At Long Last, A Local Foreigner

By: Miriam Friedman

Street performers dazzle with music near the Louvre. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

It’s easy to fall in love with the external beauty of Paris, but it’s much more difficult to feel like you belong within it. For an ex-pat, the European customs seem strangely unfamiliar—the double-cheeked kisses, and late dinners a new and, at first, uneasy adjustment. But once these conventions become routine, it is hard to imagine life without them. In due time, both body and soul normalize to this behavior. What remains is a beautifully impure amalgam: an American disguised as a Frenchwoman.

As I leave in the morning, the first feeling of welcome does not come from speaking French. “Bonjour,” “Merci,” and “Au Revoir” are enough to communicate on a basic level, and smiles and hand gestures fill in the gaps for locals who don’t speak more English than I do French. Yet somehow, in the space between these comedic gesticulations, I have gotten to know some of the locals on the city streets. Seeing them is my symbol of “good morning.” Walking from the same Metro station every day, the familiar smiles transform into chitchat, and a kinship is born.

After learning the fundamental pleasantries, becoming French is accompanied by an awareness of the surroundings. The man in the fruit shop on the corner knows me by name, and already guesses which item I will reach for when I enter his store: the bright green apples. I’ve found the perfect place to purchase a warm croissant, and the type of coffee that goes best with it (espresso, of course.) I no longer let the baker surprise me with his choice of pastry; I’ve tried so many that I know which is my personal favorite.

Though the city stretches for only nine miles from east to west, it is easy to get lost. The endless alleys make it difficult to find my way without a map. Though I know now that locating the Seine means finding the trail that can lead me home, I do not choose to go there just yet. Wandering forward, I pass bridges, performers, vendors, and landmarks like the Church of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

I don’t look at my watch, and I don’t monitor how long I stand before each of them. I love the smell of butter and chocolate that radiates through the air, and the cool breeze that blows my hair in more directions than I can count. I take in the moment. The absurdity of placing so many wonderful properties along a single path only makes me smile.

Tourists gather before the Louvre. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

With no fixed destination in mind, I take yet another step forward. I find myself walking through the arches toward the Louvre. I stand at a distance and watch as the tourist throngs take the same picture pinching the museum’s pyramid tip. I feel no need to do the same, and instead enjoy observing the people gather as I hear them speaking more languages than I can discern. Like me, these people came from across the globe to see Paris in all its glory. I continue onward as I wonder what secrets they have found, and hope that I will continue to find more of my own.

Eiffel tower at Night. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

Despite its perception as cliché, the best part about Paris is still the Eiffel tower at night. As I lay down on the lawn before it, my body sinks into the bed of grass. Somehow, lying beside the monument makes my fears and worries disappear into the ether. I realize that Paris is no longer a forlorn dream; it is my reality.

On my walk back to the ninth arrondissement, I pass my greengrocer on the street. “La Bise” is the greeting that seems most appropriate.  We exchange “Bonsoirs” and go our separate ways. It is 7 p.m., but my body no longer hungers for dinner; it knows the meal is not coming until later.

I have come a long way since my first step off the plane into the city of light. Though today, my body has left Paris, I’m not sure that Paris will ever leave me.

The Purposeful Flâneur

Although I don’t normally find dogs that cute, there was something about the large, white one lazing outside a pharmacy on Avenue Ledru-Rollin, leashed to the sidewalk. Maybe it was his glowing fur that drew me to him, or his cat-like disinterest in his surroundings. I knelt down to pet him. His downy softness so surprised me that I spoke to him, cooing in amazement. “You’re such a cute dog! Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”

Suddenly, I became aware that I was not alone. I sensed someone walking a few meters away, and I was embarrassed immediately. I hopped up and sped off, hoping I would never have to face the witness to my shameful condescension of a canine.

For me, it is not easy to flâneur, to wander a city aimlessly, hoping only to encounter some excitement or adventure. This is because we are not aimless people; we do not exist outside of the anxiety of living in this world. This Saturday, I tried to flâneur, but as the cliché goes, life got in the way.

