Tag Archives: Paris

Danser dans l’Ombre: A Journey through German-Occupied Paris, 1939-1945

What is farther outside of one’s comfort zone than being completely displaced in time, transported chronologically backwards through space to find oneself adapting to a foreign historical environment? While I do not possess the ability to time-travel, this essentially represents the mental sojourn that I undertook in my French course last semester called, “Les Années Noires: Living through the German Occupation In Paris, 1939-1945.” Using the methodology of creative assimilation, my peers and I absorbed ourselves in the vie quotidienne of those who lived in Nazi-occupied France, creating and embodying a fictitious character and chronicling their memoirs throughout the war. We transformed our classroom into a portal through which we gained an understanding of what it was like to live in Paris after the French defeat and under the German occupation. What were the daily humiliations, the moral dilemmas, the political risks and confrontations that Parisians faced as they struggled to survive?

Thus, embarking on the feat of creative fictional memoir writing in a second language, I plunged myself into the imagined life of Ève Leroux, a young orphaned cabaret dancer. Ève’s life, spent struggling to survive day-to-day under conditions of paranoia, suspicion, and fear, was a far cry from my own life. In the creation of this character, I tested my ability to think beyond my own political spectrum, opting to inhabit the mind of a collaborator who supported the German occupation, someone who is vilified for posterity and someone whose narrative belongs to the “wrong” side of World War II history. Since I pride myself on my high standards of moral integrity, I grappled with this decision; could I really inhabit the mind of someone whose belief system contradicts the liberty and democracy for which I stand? How would it be possible to elicit sympathy for a coward, for someone who is neither likeable, courageous, nor full of integrity?

It was often paralyzingly difficult to immerse myself in Ève’s ideological mindset, and one hurdle I had to overcome was developing the complexities of Ève’s character. As a multifaceted young woman coming of age in a tumultuous era, her primary focus was her own self-preservation.  Ève’s crimes stemmed from la banalité du mal (“the banality of evil”) —  a term which describes ordinary yet insidious everyday activity that perpetuated pro-Vichy ideology. By paying attention to her own needs but ignoring the need of others, she enabled herself to be indifferent in the face of injustice and annihilation. In the name of self-protection, she obeyed pro-nazi général Maréchal Pétain and those at the reigns of power, causing her to condone anti-semitic and xenophobic attitudes of the day. She shielded herself by turning her own back and closing her eyes to the violence that was happening around her, thus absolving herself from blame.

When I stepped out of my comfort and into the shoes of someone with a completely opposite vantage point, I was able to investigate why and how, in the face of blatant repressive extremism, French citizens were culpable or complicit in the atrocious domination that claimed the lives of millions of people. I hope that Eve’s memoirs represented les Années Noires for what they really were: les Années Grises, full of moral ambiguity, where every person held a degree of responsibility that needs to be reconciled.

Despite the discomfort, the process of writing Ève’s memoirs helped me to reach an understanding of a perspective that completely conflicts with my own values. Given that we are in the midst of a global resurgence in fascism, writing these memoirs in French taught me an important lesson, that we need to comprehend the origins of this deep-seated extremism in order to effectively tackle it. Most importantly, this experience taught me that when we expand our worldview to address the multitude of perspectives that exist inside of every history, we can take steps towards establishing a more tolerant and peaceful future.


Claire Lane ’20 is a sophomore Global STRIDE Scholar double-majoring in Dance and French Studies. Last summer, she took French language courses and trained in contemporary dance in Brussels, Belgium, and she looks forward to continuing these two avenues of study next year while spending her junior year abroad in London and Geneva. She is passionate about how languages, both verbal and physical, shape identity and culture and can be a vehicle to bridge global divides in order to sustain a more compassionate world.

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Dora Bruder’s Secret

The film, Le secret de Dora Bruder (Dora Bruder’s Secret), was imagined and realised after the biographical novel, Dora Bruder, written by Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel prize for literature.  Captivated by a single image and the associated missing persons alert, Modiano documents his quest to find traces of a young Jewish girl who went missing in Paris for several months during the German occupation of France.

By Paris-Soir – Paris-Soir 31 décembre 1941, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45675793

The film  records the places that Modiano was able to link with the very short life of Dora Bruder. The places depicted in the film are her homes, her schools, parks where she might have spent time, and cinemas that she very likely frequented; these places are her traces and her imprints on and in Paris. During the period of time in 1941-1942, Modiano is unable to find any evidence of her existence. Since unfortunately the stories of so many young lives involved in the Holocaust tend to be intimately invaded, Modiano chose to not invent or surmise her activities or her whereabouts. In this way, Paris, and the places where she spent time during her months as a fugitive are hers and hers alone–they are her secrets that nobody, not the Gestapo, not the French government, not even her parents would know. The film is a visual interpretation of of the known places and spaces of Dora Bruder, but it is not conjecture. The film serves to depict that though this young girl died in the Holocaust, her traces on this city (Paris) will never be lost, that she is not forgotten, but also that she has right, even in death, to her privacy and to her secrets.

