Monday, September 19, 2011

Une année après

I am publishing this post several months after I left Paris and over one year since I arrived...

It is 9:54PM the day before I am supposed to leave Paris for good.  I have been thinking a lot about what I wanted to write in this post.  I want to describe everything that I felt in as much detail as possible so future A.J. won’t forget, but I know that that is impossible.  Some things are just beyond words.  But like always I am going to do my best.

Sorry to sound overly dramatic but I think it was Bob Cratchet who said that “life was full of meetings and partings.  That is the way of it.”  This year, for me, that quote took life.  I have met so many people, most of whom I won’t see again for an incredibly long time if ever.  Obviously there are those few who I will stay in contact with, but they will go back to their own lives just as I will mine.  

It is inevitable that I will forget most of what I experienced this year.  I’ve walked down Rue Poteau every day for the last eight months and I still couldn’t tell you what the stores on it are.  Sure, we have that cheese store next to the florist shop (you have to make sure you inhale at the right place, because if you don’t you get a good whiff of camembert instead of lilies…), and that butcher shop that sells horsemeat.  There is a Monoprix and a Franprix.  I’ve gone to the Tobac a few times to recharge my phone credit.  But the further from today I get the more I am not going to remember. 

Today I spent a good portion of the day in the apartment feeling sad for myself.  Aliya left early this morning.  She woke me up around 6:00AM to say goodbye.  I have loved living with her but her goodbye was a bit strange.  Maybe I didn’t hear her right because I was still kind of sleepy but I’m pretty sure her goodbye was “I love you, I hate you.  You’re part of my family.”  To be fair, I shouldn’t have expected anything else from her.  I guess it wasn’t actually a goodbye.  It was more of a see you later.

I went out and bought a new suitcase because I have too much stuff here.  I spent a lot of the afternoon packing.  I really didn’t feel like doing anything and I almost didn’t.  I knew though, that if I just stayed in my apartment when I went home I was going to kick myself for not seeing my favorite areas of Paris one last time.  So I took the Montmartrobus up to Sacré Cœur and walked around.  I needed to do some touristy shopping for myself and naturally I had put that off until the last day.

For the last few days the weather here has been pretty temperamental.  Yesterday I wanted to go up the hot-air balloon in a park here in Paris, but when my friend and I got over to the park it was too windy.  Today, when I got up to the top of the mountain I was pleasantly surprised to find it one of the clearest days in Paris.  From the steps of the church you have a perfect view of the rest of the town, minus the Eiffel tower.  I put my headphones on and just took in the view while listening to “Complainte de la Butte” by Rufus Wainright.  The song literally is talking about windmills and the hill that I was sitting on.  I sat there for a good three minutes, just thinking over what I had done and what had been done to me this year. 

I’ve done some pretty incredibly things.  I’ve had copious amounts of fries and waffles in Brussels, heard a ghost in the dungeons of Edinburgh, saw my first prostitute in Amsterdam, gone salsa dancing in a bull fighting ring in Spain, had wienershniztel and strudel in Germany and Austria.  I went on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, had a monkey climb on my head in Morocco, had the best pizza of my life in Florence, saw the largest public square in Europe in Bordeaux, went to the arena of the first Olympic games in Olympia, and went to the birthplace of democracy in Athens.  I’ve been invited into the homes of French people, had dinners on terraces overlooking the city, and had my first sip of alcohol under the Eiffel tower.  I sang for over five hundred people and presented in French for twenty.  I survived SciencesPo and France.

Looking back on it, I already don’t remember the bad.  Only the good sticks out to me.  The

I apologize.  I am finishing this on June 14 on my way back to Santa Barbara to go start work at the Family Vacation Center.  I know that my time abroad has been indescribable.  My grandmother prints out all of my blog posts.  She said that I’ve written over one hundred and fifty pages already.  I know that that can’t begin to describe the kind of things I’ve gone through.  As I said, I’ve done some incredible things.  Yet as I sit on this plane writing this I feel a kind of emptiness.  I’m not sure what the cause of it is.  I do have regrets about my time abroad, but I also have done things that most people in this world can only dream of doing.

I am so fortunate to be able to have had those experiences.  I know that I owe it all to my family for letting me take a year off from school, rely completely on them and go off and do what I want.  I think that now the reality of my future has set in.  I have nine months of school left.  Then I am going to be forced to make decisions that aren’t real.  I am going to have to seriously decide what I want to do.  Sure I can brush off those decisions and do something fun like going to work on a cruise for a few months, or going to try to get a job at ClubMed for a six-month stint, but I will never escape these choices.  France has made my future real. 

I am incredibly proud of myself.  I don’t want to appear arrogant, but I believe that what I have done is admirable.  I don’t believe I am unique and that no one else could have done what I did, but few people on this planet have, or even try.  I love everyone that I met in Paris.  In fact, there isn’t a single person who I met there that if they called me and asked to go out to lunch or dinner or even stay at my place I would try to find some excuse not to see them.  I met some of the most genuine fun to be around people I have ever heard of.  I miss them terribly.

The group of people in France I met were so odd.  There’s the one I had a huge crush on when I first met them and still to this day makes me feel like a bad person for not being as nice as they are.  There is the crazy Canadian I lived with who (and this may not be reciprical considering the morning I woke up to her yelling at her sister and her sisters friend how I never clean and how I can be inconsiderate) I would love to live with again.  There is the gayest straight man I have ever met who, despite my first impression of him has grown to be one of the best friends I’ve made in Paris.  There is the crazy British/Irish girl who, despite her demeanor when she has had a few too many is so ridiculously funny and nice and sweet.  There is the amazing welsh little blonde who has a smile and laugh that can light up the room.  There is the crazy San Franciscan who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it all the while never forgetting peoples feelings.  There is the petit Seattle-ite who has promised to take me out and show me what there is to do there when I inevitably end up some awkward odd wheel out with my Dad’s side of the family.  There is the other petite Seattle-ite who’s time was cut short in Paris (not in life), but who has the most sarcastic, funny, witty sense of humor.  There were the string of roommates, from the gawkey awkward scary-smart Australian to the laid back, hipster Mexican/American/French kid. 

