Happy Thanksgiving!

28 November 2011 § Leave a comment

28 novembre 2011

I’m spending all of my time doing school work, reading poetry, and watercolouring, but I take a short pause to publish a snippet of the current conversation going on in the auberge right now.  It’s about Myers-Briggs personality types.  Sara is an ESTP, and Maggie is an ISTJ, each of which is the contrast of the other.  Now we understand the cereal box/messy table/cleaning bathroom scenarios, and also why Maggie used to check that the door was locked and the oven off before going to bed when she was little.  Apparently ESTP and INFJ are each other’s animas, which means that Sara and I are going to fall in love with the boy version of each other.  I’m an INFJ, which apparently is the weird, odd, strange, and extremely rare type.  I’ll just go back to painting now . . .

I miss the farm


Te deho Madrid

21 November 2011 § Leave a comment

21 novembre 2011

For most of my life, I have hated the Spanish language.  I think it was mostly because of hearing Tennesseean Spanish during high school.  But now, I think quite highly of Spain.  The Madrid trip was perhaps the most fun I have had during any of my trips so far.  Sara, Laura, Maggie, and I met up with our friends Karen and Katherine from Duke, and they were the perfect tour guides.  We arrived late on Friday night and met them on Saturday morning for churros and chocolate, which is hot and thick enough for dipping and also for eating by itself.  Apparently people eat this combination for breakfast after partying all night.

Outdoor chocolateria

Churros and chocolate

Maggie and I were excited about having chocolate for breakfast

We walked around the city, stopping by several main squares and parks and the main cathedral and palace across from it.  One of my favourite parts of this little tour was a park from which we had a magnificent view of the whole city.  Then, we had a leisurely lunch at which I tried sangría for the first time and confirmed that wine with chopped up fruit in it is better than wine without chopped up fruit in it.  Somehow it takes the alcoholy taste out of the wine, which makes it much more delicious.  The centimeter of undissolved sugar in the bottom is also a highlight.  (My actual lunch involved cheese-ish sauce and creamed cod at some point.  I loved Spain, but death would come with haste if I lived there.)

Laura, Karen, Sara, and me

After lunch, we went to the Prado for some art times, i.e. my introduction to Spanish art.  Besides Goya and Velazquez, however, Rubens and Titian also made a strong showing, and there was a fascinating exhibit hidden away in a dark corridor that had modern portraits consisting of about ten seconds of filming each person’s face, done by an artist who wanted to make a study of those who visit the Prado.  I quite enjoyed the Spanish realist landscape painters (apparently Carlos de Haes was the great master in this realm).

Mancorbo Canal (Carlos de Haes, 1876)

After a nap (to prepare for a long night) and partial recovery from lunch, we went to dinner around nine at a crammed little place called El Tigre, where for five euros one buys a drink and receives plates of tapas.  This concept, along with that of people standing in extremely close quarters eating dinner at ten o’clock (we were there for a few hours), fascinated me.  It definitely would not happen in France.  I am lucky to have friends who gladly finish two thirds of my gallon (or nearly)-sized glass of sangría (this time it had mint leaves!) for me.  After chatting and meeting some friends of Katherine and Karen in the Duke program, we headed off through refreshing rain to a club called Cats (I never figured out why) to dance for a few hours.  It was the first time I had ever been to a club, and it was so much fun—it wasn’t too crowded, and they played a mix of Spanish and American music (although I was hoping for a bit of French)—not that I knew much of the American music that much better.  I definitely realised how much I have missed dancing, no matter what kind.

