Monday, March 31, 2008


Nothing is more frustrating than a bad Internet connection. When your entire method of communication relies on the strength of the web and it hangs you up to dry...
Wah wah wah.
Oh look, it's Paris. Just outside there.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The same sand. Same water. Same rocks. Same brush.

Without question, I needed to isolate myself along the Omaha coast. Away from our verbose tour guide, the smiles of other contemplative friends, the diffidence of those who just didn't care.
This was my first step onto American soil in nearly three months (France gave us the land in gratitude). At 21, I am older than most of the thousands of soldiers who laid dying on those same shores 54 years ago. No servicemen would visit my mother's doorway after I visited this beach. I could look up into the grassy hill 30 yards offshore knowing I was completely safe--no threats, no bullets raining over my head. I stepped into the water, and it was freezing cold as the tide danced around my ankles. The sand was a sponge; it softly absorbed each step and regained shape as I pressed forward.
It was this spot where the tables turned, but not without bloodshed and casualties. And it was that brief afternoon--surely not brief enough--that allowed for me to come to that same spot half a century later to pay my respects as a grateful American and global citizen. Humanity was sacrificed so that humanity could be saved.
Humbled and proud. That's how Normandy left me when I left it.


The above photo accurately depicts the victory over Davidson a few minutes ago. It was scrappy, and close. Too close for a 1 v 10 game, but Davidson is better than its ranking. We won by two. We face our former coach, Roy Williams and his Tarheels for a chance at the title. And suddenly, after being big, bad Goliath to Davidson, we're the cheerable underdog again.
Wish I could be in Lawrence for this celebration. I may be a flaky sports fan, but I'm still proud of my university.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk! Waving the wheat in Paris.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

War Capsule

Sensing that this weekend will be quite reflective. We're headed to the Normandy beaches for Western Civ. Today consisted of Ken Burns' War, Gerta Klein, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List...
It's going to be humbling. Here's to hoping for lots of reflection time.
God Bless the USA. And Steven Spielberg.

The Swede Escape

Here's a delayed Sweden summary. It was possibly the happiest place I have visited. Cheerful smiles, beautiful people, 7-11 on every corner.
It was freeeezing the whole time, but we knew that going into the weekend. We owned that cold. And guess what? It was rainy and crummy in Barcelona all weekend. Muahahahahahaha. Muahaha. Muahahahahahahhahahaa.

But, between the Andy Warhol exhibit, the Vasamuseet sunken warship museum, the Swedish shops selling clogs, cheesy sweaters, Pippi Longstocking dolls or delicious food, Adam and I kept our smiles frozen across our faces the entire time. Something in the air made everything feel accommodating; I think he was a great travel partner and neither of us came with an agenda. We let word of mouth guide our afternoons and just turned a corner if we felt like turning a corner. Traveling by the seat of your pants is always ideal.
The happiest accident of all was called Skansen. It's an open air museum, but is more of a time portal. Yes, a time portal. Imagine all elements of Swedish cultures--animals, living community, glass blowing, bakeries, churches, music, parks, everything--condensed into one square mile of smiles and dreams. It was a giant reenactment of historic Swedish culture (similar to a Renaissance fair) in a place that was actually a living community surrounded by walls. We saw wolverines, moose (meese?), mountain goats, seals, and otters. I bought raspberry and carrot jam, deer sausage, cheese, baked goods. There were old buildings, an observatory, windmills, a concert stage, a park, a school, a church, a fortress... it was unique and surprising and sincere. We were expecting four walls, a few monuments, and a few employees. We found so much more and spent hours meandering the tiny winding roads.

You know... I don't feel like writing any more. Let these pictures tell the story. They say so much.

