where we've been and where we're going

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Patton and Luxembourg City

On the way to Luxembourg City, in, uh, Luxembourg, we stopped at the graveyard for American WWII soldiers where several hundreds of Americans are buried. The most famous among them was General Patton. I've been to soldiers' cemeteries in the US, but this was my first war cemetery. The difference is subtle, but it was enough for me to be very impacted. The former has people who have died in wars, but also soldiers who served and then died at 85 of a heart attack, plus their spouses who did not serve. Here, these men died in the fight, perhaps nearby, perhaps here. Their markers identify their beliefs in afterlife, or a cross for the unknown. Identical crosses in perfect rows and perfectly cut and watered grass serve as silent reminders. And then there's Patton. The only remarkable grave among them. The marker is the same, but it is separated from the rest...a place of honor at the front.

While I have a tendency to be humbled by such things, and very touched, others do not, including a (very) few of our students who are not only unmoved but are slightly disrespectful. So i was not only moved, but also angry. I guess not everything can be perfect.

What is perfect, though, is Luxembourg. It has the highest per capita GDP in the European Union. When you approach the city center from the highways, the bus curls around mountains so you see deep gorges and the city center looming like a fort with high walls on a high mountain. It was like Sleeping Beauty's castle, except a city, and no thorns. We were only there for the evening, so we weren't able to do anything but walk around for an hour or so, see a church or two, take a photo over the wall, and then head to dinner. The European Court of Justice is located there, and though we weren't able to visit it, two experts came to meet us for dinner and give a talk in this fantastic restaurant, Chiggeri. We had a private room, called the jardin d'hiver, or winter garden, which we certainly filled, with a glass ceiling and hanging antique lanterns to light the room. The duck was lovely (though probably not the best duck I've ever had) and the tea was delicious. Though we didn't see much of the city, due to our short time there and our hotel near the airport and far from the city, the restaurant experience and the accompanying talk were worth the trip.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Tartes Flambees and Christmasing

We loaded up the bus and headed to Strasbourg from Frankfurt. On the way, we stopped for lunch in the wine country of Lorraine, on the French-German border. Traditional food in Germany is all meat, particularly pork, and the lunch in this winery was no different. It was quite delicious, but after six weeks in Europe, which ALL loves pork, I was getting pretty full of pork. And I don't drink wine, so the lunch was not as fulfilling as it could have been.

We arrived in Strasbourg, which is so beautiful and perfectly German it was like walking in the town from Beauty and the Beast. Not much to do there, but it certainly was quaint. We went out to dinner, and had some Alsatian food. In particular, I had a tarte flambee, which might be among the top meals I've had in Europe. Those crazy Europeans, with their pizza without sauce and full of fat. Delicious. Then several students when to catch the premiere of the fifth Harry Potter movie, while I went back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning, the group from the human rights class attended a trial at the European Court of Human Rights. It was incredibly fascinating, a case of an immigrant accused of terrorist conspiracy was opposing the order to be deported. The issue was not whether or not he was guilty, but the fact that were he to be deported (any immigrant who commits a felony is subject to deportation) he would certainly face torture. Members of the Council of Europe are obligated to never knowingly subject any person to torture, which would occur should he be deported. However, the interesting aspect here is that because he is a terrorism suspect, the country involved argued national security trumped the torture concern. So the court has to balance the life and integrity of one person versus the potentially threatened lives of many. But what precedent should it set--human rights violations are sometimes acceptable? Fascinating. And the students liked it too.

After the trial, a few of us walked through a nearby park with a tiny zoo, and ate lunch overlooking the park--pretty good food, too. After lunch, the group reconvened for a meeting at the Council of Europe, but I was pretty tired by then, which unfortunately means I paid less attention. Just like the undergrads.

Before dinner at the same restaurant from the night before (still delicious), K and I went to this great Christmas shop in the old town area. Strasbourg is known for its Christmas festivals, and even though it was July, there's a Christmas shop, where I of course spent more money on myself and family members than I should have. Most of you will know, I do so love Christmas. So the trip involving a Christmas haul could never be in vain.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fright and Hasselhof

Our next stop was Frankfurt, Germany, for only one night. We were there to visit the European Central Bank, and our hotel was fortunately close to the ECB and unfortunately located in the red light district of the city. This means I did not venture out to see what might have otherwsie been a great city to visit. We had a group meal in this ridiculously German restaurant and ate Pig's Knuckles, which literally are pigs' knuckles. I generally don't have a problem with new or exotic foods, but the idea of what it was seemed so block my ability to enjoy it. Sorry, Germans. We walked through the cool center of the city, but that was really the only chance I had to see Frankfurt as a cultural place. At night, I went with a few students across the street from the hotl to a seedy bar with very few (old) patrons, where the jukebox played a lot of crap, including tracks by David Hasselhof. Yikes. The stereotype is true.

The visits to the ECB, as well as a huge private bank, were very successful, however. I know the students in the human rights class had a bit of trouble enjoying it, but I'm geeky enough, and having just taken the IPE comprehensive exam the year before, informed enough, to get a lot out of it, so it was great.

Frankfurt didn't impress me much, but, really, I only saw the red light district and banks.

Monday, September 10, 2007


We headed to Brussels next. I'd been there before, when studying abroad my junior year of college. It's a beautiful little town, and I think I liked it more this second time around. It's not the most wonderful place in Europe, but it's quite charming and lovely. It has a really nice downtown area, and the architecture is quintessentially Low Country. It's a nice place to exist.

We spent the evenings in local bars tasting Belgian beers while we could get them for cheap. (Let's be honest here...I didn't drink any beer. But the others did.) On our first full day we had a long briefing at the European Commission. After a terrible lunch on the Grande Place, we went to a briefing at the US Mission to the European Union--a discussion on US strategic relations in EU. It was kind of nice to be around Americans in an abnormal situation.

