January Scholars in France






Seven fortunate MIT students were selected to participate in the JSF program. As part of the program this year, each student explored the writing style of George Perec, often in the very places where he himself had been. Below you will find a mix of the students observations on the trip and their Perec-style writings.

In his novel Tentative dipuisement dun lieu Parisien published in 1975, French born writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) does just what the titles implies: he attempts to describe everything he notices from his seat in a coffee shop at the Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Things and events, he says, which no one would otherwise bother writing about. Thus, he notes the numbers on the passing buses, how full they are, the postal office across the street, the cars parked in front of the coffee shop, or the passersby, all unsuspecting heroes in a story in writing. The result: a story in real time so authentic, so common, the reader truly feels he or she is sitting with Mr. Perec, sipping black coffee, as he writes.

Il y a beaucoup de choses place Saint-Sulpice, par exemple : une mairie, un httel des finances, un commissariat de police, trois cafis dont un fait tabac, un cinima, une iglise ` laquelle ont travailli Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni et Chalgrin et qui est didiie ` un aumtnier de Clotaire Il qui fut ivjque de Bourges de 624 ` 644 et que l'on fjte le 17 janvier, un iditeur, une entreprise de pompes funhbres, une agence de voyages, un arrjt d'autobus, un tailleur, un httel, une fontaine que dicorent les statues des quatre grands orateurs chritiens (Bossuet, Finelon, Flichier et Massillon), un kiosque ` journaux, un marchand d'objets de piiti, un parking, un institut de beauti, et bien d'autres choses encore.

We found such a method of writing fascinating. So, while in Paris, we were challenged to attempt the same Tentative on our own, and to write ` la Perec. Each of us, armed with a journal and pen, marched to a chosen spot, where we proceeded to create our own work of art. Of all lessons, we first realized that writing about ordinary things and events is much harder than one would think. But nevertheless, we managed to come up with a few sentences.

Jenny Ahn
Class of 2005, Major in Biology

1. An old lady and a young lady walk by... the old lady has black, thickly rimmed glasses on with lenses that magnify her eyes..
2. Cars are honking at each other... no accidents, however... just road rage, I suppose.
3. The view of the Seine and Eiffel Tower, framed by another bridge in the near distance is quite picturesque... hmm, very French... makes me imagine that I'm hearing the twinkling tune of an accordion carried on wisps of wind, swirling magically towards me...
4. 3 seagulls fly overhead... 2 pigeons waddle around, pecking the ground randomly? There's nothing to eat on the ground as far as I can see... stupid birds... well, what do I know?
5. A large, wide, white boat approaches and leaves a foamy trail of bubbles as it slides under and past the bridge.
6. Must note the cars: a grey Renault speeds by... oh look, a BLUE Renault... hey, there's a black Citroen! Wow!
7. A family of tourists go by. They're from Brazil (I took a picture for them, that's how I know. We spoke, you see)
8. A German couple walk by and ask for a picture.
9. A seagull squawks, but it's drowned out instantly by the humming and buzzing of the passing cars.
10. A young man on roller-blades skates across the bridge. His skates have no brakes... I wonder how he'll stop when he gets to the end of the bridge and must cross the road... may a green light be waiting for you, sir!
11. Two men go by. One is holding a professional-looking camera... the kind with a long lens and extra contraptions hanging off it.
12. An old lady with a blue coat ambles by. Her hair is white and curly (wavy), she is without glasses, her shoes are black, and she is wearing some sort of dress with grey panty hose. She's carrying a plastic bag with food? A book?

Punyashloka Biswal
Class of 2005, Major in Mathematics and Computer Science
punya in profile
I was among the minority of the participants who had never visited Paris, or indeed continental Europe, before, and this trip was all the more exciting and enjoyable for this reason. I fell completely in love with the city - with its cobbled streets, its churches, its constant capacity to surprise.
The theater spéctacles were the high points of the visit for me. And I will always remember the new friendships I made!