Stockholm was a peak of this whole trip. It's hard placing it among the other cities, because it was my favorite trip overall; yet I may still like Amsterdam as a whole the most. And Paris is catching up. Who needs lists anyway? Adam and I had the perfect Swedish escape; a trip unique only for us in this group of 24. We were eerily happy all weekend, it felt dreamlike. I half-expected that dala horse to gallop me away into the frozen, blue Swedish skies. After picking up a gorgeous Swedish bride, of course. Don't even get me on that tangent. Oy. The stereotypes are true.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stockholm Syndrome

There's a major problem in Stockholm with orphans. Everywhere you walk, you see lonesome, formerly loved creatures. Nobody pays attention to them. Often times, people walk right by--maybe even step on top of the orphans--without the slightest acknowledgment. Very rare is a homeless person; it's far too cold to be without shelter. But nevertheless... Stockholm still reigns as the most densely-populated orphan abandonment center in the world.
Think I'm lying?

Trailer Park

Wow. This post actually has to do with my major.
There's a huge art in editing the perfect movie trailer. Capturing the monumental moments of a film without revealing anything too juicy... that's talent! A good trailer puts butts in seats. The films I see on opening weekend will typically fall into one of three categories:
1. Oscar bait
2. Blockbusters
3. Films with killer trailers
I will watch a trailer 100 times if it grips me. Often times it sets the movie too high and I'm left disappointed. But there should be something said about the editor who strung together those sequences.
Usually they involve powerful dialogue or the perfect musical backdrop. But whatever the method... the best ones leave you wanting more. So you pay your money, see the film, and the advertising was the most powerful influence over that expense.

Here's some of my favorite trailers, at least off the top of my mind.

Apparently Kate Winslet and Elijah Wood are in very trailer-ready actors.

Any personal favorites out there? Which trailers will you always remember for having put your butt in a seat?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Harry Potter and the Concierge of Marie Antoinette

When we visited the prison that housed Marie Antoinette in her final days, we stumbled upon some magnificent fireplaces.
Bet MA wishes she could have used floo powder Harry Potter-style to escape.

Kate proves she's a witch:

The Icing on the Cake

Just as I was going to doctor this pessimistic post about the past day, I opened my browser and after a rapid series of hand movements,  spilled yogurt all over my lap.
This sucks!
I'll keep the downers to a minimum, because I've gotta report later on how Sweden rules the school.

  • I haven't slept in over a day. We had to catch a bus this morning at 4 so we went to bed at 9. I slept for 10 minutes.
  • I pulled a ligament or something in my knee and it hurts to walk long distances. When you're a tourist, guess what it is you do most? If you guessed "walk long distances"...
  • RyanAir causes more headaches than any other airline. They really aren't any cheaper when you have to pay for round trip bus tickets and drive an hour to the bodunk airport. Then, they charge you for each checked bag. They let loud European frat boys sit all around you on the plane. They are late flying out by one hour... coming AND going. Something tells me it's worth the extra 30 bucks or so to take a large airline so it doesn't take 9 hours before arriving home.
  • There are four reaction papers due tomorrow for class.
  • I have an empty fridge and stomach.
Today was the first day I thought to myself "I want to go home. I'm ready to go home."
If I ever made my home in Europe, that's one thing. But my home is not in Europe. Nor is my heart. A lot of great things stand between me and April 10, and I'll take them one step at a time. But traveling is such a pain when you don't see your family and friends intermittently. If I even had a cell phone, or could drive 6 hours for a weekend at home...
Bet after this post you wouldn't have guessed Sweden to be a high point for my trip. Optimism: coming to a blog near you!
But first... this damn yogurt.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

SEKsy time

The Swedish don't use the Euro. They have stuck to their Swedish kron. What's the abbreviation for this? It's SEK.
Adam and I have never had to give SEKs for food before. Or for a bus ride.
I traded a nice lady my Euros for SEKs. She had a large smile the whole time. She was giving out SEKs like it was her job. It was.
I had more SEKs yesterday than I have today.
You get SEKs from machines if you have a credit card.
The size of your house and the make of your car are dependent entirely on how much SEKs you have.
And I'm done.

