A grand day out in Florence

Hello from Florence where I have had a fantastic day! We left Siena at 10 a.m. and got to the Florence airport by 11. I successfully got a shuttle to the main train station and then a taxi to my hotel. Could have gone the whole way in a taxi for about €4 more but let’s say I spent that money on gelato instead. The taxi ride was extraordinary: it felt like a spiral through smaller and smaller streets till we reached the hotel, which (a) is on a street barely one car wide, (b) is in a 600-year-old building, and (c) is down the street from where Michelangelo lived as a kid. My room is on the 5th floor and to no one’s surprise there is no elevator. Once again I’m glad to have packed light. A large suitcase would not even have fit up the stairs.

Michelangelo lived a few steps from my hotel.

I had a 2 p.m. reservation to climb the cupola of the Duomo, so plenty of time to walk around, look around, have coffee and a snack, get lost, get found, and run over to the Duomo museum office when I found out I was missing a piece of paper that I needed in order to get in. Note to future visitors: if you book the combined ticket and reserve your time to climb the cupola, you must present the time reservation and the ticket itself when you enter. But if, like me, you forget the ticket, you can go around the corner to the museum and they will re-print it for you. May you also be as lucky as I am and experience only a small rain shower while waiting in line, then blue sky when you get to the top of the dome 463 steps later. It is a strenuous climb but so worth it. Definitely the highlight of the Duomo, which is beautiful on the outside (similar style to Siena’s Duomo) but surprisingly stark on the inside except for the incredible fresco inside the cupola. The view from the top is an illustration of Renaissance city planning: it looks like an old engraved map brought to life, with buildings cheek by jowl and streets winding everywhere. If you’re able, I recommend making the climb. It will also make your Fitbit or Apple Watch happy. I felt utterly justified in having a panini and a gelato afterward!

Outside the Duomo–utterly impossible to fit into one picture.

Waiting to climb the cupola.

About halfway up the climb, a much-needed break and photo op.

The bell tower is also part of the Duomo. I could have climbed it too–another 200 steps!

I was there. And my front camera was dirty.

In the bottom foreground you can see the curve of the dome.

You can walk around and see 360 degrees of Florence spread out around you.

A little closer to getting it all in one shot!

The ceiling of the Baptistery–somehow the outside of it is not in any of my pictures.

My next stop was the San Lorenzo leather market—an assignment from a friend who loves Florence and gave me good advice on haggling to get the best price. “Take cash and make them take off 30%,” she said. Florence is a historical center for leather production—there’s a leatherworking school that I may try to visit tomorrow if I can—and there are leather shops everywhere as well as this large open-air market at Piazza San Lorenzo with stall after stall of bags, jackets, wallets, belts, etc. I walked through and looked for a little while and finally started picking out some inexpensive keyrings. The man tending the stall showed me a cool bag that could be worn as a shoulder bag or a backpack, so I said yes to that once we agreed on a price. It’s an interesting experience if you are not used to assertive salesmen or dickering over prices. I’ll just echo my friend’s advice: don’t pay the marked price on anything! I actually got about 45% off and I don’t think I drive a particularly hard bargain.

By the time I finished at San Lorenzo I had walked a lot and was getting tired, but I remembered I wanted to go to the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It’s a 600-year-old perfume shop near the main train station, and it’s worth going just to see the building and smell the wares. It’s so elaborate that it might be a little intimidating, but when I went in, it was thronging with tourists, including baby strollers and even a dog, so don’t hesitate to visit. The glass cases around the walls are full of the antique equipment that used to be used to make the products. It’s definitely a place where the old world meets the new, and in that sense it’s a microcosm of Florence itself.

Inside the Santa Maria Novella shop

At last I headed back to my hotel to drop off my purchases and accept their offer of a voucher for 10% off a meal at a nearby trattoria. Just hoping to stay awake through the meal, I arrived 10 minutes before they officially opened (fatally American—Italians eat late and I am incapable of doing so) and dispatched my dinner with such a quickness that the hotel receptionist was clearly surprised at how soon I came back. “Did you go to the trattoria?” he asked. “Did you eat? Was everything good?” I would like it noted for the record that this conversation took place in Italian and that the answer to all the questions was Si. I had a green salad, a bowl of ribollita, a little bit of white wine, and a gratuitous cappuccino. Ribollita (Tuscan bread soup) is delicious, filling, inexpensive, and vegetarian: you should try it.