Place de Clichy

Place - A large square with a statue of two mem in the center. One man holds a sword, the other perhaps a standard. Both face la rue de Clichy. The square is surrounded by shops, mostly restaurants and banks.

Restaurants -
Le Petit Poulet
Self Grill
Hamburger Quick
Havana Brasserie
Bistro Romain
perhaps others...

Date: 8 January
Time: 7:00pm

It has just stopped raining. The streets are wet but people no longer have umbrellas


- many, many
- frequent blockages
- cars - Peugeot, Smart, Big-Size
- occasional scooter
- buses - single (81, 74, 54, 30); double length(84, 95)

Date: 20 Janvier 2004
Heure: 9h00 du Matin

Même café

- beaucoup moins d'affluence
- un homme à manteau gris, café
- homme à jacket en cuir entre
- h. manteau au collier sort

Son - cutlery

... [Conversation behind me, laughter. Music.]

Alexis DeSieno
Class of 2005, Major in Brain & Cognitive Science

From the 19thcentury flaneur in French impressionism, to Toulouse-Lautrec and Manets paintings of a glass of absinthe, to the influence of African immigration on Picasso, nothing has affected me more than the art of the French, and of Paris, the center of the artistic world over the last few centuries. And I have dappled in my own forms of artistic expression, through imitation of the great French artists, through trying to replicate Rodin's "the kiss," to trying to paint cubism like Picasso (and failing), or even just to sketch the picturesque scenes of Paris cafes, Notre-Dame and the Seine that I found in my art history books. The poetry of Baudelaire and Robert Desnos, the philosophy of Sartre, the plays of Moliere have come alive for me in the existentialist and romantic paintings of Paris such as Boulevard des Capucines by Monet, and I have learned a greater appreciation for the past and the French culture through studying these works not only for their artistic merits, but in their historical and social context in my french and art history classes at MIT and in high school.
But it's one thing to learn about french culture through the art replicated in a text book, and a completely different thing to learn about it in person. Whereas I expected to learn the most about the art and culture of Paris in the museums and monuments, I was surprised to find that I learned the most through the everyday life of a Parisian -- through the somewhat philosophical advertisements in the metro, through the lack of nutrition information on food packaging, and through the much more risque movies, 9am weather reports and soap operas on the morning tv. This "vie quotidienne" is exactly what the JSF program strives for -- a complete immersion into the life of a Parisian. The JSF program was an important experience in my life not only because it taught me a lot about art, history and culture, but also because it taught me a lot about myself and how I think. When you learn about the french ideals in a class, you have a vague understanding of what they mean, you can perhaps even reiterate and repeat them when asked. But to be a part of them, to live with them, even just for two weeks, really makes obvious the difference between the French and American way of life and as well as causes you to reevaluate your own values. Even the differences in importance placed on every day things was apparent, from Americans who seek convience and self-service, to the French who prefer to remain traditional with their specialty shops. The differences in customer service which is almost non-existent in France where the cafe waiters rush you during your meal and urge you to pay as soon as possible, represents a very different outlook than that of America, and many subtle differences in the everyday life such as these made me pause and think about which I would genuinely prefer to live with. I gained more than just a knowledge of Paris, more than just a few more vocabulary words and artists names, and more than a few extra pounds from French pastries -- I gained a more complete understanding of myself, of what is important to me, and of how I want to live. In making these realizations and decisions, I have taken part of Paris back with me, as something that is further ingrained in my way of life and which will remain a fundamental part of my own personal philosophy forever -- and for that, my JSF experience was priceless and irreplaceable.

