Tuesday 30 March 2010

Les Saisons Changent, mais Paris est Toujours Belle

Paris is truly an enchanting city to be in, regardless of the time of year. Winter here is usually damp, cold, wet and grey, but there is something romantic about the way the historic city’s buildings look caste in the shadows of winter afternoon light and something cozy and festive about the city. I saw snow for the first time here. Seeing it falling outside my window in the morning made my first winter wonderland a beautiful sight. The gardens were blanketed with a shiny coat of white.

I love the changing of seasons which doesn’t happen in San Diego, because it has basically the same weather year round. You definitely can’t find it snowing in January there.

When the weather is wet and cold most people want to stay inside close to a fire, but you can’t do that in Paris. There are so many great things to do indoors in this city: museums, cafes and cathedrals. Winter is a season that belongs to Parisians, which gives the city a different feel than in the summer months and can be a great opportunity to try to blend in and live like them!

Now that it’s April here spring has sprung! It’s gotten much warmer and I want to spend my days sitting by the many fountains throughout the city or strolling the big beautiful parks. The sight of new flowers and more consistent sunlight is very welcoming. There is so much to enjoy just walking the streets, such as street vendors along the Seine, farmers markets, and enjoying the thousand-year-old scenery.

The United States is such a young country compared to France. Just walking the streets of Paris is like walking through history. The architecture, cathedrals, and overall look of the city makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine dating back to the 1700s.

As beautiful as San Diego is I can’t easily walk the streets like I can in Paris. I can’t find old churches to walk into and be amazed by. I can’t find cafes or pastry shops at every corner. I really enjoy waking up in Paris every morning to walk to the corner Boulangerie/ Patisserie and buy my daily baguette or pain au chocolat. I'm definitely going to miss this!!

Monday 29 March 2010

Jour J

Omaha Beach Memorial perpetuates the memory of the American soldiers who landed there on June 6, 1944. The first waves of the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division launched out to the attack of the beach of Omaha Beach on this day.

As I looked over the cliffs at Omaha Beach, the presence of what took place here so long ago came alive to me. A strange silence filled the air and it seemed fitting. For a moment, in my mind, I felt as if I was there, a witness of that day, on D-Day. Through it, I experienced the terror, heard the roar of the heavy bombardment of the Atlantic wall fortifications, felt the land tremble as the massive movement of the special armored vehicles moved forward, and watched in horror as the enemy persisted to fight for its life against the mightiest military force that had ever been gathered in history.

It is unreal to think that such a beautiful beach was once covered in soldiers’ bodies and that its crystal blue water was once a dark red from blood. Walking down the steps, over the rocks, and along the soft sand of the beach gave me chills just thinking about it. At first I didn’t know whether to feel happy or sad, but I decided to appreciate what these people did for us and how different the world might be if they hadn’t lost their lives for us.

While the Caen peace museum captures the history, the cemetery captures the overwhelming price that was paid. As I walked through the stillness of the cemetery, a sudden chilling wind swept over the tens of thousands of graves and I shuddered at the coldness of it all.

The Normandy American Cemetery sits on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. The cemetery site contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the walls of the memorial of missing bodies, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified, however, thousands of bodies were sent back to the U.S. to be buried closer to home. A reflective pool stands in front of the memorial with a youth statue that represents the thousands of young soldiers who lost their lives that day.

I find it very fitting that France gave this land to the U.S. as a thanks for what happened throughout WWII.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Le Monde Politique

According to USelections.com, Elections for President and Vice President of the United States are indirect elections that occur every 4 years. The United States Congress, is a bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, which are chosen through direct election. Each of the 435 members of the House of Representatives represents a district and serves a two-year term. House seats are divided by the states' population. The 100 Senators serve six-year terms. Each state has two senators, regardless of population. Every two years, approximately one-third of the Senate is elected at a time.

France like the U.S. is a representative democracy. Public officials in the legislative and executive branches are either elected by the citizens or appointed by elected officials. France elects on its national head of state, the president, every five years.

Le Parlement, similar to the U.S. Congress, has two chambers, L’Assemblée Nationale and Le Sénat. L’Assemblée Nationale has 577 members, elected for a five-year term in single seat-constituencies directly by the citizens. Le Sénat has 321 members, 304 of which are elected for six-year terms by an electoral college consisting of elected representatives from each department.