The Hostel Experience

Student travel is budget travel. You don’t take a taxi when you arrive in a city. Instead, you walk around for two hours locating your hostel on a map.
Hostels are part of that budget. And they are also half the magic of each traveling experience, good or bad. In Italy, we actually never stayed in a hostel, because we always traveled with enough people that splitting a 2-star hotel was as cheap as most hostels. But since the 10-day break, I’ve stayed in five different hostels around Europe, each one unique and unpredictable.
Our numbers have been such that usually we are the sole occupants of a room. In Geneva, Amy, Braeden and I stayed in a 3-person room. In Amsterdam, our second hostel was a 5-person room for the five of us. Both of those hostels were like dorms—bathrooms separate from bedroom and down the hall. The Amsterdam one felt like a giant frat house and the Geneva one had families with naked toddlers running around. Braeden and I stayed in an apartment in Prague; we had a fridge, stove, washing machine…for the same cost as every other place we’ve stayed.
The most unique experience is Stockholm, though. The hostel is also a massage parlor. When we walked in, it felt like a brothel because the masseuses were lounging around waiting for customers. Everything is Afro-centric (Sweden, right?) and there is only one bathroom--within our bedroom—for all 15 occupants (two bedrooms in all). Massage clients will ring the doorbell and wait awkwardly for service, while we have to take our shoes off at the entrance before we walk back into the room.
It took Adam and me a long while to adjust, but I actually feel more comfortable here than any other place I have stayed. As is custom in Sweden, everyone is so friendly and accommodating that the staff (mainly one guy who doesn’t give massages) bends over to make us feel at home.
I felt bad for two guys from Virginia who, because the hostel got overbooked, had to sleep on massage beds last night. They understandably found a new hostel for tonight, but Adam and I have a happy laugh every time we talk about this place. It’s so oddly unique and we felt incredibly out of place for the first day, but it’s all part of our growing love for Sweden (which you’ll hear about on Monday).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Off to Sweden

Maybe forever.

Staying Connected

Although I vowed to stay out of Student Senate for good, I cannot help but watch things unfold. The campaign season is well in swing back home, and it's really one for the records.
The new coalition this year is Connect. And guess who's in charge? Austin, the guy who was my VP candidate a year ago. I have found long-term happiness at what happened my sophomore year, but I think this could be the best part of it.

Austin has assembled a world-class team behind him. A lot of people have been upset with the way Senate has been handled this year. Decisions are made for political gain, and not with students in mind. I think that's what happens when you get one party in power for so many consecutive years. Those in the party look at the direct access to the top and realize something: they don't actually have to follow through on ideas and can still reap the benefits of power.

Austin convinced Delta Force not to run candidates for Student Office; they have run for 11 years, gaining victory only once--and by 37 votes. So with them out of the picture, it's a two horse race--between Connect and the long standing United Students (who will claim that they're only two years old, but a change in name doesn't change ideals or bending over backward for power). The sad part is that I really like a lot of kids in United Students, one being their presidential candidate. Let's allow a moment of irony here--it's a sophomore named Adam, and he's not greek.

But what Connect is doing is brilliant. The solutions they're proposing are happening now. They launched wiKUpedia, which allows all students to create an account and post any material pertinent to life as a KU student. It's brilliant! And they're working on an initiative to switch our email accounts to Gmail. We wouldn't have to rid of our KU accounts after we graduate, and we benefit from all of Gmail's features. Instead of promising some ridiculously expensive proposal, Connect is taking action while campaigning. And having been around people in both coalitions, I can tell you which one operates on heart, and which one operates on handshakes.

To any KU student reading this: United Students has good people. Their presidential candidate is a great person and a great voice. He's just on the wrong side of the fence. Austin has more experience, more neutrality, less to win, and a better team behind him. Just look around their websites. It should be obvious which coalition has things together.

I just hope students connect the dots on election day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The #1 thing I wish I had here...

Or should I say the #2 thing I wish I had?
Ohhh, bidet...

A typical Parisian night for this kid

So we have our Western Civ 2 midterm tomorrow. I'm not boycotting this one as much as the last test, but I still haven't started studying and it's 10:30 pm.
Why, you ask?
Because I procrastinate. Because I have my own room with nobody to keep me on track. Because YouTube and Facebook and Skype and AIM and eating and researching Sweden and showering all seem like such great alternatives.
Don't worry; by day I'm on foot exploring Paris. I haven't wasted a single afternoon. It's cold and stormy right now, so it's not like I've any better option.
Except studying.
I haven't checked the news in a while...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The French, they grow on you

