Friday, December 30, 2011

Dreaming with eyes wide open

You know how it is;
You've just had one of those experiences, the life-altering kind. Perhaps it was the amount of time it lasted, the people you were with, the things you saw, or the nature of what you did.  It was everything you felt.
Though of course, there has to be a return to "normalcy". Some transitions are more abrupt than others.
If you haven't guessed yet, I'm already yearning to relive the past 4 months of my life in France. I have issues with dwelling on the past, it's really something I should work on--but it freaks me out, because it feels like a dream.
Fortunately for me, it wasn't! Whether it is acknowledged or not, a part of me has changed. And although I prefer the tangibility of printed photos from film, handwritten letters and souvenirs to remember where I've been, I like that I have hundreds of digital photos that tell stories and Facebook to connect with my friends on the other side of the world.
I'm struggling with identity disjointedness [apparently a real word !].  I can't lie, when I left on December 16th I was ready to jump back into my American life.  There are things you take for granted when you're away from home for so long.  I realized this even more than I did when I left for college!  However, I feel like I'm cheating myself out; I feel like I've lost my 'French identity' already.  It's a mental turmoil, sorry I can't explain it that well.  But like I mentioned, my experience in France is now a part of me whether I can reconcile with it or not.  
These are photos from the last week I was there, the one above is the building where we took our classes.
The cafe I hung out in before political science every Tuesday.
My host family!
La Catedrale Notre Dame de Rouen
Going out with friends and taking advantage of "city life"!
And our ridiculous program group in general.

How do you summarize a trip like this...
It tends to come best in spurts.  At that moment, something I'm doing will trigger a memory of what I've done, then I'll laugh and relate it.  Trying to explain it as one long story is tough.  I just spent the last 1 1/2 actually going through my full set of photos with my parents, and we only made it through 3 weeks of my semester! 
I know people are interested, but it's almost uncomfortable because in general they probably don't... care.  Bad assumption, I know I can't apply that to everyone!!  Haha, the general formula of formality goes, "You went to France?!  Oh my god, did you love it?  How was it?"
How do you answer a question like that.  I'll tell ya---- 
"Yup, I was there for a semester!  It was amazing."
"Yeah, I think I'm fluent in French.  All the courses were in French, it wasn't too hard."
"Yes, the food was delicious... Enough baguettes for a lifetime!"
Cut me off right there because no one cares.  At least beyond that point.

Bah, and I understand!  My parents' eyes were probably glazing over but I have to say that I love them immensely for being patient to give me time to explain everything and expressing genuine interest.  And this blog, it's my other outlet of expression!  So whether you're truly engaged in what I'm writing about or not, I thank you sincerely for dropping by.

Oh la vache, I can't believe 2011 is over tomorrow.  What is everyone doing?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


As a part of my France semester program, we spent a week in French-speaking West Africa : Senegal!!! It was my first time being in Africa, in a developing country, into the Global South... and it was incredible.
So many beautiful things and places to see.
Baobab Trees, practically the national symbol of Senegal.
Traditionally prepared meals, eaten with our hands (did that each night with my host family)
Incredible, arabesque mosques -- this one in Touba being the largest in Sub-Saharan and Western Africa.
New perspectives on religion, beauty, respect, living...

Beautiful people to meet, with spirits and smiles that can't be justified in photos.

10 crazy Americans in Africa.
It was unbearably intriguing to discover which aspects of globalization have been integrated into their culture, and which others are still retained in tradition.  Smoking fish on the beach with wood chips and dried grass, for example, is still done as it was in the beginning.
The end of the week we moved from Dakar (the capital), to farther down the Atlantic Coast to a hotel-resort at Toubab Dialaw.
And yeah, we found paradise :)
And magnificent animals during a safari on the last morning
And the fruit of the Baobab Tree (below)!!!  The refer to it as "monkey's bread", and you crack the giant pod open and pull out this chalky, white morsels that tasted like sour apple... and it made incredible juice.