We started at our hotel, le Grand Pigalle, and wandered along the Boulevard de Clichy. We stopped in at one of the many sex shops that mark this street, hoping to find, in true flâneur fashion, nothing in particular. Yet once we entered, purpose found us. Though we had no interest in purchasing any item, we found ourselves pushing around hangers, admiring the merchandise, checking sizes and price tags. I overheard reggaeton playing on the radio and found myself doing interviews for my project. In entering the store, we created a new purposes and brought with us old ones. We could not simply wander; we needed a raison.

We turned uphill, deciding this might bring us into Montmartre, or perhaps to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral. As we turned onto a busy block, the tight grip of consumerism took hold. I suddenly became obsessed with the need to buy gifts. I needed to buy a bottle of wine for my sister – she is turning 25 next week. I buy my mother a pair of earrings on every trip I go on—I couldn’t possibly return without her traditional gift. We entered store after store, and I perused the inventories intensely.

Once I had found what I needed, we decided we must eat lunch, although neither of us was particularly hungry. Suddenly, all we could see was restaurants. In this moment, there was nothing else for us but to decide where to eat. Once we had chosen, calm finally settled upon us. We ate luxuriously and people-watched. Yet I had somewhere to be, so we cut our seated flâneuring short and rushed to the metro station. On our way, some bridesmaids invited us to sing with a bachelorette party, and we found a treasure-ridden flea market – but no, there wasn’t time. I had to go do a final interview for my project.

Perhaps it’s just me. Perhaps others can truly wander, forgetting temporarily the limitations of being a person in the world. But it doesn’t mean that I am immune to serendipity. Purpose brings us places, moves us forward. Unexpected encounters come along the way. I don’t like to take walks, but I still love to walk.

A Room Full of Strangers

It took me a few days to get used to Paris’ metro system. The idea is simple: buy a ticket, enter it into the turnstile, retrieve it, walk through, and then ride your train. But the details make it tough: the turnstile may lock if you take too long, it might eat your ticket and refuse to open the door, you might have accidentally taken the north train when you were supposed to take the south (something I did many times), or you may leave something on the train and only realize when it’s too late.

These worries flood my mind each time I step underground. On this particular day I board the number six train on the way to the Eiffel Tower. I run onto the car before the doors close and I clutch the grimy, cold metal bar for balance. Eventually a seat opens up and I take my place. I hear a dull quietness that can only come from a room full of strangers. It baffles me how so many people with one common destination cannot find anything in common to talk about. They would rather ignore each other and stare at nothing till their stop arrives. The sterile silence is suffocating.

Then at the next stop, one more stranger steps on. The elderly man wears a white beard and brown hat. He brings in a large stereo system and an accordion, says his greetings with a loud “Bonjour,” and then puts his instruments on full blast while singing. Before I can catch myself, I find my foot tapping and my head nodding. But I quickly stop myself, because I knew the drill. I have been on enough metro rides in Paris to know that these unsolicited singers are to be ignored. But off to the left of me two Parisian children, delighting in the happy tunes, dance and jump around anyway. And I cannot help but agree with their enthusiasm.

I nod again to the beat of his music. He sings in French words I have no hope of understanding. And yet, I feel his emotion. He expresses a kind of mournful delight, one that only comes after having accepted the nature of one’s loss, and then finding some happiness in continuing onward. He wears disappointment and joy all at once. As if he has accepted the bland truth of this metro full of silent strangers, and has decided to move on happily with it just as the train car moves on around us. As if he has long known all the minor fears I have about using the metro, but got on anyway. And just like that the man brought delight to my quiet, scary car. I feel indebted to him.

I pull out some spare euros and I happily offer my payment. He thanks me.

But then I watch as the old man walks down the car and not a single other person does the same.

I understand the logic of it; the man is a panhandler after all. But were these Parisians still not delighted by the brief minute of joy he brought to this world of silence? Apparently not, because after a few moments the old man leaves our car in a tired huff, likely preparing for his next thankless song.

