Thursday, March 1, 2012
Journal Entries on First Trip to Paris in 2007 (Follow-Up to Prior Post Entitled "Walking by Faith")
I first began to keep a journal when I was 11 during the summer of 1982. For example, the entry from January 3, 1983 reads, “Good day at school today. So much homework.” My entries tapered off eventually. I picked up journaling again when I was 14 and since that point, it has been one of the rituals to which I’ve been most committed in my life.
Keeping journals is the most consistent and committed writing that I do. They are one of the best reflections of who I am and of my voice. Early on, and for many years, I made journal entries on a daily basis. In more recent years, there have been times when I’ve written an entry every other day, even at the end of a very long day. These days, I typically make entries every now and then.
As a high school senior at age 17, I began the practice of making a special journal entry on New Year’s Eve in which I overview the year and salute it for specific lessons I have learned. I have done one every year since then. One day, I put all of those entries down side by side and read them. I was astonished by the clarity with which they allowed me to track my personal development. Ten years ago, I began to make a similar special entry on my birthday. (I began the practice that same year of reading gospel accounts of the nativity on Christmas Eve, and have also remained committed to that practice on an annual basis since I was 17).
My journals have had different themes and purposes over the years. For example, in graduate school, I began to keep what I called a “Professional Prayer Journal,” which was more spiritual. (Its framing beginning with “Dearest Lord” and ending with “Your Child” was reminiscent of the epistolary format of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple). I kept that basic structure even after professional concerns receded as a thematic priority and others emerged. The themes of my journals have been diverse. I have also seen that journals have always seemed to end at the appropriate place and time, even if extra pages are left over. I have a stack of my old journals at this point, and keep them with the 100-page draft of my autobiography that I wrote in college in a course on Black Women’s Autobiography with Dr. Gloria Wade-Gayles. I love being able to refer back to and learn from experiences in my life that I may have forgotten otherwise.
I spent several years reading through the dense and rich autobiography repertoire of famed French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and loved the way that she incorporated journal entries in developing her series of memoirs; she is one of the most inspiring journalers I’ve ever read. When I was in Paris as a Cultural Envoy in 2009 and visited Collège Martin Luther King in Villiers-le-Bel in Eastern Paris, I gave a talk to students entitled “Art in Education and My Education As an Artist,” which incorporated an excerpt from my journal entries about my first trip to Paris to discuss the impact that visiting the Louvre had made on me, and to stress the importance of building art literacies. These are points that the teachers underscored and built upon as they translated the content of my remarks to students. At some point, I hope to publish my series of lectures and interviews from that week in an art book entitled An Artist at the Ambassador’s: Notes on Visit to the U.S. Embassy in France as a Cultural Envoy. Thinking back on my comments about the Louvre in that talk and the impact that they made on students in the classroom, and on the blog post I made a just few days ago entitled “Walking by Faith,” I thought it would be interesting to follow up and share the two journal entries that I made about my first trip to Paris, which discuss the trip a bit more comprehensively and in more detail. Here are the two relevant entries below.
7/05/07 Paris, France 1:22 a.m.
I praise you and thank you. I’ve been here in Paris for a week and a half-more now. It’s been an exciting trip! In the Atlanta airport, I felt so sophisticated with my beauty case and “bombshell” luggage. I have looked at passengers fly out for Paris for several years, and looked at an earlier flight depart before mine. There was nothing like the feeling of being among those boarding a plane-finally-for Paris myself. I’d had a first class flight from Sacramento and sat next to a rather cold white man, from whom I kept my distance. On the Paris flight the male flight attendant was nice and it was an elegant experience. But when it was almost over and I woke up the next morning, I could barely move my hand and fingers and my wrist was limp. The man next to me opened my juice and other container and got my suitcase down. This was unexpected. At the airport, I had no choice but to take a cab. I got in w/ ease and went straight to sleep. My room was nice w/ a small closet-sized bathroom. My first view of Paris was not too impressive. “Is this what I’ve fantasized about for years and staked as a life’s ambition!” was my feeling. I got up that evening and walked for a few blocks down Av de Italie and just to see. I felt good. Inspired. I wore jeans and a black top and my sandals. The next morning I had some trouble getting the carte orange until I learned of the necessary photo. (That Sunday, I’d also tried to get a bandage for my hand and a waiter looked at it). I was two hours late to class b/c of confusion on the metro. I then had to figure out how to get the textbooks at FNAC, which was another challenge. Class was that afternoon. It was a full and busy day. The next two were good. Anne, Géraldine and I worked on the film. We met at the Josephine Baker Paradise du Fruit near Le Tour Montparnasse, then they interviewed me at Anne’s brother’s apartment. I felt collected and articulate and wore gold-a yellow cashmere sweater and a skirt. They took me over to Notre Dame and filmed me at the quilting store. The next day, we met at Le Deux Magots, where I had lunch, and they filmed me in front of the Beauvoir-Sartre plaque. We went to the Josephine Baker Pool. To the Thomas Jefferson plaque on Champs Elysee. And to Montmartre, among other places.