If you recall my initial reaction to the French, it validated many cliches. They're rude. Stuck up. They hate me without giving me the opportunity to make an impression.
Well, I've met many rude ones and I still prefer the Italians, but the French are slowly winning me over. There was a lecture last night by an American woman named Polly Platt who has lived in France for 40 years now. Hearing her perspective made me realize that it's not necessarily me perceiving them as rude and vice versa, but just extreme cultural differences.
For example, my smiling at people? Not OK. It basically tells them that I want them in bed. Not so drastic, but it's the general idea. Because they're such a romantic society, you have to draw the line at time and place. Passing strangers on the corner... not the time and place.
As for carrying conversations: what I perceive as quiet and respecting of others, they view as loud. I have never been obnoxious about my dialogues in public, but compared to these guys, we may as well be yodeling on the metro. It probably doesn't help that we're speaking English, because the variance draws extra attention. Two Parisians can be talking to one another a foot away from you, and you won't hear a word they're saying. So, it's just natural that they think my inclinations are absurd. And I'm on their turf, so I should be the one to compromise more.
They say to compliment people, or at least learn the essential words and you'll be treated better. It's true. Once you master numbers, "please", "thank you", "excuse me", "hello", "goodbye", "sorry", and "heroine", you're pretty much set. Hand gestures help fill the gaps, unless the person has agreed to speak English with you by this point.
A lot of ignorance has started with each new locale. I'm shocked I was so ignorant here in Paris after going through the same phase in Italy; these two cultures themselves are worlds apart. It's not saying some French aren't self-important, nose-raising pride mongrels even more ignorant than I, but their culture has grown to expect different things than ours. So keep that frown upside-down, because I do not want to go to bed with you.

Whetting my pallet

The range of foods one eats will traceably expand after childhood. I used to never eat mushrooms or olives; now, they're a staple in my diet. On the other hand, there is documented proof of me hating seafood as a child, and that is one category I'd be fine to avoid for the rest of my life. Never ever ever put seafood in my face, unless you want barf in yours.
But the most interesting arc in one's food stomaching abilities is not even food itself. It's the drinks. I'm sucking down tea right now trying to relax over an art history paper. I remember starting off liking tea as a child, but it vanished off my radar until last semester, when Nicole and Nathan's fixations convinced me to try it. I'm fairly certain I owe both of them a few boxes of tea now. I find it relaxing, and it's a great reward after a long day of anything--homework, sight-seeing, work, TV marathons.
Then there is beer. Dads always love manipulating their children into hating beer at a young age. There were those few times I got to sip a Sam Adams growing up, and blech--it tasted like butt water. But add the element of collegiate social acceptance, and suddenly things taste differently. In a good way, too. Beer really opens your taste buds and, like tea, is a wonderful treat for oneself in order to wind down--or get going.
And the one thing from which I've been dreadfully separated on this trip: coffee. I miss really tall, really rich, really jolting coffee. It breathes life into me each morning and endures me through the day. I certainly had an addiction, and suffered a few headaches once removed. But it's a detox I cannot wait to break. It all began after freshman year, when summer school forced me out of bed too early and too often. It was summer. I needed my sleep, but did not get it. Coffee was the compensation. Now, I eat everything flavored as such. Ice cream, candy bars, cookies, anything with espresso or coffee remnants makes my mind soar. Has it only been two years?
Obviously, writing about beverages is better than writing about art history.

Monday, March 17, 2008

In a name

Are you one of those people who, in everyday dialogue, discovers really good band names?
Kate N. and I have been keeping track of a few thus far. Regretfully, we haven't been writing them down; there have been some Grammy-caliber names.
Here's how the conversation might go:
Guy: If I had to describe the cathedral, I'd say it had really gaudy facades.
Girl: Gaudy Facades. Good band name.
Guy: I'll say.

Gerunds work famously, too.
Editor: Why are you describing these details so closely? You need to work on omitting the obvious.
Writer: Point taken. But on a side note, isn't Omitting the Obvious a great band name?
Editor: Lay off the drugs.