We played drinking games at the bar. I tell you what, whenever at the bar with my friends in the US, we never play drinking games. But the undergrads can play them like crazy. I learned all kinds of new games. Yikes. I'm going to attempt to erase that part of my memory.

The next morning, we visited the European Commission's Executive Committee for Finance. I took the afternoon off.

A few students and I spent Saturday in Brugges! It's among the most beautiful places I've ever been. I just love it there, and I'd love to visit it every year. Gorgeous buildings in a precious little town. Canals snake through the streets. It's perfect. We ate mussels and took a boat tour of the canals. And there's a Christmas store!! Clearly, I spent more money than I should have. That evening we drank in a 1920s bar and then ate at a restaurant with all kinds of Central Asian food. After too many waffles, the trip was a wonderful success.

The next morning, before heading to Frankfurt, I had breakfast with my mom's former French teacher and her son and cousin. She's a fantastic, kind person, and I love to see her. She took me to a huge flea market which was crazy. Blankets were laid edge to edge to edge in this large square such that we could barely walk between blankets, and the blankets were covered with things for sale. Crazy.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Den Haag

On July 2nd we left Paris for two weeks on the road to visit the European institutions we had studied during coursework. Our first stop: the Hague in the Netherlands.

I was shocked by how much I really liked the Hague. Beautiful Dutch architecture, tons of English from the Dutch, and great site visits. When we arrived, we checked into a very nice Ibis hotel and walked around the downtown area. There was tons of shopping, cool bars, and laid back people. While in Paris, you're bombarded with wanna-be supermodels--Parisians always dress nicely, and you never see tennis shoes. In the Hague, people wear jeans, T-shirts, shorts...normal people clothes. It was pretty refreshing. We also stopped at a bar located in the back of a church to eat the local bar specialty: bitter balls. They're meat, potatoes, and gravy--deep-fried. Awesome.

After dinner in the hotel, we went out as a group to a bar nearby. Alcohol is a million times cheaper in the Netherlands. It was a nice night out.

The next day was our first site visit. We were at the International Criminal Court while they heard postponement arguments from former dictator Charles Taylor. We had a briefing from people in the pre-trial and judicial assessment divisions. I found it fantastic, particularly since the briefing supported some of the research I've been doing lately. After lunch on the bus, we went to a briefing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It was extremely informative, and we had a chance to sit in on the trial of two alleged war criminals. The defense was attempting to discredit the report of Human Rights Watch. It was really nice.

We found out that typical Dutch food is bar food, and that the best food to eat in the Netherlands is Indonesian food. Drs. D and H went out for Indonesian food with D, C and I. It was so delicious! Afterward the students all went to the beach to a piano bar while I stayed in to grade papers. I thought at the time it was a smart idea, but afterward I regretted it.

The next day, we took a tour of the beautiful Peace Palace. This is where the International Court of Justice is housed. We weren't able to have a briefing or observe a trial, but the building sure was beautiful. After a lunch of even more bitterballen, some of us went to the Mauritshuis. This museum houses some of the most beautiful Dutch art in the world, including several Rembrandts and Van Rijns. The highlights, though, were three Vermeers. There only exist 35, and three of the most famous were there. I stood in the presence of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Amazing.

Finally, that afternoon we paid a visit to the Dutch parliament for a meeting with a parliamentarian. She spoke to us about immigration issues in the Netherlands, as well as being a woman and a black person in politics. It was really marvelous!

We then headed to Brussells.

The last time I saw Paris

Sunday, July 1, was our last day in Paris. Additionally, on the first Sunday of every month all of the museums in Paris are free! K and I thus decided to museum our way through our last day. We started at the Musee d'Orsay, the impressionist museum, after getting a bit lost on the way. It was really something, located in an old train station. We saw such beautiful art, by fantastic masters. We spent five hours there, even having lunch there so we could continue our way through the museum. Wonderful.

C and D met up with us at the d'Orsay--we found them waiting in line when we left, and we convinced them to head to the Rodin Museum instead. There we saw the Thinker and other beautiful works by Rodin. However, it was hot, and we'd been walking all day, so we only saw the sculptures in the garden and didn't bother to go inside the museum itself.

Finally, that evening we had a group dinner at a creperie in Saint-Germain. It was delicious, and with fantastic decor, but terrible service. They didn't get anything right and were terribly slow. It was also hot like fire in that restaurant, since we had too many people in our booth. C'est la vie.

After dinner we took a cruise of the Seine as a farewell to the city. It was beautiful at night: the Louvre, the bridges, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame...Paris.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Art, Music, and Light

On Friday, June 29th, I slept all day. I think I had a crepe from a vendor on the street for lunch. Not too much excitement.

In the evening, Kate and I had delicious entrecote et frites (steak and fries, a standard Parisian dish) in an area close to our apartments, and then had one more evening at the Louvre. We knew we couldn't do everything, but we just tried to do a little more than we had done before. Greek and Roman sculpture, including the Venus de Milo and Winged Glory. We also visited Napoelon's apartments, since he used to live in the Louvre before it was the art museum we know today. He certainly was extravagant.

The next day, after several failed attempts over two weeks, we toured L'Opera Garnier. It was still a bit of a failure, since we'd been trying to catch a guided tour of the opera house but found the book to be inaccurate, which was unfortunate. We gave up, and we toured the place on our own. We saw old costumes and miniature sets, in addition to wandering around the really beautiful halls surrounding the auditorium itself. We even had a chance to see the "Phantom's box", though he wasn't there.

We finally left the Palais Garnier, grabbed some quiche in the train station, and headed to Notre Dame. Since I had already been, Kate went up to the top with Judith, who had met us there, while I read my book in the courtyard. It was a nice, relaxing break, though I also had to do a little program organization via cell phone. From there, the three of us walked to the other island in the Seine, L'Ile Saint-Louis. It's mostly a residential spot, but there is a lovely little shopping strip with neat little specialty stores which runs down the center of the island. We went because we hadn't been and also because the island is known for its ice cream. And the rumors are not wrong...the shop where we stopped had gelato that they shaped into a rose on your cone. It was super delicious. I also spent a ridiculous amount of money on a few different varieties of olive oil in an olive oil store. I was in heaven.

