Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Coffee with the Existentialists

Okay, Dr. Nell and I are both posting independently now because we are having so much fun.

The trip is now in full swing. Yesterday was a great day. We visited the Montparnasse Cemetery to visit the graves of Alfred Dreyfus, Jean Paul Sarte and Simone de Beauvoir. Each of those figures played central roles in the readings of the course and it was amazing to actually visit the graves. One of the objectives of the course is to make the readings real and the visit to Montparnasse does just that.

In the cemetery, we also discussed the Franco Prussian war and the Paris Commune. Once again, the material comes alive when you are actually standing in front of a monument memorializing those events. One of the student’s parents joined us at the cemetery. One of the fun parts of the trip is when students’ friends and family are able to join us for a day. Last year, the brother of one of the student’s showed up. It is incredible to be drinking coffee with your parents in Paris.

After the visit to the cemetery, we went to the Café de Flore, where the existentialists liked to hang out. We divided the class into groups, who bought coffee and discussed the idea of change in society and the class of conflicting social forces. Later in the day, the students wrote their first reflection papers, comparing the competing social forces in France in the age of Dreyfus to competing social forces in other time periods.

At night, we got to participate in the Music Festival. On June 21, the longest day of the year, there is a city-wide music festival. Basically there are people playing music on every street corner and there must be a million people in the street. It is quite an event. The students fanned out across the city to partake in the fun.

Now, on a personal note, what’s up with the bathrooms in French hotels? Okay European hotel rooms are small. I get that. And I don’t even mind hand-held showers. But they can’t add six inches to the shower stall and six inches between the edge of the toilet and the wall. I mean, come on. Otherwise, the hotel we are at, the Alhambra, is very decent. The rooms are a decent size (which means there is actually floor space in most rooms after people bring in their luggage) and the public areas are very nice. The breakfast if pretty standard and some of the students have taken to eating breakfast at the cafe on the corner. They look very French sitting at their sidewalk tables.


  1. Well, re: the hotel bathrooms. The buildings that French hotels are situated in were not originally hotels. They were private residences. So, at some point, these apartments were split into hotel rooms. Also, water is expensive here, so I think that making the shower comfortable and conducive to long showers is not a priority!

  2. Well, maybe not for them but...