Then there were the French I met.  It took some time to crack their shells, but once I did, they let me in whole heartedly.  The choir guys and girls were always happy to see me there.  I’m not sure if it’s because I am one of the only guys (apparently in the history of the choir) who can sing tenor somewhat well, but every time I walked in it was as if I could do no wrong.  The French kids in my courses (with the exception of one kid who I sincerely hope fails out of school and realizes that life is more important than grades) were so supportive and friendly, especially when I told them my plight in regards to the administration. 

Then there is my French host family.  Michele is literally a second mother to me.  Jerome and Georgina are like family.  I know that I am going to remain in contact with them for the rest of my life, assuming they want to.  I cannot wait to come back and see how big Lucas has gotten and how he plays with his new baby sister (she is due this month!). 

I loved my year.  Had I finished this post closer to my arrival back in the states I honestly don’t know if I could say that.  But now I can.  With time, the bad goes and the good stays.  I think that is human nature.  That is why we can forgive, get over things, and always be optimistic.  We can overlook peoples flaws and look forward to the good times we know we will have with them again.  We are able to see past all the terrible and remember the great. 

I remember the first time I cried in Paris.  I was sitting alone in my room at Michele’s house.  I didn’t know how I was going to survive the next nine months.  Looking back I know that it can be summed up to three words.  Friends, food and France.

Mon Coisiere

Much like my trip with dad through Austria, Germany and Hungary I apologize for not being able to remember all the details of my cruise.  I am also going to start with when Mom and Nana first go to Paris. 

They arrived really early on a Tuesday morning.  For anyone who has ever met me, they know I am not a morning person.  But being the good son/grandson I am I volunteered to meet Mom and Nana at the airport at 7:00AM.  Needless to say I got there at 7:45AM.  I meant to get there at 7:30AM but the RER B that takes you to CDG was running a little behind schedule.  I told them just to park themselves out front of the baggage claim. 

We meet and I say my necessary apologies for being late.  Their flight was early so it turns out they had been waiting for about an hour for me.  Oops… my bad… So from there we take the RER to their hotel.  Now my mom and grandmother are not country bumpkins, but they have never lived in a city that has public transportation.  There was one point where my grandmother just started laughing hysterically because she had never done anything like this.  I asked her why that is so funny she said it was because her friends at her retirement home would never beleive that she was taking the train from the airport to her hotel with two suitcases that collectively weighed 140lbs.  Looking back on it, we must have been a bit ridiculous.

Thankfully we make it to their hotel, which was only one RER, two metro lines and three blocks away from CDG.  My arms were sore the next day from hauling their stuff.  I gave them the cell phone I bought for them so we could stay in contact, since neither of their phones were equipped for Europe. 

The next few days were a blur of walking around Paris.  We took a cruise on the Seine for my mom’s birthday.  It was the first time they had seen me drink!  I think I emptied the entire bottle of wine we got.  We went up to my apartment and I showed them my area a little bit.  We went on a tour of the Cemetery Père LaChaise where some of France’s most influential people are buried.  I took them over to where Michele lived and we got Crepes at my favorite place.  We went into the Pantheon.  One of the days I had class they tried to go to the Louvre.  The other day the watched the Royal Wedding.

Finally it was time for us to leave to go take our cruise!  I had been looking forward to this for, well since we booked it back in December.  It was a week long vacation sailing leisurely through the Greek Isles, with the last two stops in Croatia and Italy.  I had never been to any of the cities we were going too and to make things better, my grandmother who has been traveling internationally since she was in her thirties hadn’t been to most of those places either! 

We had to spend the day in Bari, Italy where our boat was set to leave from.  We weren’t sure what there was to do, so we asked the concierge.  He suggested we go up to Giovennazo, a small fishing town about ten kilometers from Bari.  We could take a bus, but the hotel agreed to drop us off there.  Now I am not sure if this is typical for everyone in Italy, but the four times I have been there I found that Italians don’t seem to speak that much English.  It wasn’t a problem for me, because I was used to communicating with people whose language I didn’t speak.  But I could tell it freaked out my grandmother pretty bad. 

It seemed like every little thing that we did she had to go check and double check because she either didn’t trust our translation or us.  My mom and I still aren’t quite sure…  Anyway, trying to get a bus to take us back to our hotel proved to be quite an adventure.  After walking around the city for three hours my grandmothers back was hurting so we sit on a bench.  My mom still is wondering around so Nana and I talk.  Finally we all regroup in the square where the driver from the hotel dropped us.  My mom and I tell my grandmother to go sit on the bench in front of the bus stop we think the driver told us is where we need to pick it up to return to the hotel, while we go off looking for tickets. 

When I was in Florence I learned that the Tobacco shops are where you buy the tickets.  So we go into one.  In our rather comical exchange, we learn that he doesn’t sell them there.  A nice Italian man walks to the front of the store and points to the left.  All he says is “To the front.”  We have absolutely no idea what that means, but my mom and I walk that way.  We find the bureau of tourism, so we figure we could ask there.  Just our luck, the English speaking lady is out to lunch or sleeping or drinking or something.  All we know is she isn’t there.  I use what little (and by little I mean virtually non existent) Italian to ask her where we can buy the tickets.  She tells us the next store to the left, which it turns out is at the front of the square we were in.  So that’s what the Italian guy meant….

Luckily we make it back and take a cab to the boat.  The rest of the day is pretty smooth.  We get on board and start exploring.  The ship is beautiful.  I guess the Travel Channel has kind of spoiled cruise ships for me because I was expecting something that was ridiculously huge.  I felt like the ship was like a really nice medium size hotel, just floating on water and capable of international travel.  My mom and grandmother were amazed at its size.  To their creidit the ship was thirteen stories tall, had a full size theater complete with balcony, two sit down restaurants, two pools, a spa.  Pretty much anything you expected from a nice resort this place had. 

Every night the ship had a show in the theater.  Some were okay, and some were incredible.  All I could think about when watching the shows though, was how much fun the shows at the VC last summer were and how much I couldn’t wait to get back and start rehearsing!

