Winter Break 2014
This lovely woman visited Paris for the first time this winter and also celebrated her 65th birthday. She had only flown through Paris during her trips to other cities but had never actually taken the time to stop and explore the city of lights. She's my best friend and arguably the world's greatest grandmother that a girl could ever ask for. She's been so patient with me and supported me all throughout school and I really felt like her 65th birthday was an opportunity for me to show her how much I appreciated everything she did for me.
On January 12, 2012 which is also my grandmother's birthday, I flew to Paris for Discover the World. We had a dinner the night before I left with all of my family and the next day when my grandmother dropped me off at the airport, she toldme that was the worst birthday gift she ever got. After her 63rd birthday, I promised myself that I would make it up to her. I started planning a trip for this winter break and initially my plan was for us to go visit the Machu Picchu. When my grandmother found out about the Dean's Fellowship Program, she made it very clear that she would not go anywhere I made plans to go unless it was Paris.
We missed out on visiting one of the wonders of the world, the ancient Incan ruins in Peru. I really wish we could have gone to experience the Machu Picchu but I do think it happened for a reason that we ended up in Paris. We had an amazing time and even connected with extended family. What I learned from this whole ordeal is that things happen for a reason and interestingly enough, things came full circle. I left on her birthdday two years ago and on an even more special occasion we end up in Paris for her birthday. We have grown so much closer during these two years and I think we grew even closer on this trip.
Visiting the Sacre Cour and Spending Time With Anneliese
My Auntie Lara (my mother's sister) married my Uncle Sigi and ended up getting divorced but our family is still very close. The woman is the picture is Sigfried's sister Anneliese who I had never met before but I had the pleasure of meeting one of her daughters in 2012 during my Discover the World semeter. Ironically Anneliese's daughter Sara is just a few years older than me and we are both studying political science and philosophy. Anyway, since two years ago I didn't get to meet Anneliese, we made a plan to meet her, her husband, and her other daughter, Sabrina, who I did not get to meet on my first trip to Paris. This picture at the Sacre Cour was on my grandmother's birthday after we had lunch together. It was such an incredible day and our time with her was really such a blessing.
My Uncle Sigi's family is from Austria. Anneliese prepared us an incredible traditional Austrian meal at her house for us in the 4th zone of Paris. We spent the night and made it to campus just in time for the trip to Versailles. One of our appetizers was fois gras which I had never had before with champagne (also new to me) and it was such a good time. Anneliese and her husband really made us feel at home and I truly do consider them family. We're making plans to spend next Easter together in Austria. It just warms my heart to see how close we are despite the fact that my aunt and uncle divorced. What is even more interesting is to see the blending of cultures that happens not only in my family but all over the world. Anneliese is from Austria but came to Paris for work where she met her husband who is from Algeria and came to Paris for the same reason. They raised two beautiful daughters that have such an interesting background. Even though in this picture it looks like the three of us have nothing in common, we have so much in common and our families parallel each other. The seemingly thin bond that we have because of a marriage that is now broken, I think the picture really shows how strong that connection we have is.
The first set of pictures here is from the visit to Versailles during the Dean's Fellowship Program.
I visited Versailles during my semester abroad before but this time it was different. The group of people I was with the second time around honestly were so much fun and so open to trying new things. I must admit, I think grandma made all the difference but it really was more of an experience. I noticed things both on the outside and inside that I had not previously and I really started to think about how life must have been in France during those revolutionary times. All of the people taken to the guillotine makes sense when you consider all of the work put into building Versailles where everything was lush and lavish while the people were starving. The french masses were suffering while their supposed leaders lived on the outskirts of the city far-removed from all of their struggles. The first time I visited Versailles, I did not think of these things while listening to the audio guide as it gave us the details about each piece of artwork, hall, and room of the palace.
The photos below were taken during my first trip to Versailles during Discover the World in the spring of 2012. The first visit to Versailles was really just marveling at the detail in the artwork and at the grandeur of the entire place. The second time around was more about understanding the historical relevance and putting things in context to really get a glimpse of what life was like during those times. I found myself looking specifically for things and information that may not be obvious but that was sort of hidden and possibly even implied at certain times.