Translation of voice over at the end of the film taken from the narrator of  Patrick Modiano’s text:

“Saturday September 19…the city is deserted, as if to mark Dora’s absence.   Since then, the Paris where I tried to find her trace has remained as empty and silent as that day.  I walk through the empty streets. For me, they remain empty, even in the evening, at the hour of traffic jams, when people hurry toward the metro stops. I can’t help thinking of her and feeling an echo of her presence in certain neighborhoods. The other evening it was at the Gare du Nord. 

I  will remain ignorant of how she spent her days, where she hid herself, with whom she spent her time during those winter months when she first ran away and during those several weeks of spring when she disappeared a second time.

That is her secret.

 A simple and precious secret that assassins, regulations, authorities of the so-called occupation,  bureaucracy, prison, detention camps, History, and time—all that sullies and destroys—will not have been able to take away from her.”     (Translation by Janie Vanpée)

The Promenade Dora Bruder in the 18th arrondissement in Paris commemorates both Dora Bruder’s life and Patrick Modiano’s hommage to her brief, and unknown, passage through the streets of the city during the Nazi occupation.


Ray Van Huizen ’20 is a junior at Smith College who is currently abroad in Paris, France for the year. They are a double major in French and Sociology. They are interested in how theoretical and practiced sociology might be introduced to the general public through the use of film and other modern visual aids. After Smith College, Ray plans on continuing their education with a PhD program in the field of Queer Theory and Gender Studies.





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The Eiffel Tower: A Change in Perspective

Having grown up in the suburban crossroads between farmland and strip malls that is Northern Virginia, the move to Paris was dizzying, to say the least. I entered the city a little too confident of both my French proficiency and my ability to navigate the almost mythic metropolis. It was delectably exhausting to spend nearly every day tasting rich cheeses, scuttling through labyrinths of metro stations, and marveling at renowned monuments, while I could only understand 70 percent of the language. One aspect that epitomizes Paris’s identity is its relationship to the Eiffel Tower. They are quasi synonymous for each other. It is possible to see the Iron Lady from every neighborhood in Paris, given the right elevation or angle; you don’t really have to be close to the tower to witness its bold and heavy armature crisscrossing the sky. Because of this presence, I dare say that everyone who has visited Paris has their own anecdote about the Eiffel Tower, and admittedly, one of my own favorite memories is a little stereotypical.

It’s no secret that I live for romantic comedies, so it was no surprise when, after less than a month in Paris, I told my host family that I had met a French man and that we were going on a date…to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the sommet of the tower, one of the tallest structures in Paris, was incredible—the Seine glazed by the yellow city lights; the bulbous spires of Sacré-Coeur swathed in their signature emerald green glow; and beyond the city limits, the shadowy hills of the suburbs that both seem to cradle the city center. With the September wind tousling the scarves, hair, and jackets of the tourists around me, I felt incredibly satisfied, having fulfilled the dream that American students of French desire.

Yet the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is a little disappointing, because it lacks one thing—the Eiffel Tower itself. It should be obvious, but I found it strange to see all of Paris   without its most famous landmark, the monument that reminds you that you are in Paris. It is for this reason that I prefer this photo, the one I took from below, the one that didn’t cost me 16 euros for an 81-story elevator ride. This was one of those views that surprised me as I walked through the streets in Paris—there are so many exciting things to see at ground level that I never realized I was practically next to the Eiffel Tower until the glint of steel caught my eye. Personally, I was so focused on gathering information for my Parisian architecture class and keeping my eye out for somewhere to get a snack that, when I turned the corner, I was astonished to see the Eiffel Tower hovering over me. I loved the way the graceful form of the tower was amplified by my low angle and I noticed how the perspective of the residential buildings on either side of the street echoed the tower’s triangular shape. I saw the little wisp of sky off the pinnacle of the tower, reminiscent of a flag waving in high winds, and I quickly took the picture before the clouds concealed the patch again.

At home, I worked on editing the photo. Since I wanted to highlight the juxtaposition between the buildings and the almost white sky, as well as to draw attention to the delicate and heavy angles of the tower, I chose to filter the photo with black and white. To this day, I’m pleased with the final product because the dwarfing perspective is still powerful enough to make me remember all of those times when I would be going about my day only to unintentionally turn onto the right street, look out of the right window, walk up the right hill, and be reminded that I am in Paris.



Rosemary is from Northern Virginia and transferred to Smith from a large co-ed school on Long Island. At home, Rosemary has a 5-year-old pug named Boo Radley who loves visiting Smith and romping around the gardens on Upper Elm. Rosemary spent the academic year of 2016-2017 studying at the Sorbonne through the Smith in Paris program and hopes to go to graduate school where she will specialize in Shakespeare.

