Here I am, sitting on my bed in Aix-en-Provence, eating my last fromage blanc and brioche sucre, holding back tears. I leave tomorrow morning and should be packing, but right now I’m soaking it all in. I tried very hard not to fall too in love with this place, and the people I’ve met, because I knew I would have to leave eventually. It’d be easier that way, I thought. But, it was inevitable, I couldn’t avoid it, and I can’t hide it. I am blessed with a family and friends who I love back home, and an exciting time of year to return home to, but I will really miss Aix-en-Provence. Last night was a whirlwind of emotions; the majority of students left and the rest remaining went out. We had an unbelievable night and checked a lot off our bucket lists. It had all the characteristics of a good final night– dancing, reminiscing, and our usual craziness, followed by meeting french people on the way back and emotional hugs and kisses goodbye. Today I said my final “au revoirs” to the french students’ grandmother, returned my books and key, and strolled down Cours Mirabeau reminiscent and sentimental. I ran into my french friends from Sciences Po, saw the bouncer from O’Shannons walking down the street, and walked past street performers. I ran into my American friend Kate who I met my first week here; she had helped me translate in the french phone store when I was struggling. I couldn’t help but think, when walking down Rue D’Italie on my way home, how I’ll never have this type of freedom and childhood ever again. Listening to the Shins on my ipod I looked around at the ancient architecture, french teenagers, and the countryside in sight ahead of me. I can’t help at reminisce all of the many times I walked home in the crazy hours of the morning, running into friends along the way. How short it seems, this time I’ve spent here, and how special and unique it is.
Watching the pigeons fly over the carousel, our meeting spot in our first few weeks, I wondered to myself, will this still be here in the future? Will those inscriptions we made on the bathroom door in O’Shannon’s be there when we return one day? I don’t know these things, but as I walked down I thought to myself how lucky I am to have had this experience. As my boss from my beloved camp in the blue ridge mountains of Virginia would always tell us, “For now the bell is silent, but the memories will ring on forever”. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life.
Here’s a list of 75, of the many things I’ve Learned From France
- The art of flaneurie
- How to Bisous, and anticipate how many depending on the region
- How to sit next to a dog on a train; yes: a real, smelly, breathing one
- Where to find the best pain au chocolat
- How to French Kiss ; )
- How to eat multiple servings of bread on a daily basis, and not gain 500 pounds
- How to not exercise on a regular basis and somehow not gain 500 pounds
- That after not running for longer than ever before, I truly miss running
- How to drink good wine, and professionally taste it in a vineyard
- How to speak french
- How to teach children to speak english
- How to deal with people smoking in my face (though I’ll never really be okay with it)
- What speculoos and fois gras are
- How to get highlights and a haircut in France…with cottonballs and clingwrap
- That dinosaurs roamed here
- That the water here is pretty darn special
- That sometimes it’s okay not to shower, people will think you planned your hair that way
- That European guys really like blonds, and brunettes, and redheads… and pretty much every girl from America
- How to do laundry without a dryer
- How to take a short shower, and freeze my butt off in the process
- That the muscat grapes here are really freaking delicious, even with their seeds
- Goat cheese makes everyone happy
- That it’s actually completely unnecessary to leave your lights on during the day
- Toast and butter is naked unless there is confiture on top
- It’s okay to drink hot chocolate and coffee in a bowl, in fact, it’s “normal”
- People won’t judge you if you go grocery shopping while walking your dog
- What a mistral is
- How to get to Mistral
- That thyme and lemon in hot water makes a darn good recovery tea
- How to drink Baileys from a shoe… just kidding..well, I wish
- How to stare at a painting for 3 hours, and actually like it better
- How to validate a TGV ticket
- That everyone else on the plane is just as scared of crashing as you are
- That my ears will hurt really badly 15 minutes before landing unless I take Advil and swallow a lot to relieve the pressure
- That French accents are so cute
- That Dutch accents are so cute
- That Belgian accents are really cute
- That Norwegian accents… that Australian accents.. that..
- That I really like boys from different countries.
- That the pronunciation for penguin is the same in France
- That men always lie about their age
- Europeans really know how to build cathedrals
- Americans really know how to party in front of them
- The art of the Mono-prix-game
- What a Giraffe really is
- That people say “je prends” instead of “je voudrais” at patisseries
- That “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” is essential when you walk in any store
- That “Merci, Au Revoir” is common courtesy when you leave
- That people don’t do quotation marks like this ” ” with their fingers, they do << >> with their hands.. just kidding… or am I?
- That no one says “tortue maladroite” instead of awkward turtle, and that awkward turtle is not a thing
- “Check” means pound it!
- “Chin chin” instead of “Cheers”
- It’s okay to say “okay” instead of d’accord
- Nutella is really freaking good in a beignet, or anything else for that matter
- Homemade yogurt is so much better than store bought
- Everyone has doors instead of regular windows, hence, the French doors my mom always talked about when I was little that I never understood
- That it’s pronounced like Leeon not Lion, and it has nothing to do with the animal
- That I really like meeting new people, and will literally get lost in conversation. like lost lost
- That duck sausage is really freaking good
- That the French countryside is just like the storybooks
- That I now say things with a “Southern French” accent, and am proud of it
- That paying to use the bathroom really really stinks
- That the green button at the bank is not to get their attention, but actually calls the Fire Department
- That the entire fire department will show up ten minutes later because you set it off
- That you should run, or briskly walk if you accidentally set off a fire alarm…. yes. run.
- That Mt. St. Victoire is a beast to climb, but very worth it
- That we can all do with a little less
- How organic Rose wine is made, and why non-organic Rose is crap
- That Parisian pigeons are just as ugly as the ones in New York
- How to avoid getting run over by a car, when walking down a cobblestone sidewalk
- How to swim in the Rotonde
- The Patrick Sebastian routine
- How to throw an espionage themed birthday party for ten year old french boys at an art gallery
- That “Anyone can find places, but the finding of people is a gift from God”
- How to say I love you in French
Merci beaucoup Aix-en-Provence pour une semestre très amusante avec beaucoup d’expériences très importants dans ma vie. Je t’adore. Je vais revenir un jour dans le futur, je suis très contente de t’avoir rencontré.