Judith headed back to the foyers, but Kate and I continued on to Ste-Chapelle, which is the beautiful chapel Saint Louis (King Louis IX) built to house Jesus's crown of thorns when he acquired the precious relic. Now it can be found in Notre Dame, and they bring them out sometimes. Anyway, Ste-Chapelle is an incredible place, completely surrounded by amazing stained glass windows. If you read from bottom to top, left to right, the windows pictorially represent the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelations. It's incredible.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Oysters and Dancing

Today, Thursday, June 28th, was the last day of real classes. After this weekend, we head to the Low Countries for site visits to the European institutions we've been studying all this time. As a going away event, the program sponsored a lecture on the French elections and then took everyone out for a fancy dinner. We went to a place called Le Petit Zinc, which was an art nouveau wonder. The food was not as good as the price dictated, and the service was terrible, but the atmosphere was perfect. I had my first oyster experience; I've decided it's not my favorite thing based on the texture and method of imbibing. It was a nice event though, with everyone in their fancy clothes. I wore my opera dress.

After a return to the foyer to change clothes, Shama, Amity, Allison, Edgar, Chris, and David and I headed back to St-Michel, where the bars and clubs are highly concentrated and filled with students. We drank in a bar where it was slightly cheaper, then headed to the bar where I had danced with Danielle. Man, do I love to dance to crappy pop music. It was a great time. Given that we left the bar after the metro was closed for the night, we decided it would be a great idea to stay out until they reopened. Which was 6 am. We hit a total of 4 bars that night.

I am too old for this.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Running out of time

On the 25th, Paris went on sale. France has strict rules (as does the EU, for that matter) about when sales can occur and what they mean, so it's an exciting time to see a sale in Paris, particularly since it has such fantastic fashion. So I went shopping today, and it was glorious. And exhausting. Zara, for one, was a madhouse of epic proportions.

I realized the next day, the 26th, that I had less than one remaining week in Paris, and there was so much left to do! So after class I headed out to the Pantheon, where France buries it's heroic men who bring honor to their country, by way of a photo of the Sorbonne. The Pantheon, though it doesn't get enough recognition as a tourist site of Paris, is gorgeous, with beautiful paintings commemorating the glory of France, and a full crypt of heroic and brilliant Frenchmen (plus one woman). Foucault's pendulum is here, which is fascinating. Look it up on wikipedia. Wandering slowly through the crypt, I found the final resting places of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Louis Braille, Emile Zola, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Marie and Pierre Curie. Marvelous.

That evening, the majority of the students in the program went to a tiny fondue restaurant in Montmartre, called Refuge de Fondue, and they invited me along. It was incredible! For a relatively small sum, given this is Paris, we had aperitifs, appetizers, meat and cheese fondues, dessert, and a baby bottle filled with wine (or orange juice, given my preferences). It was so much fun, drinking from baby bottles and eating marvelous mounds of cheese. Few things are as fantastic as fondue.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A day off, then to see Napoleon

On the 23rd, Saturday, I took the day to stay in and work, which was well worth it. In the evening, I went out to see my cousin. She was in Paris with a group from her high school, and it seems like she loved every second of Paris. I met the group at Pont Neuf, where their boat cruise of the Seine dropped them off, and we walked to Saint-Michel, which is where the students (and the tourists) tend to go to hang out and enjoy nightlife. We went to a bar. The kind of bar which is almost a club, with a bit of a dancefloor and a DJ and a bouncer and the whole bit. After their tour guide did some finangling to get a group of 10 high schoolers past the bouncer, we were in. Maybe I'm getting old, but I was worried about the girls in the group, considering that not all of them had great French and there was a group of pompiers (firefighters) on the dance floor. With an eye on all of them, though, Dani and I had a great time dancing. It was tons of fun to see her, and I certainly love to dance as much as possible.

On Sunday, after sleeping in, Chris, David, Kate and I headed to Invalides, which was once a military hospital (and, we think, it still is). It now houses three military museums and includes the church where Napoleon is buried. His body is inside 6 concentric coffins, each made of a different (expensive) material. The outermost is wood. Additionally, the sarcophagus (I suppose that's what it is) is set in the cellar, but the first floor is cut out, so that an observer still must bow to Napoleon to see the grave. Apparently, Hitler thought this was a great idea when he saw it.

We also visited the World War museums, which were huge and extremely comprehensive, and the museum with miniature representations of the fortified cities of France. We skipped the museum of armor. Being in the WW museum made me wish I knew more military history, as I always do when I take classes as well. Scott would have enjoyed it more than me, because he would have appreciated it more. Note to self...more military history.

After a hot tea post-Invalides, we headed home. We took naps, then met up again (with Edgar this time) to head for dinner. We did a terrible job of locating a restaurant, since so many things are closed in Paris on Sunday, and ended up at a terrible little Italian place near our foyer. The food was provided by Sodexho. Always the optimist, Chris referred to it as the best restaurant in Paris, and it really didn't taste as horrible as I expected. However, both David and Chris got sick the next day. Go figure.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Art and government

June 22nd

It was a busy day today. Katie, again my partner in crime, and I headed to find the Centre Pompidou, the modern art museum in Paris. On the way, we found the Fountain des Innocents, and wandered into a funeral at L'Eglise Sainte-Eustache, where Mozart held his mother's funeral. Whoops. The museum, once we found our way out of the section with the ridiculous modern art that freaks everyone out, was wonderful. Lots of Chagall, Picasso, Ernst, Mondrian, Pollack, Arbus...wondrous. I find modern art to be incredible, but not the modern art that involves green blobs and sound effects.

