Overseas Briefing

By Middlebury Campus

The number of museums in Paris will kill you. It’s enough that you could spend 100 percent of your time going to see art and never run out of things to see. This is true, too, of restaurants, pâtisseries and boutiques. You’re living in this museum of a city that’s the destination of so many wide-eyed tourists and at the heart of so many industries, yet you’re tied down to jobs and schoolwork and families, so you can’t spend 100 percent of your time keeping up with the latest art.

This cultural deluge is why major exhibitions stay open 24 hours at the end of their run. It’s why Parisians line up at 3 a.m. to see Edward Hopper at the Grand Palais or Dalí at the Pompidou. Sleep suffers, because it’s the Parisian responsibility to have seen these shows, and if you haven’t by closing weekend — tant pis, a crusty-eyed viewing it is.

A September through May stay in Paris strikes an odd, neither-here-nor-there equilibrium. It’s one-fourth of my college career — too long to ignore responsibility completely — yet still very finite. Pressure for academic and linguistic achievement is coupled with pressure to “make the most” in a way that makes neither completely attainable.

Am I Parisian enough to be required to see the Hopper and Dalí shows? Am I enough of a Middlebury student to be required to complete assignments in a timely manner? Am I American-in-Paris enough to be required to accept yet another invitation to picnic under the Eiffel Tower?

The impossibility of meeting all guidelines for “How to Live in Paris” is, coincidentally, how I learned to decide what I want. Like many Parisians, I got bogged down with all the expectations, and I had to learn to say, “Today, I’m going to go to see Sunday in the Park with George at the Châtelet Theatre because it’s the last week of the run, which means I’m not going to start that final paper that’s due in two days.

“That means that tomorrow, I’m going to stay up all night writing it, and when I’m formatting the last footnotes at 7:30 a.m., when I’m watching it get light again outside my window and I’m listening to my host family’s kids get ready for school, I’m going to decide not to go to sleep, because it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.

“I’m going to take a shower, put on clean clothes, and start my day with an Egg McMuffin and a coffee, and I’m going to sit there in that McDonald’s at 9 a.m., because that’s what I want to do. And there’s no part of me that regrets the decisions that led me here.”

In the end, I went to Dalí but skipped Hopper. I’m not crazy about Hopper, anyway, and I didn’t feel like paying for the wildly overpriced Grand Palais when I could use my Pompidou annual pass to skip the line at Dalí.

When they took the training wheels off and shipped me overseas, there were a million places to go, a million nooks to discover, a million trees worthy of climbing. The miles my big-girl bike could take me were endless, and the wind in my hair was exhilarating.

But I had to be home for dinner, and there was just no way to do it all. Not today, anyway. So I had to learn how to make decisions, how to hear myself, how to clench my toes and let my feet guide the pedals and how to forget about all the beautiful things a left turn could’ve shown me.

Written by Hannah Ostrow ’14 in Paris, FRANCE