Returning to Paris from Cannes, I was distinctly aware that I would never have another experience like this one. Truth be told, my entire time spent at Reid Hall was full of adventures as extraordinary as this one, full of people and places that changed me for the better.
As a French Literature and Translation major, I always knew that I would study abroad in France one day. I didn't expect, however, just how much I would grow both personally and professionally while at Reid Hall, Columbia's global center in Paris. I had the opportunity to study modern art in the classroom then take a short metro ride to the Palais de Tokyo or the Centre Pompidou to see the paintings in person. Each week, I met with my directed research advisor to work on my thesis and sip a latte in a picturesque Montmartre café. I walked through the storied double doors of the Sorbonne every Thursday to study the intersection of literature, art, and identity. But perhaps the most fruitful experience came towards the end of the semester when my small cinema class had the opportunity to attend the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival — an exceptional opportunity, even for a student at Reid Hall.
I hardly slept the night before we left. As an avid cinephile, I spent the entire evening researching the directors who were presenting at the festival, watching the trailers of the films that were to be screened. The train ride to Cannes, a five-hour journey from Paris, was excruciating; it seemed like we couldn't arrive soon enough, and I watched fervently as the landscapes zoomed by, inching closer and closer to the festival. When we finally arrived, it was the night before the opening ceremony, and the entire town buzzed with excited anticipation. As the sun rose the next morning, a global artistic explosion ensued. Filmmakers and film lovers mingled in the Cannes heat to celebrate cinema, and I felt so honored to be in the middle of it all.
I settled quickly into a routine, and my daily schedule usually included three films, quality time with friends, and a dinner sponsored by Columbia. I didn't think things could possibly get any better until my professor gave me an invitation to a screening of an official selection film. With this piece of paper, I got to walk the red carpet, sit in the famous Grande Salle des Lumières, and watch a film (Leto) that had been deemed one of the best of that year. About five minutes before the movie started, I turned around, and no more than fifteen feet behind me the jury filed into the theater. Cate Blanchett, president of that year's jury, entered the room first, followed closely by Kristen Stewart, Léa Seydoux, and the other members. They all took their seats, and my jaw hit the floor. The lights dimmed, the audience quieted, and I settled into my seat wondering how I got so lucky.
The majority of the film was in black and white, save a few flashes of color here and there. The final scene, however, transitioned slowly from greyscale to a near blinding palette of beachside colors. It was as if I was seeing the deep blues of the ocean for the first time, the oranges and pinks that swept across the sky as the sun set. Dropping his robe, the main character ran headlong into the sea, disappearing eventually into the horizon and prompting the credits to roll. Leto's ending scene felt emblematic of my time in France: starting out grey, unsure of myself or my place, but slowly growing into my true colors.
Several days later as I boarded the train back to Paris, I was distinctly aware that I would never have another experience like this one. Sure, I could return to the festival one day, but it will never have the same magic, never live up to the memories I made during my first trip to Cannes. And truth be told, my entire time spent at Reid Hall is full of adventures as extraordinary as this one, full of people and places that changed me for the better. As Audrey Hepburn famously said, "Paris is always a good idea," but in my opinion, Columbia in Paris at Reid Hall is a better idea.