A Room With a View

The view from my balcony in Perpignan is nearly perfect. Every morning I am greeted by red tile roofs that glow in the sun and a hazy glimpse of the distant Pyrenees mountains. But if I could change one thing about the vista, it would be the wildly inappropriate poster displayed at Le Market, the apparently out-of-business nightclub across the street.

This poster depicts two larger-than-life women, barely clothed in skimpy lingerie, sprawled on a dark sofa in highly suggestive positions. One is wearing white, with one stiletto kicked off and an empty wine glass dangling from her limp fingers. The other model leans aggressively over her companion, a dominant look on her face, a red rose in her hand, and her thong-clad derriere displayed prominently. The image suggests a loss of innocence, as the girl in white gazes helplessly up at her domineering cohort. I cringe every time I see it.

I have known for years that Paris is a romantic city—much more comfortable with public affection than my semi-rural hometown of Waukee, Iowa. I knew that I would see more handholding and kissing than I ever would at the Waukee Ice Cream Shoppe. But I had no idea how much more acceptable sexual themes are in smaller cities like Perpignan than in Iowa (and, from what I've seen, the rest of the United States).

As if the poster wasn't enough, I recently noticed that on my way to our French language school ALFMED, I pass not only small shops and cozy patisseries—I also walk by a Durex condom dispenser.

The little blue and white box rests on the wall of a small kebob restaurant just across the street from Alfmed. For one euro, you can quickly obtain two condoms and, as a bonus, everyone within sight will know exactly what you've just done (and what you're about to do).

I might have expected this from a city like Paris, where condoms are sold alongside keychains and magnets in the official gift shop at the Eiffel Tower, but I had expected a smaller town full of sweet little family-run restaurants and businesses to maintain more of an old-fashioned attitude when it comes to sex.

I walk on the condom machine-free sidewalk every day, and I try to avoid looking at the 6 foot tall poster every time I step onto my balcony. I'm slowly getting over my prudish aversion to sex as I get used to the open French attitude, but I can't help feeling like I'm losing my innocence—a theme mirrored in the image that stares blatantly up at me every time I step out for a breath of fresh air.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.