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.