Knights Impact exploratory trip, day 1: Boarding and Departure from Miami—1 January 2017

This has been a busy and full day! By the time you read this entry it may be a couple of days in the past. I haven’t yet decided about buying wi-fi, which is pricey on the ship. But for me, a big part of the excitement of the trip is being on a cruise for the first time so I wanted to write down my first impressions—especially for students who may also be new to this type of travel.

The four of us who drove down from Orlando arrived and parked in Miami with plenty of time to board the Adonia before its 4:00 scheduled departure. At the port, we met up with the rest of our group (seven total) and dropped off our luggage—luggage is delivered to the cabins, which is handy. After a security screening process similar to that practiced at airports, we checked in. At check-in, an agent takes your picture and places a $100 hold on your credit/debit card against which your on-board purchases (if any) are debited. We received our “ship cards,” which function as the room key, identification, and quasi credit card for charging purchases to the on-board account.

Although we boarded the ship around 12:30, cabins were not yet ready. We were directed to lunch in the Conservatory, a buffet-style restaurant where I had a salad and a vegetable tagine over rice. It was a little hot and crowded, especially with everyone’s carry-on luggage around, but still very exciting and the food was tasty! I rushed through lunch because I was eager to take a look around the ship, take a few pictures, and send a few final text messages before we set off and I went out of cell range. I had time to walk around the various observation decks, get my photos, and then relax on a deck chair and watch the action around the pool for a little while before going to check out my cabin.

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

PortMiami behind us as we sailed

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking off the aft end of the ship

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Looking down at the Lido Deck from the observation deck

Since this sailing wasn’t full, we were fortunate to get balcony cabins with single occupancy. My cabin looks like a tiny hotel room with a queen bed, desk, small sofa, and quite a bit of storage. I packed light because (a) that’s my style and (b) the laundry, which is free, is down the hall. But there is room for a pretty extensive wardrobe if you want one. However, because of the nature of its programming, Fathom does not have a dress code—there’s no “formal night” and casual dress is accepted everywhere (although the Ocean Grill requests “smart casual” dress). The balcony is tiny, as everyone told me to expect, but it is exciting to always be able to hear and see the ocean, as well as to get a little solo chill-out time when needed. I unpacked and put my suitcase away, browsed the TV channels, and then heard a knock on my door. My cabin steward, Zenda, had come to introduce herself. I’m learning that cruise ship service, even on a ship like this one that doesn’t advertise “luxury,” is very attentive. There are tons of staff and everyone is incredibly courteous. Zenda is from the Phillipines; she says she likes Americans because we are friendly and we say what’s on our minds and not everyone is like that. Hopefully we can live up to Zenda’s impression of us.

My cabin

My cabin

Zenda also told me that a safety exercise was coming up; I was glad for the warning because I knew to expect the exercise but didn’t know how it would work. It was announced over the intercom (which is called a “tannoy” on the ship; is this a nautical word?) with instructions and then an alarm sounding. The exercise requires that everyone bring their life vests to a designated “muster station,” practice putting them on (and then taking them off), and listen to a briefing from the captain. Easy schmeezy and did not take too long. Let the record show that I refrained from blowing the whistle on my life vest, but some others did not.

Within about a half-hour of the safety briefing we got under way, sailing out of PortMiami with a beautiful sunset and view of Miami Beach. The wind on the observation deck was incredibly strong but I stayed for a long time, looking around and taking pictures. Then Fathom’s impact guides announced our first activity: visiting multiple areas around the deck to do certain things and collect stamps on a “passport.” I tied a bowline hitch (I will be very useful in a nautical emergency), placed a Polaroid of myself on a map of the world to show where I’d come from, added my answer to a question written on a window (“Who’s your muse?” Daniel!), and wrote a note for a fellow passenger to receive. These activities were a nice way to start thinking about the purposes of this trip: not just to help others but also to learn about ourselves and our place in the world.