If and when I storm the whole screenwriting scene, I'd have to consider a pen name. Truthfully I should have one now if I'm putting a byline on my works and sending them in for copyright. However, pen names don't exactly reveal themselves in everyday speak. Now, I'd kill for a moniker like Diablo Cody, but I'm afraid that's just too flashy. Her personality can handle the weight of that name. I need something that clicks with readers, sticks with studios, and still represents me.
Any feedback? Alliteration always allows for respectable results. Maybe a first name that isn't a real first name. Like Truck. Or Whalerider. I like the name Leo, too.
Well, I've got choices aplenty. Choices Aplenty. Damn, that's a good band name.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Big 12, Number 1, Year 3

Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year. All three years, KU has won the Big XII tourney over Texas (as well as the conference championship).
So this year, we answer the football team with another great sports season. Let's hope our fortune in the NCAA tournament is the best yet.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk. I'm waving the wheat in the heart of Paris.

I'm Forest Green

Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8-color boxes, but what you're really looking for are the 64-color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64-color box, though I've got a few missing. It's ok though, because I've got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. I have a bit of a problem though in that I can only meet the 8-color boxes. Does anyone else have that problem? I mean there are so many different colors of life, of feeling, of articulation.. so when I meet someone who's an 8-color type.. I'm like, "hey girl, magenta!" and she's like, "oh, you mean purple!" and she goes off on her purple thing, and I'm like, no - I want magenta!
-John Mayer

As if my DVD collection needs any justification...

One reason my DVD collection nears the 200 mark is because I like satiating my moods. If I feel halfway removed, I pop in Almost Famous or The Purple Rose of Cairo because they can always cushion my landing. If a laugh is necessary, there's Not Another Teen Movie or Dumb and Dumber. When I just want to experience the entire range in one night, I've got Million Dollar Baby, Gone With the Wind, or E.T. from which to choose.
I cannot tell you how much I miss my DVDs, or even Netflix. So many times I've needed the satisfaction of film on this trip and it's near impossible--or just unaffordable--to feed the cravings.
An interesting itch I keep experiencing is from being "on location". For example, walking around Montmartre yesterday with Kelli will make future Amelie viewings a bit more special. Casino Royale is one I've wanted to watch since visiting Venice because the final scene takes place there. We're visiting Brittany and Normandy in two weeks; the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan may sink even further into my skin. Don't even get me started on the Paris films I can tackle-- Paris Je'Taime, An American in Paris, Last Tango in Paris... heck, even The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Beauty and the Beast, and The DaVinci Code will resonate.
The coliseum in Gladiator, the cultural effects of the mafia (The Godfather), the Tuscan backdrop from Life is Beautiful, the antics of Eurotrip, the Versailles home of Marie Antoinette, the real-life Moulin Rouge... I can find myself laced in these film grains ever more than before.
But of course, this is why film exists and why it succeeds. We enjoy a film because we live vicariously through its story and characters. We relate, reflect, empathize, sympathize. Studying abroad just gives me more variety in these sympathies and reflections. However, I would have found separate varieties with any other experience.
If you're alone, stuck in a rut, there's something for that. If you're in love, so head over heels smitten for someone, there's a million titles calling your name. Even if getting stoned and hunting for fast food is your forte... you can find it in more than one place.
One of my biggest thrills from studying abroad is that it ties me closer to the Mother of All Films. I have been lost, both on purpose and accidentally. I want to understand cultures around me, but struggle to be fully comforted. I have questions. I have answers. I don't have answers.
But I don't have that film near me. And I want it here so badly. And so, I live vicariously through this blog post.

Le Lessons du Kelli

It's nice having constants in life. Kelli, who visited this weekend from her au pair job in Toulouse, is a constant thrill.

She's got boundless energy and a head tightened very securely to her shoulders. She's smart yet carefree about her fun. Just the ingredient we needed to spice up this weekend. This photo is her dressed as Amelie in front of one of the character's favorite Montmartre restaurants. Kelli keeps things interesting and fresh. And best of yet, she's a friend from the homeland who knows Joanie, Nicole, and me on terms other than this trip. She knows where we've been; we know her story as well.
It's great seeing her do so well for herself. Kelli constantly finds herself at crossroads--ones that I'm facing soon--and seeing her happy with life, having blazed through hurdles and disappointments, is comforting. She follows her heart more than her head, and her lightness reminds me that there's great relief and more fun in trusting yourself, finding confidence in your own skin.

