Over Under Project: A Little Peace of Paris

Through the history of the world, man has sought after concepts that seem to lead to a better life: love, joy, success, and the like. Many times, however, these concepts fall short as many go through times of darkness and despair, failure and brokenness, a metaphorical storm in the midst of each life. As life throws curves into our path, it is easy to give up and accept the storm. However, as every storm has an eye in the middle, one can choose to seek peace. Whether peace of mind, peace on earth, or peace of heart, peace is one of the most elusive concepts in the universe, yet it presents itself to each of us regularly through beautiful, subtle moments and places.

In this project, we have wandered through one of the busiest cities in the world, examining the culture, day to day activities, and craziness of the people surrounding us and the lives they lead. In the midst of the chaos, however, we have sought places or moments which have given us peace amongst insanity, calm within the storm. These places are reflected in our art, whether photography, sketches, stories, or poems, and are even more so remembered In our hearts. This is our impression of the city of love. This is our Little Peace of Paris.

This project was done in a way that reflects on both ourselves and Paris. When visiting each stop, it is difficult to see it as someone’s home. From an outsider’s point-of-view, Paris is a destination that inspires both romance and adventure, offering an experience different from everyday life but causing a sense of alienation from its current population. This can be explained by thinking of the  feeling one gets when going to a Disney park. It is easy to remove the historical context, the tragedies and horrors that happened in one location, and create an ideal image of the city in your mind. It is also very easy to remove the people that frequent an area in order to make yourself the protagonist.

It is because of this that this project was made. One tends to forget that in the same spot in which you could be standing, a marriage proposal could have taken place, or someone could have heard both the best and worst news in their lives. A park bench could mean the world to someone, but to you, it is just a bench in a random park that you will never go back to again, or even pay a second thought to.  This is where “A Little Peace of Paris” comes from: the idea that there are locations all throughout this city that offer some form of refuge to someone is really a magical concept to us. People live and die here. Paris is not a Disney park, it is a city that is alive.

Our “Over Under Paris” project allowed us to obtain a different perspective on life by slowing down from our daily routines in order to acquire a different experience.  Back home in Miami, we are able to see certain things just because we live there: the hostess at a restaurant in South Beach relaxing near the curb during a slow day or the bicyclist that crosses a certain street at a certain time are all examples of sights that a tourist might not see. And yet, even though we live in Miami, there are sights that we will never experience just because we tend to enter a monotonous cycle of work and home life. We go to work in a box, or office, just to transition back to another box which is our home. We enter cars and block out our outside environment as we cement our feet into a clockwork of activities that blur the day away and melds the weeks together in our minds. This causes us to not truly experience our city fully, even though we live within its limits.  Likewise, even though there are Parisians that have lived in Paris for their entire lives, they could have still experienced less than we have in the month that we have been studying here.

“A Little Piece of Paris” takes the concept of every life being different but sharing the same fundamental principles and applies it to ourselves. Paris is a fast-paced city. From metro trains that are less than a few minutes apart to crosswalks that have been stepped on by millions of feet, the hurried tone that Paris offers forces certain aspects of it to be forgotten. The act of stopping to listen to a performance in a metro station or sitting down in a park for a minute longer provides a sense of peace that is different from forced relaxation. It gives one the idea that slowing down is, in a sense, an act of self-enlightenment.  Through actions like these, we were able to find peace in Paris, but more importantly, if only for a moment, we found peace ourselves.

Mairie de Mountrouge: A Test in Bonds

"Pourquoi partez-vous?"

"Parce que je dois," she responded, her voice barely rising above a whisper. She knew deep down that if she spoke any higher, her words would break and her tears would fall down her face. She looked towards the flowers, the shadows created by the light shining through the leaves on the trees, and the mosaic of green displayed on the ground beneath her feet. Anywhere but at her friend's face. The gentle, hurried voice that kept asking why she was leaving, the soft features of worry displayed on such a beautiful face, this person was unknowingly the reason for so many of her tears. They had met many years ago on this same location, beneath this tree that had heard so many of their secrets. The branches stretched out throughout time, holding onto their very emotions and confessions. Through its growth, they also grew, the two of them together. And now it would all be gone. Two young girls, now two young women, holding onto the same wooden bench that had provided them comfort for so long.