A plus. A toute suite.
As it’s come to the end of the semester (yes only 9 days remain) I have been reflecting on the many experiences I have had, things I’ve seen, and people I’ve met that have gotten me to this point. My conclusion after everything, to put it simply, is that studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, and that in many ways, it is because of Study Abroad, that I have learned how to live.
To begin, it is here in Europe that I have learned the art of being on my own.
I can now comfortably sit in a cafe, in a country I’ve never been before, and be at peace with my own thoughts. I can keep myself busy by writing or observing, or merely sipping an expresso. I care less about what people think of me and I focus more on how I am acting in being perceived certain ways. I feel less of a need to appear to be doing something, or act a certain way.
I care less about making sure everyone likes me, or pleasing everyone, and don’t waste my time with people who waste mine.
Whether that be with relationships, or with people who have decided not to be my friend for no reason. I’ve learned to let go and get closure. Emerson said,
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. - Emerson
I have learned to appreciate art, and in doing so have learned the importance of self-reflection and symbolism.
Artists don’t just paint pictures for them to be pretty, there are hidden meanings in every masterpiece. When my Art History class traveled to Paris for 5 days I was less than excited to hear that we’d be sitting in front of a Titian painting for 3 hours to start the day. After 30 minutes, I began to understand why we’d need that much time. In every color, in every stroke, in every horizontal and vertical line that he used, there was a purpose. I learned about symbolism used in the painting, such as lighting, body form, details in colors. Soon, even though none of us knew the history of the painting, it began to tell a story, like a puzzle each of us could decode simply by picking out things that seemed strange to us. But it was exciting and interesting and eye-opening. Thus, when we looked at a Monet painting of Nympheas the final day, normally one which I would mark off as any other painting of nature, I saw things, I understood the emotion behind the painting, how the reflections of the lily pads were reflections of Monet’s own inner light, why the two flowers in the middle served a purpose, I felt like a new person. I guess also, I learned not to write off something because of my first impression of it.
I have less travel anxiety.
In America, when I would have to take a train, or a metro, or even hop in the car, I get quite anxious. I over-think everything, worry about whether or not I will make it on time, worry about the strangers that I will encounter on the way. I get overly stressed about packing, whether or not I will forget something, and when I’m in transit whether or not I will miss my stop. I worry about coming across harmful people or ending up in the wrong part of town. But here, I’ve learned to go with the flow more, and always have a backup plan. I’ve learned that communication goes a long way, and when you keep your wits about you you’re less likely to be taken advantage of. And when in doubt I go back to my grandpa’s wise words “Wherever you go, whatever you do, be a survivor. You can’t live your life in fear”.
I have learned to trust my instincts.
At 12am in Holyhead, UK, I waited in the port station before I was to board my ferry to Dublin. An adorable petite Portugese girl and her mom started talking to me about how cold it was and how happy they were that we could sleep inside before the ferry would arrive. As we sat on the chairs in the station, we shared stories about traveling, countries we’d been to, and places we were excited about seeing as the 2 hours before our boat departed passed. I told her that I was really starting to get the hang of traveling and had learned so much about myself already in doing so. I also said how it was going to be a fun experience for me that I was about to head to Dublin since there’s a pub there that sports my last name. As I continued sharing experiences with them, a woman sat down beside the two Portugese girls, and after a couple minutes, overhearing our conversation, but-in. She had purply red and silver streaked hair, piercing Irish blue eyes, and a fiery demeanor. At first I thought she was pleasant to talk to, but then she started to be a huge buzz kill. Complaining about the cold, she told us about how last time she took the boat it was really tacky and there was no heating. She told us how this was her only option because she cannot fly, and freaks out even when she hears an airplane. We, trusting her experience, we’re not too excited about that prospect, and our hopeful anticipation for the fun boat ride turned sour. When she found our that I was heading to Dublin, she scared the crap out of me. With her fiery irish eyes she looked straight at me and told me,
"Dublin’s not like it used to be. It’s a bunch of drug addicts and they’ll mug you. Especially if they see you’re not from Ireland, they’ll come right up to you and harass you. It’s not like it was twenty years ago."
She started going off on a tangent on the types of people that were there, and the stories she’s heard from friends. I exchanged glances with my Portugese friend and she could tell I was extremely frightened. I didn’t have the option of getting picked up by a friend like she did, I was to take the bus from the port station in Dublin to my friends’ house. And based on the woman’s stories and attitude, I didn’t know if I’d make it alive. Suddenly my perspective on the entire trip had turned around. I was now thinking “What have I gotten myself into? Should I just go back to London where I know it’s safe?”. My Portugese friend pulled me aside and told me she thought the woman was crazy and that there’s no way it could be that bad. She told me it seems like the woman has some problem, and that I shouldn’t worry. When I really thought about it, I realized how crazy it would be to get worked up over this. I’d prepare for the worst, and do everything in my power to get there safely. The crazy woman was wrong afterall. The boat was beautiful, a bit chilly, but beautiful with big couches, flat screen TVs, and friendly people. In Dublin I was greeted by a sweet girl from Trinity College who Google-mapped the way to my friend’s house for me. And Dublin itself? A downright blast.
I’ve learned to take others opinions with a grain of salt and focus on my own beliefs
I’ve always been interested in what other people think. I have a curiosity about humankind in general, why people think the way they do, what motivates others, what wisdom they have acquired throughout the spans of their lives, about life. I enjoy learning about people’s stories, and this curiosity is what drives me to talk to pretty much anyone at all. A sports journalist on the TGV to Paris, a fashion designer doing a fellowship here at our school, English rugby players at a London bus stop, taxi drivers galore.Sometimes the conversations are simple questions on good places in town to visit, other times we get into long conversations about romance, other times politics, other times food and health. Within all of these conversations I have certainly gained more of a perspective of what people think, but also in doing so have seen how easy it can be to trust others opinons before your own if they present a convincing argument. And I’ve seen how in the past and now, it has been easy for me to forget what it is that I actually believe.
