Monday, June 28, 2010

We'll Always Have Paris

Although my last few days in Angers were bittersweet, my last day in France was perhaps one of the best ever. June 21—Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year and the Fête de Musique. I woke up early so I could take the train to Chambourcy, a charming village just outside of Paris, where I would stay with my very good friends from my hometown. (Hayley and Chris were on their own European tour.) It was surreal leaving Angers and even more surreal meeting up with Hayley and Chris in Paris. We spent the entire day in Paris sampling its delights and getting our last looks at the ancient city.

While shopping on the Champs Elysées the street suddenly exploded with the noise of cars honking and it seemed like everyone was suddenly wearing a Portuguese flag. Traffic was completely stopped as people started dancing and marching in the street. This was all because Potugual had just beaten someone 7-0 and clinched a spot in the World Cup playoffs. It was unlike anything I’d seen before.
Then we walked to the Champs de Mars for a view of the Eiffel Tower. Afterwards we bought our Festival of Musique metro tickets which gave us free reign of the city at the impossibly awesome price of 3 euros. We could use any type of public transportation until seven the next morning. What a bargain.

Since my one regret from earlier visits was not seeing the sights of Montmartre (the old arts district where famous artists used to live) we went straight to the 18th arrondisement. After locating the Moulin Rouge we bought pizzas and galettes and sat on the steps overlooking all of Paris. And then, the Sacre Coeur. If Notre Dame was just the tiniest bit disappointing, the Sacre Coeur more than made up for it. Firstly, the view is incredible. Secondly, the outside is spectacular and thirdly, the inside, with its gold and blue mosaic, is jaw dropping.
We wandered through several other arrondisements listening to the variety of street musicians who were out for the festival. Then we marched to the Pont de Neuf and watched the sun set on the Seine. Once night fell we made stops at the Louvre (for a last frolick through the fountain), the Garnier Opera house and the Eiffel Tower. Thanks to our magical passes we were able to accomplish this easily.

We made it home around 4 in the morning, got in a quick cat nap and then headed for the airport. The last thing I did was eat a croissant in Charles de Gaulle aéroport before boarding the plane. Au revoir France! Tu me manques déjà!

The first thing I did Stateside was get a cannoli in the North End of Boston and the second was take another 6 hour flight back to California and my family. It was so good to see everyone at home and eat some of the foods I’d been missing out on, but re-entry wasn’t easy. The sense of loss was almost overwhelming. Dairy products just don’t taste the same here and I miss fresh bread and walking everywhere and seeing things that are hundreds of years old. All I want to do is share my experiences from abroad and it’s hard to realize that not everyone will understand just what the experience meant to me (or want to listen to me rambling on about “This one time in France…”) Anyone who has studied abroad can relate (not perfectly, of course) because everything reminds you of something that happened in France or Spain or Italy or Norway or wherever you were.

And here are my answers to everyone’s favorite questions: 1) No, I’m not fluent, but I can hold a conversation and read French books now.
2) If there’s one thing I miss most about France, it’s not hearing French spoken at all hours of the day.
3) I absolutely intend to go back as soon as I can.

This is the last post, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing my experiences with you. Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or comments.

Toujours (always),

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Time to Say Goodbye

I apologize for posting so late, but the last month or so was incredible hectic, but I do want to give this blog some closure. June started off with finals and a visit to the Cointreau factory and museum (Cointreau is an expensive world renowned orange liqueur made specially in Angers) before all the goodbyes to my friends began. Some of my friends left the day after finals, but I was sticking around for another two weeks so I was at the train station everyday (sometimes multiple times in one day) saying goodbye to everyone. It involved lots of hugs and tears and many promises to come back or visit in the States or just keep in touch. Saying goodbye is never fun, especially if you’re not sure if you’ll ever see someone again, but it’s so much better than not having met them in the first place. As one of my friends said “Life is all about goodbyes. At some point in your life you will have to say goodbye to everyone you’ve ever met. But that shouldn’t stop you from going out and meeting people.” That was the sad part. The fun part was that everyday was a grand adventure and every night my friends and I jumped into a different French fountain.

Since I was staying for a couple more weeks I was around for the 2010 World Cup game of England vs USA. England had already scored a goal by the time I got to the bar to watch with my British friends. It was great fun…or great banter as they would say. The Brits were decked out in red and white clothing and paint and sported the flag of St. George as a type of cape and singing rugby turned soccer (or should I say football) songs. I wore my red, white and blue along with my Boston Red Sox hat…very American I thought. If you didn’t see the game it was really exciting because England was supposed to win it, but USA stuck it out for a 1-1 tie and I took a lot of heat for it.