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The photograph Afternoon was taken on a quintessential Parisian Sunday afternoon, where it is common to see people outdoors apparently ‘doing nothing’, though actually actively relaxing and socializing. On these typical afternoons, friends and family walk, read, and lounge around in picturesque public spaces. My friends and I were excited to engage in such an effortless activity by the Seine river; our whole study abroad experience was ahead of us. I of course had brought my camera, and the day was beautifully lit.

The group of people in the photograph struck me for multiple reasons, though when I took the picture these had not yet been resolved consciously. The first thing I registered was the visually compelling layout of objects (even their own figures), which they had curated most likely without much thought. What inspired me the most about the scene I stumbled upon was the strong barrier between them and me, on a cultural and circumstantial level; the products laid out before them were not yet familiar to me, and their gestures and concerns were foreign to me, not to mention who they even were! Recalling the moment, I did spend quite some time framing this photo, using a 35mm canon film camera, which shoots in color. As the seconds passed, I believe I became more excited and determined to materialize not just what I was witnessing with my eyes, but the entire moment, the ambiance, the concept of a Sunday afternoon in Paris. Taking this picture from a bird’s eye view allowed me to spend more time than usual figuring out the composition, as I was surely out of their view. Also related to the time factor is the fact that I was shooting in film, and would neither be able to check the shot after snapping it, nor be shooting a second picture of the same thing (this was a rule of mine I was pretty strict about back then). Once I got the film developed, I was astonished at the sharpness, the broad range of values, and the colors, these often split into light and dark by the intense afternoon sun. I had also flattened a scene which in reality was a moving scene with live figures.

Memories of time and place are vividly engrained in my mind, and seeing this picture from time to time, I recall not only aspects of that one day—the sun, the ice cream we all bought, the warm stone people sat on for hours—but of a more complete experience of France. This picture has, for me, two stories: there is the story of my life on that day, the events that lead to this moment where they caught my eye from my elevated position, and then there is their own story, which is fascinating in its unanswered questions. Who are they all, and why are they together? Why the seemingly large age differences? What brought them to the Seine today? What languages do they speak? For me, this photo evokes mystery, awe, and contemplation, as do most photographs of people.


Megan Carrera-Raleigh ’18  is a 22-year-old student at Smith College, a middle child, and a cat lover. She has studied French, Film, Art and Psychology while at Smith, and is prepared to pursue painting in the near future. She was born in Panama City, Panama, to parents from Panama and New Hampshire, USA.  As a French speaker, she was invested in deepening her understanding of the language itself through experiences abroad, in France. Paris is where she took the photograph “Afternoon”.

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French Middle Schoolers React to Donald Trump

I teach in two middle schools in Paris as part of TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France). This is my second year participating in TAPIF; last year I taught in two middle schools in the district of Yvelines, the western suburbs of Paris. In both years I’ve had very diverse classes. I believe many of my students are first-generation immigrants from African countries, and especially from the Maghreb. Since I am the English assistant and my focus is speaking and listening skills, I’m usually assigned small groups of students who are the strongest in English among their peers. I’ve been able to have fairly substantive discussions with some of my older students and hear their reactions to Donald Trump and his xenophobic remarks about Muslims and people of color.


French law forbids giving one’s religious or political preferences in school — I have the impression these laws tend to be more strictly adhered to in France than in the U.S. However, my students often ask me if I like Donald Trump and whether I voted for him. I feel obliged to tell them,” no I didn’t,” so that they will feel at ease with me in the classroom. My students seem to be less interested in the upcoming French presidential election. They assure me that  Marine LePen is very bad and probably won’t be elected. They are so unanimous in this opinion that I don’t think it goes against anyone’s sense of neutrality.


Most of my friends here in France don’t believe LePen will be elected either. I usually come back with “We never expected Brexit or Trump, so be careful!” They often cite her lack of concrete economic policies as the ultimate weak point that will prevent her from gaining too much support, even among people who might support her positions on immigration. I am worried though; I know that I live in a liberal bubble here, where city hall is run by a coalition of the socialist, communist and green parties. I’ve read that Breitbart has opened up French and German websites, so I believe that there may be more support for LePen than the French news media has led us to believe. In any case, everyone I’ve spoken to assumes that LePen will make it past the first round (all French elections have two rounds, a week apart).