Our sangria was actually made with red wine

We turned in around four and straggled out of bed the next morning for a trip to the Reina Sofía museum, which has modern art, including Miró and Dalí and Picasso’s Guernica and a portrait of Tristan Tzara, who started the dada movement.  I usually dismiss modern art as meaningless and ugly, but I read a little article written by Picasso that made me evaluate my methods of evaluating art.  He states that he does not believe in art criticism, and his argument is that art is by nature the realm that is not burdened by rules (so one cannot impose rules on what one regards), and that the viewer cannot know the soul or the aims of the artist, and that, since every artist is seeking truth, one cannot discount another’s work; one may say, “This pleases me” or, “This pleases me not.”  Now I feel justified in announcing that a work displeases me if I find it repulsive.  Not that I ever needed a reason before . . . honestly, though, I can see Picasso’s point, which is that we can voice our opinions but that rejecting a work of art on the basis that it does not conform to an ideal or our idea of what art is or should be is simply not allowed.

Jardin d'Aranjuez (Santiago Rusiñol, 1907): this pleases me

“Impressionism is but an expression of the eternal yearning of man to reach the truth.”


We also saw the Danse Serpentine (created by the brothers Lumière).  Apparently her dress was coloured in on the separate slides right after the dance was filmed.

Seeing Karen and Katherine was the most enjoyable part—spending a few concentrated days with friends here and there flitting about new places differs vastly from the hour or two (or five minutes) that we all spend together when we’re at school.

We found a fun mirror

This morning while I was walking to class, I saw men stringing greenery across the narrow streets, and last night when I returned from Madrid, I walked along cours Mirabeau under Christmas lights and along wooden booths with bundled marchands selling all manner of things, honey and lavender and glass and Alsatian pain d’épices and various crafts.  What a delight to discover upon my return!

This evening, Mme Marchetto made turkey for us in preparation for Thanksgiving.  It was tiny compared to the turkeys that people usually make, because there are only four of us.  In France, turkeys are made with chestnuts around them, and it was the first time I tasted chestnuts—quite delicious.  There is also an inkling of a possibility that Chloe and Luke and I might sortir (go out: her definition of the term, however, meaning the theatre) with her in Paris this coming weekend—we have a school trip, and she will be there visiting some friends.  I loved seeing her describe with great enthusiasm how she wanted to sortir every night she is there.

On the way home from dinner, I found a gigantic pine cone.

Rain in Spain

Impossible prayer list

18 November 2011 § Leave a comment

18 novembre 2011

With the Parents here for the week, a few hundred pages to read,

It's so good. This is Christine.

and a paper to write (why, Racine, did you write Phèdre?), I have indulged in blog neglect of the most active variety.  Here are a few things until an actual blog post appears . . .

We went up up up the hill to Atelier Cézanne

It was fun to peek around his studio with the giant window.

We were a bit late for a visit with the man himself

This week, I also got a pinterest.  And read some of my poetry book:

Only I discern–

Infinite passion, and the pain

Of infinite hearts that yearn.

(Robert Browning)

And this morning during Bible study, Laura told us about the impossible prayer list, basically a conglomeration of crazy things (for/about which you pray) that couldn’t happen without God.  This concept greatly appeals to me.  First on the list: fluency in Russian.  Or perhaps writing my paper . . .

Phèdre (Cabanel, 1880)

Maybe even going to Madrid.  Oh, wait, that’s happening tonight!

Parents arrive

11 November 2011 § Leave a comment

11 novembre 2011

It’s Armistice Day.

Today has been full of the unremarkable—or so it seems—matter that fills most days.  But it brought so much joy today because of the people involved.  In the morning, Sara, Maggie, Nick (who is visiting!), Laura, and I met at a bakery and had Bible reading/talking/praying through a psalm time, the best way to start the day.  After that, they went to Marseille, while I baked biscotti and listened to Christmas music and then went for a run.  I finally found the field that I have been seeking for such a long time—and I found a path through the forest (Aix has a forest…definitely a new discovery)!  It was enough like the Appalachians to make me smile a lot.  Lucky thing I had my amphibian shoes on so I could run through the creek.  Then, I caught the navette to the airport and surprised my parents.  It was very suspenseful and involved me hiding behind a pillar for half an hour while I waited for their delayed plane to land and then jumping out to say hello.

We bumbled about and ate crêpes for dinner, and then my parents couldn’t stay awake any longer.  Not such a topsy-turvy day—but, oh, the magic of ordinary days!

