24 May 2017: Knights Impact does Reforestation

Busy first half of the day today. My group did a reforestation activity that departed from Amber Cove at 8:00 a.m., so I bounced out of bed at 6:00 to get ready, eat breakfast, and check up on a couple of things before getting on the bus. Impressively, everyone made it on the bus with time to spare even though several of us went to something called the “Bravissimo experience” last night and had quite a late evening. Those who did not have the Bravissimo experience attended the welcome party in Amber Cove instead. Well worth the price of admission ($0) to see an incredibly cute and talented kids’ drumline trained by a professional percussionist whose goal is to give kids in under-resourced neighborhoods access to music education and even the prospect of making money from music. The show also featured Dominican dancers and costumed carnival performers. I took some videos during the show but my camera’s memory card malfunctioned and I had to reformat it. Fortunately I got a couple of still images off before that happened; here they are!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These kids were great!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m a little scared of this guy, tbh.

So we all arrived in top form (or similar) for reforestation this morning. We drove about 30-45 minutes to reach the site, including a restroom stop in someone’s home. Where I come from it is not usual to have strangers parading through your house to use the loo, but in Puerto Plata, especially in the more remote neighborhood we were passing through, it’s easy to see why it’s necessary. No McDonald’s in sight; very few gas stations; and porta potties on site would be logistically if not financially prohibitive. To be honest, although I felt awkward being there, I was pleased to get a look into what seems to have been a working-class rural home. The house had a corrugated roof, concrete floors, and curtains instead of doors dividing the rooms. In the large back yard were ducks and chickens and two outdoor wood-burning stoves for cooking (although there was also a small range inside the house, as well as a television and a wi-fi router). The bathrooms were tiled and obviously there was running water–but you can’t put toilet paper down the toilets here and a couple of people had done so. I hope we did not back up this nice lady’s toilet. Her in-laws lived in another house at the back of the property. The houses are a little dark and bare, but airy. We had to pass through the owner’s (one of the facilitators told us that people own their homes/properties) bedroom to get to the bathroom and I noticed that there was almost no furniture and no closets. These neighborhoods are hard to characterize; they seem permanent, but unfinished. Nothing is rickety but also nothing is shiny or new. And it seems normal to, for instance, sell snacks and sodas off your front porch, or operate a café from a tiny building with a counter out the front and nothing else. I can’t quite imagine living there. I think I’d make a lot of silly mistakes because things are different from what I’m used to. On the other hand, there are no obnoxious neighborhood associations telling you you can’t have a clothesline—we saw clothes drying outside every house.

IMG_7733

The reforestation was challenging physical work, but fun: we were up in the hills with a nice breeze to break up the heat, and everyone chatted and had a good time as we worked. It was toughest for the workers who were using pickaxes to dig the holes for us to put the seedlings into. We could plant faster than they could dig because the soil was clay (very much like Georgia soil, but black instead of red) with lots of grass and thus hard to break up. Nevertheless, we persisted, taking a break halfway through for juice and granola bars. An official from the environment ministry was there to thank us for our work and explain why it was important, which was gratifying. The area we were in had lots of eucalyptus trees, which use a lot of resources without being good for much (no koalas here to eat them), so the idea is to plant mahogany and thus make better use of the land, decrease erosion (the area has lots of streams that feed a river), and improve the air quality. Though I have to say I thought the air was wonderful already!

IMG_7728 IMG_7739 IMG_7732 IMG_7721 IMG_7730

We got back to Amber Cove tired and hungry but happy and I repaired to my cabin for a nap after eating some lunch. Dinner with my lovely cohort tonight and then a big day tomorrow: concrete floors in the morning, Caribbean Culture tour in the afternoon. Time is flying but the longer we are here the more the students seem to understand what we’re up to and get into the enjoyment as well as the personal growth of the experience.

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

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 7: Final hours aboard Adonia, 7 January 2017

It’s 7:45 p.m. EST or 8:45 ship time as our clocks don’t go back till 2:00 a.m. We disembark in about 14 hours; my suitcase is already out in the hall for pickup. Apparently they are strict about not allowing people to carry off their own luggage. I have left out my clothes and minimal toiletries for in the morning. The toiletries and my pajamas may be riding home in my laptop bag. Duly noted for next time. Meanwhile, we are sailing under/next to a thunderstorm. The clouds look very low over the ocean and it seems windy, yet the water is calmer than it was yesterday (at least so far). Lightning over the water is pretty incredible!

This morning I finally got to go to a yoga class (worth the wait) and we all attended our final cohort meetings. Seeing the statistics from our sailing as well as the overall numbers of people this program has helped since its inception in April 2016 was exciting. Each individual’s contribution might seem small but it all adds up. For example, by the end of May 2017 (after our students’ sailing), the people enrolled in Community English will have received a total of 160 hours of tutoring from native English speakers. That’s a huge supplement to the instruction they’re already getting from Entrena (the organization that coordinates Community English) since interaction with native speakers is so important for language development. It’s just gratifying to see the ways in which our small efforts fit into this larger movement to help people improve their lives.

In the afternoon my colleague and I spent about 3 hours working on an application, several supporting documents (program guide, cost breakdown, faculty/staff information), and an initial round of promotional emails for what is now officially going to launch as Knights Impact as soon as we get back to campus (Monday) and get a website put together. It’s going to be a fast and furious 6 weeks of recruiting as our deadline is February 20. That’s not much time but we have a great collaboration going among all the MGA people who came on this trip and will be working together to get students committed.

For now I am going to enjoy listening to the ocean a little longer before I go to bed. We have to be out of our cabins at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow so the morning will be a little hectic. Stay tuned!