Overall, I’m surprised my friends and colleagues aren’t more worried or disgusted. One colleague told me that reactions are varied: some believe it’s the end of the world while most find it alarming but don’t think it will affect their daily lives very much. On TV, Trump is often the butt of a joke. I sometimes wonder if people appear calm because his dubbed voice on the news is so neutral. It’s pretty ridiculous to hear the robotic translation of Donald Trump’s speeches with the sound of his actual voice in the background. Like Americans, it seems the French are tired of pundits and the 24-hour news cycle. The covers of the Charlie Hebdo magazines have been interesting to follow. As is typical, they only narrowly avoid being offensive, in some cases. I think they save themselves by expressing compassion for the situation in America, even as they maintain a satirical tone.


I recently watched a round table discussion of the high points of Obama’s presidency, according to French pundits. They showed a clip from Barack Obama’s speech at the memorial service of Reverend Clementa Pinckney and expressed their admiration for the eloquence of his long pause before launching into Amazing Grace. One commentator said, Whatever your disagreements you may have with his policies and decisions in office, it cannot be denied that he has a very strong connection with his people (the American people) and that he can sense the needs of his audience and respond to them in his speeches.” It’s been easy to be an American in Paris while Obama has been president, because he is so well loved here. I remember receiving less than polite treatment in some restaurants when I visited France and Spain while George W. Bush was president, and I hope this won’t again become the case.


I’ve often wished that my students weren’t so well-informed and intent upon following world events, because I worry that his remarks have only increased their feelings of marginalization in Occidental society. One of my best students last year, Abdel, often made remarks that revealed he had memorized the US News and World Reports’ ranking of the best American universities and dreamed of going to one, especially MIT or Columbia — like Obama. He now has only two and a half years of high school left; it makes me sad to think about how much more difficult attaining his dream will be.


Hannah Carlson graduated from Smith College in 2015 with a degree in Comparative Literature. She returned to France upon graduating after spending her junior year in Paris. She teaches English in two middle schools in the 17th arrondissement.

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A Taste of Cultural Change

I wanted coffee that day. Not the espresso finished in a matter of seconds that had become habit in the four months since arriving in Paris, and not the immense, watered-down interpretations of coffee reflective of what could be found back home. I wanted filter coffee, a mug of something strong, standing as coffee without pretense, without cream and sugar.

It was a forty-minute metro ride from my apartment in central Paris to the 11th arrondissement, where the Beans on Fire situates itself on the perimeter of  Maurice Gardette Square. Walking into the café, you’re immediately confronted with a mass of heavy roasting equipment, which serves as a cooperative where many of the other coffee shops in Paris come to roast their beans. I looked around, shocked to see a crowd of young professional Anglophones eating scones with their coffee, the barista responding to customers in English, and the baker behind the counter frying doughnuts. And then I saw it, café filtre for three euros.

holybelly6Satisfied with my coffee, I began speaking to the barista and baker about this business structure and learned they each functioned as independent entities within a common space. Amanda, the baker, is an expat from North Carolina and runs Boneshaker Sweet Rolls, while Tim, a native Parisian, is the head barista at O Coffeeshop whose travels to the UK, Scandinavia, and Australia have exposed him to a coffee culture entirely different from what was traditionally found in France. They each described themselves as “pop-ups” in their respective focus, spending Monday through Thursday at the Beans on Fire and then distributing to and setting up business in other cafés throughout the city the rest of the week.

Because of social media’s prevalence in the food world today, I compared this conversation to similar discussions on Instagram. Everything currently trending in Paris’ food realm confirmed this development of expat influence in the city. Images of avocado toast, chia pudding, açai bowls, pizza, and burgers dominated searches of the hashtag “parisfood,” confirming my suspicion that Amanda’s doughnuts were not simply a result of her nostalgia for what she could find back in the States, but rather a fulfillment of what customers, both Anglophone and French, wanted to eat.

This phenomenon appeared throughout my observations in the city. When I was told to go somewhere new, whether for coffee or for dinner, it was always a place where English was spoken and foods reflective of Anglophone culture were in demand. What’s more, I found that previous searches through print publications geared towards food proved antiquated, that this method of finding a restaurant had become obsolete. Food establishments were gaining attention not through Le Fooding or the Michelin Guide, but rather through bloggers and patrons who had found Instagram fame. This rise in social media’s influence over where and what we want to eat drastically changed the atmosphere of these cafés as well. Rather than simply enjoying the food and company, restaurant-goers’ immediate reaction to the food being placed in front of them was How will this look in a picture? How should I situate my latte so that it gets the best lighting, without glare, without compromising the barista’s work? It was commonplace for the person next to me to spend several minutes aligning the various plates on her table, proceeding to stand on her chair to get a better angle, a better shot. In Paris, food has gained what is almost solely a visual interest. Comments on these images of food no longer raise a question of taste.

loustic3This focus on aesthetics applied not only to the food but to the people as well. Patrons are always conscious of how they appear in a restaurant, driving one food critic I spoke with to deem them the new clubs, a definition which applies an entirely new social understanding and hierarchy to what previously fulfilled a simple human need: eating.