I’ve learned that people take great interest in Americans, and how to go out of my comfort zone and talk about politics
As an American studying abroad, the second question I am often be asked is “Obama or Romney”. In the states, it is taboo to speak about politics, especially with someone whom you have just met. But what is obvious here, is that people are incredibly interested in what we think, why we think it, and eager to share their perspective with you. For me, this is incredibly frustrating and exhausting. Especially since my family is very conservative, and I have met a handful of people who stop me before I answer and say “If you say Romney I can’t talk to you”. While I am, in fact, more moderate in terms of certain policies, I tend to disagree with many of the opinions the majority of the European people I have met tell me. And I especially get frustrated when I speak with people who have never looked at the other side, read a newspaper, and know nothing about the topic except what “they’ve heard”. In the beginning, I’d tell people who asked “I don’t really like either of them”, which to an extent, is true. But I was hesitant to give my real opinion, because I don’t feel like explaining something to a close-minded person. In fact, two nights ago my Norwegian friend and I were talking with a Swedish boy about just that. He was throwing out every possible American stereotype before I even had the chance to tell him my opinions on topics like healthcare, the poor, immigrants…the likes. It was so exhausting listening to him spit out the same things other Europeans constantly tell me about my country that for once I spoke back. After 3 hours, he learned more about the reasoning behind conservative thinking and I learned more about his perspectives. It was refreshing to have a civil conversation with another person about a topic that often gets people so heated they turn around. And while I really don’t like these conversations, I’m glad that I’ve learned how to be a little bit more “okay” with people who think so completely different than I do.
I’ve learned to appreciate America more.
While there are a lot of Europeans who scoff at America and disagree with the power we have and our sometimes inhumane ways of dealing with things, many people really love and appreciate our country, and admire it. One thing Americans do well, is get things done. If you are going to the doctor, or to the phone store, or to the hair salon, and you’re waiting in line, you will not be ignored. The service is better in general– people almost smother you with assistance at clothes stores asking you what you’d like to try on, telling you which deals are available. People walking down the street get out of your way when they see you running to an appointment, and for that matter, understand why you are running. Americans have a latent, yet powerful drive unlike any other nationality I’ve come across. There are more opportunities; if you want to be successful, and you work hard at it, you will be. The bathrooms are free. And clean… and have toilet seats. You don’t have to pay 50 cents. It’s rare to see stray dogs, dogs in restaurants, smelly dogs sitting next to you on a train (YES I spent 7 of the 10 hours from Munich to Marseilles sitting next to a disgustingly dirty crazy big puppy on the train…..). The guys are more respectful. The people are more open. I’ve also realized I don’t know America as much as I should, and want to travel within my own country more.
I’ve learned that when I go back to America, I won’t be the same person. I’ll officially be cultured
I have now seen too much, appreciated too much, learned too much, and changed too much to be the same person when I go back. I have a desire to travel, to learn more, to continue discovering this huge planet we live on. I want to teach and explore, I want to live in Europe one day, I want to bring my friends and family to France and translate for them. I’m so grateful for this journey, for this experience, for this new, open-minded, me.
Finally, I’ve learned that “It comes down to seizing what does not pass away in what passes away…” “Il s’agit de saisir ce qui ne passe pas dans ce qui passe” Van Gogh.
Life is short, people change, opportunities come and go, and the time it takes to soak it all in often comes too late. These people will go on with their lives, these friends will return home to different places in America, the French relationships I’ve made may never continue in the future, but going forth, I can grab on to all that won’t pass. I’ll be optimistic, I’ll be hopeful, I’ll live in the moment, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. If nothing else, I have the memories, and in some ways that’s all the comfort I need.
To be continued….
An Israeli and a Palestinian who actually agreed on something… I thought, that’s an opportunity for people to see…
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only getting worse, and the news in the past week has been even more troubling. But most recently, the news of the attacks in Gaza have gained a lot of attention. In only 6 days 104 Palestinians were killed and 866 wounded after Israel’s recent attacks. In the more than 65 years of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the ancient war mentality, “an eye for an eye” has continued to dominate.
Yet tonight, in a small room in the south of France, in a city that dates back to the Ancient Romans, professors and students from all backgrounds, gathering to watch a play and hear from two remarkable people, simultaneously felt a sense of hope.
Over fall break a group of students and teachers who attended a Peace Conference in Dublin, Ireland, caught a 5 minute glimpse of a play that had such an impact on them, they worked to bring the message home. Thanks to their persistence and the willingness of the two creators to fly from Ireland, we were lucky enough to see the play “Bassam” performed at our school in Aix-en-Provence.
“Bassam” is not only inspiring because of its plot, but even more so because of the reality behind its creation. Originally written in Spring 2008 in Hebrew, the play was written by ex-Israeli soldier Idan Meir to tell the true story ofBassam Aramin, co-founder of the Israeli-Palestinian movement “Combats for Peace”, who after his 10 year old daughter was murdered by Israeli police, decided to instead of seeking revenge, turn away and work instead towards justice.
Played by one actor, Fadl Mustapha, the play was extremely well executed and powerful. Fadl Mustapha, tells Bassam’s story from his perspective, re-enacting the circumstances and reliving the emotions he felt when his wife and son no longer talked to him for being friends with Jews after their people were responsible for killing his daughter. He goes through the distress of watching his son become brainwashed by war and the knowledge that nothing will ever bring his daughter back. In the end of the play, Bassam, so frustrated with his son’s decision to continue with the war, threatens to kill a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in revenge and continue the circle of violence. Since Mustapha is the sole actor, you see his big brown eyes glisten with emotion as he clenches the gun with two fists, pointing it toward a point in the audience, as he re-enacts Bassam’s desperate struggle between revenge and retaliation. As he’s holding up the gun, you hear the thoughts running through his head, his daughter’s voice laughing and his Jewish Israeli friends talking to him. Just then, his eyes weaken, he puts his gun down, and walks away, never to return to violence again. After this powerful scene, the play ends, Mustapha bows and everyone claps…
The room turned to hear the students who visited Dublin for the Peace Conference over Fall Break speak. But while they spoke, what only half of the room could see was that after Mustapha bowed, he went to a dark corner on the side of the room, completely overcome with emotion. To me, it became clear then that perhaps the most emotional part was not the play itself, but what we were about to learn after. Mustapha put his hand to his brow and broke down crying; turning his face away from the crowd so as not to be obvious. It was this moment that I won’t forget.