Voters in America and France citizens over the age of 18 registered on the electoral rolls. In France, registration is not compulsory, but the absence of registration precludes the possibility of voting. Currently, all youths reaching the age of 18 are automatically registered. In general, voting is done using paper and manual counting. An individual walks to the ballot box and shows his voter registration card and is required to prove his identity. The ballot box is opened and the voter inserts the envelope.

According to the BBC News, The first round of voting took place on Saturday, 21 April 2007 and Sunday, 22 April 2007, which had very high turnout of 83.8%. The results of that round saw Nicolas Sarkozy getting 31% and Ségolène Royale getting 26% qualify for the second round. As no candidate obtained a majority (50 percent plus one), a second round began between the two leading candidates. The four defeated left-wing candidates, José Bové, Marie-George Buffet, Arlette Laguiller and Dominique Voynet, urged their supporters to vote for Royal. This was the first time since 1981 that Laguiller had endorsed the Socialist Party's candidate. Bayrou then declared he would not support either candidate in the runoff, and that he would form a new political party called the Democratic Movement. In the end, Royal conceded defeat to Sarkozy with 53% of the votes.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Pardon Moi

America often prides itself on being a "melting pot," where cultures of every kind come together. There are cultural celebrations to honor many different ethnicities and in general, there is a certain American pride about being multi-cultural by definition. Not only can you hear several different languages when you're out and about, but you can also hear an entirely different dialect of English depending on where in the United States you are.

Communication between individuals in America is based on a concept of time.

Americans like to get straight to the point because they live busy lives and don’t have the time to have long drawn out conversations. Most lunch breaks are 30 to 45 minutes long, so no time for chatting. Eat and get back to work.

While you will not find France to be homogenous in terms of ethnicity, the French are fiercely protective of the language and traditional French culture. While the French can certainly be described as hospitable, there is an expectation that outsiders should conform to French social customs. Parisians live a much more laid back lifestyle. During the day, when you think most people would be at work, people are chatting over drinks at a local café or taking their dog for a walk.

In France people tend to stay at a restaurant longer. They take their time eating or just meet with friends to talk over coffee or tea. The French also walk everywhere in Paris. Because there are so many people walking around the city there is a lack of personal space. But Parisians are very polite when it comes to this lack of space. If they bump into you they simple say 'pardon.'

I have noticed the French always greet you with “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” before they say anything else to you. Americans don't say hello before asking questions or making comments. This might be why the French regard Americans as rude. Like I said before, they jump straight into conversation to get their meaning across as fast as possible because of their fast paced lifestyle.

American's take their job and working life very seriously. I'm not saying the French don't either, but sometimes it's okay to just take a chill pill and relax. Enjoy a beautiful day, take notice of your surroundings, listen to and observe other people. Learn from it and live it. Life's too short to constantly live around a time schedule. Open your ears and eyes and live life to the fullest!!

Monday 8 March 2010

La Grande Mosquée de Paris

About 1,535 mosques exist in France. La Grande Mosquée de Paris ("Great Mosque of Paris"), is the largest mosque in France and the second largest in Europe. It was founded after World War I as a sign of France's gratefulness to the Muslim tirailleurs (Muslim, French soldiers) from the colonies who had fought against Germany.

Before visiting this mosque I had no idea Islam was the second religion in France, totaling about 6% of the national population. The large presence of Muslims in France began after WWII, because of an increasing foreign labor force from Maghreb. Immigrants came from nations that maintained strong ties with the French language and culture because of the legacy of past colonization. They were basically looking to be a part of the francophone culture.

These immigrants were lured by economic opportunities and supplied a pool of manpower for the labor-intensive economy during this time. They chose to settle in France and embrace citizenship. Muslims contributed noticeably to the economic expansion of France. The majority of them were blue-collar workers in manufacturing plants or construction.

What I found the most interesting was the tiled mosaics covering the walls and floors of the mosque. Each pattern is symmetrical. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of these magnificent mirrored images. I learned that these were carved by knife and individually placed by Moroccan workers. Each color tile represents an important aspect of Islamic life, such as the green represents earth, and the work of the land. This ties into the skillfulness and patience of these foreign workers.

I’m glad I got to visit the mosque because I had no idea it existed in Paris. It is a beautiful building I recommend for everyone to see. The open patio with a large fountain in the center stands as a symbol for the purity of the Islam faith. An emerald color is placed throughout the mosque adding more beauty to the experience.