That's the briefest summary I could supply; I know these photos don't cover up the fact that I have been an atrocious blogger, but I work in cycles :B.  I'm sad to report that I have only 2 week left in France, so be prepared for the nostalgia updates and more photos I never added during my disgustingly long winter break.  I hope you all had a lovely holiday, and talk to you soon!!!

with peace & love,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Little tidbits of Rouen life before my immediate departure

It is nearly 4 in the morning here and I'm sitting at my desk in France (an Instagram-ed photo of my room above) as I've been engrossed in planning my academic future (namely next semester) on my school's registration (they call it registrar) page!
 Yup, I'm still in France but already my program is over halfway completed and already I need to figure out what courses I'm taking in the spring. I'm really making my life out to be pathetic at the moment, aren't I?
And also I am sorry I've been so lame about blogging! I have about 16 photos sitting in a queue.. it'll come, I'm going to photo bomb my blog then not be around for another 3 weeks-- ridiculous, right? Well, a lot of that can't be helped because this Sunday my program is taking off to Paris for the week! And then, we have our 'actual' vacation next next Saturday, and my friend John and I are flying to Madrid, the capital of Spain!! We'll be there for 4-5 days then coming back to Rouen for Thursday night, and then Friday we're taking a train to Lille in the North of France for a Friendly Fires & Foster the People (and others) concert and finally returning to Rouen next next next Saturday and perhaps doing nothing but recuperate that Sunday, the end of fall semester break.

In this next two week period the following may or may not happen (but most likely will) :
- I shall be engulfed by the City of Lights (how romanticized can we make it? :P).
- I will traverse a few hundred miles and a border and walk a lot and see beautiful things, while having a crash re-introduction to Spanish (though I haven't worked with the language in 3 years..).
- I will spend too much money but dine deliciously.
- It will become November (OMGZ!).
- I will have 19 years of life to declare.
- I shall dance outrageously at to some of my favorite bands in a foreign country.
- I, undoubtedly, will feel extremely tired.


Otherwise, I just wanted to share a few things that have been going on.  The other day a package arrived from my high school French teacher, presumably as a Halloween/birthday gift because she had asked when my birthday was in an e-mail!  Yes, I am one of those students who bonded way too well with the high school faculty.  No shame here, she has been one of the greatest educators, mentors and overall friend to grace my life.  I found the aloe-infused Halloween socks to be adorable and useful (it's always chilly in my host family's house), the Reese's are fantastic because they aren't sold in France and she sent me pepperoni!!!  HAHA so random.  Yet I love it all.  I've had a lot of friends and a few relatives send post cards and letters, which cheers me up as well.

One way I have gladly immersed myself into la vie Francaise is through the culture of the cafe.
Now, I am not the greatest caffeine or coffee fan-- I find the miniscule black espressos to be generally distasteful and pointless-- however, that doesn't mean I can't sit around with everyone else idly at whatever hour of the day!  My favorite thing to order is a chocolat viennois, which is essentially a luxurious hot chocolate with a generous heaping of whipped cream (just what I adore).  They're usually expensive relative to other drinks; the one above set me back 4€ but it was amazing after a brisk morning at the market and one of the better tasting in Rouen (I've drank quite a few at this point).
In spite of the white truck-vans, the photo below is a cafe/boulangerie across from the building where I take political science.  For the last 3 Tuesday mornings, my host mom has dropped me off in Rouen, I walk there, order tea or a heavily milked/sugared coffee and then brace myself for 45 minutes before my 4 hour class.  Yup, the cafe is definitely a French social phenomenon that I wish we in the U.S. would adopt more significantly!

Ah, the bottom photo didn't rotate but these are some photos of various works I've done for my history of art class!  I take this course twice a week at the Musée des Beaux Arts of Rouen.  For the most part it's an endurance test of lecture, terms, names and dates as we power through galleries and centuries of European art, though every few weeks we work in the atelier (studio) attached to the museum!!  Our professor for that portion is actually an art instructor himself, so he has taught us techniques related to the works that we view.  

The haphazard painting on the left was when we covered the evolution of the tree; painters went from ultra-precision with the foliage, to fuzzy blobs of implied shapes.  Our professor had us compose our own landscape, inspired by other paintings and then color it ourselves.  Ha, and he was baffled by my yellow sky!  I really don't have an explanation, either.. it was instinctual! :)
These drawings are from this past Monday, when we learned how to properly compose a portrait with the proportions of the face.  I found this extremely useful because I struggled with achieving certain facial expressions, and whenever the subjects mouth is slightly ajar (apparently, you're not supposed to draw the teeth).