The Secret Garden

Tell me your secrets Tell me your past

Of boys sailing off unto the high seas Of young love discovering new things Of youth living recklessly All of these you know

How many roses have you seen retired How many minds have you inspired

As you offer the pilgrim refuge As you become the poets muse As you calm the brokens heartache All these you do

So tell me the secrets you hold so dearly Show me the things you know

Give me serenity Like all those before me Let me find myself within your gates Speak your wisdom from a lifetime of stories All this I ask

My secret garden

This sketch was when we arrived at the Marie de Montrouge stop. I immediately noticed the abundance of roses on posts throughout the streets. Almost every window had flowers outside. As we were taking it in, two boys rode past us riding one bike. One boy was dark-skinned and the other was light-skinned. It made me reflect on the current issues of racism that are going on in the United States. I thought about how even lighter Hispanics are racist against darker Hispanics in Miami. It was an image that showed that they were just two boys riding around town on a Saturday morning and their color of skin was but a physical description – nothing else.

Mouton-Duvernet: Gentle Glow

The soft glow of happiness surrounded his chest as he walked. The warmth that a single smile gave him filled him with hope. As a young man, the feeling of love was fairly new to him. Attraction to those that were attracted to him, the raw feeling of adrenaline, that was not new. This feeling was an entirely new concept that he had never truly experienced before. He had only ever seen her in passing before. Never truly staying too long near where she was. On a sunny day, the soft buzzing of life surrounding him; he saw her behind the counter as she sold her wares. Her long black strands of hair falling in front of her face as she looked down to her book. Her soft hands turning the pages, treating each page as delicate as the last. The small curve of her lips that spread into a smile whenever a customer approached her. She invoked a feeling in him that he had never felt before. He felt happiness when he thought of her, even though he had never talked to her. If she was the one, would he be brave enough to approach her? The trees around him provided him comfort from the sun, but the warmth that he was feeling no longer came from the distant star; but of the rising redness that was now creeping up his neck. The idea of going up to her embarrassed him because of the possibility of rejection. He had never talked to her, and yet he had already planted her voice in his head. The beautiful brown eyes that he had seen stare at a book for so long now made contact with his, the fluttering of eyelids giving away her confusion. He wanted to turn away, hide away into the crowd for being caught staring at her; but he stood still. He didn't move away. Instead, this young man barely just discovered the feeling of love; moved forward towards the table.

"Puis-je vous aider?"

The Flea Market

Madness Chaos Order Calm

The crowd ebbs and flows Like a tide about to come

Through the waves of people Hear the items quiet cry

Every pin a faded memory Every book someone's past joy

The peddlers restlessly trying to find them a place to rest Every passer by just wondering

How it came to pass That these items, some broken, some scattered, some whole

Could be gathered all here Remnants of someone's old soul Every piece a living window To some forgotten past

What of ours will be sold one day When we too come to pass?

When we walked around this stop, we found a small antique market and a park right next to it. It had basketball courts, flowers, benches, water fountains, statues, and sandboxes. We sat here for a while and spoke about the satisfaction that comes from being able to enjoy nature in public spaces within a city, alone, and together. I saw this woman with her shoes off in the sandbox and thought about how in Miami the only people in a park are there to ride bike or to jog on the pavement loop. The Miami parks do not have elements that invite you to sit, slow down, and allow your mind to wander.

Montparnasse Bienvenue: Playground

A young child, no more than five years old; was playing among the stone graves. In her mind, she did not know that below the marble and dirt lied the bodies of those who had perished through time. In her mind, each grave was a house, each passageway a street, each flower a treasure. With her small hand, she gently traced each name, feeling the groove of the stone as she pretended her fingers were a race car. She jumped from grave to grave as she imaged the floor to be lava. The cemetery was her playground. There was nothing she could not do here. She could trap wild lions and and chase kangaroos. She could operate on a patient or start her new job as a veterinarian. This young girl, as she played her youth on the stones of her ancestors, brought a smile to each grave.