Say "Fromage!" No?

A lot of Europeans take photos with very bland, expressionless faces. Maybe they think it accurately depicts the moment. You know, why look overtly excited if you're just standing in front of a monument? Let the photo be authentic.
Here's the difference:

French group photo:

American group photo:

I think the future should be considered when taking a photo. I'd rather look at the second one and reflect happily. "Oh, there we are, enjoying drinks and snacks in our Paris dorm!" (happy feeling surging through body...)
Instead of this: "Oh, there we are, occupying space, converting food into energy among acquaintances." (stomach rumbles, tumbleweed blows by...)

Of course, had we taken the Japanese version of this photo, we'd all look like we were on speed, peace signs waving frantically.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kelli Kelli Kelli Kelli Kelli Kelli

Look who's here!

Do you know what this means?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Meet the cast x3

I haven’t been sharing my friends with you as much as promised. How selfish of me! We’ll see if I can’t begin churning a few of these out each week.
I’ll start by introducing you to the remaining three guys on the trip, all of whom are great fun.

Adam is probably the person I’m spending most of my time with lately (he and I are traveling to Sweden together over Easter). He describes himself as “quiet at first, but very talkative when I get to know you”. This couldn’t be more accurate. Adam has the single best sense of humor on this trip. His one-liners are gut busting and I am secretly starting to worship him. Not sure I can do him any justice here, but let’s try an example: We bought some imitation Oreos in Florence, and we called them Foreos (for “fake oreos”, like fake Oakleys = “Foakleys”). Well, right after I said “I’m going to eat a foreo”, I dropped one on the floor. He said, “oh you must mean a flooreo.”
Spend eight weeks with him, and you’ll be laughing every two minutes. It’s almost saddening that he and I didn’t get closer earlier on, because he’s so witty and intelligent. He’s one of the few sophomores on the trip, so part of me felt like big brother to him at first, rather than close friend. But, Adam has blossomed into a scene-stealer as I’m certain he expected. And not the kind I ranted about in entries past, but the infectious kind. He’s the warm-hearted midwestern boy with the bubbly, cute girlfriend back home. A lot of factors—probably age mostly—keep him humble, and I’m glad for that. He doesn’t need to wave a giant flag to get my attention. He’s got it, and it will last.

Alan isn’t as mysterious as he thinks. He is as cool as he looks, though. I remember on the flights overseas, Alan kept to himself. For the first few weeks, he did his own thing. We’d walk around as a group, Alan trailing the pack. Next thing you know, he’s gone without any notification. But gradually, I realized that Alan had things figured out. Things that took me six weeks to discover, Alan had figured out immediately. If you want to do things your way, you have to do them independently. Very much like Adam, Alan took a bit to find his comfort zone with the group, but he has remained comfortable with himself, which not many can say. If Alan’s not strumming on his guitar or dressing like Steve Zissou, then he’s likely completing his exploration checklist miles ahead of the entire group. Alan is motivated. But most intriguing is the way that Alan is original. I absolutely love talking to him because he speaks truth and doesn’t let any bullshit drama flood his life. He has a very enviable mindset and a great grasp on life’s realities. This is the perfect example of someone on this trip with whom a Lawrence encounter was unlikely. I’m thrilled this excursion granted that opportunity.

JT is goofy. He and I are similar in our passion for film and desire to write. But JT sees the world differently. He’s more carefree about life. One associate that I’ll always place with JT is that he leaves lights on. When he exits a room, he never turns off the light. It became custom that I would always see him out the door before I left, so that the light would go out. But ironically, there’s a bright light burning in his head that never goes out either. If I were to make a movie, it’d be about an internal struggle, externalizing the emotions. JT’s movie would be a la Kubrick or Tarantino. He has a vivid imagination a an appreciative sense of humor. JT is also one of those people that surprises you with a surplus of knowledge. He knows so many random historical facts; he would own up all of us in Jeopardy! But, even though you have to occasionally remind JT of the task at hand, it isn’t because he’s doing anything less significant. There is so much boiling in his head with fact, fiction, and fantasy; it’s remarkable he doesn’t explode into tiny rays of rainbows and confetti. With JT, the light is always on. His energy is boundless, and he even looks like Albert Einstein when he wakes up each morning with crazy bed-head.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Day with the Dead

