Knights Impact exploratory trip day 5: Cultural excursion—5 January 2017

I spent the morning today in Amber Cove working on the program documentation and inflicting my Spanish on innocent Dominicans who deserve better. One drawback of this type of travel is that it isn’t an immersive language experience unless you go out of your way to make it more immersive. But I figured out that if I told the Dominican employees at Amber Cove (and elsewhere) that I was practicing my Spanish, they would help me by speaking Spanish to me, slowing down, and also seeing when I didn’t understand and going back to English. As always, people are grateful when we make even a small effort to speak their language. Today I learned how to say “I am learning” (Estoy aprendida) and I learned what rum that isn’t white is called: dorado (golden). I figured café (brown) couldn’t possibly be right! I also learned the word for “ice cubes” but I have forgotten it. Luckily I rarely use ice cubes, so no great loss. Most of all I am proud of myself for successfully asking “Do you have an espresso machine?” which is an important inquiry to be able to make. Tienes una maquina de espresso? (Note to self: learn how to type the upside-down question mark before a sentence and learn what it is called.)

My afternoon today was the “Caribbean Culture” excursion, a visit to a few important sites in Puerto Plata with a guide who taught us some basic cultural and historical information along the way. We began in the town square, which features some Victorian architecture, a cathedral, and statues of two heroes from Dominican history, Juan Pablo Duarte and General Gregorio Luperon. Facing the square is the bright-yellow Neoclassical-style town hall featuring the arms of the city. On the coat of arms appear an F and a Y for Ferdinand and Isabella, a reference to this island’s history as a Spanish colony.

The gazebo in the town square

The gazebo in the town square

The city hall

The city hall

The square from across the street

The square from across the street

The cathedral, San Felipe, is of course vastly different from the elaborate stone edifices seen in Europe but it fits the architecture of the square and the reality of the climate. Our guide mentioned that the cathedral was restored and improved most recently in 2010, including the addition of air conditioning for Sundays when everyone comes to Mass. Today, a Thursday, the A/C was off and the windows and doors were wide open. I did not get to follow my usual practice of lighting a candle at the Sacred Heart shrine (I am not Catholic but I have cultivated a habit of doing this when I visit cathedrals) because this cathedral did not have candles available in exchange for donations. BYOC: Bring Your Own Candle. I will know for next time and proceed accordingly.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Sacred Heart altar

Sacred Heart altar

Leaving the square we crossed the street to a vendor’s cart; he had fresh coconuts, a machete, and straws and we all got to have fresh coconut water. That was a minor revelation to me: I have had packaged coconut water a few times and don’t care for it because it always tastes, well, packaged. This coconut water had a very mild taste that combined sweetness and a sort of vegetable freshness. I enjoyed it and am convinced that it helped keep me from getting dehydrated during the tour.

Intimidatingly large!

Intimidatingly large!

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Next step: souvenirs! We visited a large souvenir shop that was about 1/3 jewelry made from amber and larimar. The DR produces a lot of amber and they are very proud of their amber production. We learned that real amber will float in saltwater whereas fake amber will sink. Good to know, right? Larimar is a blue stone that is apparently found only in the DR. I had never heard of it but had noticed it even in the gift shops here on the ship. It is pale blue to deep aqua blue veined with white and the story goes that the person who discovered it named it for his daughter’s name plus “mar” for the sea. To me it really does look like some of the colors I saw in the water as the ship was sailing along.

With souvenirs in hand we went on to Fort San Felipe. The fort is on the coast and was built in the 16th century to protect the entrance to the city and its sugar refineries. It was also used in the 19th century as a jail and Juan Pablo Duarte was imprisoned there at one time. I was struck by how broadly similar the construction was to that of William the Conqueror’s castle in Normandy and Cahir Castle in Ireland, though those structures are not really close chronologically. Maybe there are only so many ways to build a fort if you’re a European? One room inside the fort held a series of placards announcing “firsts” in the Americas that belong to the Dominican Republic: first cities to be awarded a coat of arms, first book written in Castilian, first university. One could argue that those firsts are problematic as they all belong to the country’s Spanish colonial background, but it’s clear that the country is proud of them.