Paris in the Sun

By Iris Samuels

A day in Paris is often measured by the sky. Clouds turn it melancholy and brooding, force you into a state of contemplation that brings to mind Rodin’s statue of the Thinker. A blue-skied day, on the other hand, nudges you into constant delight; turns you giddy at the mere opportunity to walk the age-old sidewalks and soak in the city’s timeless glamour.

The perfect day to wander Paris begins with the sun. Awake early on a clear March day to breath in the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafting out of just-opened boulangeries; watch the sun paint the streets, touching first the rooftops and slowly progressing to paint the rest of the buildings. In a single run, you can cover hundreds of years of French history. The Louvre brings you back to the Middle Ages, when it was home to French royalty. The Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral was completed in the 14th century. But the runners are pure 21st century, with their brand name shoes and headphones. As a runner, you can almost forget you are a tourist – there is no distinguishing between the sweat of an awe-struck foreigner and that of a jaded local.

Running or jogging is perhaps the only way to earn the rights to the best French culinary delights. After a run, a croissant is not a sin, but a necessity. Finding the best croissant in Paris is quite the challenge, considering the city has hundreds of patisseries. But those served in the Grand Pigalle Hotel in the ninth arrondissement are pretty close to perfection. They come from the neighboring Le Pétrin Médiéval patisserie. Order a cappuccino and dip the croissant into the delicate ceramic cup, while staring at the awakening city along Rue Victor Massé. This neighborhood is filled with the aesthetic pleasures of the bohemian bourgeoisie, who often dress up even when they are just walking their dogs.

Croissant and Coffee in Grand Pigalle Hotel. (Iris Samuels)

Following this luxurious breakfast, head down to the Saint Georges metro station and ride to the Solférino station. Emerge onto the bustling Boulevard Saint Germain and make a turn onto Rue de Bellechasse. Musée d’Orsay, site of the best impressionist collection in the world, makes an appearance under the dazzlingly blue sky. This building once held a train station, and still bears large clocks on its exterior façade. Get in line along with a mixture of Parisians and foreigners, all eager to explore the art within. If you arrive early, you will have the luxury of exploring the halls when they are relatively empty. This popular museum fills quickly, but even when the galleries are bustling, they retain their charm.

Musings in Musée d’Orsay. (Iris Samuels)

If you are lucky, the museum will feature one of its rotating curated exhibits, which bring together art from across the world. On this particular day, an exhibit titled Beyond Stars: The Mystical Landscape fills the northern hall of the museum. Meander through the rooms to discover the connection between landscapes a spirituality, and end, fittingly, with a room entirely devoted to paintings of the sky. From Claude Monet to Georgia O’Keefe, this is a reminder of the pleasure of art museums – they tell us something about a world we dream to live in, one where aesthetics are the ruling force of nature, where delighting in small details, such as the color of the sky, is like a croissant after a run – never a sin, always a pleasure.

As the sun peaks in the sky, this is no time to remain indoors. Find a boulangerie along one of the side streets and select your favorites: quiche au fromage, pain aux noisettes, tarte au chocolat, flan de coco. Wander to the nearby Seine, where outdoor lunch spots abound. Taking a seat on the Pont des Arts will afford prime people watching: fashionable Parisians enjoying their dejeuner can be seen in anything from bell-bottom jeans to white floor-length frocks.

On the Right Bank, walk through the courtyards of the Louvre. As the sun streams through the glass pyramid, the museum’s shadowy indoor halls do not beckon, but its archways offer free classical music by violinists who just might be the city orchestra’s soloists in a few years. Offer them a few spare coins in exchange for a personalized performance of your favorite composers. In this moment, you are like the royalty who once inhabited this palace – master of all, ruled by none.

The famous glass-and-steel pyramid that has now become a symbol of the grand museum was once the topic of hot political and aesthetic debate. It is a beacon of modernity inside the court of classic French style. Does it steal the limelight away from the quintessential French architecture, or perhaps does it cast it in a newly amplified limelight? Pause to watch other tourists take photos with their hands posed to mimic holding the pyramid in their hands, or perhaps leaning against their palms. Many of these visitors can no longer divorce the old from the new. To them, they are fused together, a legacy of paupers and princes.