We were starving, so we found a bistro right next to the Pompidou. Here, Kate had her first experience with escargot. I'd never had them in the shell before, and we had quite a time attempting to get them out of the shell. They were, in fact, delicious.

We tried to go to L'Opera Garnier for a tour, and we found it closed due to rehearsal. Frustrated, we headed over to L'Ile-de-Cite, which is where Notre Dame resides. However, our goal was the Memorial de la Deportation, an homage to those people of France who were deported to work and death camps under the Nazi regime. Most of those who were deported because they were part of the resistance returned to France; most of those who were deported because they were Jewish did not. It was a beautiful and respectful memorial, with millions of lights to represent each of the deported.

The group went to a talk at the French Senat. After quite a bit of work to get my group there on time, we arrived and received a tour of the building, which is in the Palais de Luxembourg, built by Catherine des Medicis. Then we had a meeting with a French senator, the head of the US-French relations committee. It was fascinating, particularly in contrast to a meeting we had two weeks ago with the US embassy.

After a group dinner, several of us roamed the Rue de Mouffetard, hopping in and out of bars...including a karaoke bar! The French do it a little differently, with ridiculous 80s videos behind the lyrics and lots of Celine Dion from the French karaoke-ers. Wild. Because we missed the last metro home, and I was wearing heels, I definitely walked home to the apartment with our group barefoot at 3am. Fun times in Paris.

Monday, July 16, 2007

La Fete de la Musique

June 20

Who knows? I imagine I graded papers today....

June 21

Today, on the summer solstice, and the longest day of the year, when the sun sets in Paris after 10 at night, Paris suspends its noise laws and the metro runs all night. It's the music festival, and one can find free concerts everywhere, from the Louvre and Notre Dame and the Centre Pompidou, to the ways along the Seine and the middle of the street in the Latin Quarter. Everyone brings out their talent and their lack thereof and plays in the streets and on the bridges and in the parks and in the bars. Orchestras and one-man bands. Every kind of music you can imagine can be found in the streets of Paris on this night. And every Parisian and tourist as well. It was incredible.

As a group, we ate a traditional Brittany-style dinner of crepes at a little creperie in the Latin Quarter and then attempted to walk around. We ended up finding it nearly impossible to walk as a group, so we broke up a little. David and I attempted to catch Stravinsky's 5th, which the Paris Orchestra was playing for free in the main lobby of the Louvre, but we arrived too late to be allowed in. Fortunately, we still caught the sunset, and a flautist in an archway. We then rendez-vous-ed with most of the group, who were wandering drunkenly along the Seine, after crossing the Pont-des-Arts filled with drummers and other various musicians, including dueling choruses of Christian and Jewish singers. I didn't last long with the crowds and the chaos, but it certainly was thrilling.

Teacher's Duties at the Mosque of Paris

June 18

Today, Monday, the students in my class turned in their first papers. However, I ended up sick, so the day was gone. Once I felt a little better I still had to finish planning my lecture for tomorrow, so I didn't do anything fun today.

June 19

I lectured today on the European Union's common foreign and security policies and how they relate to human rights. It was my second lecture of the class, but one I knew far less about than my first on human rights NGOs. I think it went less well than the first, but it still felt fairly successful. Lecturing is so much more difficult than running a discussion section, but I still love to do it. I'm once again grateful that I have found that I do love the thing I've chosen to do as a career.

In the afternoon, I set off to find a place to grade papers. I first went to the Jardins des Plantes, which is the equivalent of the botanical gardens, one might say. There are labyrinths and rose gardens, with an evolution museum as well. It was pleasant until a guy joined me on my bench and played mp3s out of his phone while I attempted to read. I bailed out of there and crossed the street to the Mosquee of Paris. While this may seem a strange place to try and work, there's a perfect little cafe attached to it. It's an open air patio enclosed from the street by white walls and perfectly shaded by fig trees. I sat at a little mosaic-topped table while a waiter walked around with little perfect cups of perfect mint tea for a mere 2 euros apiece. It was perfectly brewed at the perfect temperature with the perfect amount of sweetness. I couldn't have found a more wonderful place to work and drink tea than this.

That evening I went out with the students for the first time. We went to a British pub, Frog and Princess, in the Latin Quarter. A program assistant meeting I attended before the trip recommended I go out with the students a lot to keep an eye out for potential problems. I was only doing my duty.

Kissing Poets in the Graveyard

June 16

After lunch at the cafeteria with Kate, Judith, and Edgar on a Saturday, Edgar and I broke off and took a trip deep below Paris into the Catacombs. These lie even under the metro system. They were tunnels once dug to supply stone for the buildings of Paris, but they were filled with bodies of those causing disease in the city where they lay in regular cemeteries in the 18th century. The bones of the dead line your path, used almost like building blocks of a fence around you, with skulls arranged in a pattern of death. It’s surreal. Kate said her trip to the catacombs reminded her you can sleep when you’re dead, so she’s been hitting Paris sights like a whirlwind.

June 17

On Sunday, Kate joined Edgar and me on an excursion in northeastern Paris. First, we attended Sunday mass at Notre Dame at 10 am. This mass features Gregorian chant, which was gorgeous. Despite the irreverence of the tourists they continue to allow in the church while you attend mass, it was a wonderful experience. Even with really creepy, Tim-Burton-style organ music.

Afterward, we set off to find the remains of the Bastille. We went to the Opera Bastille, which is in the area where it once stood. Apparently, it’s the most often visited monument in Paris that doesn’t exist. However, the trusty guidebook suggested we might find leftover bricks, but we found this NOT to be the case. It’s the only time the old book has let me down. (Photo: Where's the Bastille?)

We then had lunch in a true Bohemian bar. We wandered into this place where every patron was a chain smoker, we only listened to obscure, jazz/world music I’d never heard, the walls were lined with well-used books and posters of musicians of which I’d never heard, and we ate weird bar food. Naturally, we were the only tourists in the place.