“ . . . restoration came

Like an intruder at the door

Of unacknowledged weariness . . . ”


Feast in real life, famine in a book

10 November 2011 § 1 Comment

9 novembre 2011

This evening, after a long day of classes that included the low point of reading our haikus and actually receiving critique from our professor during three-hour Provence class (it goes on and on . . . and on), we had a soirée at the centre. It involved many people eating chocolate fondue, crêpes with jam, and raclette, a type of cheese and also the name of a Swiss/French dish that involves melting the cheese and putting it on potatoes with cold meat. (Racler = to scrape; you scrape the melted part onto your food.) It seemed popular; c’est dommage that cheese is not an enjoyable part of life. The best part was getting to make one of my own crêpes. I haven’t done that since last summer in Russia, when I made them whenever I felt the urge to bake—we had no working oven, so they were the best alternative.

Behold, the glory of chocolate! (Sculpture from the Musée Granet in Aix)

After the party, at which everyone (students, administrators, tuteurs, random friends of the tuteurs) was present, Sara, Maggie, Laura, and I cached ourselves in Laura’s garret room for Bible study, and then I worked on my presentation of Zola’s Germinal. It’s my first time doing a close study of French naturalism, and especially this novel reminds me of the social unrest in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley, a book I love enough to have read thrice. Naturalism in general makes me think of Dostoevsky (and Dickens, in some ways), but French naturalism is a bit on its own in that it doesn’t inhabit the same realms of theological reference and richness that lingers in every sentence of Dostoevsky. I hope that I did not make false general statements here . . .

Choubrac-Léon poster in Gil Blas advertising the serialization of Germinal, November 1884

Gérard Depardieu as Toussaint Maheu in the 1993 film adaptation

Earlier in the evening, before the party and while we were recovering from Provence class, Sara and Maggie and I made some exciting plans for Christmas break reading and a sort of book club. Sara can give all of the twentieth-century suggestions; as a rule/habit, I don’t read things that appeared after 1900.

In other news . . . The Parents are coming!

Speak, Orsay, what you know

8 November 2011 § Leave a comment

8 novembre 2011

My weekend in Paris proved rather educational, beginning with making the acquaintance of Mme Perrod, Katie’s host mother of seventy-seven years.  Now I understand the common report of students living with host families that they feel more like boarders than part of the family.  The French reception is not exactly rude, but there is a bit of distance, or perhaps a solid wall.  (Of course, I have been but few places in France, but it stands fairly true for most of the French people whom I have met.)  But what signifies the discovery of things if nothing else is made of them?  So I reflected a bit and decided that when I have my own home/orphanage/bed and breakfast/hostel (someone please have pity on those students travelling around Europe without money), I will endeavour to make it a space of warmth and welcome and rest.  This corresponds with the idea (I kind of adapted this from Milton) that the human malady is loneliness, the symptom of isolation from God and from others, and all of the desires of the human soul attempt to assuage the loneliness and fill the emptiness.  And we are all rich secret gardens of infinite wonder, but we scarcely see each other’s souls, even after many years.  For all of you, I hope misunderstanding and miscommunication do not often go so far as to constitute a Thomas Hardy-esque reality.

A tiger swallowtail . . . from the farm this summer. This is what happens in the soul when it's a dwelling place for God

I had arrived in Paris on Thursday evening, and on Friday morning I made my way to the Musee d’Orsay while Katie had morning classes.  I spent most of my time in “Beauty, Morals, and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde”, a temporary exhibition about the Aesthetic movement (the Cult of Beauty, l’art pour l’artart for art’s sake) during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.  My favourite painting in the exhibit:

St Cecilia (Waterhouse, 1895)

According to the Orsay, at no other period were artists and designers so knowledgeable about and influenced by the past.  The addition of romantic and exotic qualities of Greek art to the eighteenth-century neo-classicism created a melange of classical subjects with a pure (for its own sake) love of beauty.  The Elgin marbles were re-displayed at the British museum.  (This makes me wonder if Keats was a bit ahead of his time—think of Ode on a Grecian Urn.)  The leading artists in the 1870s—Whistler, Leighton, Watts, (Albert) Moore, and Burne-Jones—sought to pursue an ideal of beauty free of the restrictions of the ugly materialism of the age and the strictness of Victorian morality.