Musée du Louvre on a sunny day. (Iris Samuels)

Wander up through the bustling streets of the first arrondissement. For an afternoon coffee, stop at the ZA, where your order will literally zoom to you on an electronic line. Located at the site of Les Halles, formerly the fresh food market of Paris, this trendy place brings together young Parisians for cheap coffee. Here is another reminder that Paris isn’t just a collection of old buildings: it is forever changing, a mass of glass and steel, of marble and human minds, a bustling hive of musicians and bankers and thinkers and losers. There are just as many beggars as there are street musicians. But an afternoon coffee always seems to accentuate the beauty of sunrays on soot-covered rooftops.

Back on the Left Bank, if you walk long enough along Boulevard Saint Michel you will reach Jardin du Luxembourg, where the setting sun turns the sky a pastel shade of pink. Children push around boats in the pool located in front of the Senate building. No glass, no steel. Some pastimes never get old – even with an iphone in your back pocket, the age-old pleasure of wooden stick against miniature vessel, of the French ship racing against the American one in a contest that has no stakes, never diminishes.

A day in Paris is often measured by the sky. Hold your breath as the sun dips into the space between Tour Montparnasse and Tour Eiffel. In this moment, Paris is everything you could ever hope for: brutally modern, and hopelessly romantic.

Sunset in Jardin du Luxembourg. (Iris Samuels)

Daydream in Blue

By Mariachiara Ficarelli

The couple makes its way across the Pont des Arts with arrogance.

Their movements are a calculated dance – a celebration of the fact that with every step they take, more and more eyes linger on them. With a slow, symmetrical grace, they navigate their way across the bridge.

The man and the woman both have shoulder-length brown hair. They are wearing matching denim and black leather outfits that accentuate their long, thin bodies. Their faces are hidden behind large dark glasses. They move with the confidence of people who know they are beautiful. And beautiful they are.

Caught in their aura, I forget where I am. The façade of the Louvre and the people sitting along the riverbanks of Île de la Cité fade away. For a moment, all that exists in Paris are these two elegant figures, with intertwined fingers, and a pale blue horizon. Their seduction is in their anonymity. The possibilities are infinite. My brain begins spinning stories. Are they film stars, models or lovers?

They disappear. Their presence lingers. A void forms in between the zigzagging tourists. I walk into it.

I am eager to leave the wide sidewalks next to the expanse of buildings that make the Louvre. A traffic light halts my march. I notice a young woman sitting on the back of a Vespa at the crossing. She is wearing a bright pink coat. Her face is familiar. I know her. Or at least I think I do. Before I can decide, the Vespa zooms off. I am left unsure. Pedestrians stream around me as the lights change. I melt into the crowd.

I walk briskly. I move towards the third arrondissement, taking a diversion to avoid the Saturday afternoon shoppers at Les Halles. I find myself in the Marais, with café tables spilling onto the sidewalks filled with a mix of locals and tourists sipping coffees, enjoying being en plein air (in open air) on this warm, spring afternoon.

I look up at the top-floor apartment windows, glinting in the sun. I remember staying in one as a little girl. The apartment was above a boulangerie and every morning my mother would buy fresh baguettes to eat with the strawberry jam. I am not sure where exactly this apartment was. I know it is somewhere in this area. I keep turning down side streets with the hope of stumbling across the building. I tell myself I will recognize it. But the likelihood is that I have already passed it.

I feel alone. I shiver slightly as a breeze whips my ankles. A skirt was an overeager decision, the desire for summer. I am filled with memories of my last visit to this city. I yearn to once again have tiny hands that grip eagerly those of my parents, to follow blindly and not have to think about how to find my way back to the hotel.

Oh, how Paris makes you dream.

The apartment windows of Parisian buildings. Photo by Mariachiara Ficarelli.

