This was the third time I’ve been to Paris this year and honestly I went kicking and screaming. The first time I went to Paris, 5 years ago, I fell in love. Paris in the spring, such a cliché, but easily romances any first time visitor. This time, however, my feelings toward Paris have changed drastically.
I had to stay the night in Paris to catch a flight to Barcelona to meet my aunt for the week. I couldn’t take an early enough train, so I was forced to stay the night in a hostel, which happened to be in the worst area of Paris. Maybe the 16 euros a night should have tipped me off, but I booked anyway in hopes that being close to a metro line would make my commute easier… in the end, it didn’t. This part of Paris is grimy and crowded. The streets are lined with hustlers and I later learned that this metro stop that I was so anxious to stay next to is in fact, the most dangerous in Paris. But alas, I survived and this year, more than once, I find myself thinking, “That was really stupid. How did you get out of that?”
I was determined to spend my one-day in Paris doing something I love, so of course I chose a museum. Not just any museum, but a museum I’ve been dying to see and manage to miss every time I go to Paris (which happens to be a lot), the Rodin Museum.
Museums hold a special power over me. My dreaded day in polluted, rainy Paris was salvaged by a trip to a museum. The moment I walk in, my mind is cleared, my nerves calmed, and I am instantly comfortable. It’s like the moment the sun bursts through the clouds on a rainy day and you feel it warm your face or crawling into your snug bed after a late night, an early morning, and a long day. That is exactly how museums feel to me. I can breathe in a museum no matter the circumstances outside. This museum was no different.
I was surrounded by favorite sculptures that I’ve studied or read about all afternoon, but that isn’t even the moment that sticks in my mind from this trip to Paris. While I was at the museum, I toured the courtyard, a maze of hedges and pebbled pathways. As always it had rained in Paris that day and the gravel paths were spotted with puddles. As I was walking around, a little boy about 3 years old ran past and threw himself into the puddle in front of me and jumped in every subsequent puddle his searching eyes could see. His father ran behind trying to stop him, his pants soaked to his knees, despite his oversized rain boots. I saw them once more around the garden. The father jumped from behind a hedge, scooped up his puddle-loving, sopping son and carried him away from the alluring water.
I loved this moment. Before this I was fed up with Paris. I was in a large city alone, staying in a less than picturesque area and fairly disheartened by my current circumstances (even being on vacation). But, this little boy with no inhibitions and a devil-may-care attitude brought a smile to my face and a new outlook on the months ahead. How I sometimes wish I could still be a child jumping in every puddle I can find, but instead, I’m reminded to cast aside my own inhibitions and discouraging circumstances and enjoy the day that I was blessed with.
Amsterdam is a cultural center of Europe, though some visitors may never leave the coffeeshops and by that I do not mean Starbucks. But Amsterdam offers much more than just “space brownies” (which I did not try, just so we’re clear).
I met another assistant, Kate in Amsterdam at the beginning of winter break. Other than having to catch a train before the sun rose in Douai, and missing my connection in Antwerp (but I discovered a Starbucks in the Antwerp train station…jackpot), my trip was fairly uneventful, which, with my luck, never happens to me while traveling in Europe. I met Kate at Starbucks (second of the day) and after a soy chai latte and a little planning, we dumped our luggage at the hostel and toured the city.
Where to go first? The Van Gogh Museum it is! I was struck by the exterior of the museum. The Van Gogh museum is located, where else, but in the museum district of Amsterdam. It is neighbored by the old fashioned Rijksmuseum which houses Rembrandt’s Nactwatch and which was not on our agenda for the trip. After a segue towards the Iamsterdam letters to take pictures, we eventually made our way to the museum.
(Side note: this entire time the sun is blazing down and forcing sunglasses upon our faces. What a treat and a true holiday from the ever-present gray skies of Douai. The moment the train left the great Ch’ti country the sun’s rays broke through the clouds.)