For those who are from Middle East, who have experienced the emotions, it is not an easy task to re-enact such very real emotions in a play. Given the most recent bombings; the reality is still so real, this fight has not ended.
After the play we were privileged to hear both the writer/director Idan Meir and the actor Fadl Mustapha speak about how exactly they had come together, who they were, and what their background was….
Idan Mier, after serving for 4 and a half years in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, fled the country to escape anything that would make him remember the war he had experienced so closley. In a visit back to Israel, he made the switch from soldier to artist after having had the curiosity to interview Israeli teenage prisoners, who each had “extraordinary stories” that had a big affect on him. He found himself exhausted because each story they had shared about their experiences with the war had touched his heart so profoundly, he told us. After that, he told us, he didn’t believe people really want war, but that they are merely brainwashed into doing something they don’t understand. Mier told us, “There is one moment [where] you just have to let go”. Finally someone said to him once after noticing his curiosity in this, “Why don’t you write a story?”, so that’s what he did. He found that art was the best way to spread his peace efforts, and the theater was the best mechanism, despite the criticism he got for writing it along the way.“Everybody needs a good story to open his heart”, Idan said. After going to school and getting his Masters degree in theatre, he wrote his play, and went on to share his story.
A true testament to Meir’s good decision in creating the play in the first place, is his friendship with Fdal Mustapha. Mustapha had actually heard the reading of the play while in post-conflict Ireland, and was amazed that not only was it ironic that an ex-Israeli soldier was telling a story from a Palestinian perspective, but that he told the truth, Mustapha said.
Mustapha, born in 1972 in a Palestinian refugee camp near Beirut had a personal connection to the play, and took an immediate interest in the story. Having no acting experience previously, he eventually joined Idan’s group, auditioned, and became the lead role of his play Bassam. Mustapha told us that he felt it was important to him because growing up he shared the same mentality of those in Palestine, “Blame the Israelis, blame the Jews…but [after having seen the play] I felt something inside me change”. He remembered thinking “If it’s not me, who else? I’m a Palestinian, who better?” Mustapha said, “Through theater, they don’t just browse it; they humanize it, they visualize it…It’s a great vehicle”.
Watching these two sit right in front of us, an ex-Israeli soldier, and a Palestinian born in a refugee camp near Beirut; was remarkable, powerful, uplifting, and encouraging.
There we saw hope accompanied with important lessons to live by.
“When you fight back, they don’t become weaker, they become stronger”, Meir said.
While the fight still continues, smoke rises; beauty in humanity still persists. This story, this play, needed to be told and needs to continue being told. It portrays an important example of humanity, of Bassam, and of “Two enemies [who] became friends working together on stage”- Meir.
Lots of love, no matter where in the world you are,
Renoir Roulette. That’s what we called it when my friend Katinka and I decided to go see a movie this past weekend at the Aix-en-Provence Cinema, after realizing we had purchased our tickets to the latest McConaughey/Efron/Kidman film “The Paperboy”, without confirming whether or not it would be completely in French.
We agreed that with Zac and Matthew though, it wouldn’t be that painful if it turned out to be completely French, because their bodies would sweeten up the screen. So after grabbing some pistachio and lavander honey gelato cones we waited in anticipation for the outcome in the theatre…
When it was finally time for the movie, we arrived in the theatre and sat down in the most comfortable movie theater red velvet couches, noticing the weird curtain of advertisements, and crossed our fingers.
The curtains folded back, the screen turned on, and 3…2…1…. English [with French subtitles]! Too good to be true? Yes. Because when the film started playing, we realized that this was not a Rom- Com, and that along with not researching the language it’d be set in, we also forgot to check the plot.
Turns out this would not be a flick fit for two American college girls in need of some American heartthrobs, but instead, an almost horror film with everything from Nicole Kidman urinating on Efron, crocodile intestines, and Kidman sex scenes with a downright freaky pants-hating, sex-obsessed prisoner killer played by John Cusack. You could say his character was enough to completely ruin any fantasy I had of marrying the cutie some of us may remember as the king of the geeks from Sixteen Candles or more recently Hot Tub Time Machine.
It is in fact, a quite compelling movie, in a sense, with important messages, such as that racism and sexism are bad, as McConaughey and Macy Gray’s character insist, but those messages are hidden behind the images of McConaughey’s bloody naked body and Kidman’s panties. Altogether, one leaves the movie feeling quite disgusting and confused, as if having been tricked into watching a dirty porno when having only signed up for Disney’s ‘Enchanted’. No amount of Efron’s charm can make you forget that.
In some ways, I wish it had been in French. Then maybe half of the vulgar nuances would’ve been lost in translation.
On a positive note, the next weekend when we played our luck in our French Movie Theatre….Skyfall was as heavenly as if it had fallen from the sky….
Qui est-ce que le mieux James Bond? Daniel Craig is the best Bond, that’s who.
From the moment Adele’s beautiful voice hit the audience, I was drawn in. As any good Bond film demands, the intro graphics were super cool and the action was accompanied by beautiful scenes of some beautiful country I have yet to discover. After that, struggles with double O as he strives to get back to his old fit self, beautiful scenes from London and Scotland (both of which I had the pleasure of seeing in real life over break!) and hilarious moments throughout the movie [even caused by the scary Javier Bardem] which any action film that demands your attention can always use. The gore, shootouts, fast-paced chases, and mind games were all there.