Fort San Felipe

Fort San Felipe

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

The final stop was a fascinating place called Mares that houses a restaurant, art gallery, gift shop, and a small botanical garden growing beautiful orchids. After a few days’ exposure to more disadvantaged areas it was interesting to see that there is more economic diversity in Puerto Plata than I realized—the area around Mares is more residential and established, with paved streets and larger houses. And after a warm day and a fair amount of walking and looking, it was nice to spend some time in this unexpected oasis. We had fresh fruit and chips with fresh salsa between photographing the orchids and chatting with the artist whose work was on display. It was a pleasant way to end the day.

Inside the botanical garden

Inside the botanical garden

Our route back to Amber Cove took us along a 7-kilometer stretch of beach and past a statue of Neptune that stands on a small island offshore. It also took us through a gas station and past a tire shop because our bus had a tire that was leaking air. Not to worry, though: we got back with no problem in time to have dinner and talk about our adventures. Tomorrow the ship sails at noon and I can’t believe this adventure is nearly over.

One final note: today I tore one of my contact lenses as I was cleaning them! In thirty years wearing lenses this is only the second time I’ve torn a lens. Because I never tear lenses and I was only going to be gone a week, I did not bring an extra pair. To my chagrin I am stuck wearing my battered 8-year-old glasses for the rest of the trip. Be prepared, dear readers! Bring the extra lenses!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Last field trip of 2015: Musée du Quai Branly

For our final field trip of 2015 I took my class to the Musée du Quai Branly, “where cultures dialogue.” After a month of Renaissance art, Gothic architecture, white marble statues, and Le Nôtre gardens, it is good to be reminded that the rest of the world makes art too. We had a great discussion about this museum in class today; my students are getting really smart about noticing curatorial choices and how objects are presented. The Quai Branly does a good job contextualizing objects that are bound to be unfamiliar to most of its visitors. Along the way it also shows how universal certain objects and practices are. It’s a great museum.

A “soul boat” from a coming-of-age ritual practiced in Indonesia

Masks are everywhere in the Quai Branly.

This shield is from Papua New Guinea but looks like Beowulf could have carried it.

One of the figures in the “soul boat”

Wolf-headed figures representing an Aztec god

Aztec goddesses

Mexican folk art

An ancestral pole from British Columbia

Some of the figures on the pole

A protective statue from Gabon

The Quai Branly’s holdings that are not formally on display are shelved behind glass in the middle of the museum.

My standard joke is that these are my students–actually they are slit gongs from somewhere in Africa (I don’t remember which country).

These are actually my students. I’m going to miss them.
From the museum we walked to Rue Cler, which is a well-known market street that also contains several cafés and restaurants. Our original plan was to pick up food for a picnic and take it to the Eiffel Tower, but yesterday was chilly and windy and the museum was oddly cold. So we opted to eat indoors instead and wound up in a casual but well-decorated Italian restaurant where everyone inhaled large quantities of pizza and pasta. It was just the right thing after a long-ish walk on a windy day.
I walked back to the métro the long way after lunch: from Ecole Militaire métro stop where I dropped off my students, back past the Eiffel Tower, all the way to Alma-Marceau métro stop. It was a roundabout route but I got a few good photos out of it:

We finished up the day with a very convivial faculty dinner. After running out of wine at our last dinner, we may have overcompensated slightly & ended up with about 4 unopened bottles. But I merely wanted to make sure my colleagues drank my bottle of Vouvray Petillant, which they did very cheerfully. Success! It’s great to work with people that you actually want to have dinner with.

5 more sleeps till home. Some students have asked me if I’m eager to get back and I say I’m 50% eager, 50% sad to leave.

Un regard ouvert sur la Grande Mosquée

On my first trip to France in 2004 (when I was a student rather than a professor on Study Abroad), we had a little cultural orientation at the beginning of our stay and we learned that Americans have un regard ouvert, which means “an open look.” Compared to other cultures we look other people in the eye more readily and we are quicker to presume or create relationships with others whereas the French are more private. We were told about this idea in the context of a warning: be careful about looking people in the eye on the street (it’s not done) and be ready for more formality and social distance than you are used to. So over lunch today I told my students about this idea. They readily understood and agreed that it was correct, but also said that they think un regard ouvert is good because it means you’re open to new people and situations, and you are willing to take an interest in others. From their perspective, I can’t disagree, and they carry their open eyes into our class and our field trips in a very positive way.

