Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I am back at the Cité Universitaire campus after less than a year. Last time, I was here for 17 days. And yet everything is so familiar that moving in feels almost like returning to Princeton after a break.

British Airways and London Heathrow was a combination of nice and not-so-nice—nice because some of the flight attendants were very kind and friendly, and a little awkward because BA and the security at Heathrow always make me feel like I've done something wrong, like I don't belong; there's a sense that I'm being discriminated against in a way that I can't exactly pinpoint.

Anyway, Starbucks (to the rescue) and the efficient and quick processing at Charles de Gaulle airport was like a refreshing breeze. As I set off for central Paris from the airport (which is located in the suburbs of Paris) I began to see the public housing architecture that I have been researching and writing about all spring semester at Princeton.

Unfortunately I didn't catch the announcement that I had to switch trains at the first station in Paris. Soon I realized I was on my way back to the airport in the same train. I panicked and exited on the next station, baggage and all. This station just happened to be Drancy, which was ironic because Drancy was the site of the first Grand Ensemble, a horrific array of “modern” slabs with repetitive housing units that were used during the Second World War as a prison for Jews who were being transported to Auschwitz. It is the epitome of architecture gone wrong, both in terms of form and symbolism, and was later taken down. However, the stark contrast between the City of Lights and its forsaken suburb was evident, for there were no manicured gardens, gargoyles, or monuments here—only high-rise apartments in empty space, lots of graffiti, and people who didn't resemble Parisians.

Finally I got on another train and came to Paris. Tomorrow I start work at kilo architectures.

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