Yesterday, I ended up hanging out with the older ladies from class in Fuvea, France, which was a great decision. I did two sketches from the vantage point of a wall overlooking Mt. Sainte Victoire and a later sketch from a better view of the mountain in a small cobblestone park. The beauty of the latter location was surreal. The birch above scattered the light about the pebbled road. A salmon-colored dress hung in a small sunroom window on the second floor of a beautiful old building with soft light orange stucco and cool mint green painted accents about the doors and windows.

The ladies were all practicing different arts: Laura was writing about the depth of the mountain, Sharon was doing an ink lithography print of the park and the mountain, and Catriona was doing a pastel of the warm yellow, tiled roofs of a series of houses below.

When we arrived back in town, I joined the ladies for some grocery shopping. I saw a poster hanging on the side of a temporary metal construction site wall. It was of the monster truck show from the night before—Les Cascadeurs—so, I had to steal it for Quentin. At the grocery store, which was a rather expensive organic-type establishment, I purchased some smoked salmon, olive bread, chocolate and two interesting-looking types of craft beers for next week’s lunch. It cost me around 15 euro, which didn’t seem terrible.

I said goodbye to the ladies, trying to hurry home to catch dinner, but ended up briefly walking through a women’s suffrage exhibit in front of a random hotel in Aix. When I got back, I found that my host mom had prepared for us this scrumptious egg, bread, ham, cheese, basil block thing. I asked her what it was called and she answered, “Je ne sais pas,” which is to say “I don’t know.”

This morning I awoke and boarded a tourist bus to Arles, which had no, absolutely no IAU folks on it. As I took my seat, I was surrounded by a funny little group of young Swedes, who assumed that I couldn’t understand a lick of French and proceeded to say random, stupid things about me. Nevertheless, I was really in a good mood, ready to enjoy the comfort of myself and the countryside and the sweet lulling of the bus.

The kids ended up being alright. They were 17-18 years old and, as I predicted, from Sweden. They came to Aix through a high-school excursion for intensive French language immersion. Most of the young guys wanted to major in Finance or Economics: the youth of the world in general seem to be following this trend. The most interesting thing that I learned from them was that, although Swedish media portrays the society as very liberal, most Swedes don’t ascribe to their philosophies. The young guys I talked to in particular pointed out that the free education and healthcare system does a good job at de-incentivizing the general population from developing a good work ethic.

In Arles, we saw historic churches and an arena and a theater built in the first century. Nearby the theater was a man playing wonderful, familiar—to the whole world, I think—tunes on a small wind/piano instrument with a mic and a small speaker. The theater was incredible and I sat eating my lunch between two columns that date somewhere around 2000 years back, feeling oddly nostalgic.

At the arena, I made friends with some kids from Princeton: Ryan, Eddie, Denisiya, Hannah, and another girl. I took some pictures with them. I hopped the safety rails several times to try to get a better feel for the place. I could better take in a view of the Rhone and the salmon-tiled houses below and feel the wind blowing through the window looking out into the Arena. As I made it back to the bus rendezvous at 12:30pm, I met a girl Dahlia from Lithuania who speaks, wait a moment, Russian, Lithuanian, German, English, Polish, and French and is studying Law in Aix. One more thing: she’s only 18. On the bus ride back into Aix, I sat by her and we she told me about kangaroos in Australia, practicing yoga in Costa Rica, and fighter pilot friends in a nearby French town.

At some point, we arrived at Saintes Maries de la Mer and I took a dip in the Mediterranean which had refreshing cool water that was salty, but a “softer” salty as my other new friend from Pennsylvania Olivia pointed out.

I also had the opportunity to walk far out onto a jetty with Hannah and Ryan. The Mediterranean waters were a beautiful deep purple, a soft green, and a cool red. I sat down by the edge and could feel the terrifying strength of the ocean, but as soon as I had this sensation the soft salt splash ran cooly down the side of my body as a friend comforting another in need.