The Unknown Importance of Marie Antoinette’s Chairs

By: Miriam Friedman

Chairs for display in the dining room of the Chateau. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

Not all chairs are meant for sitting. In the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s private estate within Versailles, the chair is the key to discovering some of the chateau’s deepest secrets. Though this piece of furniture exits in nearly every room of a home, its significance is often overlooked; but each piece has a story to tell—one which is not always as simple as it may first appear.

The Petit Trianon was originally built by Louis XV at the request of his mistress, Madame de Pompidou. Because it took several years to construct, it was the king’s next mistress, Madame du Barry, who first inhabited it. Years later, when Louis XVI was crowned, he gave the outpost to his beloved wife, Marie Antoinette, who took elaborate care in redesigning her new home. Though she only came here for fifteen days at a time, this location was dearer to her than her official place in the main palace.

Today, in a museum where a “do not touch” sign is a fixture at the entrance of every doorway, it is difficult for most visitors to discover the guarded mysteries of this historic chateau. Stepping against the red-roped barricade evokes a high-pitched squeak, indicative of an obstacle that has long kept people away from these secrets. But with the help of the chief curator, Bertrand Rondot, these enigmas are beginning to unravel.

At the chateau, chairs are a central adornment in almost every room. Nevertheless, only a small number of them were used traditionally as seats. Many of them have intricate carvings on their base meant for spectators to see. What, then, was their purpose?

Chair with Marie Antoinette’s insignia. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

Many of these chairs were carved to simulate a position of status and power. Looking closely, it is possible to see that some of the chairs have an insignia of the monarch. When Marie Antoinette took control of this location, she ordered that these chairs be reworked to bear her own symbol, “M.A.” While furniture is usually registered in files with a specific traceable number, Marie Antoinette destroyed her private “garde-meuble,” or storage locker, where these records were kept to prevent the palace headquarters from finding out how much she spent on this elaborate commission.

Chief curator Betrand Rondot reveals embroidery beneath the cover of the chair. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

Of course, some chairs were indeed made for utilitarian purposes. Though much of the furniture on display was brought from other chateaux of the period, some of the pieces are originals. Many of the embroidered cushions are likely to have been sat on by Marie Antoinette and her visitors. But these too carry a secret. Though it is difficult to notice, all the cushioned chairs have covers, ones which only the curator can handle. Pulling back these layers of protection reveals intricate handmade embroidery that is now seldom exposed to protect it from light.

Chateau curator, Betrand Rondot revealing the writing beneath the chair. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

During the French revolution,  the furnishings within the home were removed or destroyed. When officials chose to restore the home, they found many of these pieces. The chairs were one of the largest moving pieces that helped historians discern the nature of each room. With the help of Mr. Rondot, it is possible to see that the bottom of the chairs is marked with letters and numbers. For example, one displays “C.T. N#78, 20” which means Chateau Trianon, room seventy-eight, one of twenty pieces of this model made. By looking at the clues on these chairs, experts have been able to reconstruct the layout of the home.

Chair in the dining room. Photograph by Miriam Friedman

Each chair has unique relevance, and tells the story of the room it occupies.  Chairs change the posture of the actors, and can portray them as weak and insecure, or powerful and confident. By commissioning the chairs that she did, Marie Antoinette was making a point about the tone of each room.  From displaying power, to imbuing the room with a unique atmosphere, the over 50 different types of chairs play a significant role in recreating the grand masterpiece of this private chateau.

Marie Antoinette’s chairs tell the unspoken tale of her private residence in Versailles. They are written about in few history books, but they play an integral role in understanding the life of a prominent queen, and the settings that she worked meticulously to construct. They are the forgotten secrets that escape the dialogue of a well-remembered palace.

The Path of an Unconventional Leader: Catherine Pégard

By: Miriam Friedman

Catherine Pégard. Photograph by

Catherine Pégard is a strong leader who has taken an unconventional path. Whereas most French officials steadily move through the system until they reach a position of authority, Pégard has managed to do something completely different. From journalist, to political advisor, and now, to president of the Palace of Versailles, this pioneer has changed occupations throughout her journey. But more than her professional success, it is her open-minded approach which makes Pégard a leader to admire.