Dinner: so Italian it hurts.

And so to bed soon although Florence is clearly still rockin’. It’s been a while since I have slept over a lively pedestrian street. Shades of Cité Universitaire and summers in Paris. Tomorrow, rain is predicted but I have a ticket for the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti so I plan to stay dry inside and overdose on fine art.

Hello Suitcase/Goodbye Siena

My suitcase’s fan club can be reassured that we have been reunited. It was delivered late last night–after 11:30 p.m., I just found out, so I didn’t see it till this morning or open it until this afternoon. Wearing fresh clothes to dinner tonight was pretty exciting. But this experience could open a new frontier in the art of packing light: bring only 2 outfits, wash one every night. (Probably not.)

Today was our last day in Siena; tomorrow we go to Florence where I will spend the weekend and Dorothée will go on to France to spend the weekend with her family. We spent the morning working on the program: sat in on an excellent class called “Reading the City as a Textbook” and then met with Luca and Sonia to continue refining the structure of next year’s offerings. After today I am even more confident that we will be able to offer a good variety of classes that will help students progress toward their degrees while making the most of the study abroad experience itself. We had a quick lunch at Osteria del Gatto (same place we ate Tuesday) where I had grilled radicchio, delicious bruschetta, and a bread and tomato stew that Luca described as “very poor food”–as in it was traditionally what poor people ate–but that I am going to be nostalgic for the next time it’s cold and drizzly like it was today. After lunch we went back to the Institute to sit in on part of an Italian language class. My Italian has a looooong way to go, though I’ve found that I can understand basic things, order in restaurants, and sometimes follow conversations. The students were doing very well learning the present progressive tense and vocabulary for family relationships. I am not quite there yet!

“Reading the City as a Textbook”

Later in the afternoon, Luca took us to the Duomo, which is the main cathedral in Siena and properly called the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. It is so unlike other cathedrals I’ve seen. The Gothic style is familiar but the marble is striped, the ceiling is dark blue with gold stars, and the floor is a series of marble mosaics depicting the path to wisdom through classical allegories and figures that lead the viewer to the Christian message of the main altar. It is elaborate, overwhelming, and extraordinary. Luca knows it very well and during our short visit told us more details than I can remember. Cathedrals are such a synthesis of art, philosophy, symbolism, and religion that I think students should see them simply as an exercise in critical thinking. We don’t get as much practice as we should at combining ideas in this way, but seeing a cathedral–if you take the time to really learn about it–requires it.

The exterior of the Duomo

Looking toward the cathedral entrance

The dome of the cathedral–looking up is a little dizzying!

The Virgin Mary is the “queen” of Siena.

We left the Duomo around 4:30 and I walked back to the hotel in the rain for a much-needed nap. Dinner was not until 8:00 tonight and I wasn’t going to survive without some extra sleep! Sonia came to the hotel to collect Dorothée and me, and we met Jim and his wife Carol on the way. The young secretaries at the Institute had picked out a restaurant for us called Osteria Babazuf. It was sort of high-concept–the front page of the menu actually made reference to semiotics, and I got a little nervous when I ordered something called an “eggplant tower,” but the food was excellent and the atmosphere was comfortable. After the eggplant tower I had pasta with butter and truffles and that was so delicious! Somehow I still found room for a salted caramel mousse for dessert. But the highlight of the meal was a celebratory toast to the fact that I had a different outfit on!

Truffle pasta: YES PLZ

So tonight we said goodbye to Jim, Carol, and Sonia; tomorrow we’ll say goodbye to Luca. Everyone has been so generous and welcoming. The students that are here this year are clearly having a great experience and I am eager to see some MGA students make the trip in 2019.

Luca, Sonia, Dorothée, me, and Jim

More tomorrow from Florence . . .

Siena: In quale contrada posso trovare la mia valigia?

