Les Anciens Résistants (5/27/2010)

At 10:00 a.m., we filed into a narrow conference room, where eight gray-haired French heroes of World War II.

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During the German occupation of France during WWII, a clandestine movement of French people arose to resist the Germans and the Vichy government, which ruled over the Free Zone in the South of France.

The Résistance, led by Charles de Gaulle, focused on “continuing the war” against Germany and protecting the French culture. The movement started with the distribution of secret newspapers, and as the war progressed, they began to sabotage the Germans and the French police. During the war, the résistants were considered to be terrorists, but they are now recognized as heroes.

The room became silent as Christophe began the discussion (all in French) by welcoming the résistants and explaining the process to us. In preparation for the excursion, each student thought of a question, which was then compiled into a list with the others’ questions. Christophe selected the order and happened to put me second. For two hours, we posed questions about their involvement and their motivations for joining.

And afterward, we continued the discussions at a sit-down lunch by the spring. I ate lunch with the children of two résistants. Sitting down and talking with them was certainly one of the many highlights of my time in France, and their stories were incredible.

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In the picture (below), I am with the son of the head of the Vaucluse Résistance. The son was only one year old when WWII began in France in 1939.

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After a lunch and dessert, the entire group, including résistants, visited the Musée d’Histoire, which focused on the Résistance. The résistants were thrilled to show us through the museum and tell stories with each small exhibit.

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The resistant I followed (pictured above) throughout the museum was 17 when she joined the movement. She transported the clandestine journals as her job. Because of the women’s roles in the Résistance, women became more and more recognized, and they eventually earned the right to vote in 1948.

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Upon parting the museum, we bised the résistants and thanked them for a wonderful afternoon. After saying our goodbyes, we had 45 minutes to explore the spring and take pictures around the town. The majority of us trekked to the top of the spring, to the source, taking pictures along the way.

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As you can see, the scenery is breath-taking. And we had the perfect weather to match.

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The day was simply wonderful.

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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.

Une Nouvelle Aventure: Nice, Cannes Film Festival, Monaco Grand Prix (5/16/2010)

Thunder clacked in the distance as the blue-gray clouds glided in overhead. Cameras clicked and lights flashed as glamorous stars posed in front of hundreds of screaming fans. The sound of whirling engines echoed off the mountain slope as crowds watched in anticipation.

That was my weekend.

Before the sun began rising on the Avignon horizon, Sammi and I started our 30-minute trek to the Gare Avignon Centre to catch the 4:52 train to Nice. The city had a certain tranquility that one normally doesn’t see during the day.

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        We arrived at the station at 4:30, when it looked like a ghost town. After finding our friends, who happened to be on the same train, we discovered that the display board read, “Train to Nice, 40 minutes late.”

Then, “50 minutes late.”

Then, “ One hour late.”

Then, “One hour, 15 minutes late.”

Finally, at 6:15, our train rolled into the station. We quickly found out that Avignon was not the starting point of the train, which explains why the lights were off and everyone inside was sleeping. The air was humid and smelled of body odor and morning breath. Two very pleasant smells.

The train didn’t get to Nice until 11:45, and because of that, we didn’t have to wait to check into our hotel. (Side note: it was a legitimate hotel. They provided towels and hairdryers.)

Sammi, Alex and I spent the rest of the day wandering through the side streets of Nice, walking along the pebble beach, photographing the picturesque landscape and witnessing a thunderstorm from atop a mountain.

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Although the day was relaxing, we were exhausted from our lack of sleep and long morning of travels. So we turned in at 8 p.m. Yes, 8 p.m. I don’t think I’ve gone to bed that early since I was a baby. That’s a new record for me.

We also went to bed at that time, because we planned on getting up at 5:00 the next morning (Friday) to catch the 6:35 autocar (bus) to the Cannes Film Festival, which is what happened. We were advised to take the train to Cannes to avoid traffic, but we figured that not many cars would be on the road at 6:35 in the morning. Because of all the stops, the ride took nearly two hours. And at 8:30 in the morning, not much was happening in Cannes, except for people setting up for the festival later that day. We snapped pictures in front of the red carpet (as they were laying out a fresh and clean carpet) and on the sandy beaches.

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By noon, the crowds starting pouring into the city, and we found ourselves fighting through the streams of people that flooded the narrow sidewalks. After finding the part of the festival that was open to the public (La Malmaison), we bought one book of six student tickets, which cost only 18 euros, valid for any of the public films being screened. So, for a large chunk of our day, we viewed two, world-premiere screenings of independent films: Un Poison Violent (Love Like Poison) and La Mirada Invisible (The Invisible Eye).