So today we took our American openness to the Grande Mosquée and then to its attached café for lunch. Dr. Yahgoobi brought her class to the mosque with us as well. Click through for the details and pictures, s’il vous plaît?

We had the same tour guide, Yemina, as last year. She is very friendly, obviously loves her faith and is a great ambassador for a religion that is not always regarded positively. She’s also patient with my imperfect skills as a translator, so I was happy to see her again!

The mosque was constructed between 1922 and 1926 from stone, marble, plaster, ceramic, and wood, with decorations in mosaic tile, stucco, and cedar of Lebanon. Most of the woodwork, several chandeliers, and some of the wall hangings were donated by imams and kings from other countries.

The horseshoe-shaped arches are typical of the “hispano-mauresque” style.

Stucco decorations–made of marble dust mixed with plaster. See the calligraphy inset?

Mosaic decoration–the dark brown tile above the mosaic has calligraphy that tells the story of the mosque in verse as well as representing some Koranic verses.

Yemina explained that helping construct a mosque is thought of as something like a donation and that it makes you a part of the mosque’s history. Since Islam does not practice iconography at all (no images of people or animals) the whole mosque is decorated only with geometric patterns and calligraphy. The garden contains beautiful rose bushes (still in bloom–I told Yemina that roses in Georgia finished blooming weeks ago), citrus trees, and fig trees as well as fountains and little basins.

The crescent represents the Muslim lunar calendar. The star represents the 5 pillars of Islam: the shahadah, prayer 5 times a day, giving to the poor, observing Ramadan, and the hajj.

A square minaret, typical of North African mosques.

The students were very attentive through the tour and asked some good questions. I got a little tangled up in what I thought I remembered about Islam (from my high school World Religions class in 1990, cough cough) and Yemina had to set me straight but it all worked out. I learned from Dr. Yaghoobi that “shahadah,” the name of the Muslim profession of faith (“There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet, may peace be upon him”) means “testimony.” When Yemina recited it in French she said “Je temoigne que . . . ” at the beginning: “I testify that . . . ”  Somehow the whole thing made a lot more sense to me after that.

We took pictures together:

Then we ate in the café. For unfamiliar food it’s good to have un regard ouvert. If we learned nothing else today we learned what couscous is, what a tagine is, and why mint tea is a good idea. One student ordered “pastilla” and was surprised, although not displeased, to receive a meat pie. This is what I love about study abroad: you learn something everywhere you go!
Mint tea, y’all.

From “What’s couscous?” to “Can we get more couscous?” in 1 hour or less.

Epic Loire Valley Sightseeing Weekend

This year, the EC Paris program and other European Council programs decided to add a “bonus” to each program in some form, both to take advantage of this year’s favorable exchange rates and to help attract students. The Paris program’s “bonus” was a weekend trip to the Loire Valley to see some of the famous châteaux. It was an excellent trip and I am writing this post in the autocar on the way back. It will be light on narrative but heavy on pictures, so get comfortable and click through…

We set out Friday morning from Paris in 2 autocars. Ours was piloted by our trusty driver Guy and we were led by our old friend Tour Guide Josh. We arrived at our first destination, Amboise, before lunch and had plenty of time to visit the castle and enjoy a good meal in town. I had not been to Amboise before. It is very impressive and definitely shows the military and strategic roots of chateau architecture.

Amboise castle from below

Tour Guide Josh gives the history of the castle

Exterior views 

For lunch, Daniel and I and Dr. Mann went to a charcuterie and got “ardoises” (slates) of mixed cheese, charcuterie, and cold salads. Everything was delicious! I can’t remember what the cheeses were called but one was a goat cheese that’s grey on the outside–we would see it again, twice, before the weekend was over. We had more than we could eat and yet we still managed to get ice cream afterward. How does that happen?

Getting lunch in Amboise

Our lunch!

