Solo-Traveling in Paris

For my solo trip to Europe this past summer, I put Paris last. The romanticism of Paris has kept it as one of the most pristine spheres of imagery in my mind - its essence is strong enough that sights and smells outside of Paris are enough to evoke the thought of Paris. But now that Paris is much more concrete (but not any less beautiful), it’s time to set some of the romanticism aside and share some tips for those of you who stumble into Paris for the first time with a ready heart but no real preparation:

1. There is barely any English in Paris, and the French word for "exit" is "sortie"

The first thing I noticed when I got to Gare du Nord from London was that I was very lost - having known absolutely no French except merci and bonjour (and can barely pronounce either), whipping out my phone constantly to access Google translate didn’t exactly go with my constant preoccupation with my giant backpack/life supplies. So look up some basic French words to help you through with at least that initial journey from the station to your hostel, as there will barely be any bilingual signs to greet you.

2. Plan to spend at least 4 hours in the Louvre, and spend the 5 euros for an audioguide


For those of you who love (or even like) art, the Louvre is a must-go. But the place is not just huge - it is a labyrinth. I hit well beyond my 10K steps that day just strolling around and getting lost in the complex. If you don’t plan on coming back to Paris soon and want to check out the Louvre as much as possible, the 3DS game console-audioguide is incredibly informative, as it not only gives you info on art pieces but tracks your location in the museum at real-time and gives directions to art pieces you search up.

3. Walk along the Seine if you plan to walk to sites at night


The Seine is pretty much a straight line that divides Paris into a northern and a southern half, so it serves as a natural rough compass. One night I was determined to get a nighttime picture of the Eiffel Tower (see #4) after seeing it light up from the Louvre grounds, so I walked along the Seine at 10pm all the way from Notre Dame to the Tower (at the opposite end of the city) and didn’t feel unsafe once. Parisians are lovers of nighttime river revels, and the entire path was well illuminated throughout. You can’t get lost if you’re just going straight. But that said, take the time to get lost in the winding streets during the day - you'll always get to a place you want to go even if it was not your original destination.

4. Go to the Eiffel Tower at night

I was so pleasantly surprised when I stepped into the grassy clearing in front of the Tower and was greeted by a scene of people illuminated by faint street lights, some sitting on the ground drinking beer, some, but all chatting merrily. The atmosphere was very different from the capitalism of the Tower in the day. It was crowded yet intimate, and despite being alone, I felt warm.

5. To save some cash, take out from local bakeries and eat at student hang-outs

For those of you who are money-conscious (or broke), eat more meals from local bakeries. With some gesturing at a small bakery near Notre Dame, I managed to get a meal of a foot-long baguette sandwich, two croissants, and a drink that cost less than 10 euros and carried me well through my lunch-by-the-Seine and my afternoon walks.

For my last dinner in Paris, I went to a restaurant in the Latin Quarter called Chez Gladines on Saint-Germain. It was full of 20-30 year olds, but student-friendly means cheap and LARGE proportions. For around 20 euros, I basically got two meals (a pot of escargot with baguette plus a huge chicken liver salad), and that is cheap for Parisian prices. I wish I discovered the place before my last meal in Paris, but it was a great way to end my trip. Plus, you get more local color from these places than your typical tourist traps.

But lastly,

Be sure to take your time and just stand somewhere and take in the scene. There are a lot of see, but the atmosphere is one of the most prized sights of them all.

Happy Maps

In college, I always preferred taking the long route just to enjoy the scenery (Hillhouse Ave over Prospect Ave? Five minutes extra of walking is worth it on the street Charles Dickens and Mark Twain described as "the most beautiful street in America"). My friends thought me inefficient. But here, computer and social scientist Daniele Quercia think the same, and has geared his research towards building "Happy Maps" - those that not only find the shortest, most efficient route to get from point A to point B, but the happiest, most scenic, most quiet, most enjoyable one. If this ever gets made into an app, I'd definitely use it.

The Terrifying Authenticity of The Handmaid's Tale

The recent TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale has been generating a lot of buzz lately, much of which centers around the realness of the plot - the story is scary because it could actually happen. I haven't watched the show, but I just recently finished the novel, and the novel is indeed terrifying in its realness, not just because Gilead can be compared to Trump's America. Here are some thoughts on the stylistic elements Atwood uses that brings Gilead from an unlikely dystopian state to one that seems able to actually materialize.

A gradual fight over power gives time for the current government to counteract; a sudden coup eliminates any chances to react. That is what happened with the formation of Gilead, and Atwood makes this very clear. Atwood emphasizes this suddenness with the brevity she used to describe the coup: "...they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time." The transition wasn't slow; it was swift, bloody, and almost too easy. Just a couple of sentences to topple a known world, and the scapegoat given is eerily relevant to the current state of affairs. 

Atwood also offers the "why" behind Gilead's creation, near of the end of the novel, where the Commander, as one of the founding members of Gilead, argues quite matter-of-fact with the narrator that 1) Gilead gives all women equal chances of having a man and to procreate and in effect eliminates the humiliation and unfairness less attractive women could experience and 2) arranged marriages are statistically successful anyways. We do want successful marriages, and we do want equal opportunity to procreate, and yet a state created solely based on hard, matter-of-fact statistics and that does in fact achieve these "goals" is twisted and messed up.

Unlike many other dystopian novels (1984, The Hunger Games, just to name a few), this story is set in the early stages of the dystopia and explicitly tells us the events of the critical shift. The narrative is not purely in the present dystopian state, but rather connects the past and present with a terrifyingly clear turning point and some very logical reasons for the creation of the current twisted government. The connection, despite only made in a handful of sentences, along with the "practical" descriptions of Gilead's to-be, makes us believe it is all the more likely. Time to go watch the TV show and see how it recreates these powerful stylistic elements.