I spent my last days in Angers visiting the different parks, eating my last baguettes and macarons, sketching the castle, and learning how to salsa and play French card games. I’m so glad I stayed the extra bit because it gave me a chance to let go. It was painful knowing I had to leave soon, but I was also excited to be going home since I hadn’t seen my family in five months. I will never forget the friends I made in Angers nor the city itself. Angers has become yet another home to me and I hope to return someday soon. If you are thinking of studying abroad, do it. You learn so much about so many different things in all aspects of life. And if you’re going to go, I highly recommend going to a country where you will be forced to speak another language. It’s uncomfortable at first, but people are more accepting of your mistakes and faux pas than you think.

Encore une fois (once more),


Monday, May 31, 2010

An American in Paris: Day 4-7

Day 4 was the start of the conference so I checked to make sure Kathy (Director of Merrimack’s Writing Center) had arrived before going to the Champs de Mars for my first actual viewing of the Tour Eiffel. It is incredible and gargantuan in real life. Then Kathy and I went to the opening of the Conference, which was held at the American Church, and a champagne and hors d’oeuvres reception. Afterwards I met Sasha and Phoebe for dinner with Sasha’s aunt. She was the cutest little woman and made sure we had traditional French eatings like an aperitif of kir (chardonnay with créme de cassis) and escargot. I’d never had escargot before, but I’d been dying to try it. It was served hot with pesto and butter and it was chewy, but delicious.
Day 5 was taken up almost entirely by the conference. But it was great! I learned so much about writing center pedagogy and writing in different countries like Germany, Turkey, Poland, England and Denmark. After the conference the entire group went for ride on a bâteaux mouche. The boat took us along the quai and we got to see unique views of the Eiffel Tower, National Assembly, Invalides, Tulieries, Louvre, Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame. Kathy and I also decided to visit the Eiffel Tower at night. I love when it sparkles! It is just plain beautiful.
Day 6 I finally got to go to the Musée d’Orsay and it was certainly worth the wait. There was a special exhibit called Crime et Châtiment (Crime and Punishment) and it was really, really cool, if rather morbid. It featured the dark side of artwork with scenes of death, torture, dissections, prisons, the French revolution, femmes fatales, judgment scenes, sensational newspaper story covers, a guillotine, and even the ballet dancers of Degas who represented a form of punishment to the body. The most impressionant was this creepy wooden prison door from Bois, France from 1900 with carvings of numbers, dates and the words “adiu, adieu, adieu” on the prisoners’ side of the door. I’m glad I saw the exhibit first because everything else after that was happy. I saw works by Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Seurat, Degas, Lautrec, Delacroix, Gaugin, Rodin, etc.

I returned to the conference and afterwards there was a bus tour of the city led by two American University of Paris students who were very well informed about the history and sights of Paris. We learned that on the 7th floor of Louis Vuitton is a free art gallery and that the Champs Elysées is now the 3rd most expensive street in the world.
Day 7 was presentation day and it went spectacularly well. Everyone was intrigued by our topic and we had a great discussion at the end. A wine and cheese reception finished off the conference and then it was time for me to catch the train back to Angers. And whadda ya know, there was an accident on my section of the metro so I had to run to the next stop which, luckily, had the transfer I needed to get to the train station. Still it was touch and go for a bit there. In the end I made it safely back to Angers and had to mentally prepare myself for taking my socio-cultural final the next morning.
Bonne chance à moi!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

From Paris, With Love: Day 1-3

So I was one week in Paris and oh man what a week it was. I was lucky enough to stay in a real Parisian apartment on the market street Rue Cler in the 7th arrondisement (there are 20 all total) with Sasha, my friend from high school and her friend, Phoebe. They had just finished their semester in Rome and were excited about the change of scenery. Ok so here’s a sketch of what happened.

Day 1 we went to the Luxembourg gardens and palace (saw some old men playing chess and kids playing tennis), the Montparnasse cemetery, and the extremely trendy Jewish/Gay quarter with its hidden art galleries and scenic canal.

Day 2 was brunch at the Mama Shelter, a very chic buffet restaurant that you have to reserve at least one week in advance. We walked off the piles of food by wandering the vastness that is Père Lachaise cemetery. There are tons of famous people buried in Père Lachaise (Apollinaire, Edith Piaf, Proust, Balzac, Jim Morrison, etc.) but it was so big we only found Proust and Morrison.
Then we went to the Champs-Elysées because we were told that the entire street would be blocked off for a nature display. Something like 2 million people were expected to attend and after arriving at the famous street I could believe it. There were people everywhere! It was insanity. I continued on to the Arc de Triomph (so much cooler and bigger in real life) which is located at the craziest roundabout I’ve ever seen. It’s called the Etoile (star) and has 12 streets spewing off of it.