From the start, Pégard was ambitious and determined. In 1982 at age 28, she moved from her birthplace in Le Havre to Paris to follow her journalistic aspirations. After thirteen years at Le Point Magazine, she was promoted to editor, and continued in that position until 2007. During her time at Le Point, Pégard met the young and motivated Nicolas Sarkozy—then only a young French politician—with whom she developed a close friendship. The two had great respect for one another, and when Sarkozy was elected President, he asked Pégard to join his team as an advisor. She agreed, knowing that this likely meant leaving journalism forever.

Immediately, Pegard’s mentality changed. She closed herself off from the press network she spent decades developing, and refused nearly every request for an interview. “An advisor is nothing and everything,” she said in an interview with Princeton students on Thursday, March 23. In this shift, she moved from the outside of politics as her own boss, to the inside of government as a public servant. At the Élysée Palace, she was a link to the people in a different way, but in one that she still considered vital.

The palace of Versailles. Photograph by Australian Western Front

Today, Pégard has a title of her own. As president of Versailles, Madame La Presidente is finally herself in charge of a vast array of people and departments. Over 1,000 employees of Versailles report to her; she makes the effort to meet everyone from the tens of security members in the palace, to the nine “fountaineers” who fix the fountains on the garden grounds. Though she can choose to involve herself in a purely administrative role, this is not her personality. She insists on personally insuring that the palace is pristine for the 7.5 annual visitors

As a woman, Pégard has surpassed still more challenges. She worked hard to rise to the top at a time when females where not considered equals. She admitted that today, it is much easier to be a woman in power. “The most important things have been done,” she says. Thanks to her success, others can look to follow this unorthodox trajectory.

To the French, Pégard’s path is bizarre. “Here, when you are a journalist, you stay one,” she says. But though her transitions have been atypical, Pégard believes her roles have not been mutually exclusive. She maintains that the qualities of “curiosity and innovation” that she learned as a journalist have forced her to look at situations more critically.

Now at age 63, Pégard feels as lucky as ever in her “sub-life.” Even at Versailles, she looks at her job as “always doing something different.” Like in her other positions, she admits that when she arrived at Versailles it was foreign to her, but that now she knows it well. “Versailles is more than just a museum,” she says. “It lives in the twenty-first century as it did before. But there is still so much to learn.” With this mindset, Pégard hopes that she will stay here for years to come, learning and growing with the history of her new home.

Defining “chic”


Courtesy of Typhaine Augusto, 2016.

Typhaine Augusto started blogging because she was shy as a child, and because growing up in Southern France was boring. Her current blog, Cuillèrie à Absinthe (“Absinthe Spoon” in English), has thousands of followers, and has been featured in multiple publications. Augusto’s Twitter has over 4,000 followers, and her Instagram almost 14,000.

Augusto was born in Paris, but moved soon after to the south of France for her parents’ work. Growing up in the south of France gave Augusto the push she needed to start her first blog at eleven years old. She studied photography in college, and wanted to be a fashion photographer for a long time. Then, she realized she wanted to be in front of the camera. She has not looked back since then.

Now, in Paris’s Montmartre, the 25-year-old is a stylist, a professional blogger, and a part-time DJ. Augusto has the model-like quality of appearing young and mature and ageless all at once. A bob of bright orange hair frames her smooth-skinned face. An A-line of bangs covers her forehead. Today, she sported a tight-bodied white turtleneck sweater, covered by white jean overalls. A large hoop earring dangled from each ear.

Augusto is famous for her use of colors and her tomboyish looks, as well as for incorporating “Asiatic aesthetics” into her styling. Augusto has long been a huge fan of Asian fashion, particularly Korean style elements. “They have a kind of no-gender trend,” said Augusto. “Many Parisians will embrace the ‘tomboy style,’ but they will always make sure to have something feminine to balance it out—feminine shoes, or accessories, for example.”