Back to the museum: I was astounded at the architecture of the building, which houses the artist’s, lesser known, but incredible works (I found a few favorites), three of which I was dying to see (Bedroom at Arles, Gauguin’s Chair, and Irises) and were at the moment on loan in Tokyo. Maybe another time, I already have to return to Rome to see the Pantheon without the scaffolding. But the building surprised me because of its modern architecture. It is a round structure made of steel and has no visible entrance. We walked around and around the building trying to find the entrance as if it’s a secret revealed only to the most worthy visitors (we couldn’t find any bricks to tap). It’s not; it’s just a matter of entering through another, less impressive building and beginning the tour in the basement, which connects the two. The Van Gogh museum was the highlight of my trip, but more fun and cultural learning was about to be had.
The next day we walked to the Anne Frank Haus. This was an experience not soon forgotten. I’ve visited a concentration camp before, an experience made surreal by the juxtaposition of the bright sun beaming down on a melancholy landscape and its malicious intent, but this visit was somehow different. Having read Anne Frank’s diary, there is an account of every moment spent in that tiny hidden apartment in Amsterdam. She recorded everything from the size of her room to her annoyance in her roommate to the crush she developed on Peter. Every hope, every future pursuit, everything she saw wrong with the world and hoped to fix was thought in her tiny bedroom plastered with photos of celebrities and advertisements and heroes. For the first time, after reading her diary, her description of the apartment made sense. It came alive before me. Though it was unfurnished, I could understand the tension, the claustrophobia, the distress and the depression that came from days within. And yet, in her diary, she remains expectant and jovial. I can only wish to have an outlook similar to Anne Frank’s, to foresee the good in every bad situation.
We finished our day and our time in Amsterdam with a boat tour of the canal, peering up at the towering, gabled houses and gliding past houseboats and streets lined with bicycles (there are more bicycles in the Netherlands that people).
Though we were too early to witness early blooms of famous tulips and I didn’t see a typical Holland windmill, Amsterdam is a beautiful and engaging city…without the extracurricular activities, wink wink.
Things to try in Amsterdam: Febo. Febo is the Netherlands’ answer to fast food and self-service. Enter an alcove of vending slots, drop in a few coins, and open the door to a surprisingly good something or other. I have no idea what I ate, but it sure was good.
I want to invite you into the world of Frenglish where I currently reside. I’ll update you with the cutest things my students say and the ridiculous things my teachers teach.
Today my six-year-old students learned the classic American game: duck, duck, goose.
Or rather, in their words “ketchup, ketchup, gooood”
I can’t contest that statement. They are so adorable.
I was teaching “how are you?”
The answer should be “I’m happy”, “I’m sad”, “I’m okay”, “I’m angry”.
My precious student Theo “I’m a nose!!”
He got those two lessons mixed up, but he’s still so cute.
I was asked to laminate flashcards…
“Could you plastify these cards with the plastifier?”
Ummm. I can try. What exactly is a plastifier?
Teaching how to ask for breakfast foods. For instance, I would like pancakes, butter, jam, coffee, tea, etc.
Didn’t expect to hear this one…from my teacher
“I would like two toasts of butter and with jam”
Could you remind me, what is a toast of butter?
Again teaching “how are you”
My teacher asks a student and he responds “I’m sad”
She responds “Oh right, you’re sad because your dog died”
Wow, where’s the sensitivity for that sad kid?
Yeah I keep a journal of these gems. More to come soon.
Say that in your best French accent.
Friday morning one of my schools planned an American/ English breakfast in order to learn the names of different foods and experience a different culture. In case you don’t know, English breakfast is quite different from a typical American breakfast. Where we would have pancakes or French toast (which the French don’t actually eat for breakfast) on a Saturday morning, the English would substitute these delicious morsels for a more savory meal. Beans, fried bread, and black pudding (“sausage” that is to my understanding more like congealed blood in a synthetic casing—delicious) are the main dishes in an English breakfast. Because my school is hosting an American assistant—that’s me by the way—we served a more appealing American breakfast complete with pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon.
In preparation, the students colored both English and American flags, we had to represent their neighbors to the north, and then I strung these flags on a garland to hang about the room. Such lovely decorations, the tables were trimmed with white tablecloths and red and blue napkins, so patriotic and not too different from a French patriotic occasion.