The view from our table

From Amboise we continued into Tours, which would be our base for Friday and Saturday night. Because we are a large group (almost 100 people counting students, professors, bus drivers, and tour guides), we were split between 2 hotels. One hotel, St. Eloi, was closer to the center of Tours. Our hotel, La Terrasse, was outside of town but right on the tram line so we could easily go downtown. We had a very quick city tour from Josh including some cathedral ruins that are right in the town center. Standing in front of the two towers, which once made up the northwest and southeast corners of the transept, respectively, you suddenly have a new perspective on the size of a cathedral that comes from examining how many normal-sized houses and shops can fit into the space where the cathedral once was. It’s amazing.

This is the southeast corner tower

Looking northwest to the other tower

This is the basilica that replaced the ruined cathedral but not until the 1800s.
Close-up of the northwest tower which is called the Charlemagne tower
View from where we ate dinner–a medieval half-timbered house.

We had a very traditional French dinner that night at a restaurant called Le Bouchon Tourangeau that is right off the main square, Place Plumereau, in Tours. For my entree I had chevre chaud (there’s that goat cheese again) on a salad, followed by andouillette and frites, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. Let me explain about andouillette: it is delicious, but like a lot of delicious French food (especially cheese), it smells terrible. The most polite word I can find to describe the smell of andouillette is “Swiftian.”  Or maybe “earthy.” And yet it is sooooo tasty. Again: how does that happen?

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and got a leisurely 10 a.m. start for our winery tour and tasting in Vouvray. We toured the “cave” (in this case a literal cave though sometimes it just means a cellar!) where Vouvray wines are aged for at least a year before they are sold. It was a fascinating enviroment and interesting to learn about. Then we went on to taste 3 different Vouvray wines plus some local snacks (GOAT CHEESE). Tasting wine at 11:30 a.m. was a little unusual but fun! I bought a bottle of my favorite of the wines we tasted, a “petillant,” “demi-sec” Vouvray. In the wine world “petillant” means “half-fizzy” (all the way fizzy is “mousseux”) and “demi-sec” is semi-dry. I am excited to open it next time the professors get together to raise a glass.

Daniel & Dr. Mann with Guy
Students walking into the cave

Madeleine, our tour guide at the winery, in front of a rack of 15,000+ bottles.

Goat . . . (wait for it)


The wines we tasted–the middle one is the one I bought.

From the winery we went on to Chenonceau, a short hop down the road. I had been to Chenonceau before but was more than happy to go again. It is so beautiful. I could probably have sat all day just looking at it!

Students listening to Josh’s introduction

I was there! (And using my worst posture, apparently.)

After lunch in Chenonceau we returned to Tours and had time to catch a nap before heading back downtown in Tours for dinner and some fun. We ate pizza (don’t worry; it was French: there was a fried egg on it) and walked down toward the riverfront where there is a little strip of bars and restaurants called La Guinguette. On the way, we stopped to ride the Ferris wheel that is in another square right next to the river. The views were breathtaking at sunset.

Down at the river Daniel managed to befriend some guys with guitars (OF COURSE HE DID) and they jammed around playing classic French music for a while as everyone relaxed and enjoyed the riverfront scene. But today was an earlier start–9 a.m. departure–so we did not stay out too late. Today we had a slightly packed agenda with a stop at Chambord for photos, followed by lunch in Chartres and a look at the cathedral, and then “home” to Paris. These were also the longest sections of the drive with a generous 90 minutes separating each stop, so we have been a bit rushed to get everything in. But it was worth the stop to see Chambord again (less worth it to pay 50 cents to use a porta-potty, merci beaucoup, domaine de Chambord):

And I am always thrilled to see Chartres again especially now that the restoration is really coming along. A large part of the nave is covered in scaffolding right now, but there is plenty left to see. And the restoration is extraordinary. The somber gloom that we associate with cathedrals is wonderful enough, but seeing the stone scrubbed white and the faux marble painted is thrilling. I can only wish we’d spent a bit less time eating cheeseburgers with our students and a bit more time in the cathedral. On the other hand, we are here for the students and lunch was good fun.

I love this plaque because it talks about students coming to Chartres on pilgrimages.

Notre Dame du Pilier

Left to right: completed restoration, non-restored, restoration in progress

The main altar: already fully restored

Arches & keystones above the main altar
Look, I was there too!

So now we are rolling back to Paris in our autocars and getting ready for next week. It’s going to be a mad scramble for the washing machines but a good weekend trip is always worth the laundry you have to do afterward.