In general, it was a great and educational experience, and a great honor. I t was a great intellectual experience to witness such a positive model of collaboration, and enduring.
My first day of class, I had my first views of elegant Paris from the Metro, and the Eiffel Tower. And Thursday, I had to go see about my hand and went to the emergency room. The doctor was nice and diagnosed it as “Lover’s Palsy.” It was free. He took a picture afterwards and wrote a note for my doctor, as well as a prescription for the arm brace. I was intimidated by the idea of going and got lost along the way, but it was a positive experience.
Friday, Géraldine prepared lunch-five courses-at her lovely apartment and we did more interviewing. . . The lunch at Géraldine’s was nice and her apartment looks gorgeous. So lovely. The floors. The windows. The moldings. The ceilings. The ironwork. . . . Her studio a few blocks away is also nice. I appreciated her hospitality and seeing her family. Friday evening I went to class. And then Anne filmed me in front of the Moulin Rouge. I was also contending with a terrible cold and sore throat.
Saturday, I went to Montmartre and bought souvenirs and purses and a picture.
Sunday, I went to Notre Dame again, to Il St. Louis, and walked to Luxembourg.
Talking to my family has been nice. Today was the Fourth of July. I ate at a couple of cafes and skipped class. Ma walked well the other day . . . I called home a lot over the weekend because I felt lonely . . .
Finally, I ask you [will keep this prayer section private]. . . I love you.
I’m on the flight homeward now and thank you again for this mighty trip. I’ve learned a lot from it and am eager to apply it. I went to the Louvre yesterday. To see the sense of history was amazing. Very large marble sculptures. What we would consider mural-sized paintings from the 1600s. Just a beautiful archive. I was excited to see the Mona Lisa and called home while in the room. I was very inspired to walk the halls. In a sense, though, the experience stressed the urgency of learning how to “read” art. For in a museum so large, one can only scan or glance at paintings and sculptures very quickly. Really, it takes time and energy, years really, to fully engage such a vast collection. I stayed until closing time and got a brief look. But the way to see such art is to visit and revisit it. In general, I don’t think that I could have spent my last day in Paris in a better way. The visit to the Louvre also stressed for me the importance of being a good steward and custodian of whatever arts and other things are in one’s possession and in one’s family. It does for one at a local level what the Louvre, by preserving French and other cultural history, does in a more abstract way. It made me long to see the beauty of home in Montgomery and aware of the nice work that has gone into putting it together. It made me realize that my own home reflects Southern history and heritage in profound ways.
The visit to the Louvre brought me out of my shopping addiction I developed last week. Saturday and for two days before that, I went to the Galleries Lafayette. I spent Monday and Tuesday, and perhaps some of Wednesday, looking around in shops, including high-end couture outfits, on the Champs Elysee. I found a few summer dresses-five-for my goal was to have some fashions with that Paris cut that’s so hard to find in the U.S. I had warmed up early in the week with buying lingerie at Valege, four [sets] in all. I never found the Etam set I wanted in the right size in pink. The dresses fit well, though, incl. the one I ended up exchanging. I have a little Paris wardrobe now. I even picked out the kind of Louis Vuitton purse I want-one w/ a bit of structure-at the Galleries Lafayette. This morning, I saw a woman w/ one in that line w/ darker golden straps, which I think I prefer. I saw the beauty case and would love to have one of those, too, along with a couple of pieces of luggage. I spent two or three hours trying to find the right outfit for Ma-she asked me for a skirt and a blouse. I found it at Zara’s. I wanted something that she would like.
I’m pleased with what I bought and the gifts. . .
I had a ball with Efua and Marc last Tuesday. It was pouring rain when I went to see her and then we sat in the hotel lobby and had tea and croissants and just talked-some along with Marc. It was relaxing and good. . . That afternoon, we went over to FNAC and then to a café. Spending time with a friend in another part of the world was just terrific.
Another highlight of last week was seeing the Kara Walker exhibition. It was phenomenal. I was impressed by the range of her work-truly impressed. Films. Installations. I am looking forward to writing the review. This is an event that also shows the unique opportunities that exist in Paris, or the difference that context makes in displaying art. Saturday, I saw Le Defense. It was interesting to see the arcs lined up. The buildings. Really interesting. The idea of purpose, precision, comes through. And perspective. . .
Again, thanks and praises to you for Paris-for seeing it. I put it in your hands and ask that you will multiply that gift. . .