Camille Reyes

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

A Sense of Place

In Culture, Travel on January 20, 2011 at 7:58 pm

My Lost City by F. Scott Fitzgerald

From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood — everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora’s box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits — from the tallest structure he saw for the first time that it faded out into the country on all sides, into an expanse of green and blue that alone was limitless. And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground. –F. Scott  Fitzgerald


The poem is a melancholy ode, one of haunting beauty.  Yet, I look upon this city with eyes not jaded, hopes not dashed.  When I look down from the Empire State I see no limits.  The booms and busts never cease, no matter how high one climbs atop the masterpieces.  The shore might disturb the urban canyons, but I see endless yearning, the potential of a teeming humanity, the indomitable spirit of New York.  This place is still a universe to me.  And though I remember fondly the snowy peak of Mt. Hood, I do not yet tire of my steel fortresses, the wild energy pulsing through their girders.  I wonder if I ever shall.

If I do grow weary of the roar, I hope I’ll have the good sense to return to the Columbia River Gorge and bathe my eyes in the quiet beauty, the wonder of my adopted home, my Portland.  Sitting alone at the edge of Punch Bowl falls, I decided there, in the middle of Eagle Creek trail, that I would someday drive 3,021 miles to settle nearby, to view it in every season.  I kept my promise, and nature kept hers.

Before I return to the land of impossible green however, I dream, as only a New Yorker can, of capturing words filled with such exquisite pain as Fitzgerald’s.  I want to write Gatsby sentences constructed out of platinum stardust.  This is the place to do it.  This is where he did it.  From his glorious rubble, I will imagine pages on new palimpsests, always holding close his egg, this city, and my Western home.


Play it Again, Jacques

In Culture, Travel on July 15, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I cry a lot.  My emotions live close to the surface like giant carp gasping for air in a stagnant pond.  Art is my most frequent tear trigger-music especially.  In college, I minored in Music and spent many nights weeping over my homework.  French Romantic and 20th century music is my own private Victoria Falls.  The orchestral piece, a nocturne called Nuages (clouds) by Debussy holds the number one spot on my personal chart.  When I listen to it, I imagine I’m gliding down a French canal at dusk feeling melancholy with the oboe, and later, as the flute plays the pentatonic melody, I’m the sun peaking over the Alps at daybreak.  I invite you to listen to the piece and tell me what you see and feel.  Where does it take you, or does it?

Vocal music also transports me.  I have two favorite operas, one Italian (Tosca), the other French (Les Contes  d’Hoffman).  When I had to sing in four different languages for my senior recital, the French songs (by Faure and Debussy if memory serves) were the hardest, and most rewarding.  The undulating piano lines help create that dream-like quality, yet prove difficult for the rhythmically challenged among us.

This is all a long build up to say I could not leave Paris without hearing some chansons, the traditional art songs of France.  I believe the form dates back to the Middle Ages, but I’m most fond of the pre-War style with its penchant for tales of the working class.  These are the songs Edith Piaf spread around the world.  A Parisian friend back in New York suggested the Lapin Agile in Montmartre for this old-school cabaret.  Please erase any images of Liza Minnelli or Joel Grey from your collective heads.  This style of cabaret is not nearly so sexual or subversive, although bawdy drinking songs were certainly in the mix.

Luke, our TA and friend, made a reservation for about ten of my study abroad group at 9 p.m.  We piled into these creaking wooden benches, settling into a room once occupied by Toulouse Lautrec and Pablo Picasso.  After sipping on a tiny glass of house wine with olives at the bottom, we noticed a large group of people at the center table as they started singing.  I wasn’t even sure if they were all professionals at first; it was so organic.

They rallied the crowd in festive sing-a-longs as I sat enraptured.  I did not understand a single word, but it hardly mattered.  I felt French; I felt old; I felt a part of something beautiful.  Eventually, the singers would leave the room save one and a set of solos would begin, accompanied by either an upright piano played with total class by a gentleman who matched the crags in the wooden benches, or by guitar.

The soprano’s solo set was stunning, a perfect mixture of sweet French ballads and up-tempo numbers including an Elvis homage/blues song.  I had been fighting a cold all week so I’m not sure my tablemates knew how moved I was, as they likely assumed I was just honking again.  I wanted to stay there indefinitely, until they couldn’t sing anymore.  I wanted to ask the pianist to play The Barcarolle from Hoffman.  I felt at home.  Sadly, the Paris Metro closes around 12:30, and we had class the next day.  I know I will return someday though, just as I know I will walk along the tempest tossed Yorkshire moors once more.  Another story, for another time.  Certain places haunt you.

