In the Footsteps of the Génération Perdue (Part One)

I have taken a brief hiatus from writing due to a lack of inspiration and conflict on the direction my writing shall take. After my trip to Paris, my mind is made up.

 Aspire by API Gap Year Paris France - Flags


Winding streets, cars rushing by, café upon café. I shall join the throngs of Americans captivated by the City of Lights. As I pedal through the streets, I am overtaken by happiness in the romance of the streets, the people, the food—and even the dogs. Paris is a city of leisure, and of discovery. Around every corner, behind every park, Parisians decadently sip their coffees and eat pastries, often book in hand. At their feet rest crumpled bags overflowing with freshly baked baguettes. The bread is in company with fruit and other produce—the figs I sampled, as big as tennis balls, ooze sweetness.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” once wrote Hemingway. I am captivated, alas after 3 days. It is a city of wonder, of romance, of discovery. It will indeed stay with me and I will indeed be back soon and often, perhaps as a resident.

Upon my arrival in Paris I am to trek across the city. I set out to walk, staying true to my urban mantra of discovery through feet and pavement. Yet the walk is too long. I am to be north soon to see the first familiar face not from Europe. As I walk, the Parisians in suits, dresses, and simply stylish clothes pedaling their way through the streets enthrall me.

Moments later I pedal through the streets! To feel like a true local is a difficult concept. One can visit the locals’ cafes, shops, and parks, but until one experiences something truly and utterly unique to that city or culture one does not feel like, say, a Parisian. As I pedaled my way through the city, heavy bag on back, equating it to the feeling Kerouac must have had carrying his 60-pound rucksack through Paris in the 40s, I truly felt Parisian.

In the city for just moments, I felt a sense of belonging. I rode along next to other bikers— unmistakably French, clearly not tourists. Though I may have been lamented a tourist by locals, I felt as if I belonged, that I blended in.

Aspire by API Gap Year Paris France Laiterie

In my trip to Paris, I grew a profound fascination in experiencing Paris as did the Lost Generation. A deep believer in the ideals of those Americans in self-imposed exile, inspiration for my move to Italy, I traversed the boulevards and paths of the writers, poets, and artists. The most profound experience in linking myself to these heroes was a trip to Shakespeare and Company. Upon entering the (sadly, now tourist-overrun) wood paneled bookstore, dressed as I imagine Kerouac and others of the Beats, I asked a young worker for directions to those works by the Beats. Books in hand briefly rummaging through the shelves of the store, brief pauses in his swift maneuvering through the people and shelves, he was reminiscent of young intellectuals in Paris of past generations. Loosely fitting blue oxford, sleeves rolled up this elbows and tucked into his pants. Blonde hair long but neat, combed to the side hanging over the edge. Upon further investigation, it appeared he was from Britain, an expat living in Paris. We spoke briefly on Kerouac and I asked if he was aware of the chief influences on the writer.

He brought me through the store and handed me Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson. “I have heard of the author, but in a different context and have never read this work,” I embarrassingly spoke as I retreated backwards. He stated with pride, but a subtle distance, that this work had inspired him to travel. Though a brief, subtle moment—alas a moment of connection—it was a time of real connection and humbleness. I do not know the story of this man—whether he was a writer living in Paris earning a modest sum working in this shop as I romanticized. But I do know that an expat in Paris sharing the very work that inspired his life adventure was a profound moment. He handed me the book, “If you trust me, get it.” I swiftly walked out of the store tote in hand, with the works of R. L. Stevenson, London, and Hemingway (It is said that Hemingway used books exclusively from this shop in Paris, I would’ve felt unfilled if I had not left with at least one work by the author). I left the store smiling, feeling accomplished and fulfilled. Just on the journey home alone I nearly finished the work by London. I am saving the exploits of R. L. Stevenson for a time of tranquility.

This post was written by Spencer C., an Aspire by API student who is currently taking part in a gap semester program in Rome, Italy.  He will be updating the blog periodically throughout his time abroad.

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Flashback to our Fall API student's first days in Spain. Madrid orientation with our friends from api_granada, Salamanca guided tour, and lunch tapas (+first days of classes!)

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