Facebook comments are suggesting that the actual star of this blog is my missing suitcase, so let me say up front that it is still at large as of this moment (9:50 p.m.) despite the text message I received last night stating that it would be delivered. I suppose it is the case that that message has not yet been proven wrong or inaccurate. Like Schroedinger’s Cat, my suitcase is in a state of quantum indeterminacy. In my ongoing search for the bright side I will note that I have finally learned how to turn on a towel warmer–because I am using it to dry the clothes I washed in the sink–so once again we are reminded that study abroad programs are packed with educational opportunities.

Despite this annoying development, today was an excellent day. We spent the morning with the co-owners of the Dante Alighieri Institute (the school that hosts and coordinates our program) planning out future offerings and recruitment strategies. The details of the meeting are probably of interest to no one but me, so I will just say that some very appealing plans are in the works for 2019 and beyond. The Institute has connections with the University of Siena and plans to tap faculty members from there to potentially teach for our program. That connection opens up opportunities for course offerings in a multitude of subjects, so we are figuring out how best to combine the talents of USG faculty, Dante Alighieri faculty, and University of Siena faculty. Students considering this program for spring 2019 should stay in touch with me: we hope to have courses selected by the end of April.

From the morning meeting we headed to lunch at another very good restaurant (I need to start writing these names down). I had a delicious traditional soup made of bread, white beans, and greens in a tomato broth, and then a plate of grilled vegetables.  (Me: “If I order both of these, will I have way too much food?” Luca: “No, you’ll be fine.” Me: *stuffed*) Finally, of course, we had coffee and although we had decided against desserts, Luca ordered a plate of biscotti that were so yummy. Would it have been bad manners to put extras in my pockets?

Yep, it’s a picture of my lunch.

The afternoon was spent learning more about the contrade that make up the central city of Siena. These 17 districts date back to the middle ages with ties to both the military–they trained and supplied troops–and the trade guilds as each contrada has a traditional occupation. Luca is a long-time resident and member of the Tower contrada and a true believer in the value of the contrada system, which seems to function as an extended family, neighborhood watch, home team, and miniature government all in one. Both the rivalries and the alliances between contrade date back centuries and are taken very seriously. Tower has two rivals (which is unusual), Wave and Goose. Wave seems to be acknowledged as a respected rival while Goose is regarded with contempt. Siena’s trademark event is the Palio, a terrifying horse race in which horses and jockeys representing the contrade compete–nominally for a silk banner depicting the Virgin Mary but in fact for something more like bragging rights. Strategizing about horse choices, knocking other riders off their horses, and making side deals to get a better position at the starting line are all part of the game. The Palio is taken so seriously that if a woman from one contrada is married to a man from another, she goes to stay with her parents during the Palio period. Each contrada has a museum where they display the palli they have won, the traditional costumes they wear in the Palio procession, and other treasures that belong to them. Tower also has a sort of clubhouse (café/snack bar/neighborhood hangout) and an absolutely extraordinary eighteenth-century chapel. It’s hard to recount it all because I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Sometimes it seems like the contrada system is all in good fun, sometimes it seems like a beautiful embodiment of civic pride, and sometimes it seems like blood sport. Having said yesterday that I still needed to learn a lot more about this system, I succeeded in learning a lot more today, and still feel like I don’t entirely grasp it all. Might be time to accept that I need more than 3 days to get my head around a complex element of a complex culture that has been around for at least 6 centuries.

The weather is nice in Tower contrada!

Outside the Tower Contrada museum

A stone from the original Tower Contrada chapel

The Tower crest inlaid in the chapel floor

The Tower chapel as it exists today

Ceremonial outfits for Palio processions

This is the outfit Luca gets to wear

We ended the day with the Georgia Southern students in cooking class back at the Dante Alighieri Institute. Their program includes a certain number of these cooking classes in which they learn to make a traditional Italian meal and then, of course, they get to eat it! Tonight we learned to make

  • pizza: dough from scratch and 4 different combinations of toppings–we had the pizza as a starter
  • baked whole sea bass: stuffed with chopped herbs and lemon zest, baked, then filleted
  • grilled vegetables to go with the fish
  • tiramisu: egg yolks mixed with mascarpone and then folded into merengue; that mixture is layered with espresso-dipped ladyfingers.