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

Sailing away from Miami Beach as the sun set

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

The sun setting into the ocean as we sailed

Before I knew it, it was dinner time and I met up with our group in the Pacific Restaurant. This restaurant looks elegant (white tablecloths and multiple silverware) and serves elegant food, but somehow is not intimidating. I ate an endive salad, a vegetable omelet, and a chocolate pot de crème. Most interestingly, the waiter asked if I was a vegetarian and later sent the head waiter over to allow me to pre-order tomorrow’s lunch and dinner. A person could get used to this service! Over dinner we had a fantastic, lively and productive discussion about how best to make this program work for students. I am so happy to have such a great group of collaborators—we all listen, reflect, and learn from each other, which is exactly what collaboration should be.

This first afternoon/evening on the ship has been incredible. I’m not used to seeing the ocean around me in all directions, nor to how dark it is at night: our wake and some whitecaps are just visible in the ship’s lights. The rocking of the ship occasionally makes it hard to walk perfectly and I will admit (full disclosure) to one sudden onset of seasickness toward the end of dinner. It surprised me, as I assumed the motion of the ship would bother me right away if it was going to. But my dessert was rich; the restaurant is aft where there’s more movement; and the room had gotten hot and stuffy as it filled up with people. All at once I felt terrible and had to walk out, but as soon as I got fresh air I started to feel better. I walked around the pool deck, came back to my cabin and put my acupressure wristbands on (couldn’t hurt; might help), and eventually met back up with one of our group for a ginger ale (also couldn’t hurt; might help) and some further discussion. I’m sure I will adjust better once I’ve been on board a bit longer.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea with preparatory workshops and educational activities. It’s past 11 p.m. and I am planning to go to yoga at 9:30, so it’s time to turn in and be lulled to sleep by the sound of the ocean.

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)


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: Weekend “de garde”

In the category of useful French vocabulary is the phrase “de garde” which means “on call.” So the pharmacie de garde is the one that’s open 24 hours. The maison medicale de garde is the after-hours clinic. And this weekend I am the assistant director de garde. I am free to flâner (that’s “roam around without a plan”) in Paris but I am checking messages and responding to student emergencies. Here’s what I’ve been up to this weekend other than work:

On Friday morning I came back over to Les Halles to pick up tickets for the Louvre for that night.

The crowded-Metro struggle is real.

At the Les Halles observation deck where you can see the construction project.

I checked out the Louvre courtyard to see where we’d need to enter with our prepaid tickets, because Vicki and Robert and the kids were coming and I didn’t want to make them wait and wander around aimlessly. From the courtyard I walked down through the Tuileries with, apparently, every tourist in Paris:

Someone told me once that when it’s hot in Paris, you go to a park and put your feet in a basin. I didn’t see anyone with their feet actually in the water, but many did have their shoes off.

Looking back toward the Louvre

The green chairs in parks are one of the things I get nostalgic for when I’m not here.

Sometimes it really does seem like translation is unnecessary. 
“Gee, Mildred, what do you think salade de fruits could possibly be?” 
“I dunno, Harold, we’d better skip it. It could be snails or something!”
At the Louvre with Daniel and Vicki’s clan I decided not to take pictures but just walk around and look. I did take one pic of the newly restored Winged Victory:
I love the placement of this statue at the top of the staircase so you can see it from far away. It’s an arresting focal point. A+ curatorial work, Musée du Louvre.
Daniel took a pic of us in front of the Mona Lisa, but if you want to see it, you’ll have to read his blog.
Oh, wait . . . 
The major weekend highlight was seeing the Alvin Ailey dance company at Théatre du Châtelet. They were incredible and the French audience LOVED them. Also, the theatre is gorgeous:

I had this hilarious folding seat on the end of a row. It was pretty comfortable but every time I stood up/sat down I had to do origami.

I am not Alice Jane Knight, obviously. She is my colleague who sold me her ticket.

