Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things i've learned today, August 26

Just a quick overview of what I learned yesterday, because we have been learning a lot everyday of our orientation with Gilbert, our 23 year old French-American tour guide.
1) Like many other cities, historically, the West of Paris is very affluent, while the East is much poorer, more artisans and blue collar workers. This is also generally the case now. We all kind of take that for fact, but why is that? I always wondered, but never knew anyone who knew the answer, or just never asked anyone who did. For those of you who don’t know, the answer lies in the wind. Literally. According to Gilbert, the wind naturally blows from west to east. So in the days where factories dotted the landscape of every urban city, its smoke would float east of wherever the factory was. So, those in the west would avoid the harmful smoke, where those in the east would not. Thus, rich in the west, who could afford to choose to ignore the smoke, and the east was left to those who didn’t have a choice. Wow!
2) Why are the arrondissements of Paris arranged so impractically? I think it was John who said, “because the French are crazy”, and Gilbert answered, “actually, kind of, yes”. Its because when Haussman was first designing the new arrondissements in the mid to late 1800s, he originally wanted to arrange them in a way which would make sense, where the first started in the top left, and the rest continued left to right, with 4 or 5 in each row. However, it so happens that the 13th would have landed in the bottom left, where the rich, snobby, very superstitious French live. This was not ok with them. They ordered him to change it, so he did, to the snail-shell like pattern we know now, and it just so happens that the 13th (coincidentally, the one I live in), landed in the bottom right, the historically poorer area.
Yesterday, we also took a tour of Science Po, the famous, very selective university for Po(litical) Science. One of our future professors talked to us in French for a while, most of which kind of went over my head because 1) he spoke very fast, and 2) I was pretty exhausted. However, I did catch that the room that we sat in, when it was first built and rented as an apartment by an ambassador, was the room in which the Declaration of Paris, or Treaty of Paris, or something (dad, help?) was signed, and that document helped contribute to the United States becoming the United States. Again, WOW!

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