It was all very good–the chefs gave us a lot of help, of course, but none of the work was too complicated except maybe filleting the fish. And even that would become easy with practice. The students have all said they don’t cook very much but I’m hoping they’ll at least take the skills and the memories home and try it all out again later. I am definitely going to make tiramisu again as soon as I have the chance.

And so back to the hotel to confront the continued absence of my suitcase. Tomorrow is another day; my colleagues have reassured me that they really like my black sweater; washing your jeans too often is bad for them anyway. (. . . right?)

Buongiorno Siena: All’s well that ends well

It’s 8:40 p.m. in Siena where I am ensconced in my hotel after a big day. Or day and a half? I left Atlanta at 4:30 p.m. EDT yesterday (Monday) afternoon, landed in Paris at 6:00 CET (Central European Time) this morning (Tuesday), missed my connection to Florence and had to be rebooked, and finally made it to Florence at 11:30 a.m. only to discover that my suitcase did not make the trip to Florence along with me. At least I feel validated in my decision to put a change of clothes in my carry-on!

I had to file a claim at the Florence airport for the suitcase, which will hopefully be delivered tomorrow. After that was done, I met up with Dr. Jim Anderson (former Director of International Education at Armstrong State University, now consultant to the Dante Alighieri Institute here in Florence) and Dr. Dorothée Mertz-Weigel (Director of International Education at Georgia Southern University) for the drive from Florence to Siena. We dropped off our stuff at the hotel, where we were met by Luca Bonomi and Sonia di Centa from the Dante Alighieri Institute, and headed straight to lunch at a small restaurant that Luca knows. Need I specify that the food was delicious? I had “pici”–sort of fat spaghetti with a garlic tomato sauce–and shared in the antipasti ordered for the table: bruschetta (always good; extra good when made with super-fresh olive oil), and wedges of aged Pecorino Romano drizzled with honey and a little pepper (you should eat this right now!). I’m so glad the meal ended with a double espresso or I’d have needed a nap right then and there.

Instead of a nap (remember: no naps on your first day in Europe!), we walked over to the Piazza Publico (public square), popularly called “el Campo,” and toured the city museum. I am glad I am already learning at least a tiny bit about this city’s history, but there’s so much more to learn. Italy is a young country but an old culture, which is interesting: the museum is housed in a building that’s over 600 years old and features 14th-century frescoes but also contains a room from the 19th century celebrating Italy’s unification. I took some pictures:

This building houses the city museum. Tomorrow I will work on finding out what it’s called.

Here’s Luca telling us about the 15th-century fresco depicting an allegory of good government.

Another 15C fresco–Mary and Jesus surrounded by saints as Mary gives a message to the city of Siena.

I photographed this espresso machine so that my espresso machine would have something to aspire to.

In the late afternoon we met for an hour with the 7 students from Georgia Southern who are spending their spring semester here. They were fantastic! Meeting students is always my favorite part of these visits. It’s clear that this group has become expert travelers and gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness by participating in this program. I am looking forward to seeing them again tomorrow evening when we get to join in their cooking class and then eat dinner (i.e., the dinner we will have cooked) with them.

This year’s students with Dr. Jim Anderson

By the time we were done with the students it was too early for dinner by Italian standards, and we’d had a late lunch, so we ended the day with a glass of wine and some appetizers at a patio bar on the Campo. We discussed the 2019 program a little bit this afternoon and evening  but tomorrow we’ll be meeting with Luca and Sonia to really start working out details. Luca is also going to tell us more about the contrade (the neighborhoods that form individual cultural identities within Siena) and take us to the museum celebrating his contrada, Tower. I do not quite understand the contrada phenomenon yet, so tune in tomorrow.

More soon–hoping to do some more Facebook Live or an Instagram video during the cooking class. Everybody hold a good thought for the arrival of my suitcase, please!