A Garden (Albert Moore, 1869)

Oscar Wilde (and to some extent, Swinburne) ended up being the personification of the movement.

Oscar Wilde = Aestheticism

Some schmancy man (Sir Coutts Lindsay) started the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877 to absorb the Royal Academy outcasts (and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), becoming a home for the Aesthetic movement.  During the first season, the silks on the walls were crimson, but during the second season, the artists convinced the directors to redecorate with a more artistic green silk.  Hence Gilbert and Sullivan’s “greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery” (from the musical Patience, a satire of Aestheticism).

The source of this enlightening exhibit

More of my weekend in Paris soon, I hope!

Aix Y Z : a small tour

2 November 2011 § 2 Comments

2 novembre 2011

La poste

For several weeks, I could not figure out the French postal system.  The post office a few minutes away from school was open once out of the fifteen times I checked, and even then the machine that weighs letters and produces stamps was broken.  I came to the conclusion that the French are simply always eating lunch.  They take at least two hours for this sacred midday rite, so all of the non-food-related shops are closed for a few hours in the middle of the day.  This post office, however, was often closed at half past three.  Then, a giant barricade appeared outside its doors.  After that, I received a slip of paper that had “boîte trop petite” (post box too small) scrawled across it and, after one of the women at school called the post office and wound her way through a bit of administration, she informed me that the post had sent my package to another town.  This still amuses and amazes me.  There are other post offices in Aix!  I made my way to the nearby village of Val St André, nonetheless, and fetched my package (which easily could have been left in any of the boxes at the centre, the box was most certainly not too small), and while doing that also discovered that none of the buses run on schedule—or they publish incorrect schedules as a joke.  (They also play the moves like Jagger song…)  I am pleased to report that normal letters arrive in a dependable manner.

Les macarons

I actually had my first macaroon (a chocolate one) in Russia this summer, and since then I have remembered all of the ones I have had since then and also where I bought them.  So far I’ve tried a cassis (blackcurrant) one from a place near school, a chocolate one at another place near school, an orange-flavoured green and orange one from a place near my auberge, a chocolate-and-caramel one at the same place, a fig one from the market, a rose petal one at Ladurée (an extravagant confiserie in Paris), a chocolate-ginger one in Strasbourg, a raspberry one from the same place, and a lemon one in Saverne.  I’ll keep you updated on future macaroon consumption.

An apple of the Ariane variety, my favourite here


These are delightful little cakes that are perfect with tea.  Yesterday (more like yestermonth, since I wrote this a long time ago), Maggie went to the market in hopes of buying some, but the madeleine man wasn’t there.  Quel cauchemar!  So I decided to make some, since I found a madeleine pan in the kitchen a few weeks ago.  They turned out pretty well, though they didn’t exactly taste like madeleines, perhaps because we have neither scale nor measuring cups, and I used only a third of the recipe because of a butter shortage chez nous, which means I needed 2/9 of a cup of something and other strange proportions.

Les chiens

French people take their dogs everywhere.  I saw one woman carry hers through security at the airport.  One night, when a group of us ate dessert at a café, a small commotion occurred when a waiter stepped on someone’s small dog and it squealed.  (Note: dogs should not be able to squeal, that just means that they are too small and belong to a breed that probably should not exist.)  Some French people have gigantic dogs rather reminiscent of bears, though, and they take them for walks in the middle of town.  All French dogs have one thing in common, which is the privilege bestowed upon them by their irresponsible owners of using the restroom wherever they please, often in the middle of the sidewalk.  This aspect of French life has, without a doubt, a certain je ne sais quoi about it, but it’s more of a je ne sais quoi in the world they think they’re doing.

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