The Arts of Thanksgiving

Omolayo Nkem Ojo

At school, many students and a few teachers wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. It took me off guard, one because I had forgotten it was Thanksgiving since I had work that day – even though I spent much of the day before cursing at the kitchen stove. I was surprised how many people in my school were interested in the topic of Thanksgiving – teachers and students alike.

What do you eat?

Why do you eat Turkey?

Wow. That’s a lot of food.

I was happy to answer as many questions as I could.

If I was not a part of Fulbright, Thanksgiving might have gone completely uncelebrated. Luckily we had a dinner put on by the Fulbright Alumni in Paris.  It was great meeting so many former fulbrighters – many of whom were French Fulbrighters that had gone to the U.S. It was also a chance to catch up with other Fulbrighters that we had not seen since orientation.

The event took place in Les Frigos, which translates to « The Fridges » because it used to be the communal refrigerator before Parisians got fridges in their homes. Now, the spaces have been turned into workshops for various artists – and it is much warmer.

Like most gatherings, our dinner started with some mingling and snacks and then a speech by the heads of the alumni association. They then split us into two groups: one group would eat and then take a tour of a few artist workshops (ateliers) and the other group would do the opposite. I was quite hungry and I stayed in the group that would eat first. Dinner consisted of Turkey (of course), three kinds of potatoes, rice and green beans. When I had been trying to decide what to bring along, I had hesitated between rice and potatoes – I’m glad I brought rice.

Thanksgiving dinner

My group checked out the ateliers soon after eating. We climbed what felt like 30 flights of stairs only to find out that the atelier we would be touring was closed and we had to go back down! Definitely worked off those potatoes – and made room for dessert! We did explore another atelier. I can’t remember the artist’s name.

Back in the dining room, dessert was all set up – it was quite the spread. That must have been where most people chose to contribute! We even had homemade banana bread by fellow Fulbright ETA, Victoria Busse.

We had an opportunity to check out one more atelier and I was interested – as long as it was not on the top floor again. Luckily, this one was on the ground floor, where we currently were. It was the workshop of sculptor Jean Pierre Rama. He did a really great job of walking us through his work and why he chose the things he did.


For example, he had a sculpture that was meant to be the perspective of flying over the earth. The tree was not a statement; it was simply meant to signify that you are looking at the earth. The tree grounds the viewer and gives context to the work. He had many instances like this where the work was not so much about the tree but the tree helped to describe the work.


Rama told us, « You should be able to interact with art. » And to that extent, he showed us two tables he had made. One table was all about perspective and sitting at it made the person feel focused and calm. If I had the money, I would have bought that table right then and there. The other table has already been bought by someone in Japan, I believe. It was a table made with his own father in mid. There are magnets dancing in the middle. It was a wonderfully artsy table, but I would personally be quite distracted by it – I already was distracted by the table in a room full of other things, so I can only imagine what I would do if I was trying to sit there and work.


Experiencing Thanksgiving in France was an interesting mix. It was a mix of a few students and teachers wishing you a happy thanksgiving and then followed by a lovingly put together Friendsgiving really – there was no stuffing. No stuffing. No Thanksgiving. But what really sealed the French aspect was integrating cultural and artistic lessons into our enjoyment of food and merryment. I could not think of a much more French way to celebrate this American holiday.


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