mardi 4 mai 2010


Every Wednesday evening, 6-7, I had a phonetics class with other Americans from our program. The class was in centre ville, so we had a 25 minute walk back to Cuques, our dorm.
Wednesday also happens to be garbage night in centre ville.

One evening, as we were walking back from class, we found a television on the side of the road by the trash. It had about a 25 in screen, and there appeared to be nothing wrong with it. So we decided, what the heck, lets pick it up and carry it the 2.5 miles home and see if it works.

I was with Frank, who is about 6ft4, and several girls who are closer to my height. It took 2 girls on one side, and Frank just about bent double on the other, to carry this thing. We managed for a few blocks, but it was bulky and there was just too much of a height difference. So we decided to try taking it on the small public Cuques bus.
The bus pulled up, and we loaded this thing onto it. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure any of us paid the bus fair. We made for quite a sight- all obviously foreign and toting a large television. The TV didn't fit past the front aisle section, so we left it on the ground there, creating a bottleneck. People had to climb over it in order to get off the bus. It was also blocking people from going down the aisle to the seats in the back, so pretty soon the front end of the bus got crowded. We rode in awkward silence... just standing around staring at this television, when finally another passenger asked "est-ce qu'il marche?"..."does it work?"
"on ne sais pas" -we have no idea
We started laughing.
When we got to our stop, we lifted the TV up and slowly hoisted it off of the bus (a bunch of people had to get off then get back on before we could get it down the stairs...)
We then balanced the TV on top of a rolling trashcan, and rolled it from the bus stop to the front of the dorm.
Then we had to carry it up 4 flights of stairs. I took turns rotating with the three other girls, going up backwards, while frank pushed from beneath. We had to stop and rest on each landing. There was lots of swearing, sweating, and grunting, and we almost dropped the damn thing about a dozen times.
we finally got it to Franks floor (only then did someone come out and offer to help us), and into his room.
The next day he hooked it up, went to FNAC and bought a cable, and sure enough- it worked! We celebrated by gathering to watch a soccer game. The color was off, so the turf looked orange, but we got a decent selection of channels. SCORE!

lundi 3 mai 2010

Spain: the untold saga

I did not go straight home from Morocco. My friends left late in the evening, I stayed on alone. I went on a group tour the next day, spent the night alone, then flew to Barcelona early the next morning. I only spent 3 days in Spain, but they were 3 of the most eventful days of the entire year! (and given how much i packed in, that's saying something!)
so here it goes:

Spain, the untold saga

I arrived in Barcelona mid-afternoon, and took a train from Girona airport into the city. I walked out of the train station, stopped to get my bearings, and was approached by an elderly English couple. They were just leaving town, had an extra subway pass, and thought that I looked foreign and confused enough to need it. They were right! I used it the following day on the next leg of my trip.