Anna Pavlova appeared for the first time in Paris at Théatre du Châtelet in 1909. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes also premiered there.
This morning (late) we went to the OTHER Breakfast in America (original/Left Bank version) for brunch and ended up next to a French couple with whom we (Daniel) struck up a conversation. I had to laugh because he grew up in Madagascar and she is Polish and yet like everyone in Paris they grumbled about the problems caused by immigration. In any case it was fun to meet some new people and have a traditional French arm-waving exchange about social issues. Americans are routinely taught not to discuss politics, religion, etc. with foreigners but we (Daniel) have jumped right in on many occasions and never been badly received. Honestly, it’s pleasant when compared to the placid “Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Nice weather we’re having” of American-style small talk!
This afternoon, the final stage of the Tour de France rides into Paris, so I am going with Vicki’s fam and possibly some students. Our heat wave from a few weeks ago has been replaced by fall-like weather: chilly and persistent drizzle. It should be an interesting afternoon–gotta admit it is nice to be wearing long sleeves and socks at the end of July.

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.

Chow Italia, Part 2

It was late by the time we returned from Alberobello on Friday night, so Saturday we blew off a trip to the beach (probably a bad decision, in retrospect) in favor of relaxing, watching Italian TV (i.e. American TV dubbed in Italian, plus some baffling infomercials), and spending time with Karine and Antonio’s kittens. In Italian, “kittens” is “gattini.” Easy to remember because kittens are teeny!
This is Maurice Ravel.

This is Coco Chanel.
(also pictured: the nifty tile floors in the apartment)
In the afternoon I went with Karine to buy cheese and vegetables at some of the small shops in Corato. The whole weekend was a linguistic and cultural adventure and this may have been the highlight. The man who runs the cheese shop loves Karine so he dished out some fresh mozzarella knots for us to try as soon as we came in the door. Then he chatted with her while taking her order even though there was a line and some people were griping at him to hurry it along. Karine says she is not always accepted everywhere in Corato but obviously she is well beloved at the cheese shop and at the fruit-and-vegetable shop where she got guidance about her lemon trees. It was fun just to tag along even though I couldn’t understand everything or contribute much. Karine would just point at me and say “Famiglia!”
That night after serving as Antonio’s roadies (broken elevator, music gear up 6 flights of stairs: let’s try to forget that this ever happened) we went and got takeout pizza from a place called Pizza Teatro. It was jam-packed and boiling hot with a disorderly queue and one beleaguered waiter rushing back and forth with pizzas for the people eating at the tables outside the restaurant. Naturally, the pizza was delicious. I had a “Caprese” which was black olives, fresh tomatoes, and onion on a thin crust cooked in a brick oven. Worth the wait and the strange drama of ordering and paying there. Afterward I told Karine that it’s called Pizza Teatro because they could film a reality show in the restaurant.
It was very interesting being a native English speaker/second-language French speaker on this trip. Daniel and Karine have French as their first language and English as their second. Antonio is a native Italian speaker (of course) with English as his second language and no French. And Karine has learned to speak Italian incredibly well in only a year and a half. So when Daniel, Karine, and I or just Karine and I were together we would speak French because she doesn’t get to speak French very often. When the 4 of us were together we would speak English, and I would be the only one without (to my own ears) a melodious accent. But I learned a few words in Italian, such as “Molto bene!” which means “Very good.” Lots of things in Italy are molto bene.
Yesterday morning we went to the Adriatic coast for a photo op before heading to the airport. It was very crowded but so pretty!

Cousin love!

Look, I was there!
Soon it was time to take our flight back and our Italian adventure was over. Karine says we need to come for 2 weeks next time so we can travel around. Good idea or GREAT idea? In any case I am so grateful for the warm welcome we received there and the fun and relaxing time we had. Hooray, Italy! 

