“Your love carries me, so I’m letting go.” (7/15/2011)

One night, I decided to walk the streets of Avignon alone to see the performers and have quiet time in the Jardin des Doms, the garden that is next to the Palais des Papes and that overlooks the Pont d’Avignon. I was feeling really down and discouraged. My heart was heavy and overwhelmed, and I honestly just wanted to go home. I was feeling so alone and so small. I even get teary-eyed now thinking about how sad I was for the first week of this trip.

But then I received a small reminder of God’s grace and His faithfulness, despite my weary self. Even though I just wanted to return to Nicole’s house, I felt the nudge to get a crêpe. After ordering my crêpe, I heard singing around the corner. As I continued to listen, my ears perked up and my heart was overjoyed because the group around the corner was singing “Blessed be the Name” in French. Once I got my crêpe, I went to sit on the curb and continue listening. (It was only a homeless man and myself who sat listening while everyone else walked by.) A few minutes later, tears began to steadily flow from my eyes as they started to sing “In Christ Alone” in English.

Here I was sitting in the middle of a busy street, weeping like a baby, and all because God reminded me that I’m not alone and that He paves the way for me. I was reminded of His patience and loving-kindness with my heavy heart, and that in spite of my anger, frustration, and sadness, He was able to bring me back to a place of brokenness and the amazing wonders of His grace and His Gospel for me. I was reminded that He pursues my heart constantly, and He rejoices over me. He reminded me that He gives gifts to His children, when we deserve nothing.

Psalm 73 says, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You. Yet, I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

After the singing stopped, I spoke with one of the women in the group, who was from England. Each year, this group (a mix of English and French people) perform during the festival and they’ve found a unique way to capture people’s attention in order to share the Gospel on the streets of Avignon. One man shares the story of how he was once lost, and He uses drawing to present the Gospel (based on John 14:6 that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life). The woman I spoke to heard my entire story, and I explained to her how much I missed home and community. And what’s really interesting is that she and I had been reading the same passage in Joshua 1 where God commands Joshua to take courage and to be bold and strong. She proceeded to pray for me in the middle of the street, and afterwards, I left with a joyful heart.

I feel like Joshua 1 and courage have been the theme of my trip to North Africa. And as I was about to leave France, the last thing Serge said to me was “Bon courage.” I realize that this is a very common French phrase when you say goodbye to someone, but I took this phrase to heart.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Courage. It’s hard to come by, especially as a broken sinner. But God’s grace has shown through it all, and He has provided little reminders every step of the way. It’s not by my strength that I can do anything, in fact I can do nothing on my own strength. But it’s only by the grace of God through Jesus, that I can do all things. And despite tiny mishaps and unexpected occurrences, I can still hold to the promise the God does all things for my good. For brokenness and weakness only bring me back to His grace and the Gospel.

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Sur le Pont d’Avignon (7/15/2011)

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Upon exiting the TGV in Avignon, I saw Serge (host dad) from a distance. With a big smile on his face, he waved and then greeted me with a strong hug, which is a bit odd for French people considering they “bises” instead of hug. (But I definitely prefer hugs.) Nicole (host mom) greeted me in the same way when I arrived at her house 20 minutes later. I was so excited to see them and spend time with them, considering I hadn’t seen them in more than a year. IMG_0531During my time in Avignon, the annual Festival d’Avignon was just getting started. This festival lasts for three weeks each July, and during this time, thousands of performances occur, including street performers, and “spectacles” (shows) in one of the 70 theaters in and around the walls of the city. The shows in theaters begin at 11:00 a.m. and continue until 2:00 a.m, and these cost money. But performs also align the main streets and squares of the city, near the Palais des Papes and Rue de la République. You’ll find carnival acts, jugglers, painters, singers, and musicians, and even performers who read plays.

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During the festival, I was able to see two shows, a wonderful rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Imagine-toi” a mime show. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was quite difficult to understand because it was in French and the actors spoke quickly. But the great part about the show was that only two people performed all the characters, and with different, intricate costumes for each character. (The actors were Kim’s host sister and her host sister’s boyfriend.)

And the mime show… I expected something similar to what you’re probably imaging right now, I’m sure. Black costume, white gloves, white face paint, and a black beret. Well, I was totally wrong. There was no make-up, no black beret, and no creepiness. The mime, who was staying in Nicole’s apartment downstairs, won the Moliere award in 2007. The show was incredible. He did his own sounds effects for each scene, and he involved the audience on multiple occasions. If you’ve ever watched “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and the game they play called “Sound Effects,” that was what the show was like, except that he created his own. In fact, he did so much physical activity, that he was dripping in sweat by the end of the one-hour performance. The show made Serge, Nicole, and me laugh out loud many times, which means it had to be funny.