Some of the things you sense traveling are truly incredible.

Some of the people you meet traveling are equally truly incredible.

View from Arena in Arles, France.
Inside the Arena in Arles, France.
View from Theater in Arles, France.
Outside of the Theater in Arles, France.
Today was fantastic.

In class, we talked about color: warms and cools, complements, and the like. I had a great lunch and, when I arrived back at my homestay, my host-mom's cooking was spot on.

I was going to retire early for the night but my host mom convinced me to come with her and Quentin to a Monster Truck show.

This, of course, ended up being a fantastic decision.

As we took our seats on the outdoor, metal bleachers, fun characters appeared all around. There was this dude with dreads, an Arabic father with his son, Quentin, Delphine and I, and a random group of young twenty-somethings, one of whom—I’d observed in the parking lot earlier— owned a classic corvette.

The show had all sorts of monster trucks, dirt-bikes, and car stunts. The music playing behind the announcer was very obscene, profane rap/hip-hop music from the States. I thought that to be a bit funny, seeing as most of the folks in attendance were younger French kids. But, they didn’t seem to mind, so, I pretended to not notice Lil Jon and his endearing lyrics.

I ended up having a swell time experiencing a different side of French culture and amusement.

Below are pictures and videos:
[The computers here need to update their Flash capability before I can post videos.]

Alors, links below:
I love to try to solve big problems.

Math was one of my favorite subjects growing up. I loved Algebra and Geometry and Calculus.

Lately, I've been more occupied with something a bit more abstract: the condition of the human spirit. There's anger and fear and mal intent. 

The humanities, academic studies of philosophy, literature, art, and religion help guide us to a solution. But, I have discovered that it's not up to me nor is it my fault that I myself or anyone else is corrupt inside. I have found that these fears and failures must be laid down at the symbolic cross, must be placed without any inhibition before God. 

For only something bigger than ourselves, something much, much bigger, can ever possibly address the bigger problems that we can't, no matter how hard we try, no matter how long we think, no matter what other methods we use, that we can't ever handle.
Above is a panorama of a street in Marseille including incredible, sometimes-poignant works of graffiti and my big, ginger friend Walter.

Below is some detail of the piece of the far right.
The text on the far left is: "I dream everyday to become an actress..."
Walking through the park today, I began to notice how people tend to carry some similarities with the dogs they own. If you don't believe me watch the animated Disney version of 101 Dalmatians for the dogs/owners sequence. 

Anyhow, in light of this seminar on Art Criticism and Aesthetics that I'm taking, this observation may prove intriguing. You can tell what sort of person an artist is based on their work just as you can see the internal being of a writer through their personal texts. It is our inside ambitions and reflections that emanate into our external world.
The image above shows a woman with her son in a plaza of Marseille. I could see that there was something troubling her deeply. I could not have nor would have I asked her what that was. But, the deep pain in her expression strung a cord within me.
France and this opportunity have already had a profound influence on me.

On the first day, I got to go to an incredible theatrical, musical, circus-like show at the central fountain of Aix: la Rotonde. I wrote a diary entry on it, but, after struggling to publish the post, the pictures/ video below should suffice for a good explanation.

On the second day, we went to a short open house for the program. Afterwards, on my walk back to my French homestay, I walked into a group of a few young, French high-school age guys with mini-longboards (Penny boards) smoking in the middle of the street. I went ahead and used broken French to start a conversation. After a few formalities, we talked about life in France from their perspective and about their personal aspirations. One guy wanted to either go into world politics or spend a year traveling the world before settling down.

That evening I went out for dinner crêpes with my good friend Walter and hung out with two pretty cool girls, exploring the city. After walking the girls back to their homestay, Walter and I ended up running into a notably drunk, angst-filled, world-traveling troubadour with whom we had an interesting short conversation. He’d done a tour from the east to the west coast of Canada and frequently traveled between Marseille and New Orleans. He ended our conversation by telling us he was ready to go home and drink himself to sleep. Walter and I ended up wandering into a graffiti alcove before making the trek back and retiring for the night.