25 May 2017: Knights Impact does Concrete Floors & Caribbean Culture

As promised, today was a big day! My cohort had wanted to do the “Concrete Floors in Community Homes” activity as a group but it filled up quickly. By chance, I was the only one who got a spot in it. So at 8:00 this morning I was back in my grubby clothes from Reforestation and rolling out on the bus toward a tiny neighborhood called San Marcos. To reach San Marcos we had to get off the bus on the side of the highway, more or less, and cross a swaying wooden footbridge to reach a dirt road lined with at most a dozen houses. We were working in 3 houses: two that had just one room each needing a floor, and a third that was getting concrete put in throughout the house. I ended up working in the third house. The facilitators introduced us to the owners of the houses, who were incredibly nice but a bit shy. One facilitator mentioned that San Marcos had never had such large groups of visitors before. I am sure they did not know what to make of us. But the owner of the house I worked in warmed up enough to want to show me a picture of his family on the wall, as well as the pigs he was raising in the back yard. I asked the facilitator how people in San Marcos provide for themselves and she said they might work in town but they also raise their own livestock, fruits, and vegetables. We saw cows, chickens, ducks, and a donkey during our morning there as well as the pigs.

IMG_7740 IMG_7742 IMG_7743 IMG_7744 IMG_7747 IMG_7748 IMG_7750 IMG_7752 IMG_7753

We got organized into a bucket brigade pretty quickly while a few volunteers mixed and shoveled the concrete in the middle of the dirt road (N. B.: This arrangement requires work to halt briefly when cows are coming through). Full buckets went in, empty buckets went out, and the few professional construction workers on the site spread and leveled the concrete as well as adding a layer of colored pigment over the smoothed concrete. This gentleman will have a great-looking yellow floor—in fact, probably already has it, by now, because another group was coming through in the afternoon to complete the work that we did not have time to finish. It was hard work passing the buckets and I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow, but it is really rewarding to think that in just one day we hugely improved someone’s quality of life. Imagine how hard it would be to clean up after a flood—flooding happens here, and San Marcos is right up against a river—if you had dirt floors in your house. For that matter, how much harder is it to keep a clean house from day to day if floors are dirt? All the owners were very pleased as well as a little disbelieving. One woman said she didn’t believe she was really getting a concrete floor until the supplies started showing up. She said that politicians sometimes come to their neighborhood and make promises, and then nothing ever happens. That touched me as much as anything because I pride myself on living up to what I say I’m going to do. I’d like to meet the politician who could make an empty promise to a soft-spoken woman and her baby daughter living in a cinderblock house with a dirt floor—but that politician probably doesn’t want to meet me.

One downside to doing concrete floors is that one gets incredibly dirty. 50% sweat, 50% concrete smudges, and I even got some yellow coloring powder on the strap of my bag. Luckily I had time to shower, change, and eat lunch before reporting back to Amber Cove to leave for the Caribbean Culture tour. True confession about Caribbean Culture: when I did it in January I enjoyed it, but felt like the tour guide’s talk was not as in-depth as I’d have liked. Nevertheless, I recommended it to my students as the cultural activity for our group because it offered the most cultural/historical content in a fairly short timeframe. I ended up glad I stuck with it because we had an excellent tour guide today (shout out to Mr. Oscar Rodriguez!): funny, knowledgeable, open to questions, obviously enjoyed his work. We went to the San Felipe Fortress first but cut that a bit short because it was incredibly windy (the fort is right on the coast). I kept having to hold my dress down because I’m not ready for Puerto Plata to know me quite that well yet. Second stop was the town square and San Felipe cathedral, which I love. It came back to me in a flash that the last time I was here, the Christmas decorations were still up. We drank coconut water, bought souvenirs, and got to see a cigar-making demonstration (fun cigar fact: some of the best cigar wrapper leaves come from Connecticut). Then the last stop was at the gorgeous botanical garden owned by Rafy Vasquez, a Dominican-born, Canadian-educated artist whose family has owned his property for three generations. It was great to see everything again and hear about it from Oscar, who was agreeably critical of (1) Catholicism as a state religion, (2) people’s misunderstandings about voodoo, (3) Christopher Columbus, (4) corrupt bureaucracy, (5) Dominican drivers.

(N. B.: My experience suggests that sensible people in general should be critical of Dominican drivers.)

