Paris is now small and quaint.

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April 24th 2012
Published: May 3rd 2012
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Musée d'OrsayMusée d'OrsayMusée d'Orsay

I hadn't noticed before that you can look out from the clock in the wall overlooking the Seine. Sacré Coeur and Montmartre are through the left third. The two closer buildings on the right are the western edges of the Louvre.
I often feel like I’m learning the same lesson over and over. It will sneak up on me, and suddenly I’ll realize – I already learned this one! It’s not that I forget, but just that when the context is so radically different it’s hard to recognize familiar ideas.

As a teacher I should know all about this – and I understand how important it is to learn about a concept in multiple contexts and from multiple viewpoints. For example, when I’m teaching numbers I don’t just rely on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Students have to be able tell somebody their phone number and ask for prices. They have to be able to use numbers in lots of different contexts.

One of the lessons I just relearned is that expectations completely color what you see.

This was my fourth time in Paris but I felt like I was in a new city. It was quiet and clean and seemed so small and quaint. I was completely surprised. I remembered it as being overwhelming, intimidating, hot, dirty and crowded. At first, I attributed the turnaround to the season and weather.

I’ve never spent April in Paris and was
Outside the Musée d'OrsayOutside the Musée d'OrsayOutside the Musée d'Orsay

Istanbul taught me that water is for transportation. Growing up in Idaho I thought rivers were for playing on the weekend. The Seine looks more useful now that I'm not expecting all rivers to have rapids and waterfalls.
very excited about the idea. Teachers have to resign themselves to never getting to take vacations in the off-season. We have the same holidays that everybody else does and are doomed to visit Yellowstone when there are thousands of RVs trying to park by the same ranger’s station. Teaching in Turkey this year has given me some unexpected holidays, like the 23rd and 24th of April.

This was nothing like my first experience in Paris, in August, crammed in a bus with dozens of other teenagers, on a two day whirlwind tour before we were sent off to meet our host families and be exchange students for a year. April in Paris is different.

What first struck me was how much more dramatic all the familiar landmarks are when menacing purple storm clouds are looming above. The Eiffel Tower looks shiny and new when the sun comes bursting through after a shower. Clouds clustered around Sacré Coeur give it depth and extra height. The air was clear and the streets sparkled. It was not what I expected, but weather can’t make a city that I thought was overwhelming and intimidating now seem small and quaint.

My first
La Tour EiffelLa Tour EiffelLa Tour Eiffel

Another wonderful part of this trip is my new travel buddy, Alison.
time in Paris I was coming from Boise, Idaho, and the second time from Villeneuve, in southern France. Saying that those two places are small and calm compared to Paris is a gross understatement. Paris was a shock.

This time I am coming from Istanbul. After eight months in a massive city spread over two continents, with 19 million people whose language I do not speak, moved around by multiple transportation systems, I have different expectations.

I now expect getting somewhere to take longer than I think it should. I expect to not be able to communicate with the people around me. I expect there to be so many people that I won’t get a seat on the bus. I expect people to do things that seem completely illogical to me, and for them to think that what I do is illogical too. I expect to be lost often and not know what I’m ordering in restaurants. I expect the sidewalks to be covered with trash and the roads to be have unmarked hazards. I expect to see stray cats and dogs everywhere I turn. I expect to be surprised by the clothes people wear. That has all
Notre DameNotre DameNotre Dame

Alison and I are used to taking ferries to get around Istanbul, so a pass on the Batobus was more logical to us than a metro pass. It was one of the best decisions we made and I loved the two day pass that got us all over the city.
become normal, and therefore to be expected.

The first time I was taught that expectations color everything was during my interview for the Peace Corps. The staff also were concerned about our expectations during training. I didn’t know much about Morocco and didn’t think that I had any expectations. Even though I was taught to pay attention to my expectations, it took a long time for the lesson to really sink in.

It takes me several months, sometimes longer, to feel comfortable in a new place, to feel like I know what is going on and what to expect. I am now learning just how much those expectations stay with me. When I went home to Boise after two years in Morocco I expected people to be multilingual. Even though I knew that my friends and family were not, I expected it from the population at large, since that was what I was used to in Morocco.

Now I’m learning that my expectations change as I adapt to new environments and become a part of where I live. I almost shudder to think of myself as a part of Istanbul, but mostly because I don’t want this
Le Pont Alexandre IIILe Pont Alexandre IIILe Pont Alexandre III

Seeing Paris from the water I now realize how beautiful the bridges are. They are great works of art, but I still think the clouds make the picture.
to be a permanent home. On the other hand, I feel proud that I now expect there to be world-famous musicians performing at least once a week here. I expect that whenever I have a few hours to spare I can visit an interesting museum or ancient historical monument. I expect to see unfamiliar styles of clothing and an eclectic mix of fashion. I am happy to take for granted that I will see the stunning skyline of the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapı Palace.

Not that my expectations made the skyline of the Eiffel Tower or Sacré Coeur any less impressive. I was still delighted and amazed by everything I saw in Paris. What I really learned in April in Paris is that as long as I keep growing and changing, learning new things and seeing from different points of view, even places I thought I knew look different. Everything can be continually new and amazing as long as I keep learning to look at it through new angles.

Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Le Jardin des TuileriesLe Jardin des Tuileries
Le Jardin des Tuileries

The dust and heat of August is a world away from the tulips of April.
Green TreesGreen Trees
Green Trees

The quiet, clean and calm Paris has beautiful trees lining the boulevards of St. Germain-des-Prés. After a long, gray winter in Istanbul, this was so refreshing.
Ile de la CitéIle de la Cité
Ile de la Cité

In 2005 I visited this park with my parents. It is only thing I saw on this trip that still looks the same to me.

This bookshop is more magical every time I visit. Alison pointed out the inscription above the stairs "Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise."
Sacré CoeurSacré Coeur
Sacré Coeur

A fun travel companion can really make a trip. A travel companion who will stand up on a pedestal and kiss a mime is a keeper. (This is post-kiss and he's looking for something to clean his white makeup off her.)
L'Arc de TriompheL'Arc de Triomphe
L'Arc de Triomphe

"Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit, il y a tout ce que vous voulez au Champs Elysées." Even though it was raining, I was on vacation in Paris and everything was magnificent.
Sous la pluieSous la pluie
Sous la pluie

Musée Quai du Branly had a very timely exhibit on rain and a spectacular art installation of a flowing river of words. The museum's permanent collections are amazing artifacts from native cultures around the world.
a Turkish presenta Turkish present
a Turkish present

I used to think of the Obelisk as a gift from Egypt to France. Now when I read that it was given by the Ottoman viceroy in Egypt, Mehmet Ali, I realize that it was taken from Luxor by the Turks and given to France.
La LibertéLa Liberté
La Liberté

I have loved this painting since I first studied it in high school. I love to see the romantic ideal of liberty front and center, with the messy details left in the shadows.
Winged VictoryWinged Victory
Winged Victory

Besides La Liberté, my other favorite art in the Louvre is the Winged Victory, simply because there is a replica in the Idaho capital building in Boise. It was a gift from France after WWII and arrived in Boise in 1949.
Le Louvre de NapoleonLe Louvre de Napoleon
Le Louvre de Napoleon

When I visited Dolmabahaçe Palace in Istanbul it looked like they were trying to copy the Louvre. Now that I go back and see Napoleon's apartments it seems even more obvious. I think Istanbul wanted to be Paris in the 1850s.
Parisian SkylineParisian Skyline
Parisian Skyline

No matter how many cities I visit or what I'm comparing it to, the Parisian skyline, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower, will always be magnificent.

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