I created a blog during the year to document my findings. It was titled Sobremesa and served as an online journal composed of interviews with people who I saw as contributing to these shifts being made in the changing identity of Paris’ food. “Sobremesa” is an untranslatable Spanish term describing the time after lunch or dinner you spend in discussion with those who sit around the table as well. My intention for the blog was to become the online equivalent, a space where I exposed the connections between food and culture and showed how this interaction revealed a new image of Paris defined by its food.

Updating the blog allowed me to construct a narrative which gave voice to these developments, bringing to light the observations that visual representations like Instagram only skimmed across. Though I applied my findings to a general impression of Paris’ food culture today, I also heard the personal stories of the people behind such developments, reminding me that though food is indicative of the culture which drives it and reacts to it, food also serves as an intimate connection between people who would otherwise remain strangers.

Though so much was answered in these interviews and in my research, I’m left with the constant reminder that these are occurrences in continual development. Yes, the larger factors and results of cultural and culinary movements take years to generate significant change, but the smaller shifts are instantaneous. As a result, the question of what will happen next is always present in my research, a thought that can manifest itself in so many ways: What will be Paris’ next food trend? What social media platform will appear and completely change the way we see food? Will any of these developments be sustainable enough to alter the external perspectives of Paris’ food?

This all ends in a question of endurance. Before associating Paris with croque monsieur or steak tartare, we think first of the city’s appeal to inventive and authentic thought, a characteristic which will always put Paris at the forefront of creation, whether it be of literature, art, music, or food.


globalimpressionsIsabelle Eyman is a senior English Literature and French Studies major. Her favorite places to read are in coffee shops, parks or in any window seat she can find. Upon graduating this year, she hopes to work as an English teacher in the private school environment, later working towards a Ph.D. in English Literature, focusing her work on food’s appearance in 19th and 20th century literature.

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The Spirit of “Charlie”

On the morning of January 7, 2015, two terrorists attacked the headquarters of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and killed over 10 cartoonists, staff, and police.  It was a terrible moment and people were left in shock and anger. A week later, over 3.7 million people participated in  a demonstration to show their support for freedom of speech. I was one of the 3.7 million.

That Sunday—with the typical Parisian grey clouds in the sky—everything seemed special. Eleven metro stations were closed for the sake of the demonstration, and there were so many people that I couldn’t get onto the metro until the third one came. On that particular afternoon, people in Paris seemed to have just  one destination: the République Square, where the demonstration took place. When I finally arrived, I was moved by the demonstrators. Some were carrying “Je suis Charlie” signs, some were wearing pencil-like decorations, some were holding national flags, but they all shared the same look of compassion, firmness, and solidarity. What really touched me, however, was not the fact that millions of people came, but that the horrible attack made people braver. Yes, the attack frightened people, but it at the same time it united people from France and all over the world, encouraging them to put aside fear and speak up on behalf of humanity. The precariousness of existence, the bareness of life, and the longing for equality summoned millions of “Charlie” to go onto the street and support their fellow human beings, especially when those fellows had died in defense of liberty, so precious an objective that it wasn’t achieved without a price.

Almost miraculously, after hiding behind the clouds for the whole afternoon, the sun came out shortly before it sank into the darkness, rendering the sky red. The fire-colored sun gave me hope for the next day. That evening, I changed the photo I took into black and white, as I saw this tragedy as something in the past tense, something that ought to be carefully sealed in my memory. However, only ten months had passed when another attack, much more terrible, happened in Paris and resulted in 130 deaths. By that time I was already back in the U.S., but I felt closely connected to the people in Paris. I remember hitting the “like” button under every friend’s “I’m safe” status on Facebook. I remember sending emails to my host family and following every piece of news online. I remember attending the vigil at Smith, where a French student said that the French people loved their life, and that they would continue loving and singing. At that moment, as both an outsider and an insider of the attack, I felt humans’ braveness and optimism in front of tragedy and disaster.

Seamus Heaney, the 1995 Nobel Literature winner, told a story in his acceptance speech about a group of armed and masked men who attacked a minibus on a mountain road in Ireland, forced the hostages to line up, and asked all the Catholics to step out. A Protestant squeezed the only Catholic’s hand, as a signal of saying, “Don’t move, we won’t betray you.” That Catholic, however, chose to be loyal to his faith and take a step out, only to find out that instead of himself, all his Protestant fellows were shot. It’s been two years since I first heard this story. I still have this mixed feeling of sadness and hope each time I think of it. The story reflects the Paris attacks in the way that we see not only the ways people are deprived of their lives in a world of ideological clashes, but also the humanity that binds people. Yes, it takes time and effort to change our world toward a more equal and just place, but goodness is there – it has always been and always will be.


zhang_2016-02-11-author-imageCoco Zhang is a Government and Film Studies double major in the Class of 2016. Having lived, studied, and worked in China, the United States, France, and Switzerland, she sees photography as her lens into the world, and documentary as a tool to raise public awareness of global issues. After she graduates, she hopes to promote equality and social development by working at international organizations.

