In Arles, the presence of levels, stages, and development, seem to be very important. I live in a three story home, and sometimes I carry on short conversations with my host mother from windows on different levels of the house. I have come to France to improve my level of French conversation, to heighten consciousness, to develop, to experience the world through a different lens, on a different stage. Last night, I had dinner with a few friends at a small restaurant called Cuisine du Comptoir.The room was filled with smooth ambience, delicate smoke, and timid glances that shifted in curious circular currents from table to table. We began to talk with two women. The woman that sat closest to me was French and Spanish, and her friend was French and Italian. Of course, in the first few minutes of our conversation we were confronted with every American stereotype known to man. (1) Americans eat horrible food, (2) All Americans are Bush supporters, (3) Americans are uptight, (4) Americans are scared. I began to wish that the women had never started talking to us, but I realized that one of the reasons that we were in France, was to combat stereotypes about Americans. We talked to the women for about an hour. We discussed the ever-present gap between the rich and the poor in France, George Bush, Iraq, Darfur, and culture. On Sunday, we went to the beach, and virtually all of my friends were shocked by the sight of women tanning on the beach without tops. This same feeling of "shock" was also present at the Music Festival last week, when many people began dancing in the middle of the street without the fear that they weren’t dancing correctly. Is American culture uptight? Are Americans uptight? Why is America so puritanical? Perhaps the women are right. America does seem to be uptight about many things. I couldn’t really imagine a bunch of people dancing in the middle of the street to a Comourian band without fear of being judged. We talked with these women for a little bit longer, and we began to talk about the difference between the Black-American experience and the Afro-French experience. In France, most of the citizens of Sub-Saharan African descent are recent immigrants, or they come from French departments (i.e. Guadeloupe). In France, you do not find a population of black citizens that share the same experience (slavery, civil rights movement) like Black Americans. We then moved on to the topic of immigration. I told them about my sociology class, and I asked them if they considered themselves immigrants. They both immediately responded that we were all immigrants, and that French citizens don’t look a certain way or have a particular "race". To be French, is to be raised or to adopt French culture. I wonder if many French share this same opinion. Interesting point of view right!? As we left the restaurant, the women told us that they wanted to show us something. Now, I must admit, this kind of worried me, especially since we’ve always been taught to avoid "strangers." The women then commented "Oh…Americans are ALWAYS afraid." So naturally, we followed. We walked a few feet away from the restaurant and the woman hunched over and looked into a small crevice that resembled a rain gutter. As we looked closely however, we noticed that there were ruins underneath the city. We walked a few more feet in the same direction and entered a hotel. There was a glass floor, and beneath it, laid a beautifully preserved Roman fountain and bath area. The area was spacious, domineering, and immediately sparks your imagination. The idea that the entire night, I had been eating dinner a few levels above Roman ruins. Levels, Stages, History. This is definitely a city without age, a city that exudes a sense of freedom and exploration– exploration of self and the fusion of past and present.
A day in Avignon. A city very close to Arles, with similar Roman ruins.
1. The View of Avignon from the Palais des Papes
2. A fellow IES student from Northwestern Univ and Me, at the Pont d’Avignon