To complement the overcast skies, we visited Père Lachaise cemetery this afternoon. I had wanted to go because I knew of Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and others buried there. The place was huge; similar to San Miniato al Monte in Florence in that everything protrudes from the ground very aggressively, but there were smaller contained family plots and fewer statues. More so just piles of graves everywhere, and the entire thing is HUGE; after this and the Louvre, I wonder if Paris does anything humbly. Regardless... very stunning. It makes me upset that new regulations are being adopted in America saying headstones can't stand up anymore, so that caretakers can mow over the stones when trimming the grass. How ridiculous.

We could take a cue from these plots:

Oscar Wilde - His grave is covered in lipstick kisses. I'd love to be this revered. Ideally, people will leave me hamburgers all over my grave, or maybe their first born children.

Edith Piaf - Enjoying her recent revival a la Oscar winner Marion Cotillard.

Jim Morrison - A lot has happened on this grave.

George Seurat, artist of my actual favorite painting. Not to be confused with "Boop" from a few entries past.

Parisian Dorm Tour

The secrets behind speaking English

Over the 10-day break, I noticed that most Dutch, Czech, and Swiss people speak English. This eased my guilt from Italy, where many also speak English, but I felt like an ugly American for expecting them to meet my communicative needs.
Just as Italy wants to preserve tradition, they also want to preserve their language and identity. You can't blame them, but nobody in the world other than italians really speaks Italian, so the task is more uphill. Clearly, the Dutch and Czech have to learn outside languages to integrate into global communication, whereas the Swiss go between German and French.
It was in the Netherlands where I witnessed a Dutch woman speaking with Spanish students in English. This became their bridge, and I immediately realized something. Maybe it is the American influence--giving credit to England and Ireland, too--but English is fast becoming the global speech. Cultures learn it, and then communicate with it. Can you imagine an Italian coming to America and then using German to speak to us?
So, now that we're in France, there's a bit of stubbornness to accommodate English. And you know, I like that. Many Italians put up with hand gestures or broken Italian and just compromise to the English. Shops and groceries often have English translations pasted underneath the Italian. And even though I want to play games with the rude Frenchmen I encounter, I've got to distribute props to them for standing their ground. It forces us out of our comfort zone, and reality checks us across the face that we aren't as high and mighty as we immediately perceive.
I can't help but feel that the non English-speaking countries just learn English so that we can't have any secrets. They preserve their smaller languages so that they can harbor all sorts of secrets from the English speakers.
Many countries in this world speak French; many countries speak Spanish, German, English. Those are certainly the main European influences, and it's been exciting to interact within those parameters. And even if I can't make any secrets with my English, it's cool. Secrets don't make friends. That's something first grade taught me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Silenced, then side-split

Art class today was at the Louvre. It's no Fraser Hall, but we get by.

Recognize this? Very awe-inspiring. Takes the words out of you.

The Louvre should have its own time zone. It is so exhausting, but well worth the hours.

Especially when you stumble across this.