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Talking to Strangers

Many years ago, a friend was visiting me in Paris. I wanted her to see the quotidian side of the area where I lived, not just the chic cafes and shops.  We were walking down Boulevard Saint Germain, past the Cluny Museum, on our way to one of my favorite places, the Maubert street market, said to be one of Paris’ oldest.

All of the market’s producteurs (vendors) had crowded around the small, oddly shaped – maybe trapezoidal – place Maubert. The place was covered with their stands and tables of fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, bread, and products from the countryside, like soap and lavender bouquets. Other days of the week, the place was simply a paved crossroads where people went to and from the metro Maubert-Mutualité. During market days, it came alive in an entirely different way.

We arrived early, with the French shoppers, for more choice and less crowd. It was the ambiance of the market that I wanted my friend to experience: the bustle and lively chatter between the merchants and shoppers, the smells of roasting chicken and potatoes, of the fragrant fruits — fall apples and mirabelles —  of the breads. And every stand arranged like a work of art, a “regal de l’oeil,” a gift for the eyes!

Fishmonger on the Place Maubert

We chose some autumn specialties to cook with at home: the mushrooms — cèpes, girolles, and trompette de la mort for a fricassée or an omelet; apples from Normandy for a tarte tatin;  figs, brussel sprouts, and fennel, some of my favorites; and a baguette, of course.

I noticed a particularly tempting fromagerie stand and took my place in line.  I could introduce my friend to new flavors, too.  When it was my turn, I greeted the fromager with the requisite “bonjour Monsieur,” a lovely acknowledgement that begins every conversation in France, and asked about the particularly strong-scented seasonal cheeses in his display: Roquefort, Fourme d’Ambert and Epoisse, called “the king of cheeses.”  “Any others?” I asked. I liked new tastes and I liked to hear the vendors’ enthusiasm for and knowledge of their products.

I listened and the fromager talked.  Realizing I might have left my friend alone for too long, I asked him to wrap my cheeses and paid for them, saying “au revoir, monsieur,” the ending of all conversations. I turned and walked toward my friend. I apologized for the time that had passed and launched excitedly into a description of the man and his cheeses and what she and I would eat at the end of that night’s dinner.

She cut me off abruptly, saying “Debby, do you have to form a relationship with everyone you talk to?”  I can hear it even now. Confounded, I thought she was joking, but she wasn’t.

In the days, weeks, and years that have followed, I’ve thought often of her question.  In that moment, I realized something about myself: that I had a taste —  a fascination — for people, their stories and their uniqueness. And without my interest in those brief conversations, all that experience would be lost.

I look back now at how this aspect of myself has evolved. I remember asking directions from a tall policeman in a Florentine market using my freshman- year Italian, my father teasing me in the background. “I thought you spoke Italian,” he said, as I struggled for the right words. Then there was my apology in a Taiwanese market using gestures instead of words to a woman whose child I had photographed without first asking permission. Despite our lack of a shared language, I didn’t want to walk away having said nothing. There were failures, too: most notably trying, every week, to engage the people in the post office downstairs from my Paris apartment. Every week, I got a stony face and stamps.

Thanks to that angry comment 30 years ago, I recognize and appreciate something in myself. I see the many ways in which my life is richer for it, as it is populated by people I might never have known, had I not formed those momentary relationships.

Visit Maubert Market : Place Maubert, 7 am – around 2 pm, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; Paris, 75005, along the Boulevard St. Germain and the rue des Carmes.


SLAVITT. Deborah Jane Slavitt, August 2014 during art residency, Cape CodDeborah Slavitt ’69 developed a curiosity — a taste — for travel, languages and cultures from inventive family trips, planned by her SC 1936 mother, Mary Lewis Slavitt. After college she had a bee in her bonnet about going overseas and so began her peripatetic life. She has lived in Chile, France (twice), Germany and Taiwan and visited many other countries, about 15 years in all. Her languages and her taste for knowing people have led her to many surprising conversations.

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Recycling: A Photo Essay

My mother, Mary Lewis Slavitt, Smith College class of 1936, was an immigrant and grew up in Western Massachusetts in the 1920s and 1930s. As a child in Lithuania, she and her family wasted nothing. She was a passionate and creative recycler, and that’s how I grew up. I couldn’t imagine it any other way besides hand-made and often repurposed. In the many years since I graduated from Smith, I’ve worked and lived around the world, beginning in 1973 in Chile where my first house gifts were a couple of empty milk and wine bottles without which I would not have been able to buy any milk or wine! After returning to the US to study art therapy a few years later, I moved with my family to France, Germany, and Taiwan with breaks in New York in between. Overseas and in Boston, I taught young children, focusing the curricula I created primarily around local culture and on the environment and recycling. I wanted the students, both local children and the expatriates who’d only live there for a year or two, to notice and learn the importance of caring for the environment. We recycled in the classroom and art projects often used repurposed materials. The children played joyfully with the unexpected: telephone wires creating hanging sculpture, packing cartons becoming a dragon costume for Chinese New Year, bottle caps and candy wrappers turning into a self-portrait collage.