Alexis DeSieno
January 18th, 2004
Cafi Mabillion

10:07 pm
The crosswalk turns green
Trendy brazilian music playing
its musics culture
The 6s, the beats, the putt-putt of smart cars
A black BMW
A couple on a motorcycle
The sound of my pen scratching is barely audible
Pink candles flicker in their shot glasses
A silver VW turns the corner
Red circle. Presse. St. Germain.
3 bicycles lean against the iron x of the fence
a grey Renault parked at the corner
the stripes off the crosswalk become more diagonal as they retreat
those plastic wicker chairs
how do fat people live in france with those chairs?
La Cite, 1920s looking iron windows remind me of Nordstroms cafi
Im wonderwoman
A hand spins the shotglass candle between the index finger and thumb like a dj spinning a record
An oversized leather bag stumbles across the street
A black guy wearing all black has impeccably white Nike shoes
129. Everyone wearing all black
Another VW turns the corner, its yellow lights blinking
Chablis wine comes to the table, the waiter who looks like Jorge is wearing all black and puts out paper napkins with three large glasses starts struggling with the cork
A small taste, ca va
A group of 5, the man looks at me through the window
A woman with her husband stop suddenly in the sidewalk and is grabbed by her husband just seconds before BEING HIT BY A MOTORCYCLE.
The shhhhhhhhh of the expresso machine you can almost hear the milk frothing

A yellow lightening lamp
Three short men cross the sidewalk they look sleezy
A moped
Green crosswalk
A clear plastic ring is white with black stripes.
The smell of my leather journal is overwhelming
2 latino couples in fur coats and black pants
another Mercedes taxi
a green mini hesitates in the crosswalk
a man with a blue cloth guitar case walks quickly, hes of course wearing black
The orange reflections on silver watches
An upside down car floats through the silver of my Chablis
Pointy black shoes with stilettos
Light reflecting off peoples teeth
The ellipsis of the surface of the wine in the glass dances

A black Renault
Bubbles from the bottom of the champagne glass
Swirl up and remind me of champagne supernova by oasis
Jeans with black pumas with white stripes
79 Euros, Nokia 3200
whatever Lola wants
bare trees growing out of their concrete coffins
the shadows on the page moving across slowly
a white taxi turns the corner slowly
the hum of night life- high pitched voices and laughs of women fliriting with sketchy men, of men complimenting women they will never get
no smell of smoke, for once
the sound of guttural French
cigarette fireflies ephemerally flicker before descending to their porcelain deaths
ghostly glowing bottles of alcohol at the bar
glasses of straws
glasses of spoons
everying is organized in barware The sound of ice being blended A pair of knee high white pointy boots with stiletto heels gets up from behind me
and the crosswalk turns green
10:41 pm

Rossana Ivanova
Class of 2005, Management Science

"Immersed in two weeks of restaurants, theaters, operas, museums and events, I felt like a kid in a candy shop, with so much to do in so little time. It was a world so different from the one I know at MIT, it felt surreal. I am truly grateful to everyone responsible for the JSF program and hope other students in future years will be able to experience at least as much as I have."

Rossana Ivanova
La date:10 Janvier 2004
Le lieu: Cafe Saint_Severin, Place St. Michel
Le temps: Froid, il a plu ce matin

Inventaire des choses faciles ` noter.
Flhches indiquant la voie pour le Palais de Justice ` droite.
Sainte Chapelle ` droite aussi.
Un signe bleu du "RER".
Un bureau de change, une pizzeria. Un grand signe "Gibert Jeune". La Rive Gauche,brasserie.
Je bois un lait chaud au miel et deux paquets de sucre. 4.50 euros.
Passe le 27.
Une famille. Le papa a la petite fille sur ses ipaules. Elle tient un ballon multicolore.
Un 85, pas trhs plein.
Un bus de touristes sans annonces sur le coti.
Un jeune homme pressi, ` la veste de cuir sportive.

La date:12 Janvier 2004
Le lieu: Cafi Saint-Severin, Place St. Michel
Le temps: Clair, mais frais

Une bonte postale jaune heurte les yeux.
Une Fiat bleue est arretie en face du cafi.
Des motos arreties sur le trottoir.
Un 96 bien vide
Une BMW noire disparant vite
Le serveur est pressi. Il demande qu'on paye immidiatement.
Le cafi se remplit. Tout le monde f{me.
Un groupe de touristes, dont un jeune homme, bien dodu, ` la bouteille d'eau, pouffant en avant.
Un 38 passe, un 21 immediatement aprhs.