For the guys, there were two beauties: Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe,
and for us gals you couldn’t hide from Craig’s good looks or the adorable Ben Whishaw’s charm.
Judi Dench was marvelous and proves that age doesn’t tarnish good acting, and there was symbolism throughout for those literary buffs who perpetually seek it.
Throughout the movie I was thoroughly impressed with the cinematography; notably the trains and beautiful landscape and home in Scotland.
I loved the film, and I’m glad I saw it the weekend after seeing The Paperboy, because I think it made me appreciate it that. much. more.
This fall break brought on many a new experience. I fell in love with the UK, discovering new places and feeling the comfort of speaking in my first language after being in France for the semester.
I met up with my friend from college, Avery, in Edinburgh, and discovered what is now one of my favorite places. We began the weekend with a nice hike up the smaller portion of Arthur’s Seat, a famous mountain there. Overlooked the entire city and got a good workout in. The architecture is beautiful in Scotland, and as evident by the buildings and history, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most haunted places in the world, if I were a ghost I’d live there too.
Scottish people are quite friendly and the food there is delicious. I had a lamb burger the first day and after eating mostly bread and not as much meat in France, it was quite heavy on my stomach, but delicious. The traditional homemade pudding and donuts afterwards were amazing too.
I was glad to be in Edinburgh for the weekend of Halloween as well, because they certainly know how to celebrate. We headed to Frankenstein’s pub, passed by many a ghost tour, and navigated the city at night with all of the creepy buildings and lights glowing. In the morning I was able to grab a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks– which is nowhere to be found in France, so that was exciting.
Off to Holyrood Palace to get a tour of the Queen’s Official Residence when she’s in Scotland. Then walked down the Royal Mile for some shopping– bring on the scottish plaid! Talked to a store owner about the elections in America, and the question of Scotland’s independence from the UK– she was not for independence.
Then we stopped by Elephant House to eat in the birthplace of Harry Potter. I signed my name in the bathroom with all the other Harry Potter lovers. JK Rowling has many a fan, that’s quite evident. We got to see the graveyard where she got many ideas for the book– Tom Riddle’s grave, Moody and McGonnagal’s grave, and the prep school that was her inspiration for Hogwarts.
After my 3 and a half days in Scotland I headed to London, where I met up with my friend Jill from high school, and my three friends Katinka, Melissa, and Christine from school in France.
London was amazing. I think of it as a less-nerve-wracking and cleaner New York City. I loved how many parks it has and the people there are also quite friendly. We saw Soho, China Town, went shopping in Oxford Circus, grabbed a bite to eat in King’s Cross, saw a poppy concert and ate some Ben’s Cookies in Covent Station, and of course got our touristy pictures in front of the Big Ben, The Eye, Buckingham Palace and the guards nearby, and Parliament.
I met up with our family’s lovely friend Eva, who is the daughter of the family my parents stayed with while in Germany when they were close to my age, which was cool to think about. She lives in a beautiful part of London and she showed me around her neighborhood. Primrose Gardens has a hill that overlooks all of London, and on Halloween it was quite beautiful to see. Eva was an awesome host and I loved being able to talk to her about my past, how she’s liking London. She gave me some tea and german chocolate– so perfect for the setting! Her adorable little children speak German and English– which made my heart melt it was so cute to hear them speak.
The subway system was easy to navigate, and my hostel was bustling with travelers from all over, a fun place to be. On my last morning there my boat to Dublin was cancelled due to the weather, so I spent the rest of the day chilling in cafes, hanging out with Jill at night.
Then, it was off to the train at 7pm for a trip to Holyhead in England, to then board the Dublin Ferry at 2:30am. Staying up so late and discovering the painful cold of Dublin was not very fun, I’ll say, but the ferry was beautiful and a very cool experience. I watched the troubling news from Hurricane Sandy on the News while on the boat aside my two new Portugese friends who fell asleep without trouble. A group of friendly Irish people across from us were drinking through the night having a jolly time, telling me about how they stole a plug-in heater from the port station, and put it through the metal detecter without a problem. Finally, they felt guilty, and decided to turn it into the staff on the boat. “Hi, we stole this…”
Not quite sure of the logic there, but it was entertaining.
I realized while on the boat how badly I wished I’d bought one of those wool sweaters in Edinburgh, and for that matter a blanket and a new warm winter coat. I was definitely unprepared for the temperature, and being cold is not fun.
When I arrived in Dublin at 6am, I was so excited. Navigating my way from the bus stop to the center of town was relatively easy thanks to a wonderfully nice Irish student at Trinity who Google-mapped the location for me on her iPhone. Being in my family’s second homeland was exciting. I began to see the same physical features that I know well of my family members here in Dublin– the same texture hair, same big eyes. So many Irish boys made me think of my brothers who look similar. It was like finding the puzzle pieces to connect me to my past. From there I made my way to meet my friend from high school, Bronte, who is studying to be a surgeon.
We went around town to Bewley’s Cafe, where I got the most delicious goat cheese/roasted red pepper sandwich ever; tourist shopping down the street to get some classic Irish gifts to take home to my family members; and took pictures in front of the statue of Molly Mallone, Temple Bar, and of course, had an authentic Guinness at Doheny and Nesbitt’s pub– which bears my last name, thus why I didn’t have to pay : )
That night we went to Quay’s for some good classic Irish music and, well, Guinness. The band was amazing and I stayed in front with my eyes glued to them the entire time, dancing away, so happy to be in Ireland with good friends and good music. There’s nothing like the sound of a banjo, guitar, and fiddle to get me tapping my feet.
The next morning we visited Trinity College, saw the Book of Kells, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I said goodbye to Dublin and the rest of my vacation for that matter; and made my way to the airport in the morning. Arriving in London after a connection, I ran into my friend who studies abroad with me in Aix-en-Provence, Julia.
We exchanged stories and the same thoughts about how lucky we are to be studying abroad in the warm beauty that is Aix-en-Provence, France. Excited to be back in France, we arrived in Marseilles and took the Navette back “home”.
