There’s a charm to the Parisian study abroad tour in December and early January when the trees inside and outside the Ritz are lit for the holiday season. In our neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement where the ACCENT Study Center was located, we had access to one of the oldest outdoor markets in all of Paris, Marché d’Aligre, where raw oysters, cheese, charcuterie, flowers, and produce sat on display as a still life. The neighborhood was home to many wonderful cafes where passionate waiters served the plat du jour. Day after day we walked away from great food only to stop again at an artisan chocolate shop or a boulangerie for espresso and chaussons aux pommes. Beautifully curated windows where handsome leather brogues or lingerie were on display entertained us as we strolled.
And this was the point of our trip: to stimulate ourselves with the art of living, which Parisians do so well. We transformed ourselves into a flaneur: the engaged wanderer who spends as much time observing the Water Lilies by Monet in l’Orangerie as she does the Syrian refugees camped in the metro, who absorbs all the details of Paris and walks its streets as if walking a narrative where each new turn leads to a new development in a story. Our students witnessed street life in Paris, viewed the best of Impressionistic paintings at the d’Orsay and the fractured perspective of the Moderns at the Pompidou—from Magritte to the Monoprix, our textbook was the city of Paris and the art and culture it has inspired for centuries. We arrived there with the script the Lost Generation left behind for us: experiencing Paris as a young person lives with you forever. Hemingway promised, and our students quickly learned, that Paris is indeed a moveable feast.