Christmas markets, graffiti tours, opera visits, wine tasting, Ernest Hemingway and Miss Dior

Hi everyone! I apologize for the delay between posts. My time in Paris is winding down and I have been trying to fit in as much as possible in my last few precious weeks here. Here’s what I’ve been up to!

1. Shopping! Marché aux puces, le Marais, la Gallerie Lafayette, Christmas markets on the Champs Élysées and at La Défense!

The impending holiday season has given my friends and me an excuse (not like we really need one though) to go shopping and find some good Christmas gifts for family and friends. We started off a few weeks ago by exploring the marché aux puces. As one of the largest flea markets in Paris, it has between 2,500 and 3,000 stalls set up every weekend in the northern part of the city selling antique furniture, vintage books, postcards, clothing, shoes and everything in between. Not long after arriving and beginning to explore the market did I realize that, despite the fact that the area of Paris is not the nicest, it is the kind of place where I could probably spend multiple hours searching through box after box of vintage photographs to find one that strikes my interest. We only visited about a dozen stands but I’m eager to go back and explore more of what the market has to offer and maybe come across some hidden treasure underneath all of the old luggage, armoires and shampoo bottles.

We also spent some time exploring the Marais, the Gallery Lafayette (where there’s a huge and beautiful Christmas tree in center) and the Christmas markets at La Défénse and the Champs Élysées (complete with crepes, roasted chestnuts, and hot wine!). There are Christmas lights up all throughout the city which, if it’s even possible, makes Paris look even more magical at nighttime.

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2. Graffiti Tour

Two weeks ago, I, along with two of my friends, went on a graffiti tour of Paris around the Belleville area. We braved the FREEZING temperatures to spend three hours walking around and learning about the culture of street art in Paris, which is essentially a free art form. We learned the different categories of graffiti art, including a tag (a simple stylized signature often done in a color that sharply contrasts that of its background) and a throw up or a bomb (one step up from a tag and includes one color outline and one layer of fill-color). In addition, we were able to view the work of some celebrated and well-known street artists in Paris (whose names sound like they come from video games) including Fred Le Chevalier, Invader, Zoo Project, Monsieur Chat, Gzup, Vhils and Ella and Pitr. I was surprised by how established the culture of street art in Paris is, to the point where some street artists get commissioned to put up art in certain public places around the city. We were lucky enough to see the work of Shepard Fairey, creator of the OBEY clothing brand and the Obama HOPE poster made famous during the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

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3. Opera Visit

Last weekend, Boston College brought us on a tour of the Opera Garnier! Designed as part of the reconstruction of Paris during the second empire, the opera house served as a central location for the bourgeoise of Paris during the late 19th century. People came more for the purpose of socializing and showing off than for watching the opera or the ballet. In fact, most people spent their time in the restaurant rather than in their seats watching what was happening on stage. The opera house is as opulent as the hall of mirrors in Versailles and it is adorned with huge floor-to-ceiling mirrors used by guests to eye their peers in a less conspicuous way. Additionally, many of the wealthiest visitors would eat oranges during the intermission of shows because of the fact that oranges are not grown in France and are thus very expensive and a sign of great wealth. After eating the oranges, the wealthy Parisians would return to their seats; however, the smell of citrus would linger on their fingers so that other people would know they were wealthy not only because of their clothes or the box they were sitting in, but also because the strong citrus odor would diffuse throughout the room. People could smell who was wealthy!

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One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the phantom’s box, made famous by the novel, Le Fantome de l’Opéra, which was subsequently adapted into a Broadway play.

4. Dior Exhibition

After the opera tour, some of us headed over to Le Grand Palais in order to see the Dior Exhibition before it ended. Due to the fact that the exhibition was only there for a bit over two weeks, the line was SO long. We waited for two hours (which didn’t seem so long because we each alternated walking around the corner to the Champs Elysées Christmas markets to get lunch). The exhibition focused on the relationship between art and fashion, specifically how Christian Dior represents the magic of elegance and style which is modern, but also timeless. In creating the Miss Dior brand, Christian Dior aimed to “make women more beautiful and happier.” He fostered a passion for France and its history, especially Versailles and Marie-Antoinette. The exhibition presented the work of fifteen women artists who were all inspired by the Miss Dior fragrance.

5. Paris walks – Fitzgerald, Hemigway, & Left Bank Writers of les années folles (the roaring 20s)!

Walking the old streets of Montparnasse, St. Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens, I saw where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound lived. I also peeked inside some of the famous cafés where they met in the 1920s, including the café where Gertrude Stein introduced Hemingway to Fitzgerald! We also passed by the place where Sylvia Beach originally had her famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co., which published Ulysses by James Joyce in 1922!

6. Wine Tasting

This past weekend, I participated in a wine tasting with my good friend from high school who is also studying abroad in Paris! We tasted champagne, two types of white wine, and three types of red wine. The wines we tasted come from six different regions of France including Champagne, Bordeaux, Sancerre and the Rhone. We learned about the different types of grapes grown in each region of France, how Champagne is made, and also how to differentiate between “fruity” and “oakey” flavors.