An American in Paris: Diplomacy in the era of Freedom Fries

Fete/party Enjoying the music on the waterfront. (Puneet Kakkar photo)

Finding unity through music, hitting the sales, and getting hooked on Camembert

Unfortunately, it's been a while since my last dispatch. I had to learn the hard way that working a good eight to ten hours a day then staying out until 4 a.m. doesn't really make sense. At some point, something must be sacrificed ­ and in this case, it's my voice. It's not really fun being sick in Paris, so it's a lesson for me: Moderation is key.

Last week Paris celebrated its annual Fête de la Musique, which was started in the second half of the century to give musicians across the city the chance to perform for the public. The party is held every year on June 21 to celebrate the summer solstice, which is not only the longest day of the year, but also the most beautiful. In every district of Paris, musicians play on street corners, stores sponsor music events, and DJs set up on riverbanks performing their concept of music.

Along with other embassy interns, I ventured out in the city for a good 20 hours of the 24-hour day, milling from department store to street corner to boat platform all over the place. My favorites were the DJs playing newly created electronic music near the river, and the Scottish pubs holding parties in the middle of the street at 4 a.m., inviting everyone to dance along with bagpipes. The most amazing concert of that night was held on the Champ de Mars, the park next to the Eiffel Tower, and was sponsored by local TV stations and the government. We listened to the Gypsy Kings, Robbie Williams, Norah Jones and other performers sing the night away, all to the backdrop of a sparkling Eiffel Tower.

Seeing the thousands and thousands of fans — not only Parisians, but from all over France and the world — was amazing. Somehow it really was a "unity through music," with culture at its best. People of all nationalities enjoyed Maghreb, Chinese, French, and even American music all throughout the city. I heard that the fête has been such a great event in Paris for so many years that this year, Washington D.C. has decided to follow suit.

My days go by so fast I don't even remember what has happened. I've built somewhat of a routine — I get to work around 8 or 9 a.m., work until about 6, dine until 9 p.m., and then venture out in the city until I get tired, which occasionally means sunrise the next day. This time around in Paris (versus when I was here for a week three years ago), I am actually able to enjoy the CITY itself — the people, the cafés, the beauty, the atmosphere, instead of just tourist monuments. (Which are great, don't misunderstand me.) I've even developed a favorite café called Les Editeurs, located in a quaint corner of Paris, where my friends and I hang out to have random conversations with local residents and other college students, read books, or just sit back and eat "de la glace" (French ice cream).

Contrary to what I wrote before about e-mailing my dad to send snacks, I still eat French food. (I just needed quick alternatives in case of rushed days!) Buying groceries has helped me adopt the style of living here, whether it's buying baguettes instead of "normal bread," or Camembert cheese instead of American cheddar. This has become so integral in my life now I've forgotten what it feels like to be at Cal, and have been having difficulties lately seeing myself going back!

The past week, Paris has seen grand mobs and crowds bustling all over: it's not the tourist season, it's the sales. The French government only allows stores to discount their clothes twice every year, which is quite different from the American system of merchandising. No joke, every store in Paris reduces prices by a minimum of 50 percent. I find myself buying name brands at half the cost, and it's fun pushing my way through hundreds and thousands of people in Paris's large department stores to find that one tie, or that one gift for home.