The ports of call on this ship were amazing.  I can’t go into in depth descriptions of every one so I am going to write about the highlights and the most memorable parts. 

Our first port of call was Katokolon.  It was closest to Olympia where the Greeks met thousands of years ago to have the games.  Fun fact, it wasn’t until the 1932 Olympic games in Berlin that the Olympic flame was lighted there.  Yup, it was Hitler’s idea…   Anyway, we got to go to the original stadium.  One thing I liked was that on the way into the stadium were pedistols where they would put statues of those where were caught cheating.  They would have their likeness there for eternity (or until time and/or some museum removed them) with their name and their city on it, forever a shameful reminder of their transgressions.   I loved Olympia. 

One more thing about Olympia.  I should mention that I had the best olive of my life there.  It may sound weird but this olive was so good my mind still remembers the taste.  When I try to remember the taste of a food I can usually only recall the emotional reaction to the food.  Not with this olive.  To this day I can still think about its taste and my mind allows a little bit to linger in my mouth.  It’s kind of weird but I’m not going to complain.

I can’t remember what the next stop was, but in the next three days we hit Mykonos, Santorini, Korfu and Athens.  Santorini was breath taking.  The pictures from there do it justice.  The water in the caldera of the volcano are crystal blue.  I loved Santorini because I got to ride a donkey up the side of the mountain.  For those who haven’t been, and I didn’t know this before I got there, Santorini is on top of a mountain.  Well its an Island, but there is no beach.  It is just cliffs.  So you can either take a Gondola up the mountain or take a donkey.  Needless to say I chose the donkey. 

Once there my mom and I made it to the town that was about fifteen minutes away from the one the boat docked in.  We shared a cab with an elderly Italian couple who didn’t speak any English.  Our cab driver spoke a bit of English, but seeing as we were in Greece, he mainly spoke Greek.  We managed to get spend about an hour in that town. 

Mom loved it there.  She could have walked those streets for hours and hours.  That was her biggest complaint about the cruise.  She wanted more time at all of the stops.  She felt like she was short changed. 

After we made it back to the boat from the two towns, we were setting sail to go to Mykonos.  We got to Mykonos a little before sunset.  Mom and Nana thought that all of the restaurants on the island were going to be really crowded so we decided to eat in the dining room on the ship.  Turns out we didn’t need to do that because there are a bunch of amazing Greek and seafood restaurants on the island.   Much like Santorini the streets were narrow and not wide enough for cars to walk through.  Nana got tired and went back to the ship which was a short bus ride away.

I should mention the bus ride on the way there.  I’ve never feared for my life nor had as much fun on a bus ride as I did on the way from the boat to the town.  Our bus driver was taking pretty hairy turns really fast.  I think at one point Nana was thrown almost across the aisle. 

Anyway, after Nana made it back to the boat, Mom and I continued to walk around the town.  The weather was great and perfect for walking.  We ended up at the end of the town where four windmills were set up on top of a hill.  Mom and I took turns taking pictures in front of these, but the coolest pictures we took there were the shadow pictures.

I found a windmill that had a light shining right on it.  I saw some people walk by it and saw their shadows get projected onto it.  From there, Mom and I took turns making shapes from our shadows.  The pictures actually turned out really cool!

And that was Mykonos. 

Our next stop was Athens.  I was surprised by Athens.  It was a huge town.   I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but it wasn’t what we saw.  Just to get from the ship to the Archaeological museum took a great deal of time because of the traffic.  From the Acropolis you could see the urban sprawl.  It was as if the population of Los Angeles lived in half the space.  It was bizarre. 

The meuseum was interesting though.  They had a lot of statues and fragments from the Acropolis and surrounding temples and monuments.  The best part of it though was the view of the Parthenon.  From the third floor you had an unobstructed view of it.  It sits atop this fortified hill (back in ancient Greece it was just a hill, since then it was fortified). 

Mom, Nana and I were put in the English/Spanish tour.  Our guide would say something in one language and then she would say the same thing in the other.  It wasn’t a problem until she would answer my questions in Spanish…  That got to be a little annoying.  Mom and I would have to say “English please!”  I guess I’m going to have to learn Spanish now too….

We got to the top of the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon.  It looks exactly as every post card shows it.  An immense structure surrounded by scaffolding.  The one thing that shocked me was that I could get pictures of just the structure, as in without people in it.  I got some great pictures of the three of us.  Form the top it was clearly visible that there were too many people living in Athens.  Our guide told us that Athens is the town of (some number) of hills.  You could see all of the peaks from up top.  The sad thing was that the buildings went more than halfway up these hills.  I could only imagine what it looked like two thousand years ago though.  Those green hillsides would have made the perfect place to show the Gods tribute. 

I was really glad that I got a chance to see that at least once in my life.  Our experience was a little different than most because for what ever reason, nature thought it was a good idea to open the flood gates on us, well almost.  When we were walking up there it started raining pretty hard, and none of us had an umbrella.  The real bad news came when we were on the bus, though.  We were driving by Olympic stadium in Athens when the weather turned into a torrential downpour.  On the way to find the bus, we passed a protest.  I could only imagine how much it sucked to be those guys in that weather…

After Athens, we went to Korfu.  Of all of the Greek Isles we went to, Korfu was the most beautiful.  Santorini was breathtaking and unique, but to be that close to the water and to have it that blue was just something else.   The first thing we did was to go to an old fort.  I don’t know why it was built, but it was the highest point in the town and had great views.  Despite its insanely slick stone path, all three of us climbed to the top. 

From the top we looked out over the ocean and could see the town behind us.  There was a quaint little lighthouse that I don’t think worked any more as well as giant metal cross.  I don’t know if it was a religious thing or not.  It looked cool though.  We spent a good deal of time up there taking pictures and just absorbing the beauty.  After the weather in Athens it was nice to have such good weather again. 