His critique is very straightforward though extremely constructive-- much like all the professors I have worked with in France.  They aren't the most sympathetic but hey, I suppose we can't always be fluffy and flourished!

Bonne nuit à vous, I hope you're all doing fantastic and I shall be back soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nice (no matter how you say it)

A few weekends back, I took a field trip to Nice.
It was a semi-blind adventure that turned out wonderfully. I had received a grant from my University in the U.S. to conduct 'enrichment' research on the proposal that I wrote : Gastronomy and Regional Identity in France -- How food has shaped the cultures of Normandy and Provence.  Living in Rouen covers the Normandy side, and then I chose Nice as my base point of Provencal cuisine :D!  The city is very youth-oriented with the bars and nightclubs, but there is Roman history and Italian influences and also an endless number of museums.  I took a train down very late on a Friday night, posted up in a 16 person co-ed hostel and passed out.

I started my Saturday off way too early with everyone in my dorm passed out from their bar-raging (probably through 3 or 4 AM).  Nonetheless, it was a 75 degree morning and I made my way through the Old City in such a rare, tranquil state.  The photo above is the Place Giarbaldi, an immense public square with artistic sculptures, checkered tiling, performers, palm tress and more.  My hostel was literally a five minute walk to the beach -- the Mediterranean Sea -- and the Cours Saleya square, where I met up with my culinary class teacher. The Cours Saleya was like any other market except that it was in Nice so there were exotic flowers, an abundance of fruit (the region is known for citrus) and vegetables and olive oil and tourists with their cameras.
Before my culinary class began I wandered the market and interviewed the farmers, and one of the ladies was so helpful that she allowed me to try a traditional local product called Estouffadou.  It was an almond-corn meal type cookie that filled me right up!  When I rendez-vous'd for my course, my instructor Rosa explained the history of the city and region, we went shopping in the market, then back to her apartment to cook!

I also was in the class with two ladies from Britain.  It was a lovely afternoon filled with incredible food!  Even though I'm not an olive fan, I tried the Nicoise variety and liked it a lot; I also brought olive oil produced in Nice back to my host family in Rouen.  For the first course we made the classic Nicoise salad; then we had what seemed to be a green lentil stew with carrots, a bit of bacon and guinea fowl (first time eating that, it had a mild game-y taste though similar to chicken), a platter of regional goat and sheep(!) cheeses and then a fig tart for dessert, made from scratch!
The fresh figs from the market were marvelous.  We also finished it with some lavender honey on top.  I was so stuffed the rest of the day I didn't need a true dinner; I just relaxed on the beach with my water, journal and Bueno Bars :).  The stones are bothersome for sure, but it was surreal just lounging about on the French Riviera and watching the cruise ships and para-sailors.  I even took a dip in the water because it was so warm.
I also met some fantastic girls in my hostel who were international students studying in France, like me, except they're living in Lyon.  I was so fortunate to spend the rest of the weekend with them!  We went out Saturday night to one of the raucous bars, then Sunday morning we took a macaroon course.  It was more like we watched the chef explain how to make them, and then reaped the rewards with our own boxes of macaroons to eat :).
Sunday afternoon we also went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (here's the website if you're interested)!  The museum was free first off, so I was thrilled for such an opportunity to see 20th century works that shook up not only the art world, but society itself.
The permanent collections were quite impressive, such as this from Niki de Saint Phalle.  Many of her works are a critique of mainstream views of beauty, specifically for women.  This was her sculpture of 'Venus de Milo'; the original Greek sculpture of this goddess rests in the Louvre, and you can see her that she no longer remains the perfection that was once portrayed..
I apologize because I didn't note the artist or title of this sculpture, but I thought it was incredible how this 'gown' was constructed out of plastic bottles, even including a train.  My friend Jordanna remarked that it reminded her of Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and I totally agree!
There was also this artist named Ben (Benjamin Vautier), who had a giant room plastered with signs and objects with his signature artwork, begging the viewer to question what is real and not, according to what society has taught us -- totally up my alley :).
I just realized I posted mainly photos of installations and 3D works, but there was a great variety of paintings too!  The temporary exhibit was called "Coleur en Avant" and I saw some tableaus from Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall.
The picture above is one of the shots from the top of the museum; I just adored the terra-cotta roof tiles, winding streest and the cresting Alps that nestle Nice right into the Bay of Angels.  And here's me taking one last step into the Mediterranean Sea.  Now I can say I've been in the North and South coasts of France!!!
Alas, all good things must come to an end. 
I shared dinner with my new friends then set on my way back to Rouen.  I loved Nice and would go back in a heartbeat, and I am interested in seeing the rest of Provence as well!  If you happen to ever find yourself planning a visit there, give me a heads up and I'll point out so more things to do :).