I made the pancakes before the students arrived and gawked at my teacher’s insistence at teaching me the proper way to make a pancake. I admit my French is not particularly great even after 5 months and I am not a master chef, but my intelligence was insulted as the Frenchman, who had never before seen a pancake, attempted to teach me, the American, how to cook an American delicacy. I may have unintentionally replied with a snarky “I’m an American, I think I know how to make pancakes”. Whoops. To be fair, this is not the first time he has insulted my intelligence; he has previously assured me that there are in fact 51 United States in the United States of America. Wow, of course being away for 5 months I must have missed the day we adopted this 51st state.
Apart from serving Canadian bacon instead of crispy strips of bacon and my students choosing to eat their pancakes with jam instead of the maple syrup I tried to convince was delicious, the breakfast was a blast. They’ve learned how to order pancakes in an American restaurant. Succès !!!!
There was an article in the local paper about our breakfast. Here’s the link and a scan of the print version.
I left London the day after Christmas on my way to Paris. The 4-hour delay to take the Euro tunnel, the 9-hour bus ride that should have been 4 hours, and the last train into Paris getting in at 10 pm could in no way break me of my good mood. I was staying in an apartment in Paris for a week with Emily Cooke. What are a few hours of exhaustion when my best friend is so near?
Emily was coming to France!!! I couldn’t believe it and didn’t really believe it until I saw her in baggage claim behind the Plexiglas partition from which we couldn’t find the exit. We spent our first 15 minutes together pacing back in forth in front of the baggage claim trying to find an exit, but eventually we found each other, squealed with joy and made our way towards the train and Paris.
It was so nice to avoid the introductions and to greet a familiar face. One that brings news from home, not that it’s the age of the pony express or that I never Skype my friends and family, but Emily brought with her the juicy Shreveport/Bossier gossip. If you think we talked about you, we did. If you think we didn’t talk about you, we did. No one was safe—kidding…well, sort of.
Paris is a city that I’ve previously been to and loved, so of course, I wanted Emily to see everything I had already seen and I wanted us to discover new things. What did we discover all too often? Sites were closed or the lines to long when we wanted to visit. The cold weather and time of year didn’t seem to deter tourists. We spent 6 days covering the entire city from the seedy Moulin Rouge to the purifying towers of Sacre Cœur. We stood in line to enter Notre Dame Cathedral, to climb Notre Dame Cathedral, to see the treasures of the Louvre, to climb the Eiffel Tower (I forced a nearly crying Emily to the top, that’s how mean I am). We saw the Venus de Milo, Monet’s Water Lilies, Nike of Samothrace, the Mona Lisa (La Joconda) of course, and befriended a few gargoyles. We even spent New Year’s Eve at the Eiffel Tower, disappointing though it was. This was the only year without fireworks and nearly the end of our vacation, thus New Year’s Eve was ripe with high expectations and heavy with dread for the end of the week.
I hope I was able to show Emily the Paris that I fell in love with 5 years ago and I can’t thank her enough for coming all the way to France to see me and climbing to the very top of the Eiffel Tower in freezing temperatures so I wouldn’t have to do it alone.
You’re the best Emily!!!! Remember that time we went to Paris and we were awesome
Oh and those gorgeous purple and red hats we are sporting are Amy Schepp originals. Feel free to be jealous of our awesomeness.
I had the hardest time deciding where to go for Christmas break. I wanted to be in one place to celebrate the holidays, but how difficult it is to find the perfect place to celebrate alone. In the end, because I was traveling alone, I decided it was best to spend Christmas in an English speaking country. Alas, I traversed the treacherous English Channel and the dark moors of Dover (though I don’t believe there are any moors in Dover) to the Dickensian poverty-stricken city of London to once and for all find Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire and alas, I did not find him.