When we got down from the top of the hill we went down a different way.  It led us to this huge… well I guess you would call it a court yard.  There was a church at one end and a really big grassy gravely area in front.  Mom and I spent some time there taking pictures too.  Then we were off to explore the rest of the town.  I don’t remember the town part that much because I couldn’t get over the breathtakingly spectacular ocean views that we got.  I think I have more pictures of Korfu than I do of almost any other city, with the exception of Venice. 

The second to last stop on our cruise was Dubrovnik.  I had never been to Croatia and again I didn’t know what to expect.  We only got to walk around the old town, but oh my god.  If the rest of the country is half as gorgeous as that old town is, it has to rank in the top five most incredible places on earth.  The entire old town fits within these fortified walls.  We had the option of walking the walls but they were three miles and we didn’t have that much time there. 

We opted for the tour of the old town.  It included a trip into the Abbey where we got to see the oldest continually working Pharmacy and ended in a church.  We also got to see the reminance of the 1990’s war between Croatia and Montenegro/Serbia.  In this church the guide showed us a mortar crater that was fired from outside the city walls.  All around the city as we were walking we saw plaques dedicated to those who died in the siege and to the buildings that were ruined. 

The coolest part of Dubrovnik Mom and I found on our own, after the tour.  We decided we wanted just to walk around and explore.  Because the old city was all within these walls, we figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to find our way back to the mian gate, so we took off.  We ended up finding this hole in the wall, and I mean that literally.  There was a bar that was built right into a hole in the walls around the city.  From there you could sip your juice or beer and soak up the sun while watching the little glass bottom boats that puttered past you.  

On our way back to the ship, we had to cross this farmers market.  It must have been close to the hour when we left the hole in the wall bar, because when we reached the square where the market was, the church bells started to ring.  If you have ever seen Hitchcock’s “The Birds” then you could kind of imagine the scene we saw.  Hundreds upon hundreds of pigeons took flight.  One almost flew into my face.   To make matters worse there was a guy who was throwing out birdseed in an open area of the square.  I’m just happy I made it back to the boat not totally covered in bird poop. 

After Dubrovnik, we were off to our final destination, Venice!   My brother had said that he had never been anywhere that was as true to the stereotype as Venice was.  He was right.  The streets are literally all canals.  I had been to Amsterdam that was famous for its canals, but there were still bicycles and cars in Amsterdam.  Not in Venice.  I took my fair share of pictures of the water taxis. 

We signed up on the boat to do some tours in Venice, but because so many passengers were disembarking, our tours got canceled due to lack of interest.  That was fine though, I mean it was Venice!  We could just hop on any old gondola and get serenaded through the canals.  And we did just that… minus the serenade (but I was okay with that).   Our gondola driver told us a lot of the history of the city and steered us around for about an hour.  I could look at my pictures from that city a million times and still not get tired of it. 

After our gondola trip, we walked around for the remainder of our time.  As Mom reminds us every time we talk about the cruise, she was really frustrated that we had to be on the boat so early, especially since we didn’t set sail until way later that night.  But I didn’t mind it.  The Pope was in town and he and I don’t really see eye to eye on a lot of issues.  Though it was cool to say I was within a few hundred yards of one of the most famous/influential people on the planet. 

And that was our cruise.  We made it back to Bari and then flew to Paris via Milan.  Mom and Nana took back a suitcase for me and I finished up my time in Paris! 

Monday, May 9, 2011


Before you read this post, I need to say that it was one of the hardest posts for me to write.  I am writing for myself, but with that in mind, I hope that any of my friends who read this understand that in my descriptions of what happened I do not mean to disrespect the memories of Jasmine or Louise. 

My sincere apologies for the serious lack of blog posts.  A lot has happened since my last post.  As I said in the Bordeaux post, I stopped writing for about a month.  In that month two girls from Sciences Po died in an apartment fire, I had a friend come live with me for a week, I finished all of my courses at Scienecs Po (sort of… I’ll explain) and I went on a cruise with my mom and grandmother.  I am going to try to talk about all of that in this post, but seeing as how incredibly huge all of that was invariably I will miss something and leave it out.  So, sorry future A.J.  You’re going have to try to remember these last few weeks as best you can.

First I’ll talk about the apartment fire.  Sciences Po is made up of about forty percent international exchange students.  Within Paris, there are several other universities as well.  The University of Paris has at least thirteen campuses itself, plus Sciences Po, the American University of Paris and many others I haven’t learned about.  I’m not sure what the culture at the other schools is like, but because the exchange students come in to the French student’s second year, it is hard to break into their friend groups.  As a result we form our own.  All of my closest friends in Paris are international students.  My roommate is from Canada, my friends come from Mexico, Australia, the United States, Japan, yes… some French, New Zealand, Germany, Russia.  You get the point.

The way that I met so many of these international students was through friends of friends.  Back in October, Aliya and I went to the movies and she introduced me to her friend Grace, who was from UW in Seattle.  Obviously I really liked her, mainly so I could have a friend in Seattle when I went there to visit my dad.  But Grace is really cool.  She has that North American west coast snarky sense of sarcastic humor, kind of like Aliya.  Grace’s roommate was also from the same EAP program as me.  Jasmine was originally from Florida but went to UC Berkley.  I had met her a couple of times, once at the UC orientation and then at my choir concert last semester when she came with Grace and Aliya.

Apparently, Grace and Jasmine with some of their friends were out at another friends house after a concert.  The details as to why they were there are still kind of confusing to me but it isn’t important.  Basically from everything that I heard, a fire broke out in the apartment building they were all in on the ground floor.  Grace, Jasmine and Louise (a girl from the University of New South Wales in Australia where a bunch of my friends come from) were all in an apartment on the fourth floor.  They told us later that there were nine people in that apartment.  Again, I cannot verify all of this, and this is based on what I understood from a strange combination of hearsay and French, but the fire reached up to the fourth floor (fifth floor in America) because it got into the gas line which was located in the wooden stairwell.  When someone heard a noise, they opened the door and the fire rushed in.