Adam and I were like two giggling, perverted middle schoolers when we saw this. I mean, seriously? Seriously? Someone buy Ecole de Fontainbleau a drink. Shake his hand, or something. This is just hilarious. We called it "Boop"... as in the sound the girl on the left probably made at that very moment.
Keeping me young, that French neoclassicism.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Approximately 1/1000th of all KU students are living in this dorm on Rue de Daumesnil in Paris. While we're all used to having nearly 30,000 people from which to pluck our peers, instead we've been put into a pot and stirred together with these 25 ingredients.
The biggest obstacle to that fraction is that our only common denominator is the here and now. I knew maybe 2 or 3 of these people prior to departure, and can't guess I'd have encountered more than 5 of them in my daily activities. We're different. Good different, but too much different. It isn't 3 or 4 kinds of different--more like 10 kinds. Personalities that at first meshed well, but now we all miss our prairie home companions so much that I feel we just contrast everything obsessively.
Three times this weekend I had the same conversation: "I don't expect seeing or talking to more than 5 of these people when we're home." That's what four of us--just in my dialogues--have concluded. Few people here are concerned with anyone else. They want attention; fleeting, elementary attention. I hope I see more than 5 of these people beyond this trip; I'd love to, just separately instead of together.
And while I can say sincere things about all 24 compatriots, it is when all of us are put together that is tiring. Not everyone is so guilty--heck, I'm probably near the middle of the group--but I can't believe what some people will say and do for attention. Since when are drug deals, police records, sexual histories anybody's business? I'm holding my applause.
We've hit a wall. Our world consists of 25 people. At home, if you get sick of someone, you stop seeing them, find new and fresh faces. Here, you see the same ones every day, and they see you, just as tired of your disheveled mug. I'm not really sick of any individual here. Just the group as a whole, and the conventions that come along. It's the same reason I'd rather stay in on a Saturday night than hit the bars. People striving for attention won't give any. And I'm not even asking for that.

I want to be you

These people love life. My favorite part about metro stops here is the string quartets that often greet you as you find your exit. It feels like you're headed toward inevitable death on the sinking Titanic or something. But it's still uplifting.
This, however, would top even that. It's a group called Naturally 7 singing "In the Air Tonight" a cappella on the Paris metro.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Instead of Barcelona...

Since Easter in Barcelona slipped through our fingers like a greasy chalupa, we had to frantically search for affordable and unique accommodations elsewhere.
So, why not head north?

Stockholm, Sweden, here I come.

No sunbathing on those beaches. But oddly enough, I'm just as excited. Heck, I'll get to Barcelona later in this lifetime. This is gonna be cold, so awesomely frigid.

Paris v. Florence

In the war between Florence and Paris, the victor is Paris by a landslide. It's odd because I can pinpoint more direct benefits of Florence; I like the language better, the people better, the food has more identity. I loved Florence, truthfully. But with Paris, I just feel better. There's too much to see, uniqueness in each neighborhood. I felt accomplished in Florence after a couple weeks. It's definitely a great week-long excursion, or perhaps a nice place to live infinitely. It has its own beauty, from any distance. Take these pictures as an example.

Paris from the river Seine:

Florence from the river Arno:

Paris looks much less ideal. But when you're inside its winding streets, or coasting over the miles-long viaduct, you notice a wonderful difference. For one, the sidewalk is about 12 times wider. And there's actual vegetation. Grass especially. Florence has next to none! And since it's spring...

Those are from Parc du Bercy, today's discovery. It had so many nooks, hills, ponds, hedge mazes. It's like they built 50 unique spots for benches, half of which were occupied by a pair of lovers. I never really found a place to sit and relax outside in Florence, but I found dozens today, and not just in Parc du Bercy. I must have walked around for four hours today; 10 miles at least. I covered one small corner on the map, but probably encompassed as much geography as half of Florence.

So yeah, Paris, by a landslide.

Friday, March 7, 2008

These wide eyes are tired

Today in the small town (compared to Paris, at least) of Reims, we saw their own Notre Dame. This was preceding a visit to the Pommery Champagne caverns, which may have caused our apathy.
But when you've seen the famous, not-as-run-down Notre Dame two days earlier, anything else just putters. I felt bad for wandering away from the tour guide, but I couldn't stomach a long, drawn-out tour of something that essentially seems redundant at this point. We saw maybe five duomos and 30 churches in Italy. We've seen a few in Paris already. It's like drinking beer... the first one or two are awesome. Trying a unique flavor is a treat. But eventually, you get full and throwing up is inevitable. Today I felt like throwing up.
But don't take that the wrong way. Seeing the champagne cave was so neat, as was the free glass I downed in record time. I have said this before, and allow for repetition: once you travel so consistently, you just want to see unique and original things. Or, if not unique or original, you want to see the best version of it... i.e. Notre Dame in Paris, not Reims. Which I did see, and had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
Here's something that I cannot get over. It is truly stunning, and I could take 10,000 photos. Heck, I've already taken 100.