Nearby, we found Pere La Chaise. It was the most famous cemetery in Paris for me, but I shouldn’t speak for all people. Buried here are famous people such as Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, and so many more. Over 1 million people reside here, with only 100 000 headstones. Crazy. In particular, we managed to find (after much difficulty, trust me) Camille Pissarro, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and the place’s most famous dead guy, Jim Morrisson. We found his grave on accident, and I told him exactly what I thought of the Doors, which unfortunately is not complementary. After defaming the dead, I (almost) kissed Oscar Wilde’s grave like so many others have. Who started that crazy tradition?

We attempted to hit the jazz festival in the Bois de Vincennes, but rain forced us to a Salon de The. Instead, we went back downtown and managed to make our way all the way through the Picasso Museum. It was a collection that I think may have been the most extensive in the world. We were exhausted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

An Evening of Art

June 13

The building where we attend classes is in the Latin Quarter, near the district known as Saint-Germain-des-Pres. The Eglise Saint-Sulpice is in this area (recognizable from the DaVinci Code), though I never made it over there. However, the oldest church in Paris (or at least the tower from what was once the oldest church is Paris) is also in this district – Eglise Saint-Germain-des-Pres. I visited today, and I found it to be breathtaking.

The inside is all wooden and painted on almost every surface. Gorgeous murals of Christ and his apostles cover all of the walls. The columns and the ceiling feature beautiful patterns, usually with the fleur de lis of France. (Anyone know why it’s the symbol of the monarchy?) Rene Descartes is even buried here, in a fairly unremarkable monument in a chapel off to the side. A memorial honors the parish dead in the world wars. It was really, just gorgeous.

June 14 - another missing day. Sadness. I hope it was fun.

June 15

Kate and I (she's been my primary sightseeing partner, and she's been fantastic, by the way) had a picnic this evening at the fountain of the Jardins des Tuileries, which stretch between the Place de Concorde and the Louvre. It had rained most of the day, but we had a perfect sunny stretch for our little picnic. We then walked over to the Louvre, which is free for those of us under 26 after 6 pm on Fridays. How perfect!

We hardly dented it, of course. It is, after all, the Louvre. We saw the inverted pyramid of the DaVinci Code fame (I just read the book once, but I know what you all want to hear). We also saw the Code of Hammurabi and two Vermeers. We attempted to make our way through the ancient arts and the Flemish and Dutch masters. It meant some skimming, and we missed Roman, Greek, and about half of the Egyptian art. We did our best, darn it. The photo is Kate and I in a transported Mesopotamian temple.

Remarkably, we found some of the most beautiful views of Paris from the windows of the Louvre. I personally think that the Eiffel Tower is one of the worst, because you can't see the Tower itself in the view. This was a great one, particularly since the wind and the clouds of the storm made it dramatic, in addition to the colors of the sunset. Loved it.

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Missing Day

June 11 and 12

On Monday I attempted to catch another opera. Lohengrin was playing at the Opera Bastille, but the girls and I were less than successful in attempting to get tickets. Clearly, when you want student rush tickets on the closing night of a Wagner, you have to be aggressive. Instead, though, we wore our opera clothes to the Cafe Opera, where we had a delicious French dinner, and the girls told me what they like in a professor, for future reference.

However, on Tuesday of that week, we had another group outing, this one fabulously romantic. We began our afternoon at the Musee Quai Branly, the anthropological museum that constitutes Jacques Chirac's cultural contribution to Paris (most of the presidents did such a thing). An anthropological museum, you say? Yes, I do. And it was fantastic. A bizarre looking building, surrounded by a lovely garden. The inside is filled with treasures of indigenous societies from all over the world, both past and present. I, for one, thought it was fascinating.

From there, we walked to the nearby Champs du Mar below the Eiffel Tower for a picnic. Sandwiches, wine, cheese, and great company made for a lovely evening. We also climbed to the top, which is pretty anti-climactic if you've done it before, and seen a better view from Notre Dame. But we climbed it at sunset...which is spectacular. And at night it lights up, complete with sparkles for 10 minutes at the top of the hour. Sigh.

More photos, plus one of our group.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jazz with the Forgotten, and Marie's Playground

June 9 and 10

On Saturday, I worked all day.

In all honesty, I did try. I chose not to leave my apartment in favor of sightseeing in Paris so I could actually get work done. Seriously. I did a mediocre job at this, but I got, well, some things done.

In the evening, I went out to hear some jazz in the Latin Quarter. Specifically, Kate, Judith and I went to Le Caveau des Oubliettes - the cave of the forgotten. Quite a few of the bars and clubs near Saint-Michel were once basements and even prisons. This one in particular was a prison where people were once left and then forgotten, only to be found again when their bones were pulled out. Now the cave is a jazz club, and a great one at that. It was very cheap, and the music we heard was fantastic. Seriously great. I was so glad we went.

On Sunday, we took a group trip to Versailles, the former home of King Louis IV, V, IV, and Marie Antoinette, before they met their fatal ends. It was even home to Mona Lisa, for a while. We toured the castle, seeing where they slept and the ridiculous wallpaper they chose. Of course, there was also the hall of mirrors, most famous (for me) for being the location of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, ending WWI.

Afterward, we spent the afternoon in the grounds. On Sundays in the summer, from 3 to 5, they turn on all the magnificent fountains in the gardens, which really is something. It must cost a fortune, explaining why they don't run them all the time. They also spout grand royal marches from speakers throughout the park, making quite a spectacle. It was really something. I think I would have been fine, had it been MY backyard.

Finally, we had a group dinner at a little pizza place nearby in Versailles. Pleasant evenings with pleasant people surely make life a happy existence, don't you think?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Le Destin de Emily

June 7 and 8

The 7th was spent working, although I did a little reading in the Luxembourg Gardens, created, as most public parks were in Paris, as a playground for the royals. The really are beautiful, mostly because they are simply enjoyed. Everyone comes to relax, picnic, read, and exist. It's wonderful.