The third day we were orientated and I was fortunate to meet:

Charlie, a cool dude who’s been in Aix for a while now who told me about where I could get a knife to make lunches out of the fresh food in the market,

Pauline, this great, super-fun, intelligent young French girl who told us about the hip, young, recreation places in France,

and Alan and John, my art professors who are turning out to be terrific teachers,

among many others.

The art program is going to be fantastic. I have already teared up multiple times in and out of studio thinking about it.

That night, Walter and I went out with a different group and had some fun barhopping, keeping it classy of course. I met some really interesting people who are also part of the IAU program. I’m becoming pretty good friends with some of the people that I met that night.

On the fourth day, the art class started out in the center of Aix where we met to purchase art supplies. There was a market in the adjacent street, so, naturally, I bought myself a very European scarf. That very first day in the studio, we began by figure drawing with an actual nude female model. The model was beautiful and I couldn’t help but tear up a bit at how incredible this opportunity is. The lighting in the room and the striking position of the form were overwhelming, but, I got on to sketching.

I’ve been randomly recalling all sorts of things that I learned in Anatomy while in the studio: muscles and skeletal structure. Visions of my January experience shadowing clinicians in a medical setting and the many procedures and body forms that I observed also have frequently come to view.

That night, we went out again and I eventually ended up in a French club called “la Mirabel.” The social dynamics of the place were perplexing, but I feel as though I sort of started to understand things by the end of the night. The music was very European electronic and trance, so, it was certainly a good time. One girl, Laura, was really fun. She showed me some Tecktonik moves, while I taught her some swing dancing.

The fifth day was brutal for me because of the combination of jet lag and the two nights of French nightlife exploration. I was very much tired. But, as soon as we got into the studio and began drawing my tired eyes and mind illuminated. After the drawing session, we were told that the Aesthetics and Art Criticism course was going to be in a seminar style. I was ready to cry, once more, because of how much enjoyment and personal growth I gained at my one seminar style class at Wofford: Civic Engagement.

I grabbed lunch outside in the beautiful weather with my new friend Kate. I bought carrots, radishes, sausage, a baguette, and some cheese at the “Supermarche Casino” the day before and had plenty to share. Afterwards, we went into town together to do some shopping.

On the way there, we ran into my new skater friends who wear heading out to the skate park with some beers and a Monster energy drink. After a short exchange, Kate and I continued on into the pharmacy as Kate had needed shampoo. I got to talking with the English-speaking saleswoman who gave me a sweet dermatology lesson after I asked her if French men maintained themselves differently than other men. Afterwards, we found an ice cream shop with incredibly rich coffee ice cream. I was done eating after a few bites.

We continued on to buy notebooks at Monoprix, the French version of Target, before Kate and I walked back to our homestays. After saying bye to Kate, I went to sleep for a few hours and missed dinner. My host mom, Delphine, was rather upset about that, but she let me help myself to some salad and cheese—but, “just this one time!”

I watched the French version of the movie “Freedom Writers” on the TV after dinner and, after my host mom and brother retired for the night, I cried from all of my pent up emotion.

I’m overwhelmed with joy for the beauty of this place, which frequently sparks my memories of Ukraine, which I visited as a young child many years ago. Accordingly, the idea of a chance to study art in such a picturesque location carries a strong sense of joy. However, I am also experiencing a strong aura of sadness for the human condition. The flaws of French society, the misjudgments of my peers, and, foremost, the corruptness of myself reveals both a strong corruption in the heart of man and an element of brutality in the natural world.

So, here I am, writing this in my bed, unable to fall asleep but sensing a strong hope underlying everything I’ve thus far experienced and beauty wrapping herself, like French summer light, around every dark corner.