Augusto wants to break the Parisian tradition of conforming certain fashion items or looks to the gender binary. In France, women wear “feminine” outfits. Men wear “masculine” ones. “They [Korean style elements] gave me the confidence to wear these outfits,” she said. By “these outfits,” Augusto was referring to ones that could be worn easily by both men and women.

Most of Paris cares about fashion, to some degree, Augusto said. To wear sweatpants out to the street gives others the impression that no effort has been put into appearing in a public space. “It’s not really chic,” Augusto said. When asked to define “chic,” the fashion blogger paused for a little before saying, “It is definitely a feminine thing…but it means that you thought about this before presenting it.”

Most of Paris, however, is still not comfortable with “androgyny” as a fashion sense. This philosophy of breaking the gender binary in fashion leads Augusto to call herself a “mixed girl. She dislikes when people expect her to “dress a certain way.”

Augusto is also a big fan of feminist literature, citing Virginia Woolf as her favorite author. Augusto’s style icons, too, are ones with obvious feminist agendas: Tavi Gevinson, founder of the fashion blog Style Rookie; Léandra Medine, founder of the lifestyle website Man Repeller; and Simone de Beauvoir, the twentieth century feminist intellectual and writer. “I’m just so fascinated by how women were treated and viewed in the past,” Augusto said. “How they were completely left out.”

To prove her point on double standards in fashion, Augusto once conducted a social experiment. She went to two parties in one night, both with similar groups of people, and with people whom she knew relatively well. For one, she wore high heels and a typical, feminine outfit. For the other, she dressed down for a “chill” look with overalls and a t-shirt. “The difference was huge,” Augusto said. At the first party, “people said hi and complimented me, my outfit. At the other party, people just ignored me.” Augusto shrugged and shook her head.

Courtesy of Typhaine Augusto, 2016.

Augusto is not only aware of the unspoken dress codes for women, but also with how similar restrictions can apply to race. “I have a friend who is black, and when he wears sweatpants, people will think he is a…bad boy. He has to dress well so that people don’t think that.” In contrast, Augusto said, when her white friends wear sweatpants, nobody thinks twice.

In her free time, Augusto has taken up acting and singing classes. Her blog has expanded to more than just fashion. She wants to show off the artistic world of Paris from more than simply the lens of fashion. Given this mission, perhaps it is not surprising that Augusto has started to find Paris’s annual fashion week “boring.”

“It is spending a lot of time for something not that interesting,” she said. “I can see it all on the Internet.”


The Many Faces of Versailles


(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.

Bertrand Rondot is head curator at the Palace of Versailles. Rondot is an expert in the decorative arts, and specializes in the history of the furniture and artistic pieces of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France. Marie Antoinette was also the last inhabitant of Petit Trianon. Although Petit Trianon was built in the 1760s by Louis XV for his official mistress, the small chateau later became the residence of Marie Antoinette, the proper wife of Louis XVI. Situated behind tall trees and at the end of an almost-fifteen-minute walk from the main palace, Petit Trianon became a sanctuary for the queen, away from the public scrutiny of life as royalty.

(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.

The architect of Petit Trianon, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, was famous for his use of the Neoclassical style, as well as his innovativeness. One example of Gabriel’s creativity is situated on a wall where the stairs turn direction between the two ground floors. The face of Medusa is molded onto the white stone, at once startling and subtle in its low relief. Usually, such a feature would be found on the exterior of a building. Rondot remarked that Jacques used “the vocabulary of outdoor architecture” and then brought it indoors.

(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.

Other odd and even grotesque faces make their appearances throughout the rooms and bedrooms of Petit Trianon. A coin-sized lion-man face on the stem of a lavender vase. A gold-leaf baby bearing two elephant-trunk-like candleholders. Still other contorted or displeased faces are painted into the artworks that hang all throughout the chateau’s bedrooms. Perhaps, however, the most surprising and interesting face is the one that dominates the king’s room itself.

(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.
(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.