And I'm expecting more adventures to come!  Have a great weekend, everyone.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Bahh oui,
My next excuse for not posting in a timely manner is that I am pulling my first all-nighter for my university course in FRANCE !!!  Hells yeah, lucky me.
I haven't been as diligent with tracking my assignments in my agenda, which has inevitably doomed me to not realize until 9 PM (I'm six hours ahead of Eastern U.S. time) that I have an oral presentation tomorrow morning for my French political science class at 9 AM.  While brief (7 to 12 minutes), an exposée on French politics in French is sooo out of hand, when I don't even understand or follow the politics in the Untied States!!!
So of course you've found me here, procrastinating.

No to worry, I truly have made progress.  After bouncing between French online newspapers, Anglophone articles and lots of Google Translate, I believe I have demystified the Karachi Affair that is rumbling the French political scene :  In brief, it's a bribery scandal that took place in the early 90's involving armament contracts between Pakistan and France.
A French naval construction company sold submarines to Pakistan through middle men .
-->  Part of the money received was used to finance former Prime Minister's (between 1993-1995) Édouard Balladur's Presidential campaign again Jacques Chirac in '95 (Chirac won, duh).
--> When Chirac became Pres of France he stopped paying the contract middle men in order to eliminate political kickbacks (bribes, in other words).
-->  Then in 2002, there was an automobile bombing in Karachi, Pakistan that killed 11 French technicians and employees of the aforementioned naval construction company (the DCN) -- Al-Qaeda is suspected.
--> This came to fruition in 2008 when the DCN released a report that implied the attacks as political retaliation for ending the armament contract years before, not solely the initiative of terrorists.
--> The case is propagating once more with the French Presidential elections approaching this spring and more witnesses affirming various claims in the scandal.
Those are about as bare as the bones can be; for current French President Nicolas Sarkozy, he was the Budget Minister under Balladur and denies any involvement in the case, though Nicolas Bazire, who was Balladur's campaign director in '95 and a close friend of Sarkozy's, was recently arrested for "complicity and the misuse of money."  And so the trembling of the Fifth Republic continues ... (*cue dramatic music)

My goodness, this is nuts and you probably don't care!  I should probably continue trying to convey all of this in French--  I'll let you know how it goes.
[sources include : NY TimesFrance 24, France-Info.]

OH, before I part, allow me to leave some thoughts and observations I've written on post-it notes while in Rouen, usually when I'm waiting for my host father to finish work so I can go home on the back of his scooter (can't wait to show you that photo) :

 `` Once you live a medium-sized city, you begin to recognize the homeless people.  It's a brutal truth, yet they're usually occupying and doing the same sort of thing, in the same spot on a routine basis!  There is this woman who once came up to our group at the train station and asked every singled one of us if we had a cell phone; no one answered until a boy at the end, and she used his phone then slouched off with her distinctly patterned bags and a very cracked-out looking appearance (according to another boy).  Later that day we were sitting at a cafe, on the other side of the city, like across the river -- and there she was again, slowing walking around in this dazed state!  And I saw her again two days later.  Others have encountered her in different sectors of Rouen; she simply roams the streest, I think.  One day I also saw a trio of homeless people more than once because they were switching stoops and benches.  The one scraggly woman was tugging at her male comrade and yelling at him to come back with their plastic shopping bags filled with who-knows-what.  What a spectacle.

