Paris and Library Cards

Ever since going on my research trip, I have been awful about posting about my experiences, so my next few posts will be about the incredible things I learned during my time in Europe.

I’ve been studying French for 8 years now and this was my first trip to France; anticipation was welling up inside me as the pilot announced we were landing in a few minutes. When I arrived at Charles de Gaulle and went through customs, I knew from the conversation about my clogged ears with the security guard that I was a terminal gate away from discovering the charm of Paris and that is indeed what happened. I could fill pages and pages trying to specify Paris’ je ne sais quoi, but I guess there is a reason the French expression translates to “I don’t know what.”

The thing I absolutely have to address is the Bibliothèque Nationale de la France (The National Library of France). The architectural finesse of the place blew my mind and upon entering the lobby, I was thrown into the mix of researchers from near and far itching to get their hands on written riches calling their names from some corner of the library. I took a ticket and waited for my number to be called because in order to get a library card, you have to do an interview with one of the librarians. A half-hour later, my number, 19, showed up on the screen and I was greeted by a lovely woman draped in a cream suit who got right to her questioning. I could not believe the specificity of the questions: What is your precise topic of research? What books and resources have you already consulted? What are some of the texts you want to look at today? What school do you go to? What is the address of your school? Could I see your student ID card? What level of education do you have? What degree are you working towards? Interestingly enough, if you don’t have a certain degree or level of education, you cannot look at resources in specific rooms. Thankfully, all I needed to consult was available to me.

After getting my card, I made a reservation in an “audiovisual” room and had the “principal” of the room help me place my order for books. The color of the amber shelves and the serene silence made the room a sanctuary for research. Within 20 minutes, I had all my books and then for the ultimate surprise; after browsing through their collection of audiovisual resources online I found the 1973 interview with the Lebanese francophone poet Nadia Tueni who I will hopefully write a thesis on and the recording of the 1984 assembly that was an homage to her work after her death in ’83. I was getting giddy hearing the poet whose work was essential to my research speak and express herself. I took as many notes as possible from the interview and homage recording and realized I could tell Nada Skaff, the poet I was to interview in two days, that I had gotten to see the rare recordings. Skaff herself wrote a thesis on Tueni for her graduate degree in French literature.

It was also unbelievable the books that I was able to consult. Najwa Anhoury’s dissertation on the panorama of Lebanese francophone poetry is hard to come across and I was thankful the library had a copy. I was also excited to read Zahida Jabbour’s criticism of francophone cultural production in the Middle East. She is one of two scholars to have done in-depth studies of the canon and it is always a pleasure to come across her writing. After six hours, I felt like I had quite a bit of background for my paper and went to treat myself to some baked goods…when in Paris.