London, what can I say of London? London is exactly what I pictured, although I did picture myself encountering England’s most prized celebrities, or America’s favorite English celebrities, the like including Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, and of course Princes William and Harry, but no such luck. I was not invited to dine with the queen like I had planned and the closest I could get to the prince was the souvenir shops that sold, or didn’t actually sell, throngs of mugs plastered with the happy faces of the royal couple to-be.
I stayed in London for a week, which means I lived hostel life for a week. Hostels are funny places really. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel you are one lucky person, but it is an experience I think everyone should have, like working in retail, to truly appreciate never having to do it. Hostels are priced per bed not per room like a hotel, so it’s somewhat like going to camp, but instead of spending a week with close friends in a bunk bed, I was surrounded by random people and their giant suitcases. It’s uncomfortable to say the least, but the best way possible to meet other travelers. During that week I had
breakfast with French assistants from the Caribbean, students from Slovenia, and recent graduates from Australia. It is easy to form close friendships within the course of a week when each traveler is away from home during the most important time of year. On Christmas day 2 Slovenians, 4 Australians, and the 1 American (who later became an honorary Australian) formed a small family and wandered the city by day and cooked delectably bad Christmas pasta for dinner. I have no pictures of these people. Nothing to remember them by, we aren’t even Facebook friends. It is almost as if we never met or it never happened and it was without a doubt the strangest Christmas I have ever spent, but one I will never forget.
Sadly, the next day I had to leave my peculiar Christmas family, but this gray cloud had a superb silver lining. In 24 hours, I would be in Paris for a week with my best friend, Miss Emily Cooke.
Three weeks into my tough job as an assistant it’s already time to celebrate Toussaint, which means a two week break for me and my band of exhausted assistants. A fellow assistant, world traveler Julie enticed me into a 12-day trek through Italy, but really, I wasn’t too hard to manipulate. So Friday after work, we set out flying first to Venice to spend Three days then subsequently crossing Italy to see Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Siena, and finally Rome. It was a depleting attempt at extreme traveling, but with limited time to spend in Europe and Italy alike, we pushed through the exhaustion to experience every incredible element Italy has to offer; from gelato to the Uffizi we wanted to taste and see it all.
Sorry, but this is going to be and extra long post.
First to Venice, a maze of a city even as a small island. Confusion considered, we were immediately enraptured with this city built on water. Venice is unpredictable in the sense that maps are rendered useless on this fish shaped Island. Our first attempt at map reading failed miserably. Initially, we carried with us a google map in which we placed our faith. Google maps are not to be trusted. We quickly found ourselves to be in what my English friends would call the “dodgiest” corner of Venice. In actuality, we were in the ghetto. Not just the ghetto of Venice, but historically the first ghetto in the world. Our first night in Italy and already we are confronted with a history lesson. It was a quite peaceful edge of the island and rather unlike a typical American ghetto. The next three days in Venice were spent searching for the perfect Venetian glass pendants, stopping to gaze at the mesmerizing, adorable canals, and scarfing down gelato and cannoli–the only Italian words I learned.
After a quick stop in Verona to visit what else but Juliet’s balcony, we crossed Italy towards Cinque Terre “the five lands”. Cinque Terre is on the Coast of Italy, the Italian Riviera, and is comprised of five little villages. One of the most beautiful places I have ever and may ever have the experience of visiting, Cinque Terre boasts of both mountainous and seaside terrain. It is incredible to experience the vast sea as it meets the base of a mountain covered in weaving olive groves and vineyards. The only downside, the hike. You may be surprised to learn that I actually enjoy hiking when I’m prepared as in, I have the right shoes and the right jacket to block the freezing mountainside wind, but being the poor planner that I am, I was yet again unprepared. This is why a huge suitcase and a duffle bag stuffed to the brim are necessary for any get away, even if it is just a weekend. Aside from the exhaustion, blisters, and crying feet, one day was not enough time to spend gazing at the beautiful landscape of Cinque Terre.