On Friday, the 8th, the study abroad group visited the US Embassy, located on the Place de la Concorde. One of the officials of the US government gave us a briefing on French politics and US-French relations. I thought is was fascinating, and I was reminded of my undergraduate desire to be a member of the diplomatic service. I'm not designed for it, but I did want it, once upon a time.

In the afternoon, though somewhat cloudy, Shama and I went to Montmarte for a leisurely walk through the playground of Amelie Poulin. We exited the metro system via a bajillion stairs, since we decided to walk rather than lift out of the deepest metro station in Paris. However, we ended up outside of one of the beautiful art nouveau metro stations around Paris, this one made famous from the movie (and other things, I'm certain).

More stair climbing to the top of Montmartre, past tourists and shops to the Basilica Sacre Coeur. It's the highest point in Paris, so says the guidebook, and it really is something. Amelie sent her tricky metro photo booth lover up the winding stairs in from of the church, and the top provides a beautiful view of Paris. Well, when it's clear. The inside of the church is incredibly beautiful, with tiny chapels tucked back behind the alter and mosaics everywhere. Not as breathtaking as the St. Louis Basilica, but oh so much older...

We walked past the myriad of artists attempting to sell their mediocre oil renditions of the Eiffel Tower and had a crepe covered in chocolate, ice cream and goodness. A walk past Van Gogh's former residence and the last remaining real windmill in Paris (Moulin, of course, means windmill) brought us to the Cemetiere de Montmartre. I, for one, love to see buried famous people. I think it rocks. So we paid respects to Alexandre Dumas, Hector Berlioz, Edgar Degas, and Francois Truffaut, in the (dead) flesh. Remarkable, how the French can stuff so many people in tiny tiny spaces. They just stack them one on top of another. Incredible.

We also got a little too close to the red light district in an effort to photograph the Moulin Rouge. It's super expensive to catch a show and dinner, so we just hit the outside. It looks just as you'd expect, but it's still worth it to see it in the flesh. (Heh heh.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

My Favorite View

June 6

I went off on my own today after class. Sometimes sightseeing on your own is fantastic, since there is no one to slow you down or rush you through anything you want to see. On the other hand, there's no one to whom I can turn to say, Holy Gargoyles! Look at that rose window! It's the largest in Europe! which makes the experience slightly less cool, or at least not as cool as it could be.

That being said, I traveled to Notre Dame. I'd visited it before on my weekend trip to Paris in 2002, but I didn't go in at the time because mass was being said, and I didn't climb to the top. Today I did both, and it was well worth the wait. The vaulted ceilings are monumental, and incredibly gorgeous. Without those famous flying buttresses, the whole place would cave in on itself. Incredible. And there are THREE marvelous rose windows telling Mary's story. Mind-boggling. My pictures are only okay....you'd be better served by a google image search than my flashless photos.

I then suffered through a French woman's (fairly common) inability to respect lines in order to climb to the top and see Paris from above. On the climb you get a closer look at the delicate intricacies of the facade, the archways, the gargoyles made famous in a WB cartoon, and the bell Quasimodo rang only in fiction. It was pretty cool...particularly the views of Paris. The Eiffel Tower and the Seine, or Sacre Coeur at Montmartre on the other side.

I had dinner that night in a cafe by myself. That's when I missed Darick. Dinner by myself used to be fine, and now I'm spoiled.

As a side note, the French ability to eat beef tartare (raw ground hamburger meat) baffles me. Baffles.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Phantom's Opera House

June 4 and 5

On Monday, I found that it is an unfortunate thing to be in Paris without an umbrella. Despite mentally reminding myself 3 or 4 times before leaving, I did not bring one with me, so of course I had to buy a new one. It was orientation day, including a walking tour of the Left Bank, and of course, as is the norm in June, it was raining.

However, once I purchased la nouvelle parapluie, it ceased raining. Luckily, I've needed it since then, so it wasn't a waste.

The tour was lovely, walking past Notre Dame and Ste.-Chapelle, with highlighted bars to visit at some point in the next month. It was kind of quick and dirty, but it made us (or at least me) excited to be in Paris. However, after all of that, and some grocery shopping for necessary things I had forgotten to pack, I retired to the foyer to read the readings for the next day's class. I'm here, at least in part, to co-teach one of the courses the study abroad students are taking, so if anyone in the room should be prepared for class, it's me.

On Tuesday, though, I did go out in the evening. Class was really nice. (I have class, Human Rights in Europe, from 10-12 M-Th.) The students are all really smart and participate without goading in class. It's a really nice atmosphere in which to learn and teach, and I hope they get as much out of it as I do. We ate lunch as a group (as we do on all class days) and then they have other classes while I either do organizational work for the program, sight-see a little, or (most often) return home to work.

That night, though, one of the students and I headed to the Opera. The national opera offers student rush tickets of 25 euros (down from 150) the last 15 minutes before the show, and I was determined to go at least once, if not more. We saw a very modern opera entitled Da gelo a gelo, which is an interpretation of several Japanese love poems. Though the music did not translate the story well, which I think operas should do at least to some extent, the music was interesting and the staging was gorgeous. And the opera was in L'Opera Garnier, which is the famous opera house of Paris. It was built under Napoleon and was made famous by the Phantom of the Opera, who has his own box you can visit on the guided tour during the day. I would have watched boy scouts rub sticks together in that venue...the ceiling was painted by Chagall.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Airline Travails

(June 2nd and 3rd....I'll label these for a while until I catch up with myself in time.)

After landing in Atlanta post-Italy, Darick and I drove through the night to Saint Louis to be with family on the week of his brother's wedding. Dane and Megan were married on Friday night, the night before my flight. Because of short notice, I had to add a leg to my original flight from Atlanta to Paris, so I now was flying St. Louis to Atlanta to DC to Paris. I wasn't looking forward to it.

