After an entire year of talking about, analyzing and dissecting UNESCO’s World Heritage Program, I find it almost hard to believe that I am actually here. Every morning I walk the 4 minutes from my apartment in the 7th Arrondissement to my internship in the World Heritage Center situated alongside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the Eiffel Tower looming large just a half mile away, and I have to pinch myself.
When I first arrived I was a little overwhelmed by it all….of course my body was telling me that it was still 3:30 in the morning where I had just come from and as I had not slept at all on the overnight flight from Boston, I was physically and mentally drained. I was met at my temporary home for the next two months by the in-laws of the woman I was renting from and they were very sweet but the language barrier was an issue, until we figured out that what was most effective was if the woman spoke her instructions for things like dishwasher, washer and dryer in French, and her husband then translated what she said into Spanish or English, either of those was entirely better for me to comprehend than French! If I had not been starving, I might have curled up on the sofa or the bed and tried to sleep for the next 20 hours but as I had not eaten in hours, I ventured out.
It may sound strange but the biggest adjustment here has been the grocery shopping and preparing of food. I have a tiny fridge and separate mini-freezer. I also don’t have a traditional oven, just a microwave-convection-style oven that the only instructions for are in French so all of my cooking has been via the stovetop. There are also no Giants or Safeways or large grocery stores here. There are small convenience-type stores where you buy your staples (milk and eggs, by the way, NOT refrigerated here) and the rest of it you buy at the specialty shops…le boulangerie (bakery), fromagerie (cheese shop), le boucher (butcher), le patisserie (ever-important pastry shop) and the daily marché (market) where you buy all of your fresh produce as well as any of the above. The markets on the weekends are particularly large and vendors come in from all over France (my epinards- spinach, came last weekend from a farm in Calais), fishermen bring in their seafood products caught just the day before in Brittany. Think Monterey Farmer’s market only bigger and done at least 20 times over all over the city. Shopping is done daily, sometimes twice daily and the food doesn’t have a chance to go bad. It is eaten that day. The only two items that are regulated price-wise by the government are milk and baquettes. You will always see the daily national price posted and you must be sold those items at that price. I am eating approximately a baquette a day and they cost about $1.50 each! Even after all of that, most meals actually take place outside of the home. Eating out in a restaurant is an event. We Americans are notorious for wanting our food brought to us within 10 minutes of ordering it and we want to wolf it down and be out the door in under an hour. For Parisians, it is an opportunity to relax, have a conversation, watch the world go by. If you have an appetizer and main course they don’t even think to put in the order for the main until you have finished your appetizer. My first full day here in Paris I met up with fellow IEPer Angelina Skowronski who was visiting family in Paris en route to her summer in Madagascar. We did the touristy thing and parked ourselves at a café with a view of the Eiffel Tower. We shared a bottle of wine, she had a sandwich, I a crepe and we just sat for over two hours without being bothered by the waiter. I met up with another friend and her husband for dinner a week later and we arrived at the restaurant around 9:15. We walked out at midnight. My boss is having everyone over for dinner later this week and we are not gathering at her place until 10PM! Paris is a huge city that never truly sleeps and where they eat like kings and enjoy the company of good friends.
Now. Onto the reason why I am in this amazing city to begin with!
My initial interest in UNESCO came during my first semester at MIIS. I wrote my Fulbright proposal for Professor McGinnis’ class on the implications of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being placed on the World Heritage List in Danger. When the World Heritage Committee met last summer in Doha the mere threat of taking that action at THIS summer’s meeting caused quite a sensation and passionate debate on both sides. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest barrier reef system on the planet and was one of the first Natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981. Fast forward to last Tuesday and this year’s Committee meeting in Bonn, Germany. My boss in the World Heritage Marine Programme, has worked exhaustively for the past three years with the governments of Australia and Queensland, The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the delegation from the State Party to the Convention from Australia and countless others to assist in their efforts to make real progress on protecting the Reef and avoiding the List in Danger. Most significantly convincing Australia to ban ENTIRELY the dumping of dredged material within the entire Reef zone. As representative for the Secretariat, she presented the World Heritage Center’s advice, along with IUCN, that the Great Barrier Reef should NOT be added to the List in Danger. It was quite a significant moment in the history of the Committee. Never before have all 21 of the State Parties on the Committee taken their turn to speak and offer their congratulations to the State Party of Australia. Even WWF spoke in support of the decision with the caveat that Australia must meet ALL of the requirements put forth in their “Reef 2050” plan. Greg Hunt, Environmental Minister for Australia said that UNESCO had forced Australia to take actions in the last 18 months that it may have otherwise taken five to ten years to achieve. As I can’t currently share my personal thoughts on the matter I will refrain and you can all ask me in August for my opinion. J I learned a wealth of information just by observing the actions taken in the eight days of the Committee Meeting. There are a plethora of new sites added to the World Heritage List, including first time listings for Jamaica with the Mixed Cultural and Natural site, Blue and John Crow Mountains and Singapore with its Botanical Gardens. Sites in the Middle East and Africa were added to the List in Danger and many sites, while not added to the List this year were given strong encouragement from the Committee. It was pointed out on multiple occasions that there is still unbalanced representation in both Marine Sites as well as Sites being out forward, let alone inscribed from Africa. On this the Chairwoman from Germany as well as the entire delegation expressed a desire to do better to even this imbalance on the World Heritage List and make it truly representative of ALL humankind.
Other things I have been working on since I have been here are a couple of tasks I am not a liberty to discuss yet, as well as helping to finalize a Site Managers’ Best Practices Guide which will serve as a pro-active management guide, not only for the 47 Marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List but, hopefully, the first of its kind guide that will be implemented by MPAs the world over.
Now that the Committee Meeting has come to a close, we will start the prep work for the High Seas Working Group Meeting to be hosted by Marine World Heritage at UNESCO headquarters in October. This meeting aims to bring together the brightest in the field of High Seas conservation to push for inclusion of sites of exceptional Outstanding Universal Value that exist outside of territorial seas on the World Heritage List. Not an easy task but my small team of two is hoping to get it put in the agenda at next summer’s Committee meeting in Istanbul, Turkey. I am beginning to do research into the 21 States Parties that will serve on the Committee at next summer’s meeting and where they stand on the High Seas in order to see where World Heritage Marine can start to garner support for this initiative. That is all for now, so I will say Santé and Au revoir until next time!