To help you imagine it a bit, the mime stepped in gum, chewed it violently (smacking his lips), stretched it out, and then proceeded to play the bass with it. I’m sure you’re wondering how he could make it funny. Well, just trust me, he did.

And finally, the best part of the few days in Avignon, besides seeing familiar faces and sites, was going to the Mediterranean Sea with Florian, Christelle, and Natalie. The beach was filled with sunbathers and children building castles, and all the while, ice cream vendors carried their carts up and down the beach repeatedly shouting, “A la glace, à la glace, chou chou, boissons.”

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And the perfect end to a great day à la plage, stopping along the highway to take pictures in a sunflower field, which cover southern France. (In order to get to the field, we had to run through a field of wheat and climb through a giant ditch, no big deal.) We survived, and Kim has great pictures to show for it.

“We’ll always have Paris.” (7/8/2011)

As I write this post, I am watching the sunset illuminate the golden fields of wheat on the way to southern France. The trees display the brightness and warmth of the summer sun. We travel for miles without seeing a single building or car, but only catch a glimpse of several signal towers in the distance. Every so often, we pass a cluster of older French homes surrounded by more fields of gold.  How beautiful creation is when away from the busyness of the city.

Just 20 minutes ago, we were sitting in the Gare de Lyon in Paris and resting our legs while streams of people scurried around us.  The middle of the train station is a lot like the center of Paris, where most of the tourist spots are located.

Both of us being in love with Paris, we made sure that we visited the major tourist attractions (*insert French accent): le Tour Eiffel, le Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Notre Dame, le Louvre. But what was great about this trip is that we weren’t on a schedule, and that we have both already seen the attractions of Paris, so we could enjoy the little parts of Paris.

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I think it’s safe to consider ourselves experts on the métro system, and we managed to carry many a conversation in French (mainly Kim speaking and me listening, adding my two cents every so often). These conversations included a two-hour talk with a 60-year-old French artist at Montmartre, gathering a group of seven French firefighters, talking to two older gentlemen at a café while they smoked their cigarettes, reminiscing in a restaurant about America with a family from Los Angeles, and laughing with an old woman who was working on a “mot croissier” (crossword) while waiting for her clothes to dry in the laundry mat.

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And of course, we explored the backstreets of the city, which are actually quite beautiful. Tucked away from tourists hide romantic gardens with flowers that smell like rose soap and sweet cherry candy (not the kind that tastes like medicine). We discovered a skate park, siblings playing soccer, and children playing “tag” in a small maze of tall bushes.

But like any city, there are parts that aren’t so magical, like the battle of jet lag and crankiness, and dragging about 80 pounds of luggage each through the city. We’re definitely going to have strong shoulders, calves, and backs by the end of this trip, that is unless they give out on us before reaching that point. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now, bring on the Avignon reunion with Nicole and Serge (my host family from last year), and Florian and Christelle (French friends)!

Bronzer ou Brûler? (5/23/2010)

Well, the trip is starting to wind down. Life here has been pretty uneventful, and I’m kind of enjoying that, although I must admit that I’m suffering from a lack of motivation to do my schoolwork.

Part of the lack of motivation stems from the beautiful weather. The weather now is what I imagined it to be like from the beginning, but sadly, that’s not what we got. (Though, if the weather would have been like it is now all along, I would probably have no motivation right now, as opposed to just very little.) But I’m absolutely loving the weather, though it could be a few degrees cooler. The sun is piercingly bright and hot, and the air is dry and cool. To me, that is the perfect mixture.

I’ve definitely taken advantage of the sun during the last few days. Friday, I took a stroll through town by myself, and I simply enjoyed the leisurely time I had browsing through shops and watching the French and the tourists pass quickly by on the narrow streets. And I managed to check a few things off my souvenir shopping list. Success.

Yesterday was an interesting day. I met Kim and Liz at a market about 10 minutes from my house and outside of the ramparts. The market was small, and it had about 20 vendors with similar goods. I don’t know if we scream “American” or what, but the vendors immediately started speaking English to us. But I think they were happy to meet Americans. It’s as if we’re celebrities because we’re from the U.S. Who would’ve thought?

Anyway, I bought a 500-gram orange and a baguette to eat later at the Ile de la Barthelasse. I’d say that’s a sufficient lunch, wouldn’t you? Oh, and we got McFlurries from McDo because we had been craving them for a few weeks. I thought McFlurries would be the same here, but they aren’t. The toppings were similar, but they don’t mix the toppings in, which defeats the purpose of a McFlurry. Nevertheless, the ice cream with Kit Kat Balls on top was refreshing on such a hot afternoon.