Update at time of posting: Going straight to the laundry room from the autocar is the secret to success. À bientôt!

Anatomy of a Steak Tartare

This blog is teetering on the edge of total disarray because so much has been going on that I almost can’t keep up with it. In addition to teaching, field trips, and a couple of other fun excursions, I’ve been to the doctor three times this week with sick or injured faculty or students. THREE TIMES. Today when I sat down in his office, “our” doctor looked at me across the desk and said “Vous savez, nous sommes fermé le dimanche.”* Everybody wash your hands and be careful out there, okay?

So in between trips to the doctor’s office I have managed to get in some top-quality cultural experiences. Last night with Dr. Kirk’s class I saw L’Anatomie de la sensation by Wayne McGregor at the Paris Opera Ballet. It was an incredible experience. I have plenty of background with ballet but none with contemporary ballets such as this one, set to a piece of music titled “Blood on the Floor” and featuring a high-tech movable set. The dancing was simply extraordinary. Contemporary dance is fairly easy to do badly but incredibly evocative when done well. This ballet does not have a storyline but instead focuses on the quality of movement and the shifting relationships among the dancers, so it really shows off the artistry and the technical prowess of the company.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to see it and disappointed when it was over–I probably won’t get a chance but I was tempted to attend a second performance just to study the dancing again.

Today’s highlight was a visit to Les Tontons with the 4 students who had signed up for my “Dinner Club.” Dinner Club is one of the optional activities our program is offering; professors choose a restaurant for dinner and students sign up to go with them. I picked Les Tontons on my Parisian friend’s recommendation because their specialty is beef tartare. Two years ago I discovered that I love tartare. Meanwhile, most Americans probably haven’t tried it and/or are horrified by the idea of eating uncooked chopped beef. So I was surprised when I posted my Dinner Club on Facebook and 4 students immediately signed up. Three of them ordered tartare poêlé (seared), which I think is cheating, but you have to start somewhere, right? They were all very enthusiastic and everyone cleaned their plates, so I’m calling this Dinner Club a success. Les Tontons is relaxed and friendly, not at all touristique, and of course the food is excellent. Next time I might splurge and get the Tartare A.O.C.–see if my little American palate can tell the difference.

My choice: tartare traditionnel, frites, salade (not pictured: a 1664 en pression and a chocolate mousse for dessert).

The students with their meals.

Tomorrow we go to the Loire Valley to see the châteaux for the weekend. I am so excited. Get ready for LOTS of pictures.

*”You know, we are closed on Sundays.” He was teasing me, and in fact I was amused and touched that he cracked a joke because he has seemed very deadpan and shy in the past.

Breakfast in America and Dinner on a Boat

Field trip day #2 for my World Lit. class. I think this means half of our field trips are already done! Holy cow. That makes me feel like time is flying, but in fact we do not have a field trip next Tuesday because that’s Bastille Day. So it doesn’t really mean the program is half over. Whew.

We went to the Musée Carnavalet which is an eternal favorite of mine. It is the museum of the history of Paris and it illustrates the ways in which Paris has changed throughout its history. It’s also a beautiful structure–2 hôtels particuliers put together–and worth going just to see the building:

This was my third time at the Carnavalet so I did not take very many pictures inside but I still love the shop signs:
18C cats: vaguely horrifying, at least when made of metal.