` No less than three-quarters of the men (this includes my age and older) in this country, and perhaps most of Europe, wear man bags and man satchels.  The most common variations are small across-the-shoulder pouch-basically-purse in an array of colors and designs.  I've also noticed male Longchamp totes and satchels!  I'm sorry if I'm perpetuating a stereotype and discriminating against a man's right to have a purse, but I feel that Longchamp looks better on women and there is nothing wrong with a sleek leather wallet for the back pocket!  It is, above all, endlessly amusing.
He who made satchels acceptable, perhaps? :D

`` For my course called French Encounters (Rencontres Francaises) we have read articles about differences between French and U.S. culture, as well as composed analytic journal entries.  One of the topics is the idea of personal space and how it is maintained between strangers.  For example, in the U.S. it's perfectly polite to say hi to whoever you're passing on the street, smile or wave even if you have no idea who you are.  If there's a long line at the grocery store, you might talk the other customers in line to pass the time.  In France, eye contact or too much emotion with strangers can indicate personal interest and you don't really strike up conversations with anyone unless you really have a reason.  Usually if people are looking at you it's the blank stare (I'm so bad at it) just because there's no where else to look, or it might mean they're interested in you!  All the girls in my group have had this sort of encounter, where a creepy man starts talking to you at the bus stop and just nags and continues despite all the signs of disinterest.  Perhaps I'm not used to this as much because in the States I live in the countryside, but it's unnerving and I would really prefer some dashing guy my age to engage me at the bus stop instead.

Well, I hope that gives you a more satirical look at what I'm experiencing here :).  Have a great week, everyone!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Une belle séjour

Obvious precursor/apology : This post has been sitting in my drafts for the last two weeks, but here's the last week of my countrystay :D

Our host families in the countryside organized a lot of day trips for us because Normandy has such a rich history of war, kings and religion.  These are some ruins from l'Abbaye de Mortemer.

About an hour from our village is a city called Beauvais. It was destroyed drastically during World War II, and despite the necessary cleaning, the Cathedral still remains standing. I believe that it has the tallest spire in Europe!
On the inside of the Cathedral were these massive, wooden supports and braces. Quite unnerving, in my opinion, though at least it's still open for visitors.
Merrit and I had host families that were really good friends so we happened to spend a lot of time together. Our last Friday his host brother drove us to Giverny; a town that's about 45 minutes outside of Paris and where Claude Monet spent the ending years of his life.
Evening though it was September without all the flowers in bloom, the house and gardens were teeming with tourists. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time for the Impressionist museum, yet we spent a lot time enjoying the gardens.  The inside of the house wasn't entirely available for exploration, but I did appreciate the bright, monochrome color schemes and the Japonisme works of art adorning the walls.
I did some very rough sketches of the Nymph ponds :P  I'll have to try to upload those.


I'm also a sucker for macro shots and beautiful objects with amazing visual textures.
I shot this archway down the center of the garden with a 'popart' setting on my camera.
And of course, I just indulged in food all week. To be honest, French food has been slightly tough for me because I tended to eat meat two times or less a week, I sustained off of fruit and vegetables and made my own meals. Now that I'm living with families, obviously I adhere to their dinner time and meals. In Normandy, the region is known for having a heavy hand with butter, cream and meats-- perhaps you could imagine my initial dilemma! Unfortunately there's nothing really I can do about it; out of politeness and obviously taking advantage of the experience, I've been trying everything (although I still try to avoid ham as much as possible, I can't stand it) and at least I do whatever I want for breakfast and lunch.
However, I was overjoyed when last weekend, my country stay host mom invited me to cook what I wanted from the grocery store!! I picked up bulgar wheat and vegetables and made a curry-seasoned meal. Oh, I am also a huge seafood fan so it was awesome to have those mussels and fresh shrimp (on different days).


And besides this, we also went to a bottle making factory (I pretty much know where all the world's Grey Goose Vodka bottles are produced now, along with Cognac, Grand Marnier..) and Europe's largest Dannon yogurt factory!
Really, just an uncountable number of experiences that can't be reproduced.  This truly was a magnificent stay and beautiful way to end vacation.  I've been in Rouen now for almost two weeks and I'll be posting next about classes and what I'm up to here.  Thank you for reading :)