So after dancing until around 11, Darick and I drove the hour from Potosi to St. Louis, stayed the night with Aunt Tootsie (about 3 1/2 hours worth) and then Darick took me to the airport.

I was tired, but not exhausted. However, I landed in Atlanta, picked up my luggage so that I could re-check in for my international flight....only to find that the travel agent had not ticketed it, and my reservation was cancelled. No flight for me from Atlanta to Paris. Granted, we paid for one, but it didn't exist. The details are still sketchy, and I'm not sure how it happened, but it did. So after a few emergency phone calls that were of little help, and one panicked call to Dr. Davis in Paris, I booked myself a brand-new ticket for that day. It was outrageously expensive. Luckily I'll be reimbursed. So after dealing with all of that, I was pooped. Flew ATL to Miami, and had to walk to kingdom come because they're renovating the entire Miami airport, and then take a terribly uncomfortable flight from Miami to Paris.

Post landing, it was morning in Paris, so to get myself on the new time schedule I had to stay up the whole day. And when I arrived at the student dorms where I'd be staying (le foyer), I couldn't check in because the lady at the desk was having a Parisian 2-hour lunch. I was crabby, clearly. But a few of us had croque-madames for dinner, and I went to bed a little early, and everything felt a little better. After all, I was in Paris.

Friday, June 15, 2007

An Italian List for Darick

Things to do with Darick when he and I come to Italy together (some I've done, and some I want to do):
  • In Rome:
    • The Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel
    • Mass at St. Peter's
    • Lunch in the Jewish Ghetto
    • Ruins, especially Circus Maximus
    • Wine at night at the Trevi Fountain
    • Villa Borghese
    • Burial place of Raphael, Pantheon
    • That great gelateria
    • A short ride in the world's largest hot air balloon
  • In Florence:
    • The Uffizi
    • The Galleria della Accademia
    • Burial place of Michelangelo, Santa Croce
    • That great restaurant
    • A trip into Tuscany for grape pressing and wine tasting
  • In Venice:
    • Gondola ride at dusk
    • The Guggenheim
    • The view from the church across from Piazza San Marco
    • Murano
    • The library (really a church) from Indiana Jones and the last Crusade
  • In Milan:
    • Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper
    • An opera at La Scala
    • Football game (Inter Milan!)

Swiss Wine and Fish

I realize I said that Milan was our last stop, which is no lie. However, on our last full day in Italy, we crossed the Italian border into my personal favorite European state: Switzerland. We spent most of the day in Lugano, home of a former winter Olympics, southernmost Swiss canton in the Italian area of the state. And it was a perfect day. We had seafood in a restaurant known for its seafood. Everything tasted like it had been taken from the lake that very morning, and three of the five courses had incredible fish in it. It was phenomenal, rivaling the wonderful dinner I had had in Florence (though not surpassing). After lunch, I circled the lake a bit in search of the center of town, so that I might purchase Swiss wine while still there. The Swiss make wonderful wine which they absolutely do not export, so you can only buy it there. I, therefore, vowed to get some. In fact, I bought a white Merlot, something I of which had not before heard. Really, it's for Darick, but I'd be really excited about it if I drank wine.Finally, we headed off to a little town just outside of Milan for our final concert of the tour. It was the perfect way to end tour, since the church was filled and the audience was so into the experience. A little boy in the front pew just was thrilled with everything we did, and we even sang an encore. It was perfect, as I just said. Here's a youtube video of the men of concert choir in rehearsal just before the concert. It's a piece entitled Ave Maria by Biebel, arranged by Chantecleer. Though it's just the men, it seemed to be everyone's favorite piece, especially that of the women. Enjoy.

Castles and Cathedrals

Our final tour stop was Milan(o). I'd been to Milan twice before, and though the shopping was great and the Duomo impressive, it was hardly mind-boggling. I think I'd survive if I didn't return, yet it seems to keep pulling me back.

Our tour guide for Milano was much better than that of Venice, not repeating herself nor making racist comments. We first took a little tour of the Castle, where the family who once ruled the city-state of Milan (before Italy was united) lived. One half of the castle was ornate and had many windows, which is where the family lived most of the time, but when the castle was attacked, the family would move into the other half, where there were no windows so they were more likely to safe.

From there, we moved to La Scala, the
premier opera theatre in the world. I'm not sure what identifying characteristic makes it so, but I recognize that when you sing opera, here is where you want to do it. It was so beautifully ornate on the inside. It was destroyed in WWII (I think), but it was one of the first buildings to be rebuilt, as a symbol of the city. A few of the choir members went to see the ballet there that night, though I didn't make it out.

Through the beautiful galleria (shopping center with a ridiculously beautiful ceiling), we ended up in the plaza in front of the Duomo. St. Peter's Basilica is the largest cathedral in Christiandom, followed by one in Seville, Spain, and then the Duomo in Milan. It was incredibly beautiful, particularly on the outside. It is also the home of an incredible sculpture of St. Bartholomew...email me if you want to know why I thought it was so cool.

That night I stayed in, but Milano won the UEFA cup in soccer, which means I definitely didn't sleep until the streets calmed down around 3 am. The honking, screaming, firecrackers, etc. were riotous. I am clearly not brave enough to attempt to act like an Italian when there is football involved.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Glass Orchestras and Inky Tentacles

Off to Venice, or Venezia. I had been there before, when I studied abroad in Geneva, so I didn't take many repeated photos. However, the sights are no less breath-taking the second time around. I imagine I could return to Venice a thousand times and never get tired of the beauty, the smallness, the romance, the tourists, the shopping, the pigeons, the Italians, or anything. I care not that it's almost overrun with tourists. It's incredible, with nothing to which I might compare it. Venice is among the most incredible things I've seen in my short lifetime, and though other things might compete with it, nothing will compare to it.