I was excited to move further into the heart of Italy. A short pit stop in Pisa. A few hours in Pisa is all that’s necessary (I feel guilty belittling this city who lost its prestige to conquering Florence, but it was lame) for the quintessential tourist photo-op, then on to the reason for going to Italy, Florence. Florence is my dream city. It’s been on my list since that first Art History 102 lecture on the Renaissance. It was for a time my reason for studying Art History. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance, the birthplace of Michelangelo, and the center of Tuscan life. We stayed with a friend of Julie’s, the sweetest and most generous person, Mickie, who invited us into her life and cooked the most amazing pasta dishes for dinner and cappuccino and lemon cake each morning. We lived as true Italians in Florence. We spent our days wandering the city, scarfing down gelato and paying 5 euros for hot chocolate as thick as pudding at Chiaroscuro Cafe. We toured the city on bikes, found our way to the leather and scarf markets, and gawked at the Uffizi’s collection of Botticelli’s including Birth of Venus and Primavera and finally Michelangelo’s masterpiece David, an unadulterated vision of the perfect man (men are just not made that way). Is it sacrilege to say such a thing about a biblical character? Oh well, I’ll take my punishment. I was sad to leave Florence even in spite of being the most expensive Italian city we visited, but on to Siena where I spent 11 euros for a plate of 4 ravioli… yes, that’s right, 4 mediocre ravioli. I ate better ravioli at the small, family owned, invisible to amateur tourists (we are travelers; there is a difference) trattoria in Florence, sitting on wobbly stools, squeezed into a corner table making small talk with two German strangers in town for a computer conference. In this case, the food was so exquisite I would have made conversation with a slobbering pig if I was privileged enough to take part in this meal. Siena was a charming city and our hotel was a nice break from hostels even if the shower was above the toilet.
On to Rome, the final stop on our Italian adventure. Rome was bursting with people, bursting. There is no other way to describe the absurd amount of people we encountered everywhere. It was a feat to take pictures anywhere without outsiders creeping into the shot. After a quiet few days in Florence, Rome was to say the least, overwhelming. In spite of this, we managed to cram ourselves into the subway car with the other overwhelmed and overexcited tourists and make our way across the city to discover the brilliance that is Rome. It is a strange feeling to stand in the ruins of the once greatest empire on earth. It is even difficult to imagine the grandeur that was Rome. It remains, but in pieces, in countless stones and overgrown grass. What is left crumbles or is supported by concealing scaffolding. My pictures of the great forum become confusing images of bricks and rubble. What exactly am I looking at? I have no idea, but a great man once stood here to control a great empire.
After visiting the forum, we made our way to the Colosseum. We were in Rome for Halloween and if there is one haunted place in Rome it has to be the Colosseum. Think of the atrocities committed there and with the help of Hollywood’s Gladiator, it’s not too difficult to imagine. My favorite thing about the Colosseum is the droves of people standing before it to take a smiley picture. It has become the landmark of Rome; does no one else think that funny or maybe a little disturbing? No matter, I too took that same picture, smiling ear to ear because I was in Italy after all and standing before a structure that was the end for so many.
But my favorite place in Rome is, without a doubt, the Pantheon. It is an awe-inspiring once polytheistic temple and now the final resting place of Raphael. It is a known fact that when traveling through Europe one risks the monuments they’ve ventured to see being in a state of repair and possibly closed or covered in scaffolding. The first time I traveled to Europe it was the Venus de Milo and this time it was the Pantheon. Half of it was hidden beneath analytical eye of a conservator, but despite this minor misfortune, the interior was untouched and I basked in the splendor of the coffered dome flooded with light from the oculus and stood before the tomb of Raphael.
We left bustling, overcrowded Rome and headed back to Douai and back to our routine as English assistants pants tighter and hearts heavier forced to live in a gelato free world. Rich with friendly people, bright sunshine, and scrumptious cuisine, Italy stands out in my mind as one of favorite places on earth. Have I mentioned that I was supposed to be Italian? Maybe I can be an honorary Italian.
It’s been awhile, but that’s do to the fantastic two week break which came just in time after three grueling weeks of work. I spent my vacation time in Italy with another assistant, Julie, and let’s just say we came back in need of a serious vacation. Before I get to that, here’s a bit of an update on the few days I’ve been back in France.