Within seconds the people in the apartment had to make the literal life or death decision to jump out the window or stay in the burning apartment building.  Jasmine and Grace decided to jump out the window.  Thank God Grace survived.  Jasmine, however, was less fortunate.  Even now writing that it still doesn’t seem real.  I have been to two memorial services for Jasmine and Louise and it still doesn’t seem real.  How could that have happened?  How scared did they have to be to jump out of the window to the street below?  It is not something I can even begin to comprehend because every time I try, I start to breath a little more shallow and my stomach begins to churn so I have to stop. 

I was sitting in my French Geopolitics class when I got an instant message on Facebook from Aliya saying Grace was involved in the fire.  I didn’t know the extent of what happened until later that night.  I didn’t find out anything confirmed about Jasmine and Louise until Saturday.   I honestly thought that it wasn’t that serious.  I mean nothing bad could happen to us while we were on our year abroad.  This was supposed to be our year to go out and explore new cultures and the world on our own.  How could anyone let something bad happen to us?  I mean yeah, people get mugged and pick-pocketed but we always could walk away from it (even if it took some time).  But this was different.  Jasmine and Louise couldn’t walk away from this.  It was the first time I had ever dealt with anything like that in my life and I wasn’t close to Jasmine and hadn’t met Louise. 

To compound the situation, my friend Annie from Youth and Government was coming to visit me that night and staying for a week.  Annie and I were always friends, from the moment we met, but if you had told me in high school this girl was coming over to Paris to spend a week living with me I would have slapped you across the face and called you a liar.  I probably would have done the same thing four months ago.  But one day I was sitting in class on FB and talking to Annie.  I had casually suggested she come and visit me in Paris for her spring break.  Two days later, I get a message back from her saying that her parents were okay with the idea and what dates worked for me?

That week with Annie couldn’t have been worse timed but it was exactly what I needed.  She got there the night all of us found out about Grace, Jasmine and Louise.  I felt terrible that she had to deal with us dealing with that but, God bless her, she was a trooper.  She is probably one of the funniest people I have ever met, so it was nice being constantly reminded that life was still good.  While these girls’ lives were cut short, mine was not.  I still got to go out and live and laugh.  That both helped and hurt.  The thing that scared me most about the fire was the fact that it could have happened to any of us in Paris.  Almost none of our apartment buildings have any kind of fire escape. 

Aliya and I are lucky because our apartment has balconies.  If there were a fire in our building all we would have to do is climb from balcony to balcony to get to a building that we could descend.  The girls were not that lucky.  They were in an apartment one floor below where mine was (obviously in a different building).   But the idea of jumping from my window to the street to save my life still is incomprehensible to me. 

Saturday Annie ended up sleeping most of the day.  In fact I think the only day she got up before noon was the day we went to Disneyland Paris.  I can’t remember all we did together, but I know we had an amazing time.  She kept me laughing the entire time.  We walked around Sacre Coeur and went up the Bell Tower of Notre Dame.  Like I said, we went to Disneyland Paris and she and Suzanne came to my choir concert on Thursday. 

By the time Friday came around, I was genuinely sad to see her go.  The two previous weekends I was out of town (Florence and Bordeaux) so I was excited to be on my own, but Annie was dearly missed.  I went to a memorial service for Jasmine on Sunday at the UC Center and Monday morning Sciences Po had one for Jasmine and Louise.  Having Annie there to not let me dwell on the situation got me through it significantly better than I could have on my own.

That all happened mid month.  After Annie left, I had about four days on my own before my mom and grandmother got to Paris.  We were going on a cruise to the Greek Isles, Croatia and Venice and I couldn’t have been happier to leave Paris.  Aliya went up to England just to get out of the country for a few days.  I was about to do the same thing, except where she didn’t miss any courses, I was purposely missing my ratrapage courses.  A ratrapage course is a make up course.  Because the courses here only meet once a week, if a professor misses a lesson, he or she will schedule a make up lesson.  Every course I have had at Sciences Po doesn’t count an absence in the make up courses against your allowed three absences.  French Geopolitics was different.

My professor for that course is… how to put this… eccentric.  He is very French.  He used to work for NATO in some kind of capacity but his accent and my lack of curiosity kept me from finding out what capacity that was.   Strangely this was one of my favorite courses at the beginning of the semester.  I loved going because the professor would always say outlandish things that would make the class giggle.  One more than one occasion he would drop the F bomb.  It took us all a little by surprise because no professor back home is that crass.  Ok, well some are, but given Sciences Po reputation I wouldn’t think a professor would do that. 

The best part about this professor though was his accent.  He constantly put the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable.  He would arbitrary add an “h” sound in the middle or beginning of a word and words would regularly end with a sharp “k.”  Then there were his critiques of the exposes.  In true Sci Po fashion, he was very strict in keeping time.  We were given ten minutes, plus or minus one to present.  Most people got a question they had to answer.  Not I.  I got “The French Urban Network.”  I would LOVE any comments telling me what that means and how I was supposed to talk for ten minutes on that. 

My partner and I emailed the professor a week before we were supposed to present.  He gave us an incredibly vague answer, but it was slightly more than the three words he gave us in general.  We discussed how Paris was the centralized power in France and that the rest of the country was trying to develop in Paris’ shadow.   We discussed how rail lines and airways led to Paris, and how all major banks were head quartered in Paris.  That sounds pretty good right?  Apparently our presentation was so off topic, the professor had to spend the hour talking about how we misunderstood his topic and that our methodology in presenting the expose couldn’t have been more wrong if we tried. 


From that day on, I was completely over that course.  I still went to it of course.  Oh, I forgot to mention that this course was taught from 7:15PM to 9:15PM on Friday nights.  And I only voluntarily missed one during the actual semester.  I had to miss another for a choir concert benefiting Amnesty International, so by the time the ratrapage courses happened I had missed two.  Then, the Saturday before I left for the cruise, my French language course had scheduled a tour of Père La Chaise cemetery where I was supposed to give a five minute presentation on Eugue Delacroix to boost my grade at the same time as my French Geopolitics course.  I already had a decent mark, but it was a good opportunity to show Mom and Nana my French skills, so naturally went to the cemetery instead of French Geopolitics.  I got my third absences.  Then this Friday night, while I was sailing from Corfu to Dubrovnik I got my fourth absence.  The following day I got an e-mail from Sciences Po saying I was “defaillant” in French Geopolitics because I missed four courses. 