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Waiting for the movie to start in the large theater (not a movie theater, an actual theater), an old French man sat next to me. Since he was alone, I started speaking to him in French. As we talked, he told me that it was his 39th time attending the festival. Incredible.

The first film, Un Poison Violent, was a French film, but had English subtitles. The second film, La Mirada Invisible, was an Argentinean film with French and English subtitles. Both films had realistic plotlines, and they presented darker subjects that are commonly avoided in mainstream movies.

After the movies, we took an early dinner at a café, where we met an Irish woman who works with directors from the film industry. At first, she told us that she researched haunted buildings and her work appeared on the Discovery Channel and Scariest Places on Earth. She later told us that she actually exorcises ghosts for a living. Let’s just say that that was an extremely bizarre twist to the conversation, and frankly, I was a bit, for lack of a better word, creeped out after that. Nonetheless, she was a friendly lady, who even shared some of her pizza with us.

The final stop of the day: the Red Carpet. The biggest Red Carpet in the world. I could not believe we were actually there. Though the public was separated from the press, which was separated from the carpet, we were able to push our way through the crowd, and we got some pretty great photos of Kate Beckinsale, Tim Burton and Diego Luna. Sadly, due to bus schedules, we had to leave before Shia LaBeouf walked the carpet. But, I’d say the day was quite a success! Oh, and after we returned to Nice, I got myself some Rocher flavored ice cream. The perfect end to a great day.

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Saturday, we left the hotel at a later time, thankfully. We took the bus and traveled to Monaco for the afternoon. I think I would be correct in comparing Monaco to Orange County, Calif. The hotels, cars and buildings are extravagant. To give you an idea of the extravagance, I saw a toddler carrying a Juicy Couture handbag.

As it turns out, the Grand Prix was there is weekend, so we got to see two of the biggest world events in one weekend. Although we didn’t get to see much of the city because the Grand Prix course was blocking major portions of the town, we managed to get pictures of the track and parts of the race. The sound of the engines echoed around us for over an hour. It felt like we were standing next to the track.

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Since most of the city was shut down, we returned to Nice only after a few hours. After enjoying a late lunch and a walk through an antique market, we left early for the train station for our 8:00 train. While waiting for the train, I saw my first legitimate burning building, which was across the street from the station. Alex and I were walking around trying to find a pastry shop, when we spotted a restaurant with clouds of smoke billowing from inside. As we got closer, I saw the flames, so I grabbed my camera and went as close to the building as the police would allow. I was close enough for the smoke to get into my clothes and make me smell like a campfire. Sammi found out, after talking to witnesses of the start of the blaze, that the fire was a grease fire. That was an interesting experience.

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Later, on the return train, Sammi and I started a conversation with a South African man, who works for the South African government and is on assignment in France. By the end of the conversation, we were giving him relationship advice.

Oh, what a weekend.

 

Pas mal. Palmolive. Marseille. (5/12/2010)

I apologize for my absence in the past week. A lot has happened, including an overnight excursion to Marseille and beaucoup de devoirs (a lot of homework). I was smashed with homework Sunday because we were handed the revised schedule for the rest of the quarter, and I had some unexpected homework to do for the next day. But thankfully, I finished everything I needed to finish, with only a bit of sleep sacrificed. I would love to tell you all of the conversations and interesting stories of the past week, but for time’s sake, and so you aren’t bogged down, I’m going to run through my weekend fairly quickly. Don’t worry though, I have some entertaining posts up my sleeve.

On Saturday, we left the university at 9h and headed for Cassis, a small town about 30 minutes from Marseille. Because of the rain, our plans to hike on the Calanques were foiled. Calanques are large cliffs on the Mediterranean. So, you can see how hiking on cliffs in the pouring rain is not the smartest idea.

Though our plan B wasn’t as good as “calanque-ing” (yes, I invented a word), it was sufficient for the weather we were having. For plan B, we took a tiny tourist tram around the city, stopping at the beach and at the first Calanque. (The weather made for great pictures though.)

    With water-soaked shoes and jeans, we hopped back on the bus to travel the short distance to Marseille, a famous port city in France. By the time we arrived, the rain had stopped pouring. Finally. Having the afternoon free, I made the long trek with Kim and Kierstin to Notre Dame de la Garde, a large cathedral built on a hill. On top of the cathedral is a golden statue of Mary, who is holding golden, infant Jesus. The trek was a 30-minutes uphill battle. For those of you familiar with the hills at OU, this hill is the equivalent to five, stacked Jeff Hills plus four, stacked Bryan staircases.