I started walking, feeling optimistic, and stopping along the way to snap a few photos of Placa Catalunya and do some window shopping. I checked into my hostel (you had to pay extra for sheets... I am still bitter) and set out for a (different) train station, to buy a ticket to go to San Sebastian the next morning. I took a number, and saw that there would be a long wait. I was hungry, though I didn't want to leave the station to look for food. So- i'm not proud of this, but it happened- I bought McDonalds. ick.
Finally got my ticket (luckily the salesperson spoke french!) and set out to explore the city.
Of all of the cities I have visited, Barcelona may have the most beautiful architecture. (disclaimer: Gaudi is my hero. I am biased). With only one day in the city, I decided to make architecture my priority, and walked over to Gaudi's Casa Batllo, where I coughed up 7 euro admission. It was worth every centime. Gaudi's fluid lines and whimsical details had me all in a tizzy. The organic forms and textures turned the entire house into a seussical creature, and there we were exploring its innards. Smooth creamy walls, dark twisting wood, swirling blue glass and tiles. The highlight was the rooftop- a maze of chimneys and mozaics, with a wonderful view of the city skyline.
By the time i emerged, it was close to dinner time. I stopped and ate a rather disappointing meal at a dive cafe (never trust a picture menu... still not sure what I ate). I walked through Barri Gotic, the medieval city center, and stopped to listen to several street musicians. My favorite was a man on a very tinny piano, outside of a cathedral. Next to him was an elderly gentleman with a cane, who had to have been at least 75. As the pianist started playing a ragtime tune, the old man started tapping his feet. Then he started doing a small shuffle step, side to side. Then he lifted his cane, holding it before him with both hands, and started doing a (shuffling) tap dance! I am not sure whether he was part of the show or just an enthusiastic by-stander, but I'd prefer to think he was the later, and that I witnessed something spontaneous.
Then I walked along Las Ramblas, a lively (but touristy) tree lined boulevard which leads to the waterfront. I saw the Columbus Column (oh, right, he was Spanish and not American.) I walked along Port Olympia until it got dark. On my way home, I passed an Irish pub with a sign in the window announcing that they'd be showing a rugby game between Wales and France on the tele that evening. I looked at my watch, realized it was about to start, and ducked in. There were surprising number of Welsh fans in the pub, and they all stood as their national anthem was sung at the start of the game.
They were not at all what I would have expected- mostly middle aged women in red turtlenecks and sweaters who swore like sailors and cheered like hooligans. After seeing how aggressive they were, I wasn't surprised when France lost. I walked back to the hostel and fell instantly asleep.
I got up early the next morning and took the subway (thank you elderly british couple!) back to the train station.
As I was getting on the subway with my bags, I checked the time on my cellphone. I didn't want to miss my train! Then I put my phone back in my jacket pocket. As I was getting off of the subway, I put my hand back in my jacket pocket... and my phone was gone!! I had heard of Barcelona's problems with pick pockets, so I had stowed everything else of value deep in the heart of my overstuffed backpack. And I had made sure to stand apart from the other passengers on the train. To this day, I have no idea how anyone could have managed to sneak that sucker out of my pocket. But the sad truth was- it was gone. I was alone in a country where I did not speak the language, traveling to meet a friend, with absolutely no means of contacting her.
there was nothing else for it- I got on my train and crossed my fingers.

vendredi 30 avril 2010

Le retour

Two weeks ago I found out that I will be going back to France to teach English. I leave at the end September, and will return home the following spring. This time I will be in Reims (pronounced raaahns), which is in the northeast, in the middle of Champagne region.


mardi 19 mai 2009

Perdu en traduction

Over the year, I have come accross several pretty fantastic mistranslations from french to english. I just came accross this beauty while researching hotels in Aix for dads visit, and thought i would share

Come to the Hotel of France, situated in the heart Of Aix-en-provence, will offer you all the enjoyments of an old Hotel of charm in a picturesque district.
In only 50m of the famous fountain of the Rotunda and in A parallel road in Mirabeau Courts, you will have meeting With the best restaurants, the monuments most Typical, shops, markets...
Aix-en-Provence reunites to her only a patrimony Exceptional, several days will be necessary for you for Make the tour.
Numerous festivals with international dimension, Unwind every year in the domains of the Lyric art, the dance, or still the cinema.
THE HOTEL of FRANCE will also be the ideal base for Shine on the region and discover Provence under its Multiple facets.
Situated at feet of the Mountain saint-Victoire, and in the North of Marseille, Offer an ideal position, between sea and mountain, enters city and Campaign.

one of my other favorites was a heading on a Paris menu:
Meats (cocked in sauce)