My first take was a barbershop but I’m sure these scissors probably represented a tailor.
Also found this great painting of Voltaire dictating to his secretary while getting dressed:
The audioguide said that the painter, Jean Huber, was a friend of Voltaire’s and did a whole series of paintings of him in distinctly domestic/non-glamorous circumstances. Voltaire ultimately felt that Huber had imposed on their friendship, which is probably true, but I love the reminder that this great philosopher and writer was also a real person and didn’t just look like this all the time:
This summer I’ve been requiring students to participate in field trip planning and execution, including input on where we eat lunch. Today they picked Breakfast in America, a place I’ve known about for years but never visited. Although I am a “When in Rome…”person and don’t choose to eat American food when overseas, I know how evocative and comforting food can be when one is homesick. And I have to admit that B.I.A. knows its way around a burger and fries. The class was pleased with their American-style lunch; the server was incredibly nice and obliging; and now we have a place to go when Daniel gets really desperate for eggs and bacon in the morning.
(But next time we’re going to L’As du Fallafel. Because I’m the teacher and I said so.)
No sooner had we returned from the Marais than it was time to get ready for the dîner croisière a.k.a. Dinner on a Boat. This is the second year we have done a “formal” dinner on the Seine and it is a lot of fun. Everybody got there in good time and looked splendid. Luckily the few drops of rain that started to fall as we were waiting to board did not dampen us or our spirits too much as we boarded the boat. Daniel and I sat with Dr. Guglielmi and his wife and we did so much chatting during the meal that I did not take a single photo. This might mean we have to do another dinner cruise once our friends get here in a couple more weeks, right? Then, unfortunately, the sky opened as we were disembarking and we got pretty wet on the way back to the RER. But by then everyone was in the mood to have fun and took their best “soaking wet in Paris” selfies on the walk while laughing it off and huddling under umbrellas. 
The company we use is Bateaux Parisiens; while I have not tried any others and can’t compare, I think the food is pretty good, the service is pleasant, and it’s overall an enjoyable atmosphere. It’s a relaxed and unique way to see the monuments of Paris. And the students really have an excellent time. After a few days in the routine of classes and field trips it is good to put on a nice dress and be served a nice meal. It’s even better if you bring your dance partner and he gets you out on the floor as dessert is being served. I’ve heard there is video so I’ll see if I can add a link to this post later on.
In the words of Samuel Pepys: And so to bed.

2015’s first field trip: Musée du Moyen-Age

The program calendar turned out a little weird this year with our first classes happening on a Friday (yesterday) and the first round of morning class field trips today (Saturday). I was very happy with the weird calendar because it meant I could take my class to the Musée du Moyen-Age–that is its official name, Museum of the Middle Ages, but most people still call it the Cluny. It’s a natural fit for my class (World Literature I) but it’s closed on Tuesdays, which is my usual field trip day, so I’ve never been able to take a class there before.

The Cluny consists of 2 buildings that have been renovated and put together through the addition of some modern hallways and staircases. One building is the remains of an ancient Roman bath dating to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D., the Thermae. The other is the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny, a 15th-century hôtel particulier (city mansion) that originally belonged to a monastic order and the abbot thereof. It houses a collection of medieval artifacts of which the best known is probably the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. They are breathtaking!

We arrived at the museum in plenty of time to sign up for a guided tour in English at 11 a.m. and, in fact, to take pictures in the courtyard before the tour started. I saw a group of women–tourists from Beijing, as it turned out–photographing each other and decided to ask if they wanted a picture together. They very excitedly said yes so I took their picture and then they all wanted to take pictures with me! One of my students said that Chinese people are very grateful and excited when Westerners are nice to them. I don’t know if that’s true as a cultural value but it certainly was in this case and these ladies were very sweet.

After the photo op it was time for the tour to start. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable woman named Florence who not only taught us all a lot about medieval European culture but also answered the students’ questions in impressive depth. The guided tour was worth the extra 4€ we paid for it, I think. Sometimes I scorn guided tours but then they almost always turn out to be good. Let’s click through for some photos, shall we?

Courtyard of the museum
Students waiting for the tour to start

Another view of the courtyard

The gate into the courtyard

The Hôtel du Cluny had its own well–a sign of the wealth and prestige of its owners.

Detail of a stained glass window. Florence explained that elements like eyes and hair were painted in even when they would be too far away for people to see: it was more important that they be there than that they be visible, which is a sort of allegory for Christian faith.

My students checking out the ancient Roman frigidarium (cold room). You can’t underestimate the thrill, for an American, of just standing in a place that’s 1800 years old.

Florence explains the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

Students listening with the “Mon Seul Desir” tapestry in the background.

Visigothic votive crowns from 700 CE, around the same time Beowulf was probably composed.

Infant Christ giving a blessing. I just realized that I love this statue because he looks like a baby version of Buddy Christ.

The Pilierde Nautes is the single oldest surviving monument in Paris, dating from 17-34 CE. This side is a dedication to the gods, carved in Roman capitals.

