Last weekend I spent most of my free practicing for my Monday-morning Grand Oral (which is the final oral exam that all Sciences Po students have to take to earn their master’s degrees). But since one can only talk to oneself in one’s room for so long, I decided I could spend a few hours checking out the latest large-scale art projects in Paris.
My first target was the “disappearing pyramid” trick that French artist JR has just performed on the Louvre pyramid. By placing a blown-up, historic photo of the Louvre’s facade on one face of the pyramid, he’s created the illusion that the pyramid has “disappeared” when viewed straight on. It looks very cool, but to get this picture I had to wait in a fairly long queue that had spontaneously arisen at the one place where the pyramid photo and actual Louvre align perfectly. But at least it was free!
Afterwards I walked through the sunny Jardin des Tuileries to reach the Grand Palais, which was built for the Universal Exhibition in 1900. Today it serves as an exhibition space, winter-time ice rink, and site of Chanel fashion shows, and Saturday I was there for the first time! I got to see “Empires” by Chinese artist Huang Yong Ping, which is part of the Grand Palais’ “Monumenta” series of exhibitions held once every two years. “Monumenta” is a very appropriate title, because this massive installation features hundreds of shipping containers, a giant snake skeleton, and a large-scale version of Napoleon’s bicorne hat – all of which is meant to serve as a commentary on globalization and the vulnerability of empire.
On Sunday I practiced my 10 minute Grand Oral speech with Kwame and Danlu (the question I had to answer was, “After years of mega-projects and flagship urbanism, is there a future for small-scale projects and incrementalism in fast-growing metropolises?”, and I couldn’t use notes), and I felt much better about my chances after sharing a few laughs (and brownies) with them. Public speaking is one of my biggest fears, but I’m slowly getting better!
My Grand Oral was at 9:25 am on a very rainy Monday morning (rain has been a trend lately, the flooding in France has been absolutely crazy!) I was definitely a bit nervous as I waited to be called in for my performance, and this was only made worse when I saw another girl walk out of her Grand Oral with tears streaming down her face. I know the French can be a bit harsh, but I did not sign up for this! Luckily for me my Grand Oral went slightly better; I remembered my entire speech without blanking-out once, and was able to answer all their questions in a somewhat intelligent manner. I think my panel was a bit nicer than that poor crying girl’s!
I was so happy to survive my Grand Oral – and so pumped up on adrenaline – that I practically skipped through the pouring rain to UNESCO to begin my Monday workday. I was free!
That night, Danlu, Kwame and I got Chinese noodle soup for dinner and “drinks” at a bar (I drank a massive hot chocolate) to celebrate, followed by an absolutely awesome jazz concert at Duc des Lombards, which, according to recently-certified jazz expert Danlu Chen, is the best jazz club in Paris!
With the best seats in the house (right in the center of the front row) despite only paying for student tickets, and a glass of wine in hand, I felt incredibly classy as I soaked in my first real jazz concert. Perhaps I am not much of a judge, but I thought the night’s performers – the Fred Hersch Trio – were fantastic! I loved the way they blended what I think of as jazz (very fast and energetic and somewhat discordant) with slower, truly heart wrenching classical pieces -and even some Broadway thrown in for fun!
Fred Hersch has been nominated for numerous Grammy awards and seems to be regarded as one of the most accomplished jazz musicians of his generation. What a great introduction to live jazz! After the concert ended (too soon at only 1 hour, although Fred gave us an encore performance), Danlu and I proceeded to
steal take some bread for the road and a poster from the bathroom and head home, arriving at Cite U before midnight. It was so inspiring to see such talented musicians up close and I am completely inspired to attend more jazz concerts in the future, and Paris is the perfect place to do this!
For a day that began with so much rain, stress, and tears, to end the night surrounded by uplifting music and great friends turned out to be the best possible way to essentially say goodbye to my studies! Forever! 😀