On the way back to the port we drove along Ocean View Avenue, known locally as the Malecon. Oscar called an audible and let us stop for pictures of the statue of Neptune that stands on a rock out in the water. That was cool enough, but the sunset was incredible and the beach is gorgeous. I almost didn’t get out and now I’m really glad I did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Puerto Plata central square–Plaza Independencia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

San Felipe Cathedral

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fresh coconut water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last time I saw this gazebo it had Christmas lights on it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Look closely. Ice cream shop takes Bitcoin?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cigar-rolling demonstration

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fort San Felipe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Students at the fort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Outside the fort (inside the bus)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

DR’s flag is the only one in the world with a Bible on it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunset at the beach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orchids in Mr. Vasquez’s garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Students on the beach

 

Now it is after 10 p.m. and I am waiting on my laundry to dry while watching a Top Gear episode before bed. Tomorrow is our last activity; we sail around noon. Our time here goes so fast. I shed a few tears when we sailed away last time and I’m sure I’ll do the same tomorrow.

22¬-23 May 2017: Knights Impact At Sea & Arrival in the Dominican Republic

Yesterday on the ship flew by—or maybe sailed by? I started the day both yesterday and today meeting with my group of 9 students, who heroically got up on time for our 8:30 meeting both days. We followed that by meeting with our designated Fathom cohorts—a great experience for the students because they got to meet other people on the ship. There are people on board from all over and the students were particularly amazed by the variety of ages, nationalities, and professions. One student reported excitedly that she’d met a couple who were both doctors—a nephrologist and a pulmonologist. One of the highlights for me of leading these programs with students is that I never know what they’re going to find interesting or noteworthy. They started learning before we ever left home that the world—and even just the ship—is much more diverse than they realized.

In the afternoons we attended a training session on “creating retellable stories” (yesterday) and one on visual storytelling (today). Both had in common an emphasis on emotional impact. We learned a few simple guidelines that will make it easier to tell better stories and take better pictures. I always think it’s worth going to an hour-long session if I walk away with just one or two things I can remember and apply. Both of these sessions fit the bill; plus I got a free copy of the storytelling trainer’s book. Yay, swag!

Last night’s dinner in the Pacific Restaurant was more animated than Sunday’s as everyone is getting to know each other a little better and shaking off the fatigue of the trip to Miami. We had one student who got badly seasick Sunday night but was feeling better by noon yesterday. Everyone was happy to see her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at dinner, although she did say she’d decided that cruise travel was not for her. In fact, most agreed they were ready to get off the ship and get into the next phase of the program. Incidentally, that student’s roommate is a hero for looking out for her when she was ill. Another upside to these programs is seeing the relationships that form among the students and how they look out for each other. They are so generous and compassionate and it’s great to see.

IMG_7709

(Fancy food from Pacific!)

Those who were tired of the ship last night only had a few more hours to wait as we arrived at Amber Cove around 11:00 this morning and they started letting people off at noon. Amber Cove is just as I left it; I even recognize a couple of the wait staff in Coco Caña (the poolside restaurant/bar). Only the weather is a little different: today it’s a little overcast and hazy, which I did not expect. But neither am I complaining. A bit of cloud cover keeps the heat down, even if there is still plenty of heat to go around. I have the afternoon “off” (i.e. I am catching up on email and blogging) and might even catch a little pool time while the sun is not absolutely blazing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Duke loves the ocean!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunset at sea

IMG_7712 IMG_7710

Amber Cove

Georgia on our minds

Monday night when we got home, I sat down and wrote out the day’s itinerary. I keep staring at it and wondering how these times can possibly be accurate and correct. On the left is Paris time; on the right is Georgia time:

04:00 on August 3 / 22:00 on August 2: Buses roll out from Cité Universitaire after a brisk hour spent collecting room keys, banging on the doors of some really sound sleepers, and in one case seeing a student just returning to his dorm room from the night out, 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave.

06:20 / 00:20: Flight leaves CDG for Frankfurt with all students and faculty on board, even that guy. We enjoy a Nutella-filled croissant and some coffee and try not to think about leaving Paris behind.

10:00 / 04:00: Flight leaves Frankfurt for ATL. Settle in for some sleep, watching lots of movies, or a combination of both. Daniel and I slept through our turn for the lunch service and had to ask for food after we woke up. Props to Lufthansa as always for very efficient and thorough service; God bless the flight attendant who was constantly circulating with cups of water and juice during the second half of the flight.