Our courier, Sebastian, who was our companion on the entire tour, coordinating with venues, hotels, restaurants, tour guides, everything, was a Venice resident, so he took us on a little walking tour on the way to meet our guides, informing us of good places for gelato and groceries. We then went on a cool walking tour with a terrible, racist guide. He kept cracking snide remarks about Japanese tourists until one of our (half-Japanese) choir members spoke up. We saw the Rialto bridge, packed with shops, the beautiful Ca d'Oro, and a fish market. We also saw a beautiful spiral staircase, which my guidebook (though not our terrible guide) told me is rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Since the choir sang a wild piece about Leonardo, we were particularly interested in those things related to him. We also saw the opera house, and progressed our way to the Piazza San Marco, made famous in so many movies and diamond commercials. We went into the Basilica for about 4 minutes, but it was fascinating. Most fascinating, I thought, was the fact that the floor is sinking in various places, making the marble floor very uneven as you make your way through the cathedral.

After breaking off from the group, a few of us walked up the grand canal, shopped a little, and slowly made our way back toward the hotel, getting lost in corners a few times. We stopped for dinner, and true to my conviction to eating local food, I had cuttlefish in the Venetian style. When reading that the specialty in Venice is seafood, I should have paid attention to the section of the guidebook explaining that the Venetian style is boiled in squid ink. I only ate about a third. It was too, um, rich, for me.

The next morning, Emily, Dipika and I headed to the islands. I was determined to buy gifts for everyone while in Venice. What makes a better gift than beautiful, hand-blown glass from Venice? So we walked once again to the Piazza San Marco and jumped on the Vaporetto (water-bus) around the main island. Our first stop was the cemetery island where the Venetians are buried. There is buried one of Darick's favorite composers, Igor Stravinsky, so I took a photo for him. Also of note were the cypress trees all over the cemetery. These trees are all over Italy, but they are particularly notable in cemeteries, since they reach toward heaven.

Finally, we ended up at Murano, where artisans blow glass that is reknowned around the world. The trade is passed through families rather than through schools, and one must be an apprentice for 20 years before having one's own shop. We were able to watch a demonstration, and it was fantastic. We then shopped, all day. It was fantastic. You'd never believe the kinds of things they can make of blown glass. I bought, of course, Christmas ornaments for myself, and gifts for others. At one point, I saw an entire tiny orchestra, no player larger than an inch and a half, made of delicate glass. It was incredible.

We sang that evening in a church built in the year one thousand, to another really receptive audience, composed of about half tourists. It was really nice, with another decent performance. Afterward we ate dinner on a dock on the canal, facing the sunset. It was perfect, as only Venice can be.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

To flourish

Fiorenze. The city of Florence was named from the verb meaning to flourish. And flourish one does.

The city is beautiful, if not filled to the brim with tourist curiosities, like Rome. We began our tour, after a beautiful drive through Tuscany to get there, at the Duomo. The cathedral of Florence is built of marble. Though marble is common inside many buildings in Italy and greater Europe, it is rare on the outside, since it weathers so poorly. The builders of the Duomo were not to be deterred, though, and the building is covered in gorgeous designs in white, red, and green marble. Inside is also an architectural marvel - a dome created of gothic arches, never to be repeated to this day in human history.

Our walking tour, behind a slow-moving but well-informed Italian guide, took us past all of the glories of Florence - the original home of Michelangelo's David, a demonstration of the world's first graffiti (a derivation of the Italian word for scratching), the reported home of Mona Lisa, and many, many churches. Post tour, Dipika and Emily and I wandered back to most of the places the guide had breezed past, such as Dante's home and some gorgeous churches. We went past the Uffizi. Without Darick to enjoy them with me, I chose not to indulge in most art museums on the trip. While I realize I passed up some of the most world-reknowned art there is, such as the Sistine Chapel and the Uffizi, I'll be back. I married an artist, after all. However, we did visit the real David in the Galleria della Accademia, and it was incredibly impressive. The true masters are known as such for a very important reason. No pictures allowed in the museum, so I took mine with the replica in its original location.

We then crossed the river (Arno? maybe that's in Rome...) via the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is lined with shops, which were once occupied by livestock vendors. Merchants, however, decided it was too smelly and ran all of them out. Now the bridge is lined with fine jewelers....thirty or so all lined up next to each other. It's quite a sight. On the other side, one finds the Medici palace, where the family lived who once ruled Florence and commissioned great works of the Renaissance.

On our way back to meet the group, we stopped at a restaurant off the beaten path recommended by the trusty guide book. I can't emphasize enough how much my guide book rocks, and I'd highly recommend traveling with one and relying on it for guidance. This restaurant was all Florence, with Florentine ingredients and recipes. It was hands down the best meal in Italy, and perhaps one of the best of my life. The recipes were rich with sausage and truffles and ham and the ingredients were just exploding with flavor. And cheap! So so good. If you are headed to Florence, ask me for the name of this place when I can look it up at home. You won't regret it.

We stayed at a hotel in Montecatini, about 45 minutes drive from Florence. There was nothing to do there. I won't bore you with details.

Next morning we went as a group to the Piazzale Michelangelo, a point (now really a parking lot) on a hill near the city where you can see the whole city. Apparently it's one of the best sunset views in the universe, but we didn't catch it at sunset. It is still remarkable though. After that, a group lunch that couldn't compare with the dinner of the night before, plus there were clandestine chicken livers making the meal a bit spoiled. However, we then shopped, which is really what one does in Florence. Ice cream and shopping for leather and paper goods. I purchased both, plus olive oil. Then the choir packed up and headed to the Tuscan countryside to sing at a 700 year-old church as part of a chianti festival. This time, well rehearsed, we sang much better, and the audience seemed so excited to have us there! They even threw us a reception afterward, and though none of us could talk to them (except one of our students) we were all appreciative of each other. It was a great time. Here are olive trees next to the church, in a Tuscan grove. Sigh.