mardi 12 mai 2009


Its spring, and that means the tourists are arriving. There are suddenly a lot more people in the streets, and theyre paying much more attention to the buildings than to where theyre walking. Im already beginning to hear more english than french in the markets. The streets are hectic, workers are trying like made to finish all of the ongoing construction from this winter. They've cleaned a lot of the fountains and planted more flowers. There are tourist buses everywhere, and suddenly all of the restaurants are serving regional specials and the boutiques are offereing special deals on postcards. these deals, it turns out, arent actually that special.
The weather is wonderful- low 20s C, generally sunny, and with a pretty consistant wind. The wind makes wearing a skirt difficult, and tends to blow dust into your eyes.
There are flowers everywhere- poppies are springing up like mad, and the lilacs just finished blooming. When I went to L'ardeche, a region just north of here, there were roses in almost every yard. There was also a pink wildflower that was growing out of the stone walls and even, in several cases, on the tiled rooves.
At night i close the shutter but leave the window open, so i can hear the frogs croaking. They make for some pretty loud backgroud noises, and thats from my room on the 5th floor. street level and it sound like the construction workers left theyre equiptment running.
Ive also spotted several lizards.
And the fruit! Today i passed a fig tree that was loaded with little hard green knots that will soon be ripe delicious figs. There are cherries and peaches in the market -though theyre still ridiculously expensive. Asperigus and Artichokes have become my main source of green.
The only downside is the homework- in the next 5 or 6 weeks, I have 6 papers to write, a minimum total of 48 pages. in french of course. I console myself by taking my lap top to various cafés around town. I like to think of it as multitasking- enjoying the weather while dealing with the workload. But it always ends with me spending too much time people watching.
Life is so hard for a student in provence.

Parc Jordan

Parc Jordan is about a 6 minute walk from my dorm. Its not exceptionally large or remarkable. It is surrounded by a wrought iron gate, and there are several paths which cut through it, benches, trees, a statue or two. Its a little questionable at night, after the gate is locked. One evening I was walking home and I heard drums and shouting, and I thought I saw a group of people dancing towards the edge of the park. Another evening I saw a group of guys lined up, one at each gate post, peeing.
But during the afternoon there are usually groups of students in the park playing soccer, picnicing, playing the guitar, or just laying out. On sunny days it can be hard to find a good spot to lay out because there are so many people. A lot of them have books with them, most of them aren't reading. People walk their dogs their, or bring their kids there to play. Students like to be seen there sporting the latest fashions from Zara and smoking with friends. During the freak blizzard I went there and built a snowman with some friends, by the end of the day there were maybe a dozen snowmen throughout the park. I didnt get a chance to count them though, because a kid in the park started throwing snowballs at me.
I love this park.

mardi 14 avril 2009


Last week I went on a day trip with my friend Kiran. Kiran is an art history student from Rome who lives in my dorm. We bonded by cooking together in the dorm kitchen and talking about art, and decided to take our sketch books to Marseille. We stopped at the market and got some tunesian treats and ate a picnic lunch on the port. Then we settled down with our sketchbooks and drew the view of the cathedral which overlooks the boats and ports. It was a beautiful sunny day and we had a fantastic time. Kiran doesnt speak english, so we could only communicate in french. This limits conversation a bit, and it took a lot of concentration to both draw and sketch. But it was still a great afternoon!

When we had finished our sketches we walked up to the cathedral to admire the view.

On our way back to the bus stop we passed the market again. We bought two huge fish-2 kilos! and i dont think it could have been any fresher.

When we got back to aix we went to my friend christens apartment where two other americans joined us. We decided to have our easter dinner a week early, since several of us would be out of town the following weekend.

Kiran gutted and cleaned the fish, I stuffed the inside with garlic, lemon, and basil. Im not gonna lie, there was a lot of blood and i coudlnt really look too closely. Then we popped them in the oven, head, tails, and all. While the fish cooked, Christin sauteed some artichoke and asparigus in a white wine and parmesan sauce and put that over pasta. The feast was served- and it was absolutely amazing. The fish was so fresh it was sweet, though there were a lot of little spines.

Drooling yet?

We made a desert too. Kiran made an italian custard, I melted dark chocolate, and we put that over strawberries. The entire production was conducted in french, and by the end of the evening I was absolutely exhausted and incredibly proud. I hadnt spoken English at all that day.

A few days later I had another culinary succes, Christin and I made a tart for my friends birthday. I cant help it, im about to brag. Christin baked the crust, which i have to admit was the best part. We then put down a thick coat of melted dark chocolate, then a coat of italian custard which i learned to make from my Kiran. We topped this with artistically arranged strawberries, bananas, and grated chocolate.

it tasted as good as it looked!