My vacation was amazing, I’m so fortunate to have been able to experience everything I did, and I’m so glad that I had the courage to navigate the entire thing on my own. Traveling solo, I had a lot of time to think to myself, journal, reflect, and appreciate the beauty around me. It made the times when I met up with my friends that much more special as well. Traveling has become my newest favorite hobby, and it has truly made me appreciate the world we live in, what I have been blessed with, and what I want to do in the future.
Now, with only 6 weeks left here in Aix-en-Provence, yes, 6!, I am going to make the most of my last few experiences here and try to grasp as much as I can from this lovely place.
I know when I go back to America it will be difficult to adjust back, but at the same time I’ll be excited to see my family. So for now, I’ll soak up the sun in France and eat as many more pain chocolats as humanly possible. Well, maybe not that many, but it’s going to be a good ride!
Glances, footsteps, common destination, common goal.
Never try, never know
Fear exists, subsists
different language, different socket, same search, same rocket
culture, belief, losing sleep, grinding teeth
Ticket to future, token from past
little cry, forceful laugh
Warm clothes, different goals
Who am I, what am I
Family’s nose, grandpa’s arm
Bavaria’s face, Ireland’s freckles
Everywhere I am, everywhere is me
Language connects, tears dry
“Parlez- vous francais?”
I could try.
Well, let’s say run.
Sleigh Bells’ “Comeback Kid” rings on my phone at 6h45…tap the snooze button on my Droid…6h50….snooze….6h55…snooze…..7h35: “Zut alors!!”
Madame has a rule there are no showers before 7am, none past 10am. Breakfast is the same.
I hop out of bed, “To shower or eat first?”
Bother with contacts this morning or wear glasses even if they don’t match my outfit?
And whyyyy did I press the snooze button so many times? I could have prevented this stress.
Breakfast first. Then I’ll cross that bridge.
Two tartines, s’il vous plait, complete with butter and blueberry preserves. Gosh this butter here is difficult to scrape. But man it’s yummy.
Turn on the coffee machine. The coffee here might as well be a big pot of espresso, it’s pitch black. I can only tolerate 1/4 cup.
Homemade yaourt (yogurt) is in the fridge, Madame likes when we eat it every morning. Pour that into my bowl, with some chopped bananas, sip my coffee….zut… it’s already 8h00!
Clean the dishes, turn off the coffee, off to the shower!
Ugh, it’s difficult to get used to turning off the water for “laver” shampoo, soap.
It’s 8h15 and now I have only 15 minutes to get ready.
Skirt, can’t bother to put on pants today, the weather’s always changing so who knows when it’ll be hot again.
Contacts– please don’t give me trouble today– SCORE. The lotion I just put on my face didn’t come into contact with them, they won’t burn my eyes.
Shirt, mascara, earrings today–oh la la so fancy. Grab my keys, bag, slip on shoes that I can run in…
And we’re off– it’s 8h36, I’ve got my green North Face backpack on, filled with books about European Art and literature, history, and some organic rice cakes. I live about 40 minutes from my school. Time to go back to Cross Country days….
It’s all uphill from here, literally, not figuratively. Run past two guys at the gas station, smoking. Past the Aix-en-Bus… wow, I wish I got that pass now, every morning it drives past me, what a temptation. But, the exercise is good for me, this is why I don’t have to worry about eating so much bread, and the occaisional chocolat.
I walk rapidly past the “cool kid” hill, surrounded by french hipster high school students, they all know by now I’m American, I can see it in their eyes. Dodging the ashes from their cigarettes, I walk on, not making eye contact. They say “Excusez-moi, avez vous une feuille de papier?” Yeah right, like they want a piece of paper…. Au revoir frenchies!
Whenever a car passes, I stop running and walk as if to look normal, when they leave– sprint!!! That’s my rule anyways.
My hair has gotten significantly longer, and it’s so difficult to run with it on my back, especially since I didn’t have time to dry it this morning. Now I’m on one of the busy streets. The french men are all sitting outside at their favorite cafes and pubs, smoking with espresso on their tables, french women walking by with their fashionable clothes and petit chiens. I stick out like a sore thumb. Super adorable french guy walks past, slowly, chill, not late or anything. And if he was he probably wouldn’t run anyway, we’re in Europe afterall. Look at my watch, it’s 8h47… omggg.
Down the main street, markets are open, people buying handbags and shoes, tourists, presumably from America and Australia, taking pictures and being led by a french tourguide with a funny accent speaking in English. “Zees are very famouse ‘eer, calissons, by ze keeng Roi Rene”….
Oh, man that’s a cute sweater– I need to come back here soon, wait– sweater, or food in Barcelona this weekend?
…..Ugh, run Trish run!
Accordian player on my right, dog on my left…..
It’s time for the shop owners to spray the streets….Water water everywhere!
Dodge multiple cars in the street. Yes, now we’re in business. The cathedral is in sight. The markets to my right, people dance in the streets, more tours pass by me, mainly old fancy looking people who attend. Sprinting, sprinting. Ah yes, my American friend I met in the telephone store the other day… “Bonjour Kate! Yes, I am running late for school… have a good day at work…!”
Pass the Institute for political students, run down the road, type in the code for IAU, walk into my Art History class. Alas, it’s exactly 8h59 and I made it with a minute to spare.
“Good morning class, let’s talk about Poussin…..”
1. Walk home from school and be interrupting a fashion shoot for a magazine on the street.
2. Meet people from different countries every. single. day.
Netherlands and Belgium
3. Learn about the 30 different kinds of bread the local bakery sells, and eat the bread in class.
4. Learn about Art History and Literature, 5 minutes away from the Musee de Granet, which beholds the actual original paintings. Picasso, Cezzanne, Monet, just to name a few.