Afterwards I met another high school friend, Laura and we grabbed some Domino’s pizza for a late night picnic in the Tulieries garden at the feet of the Louvre. The best part of this night was watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Every night after dark on the hour for five minutes the Eiffel Tower goes all sparkly before returning to its regular old lit up self. Funny story—the Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary building for the 1889 World Expo and all the Parisian’s thought it was an eye sore, but when I asked the French girls in the Foyer what their favorite landmark in Paris was all of them said they liked ”La Tour Eiffel” best. Go figure.

Day 3 was the Louvre. People had warned me about its size and anyone who had lived long in Paris said it was overrated and too touristy. But there’s a reason it’s touristy. It houses the world’s finest art collection and it was fabulous. And even better I got in for free with my student card! The Louvre also happens to have one of my favorite pieces in its collection and I was determined to see it. I needn’t have worried about seeing it because it was the first thing I saw: Nike of Samothrace, or Winged Victory at the top of the grand staircase and she was beautiful. And it wouldn’t be a trip to the Louvre without seeing DaVinci’s Mona Lisa, but she’s so small and far away in her protective glass that she’s much harder to appreciate. Much more amusing is all the tourists jockeying for a better viewing position. Far more enjoyable was seeing all the neoclassical paintings from David and Delacroix.

The museum was truly incredible, but I have to say the highlight of the entire day was dipping my feet into the Louvre fountains. There were tons of people outside the pyramid just sitting by the fountains; one girl was walking around in the fountain and most people, like me, were soaking their aching feet.

Afterwards I walked across the Pont Neuf (New Bridge), ironically, the oldest bridge in Paris, to the Île de la Cité where the Notre Dame is located. Notre Dame was very surprisingly the only letdown of the trip. Don’t get me wrong, you should totally see it because it is still awesome. It just didn’t meet my expectations. (I blame this on my preference for all things Angevine.) From there I trekked to the Hôtel de Ville, Pompidou center (crazy modern museum that looks like it’s made of colorful pipes) and Rue Rivoli where the huge department stores are located and then back to the Louvre for more feet dipping.

Side note: I was explaining to my youngest sister Emma how cool the Louvre was when she interrupted me and said, “Wait, isn’t the Louvre a bathroom?” She honestly had no idea and I couldn’t have been more dumbfounded. Seriously? You thought the Louvre was a bathroom? I get that it sounds like the Loo, but really?? It’s only like THE most famous museum in the world. It was pretty funny.

To be continued…

Friday, May 21, 2010

Monsieur, can we take a picture of your mustache?

Things are winding down over here so I haven’t had a whole lot of time to write. But here’s a quick recap of the weekend. My friends and I had not one, but TWO picnics. The first one took place under the shade of the castle and it was so successful we planned another for the next day under the gazebo in the Jardin du Mail. We had so much food that I wasn’t even hungry for dinner. There were baguettes, chocolate croissants, wine, cidre, chocolate, cookies, sausage, ginger butter (like peanut butter, but it tastes like ginger snaps), and of course a variety of cheeses: brie, coulommiers, camembert, rocquefort, etc. And since we are very resourceful, poor college students we used the round cheese container as a Frisbee (I wouldn’t recommend it for distances greater than twenty feet).

After the second picnic we had an Angers Photo Scavenger Hunt, created by your truly. We split into two randomly selected teams and set off to take pictures with all 32 objects/places. Some of the things on the list included finding someone wearing a beret, someone with a mustache, French graffiti, French car, French phone booth, a purple flower, a snail, a happy face traffic light, French people holding up a peace sign, something with the name Angers, bridge across the river, our school, a street sign with the word “ecrivain” (writer), a fountain, etc. We met up at the chateau at the very end and everyone agreed it was one of their favorite things (the only thing our team couldn’t find was the happy face stoplight).
Today I leave for Paris! I’ll be gone for an entire week because I have yet to visit the museums and actually see the Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. I’ll also be representing Merrimack at the European Writing Centers Association Conference with Professor Kathy Shine Cain, the director of Merrimack’s writing center. Our topic is “Positionality and the 21st Century Writing Center: Interdisciplinary, Transdisciplinary, and Cultural Border Crossing.” In case that sound totally foreign to you, essentially I’m going to be talking about the different relationships in the writing center and about my experiences as a second language student.
Wish me bonne chance!