20:00 / 14:00: Arrive in ATL. Selected for a “random survey” by a customs officer to verify that we were not carrying any agricultural products. Fully a day later I’d realize we brought home 2 pounds of coffee that I forgot to declare on the form or mention to the officer. He did not see them in my suitcase, so I didn’t have to be hauled off to immigration jail or anything.

We got to our house around 6 p.m. (midnight Paris time, but by then, who’s counting?) and I managed to stay up till 8:30 and sleep till about 6 the next morning. My sleep cycle is not too messed up (I’ve been treating it with large quantities of espresso) but I can tell I’m jet-lagged because the mornings seem dark and the days seem long. That will pass and at least I don’t feel as tired and foggy as I sometimes have after an overseas trip.

But I do miss Paris an awful lot.

Last day in Paris for 2015

After a hectic final week that sadly included my having to miss this on Saturday evening, it was suddenly Sunday morning: the free day before departure that marks the end of the program. I realized I hadn’t been to Sacre-Coeur, my favorite place in Paris, the whole 5 weeks, so that was my destination. There’s no quick way to get to Montmartre from the 14th but I enjoyed the métro ride knowing it would be one of the last ones of the year. I walked up from Abbesses station and rode the funicular up the Butte since it wasn’t too crowded yet–when there are a lot of people in the funicular I tend to avoid it because it’s like a gerbil cage for pickpockets. One of the backhanded advantages of having some experience in Paris is learning what to avoid. Sacre-Coeur is full of street vendors and street scammers; I’ve never actually seen pickpockets in action but I’m sure they are there as well.

On Sunday there were people soliciting petition signatures, whom I walked past while practicing my Parisian Murder Face(TM). The string-bracelet guys were out in such force that I hesitated to walk up the curved path that leads to the side of the church because they were almost elbow-to-elbow across the walkway. But as I dove behind a large man with a backpack for cover, the string-bracelet crew took flight, running down the sidewalks and vanishing behind the bushes. In seconds there was no trace of them, just as two police officers came walking down from the opposite side. It was so creepy it was almost impressive. Later in the day I saw the same thing happen with some ball-and-cup players down the street: one minute they’re drawing a crowd, the next minute they’re invisible, and the minute after that the foot patrol turns up. Some people think travelers get too paranoid about pickpockets and street scammers; it’s definitely possible to make yourself crazy worrying about it but it’s also a real concern–and not too hard or inconvenient to avoid by being smart.

I was rewarded for my vigilance by not being pickpocketed, string-braceleted, or fleeced by the ball-and-cup guys, AND by getting to see the “8eme Traversée de Paris Estivale” (8th Summer Crossing of Paris) put on by a car club called “Vincennes en Anciennes.” I found out from one of the members (white Mercedes convertible) that during this event, they drive through Paris from Vincennes to Meudon. Normally they don’t make any stops, he said, but everyone decided they wanted to stop for pictures. So I obligingly took pictures. (Hee.) Click through!

Cars from Vincennes en Anciennes:

The cars’ sign for the event

A Shelby Cobra!

A Fiat Carry-On (I don’t know what this car is called, 
but it looks like it would fit in a carry-on suitcase)

AN ACTUAL VINTAGE CADILLAC.

Citroën 2CV

Lord Grantham’s car, probably

And a Mustang!
Sacre-Coeur was looking beautiful as always. I heard a French woman tell an Aussie tourist that Sacre-Coeur is “unrefined,” and maybe it is, but I love it.

The Tour Montparnasse (over on “our” side of town) from the Butte

The Traversée Estivale moving out
While at Sacre-Coeur I also saw the French-est of all French things I saw this summer. The union that represents the attendants that maintain these pay toilets at Sacre-Coeur is on strike, and they had a picket line set up in front of the toilets, whose door they blocked by pasting it over with flyers. There’s just something about a unionized pay-toilet-workers strike protest that reaches levels of Epic Frenchness for me. And I say that with genuine and deep love for France, the French, unions, and public protest (and grudging acceptance of pay toilets).