Coda: the ocean turned rough around 3 a.m. so we all had an interesting night’s sleep with our clothes hangers rattling around! We were off the ship at 9:30 and en route to Macon by 11:00, taking turns driving and catching naps. Now it’s Monday morning and I’m back at work in 28-degree weather. Going from 28 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Fahrenheit is a bit of a shock!

How about some pictures from around the ship to wrap things up?

View from my balcony while at sea

View from my balcony while at sea

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My cabin (mostly tidy)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

My bathroom (less tidy; sorry!)

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

The Conservatory buffet restaurant

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Ping-pong on the Lido Deck

Lido Deck in full swing

Lido Deck in full swing

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow's Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

My favorite place on the ship, the Crow’s Nest, which happens to be on 10 Forward (for all you Trekkies out there)

Reception desk

Reception desk

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

Shops (and Christmas decor still up)

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

The Pacific restaurant where we ate dinner every night

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!

Knights Impact exploratory trip day 3: Dominican Republic arrival and first impact activities—3 January 2017

This morning I woke up around 7:30 thinking I had lots of time, but the ship’s clocks had moved forward an hour overnight. I knew this change was happening but missed it because the time on my phone didn’t change till we got closer to the Dominican Republic and my phone connected to their cell network. So, note to self: adjust alarm accordingly before bed on day 2.

I did get ready and breakfasted in time for my second cohort meeting at 10:15, where we learned some basic history of the Dominican Republic, some cultural tips, and some general information about the area where we’d be traveling. The closest city is called Puerto Plata; the port is called Amber Cove and it belongs to the Carnival corporation on a long-term lease. The DR has a long history of conquest, revolution, and dictatorships and has only been holding free and fair elections for about 40 years if I remember correctly. As we were taking in these facts we were well in sight of land and sailing toward the port. It’s easy to see why so many people fought over this land for so long: the landscape is incredibly beautiful and lush. This is my first time in a tropical destination and I was completely blown away by the sight of it. By the time the cohort meeting was over, we were in port and allowed to disembark, so I ate lunch quickly and got right off the ship to take a walk around Amber Cove before my afternoon impact activity. Amber Cove is purely commercial and touristy, of course, since it was built to cater to cruise customers, but the shops are varied (local crafts, souvenirs, fine jewelry, a pharmacy, etc.) and the pool area is really pleasant with plenty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. It’s also possible to rent private cabanas of various sizes as well as pool floats, zipline rides, paddleboards, and other good stuff. I spoke to a few of the shop employees and had a café worker explain to me in Spanish how to operate a particular coffee-making contraption that works like an upside-down Moka pot. I am proud to say I followed most of the explanation! I also learned to play a sort of 3-dimensional tic-tac-toe game—might go back and get one of those for my dad.

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

Adonia in port at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

The pool area at Amber Cove

Soon it was time to board buses for our impact activities. My activity today was Community English: tutoring English learners one-on-one in their homes. About 20 of us went with our facilitator Danna to a neighborhood called Monte Rico and then split into smaller groups to go to particular houses depending on how many people would be there. Five of us went to one house and taught a group of about 7 kids ranging in age from 9 to 15. I wasn’t expecting kids in Community English since there is also an activity called “Student English” but learning a language is easier the earlier you start, so the youngest ones will have the greatest advantage. My student, Zoith, was a very smart girl of 9 who already knew the lesson material almost perfectly. We worked mostly on pronunciation and a few difficult words; she took notes and had me write down some words she didn’t know. I learned that she likes chicken, cake, and pizza, she drinks chocolate for breakfast, and her favorite color is the same as mine: red. At first I was not sure she liked me but after the lesson, when we were getting ready to leave, she went out of her way to come back to me and point out her father after he stopped to talk to her on his way home (in a big Toyota Tundra!). I think maybe we got along okay after all.

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

Zoith and me at the end of our English lesson

To be honest, this experience will take me some time to process. The environment in Monte Rico is like nothing I’ve ever seen: narrow, rocky dirt roads, stray animals roaming, motoconchos (motorcycle taxis) and lottery ticket counters and tiny barbershops and vegetable stands everywhere. It’s tempting to see nothing but poverty and disorder and be patronizing about it, but these people obviously care about each other, stick together, and are willing to welcome strangers into their homes week after week in hopes of improving their future. With some English they have a better chance of being able to work in the tourism industry, which is the DR’s largest. I’ve heard that there are particularly few jobs in Puerto Plata for women, and I noticed that everyone who came to our lesson today was female. So hopefully we helped create a little better future for girls in particular.

Along the way I discovered that my A2 Spanish level is a pretty good match for the A2 level of the Community English course and for prompting a 9-year-old. I’m definitely going to encourage our students to brush up their Spanish, because a little goes a really long way. Zoith had a hard time differentiating the pronunciations of soup and soap (probably in part because “soup” in Spanish is sopa) so I was really glad I could remember the Spanish word for “soap” and tell her soap is jabon and we don’t want to eat jabon.

We returned early since Monte Rico is not as far away as some of the Community English sites, so I had a little time to sit by the pool, relax, and think about all I saw today. It seems like the time we spent in Monte Rico went by in a blink; I wish I could go back and meet some other people. I did not take any pictures around the neighborhood because it seemed a little disrespectful—there were a lot of people around and I am very obviously a tourist. I’ll try my best to remember it all, summed up in this moment: A rooster walked in front of the house and I exclaimed “I saw a chicken!” Zoith, of course, looked completely unimpressed. Perspective is everything.

My student Zoith

My student Zoith

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)

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: 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.