Michael Motion
Class of 2004, Major in Electrical Engineering

Two weeks in Paris, what better way to spend IAP! Great food, great environment, great memories and last, but foremost, my first visit to Paris! I was delighted to visit the most romantic and enchanting city in the world. The charming environment that Paris projected amazed me. Not only was the city appealing, but it also made me feel right at home. After two weeks, I felt like a Parisian and had adapted to the French lifestyle. For me, however, the highlight of the trip was the visit to Roland Garros. Being a tennis fan, I have always dreamed of visiting the famous stadium. It was a thrilling experience to see the site where the French Open is held. I wish I could be there right now playing tennis rather than working on a pset.

Carrie Niziolek
Class of 2005, Major in Brain & Cognitive Science

la place Saint-Andre des Arts

Il y a deux femmes ` ctti de moi qui parlent en anglais avec les accents (frangais et quelque chose d'autre que je ne peux pas dire). Une dit ` l'autre, "Look at that coat!" Deux seconds aprhs ga, une vieille femme traverse la rue devant ma fenjtre, en portant un monteau enorme de fourrure.

- A man passes, carrying a plastic bag just bulging with things.
- A woman holding a book and a cell phone stops at the bike rack (empty) to talk, then moves on.
- An orange truck (Surbeco) passes on rue Danton.
- A young girl with a backpack is wearing a scarf with many little holes in it.
The closer people walk to my window, the shorter the amount of time I have to see them before they pass by.
- un homme porte un club sandwich -- il mange sur le pouce
- une femme avec deux jeunes enfants les montre le shop avec les affiches et les vetements
- A girl walks by with a Jansport-like backpack slung over her right shoulder -- the way we used to wear them in eighth grade.
A cycler cycles by from Rue Suger. There are not that many people emerging from there into the square; most are disappearing down the road *coming* from the square.
A guy with a black coat and a black backpack passes carrying a skinny long object wrapped in black material. He has a colored hat.

The woman next to me lights a cigarette. I don't see anyone with a cigarette outside. Inside I see 3 from where I sit.

Deux jeunes filles entrent le cafi et il devient froid pour un moment jusqu'` la porte ferme.

A man walks by with a bajillion camping supplies strapped to his back.

Deux camions blancs passent. Il n'y a pas d'autobus ici.

A pigeon takes off on a diagonal trajectory from one corner of my window to the other. Nothing seems to have made him take off.

A woman walks by holding a sort of long stick, swinging it back and forth.

Another pigeon (or the same?) marches past the Metro entrance looking like he's about to go in.

Not only can I not see everything going on at once, but I can barely write down what I do see in time to catch something else. Everything is simultaneous and my handwriting degenerates.

The sky has faded more into white since the last time I looked at it. The blue fades into the clouds and everything is more of less white-gray.

Camion jaune de la poste goes by on rue St. Andre des Arts.


laughter at the bar behind me.
The two non-English women speaking English have left.
It seems to get colder.

An old lady in a sea-green coat with clear plastic over her hair starts to sprint across the square.

White birds fly around in circles at the carrefour at the end of rue Danton.

Ah! le 96 Gare Montparnasse autobus passe. Je ne savais pas qu'il y en a un ici.

The sky is even more uniformly gray-white, and there are no more pigeons on the ground. There is more swooping and gliding of pigeons flying by.

Un homme et une fille aux cheveux rouge (dyed) marchent ensemble, les bras encerclis.


Vieille femme trhs distinguie entre dans le Metro. Jeune femme pas trhs distinguie avec chapeau jaune et noir porte un chemise orange.

Une femme passe avec une icharpe qui ressemble ` celle de Jenny.

Je ne connais personne dans cette ville.


Sebastian Ortiz
Class of 2004, Major in Computer Science & Electrical Engineering
sebastian looking confused
I enjoyed my time in Paris even more than I expected. There was so much to take in that I never fully grasped how lucky I'd been until my return. A city where the constant bustle of modern life and the beauty of medieval architecture coexist perfectly. These images flash into my mind when I glance around MIT- which at best bares a slight resemblance to parts of la Defense...