Another part of the Pilier de Nautes

Detail from the Lady and the Unicorn

Flamboyant Gothic ceiling in the Cluny chapel

Original heads from Notre Dame cathedral’s Portal of Kings

One of my students pointed out this face in the carving around a courtyard window.
This was a great first field trip. After the tour we went to lunch and all of the students agreed that they wanted to go back to the museum in the afternoon. I was not sure whether they would be interested in the Cluny at all so I was very pleased!

Friday, August 1: Giverny & Val d’Oise

To round out the program we took the whole group to Giverny (Claude Monet’s home and garden) this morning and to Auvers-sur-Oise (village where Vincent Van Gogh is buried) in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day; Giverny was miraculously not-horribly-crowded; Auvers is lovely and seemed like a real change from the city despite being part of the Île de France region (i.e. part of “greater Paris,” sort of). As we drove into town I was entertaining myself by choosing the houses I’d like to live in. Unfortunately the one I liked best had an asking price over 500,000€ ! So I am not moving to Auvers-sur-Oise any time soon.

We did have an unexpected adventure when it was time to come home but even that turned out all right as I got to come back on train “H,” which I think is one of the suburban lines that Annabel mentioned a while back. It was a really snazzy train! Now I am taking a break from packing. I decided to start tonight so I could have more of tomorrow free. So far, so good. I’ve stopped worrying that my suitcase will weigh 100kg and there are no longer clothes all over my bed. Tomorrow will be strange as I will feel like the clock is ticking–because it will be! So let’s hold that at bay a while longer and look at some pictures instead. Fair warning: if you don’t like flowers, you should NOT click through . . .

Toward the entry to the Japanese garden at Giverny

The famous water lilies

Maybe the best pic I took all day?

I love this flower.

A mum that has not even begun to think about blooming

They claim that this fluffnugget is a chicken. I’m skeptical.

“I’m not just a rooster; I’m a rooster that lives at Monet’s house!”

Unfortunately you can’t take photos inside the house.

Notre Dame d’Auvers-sur-Oise. Originally built in the 12th century.

WWI memorial in the church

Vincent and his brother Theo Van Gogh’s grave

A statue of the other well-known painter from Auvers, Charles-François Daubigny

Main street in Auvers–
we had a cold drink under one of those red umbrellas and it was very pleasant!
Fair warning #2: Depending on how tomorrow goes, I may or may not have a chance to blog. Next entry may be datelined “Macon, Georgia.” Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, July 29: Returning to the Musée Carnavalet

Some of my students in World Lit. expressed interest in the Musée Carnavalet, so today we went there as our last field trip for the course. It was my second time there (first visit, last summer, reported here) but the museum is extensive enough that I know I saw some things I had not seen before. The only downside of today’s visit was that a good bit of the museum was closed for renovation. I was more disappointed for my students’ sake than for my own, but they all enjoyed it regardless and reported that they had learned a lot. Tomorrow I am going to ask each person to share something specific that he or she learned. I also have my own interesting fact in reserve–but I’m saving it for tomorrow!

So the Carnavalet is in the Marais district, which has evolved over the centuries from an aristocratic neighborhood of hôtels particuliers to a Jewish quarter to a gay neighborhood. The first time I visited Paris (ten years ago!), the Marais was thought of as not being very touristy, but nowadays it sees its share of tourist traffic. In fact, the Marais itself represents a phenomenon that the Carnavalet illustrates: the ways in which Paris has changed and continues to change. Because Hausmann so radically reinvented the city starting in the mid-19th-century, it’s easy to believe that Paris has always looked the way it looks now. Very little of medieval and Renaissance Paris remains. A lot of what one sees at the Carnavalet is paintings of the city in its earlier incarnations, restored rooms from various hôtels particuliers of the 18th century, and even archaeological findings from the days when the Romans lived here and called it “Lutetia.” All in all it is a great education. I don’t know whether I want to read a book on Parisian history to understand the Carnavalet better or just keep going to the Carnavalet until I understand the history of Paris better. Maybe both.

In addition to the Carnavalet, which is the museum of the history of Paris, it offers a lot of good shopping and a lot of good falafel. The famous L’As du Falafel restaurant is there; I like to be iconoclastic and hit the falafel stand across from L’As because the line is shorter. After the Carnavalet I enjoyed my falafel and went for a gelato at Amorino next to the Place de Vosges–gotta eat enough this week to give me good culinary memories to last a year, after all.