Of Bishop’s Seats and Metro Shenanigans

In Culture, Travel on July 3, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I’m in Paris taking a class focused on the media systems of France, China and the U.S.  So much for the rough life of a student, I know.  If it makes some of you a lesser shade of jade, know that I’m sleeping on something the thickness of toilet paper–1 ply.  Also, I found a chubby spider in said bed.  I have named him Sarcozy.  Pierre is another spider permanently affixed to the ceiling.  He hasn’t moved in two weeks.  Friends claim he is dead.  I shant hear of it.  Pierre eats the mosquitos, and does not crawl into my bed.  I like Pierre.  Sarcozy, not so much.

Aside from naming spiders, I’ve been having more standard Parisian adventures, including a boat ride down the Seine, and a train trip to Chartres Cathedral.  We got the down low on the gothic splendor from a crusty Brit named Malcolm Miller.  He “read” some of the magnificent stained glass windows for us, and I discovered that the suckers actually come with biblical commentary.  Here’s a bit of my own, non-authentic commentary: Five of the lancet windows beneath one of the rose windows depict Jewish prophets literally hoisting the New Testament dudes on their shoulders.  It struck me as a rather strange pep rally.  Also, there was a section of the cathedral up some stairs that had a contemporary art exhibit.  Picture Georgia O’Keffee knock-offs juxtaposed with the finest in Medieval glass.  The traditionalist in me wanted to scream.  Next thing you know someone will put a Prince song in a Shakespearean play.  Oh wait, I already suffered through that abomination in film.

Strange pairings aside, Paris is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen in terms of human-made splendor.  I must give it this caveat because nothing will ever match the natural beauty of Portland, Oregon or parts of Hawaii for this little American.  Say that last word like you’ve just smelled something foul–that’s the way the Parisians look when they say it.  For all my efforts, I continue to absolutely butcher their esquisite language.  Although my lack of skills saved me some Euro the other day (G. is wondering to which day I am referencing.  Shut it.).  Most of us bought these Navigo cards for the Metro.  They are an okay deal until you find out you also have to pay 5 Euro for a bunch of photos when you only need to affix one to the damn card.  This ticked me off on principle so I decided to test my luck.

So I’m by myself coming up the Metro stairs at our home station of Gambetta when I see these guards checking everyone’s tickets.  I quickly decided I would play the stupid tourist–not much of a stretch.  When I handed the bald-headed man in uniform my card, he said “le foto” or something like that.  I looked up at him and said in my lame, massacre of his language, “Ou est le foto?”  He smirked and said, “bon” and motioned me off.  Saved!  The fine is five times the photo fee, but I’m now even more determined, even a little giddy, like a criminal high on a spree.  Cheap French thrills.

Mon Petite Frite

In Travel on June 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm

“My daddy says George Bush is going to be the new governor of Texas.”

“You mean, George W. Bush?  Presidents don’t become governors.”

It was 1994.  I was traveling all over Europe with a blonde Texas beauty queen.  After not being served at a Parisian restaurant because we were Americans, I was dejected.  Jen’s French was not any better than mine, yet she had the tougher, and magically more mostuirized skin.  I wept by the Seine.

“Milla, snap out of it!”

The longhorn drawl worked; I had to laugh.  I decided to ignore the fact that everything was closed on All Saints Day, Nov. 1 and push forward.  We looked for a friendly Canadian and asked for directions.

I leave for Paris to study propaganda and journalism (yes!) in a week, after a wonderful stop to visit a friend and her family in London.  It is my first time abroad since that comical trip with my Texan friend.  I hear Americans are treated better these days, although I’m not sure we deserve it.  I have cultural guilt.  Of course, we are a baby country; our mistakes are young.  Come to think of it, having a teenager run the so-called free world is a bit alarming.  Someone teach me how to say that in French.

I’ve been told when it comes to my research I have more of a French writing style.  I don’t like “mapping” up front, or telling my reader where I am going to take them.  Crediting the French sounds better than the truth.  I don’t know where I’m going to go when I start; I get lost in cities and on paper.  I find it tedious to go back to the intro after I’ve finished and hold hands with people.  I suspect that professors and readers simply do not want to read 15 pages on the lacunae of life in a Foucault world as evidenced by De Certeau, and my wanderings around NYC.   If I provide a map, one does not need to read the whole thing.  Pbbbbttttt!  I snicker in your general direction.

So I’m looking forward to getting lost again in Paris, and detecting Canadian flag patches on backpacks from far away.  I’ve been dutifully learning French phrases, contorting my face to produce alien sounds.  I told my sister I was very well in French (She’s fluent.), and she did that half laugh, half choke thing.  Perhaps I will stick with “sava” or even “mal” to get sympathy votes.  Only then they might ask me what is wrong, and I’d have to tell them, in English, that I don’t like maps.