Chow Italia, Part 1

Daniel and I are back in Paris after a fantastic weekend in Italy with his cousin Karine and her boyfriend Antonio. It was terribly hot the whole time we were there, and neither of us speaks any Italian, and we flew Ryanair, and the whole thing could have been disaster, but instead we had a great time. Karine and Antonio are excellent hosts! Let’s click through, shall we?
Thursday afternoon we took the Paris Beauvais Airport shuttle from Porte Maillot to the Beauvais airport. It calls itself “Paris Beauvais” but is actually an hour and fifteen minutes away. On that logic I am going to start calling our house Paris Lizella. However, the shuttle is pretty convenient and quite cheap: 32€ per person round-trip if you book online, which is less expensive than the Groome shuttle and it’s a much nicer bus! Ryanair was a better experience than I expected as well. They do charge for EVERYTHING (drinks, snacks, newspapers, checked bags, printing your boarding pass) but the flights ran right on time and the planes seemed decently maintained (albeit not pristinely tidy because their turnaround times are very short). I would definitely do Ryanair or another low-cost carrier again if I travel within Europe for a weekend. As long as you travel light it’s an excellent deal.

We landed in Bari, which is about 35 minutes from Corato, the city where Karine and Antonio live, and they picked us up at the airport. Let me just say right now that everything you have heard about Italian driving is true. Antonio is an excellent “Italian style” driver; I am both terrified by and jealous of his skills. He says he does not drive fast compared to his fellow citizens, which is probably true. “What if I had an Audi?” he speculated.

After a stop at their apartment to drop off bags and freshen up, we headed out to dinner and that’s when the real fun began. They are regulars at a local restaurant called Le Stagioni di Puglia that does typical cuisine from the Puglia region (which grows a lot of olives and other vegetables as as making some unbeatable cheeses). First we got a crash course in Italian dining, which goes like this:
1. Start late. 8:30 is about the earliest you can eat dinner.
2. Antipasti: small dishes of preserved meats, cheese, or cooked vegetables
3. Primi: pasta
4. Secondi: meat or fish dishes
5. Dessert
6. Depart restaurant in a wheelbarrow, probably.
We gave Aldo, the owner, free rein to choose antipasti for us, and they just did not stop coming. Moreover, everything Francesco, the waiter, brought out was delicious: ham, salami, pecorino, parmesan, stuffed mushrooms, grilled zucchini, bruschetta, fresh olives, cooked zucchini leaves (who knew?), grilled string beans . . . It was all so good but we were expecting 2-3 more courses. Finally we had to ask them to stop bringing out antipasti!

This was AFTER we’d already eaten so much we thought we might die.
We had pasta (I had orecchietti with I forget what but it was yummy), canceled our secondi, and went straight to dessert. Karine was not feeling well but she did perk up after a chocolate mousse. I tried limoncello for the first time. It was good but I’m not sure I will order it again. Liqueurs are just not my thing, maybe. Meanwhile I’m still wondering if we should have canceled our pastas as well and just eaten antipasti all night. 
After traveling and a late dinner we simply did not get a jump on the day Friday but sat on the terrace at the apartment most of the morning:
Views from the 6th floor!

Corner apartment = Lots of skyline

At right, one of Karine’s lemon trees. 
Karine & Antonio’s apartment is big and very pretty; the only drawback is that it’s on the 6th floor and the elevator is not 100% reliable (as we learned!). We did eventually get dressed and venture out for lunch at a small café called Cofy Cloud (panini: average, gelato pops: A++++). 
Daniel wanted to rest but Karine and I decided to take the train to visit Alberobello, Alberobello is known for its domed houses called trulli, for which it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The train journey was a little grueling and we thought we would not have much time to visit before needing to catch the train back. But Karine had the excellent idea to call Antonio and invite him to come out with Daniel in the car and meet us for dinner. So we had time to take quite a few pictures, taste some locally made liqueurs, and sit down for a beer before the gentlemen arrived. Here are some of my pics. I’m so glad we went to Alberobello. I might never have known there was such a place and it is unique and beautiful.