Meanwhile, I did take some pictures at the Carnavalet. Click through!

The garden is taking more of a potager direction this year.

Still some beautiful flowers, though, too.

The first room you enter is my favorite: full of shop signs from before the streets began to be numbered. This one offers a free croissant to anyone who buys a coffee for 15 or 20 centimes.

Model of a tram car from the beginning of the 20th century

A cat from a shop sign

“Au Persan” (At the Sign of the Persian), a cashmere shop

Newspaper sign

The Carnavalet is another “worth going just to see the building” museum.

Obligatory mirrored-room selfie

Rousseau’s seal: “Devote your life to the truth.”

A clock depicting Voltaire and Rousseau arguing–
the sort of thing that makes me think I will NEVER fully understand the French.

Louis XVI-era room–the Carnavalet has several rooms like this, 
salvaged/reconstructed from other hôtels particuliers.

The invention of the hot-air balloon spawned a craze for ballooning-themed decorative arts.

This hand and a foot are the only remaining pieces of a statue of Louis XV 
that was destroyed in the Revolution. 

A painting that depicts public celebrations of the birth of the Dauphin, 1782. This area is Les Halles which, today, is a large underground mall and a rather disagreeable metro/RER station.

17th-century painted and gilded ceiling from a different hôtel particulier. It was conserved in the town hall of the 8th arrondissement until it came to the Carnavalet in 1879, and was restored in the late 90s/early 2000s. 

The back garden.

My students taking a museum break

Model of the Arènes de Lutèce, which we visited last week

L’église St-Paul St-Louis: you will see it en route from the St-Paul metro stop to the Carnavalet.

Thursday, July 24: Where they make Brussels sprouts

Today I went with Dr. Scalera and her class to Brussels for the day. It only takes 80 minutes in the Thalys high-speed train to get there. I love trains! In the morning we visited the EU parliament building and the “Parliamentarium,” which is a museum all about the EU parliament. Trust me: it’s a lot cooler than it sounds. Dr. Guglielmi met up with us and escorted us to Chez Leon for a traditional lunch of moules frites (not “fried mussels” but “mussels and fries”), then in the afternoon we went to the chocolate museum (CHOCOLATE MUSEUM), saw the Mannikin Pis (because you have to), and bought souvenirs around the Grand Place. Brussels is gorgeous and I’m just sorry we couldn’t stay longer and get to know it better. The day seemed to go by in a flash and now that I sit here thinking back on it I can’t believe how many things we did.

On with the photos!

Paris’s Gare du Nord and its clicky schedule board, which I love

Looking down the platform at Gare du Nord

EU Parliament chamber

This photo is for one person–she knows who she is.

EU Parliament selfie!

Flags of all the EU nations

Outside the Parliamentarium

Inside the Parliamentarium: all kinds of multimedia exhibits

A representation of the parliament’s membership, divided into its political groups. 
Notice that the little wooden “people” are also differentiated male/female.

Nobel Peace Prize certificate awarded to the EU
Nobel Prize medal–never seen one in person before!

On this map of Europe, you roll the little stands around to different cities on the map and the screen in the stand plays something about that city and its role in the EU.

Globes representing the EU’s work in various sectors and subjects 
like human rights and election monitoring

Lunch at Chez Léon: moules!

In the Grand Place (great square) in Brussels

Dr. Scalera’s class with Dr. Guglielmi

Looking back toward the Grand Place from a side street

Inside the Chocolate Museum, dresses and hats made of chocolate

A Napoleon III-era traveling chocolate set

Collection of chocolate pots and their whisks

Demonstrating the making of pralines (filled chocolates–different from what pralines are in the U.S.)

Outside the Chocolate Museum

Another view of the Grand Place

The streets are full of these tall, narrow, side-by-side buildings

It was a gorgeous day!

The Mannikin Pis is really tiny.

And at the moment he is dressed up for Belgium’s national day, which was Monday.

Back to the Grand Place

St. Nicholas Church, originally built in the 12th century

Looking up at a building façade from a café terrace