The Cemetery

A quiet courtyard Wandering souls Laid in the ground Under aging stones

Memories and persons Replaced by a date A name and a cross Etched into a plate

The stories of most Forgotten in time Affecting the lives of Each passerby

The future of all Though our lives still unwritten Waiting so patiently for us to be given

To the ground To the dirt To the end

This representation is the only one that is underground. It is of a man playing guitar in the passageways between the exits and the metro cars. I found this to be one of the most beautiful parts of the metro because it shows a huge contrast between the hurrying people taking the metro and this one man standing there performing for perhaps an hour and the few people who take the time to slow their day as well. I would also notice a lot of people just smile or sing along. It’s a simple concept but it can give culture and unity to a city. Unfortunately, Miami’s public transportation is greatly flawed and therefore not used by a majority. We miss out on these little gems of society.

St. Germain-des-Pres: A Sunken Heart

Alesia
Alesia

Tears threatened to fall down his face, the constant sting of his chest growing with each step he took. The walls of the church cast a shadow on him. The figures were glaring at him. He felt as though every member inside that church knew of the single tear that was now gently falling down his cheek, hugging his skin before reaching the floor. The tall ceilings used to provide him refuge, but now they felt as though they were pushing him away. His hands were shaking. He sat down the rigid wooden chair, creaking beneath his weight. All of his choices, every path in his life that he had taken now led to this one moment in time. It stood frozen, a second took a minute to fulfill its cycle. His head hanging low from his neck, his arms weightless by his side, his chest black with emotions, his world around him crumbling, and everyone around him pretended as if he didn’t exist. The poor wandering souls that had reached this church before had never felt like this. The stones located in the floor, the walls, and the entrance had seen an array of emotions from various individuals and from various times. Who would have thought that at this very moment, the shadow of a man would have sat down inside this church and thought about his shattered spirit. Who would have thought that the crumbling feeling would have become too much to bear. A man that used to think that tears were a sign of weakness was now deeply crying inside the church walls. The echoing sounds of sobbing, the slight gasping of breath when the pain becomes too much to bear; resonated throughout the building. It shook the paintings, the figures, and the altar. It shook his very core, the center of his being, and shattered it completely. The tears continued to stream down his face, his features twisted with pain as a single question resonated throughout his mind.

Am I broken?

The Church

Your walls tower over me Your beauty unending

Your power undeniable Your truth unbending

You whisper through the stones To the lost and weary

Giving comfort to most Striking fear in many

But I know your peace I know your joy I've known your mercy Since I was a boy

Maybe it's in my head Still your in my heart Still love remains true Our purpose Your art.

I was wearing all black the day that we were exploring the Saint Germain des-Pres area and we saw these artworks hung up on the fence near the church. As we were appreciating the art, we saw the artist nearby, completely dressed in white. He asked me where I’m from, and I promptly replied. I asked him the same question, and he replied, “Paradise.”

Strasbourg - Saint Denis: Peace

The world came to a stop every day at noon. With slow dragging steps, an old man walked up to a table on this small street cafe. With heavy arms, he would drag the metal chairs for him to sit on, and face the clock opposite of him. He would take out a white tablecloth, and set it out in front of him smoothing out the edges with his rugged hands. The employees from the cafe knew him from the years that he had frequented that very table. They had seen him transform from a lively aged man, to a slow moving grandfather. His smile now hangs low on his face, the looseness of his skin giving him a permanent frown. A coffee and a chicken curry sandwich without the bread is what he ordered everyday without fail. Everyday at noon, the cafe was frozen in time as this nameless old man ate his lunch in silence. Time was frozen, until one day he failed to show up.

Side Streets

Winding through the heart Like a spiders deadly web Every strand another story Another heart, another land From the distant shores of Africa To the city of love From the dirty slums of India To the city they now love Too much heart to let their ancient cultures die Watching the world as the old and new collide So they cling to their spiders web Keeping true to what they know A little piece of Paris Embracing their new home

As we walked the streets, I saw this little girl up in a window blowing bubbles as the rest of Paris was alive on ground floor. I stood for a few minutes and was mesmerized by the bubbles created that would float away into the sky. I pictured myself that age and remembered blowing bubbles into my living room in the house that I still live in today. I reflected on that sense of peace that comes with childhood.

Photography by German Evy Stories by Melanie Ponce Poems by Danen Rector Drawings by Valerie Villa