5. Cook authentic french cuisine, with local provencal fruits and vegetables.
6. See Evian and madelines in a vending machine, as if that's normal.
7. Study here, in a building built in the 1600s.
8. Take a break during class to be serenaded by a musician.
9. Have this as my library.
10. Write in notebooks that look like this:
11. Get to eat dinners like this with my awesome American housemate everyday!
12. Would it be safe to drink from a fountain.
13. Go on a tour in wine country, and eat the organic grapes right off the vine.
14. Would that vineyard also happen to be a modern art outdoor museum.
15. Be able to bring my dog to a cafe, and have him sit on my lap.
16. Order a slice of pizza, and it be, in reality, two slices.
17. Go to school here, in a city founded in 123 BC.
18. Be able to make jokes that every single bicyclist is on Le Tour de France, and it hold some truth.
19. Would vandalism be this french.
A tout a l'heure!
Well it's been quite some time since I last posted, so I will fill you in with a couple of posts. Last weekend my school had the pleasure of going to Nice and Monaco for the weekend, and it was utterly amazing. The entire ride there I could not help but take an unusual amount of pictures, which was frustrating for those sitting near me as I constantly leaned over them to get a picture, one that my photographer sister back home would critique for it's lack of clarity and definition, but one that would help me to remember my journey in some way or another.
As a side note, I am a terrible photographer. I used to believe that photography was simple, not an art form at all, and that the only 'good' pictures were ones that nature led to the photographer, not that the photographer dreamed up on his or her own creativity. In fact, I once tried to create a flickr to prove my sister Kate wrong, assuring her "Anyone can take a picture", and I failed miserably, even acting as a catalyst for the actual photo-savvy creatives on flickr to openly mock my pictures in the comment section. Kate, you won the war, I exclaimed after changing my name on flickr to "the phony photographer" and eventually feeling so defeated that I deleted my account altogether.
Now that that's out of the way, despite my terrible ability to know when to take the perfect picture, I still take many. And Nice really brought out that urge for me. On our way we overlooked Cannes, which is famous for housing many a celebrity during the annual Cannes Film Festival, as actors like George Clooney and directors like Spielberg live glamorously in the beautiful South of France while they await awards for their works. We only stopped outside of Cannes for about a half hour and even the rest stop we went to on the way was pretty darn cool. They had fresh-out-of-the-oven croissants, espresso, and tourist paraphernalia galore, and the occasional pack of chewing gum that said "Hollywood" on it. The advertisers here are smart ones. Not only that but many of us Americans noticed the cool cappuccino/espresso makers that are pretty common here, which pop out a mini pink solo cup and brew fresh coffee for you in many different flavor options.
After our very brief stop by Cannes, in about 45 more minutes we made our way to Nice, and man it was beautiful. Climbing over the people in the seats next to me to get a picture out the window, I immediately saw the world in beautiful blue. We had arrived at the Mediterranean. When we got out of the bus and actually made our way to sunbathe, I am sure everyone knew that the Americans had arrived. All of us were significantly paler, louder, and were wearing clothes with logos many here in France are unfamiliar with. Nonetheless, those of us who forgot to wear our bathing suits adapted to the culture early, as they stripped on the beach only hidden by a towel held up by a trusty friend. The first thing the boys realized was that yes, indeed, the beach is topless. Much to their dismay it is mainly the old women, who no longer fit the adjective "hot" who chose to go topless, at least that day anyway. And much to the girls' surprise, many a man who sunbathes wear speedos. However, I will say, due to the scrawny figures of many of the men, it is often difficult to tell at first if we are looking at a woman topless wearing bikini bottoms, or a man. Oh, the #frenchbeachproblems we've come across. After we all put on our sunscreen and bathing suits we jumped into the Mediterranean, the majority of us for the first time.
Ah, the Mediterranean. So perfectly beautiful, so clear and clean, so relaxing. I kept thinking the entire time, what did I do to deserve this? How did I get here? Is this real life? Treading in the water, and swimming out farther than I normally dare, it was utter serenity. I looked to my left and there was a huge cliff with a waterfall at the top, I looked to my right and I was admiring the Baie de Nice. Despite how painful it would be soon to climb on the pebbles that the beach has instead of sand, in that moment there wasn't a trouble in the world and it was a wonderful break from the stressful first week of classes.
After our wonderful day at the beach in Nice, we made our way to Monaco for a quick shower at our new hostel, which happened to be a mansion owned by a wealthy artist who was very good friends with Picasso.
the writer of the book "Beauty and the Beast" who owned this hostel, created this amphitheater with the help of Picasso
The place was beautiful, the trip there however, was not for the height-phobic. It was way up the mountain; so high up that the only way I'd ever live there would be if I owned a private jet that would be able to transport me to and from regularly. We took our bus all the way up this mountain, driving on the edge with many twists and turns. The pictures were amazing from the top though, and it was really cool to see Monaco from that perspective.
After we showered we got ready, ate dinner, and headed to the Monte Carlo.
First reactions from many of us: WOH, we're at the Monte Carlo. First reactions from all of the boys: Check out the cars!!!
Ferraris everywhere. Old antique cars everywhere. This place was fancy.
I walked up the stairs and entered the Casino, went to the bar and in french asked the bartender which celebrities he'd seen here. Rocky Balboa (Slyvester Stallone) and Bill Clinton were the most memorable for him he said. Though I'm sure he's seen many more that we'd recognize but that he doesn't know are famous since he's french. After that, the night continued with people gambling, losing money, making friends, eating some croque monsieurs, and us meeting two of the most gorgeous men I've ever met. Why they are not famous I do not know-- or were they?
Anyways, that's neither here nor there, as my grandparents sometimes say, but it was cool. All you girls out there understand. The next morning we American students traveled throughout the town of Monaco.
We passed the "Yacht Club of Monaco" and laughed-- in a principalite that is already known for the wealthy, it screamed "well-off". The boats were magnificent and again, the ferraris were everywhere. And, oddly, so were the cacti. Who knew?
When we made our way to the palais (palace) at 12 there was "the changing of the guards" which was pretty interesting.It was like being in Disneyworld, no offense to the government there, but yes, that's what I thought of.