The good thing about a toilet strike is that it doesn’t take many people to make up a picket line.
In the afternoon I met up with Daniel for lunch. We idly wondered whether it’s possible to eat poutine in Paris, and Google led us to The Moose. It’s a dark, windowless, well air-conditioned sports bar of a kind I did not think existed in Paris. That atmosphere is not my favorite (not when there are café terraces to sit on!) but the staff were friendly and the food was good. Daniel approved of the poutine and I had a really good veggie burger. Major brownie points for making their own veggie burgers instead of buying the frozen ones. 
After lunch we moseyed down Boulevard St. Germain past some sort of summer market/festival celebrating France’s offshore territories, over to Chez Clement to drink coffee since Clement is the name of one of Daniel’s uncles: 

Then past the St. Michel fountain where we saw tap dancers under the awning at Gibert Jeune:

I was on a mission to get Daniel to at least see Notre Dame from the outside. He doesn’t care for cathedrals but I think a person should see Notre Dame while in Paris. So from Place St. Michel I tempted him toward the Amorino gelateria that is almost right across the quai (with apologies to Berthillon, we both love Amorino) and then we crossed over to Notre Dame: 

Finally we decided to head back to Cité U. I wanted a nap and Daniel was thinking about going to play poker at Le Cercle Clichy-Montmartre. He lost some money but at least got to do it in a beautiful atmosphere. I had un verre with Dr. Kirk to toast the end of a truly fantastic summer, then got a takeout pizza and ate it while packing my suitcase. Then off to bed for a few hours, falling asleep to the sound of the tram on Boulevard Jourdan one last time.

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.

Mini Blog: A day to flâner

Daniel and I took advantage of a day on call with no calls to flâner in the Marais and go shopping at Les Halles today. He is looking for some specific things (a suit; shorts with zipper pockets). I am looking for things that are nice to wear and bien soldé.  He was also looking for a cooked breakfast so we went, inevitably, to Breakfast in America. I was not in a hurry to go back–as I’ve said, I do not go to Paris to eat American food. But he was THRILLED.

(Granted, in this pic he looks more demented than thrilled.)
I’ve realized that BIA makes me very depaysée. Look around the restaurant, I’m in the U.S. Look out at the street, I’m in Paris. And I cannot figure out what language to speak. 
But the coffee was really good.

On our shopping round we discovered Uniqlo, a store I’d have been better off not knowing about. Something about Uniqlo ticks all my boxes. We also went into the Swatch store where they polished the crystal of his watch to take a scratch out for the princely sum of 0€. We went by the Musée Carnavalet and peeped into the garden; we passed by L’As du Fallafel before the line had started to form. (Unfortunately that was right after BIA, so no falafel for me today.) We tried on clothes and heard many iterations of “So, you are from Québec, right?”

More of the same at Les Halles, a mall that is very comprehensive but also kind of stuffy and airless because it’s underground. By midafternoon it was time to take a break for a drink and a snack so we passed through a small pedestrian market and fetched up at a café called Etienne Marcel. Outside it looks like a traditional café but the inside looks like late-series Mad Men with primary colors and molded plastic furniture. It was nice to relax in a quiet place with comfortable seats for a while!

Finally on our way out, I talked Daniel into stopping into St. Eustache, built in the 16th and 17th centuries and then restored in the early 19th after the Revolution:

Chapel of the Virgin

The altar

The organ has 8,000 pipes and is supposed to be the largest in France!
Here is what it sounds like.

The organ keyboard is right out where you can see it.

To cap off this excellent day we had dinner with Dr. Kirk and his wife Betsy at Rouge Pomme, which is becoming our go-to place for dinner/dessert/coffee/a drink. I always get a galette du sarrasin for dinner there but the Kirks both had tartines that looked amazing. Then we bought chocolates at Leonidas for dessert. Say what you want to about Paris but the food is hard to beat. So are the cathedrals and the shopping.
Tomorrow, Vicki and Robert and their kids come over from London. We are going to the Louvre tomorrow night. And on Saturday I am going to see Alvin Ailey at Théatre du Châtelet. It’s gonna be an excellent weekend!