After many years overseas, I returned to the US and continue to work in the education of teachers and young students, most particularly in art and reuse. I spent several years as a teaching artist at Materials for the Arts in NYC, and now give workshops in western MA and organize reuse art events as Reuse Art Coordinator of the Northampton DPWs Reuse Committee. My dream come true, full circle: a mini art and reuse depot as part of Northampton’s ReCenter “swap shop and more,” opening on April 25 at the Glendale Road Transfer Station. My work there will be inspired by what I have seen and learned about reuse, repurposing, and zero waste as a resident of Chile, France, Germany and Taiwan.

As a photographer and among many projects, I’ve recorded images of recycling efforts around the world. I appreciate the passion, color, and humor I’ve seen that encourages recycling in these different communities. Here are a few examples.

SLAVITT. Deborah Jane Slavitt, August 2014 during art residency, Cape CodA few years after graduation, Deborah Jane Slavitt ’69 set out on what would be a lifelong exploration of the world, teaching in early education programs at international schools, writing, raising a family, all fueled by a lifelong curiosity about people and their lives and a commitment to reuse and zero waste, planted by her mother Mary Lewis Slavitt, 1936. Deborah Jane’s Smith studies in child development, education, and photography supported her in these pursuits, and she went on to designing environmental elements in her curricula and to record images of recycling around the world through her photography.

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An Urban Adventure


Walking on the streets of Paris with a camera changed everything. I was now more attentive to events that unfolded like a play at the theatre: a man crouching in the metro corner with an empty bottle, a woman with sad eyes leaning against the window, or a husband carrying flowers on his lap, either for his wife or mistress. My friend told me that she once stumbled upon a party inside the train of the metro with guests dressed in suits and evening gowns, clutching several bottles of champagne. She even has the photos to prove it. Here in Paris, you are prepared to run into anything.

The city of Paris was my introduction to street photography but during the first week of my studio course, I wondered why my pictures looked still, as if nothing was ever happening: a garbage can, the Chinese restaurant sign, a homeless man sleeping silently. My teacher urged me to turn to photo books and to visit exhibitions— “those are your greatest teachers”, he said. The truth of his words could be found in the influential works of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Vivian Maier. It all made sense now: I am the artist, and I can create as much of a composition as someone with an easel and brush, a compelling revelation.

The execution, however, was a whole other story. The skepticism of Parisians was already at a high level, even without the camera. Once I revealed it and peered through the viewfinder, people would scurry away, or hiss at me loudly. “Who does she think she is, taking a picture of me?” they must all have thought. The confrontations drew fear and guilt into my heart, and consequently, I resorted to a timid and all-too-nice way of photographing: from afar. But what was the sacrifice? My work lacked that edge present in the photographs I admired, were the subjects sometimes stared at the camera unblinkingly. My photos couldn’t tell you anything.

When I decided it was time my pictures stopped suffering due to lack of courage, I invented an antidote. I made myself approach the subject without a second thought, despite my fear. I went to them, asked permission, and took the damn picture. The change brought riveting results—I entered into pages of people’s stories. I was a witness to their daily life, whether they were trapped in a state of mind or exuding an uncontrollable energy. They could trust me to document these moments. As a consequence to all this, I gained an enhanced sense of awareness for the city and its people.

Now I stroll on the streets with my camera around my neck, hidden from no one. It could be what you call in French flâner, strolling in a city with no intended destination but for the pleasure of a promenade. With this identity and sense of confidence, I am searching for Paris’s secret life. I want to convey that we’re all living theatre without fully acknowledging it. What a joy when a photographer can be there to document it!

This was how I encountered my little clown here, on the night of Halloween while riding my bike. She was sitting with her costumed friends at an American diner near Odéon, about to order a proper milkshake. Perhaps this picture has too many American themes to be French, but I was surprised to have spotted her. She represents for me all the unexpected discoveries in cities, unconfined by expectations.

HO.Yvonne.portraitYvonne is spending her junior year abroad in Paris, furthering her studies in art history and French. She hopes to continue taking pictures when she returns to Northampton for her senior year, after starting her photographic experience here in Paris.