The face in question here indeed dominates the design of the room. Louis XVI’s bedroom at the Petit Trianon is lined with Chinese-inspired prints. Today, as with the other rooms in Petit Trianon, modern textiles recreate the originals in the king’s bedroom. The cushioned walls, the cushioned chairs, and the entire bedspread from curtains to pillow covers are covered with a silk red print that bears small figures of a Chinese man. On the left side of the room is a cabinet with Chinese-styled images on the front.

(C) Lavinia Liang, 2017.

“As you know, the French are very reactive to new ideas,” Rondot said with a faint smile. What he initially meant was reactionary, that the French can be slow in accepting new ideas. But reactive works, too. Rondot related how East-West cultural exchanges became more and more prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries: “For example, when they [the French] saw them [Indians] wearing white muslin robes, suddenly the European women were wearing them, too!”

A Fisher Of Men

By Katherine Trout

Antoine Laurent, one of the SOS Mediterranee rescuers. Photo courtesy of AFP / Gabriel Bouys.


PARIS, FRANCE – When Antoine Laurent was learning to sail on the beaches of Brittany, he never imagined he would use those skills to save thousands of drowning immigrants from the banks of Libya. But all that and more is in 25-year-old Laurent’s job description at SOS Mediterranee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving the lives of fleeing migrants in the ongoing European Refugee Crisis.

Laurent grew up in the coastal French region of Brittany with a love of the sea in his blood. Influenced by his father’s job as a skipper, Laurent began sailing at the age of five. But that’s no surprise for a Brittany native. “It’s quite common for people from Brittany to stay connected to the sea,” he says.  As Laurent sharpened his sailing skills, he never forgot the sea. For him, the sea was a source of escape and contemplation. “It’s a nice place to think, step back.”

At the age of 17, Laurent decided to make the sea a part of his lifelong career. He began his studies at Le Havre to become a merchant marine officer. When he was 18, he interned at a shipyard for 3 weeks in China. But it was there that he saw the darker “backside of the industry.” Greed, corruption, and danger surrounded the beautiful waters. The sea didn’t change, but his perception of society did.

Laurent quickly realized that there were significant problems in the world, but not enough capable people seeking to fix them. He began to yearn for a way to use his knowledge and talents for good – but the right time and opportunity hadn’t arrived yet.

After four years of university, Laurent took a job at Louis Dreyfus Arnateur, where he charted oil fields before the drills would break ground. By 21, Laurent was successfully climbing the corporate ladder. He was the engine officer, running a ship with 300,000 euros on the line every day.

But his family knew his heart and urged him to quit. Laurent recalls, “I was always saying, I will when I’m ready and when I find what I want to do.”

One day, he found it.

Enter SOS Mediterranee. Laurent discovered the organization after it issued a press release about its mission to offer maritime rescue to tens of thousands of immigrants fleeing their home countries during the Refugee Crisis. With his leadership and sailing experience, Laurent knew this was it. He had finally come face-to-face with his destiny.

Laurent couldn’t shake the feeling: “History will remember the tragedy, the indifference of the masses, but also the hand that reached out. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history when I have to explain to my children in thirty years.”

He quit his job at the end of March 2016 – and on the 28th of April he became the newest member of the SOS Mediterranee. “[My family was] waiting for it for a long time.”

Now, his day-to-day operations range from checking equipment and planning the ship crew to helping the communications team and recruiting new partners.

Laurent believes that everyone can make an impact through their unique abilities. He says, “People say…what I do is a bit spectacular…but I’m just [doing] something someone also has to do.” A slight tint of pink rushes across his cheeks. He admits, “I don’t really like the reaction of people; most the people they’ll say…oh you’re a hero, you’re really brave, you save people, that’s nice.”

Laurent’s mission is to shape the future for generations to come. “We are helping people reach Europe…they are going to be Europeans.” As for future plans, he’s hoping to be unemployed as soon as possible. “My first hope is that this will end as soon as possible.”

Despite his love for the sea, SOS Mediterranee needs him in Paris, where he is currently stationed. But his passion for helping others doesn’t stop him from missing the sea.

What’s next? He gives an adventurous smile. “We’ll see.”