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You Never Know Who You'll Meet...

Blair Waldorf met a prince while staring at Manet’s “Le déjeurner sur l’herbe” at Musée D’Orsay (Gossip Girl). Luigi met a rat who can cook in his father’s restaurant (Ratatouille). And Owen Wilson managed to meet everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Henri Matisse once the clock struck midnight (Midnight in Paris). Needless to say, when it comes to who you will come across in Paris, the possibilities are endless.
 The 20 minutes I spent scrolling through
Yelp was well worth it!

Somehow, I only find myself productive while studying in a café – surrounded by people, noise and good vibes. In Paris, there are plenty of cafés to choose from, possibly too many! Therefore, the morning of my first French exam, I woke up, scrolled through Yelp to choose a café (the randomly choose one of the 8 cafés on one street approach is unreliable), and headed toward café La Fronde.

After getting off the metro, I walked down Rue des Archives, which may as well have been named Rue des Perfect Little Cafés. Each café I passed made me question my decision of La Fronde a little bit more, but in about an hour I would realize I made the right choice. I walked in, exchanged bonjours with the barista and sat down outside. Being the studious CEA student that I am, I pulled out my textbook and began reviewing the conditional tense. I had only been reading my notes for three minutes when something other than facebook broke my focus. Instead, it was the French monsieur to my right. He turned to me and said “Pardon, mademoiselle, [insert extremely fast, incomprehensible sentence en français here].” Slightly taken off-guard, I responded with a pardon? but was soon able to go back and forth with him for about two minutes (that’s a record, woo!) before admitting to being American. Though I’m sure he knew that the second I opened my textbook full of grammar lessons that French third graders probably learn.

 Starbucks or this? That's really no question. © Peter Turnley, 2014.

Despite his perfect French accent and attire, and friendship with the café owner, he replied that he too, was American. Yet while he may have been born in America, France has been his home for the majority of his life. After routine small talk, we discovered that the French university, Sorbonne, that I’m taking classes at through CEA, is the same university he studied at as an exchange student years ago. After graduating college, he decided to move back to Paris. With his several years of experience in Parisian living, he was able to offer me some useful advice. For example, he advised I be insistent on speaking French and only French even when waiters and shop owners respond in english, and he suggested I do not go to Starbucks. While giving up my chai tea and pumpkin spice lattés has been difficult, he was right in saying that nothing beats sitting outside and watching Parisians walk by as you sip out of your porcelain mug.

Now, names are not my specialty, but thankfully when my new friend and I got on the subject of traveling and work, he handed me his business card which conveniently had his name typed in big, red letters. Turns out, for 10 minutes, I was completely unaware that I was speaking to photojournalist, Peter Turnley, whose photographs have been on over 40 Newsweek covers. Between traveling the globe to photograph almost every significant event in the last three decades – the Gulf War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the list goes on – he made time to publish Parisians, a book documenting street scenes in Paris. It’s no wonder 60-minutes aired a biographical piece on the man!

Just listening to his advice and practicing my French with Peter would have been enough, but to realize I’d been receiving advice and practicing my French with a creative, renowned, inspiring photographer...incroyable! By this point, I had accepted that I probably was not going to do any last minute reviewing for my test, but I would classify this as a productive way of spending a morning in Paris. Just as I was about to pack up my bag and head off to the Sorbonne, Peter asked if he could take a photograph of me. Usually people ask me if I’ll take their photo, not if they can take my photo. He followed by explaining that he posts a simple candid photograph each day on his Facebook page for all of his followers. I’m usually not one for having my picture taken, but this was my Humans of New York moment, how could i say no?

After he snapped the candid picture, we simply said our au revoirs and I left, feeling a little less prepared for my exam, but a lot more inspired about being in Paris.

I’d call it a fair trade.

 I really wish I could remember what I was thinking about
when this was snapped... © Peter Turnley, 2014.

Madison Vlay is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Paris, France. She is currently a junior at UCLA.

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