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From the Smith College Archives: Smith Students in Paris, 1950

“There is nothing so mouth-watering… As hot, freshly roasted chestnuts,” at least according to the juniors of the class of 1951 in Paris, as reported in The Springfield Sunday Republican on February 5, 1950. It seems odd for a newspaper to devote a whole page to pictures of college juniors doing perfectly commonplace things in a foreign city—buying books, looking at art, eating chestnuts—especially since by 1950 the Smith Paris program had been around for almost twenty-five years. Even Paris should have lost its novelty by then. And maybe it would have naturally, except that for the twenty-three juniors of the class of 1951 this Paris was all new; they were only the third group to return to Paris since the program had been canceled following the outbreak of World War II in 1939.

These women of the class of ’51 took a chance to live in a country still very much recovering from the trauma of war. Their host families had lived through the Occupation, and some of the young men in their classes at the Sorbonne had doubtless been soldiers, or maybe even in the Resistance, but the realities of post-war Paris didn’t scare them away.

Juniors kept coming, and they have been going in an unbroken stream every year since, straight to the ninetieth anniversary of the program, to be celebrated next year. Every Smith alum must know someone who spent her Junior Year Abroad in France—it’s entrenched that deeply in the college’s history. So although Gertrude Perkins, pictured in the photo buying her cone of chestnuts, didn’t leave any letters describing just how delicious savoring a roasted chestnut on a damp and cold winter day might be, there is no doubt that any student from the program, from any year, would be happy to tell you.


O'Connor HeadshotGrowing up on Long Island, Bailey couldn’t wait to be able to travel and visit other places. The Global STRIDE project gave her the opportunity to spend a summer in Berlin, which was her first time being independent in a foreign country. That experience made her very interested in the idea of this journal. Next year she hopes to contribute more content as she joins the next year of Smithies in Paris.

Photo: Smith girls gather at chestnut vendor, Paris, France, 1950. College Archives, Smith College (Northampton, MA). © World Wide Photo, Inc. NYC

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The World on a Wall

I took this photo at a cute little fondue restaurant in Montmartre, in the northern part of Paris. It was my first time studying abroad, the summer after my first year at Smith College. When I walked through the entrance, I immediately noticed was the unique decor: the walls were decorated with currencies from around the world. There were bills and coins taped everywhere—on the walls, on the ceiling, in the nooks and crannies of the hall. Many of the bills had notes written on them, and some of the coins were even painted. The collage of currency created a unique and artistic atmosphere. At first, the restaurant was fairly empty, but it filled up quickly as the minutes passed by.

When I dined there, I heard many different languages spoken all around me, and it was interesting to see how so many people from around the world were enjoying a meal together in a single open room. The various sounds that permeated the air echoed the different colors, both muted and bright, that speckled the walls. I will never forget the combination of familiar and unfamiliar sounds that resounded around me.

I heard a lot of French, which was not surprising; but more importantly, I heard different nuances of French. Parisian French was indeed present, but there were also other accents. I heard a mother telling her child to stop playing with his bread, and though the sound was different from what I was used to hearing during French classes, it was still unmistakably French. The mother pronounced the end of “pain,” the French word for “bread,” with an “-ng” sound. I was pretty sure that this was a Southern French accent, thanks to my Phonetics professor. There were also French accents I could not name.

When I listened harder, I recognized other languages even though I could not understand them. I heard the sounds of Italian, Vietnamese, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese—a wide variety of distinct sounds from around the world. When the restaurant filled up, it grew noisy and I realized that there were many languages around me that I did not recognize. It was amazing that there were so many different speakers in one small location, and I wondered how many of them were bilingual or trilingual and if they had difficulty sticking to only one language. I grew up in a bilingual household, where my family and I have always mixed Chao Zhou and Khmer together to convey our thoughts more accurately.

One of my favorite moments at this restaurant was when I overheard a bit of Chao Zhou, my native tongue. I could not help but smile and feel even more at home. In the United States, I had never heard anyone outside my immediate family speak my language. Much to my surprise and delight, I heard many people in the streets near the Porte de Choisy Métro station speak Chao Zhou, and a few people even spoke in the Chao Zhou-Khmer fusion that was so familiar to me. For the first time in my life, I did not feel alone with my native tongue; I was reassured that there were others out there who used my language in daily life.

In the restaurant, even when sitting alone, I did not feel lonely when surrounded by this diversity. I felt more comfortable listening to spoken French and speaking French, and I felt happy and at ease when I heard Chao Zhou. Even though the walls were already filled with many pieces of currency, the diners managed to find places for their little piece of the world, even if it was simply a one euro coin.


Lisa Wu headshotLisa Wu spent her first year at Smith as a Global STRIDE (Student Research in Departments) scholar, and she considers the time she spent studying abroad in France a great learning experience. She is interested in different languages and cultures, bilingualism, and how these things affect people’s views.

Photo © Lisa Wu. All rights reserved.

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