I can understand if I had more than one unexcused absence before the semester was over, but I didn’t.  I HAD to sing in the choir because I had a solo.  The Choir is also a recognized organization by Sciecnes Po and has the authority to excuse students from classes.  Then, Sciences Po is going to penalize me for having two courses at the same time?  Again, I would love any comments explaining how that is fair. 

I know that my case is strong enough that they won’t fail me, especially since I had done all of the work for the course. It is just frustrating that I had to go through that in the first place.  This just reaffirms what I’ve said before (courtesy of Grace) “What doesn’t kill you only makes you more French.” 

I am wrote half of this post in the airport in Bari after we got off the cruise.   At the moment I am sitting in the airport in Milan waiting for our flight back to Pairs.  Don’t worry, I will have a post dedicated to the cruise.  But the strangest thing about thinking back on everything is actually not related to what happened, but what is going to happen.  A week from tomorrow I will be flying home to Colorado and a week from Thursday I will be on a direct flight from Denver to Santa Barbara. 

I am not going to talk about how strange all of that is at great length in this post.  I know that I am going to need to dedicate a post to just that.  So for now, that is a pretty good summary of what’s happened to me in the last few weeks. 


Bordeaux is close to indescribable.  Obviously I am going to do my best to do what I said is nearly impossible to do but I know that I won’t be able to accurately reflect what I felt when I was there.   

I went to Bordeaux because one, the weather is WAY nicer there than in Paris and two, I had a few friends from UCSB and one from Nice that are studying there this semester.  Alex, my friend who I lived with in Nice said I could crash on her futon so needless to say I was going.  When else am I going to get three nights for free in Bordeaux?  Plus when am I going to be able to spend time with my friends who I don’t get to see very often in a foreign city?

I got into the train station around 1:15PM on Saturday.  Alex and her French boyfriend Charlie picked me up and we headed straight to the beach.  I had to change in the car when we got there but it was ok.  The only uncomfortable part was the fact that the bathing suit I brought was completely useless.  I had lost so much weight since I bought it that even by synching up the straps as far as they would go, if I tried to do the hula, they would be around my ankles.  But it didn’t really matter.  I was just excited to be back in my sandals after seven months of close toed shoes.

We spent a few hours at the beach, laying out and napping.  Charlie and Alex went into the water a few times, but seeing as how my bathing suit would have probably floated away if I tried, I decided to stay and watch all of our stuff.  I actually have a tan line!  (To be fair it started as a small little burn, but now it’s a nice bronze-ish color).  When we got back to Bordeaux (the beach we went to was about forty-five minutes by car) we went back to Alex’s to change, shower and then it was off to dinner.  They took me to this really good pizza place where they apparently had their first date.  Then after dinner, we took the tram over to the river and tried to get some ice cream.  Unfortunately it was too late and the ice cream place was closed, but it was fine.  That pizza filled me up.  It was about midnight when we got home so we said by to Charlie and went to bed. 

Day two in Bordeaux was not as pretty as day one.  I met up with my friend Trang who was my neighbor in San Raf last year.  I met her at Hotel de Ville and we went over to a market on the river.  She had some of her friends with her and like every other travel experience I have had, everyone was super nice.  We went over to Trang’s house and made lunch and did homework.  I actually did more work in Bordeaux for my French Geopolitics class than I have done in Paris.  I was over at her house for about nine hours.  Alex was at Charlie’s doing homework and she had her keys, but if Trang minded me being there, she didn’t let me know.  In fact it was fun because that night her friend Tim came over and we all kind of hung out and did homework together.   I met up with Alex around 11PM and while she was finishing up her paper she was working on, I watched the Blind Side.  (Side note: I just want to meet and be friends Sandra Bullock)

Day three was a little bit better than day two weather wise.  I went out to lunch with Alex and Charlie and then headed up to meet Trang and my other friend from UCSB (who was at UC Paris last semester) Kellyn.  Kellyn also sang in the girls acapella group at SB.  The three of us went to go print out some pictures for one of their projects they had to do in a photography class.  Kellyn and Trang both had a lot of work to do and I felt bad about taking up all of Trang’s time yesterday so I headed off to the Jardin Publique where I walked around and took pictures.  Alex also gave me her keys so I could go and come as I pleased which was super convenient.  That evening I went over to Trang’s again to do some work.  I also brought over my hard drive and gave her a bunch of movies I had.  She in return, gave me the first four seasons of Madmen.  In less than twenty four hours, I watched all season one. 

Today was kind of a make-sure-you-did-everything-you-wanted-to-do kind of day.  Pretty much all I did was wander around in the nice weather and then go into the Cathedral.  The Cathedral was the Cathedral St. André or St. Andrew’s Cathedral.  It was my Cathedral.  I have been feeling kind of strange lately. 

*I need to say that from this point on, the blog was written about a month after I coming back from Bordeaux.

I sort of remember what I was feeling, but a lot has happened since being in Bordeaux and now.  I’ll do my best to remember what I was saying.  I think I was feeling kind of sad that my exchange was coming to the end and I hadn’t really had the exact experience I wanted.  Seeing my friend in Bordeaux making all these friends and then Alex with her French boyfriend kind of brought home all of these expectations I had for my experience in France that would never happen.  It kind of brought home the fact that I had unfulfilled… to call them dreams would be an over statement, so I guess I’ll have to settle for desire.

Anyway, after I checked out the cathedral, I came back to Alex’s house and we hung out until it was time for me to go to the train.  We sat around and watched some Mad Men and an episode of Glee.  Then Alex walked me to the bus stop where I hopped on and got to the train station.  I thought it was weird that on the TV screen in the train station it said that the train was leaving there but it didn’t say what platform. 