A few hours later, we made our way to the Ile, but to a different spot, a good distance from the crowds. We met Sammi, then laid out our towels and sunbathed by the Rhône. I felt very French. After 3.5 hours of baking in the Avignon sun, we decided to turn in for the day, which was probably a smart decision because when Sammi and I arrived at home, I discovered the sunburn covering my body. I’m pink all over, but it could be worse. I could be rouge.

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Since I have sunburn, what did I do today? I went sunbathing again with Sammi. I consider a suntan a good souvenir from France. And it’s free, too. At least I put sunscreen on today. Though I’m still a bit burnt, it’s quickly turning to a brown glow. I love it.

All day today I was thinking of how I’m living in a dream. And there are only 19 days left in this dream.

La France ou L’Amérique? (5/2/2010)

On Thursday and Friday, I didn’t feel like I was in France. In fact, I felt quite American. What did I do that made me feel American? I went to the movies on Thursday, and I ate at McDonald’s on Friday. Yes, each place had a French twist to it, but I still felt at home.

The movie theater we (Florian, Christelle, Natalie, Alicia, Sebastien and Sammi) visited was built one year ago. The building itself looked like a typical megaplex, complete with enormous screens (1.5 times the size of the average American screen) and stadium seating. The red, plush chairs resembled individual-sized armchairs with built-in cup-holders.

The previews consisted of advertisements for mostly American products or American movies. For the feature presentation, we saw Iron Man 2 with Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson and Gwyneth Paltrow. Although it was filmed in American, the voices were dubbed in French. Not having subtitles was the biggest challenge. It was weird because the whole time, my body thought I was in America, but my brain was in France. It was also strange that I could not understand everything happening in the movie. I didn’t understand the jokes or the slang, so I was forced to pay attention to the action of the movie to make sense of it. (I don’t want you to think I didn’t understand any of it, because I did, but it was not easy. Who knew watching a movie would make you think so hard?) Not bad for my first theater experience in France.

Friday, I had another American flashback when I went to McDonald’s. The last time I was in a French McDonald’s was nearly 10 years ago, when I took a 3-week tour of Europe with my family, and I lived on McDonald’s (for which my brother still makes fun of me). Normally, I don’t like eating fast food, and I can’t remember the last time I was in a McDonald’s in the U.S. Regardless, I joined Valerie, Liz and Sammi for a “taste of America.”

Foreign McDonald’s don’t allow pictures or videos of the menus and preparation areas, but I did take a few videos of my food.

The major differences between this McDonald’s and the ones at home are as follows:

  •     The décor was classy and clean. It resembled a café not a fast-food restaurant.
  •     The menu is slightly different, particularly the dessert menu. Although it has the McDonald’s classics such as the Big Mac, the McChicken, the thinly-sliced fries and the McFlurry, there is a bit of French influence. The desserts are pastries or crème-brulée-type sweets. The fries are crispier and less greasy, and the special sauce is a dijon mayonnaise, which is typical to France.

Overall, the quality is better, but it is still fast-food.

Something I’ve noticed since arriving in France is that French pop culture is virtually non-existent,  not because the French don’t have films or music, but it’s all American. They have our movies, music, celebrities, television shows and even our food. I’ve compiled a list of television shows that my host parents watch. The reality shows are the French versions, meaning the concepts are the same, but the names are different. The non-reality programs are the American shows but dubbed in French.

  •     Survivor — Koh Lanta
  •     The Price is Right — Le Juste Prix
  •     The Amazing Race — Pékin Express
  •     American Idol — Nouvelle Star
  •     Don’t Forget the Lyrics — N’oubliez Pas Les Paroles
  •     Who Wants to be a Millionaire — Qui veut gagner des millions?
  •     Without a Trace — Portés Disparus
  •     Law and Order: SVU — New York Unité Spéciale
  •     Lost — Lost (add French accent)

In addition to pop culture, America has a great impact on the news in France. For example, over the last few days, the U.S. has made the top story on the national evening news. I find it remarkable how the French choose the top story in the world, rather than what’s going on in their own nation. I realize that France is a small country surrounded by multiple other countries that all have an influence on France. But, the top stories are not necessarily about France, unlike in the U.S. In America, we are lucky if we see any world news unless it deals directly with America. Honestly, I believe there is something wrong with the picture, and that pushes us further into isolation from the rest of the world. In France, the people care about what happens in other countries; whereas, in America, a majority of the people can’t tell you who any of the world leaders are, let alone what is happening in each country. It’s a shame.