Then, some souvenirs, a cappuccinno and a crepe later, we made our way back to the bus, and headed to our tour of the Fragonnaire Parfumerie. There we were given a tour by a friendly english-speaking Swedish lady who taught us all about how perfume is made, how to wear it, and the different kinds and the meanings behind the names. She told us statistics like 70,000 pounds of rose petals are used to make this, and 30,000 pounds of lavendar is added after... it was pretty amazing.
The factory makes perfume for many famous companies including Chanel, YSL, etc but sells them at the store for a much lower price and provided us with great deals.
Thus, we all left Nice and Monaco with tanned skin, memories of beautiful cars and men, and smelling like roses. I'd say it was a darn good weekend.
To top it all off, when my housemate and I returned home, we received a note from our host mother that said there was homemade pizza in the fridge, with salad.
And just when we finished our dinner, she arrived back from Paris, bringing desserts from her grandson's baptism with her.
Bring on the good vibes.
After spending a week here learning about the habitudes and culture, I've noticed many things we as Americans overlook on a daily basis. Before I left America, my chef friend Jean-Claude who is originally from France, gave me this bit of advice: "Everything you know about America, everything you do here, throw that out the window. Europe is a different world."
Needless to say, Jean-Claude is 100% right. And while I'll always be loyal to America, I do prefer a lot of their habits to ours. Here are some of the differences that I think make the French great.
1. Despite the stereotype that the French don't bathe, they are cleaner. How so? I need to list it out:
a. They don't eat processed food. They prefer things without dyes, chemicals.
b. They don’t wear as much makeup. Natural beauty is preferred here.
c. They don’t feel the need to show a lot of skin. It attracts the wrong attention.
d. They don’t waste.
Trashbags here are 1/4 of the size of ours in America. The trashcan in my kitchen here is the size of a kleenex tissue box.
e. Oh, and they do bathe.
2. They are respectful and discreet.
eg. When walking into a store or to a market, it is vital to say “Bonjour” during the day and “Bonsoir” at night as a greeting. When you leave the restaurant or store, you must say Au Revoir. If you don’t, you don’t get service, and you offend people. That simple. Our professor for the Early Start Program here told us that he’s heard french people say “[Oh la la] the Americans are so rude. If he would only have said “Bonjour” I would have served him”. Common courtesy goes far here.
eg. When walking down the street the french carry a certain demeanor known as “reserve”. Whereas in America people speak loudly, here people speak very softly. The french children are raised to be very quiet and not attract attention. I’ve seen this first hand and it’s quite amazing.
3. They walk more slowly.
In America, because we are always busy, I think it becomes very difficult to appreciate the beauty around us. In France, they appreciate it everyday, and you can see it in their gait. Aix-en-Provence in particular, is a walking town which makes it even easier to take time and admire the beauty here, and cars are quite unnecessary.
4. They are organized.
In America, we say we eat “3 meals a day” but it’s just a fact that we graze throughout the day. Here, when they say they eat 3 meals a day, it’s true. Breakfast is always before 10am never after. Lunch is around 1pm. Dinner is at 7pm every night. While different families here have different variations, they keep their routine every day. Because many live in appartement style housing, it is common courtesy not to shower before 7am and not after 9pm.
5. They appreciate culture and art and history.
In Aix-en-Provence especially, home to Cezzane and Emile Zola and not to mention the original roman baths, it is vital to know your history. It’s everywhere. On the streets you’ll often see painters and musicians and even the occaisional flash mob. My host mother happens to be an unbelievably gifted painter and artist. It took me 5 days to realize that the paintings and sculptures in her home which I thought were purchased, were made by her. And not because that was her career, she actually worked in a hospital as a cardiac specialist. It is just her hobby. In fact, when I asked if she would ever sell her paintings and art she said she doesn’t think it’s commercial enough. Because of her insecurity with them, her oblivion to her gift, and her opinion that these paintings are not commercial enough, it makes me wonder how many of us too have gifts like this in America that we overlook. Maybe a lot of us could be great painters in America too, but how often do we trade the high-paced lifestyle and search for money for the arts instead?
They live in ancient houses. Aix-en-Provence was founded in 123 BC by Sextius Calvinus, a roman consul. The history here runs deep. Many houses have keys that look like they’re straight out of Hagrid’s house. Harry Potter reference, oopsss.
6. They conserve energy. They conserve water.
Electricity is both expensive and often unnecessary. You will never see the lights on in a French household during the day. It doesn’t happen, and the french think we are very bizarre for using lights during the day because the sun is out. This has been an adjustment for me (as you can imagine my mom would tell you I often forget to turn off the lights).
When one takes a shower, it is essential to turn off the water when washing with soap or putting shampoo on your head. Water is extremely expensive also, and the fewer minutes you spend wasting water the better off you are. This has been a huugge change for me because I take such long showers in America. This is a habit I hope to bring with me back to America to conserve energy.
When doing laundry, they only use a washer. Clothes are hung dry with clothes pins on drying racks on their terraces.
7. They all cook. And they cook well.
You’d be hardpressed to find someone in France that doesn’t know how to make a killer dinner complete with meat, veggies, cheese, and fruit. As you can imagine, this is one of my favorite things about France since I am quite the foodie. The market opens every day and people instead of taking a large trip to Costco for the week and buying everything in boxes and bags, they buy local produce and make several trips to the market during the week. It’s a beautiful way of life and I honestly feel much healthier here, despite the nights spent out….
Having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a set time every day is good for your metabolism. Not to mention walking to town instead of driving. And they make sure to take their time eating too.
8. They prefer dogs. Just kidding… but they love dogs a lot and bring them everywhere.
In France dogs are part of the family and part of the streets. It’s common to carry your french bulldog as a baby and eat at a cafe with your dog on your lap. This poses the problem of droppings on the streets, but they are getting better about it.
9. People like this guy.
It’s so exciting to find people here who know American culture and love it. Also, this collection of records and cds is extremely impressive. I’ll take requests. I saw some classic Tom Petty albums and yes, David Bowie.
A la prochain!