When traveling by train you don’t need to be there much in advance of your train departing because there isn’t the same kind of security (or really any security) that you have to go through.  I got there about fifteen minutes before the train was scheduled to depart.  I sat around waiting for them to put the platform number for about ten minutes.  Thank god I heard a woman ask about it, because with five minutes they still hadn’t put it up.  I asked the same man and he told me where to go.  I got on with about two minutes to spare. 

I made it back to Paris and all was well.  I have to say having been to Brodeaux, I know that kind of lifestyle would have been much more my taste, but doing it over, I still think I would choose Paris.  School is shitty, EAP didn’t help me find housing (or do anything for me…) but I would still do Paris. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Sorry for not writing.... I don't know why I haven't been bothered but I just haven't gotten the urge.  I owe it to myself to write as much as I can.  I am actually writing this from my friend's kitchen in Bordeaux, but I'm going to talk about my weekend in Florence.

I didn't leave Paris until 7PM.  I had choir all day so I was a little stressed on getting to the airport on time, but with the RER B going straight to Charles de Gualle I knew I only needed thirty five minutes to get there.  That was assuming the train was working.  Which it wasn't.  So naturally I had a panic attack and pretty much figured I was going to miss my flight.  I took my roommates advice and just took a cab.  Fifty-five euros later, I arrived at the Lufthansa terminal and checked in for my flight.  I had about thirty minutes before takeoff.  Whew!

When I landed in Frankfort I got a text from Katie, my friend from LCHS that I was going to visit in Florence.  She said that something happened and she was going to miss her connection getting her back to Florence around 11PM.  Now she wasn't arriving until 3AM.  Great... So I am going to a foreign country where I speak not one word of the language and my only friend isn't there.  Awesome!

Luckily for me, Katie had it under control.  She texted some of her friends and they met me at the train station.  I was able to put my suitcase at their apartment, and we kind of walked around the city at night.  A few things struck me as insanely cool about that night.  The first was the fact that three strangers were taking me around the city.  They had no idea who I was or what I was like but they let me put my suitcase in their apartment and stayed up with me until Katie arrived.  That night I promised myself that if anyone needs my help/hospitality they will get it.  The second thing that struck me about that night is how amazing European cities can be and how desensitized we can be to it.  I walked by the Duomo and I was shocked, but everyone I was with was just like, "Oh yeah... there it is..."  I guess I do the same thing with the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame though...

So finally Katie gets there and we go to her apartment and we go to sleep.

The next morning (and by morning I really mean afternoon) we were going to meet Katie's brother who is in Chamber back at LCHS.  He was there on choir tour with the rest of Chamber and Concert Choir.  We picked him up and then headed back to Katie's where her friends made us an amazing lunch with pasta.  After that lunch, we walked around the town a lot.  It was nice seeing Katie and her brother.  I remember how much fun I had when Nick came and visited so it was cool seeing her brother and her having a good time.  We had to drop her brother off with the rest of the choir so they could get ready for their concert that we were going to that evening.

I cannot accurately describe what it was like to hear that choir sing.  It was the first time that I heard them since I was in the choir.  They sang some songs that I had sung when I was in it.  But the combined choirs sang Esto Les Digo, which was the first song that I ever sang in Chamber.  Maybe it was the fact that I had such fond memories of that song, or the fact that I was visiting a friend from LCHS or that I have seen more people from La Cañada in France than I have in the last two years, but it got me thinking about a lot of things and people that I hadn't in a while.  I got a little teary eyed thinking about how far removed I was from what I thought was my whole life back in high school.  It wasn't sadness though.  It was nostalgia.

Anyway, that evening we met up with some of Katie's friends and had one of the best pizzas I'd ever eaten.  Plus it was only four euros!  We ate our pizza on the steps of a church and had a lot of fun just kind of walking around and talking.  Everyone I met in Florence was incredibly nice to me.  It made it one of the most enjoyable trips I've had.

The next day was the day was Monday and Katie had class.  She said that I should come up to the villa and see her campus, so naturally I did.  She took me to one of her favorite Pannino places.  Ham, Tomatoes, Cheese and Pesto on fresh tuscan bread.  Wow.  Anyway, the only thing that was more impressive than that sandwich was her campus.  It was a villa that was donated to NYU back in the 1980's by some rich family.  It stretched across this valley and had gardens complete with statues of Roman gods.  I cannot believe they get to call that school for their time in Florence.  I fell asleep for an hour while Katie was in class.  There was this perfect bench next to a bubbling fountain for me to nap on.  It was pretty funny.  Katie's two roommates asked me that night if they saw me napping there.

That night we went out to a café where a lot of the people I had met were performing.  Katie is in the music business class and she told me that NYU Florence is one of two places that offer music courses.  So a lot of music students study abroad there.  Jordana, one of the two people who hung out with me when Katie was on her way back was performing, so we watched her.  Then Katie and I had a great dinner at a restaurant she had been to before and really liked.  Then we capped the night off by watching 500 Days of Summer and splitting a bottle of sparkling wine and some chips and chocolate at her apartment.

The next morning, Katie had more class and my plane left around 2PM.  I still hadn't seen any of the museums (except for going up the dome of the Duomo) so I needed to go see the David.  Oh my god.  I never thought of a statue as being attractive before, but there is something about the David that is just handsome.  I killed about two hours in the Academia seeing all there was to see there and then headed off to the airport.

That was my trip to Florence!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Je me sens bien

Never thought that I would be feeling this good while living abroad.  The leaves are back on the trees.  The sun is out more than it isn't.  I wear my mouth guard so my jaw isn't constantly hurting.  And to top it all off, not only did I not fail my courses last semester, but apparently I got straight A's.  I haven't even done that at UCSB.

Thinking ahead to the next six weeks, I know for a fact that May 17 will arrive and I will be wondering where the last nine months went.  I can still remember the first night Chez Michele, when she took me around and showed me how to get to SciencesPo.  It seems like a lifetime ago, but I'm sure I'll write a lot more on how I've changed closer to my departure.

