, mountains, the sea, anywhere really. I don’t expect to see any of these things in my life (much like the lost devout Christian would go to their shrink if they heard God speaking directly to them). But such beliefs color life in an extremely interesting way – and they give you insight into how our ancestors lived for millennia.

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France, Paris

An Adventure in Paris – FNAC

I thought that I was doing pretty well – despite what I expected, I managed to move from the US to France with relatively few problems. Until one nice gray day (the kind one learns to call ‘nice’ in Paris during the Fall) my laptop decided that it couldn’t be bothered. And, demonstrating that it had integrated into French culture far better than me, it quit working. I had an interview the next day and desperately tried to rouse my laptop from his strike but the grève endured. And I, like many Americans before me, dealt with the insolence of the working class by demonstrating the ease at which they could be replaced.

So I strolled over to the nearest FNAC as the day brightened (slightly less gray, one would call this kind of weather ‘pretty nice’). Sure of myself and my French capability, I found my new laptop in a corner of the second floor of the huge store. Sad and alone, a mid range Asus in a sea of Macbooks, ultrabooks, and multi-thousand Euro gaming rigs on one end and cheaper-a-night-out ultrabooks, he was prepared to scab on my old HP. Negotiations were long, I stood analyzing specifications for quite a while… ‘my old laptop has a terabyte of storage, you have only 256’ ‘yes, well I am an SSD, have you seen the kind of bandwidth I provide?’ ‘that may be so but my old laptop had a high resolution screen’ ‘well that may be so but it was also inches bigger, my pixel density is greater’ ‘Well how do you justify the fact that you have merely 8GB of RAM, a mere two more than my 6 year old laptop’ ‘2 more AND a whole new generation of chip technology, DDR4 has several advantages…’ and so forth. The negotiations lasted so long that another customer believed I was an employee. And, apparently to her own great embarrassment, asked for help with a purchase… madame, je suis pas un employé ici, les employés portent des vestes orange qui disent ‘FNAC’ sur le dos…

The process of purchase was quite simple: I went to the help desk, showed the employee the one I wanted, he scanned it, took me back to his desk, filled out the order form, printed out the invoice and handed it to me, I then took it to the first floor and payed for it, the cashier gave me a new piece of paper and three receipts, then I had to go up a floor to the retrait where a man gave me a stack of papers, another receipt and finally my new laptop. Then after presenting all these receipts to security at the door, I finally had my laptop. Who said the French were inefficient?

I walk home as the day had darkened into the territory of ‘okay’ and I started to wonder if I had closed my windows…

Finally home, and just in time as it had started to rain, the standard excitement of  opening an expensive new toy began to overtake me. My old HP looked unhappily from the end of my tacky IKEA nightstand. I sliced open the box, took out the cardboard inserts protecting the laptop, wondered for a moment if I had to charge it before using, and finally plugged it in and launched into that lovely first-use setup experience. Where you begin the long process of getting familiar with something you are going to be using for a long time.

I entered my name for the first time: the first name was alright but wait, what is wrong with my last name?

It’s an AZERTY keyboard! I had totally forgotten! After a moment of panic I decided “this can’t be so bad, the Q is in the wrong place and there are some extra letters but it could be worse. The A is in the wrong place as well… And the M, the Q… Wait I have to hold shift to make a period? Where is the question mark? Why don’t I have to hold shift for the exclamation mark? Do the French use it that often? The Enter key is tiny and – Oh my God, there is a whole extra key to use the numbers on the top row… ”

My old laptop silently looked down on me with derision.

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