Antonio and Karine

. . . and Daniel

Looking down on the beer festival in Alberobello just before we left
We ate another huge meal Friday night: I had bruschetta and orecchietti (again) plus part of a grilled cheese entrée that Antonio ordered. It was literally a thick slice of a gouda-like cheese, cooked on a grill. Unbelievably delicious and I want to try making something similar at home. By the time dinner was over we had to go straight back to Corato as Antonio, who is a musician, had a gig the next day. Did I fall asleep on the autostrada? I’ll never tell . . . 
Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the Italy Report, featuring KITTENS!

How to Bastille Day

Yesterday was, of course, France’s national holiday, which Americans call “Bastille Day” and the French just call “le 14 juillet.”

Kind of scary that FB knows where I am and what I’m up to.

Last year I went big on Bastille Day morning: got out early and went to the parade. This year we kept it relaxed in the morning, but I still wanted to see the flyover, which is my favorite part of the day. We got over to the Louvre (the courtyard is a great place to see the planes) with about 5 minutes to spare before the first planes flew over with their bleu-blanc-rouge smoke trails. Hooray!

Did I take a picture? Never you mind. We did get these goofy shots of ourselves with the glass pyramid.

We stayed a while longer to watch some more planes go by, then made our way to Les Halles, the Pompidou Center, and the Niki de St. Phalle fountain–which Dr. Kirk says is properly called the Stravinsky fountain. Live and learn! A lot more shops and restaurants were open than usual so we checked out some stores; Daniel got some sunglasses and I bought a dress and a pair of jeans. It doesn’t sound like much but with a sandwich at Pomme de Pain and some sitting around and general flânerie, we had a nice, relaxed afternoon and then went back to our room for some dinner and a disco nap.

That night I finally got to do something I have wanted to do for years: we went to a bal de pompiers. It’s a tradition for fire stations (casernes de pompiers) to host public dances on Bastille Day–and sometimes the night before and the night after as well. I had never been to one because I’m always in Paris alone, and I didn’t want to go alone.* Of course, this year I have Daniel and he LOVES a party, so off we went to the Caserne de Port-Royal in the 13th. It proved to be an excellent choice. Fun dance music, a good atmosphere, and the caserne itself was cool to see: 4-story buildings surrounding an open courtyard which was the dance floor. The pompiers had hired a good DJ with an extensive light show and built several bars with different names/themes around the dance floor–it was cute and just much more elaborate than I expected. There was also a food truck selling sausages and fries (or some such).

Banner outside the fire station

The dance floor and bar setup inside the caserne–
before it got so crowded that you could barely move around.

Daniel was pretty taken with these glowing tables.

Delirious/sweaty dancefloor selfie.

Shortly before we left–dance floor was getting packed. 

Finally, I just need to say this for the record: French firefighters are astonishingly attractive. I don’t know how they do it. Is there an audition? They all look ready for the cover of a fitness magazine.

Yep, that’s me surrounded by the 13th Arrondissement’s finest.

All the firefighters we talked to were very polite and friendly, which was nice. Daniel and I both noticed that it was a very welcoming atmosphere. We danced for close to 2 hours without very many breaks, and left around 11:15 when the dance floor was getting so packed that it was impossible to move. People were obviously having a great time and although there may have been some drunken shenanigans and bad behavior later in the night, we had an excellent experience. A+ work, 3eme Companie de Caserne Port-Royal. (call me!)

And so to bed after watching the fireworks show on live stream from France 2. I have yet to decide whether it’s worth going to the Champ de Mars to see the fireworks in person. Last night seemed perfect: go dancing early and don’t stay too long, see fireworks on television, get to bed before 4 a.m.

Tomorrow: Italy! I don’t think I will take my computer so expect radio silence till we get back Sunday afternoon. It will be my first time in Italy and I am so excited!

*N.B. I believe that Paris is a safe city, and during the day I go places alone all the time. But to go dancing alone at night on the night of a holiday when everyone is out and lots of people are drinking has never seemed like a smart idea to me. YMMV.

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.