Today all I want to do is just feel happy.  And that is what I am doing.  I'm sitting at my computer, listening to a great Pandora radio station looking at bright green leaves in the playground of the school that is across the street from house feeling good.  I had my normal lunch of ham sandwich, dessert and drink.  Later tonight I have choir.  And on Saturday I fly to Florence.  So far, I'm seeing nothing that can bring me down.

Since I haven't been keeping anywhere true to my New Years resolution of writing five times a week, I feel like I should recount some of the fun things that have happened since I last wrote.  The most notable one is that last Saturday, we successfully pulled off the surprise party for my roommate.  Not screwing up and telling her about was probably the hardest thing I've done this semester.  But luckily I didn't.

We had it set up.  I would go with Aliya over to Cam's house and just dial them to let them know we were downstairs.  Cam lives on the fifth (french) story so I raced up before Aliya to find everyone crouching down in the kitchen with the lights off.  Then she walks in and we all just shout "SURPRISE!"  She said she had NO idea.

That was probably one of the most fun nights I've had in Paris, though the next day and night were pretty fun.  The day after, Cam, Logan (Cam's bf), J.P. (Logan's friend who was visiting that I met the night before at the party), Sarah, Edmond Aliya and I all went over to Cam's to help him clean up.  It ended up being a second smaller party/brunch where we just ate the leftovers and watched youtube videos.  After we all went home and showered and got clean ourselves, I went out with Cam, Logan, and J.P.  It was J.P.'s last night in town, so we walked up around Montmartre and to the Moulin Rouge.  Then we had a great french dinner close to St. Michele.  We ended up back at my house, where unfortunately Cam had an asthma attack.  I told them that they needed to stay the night and that I could just go to J.P.'s hotel.  It wasn't too far from my house and none of us liked the idea of Cam climbing those five flights of stairs.

So that's basically been my life since Saturday.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I think I was pickpocketed.  I have to say though, I'm not even mad.  I'm impressed.  When we were at a supermarket picking up some drinks, I opened my wallet to find all of my smaller bills were gone.  I don't remember how much I had in my wallet, but it wasn't a lot.  I hid a fifty in the second fold of it though, which was still there.  But the weirdest thing was that none of my cards were missing, nor any of the other non-money things in my wallet.  And they did it all without me noticing.

Oh there was that and I almost got my iPod stolen.  It actually did happen to my roommate a few weeks ago.  Basically these three guys (who look like they are part of the Gypsies that plague france, more noticeably Paris) walk really close behind you.  If you have your iPod in your pocket, they will literally grab it and turn and walk away before you notice who did it.  Unfortunately for them when they did it to my roommate, she was listening to it so she felt them steal it.  Plus she had a broken wrist, so she basically had a plaster mace attached to her arm.  When she threatened to beat them, they gave it back.

My situation was a little different.  I saw these guys coming.  My metro stop is pretty crowded at night, luckily for me.  I first noticed these guys when one of them tried to cut between me and the wall on my right.  The weird thing is that there was only about a foot.  Then he turned around.  Some more people were coming through the exit going my direction, opposite from the three guys.  But they turned and started to follow me.  Right as one stuck his arm out to grab my iPod some stranger cut between us.  I finally realized what was going on, so I put my hand in my pocket and just booked it out of the metro.  I was a little jumpy until I got back to my apartment, but they weren't following me so all was good!

And despite all of that, I still feel this good! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Printemps et les Anniversaires

Spring has sprung!

I have learned (and I'm pretty sure I've already written) that I hate winter.  I can find very few redeeming qualities about it.  I'm not one for winter sports, so that takes a majority of the fun out of the season.  I don't like always being cold.  Having to put on four layers just to walk two minutes to the bakery gets annoying and cumbersome.  The lack of sunlight is just depressing.  And the fact that all of the trees loose their leaves makes the surrounding environment look like war torn Europe.

But spring has come back.  There are buds on the trees.  Some plants already have blossoms on them.  I can open my window during the day and actually have a semi-warm breeze blow through my apartment.  Instead of being a ceiling of gray, I can actually see the sun, feel its warmth on my cheeks.

Yesterday was my roommates birthday.  I have some school projects I have to do, so I was going to meet my exposé partner yesterday afternoon, but before, Aliya, Cam and I decided we would go to a park and have a picnic.  Honestly, I couldn't think of a better way to spend the afternoon.  Yesterday was all around a wonderful day.

After we had our picnic in the park, Aliya and I went to SciPo to meet with our respective partners.  We stayed there for about an hour, then headed home.  Seeing as it was her birthday, we were having people over for a potluck.  That required that we make things.  We got back to our house around 5:00PM and then headed right back out to the store.  I was making bruschetta, and I wanted to pick up some drinks for the party.  I haven't yet developed the taste for wine, so I wanted to get a mixed drink.  (Side note, passion fruit liquor and Pineapple juice is delicious.)

Anyway, we didn't really get back to our house until around 6:00PM.  We told people to come over at 7:00PM.  We were a little rushed.  And to make matters worse, our gas was shut off because they are doing construction out side of our house.  The guardian of our building came over around 7:00PM with a construction worker who was supposed to turn our gas back on.  It didn't work.  That meant that not only did I not shower in the morning, which I HAVE to do, but I couldn't even shower before the people got here.  After they went around to the rest of the building, they returned with a different construction worker and he got it work.  I took the best three minute shower of my life.

After being all cleaned I got dressed and people started to arrive.  I would say we had between ten and fifteen people here.  It was a lot of fun.  We were hanging out in our kitchen, eating, drinking, talking.  Honestly nights like that and people like those help me get through the times when all I am thinking about is being back in SB.

And it also helped remind me how much amazing is going to happen between now and when I leave.  This weekend my friend Alyssa from SB is coming to visit.  Then I have tickets to go to Florence.  The weekend after, I'll most likely be spending a few days in Bordeaux visiting my friends down there.  Then its off to Ireland with my roommate (tentatively).  Then easter weekend in Paris, followed by the arrival of my mom and grandma.  Then after a few days of touring Paris, we are going off on our cruise to Greece, Croatia and Italy.  The day after I get back from that I'll be heading to Barcelona.  Then I leave France for good on May 17.

Time is going to fly by.