The strike is over!!! Well, for now anyway. The peace will not last for long I’m afraid, but at the moment, I’m grateful the French would rather not deprive their fellow man for too long.
I think I may finally have a concrete schedule. I at least know which classes I am teaching at one of my schools and I have the freedom to make my own lesson plans. We have only learned how to say the date and they can only say that particular date (It’s Thursday, November 4th) but I think next class I’ll move onto a more difficult task, introducing the days of the week and the months, and it will be difficult.
Fellow Louisianians, it is cold in the North of France. The weather channel may report a crisp 40 degrees, but it is a piercing and drenching 40 degrees…no wait, it just dropped another 10 degrees. How is that 70 degree weather treating you over there in the South? Not fair. My Southern upbringing has in no way taught me to anticipate the cold, thus I have learned the hard way that windy does not mean light breeze and scarves are not just a cute accessory. Too bad I had to learn this lesson waiting twenty minutes for the bus and walking thirty minutes home from the train station.
After two weeks in Italy, Douai has lost some of its excitement, but I was glad to be back in a familiar place hearing a familiar , yet still foreign to my ears, language.
You’re not going to make this easy on me are you France?
The most important word I’ve learned this month just happens to be “une grève” or in English “strike”. We are three weeks into October and there’s already been around four strikes, maybe more. As most of you have probably heard or read at some point, the French government has decided to increase the retirement age by two years…the French are not happy. A strike is quite a site to see. Men and women crowd the town center and march along the streets to protest an injustice: flags are waved, fliers are strewn about and thrown into the air like confetti, and smoke fills the sky as flares and fireworks erupt. Every impacted group bands together: teachers, train conductors, garbage men, everything stops for a nationwide protest. It’s quite an inspiring and extremely democratic act.
I’ve heard several times that, as an American, I just will not understand the importance of a strike. This is true; I don’t understand. When have Americans felt the need to strike or carried out a strike successfully…not often, but the French, it seems accept the terms of a strike. I, on the other hand find it to be a bit of a hassle. I mean, I am American and like I’m told, I just don’t understand. I have yet to go to work on a Monday because of one thing or another and this week it was because of a strike. It’s seems strange to me to wait in a train station surrounded by unperturbed Frenchmen. How are they not frustrated that the trains they rely on everyday are not running? I applaud their acceptance of these apparently frequent occurrences. Oh well, I guess the only thing to do is leave the train station and grab a pastry on the way home…
I started “working” this monday. If you can call what I did work. Well, actually Monday was a bit of a let down for me and the school I was meant to visit. I’m going to blame the bus even if it was probably my fault. I have no practice relying on a public transportation system. I can just get in my car at home and drive 10 minutes to wherever I need to be. It’s not quite the same here. My schools are the farthest from Douai so I have to take a train and then a bus.
On Monday, I didn’t have to be at school until 1:30 (go ahead, it’s okay to be jealous), but I left about 2 hours early just to ensure that I would make the train and then of course the bus. I found the train fairly easily and made it to Somain an hour early to wait for the bus. I could probably walk to Erre, but I have absolutely no sense of direction or the skills necessary to read a map…this is why I always rely on the buddy system. I waited patiently for the bus, and I waited, and I waited, and eventually 3 hours passed. I was 3 hours late for my first day! Seriously, this is my life right now? It was mortifying. Not only was I late, but I have already met the teacher I would be working with. Remember Gilles and his adorable children? Yep, this was a member of the wonderful and generous family I decided not to live with and now I wasn’t showing up for work. Not the best first impression.
I finally decided to take the train back to Douai and email Gilles about my public transportation mishap, but he beat me to it. He called and offered to take me to work every morning instead of taking the train and risking missing the bus. He’s been too too nice to the crazy American girl who can’t even read a bus schedule (it’s really hard to understand, but I’ve mastered it by now).
I just have to find the humor in the whole situation. Sure I missed my first day, but I can’t do anything but apologize and, after the initial shock, it really was a hilarious day.