Upon arrival at the top of the treacherous mountain, we explored the church and admired the fantastic view. It was the perfect spot for watching the distant storm clouds roll in and for viewing the entire city.

    After a joyful afternoon of exploring and wandering through Marseille, we met as a group for dinner at Maison Blanche (the White House). I hope you can see the irony in that, because I find it rather amusing. Anyway, dinner consisted of three courses. For my éntrée (appetizer) I had the fresh mozzarella and tomato slices covered in pesto and huile d’olive (olive oil). My plat (main dish) was fish topped with a cheese and lemon sauce and mashed turnips. The dessert was, as usual, the best part. Tiramisu, with an extra espresso. Delicious and expensive, but thankfully I didn’t have to pay for that dinner.

Following dinner, a large group of us took nighttime photos at the port and walked around watching the nightlife. The walking around didn’t last very long for Kim, Kierstin and me because  we felt slightly unsafe due to the many drunk men making catcalls to us. So, we retreated to the hotel.

    The next morning, Kim and I enjoyed an excellent, hotel-provided breakfast of breads and coffee, and then we set out with Kierstin to mind the open-air markets. The first market we found was in a shady area of town. The market was actually a giant square where the poorer people were trying to sell their used goods. Again, we felt quite uneasy because we definitely stuck out as tourists with money. After a police officer advised us to put our cameras away, we knew we should bolt. And that’s what we did.

We wandered for another 15 minutes, finding our way back to the port, where there was an open-air tourist market full of soaps, candy, cloth and seafood. It reminded me of the Strip District in Pittsburgh, a wonderful place with the smell of fresh food and the sound of happy shoppers. After a few hours, the crowd began to grow, and we began to grow hungry. So we searched for the perfect pizza for lunch. (Marseille is famous for pizza.) Well, the café we discovered lived up to our expectations. The individual pizza I ordered could have fed two people. And as a side note, French people expect that you finish your meal, otherwise they think you don’t like it, and they become offended. By three-fourths of the way through each of our pizzas, the three of us were fighting to finish. I eventually stopped with one-fourth to go. I was literally imagining getting sick on the bus. So I stopped.

At the café, there was a man sitting at the table next to us, and he obviously could not speak French. At first, we thought he was British, but we quickly realized that he did not speak much English either when we attempted to speak with him. As it turns out, he was German. And because he couldn’t speak French, both he and the waiter expected us to translate for them. Honestly, I was proud to translate the man’s broken English into French. And that was my confidence booster of the day.

I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’m getting up in four hours to catch my train to Nice. It’s 11:30 p.m. here. I’m headed to Nice, the Cannes Film Festival and Monaco this weekend, so I’m sure I will have a lot to tell you when I return.

La Fête du Travail (May Day) (5/5/2010)

Saturday, I did something I’ve always wanted to do. I hopped a train and spent the day in Arles, a city famous for its Roman architecture and its southern-France style. I love the thrill of day-trips, and being in France makes having a day-trip all that much better.

The eight of us met at Gare Avignon Centre to board the train, which only takes 18 minutes, if you get the right train. Well, we got the right train.

We arrived in Arles a few minutes after 10:00 a.m., only to discover that everything was closed, everything except for cafés, tourist shops and L’office de Tourisme. It wasn’t until we saw a parade of men and women in traditional clothing riding horses that we figured out why everything was fermé. Saturday was May Day, a nationwide celebration similar to Labor Day in the United States.

 

 

May Day is also a day for political parties and social organizations to protest, according to my host mom. She also said that Le Premier Mai is an excuse for rallies and manifestations (protests) — for which French people are notorious — though she has no idea why they protest. We were able to witness one of these rallies in the large square by the Hotel de Ville. Although I understood bits and pieces of the speech of the man speaking, I had no idea why they were protesting. Mais, c’est la France.

We had originally planned to go the Van Gogh Museum, but that was closed as well. So we spent our day roaming the narrow streets, enjoying the Roman architecture, sipping café at the cafés and visiting the spots where Van Gogh painted some of his most famous pieces. Below is a series of pictures comparing the Van Gogh painting to the present-day site.

Le Café Le Soir

 

L’Entrée du Jardin Public

 

Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé à Arles

 

L’escalier du Pont Trinquetaille

 

 

 

 

 

 

Les Arenes d’Arles

 

 

La Nuit Étoilée

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Maison Jaune

I couldn’t have imagined a better day, especially after a week with five exams. Although the weather was chilly and cloudy, I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed pace and the low-key atmosphere of the city. I had no schedule and nowhere to be. I could savor every taste of my café au lait, and I could admire the city without stress looming over me.