The only thing I regret about both trips to Versailles was not getting to take my time to look through the gardens. It is fascinating to me how there were even technological innovations in the gardens of where the french royalty were housed while the masses were suffering from disease and struggling to obtain their basic necessities. The reason I never visited the gardens is largely attributed to the fact that it was winter both times I went so a number of the flowers weren't in bloom but it is definitely on my bucket list. I think the third time is the charm so I'll have to kidnap my grandmother and head back to Versailles one more time, preferably in the spring to check out the gardens. I guess for now I'll have to settle for lovely photographs.
Even though I did not get the chance to explore the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, I did make a couple of visits to the Luxembourg Gardens. I had never visited the garden before this year and it was breathtaking. I flew into Paris the weekend before the fellowship started and spent the time with two of my friends. They insisted that visit the Luxembourg Gardens and I could not understand their fascination until I got there and I saw it. The Palais de Lexumbourg shown left here, the green space, trees, flowers, geese and happy little children all running around really make the place just seem so peaceful.
After the trip, I started going through pictures from my travels in Europe and the Park in Paris really reminded me of El Parque San Maria Luisa in Sevilla, also where la Plaza de Espana is located. The park has a similar feel but a totally different history behind the park.
Speaking of history, the history behind how and why Palais de Luxembourg was built is fascinating. Marie de Medici had the palace built fashioned after Palazzo Pitti in Florence, her childhood home. The two palaces have a striking resemblance almost identical.
Somehow after staying in Paris for five weeks during Discover the World, I did not discover Notre Dame. During a midnight run, my friends and I briefly walked around the 4th arrondesmont to see if we found anyone but that was the extent of my visit to the Notre Dame. This winter's visit was really important because now my second time around, I did not have the feeling of "oh I'll come back soon". I just wish my grandmother had been with us for this part of the trip because I think she would have enjoyed it.
There is some striking imagery of the Notre Dame but something about the place gave me a eerie feeling. Our tour guide did an excellent job of telling us about the history of the cathedral, both about its construction as well as what happened inside the church. A couple of things which stood out to me about the history were about the carvings on the outside of the church. I already had a strange feeling toward gothic churches but after learning of the carvings and scultures on the cathedral, my slight fear of gothic churches did not get any better. The gargoyle pictured below and the close up of the rest of the carvings on the church were two things that give the church such a dark feeling. The gargoyle to keep away demons and the carvings representing the fallen angels. Considering the time when the church was built, I guess the darkness makes sense but it is still a bit frightening for me.
It's interesting how the first time I saw the Notre Dame, I knew there was something dark and mysterious about the place. The day we visited this year it was raining and cloudy, adding to the gloom of the place. I am glad that I was able to come back and take the time to actually learn about the Notre Dame. I do not think I would have chosen to come here on my own if given the choice which is why I am so grateful for what we learned on the tour. I actually prefer the Sacre Coeur with it's beautiful view even though the inside of the Notre Dame is more appealing.
Being from Texas where a number of our historic sites, including cemeteries, are relatively new, I am always taken aback by the centuries worth of history and family ties found in cemeteries. I have this feeling seeing the large cemeteries in New York that seemingly stretch for miles and miles but I definitely had this feeling in Paris too. France has produced a number of scholars in my fields of politics and philosophy two of the most famous contemporary philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir. Studying them in contemporary philosophy last fall then being able to actually visit their graves was something! The funny thing is that they were seemingly always in opposition to one another and then somehow they ended up sharing a grave.
Another very important person buried at Montparnasse who was relevant to me was Rosalie Rendu. Her grave was adorned with flowers and Sister Bernie really painted a nice picture for us about what kind of person she was. Rosalie's grave being catered to by the descendents of a woman who she helped is a testament to the life of service she lived. It is one thing to read about her great works but to physically see how moved someone was by her that their descendents honor her life by taking care of her grave was truly moving.
Legacy of Rosalie Rendu
My project in Paris was centered around Rosalie Rendu and discovered how she chose me. I am finding that through all of my reflections, I have come to a greater awareness about myself. Looking into the life of Rosalie Rendu also helped me look into my own life to really ask what I am doing to help others. She was a force to be reckoned with during the Reign of Terror and did not let fear of cholera or possibly being martyred slow her down. She was relentless in her efforts to help those in need despite the obstacles she faced.
My first encounter with her that I always reference was through the GLOBE Program where our goal, much like Rosalie's is to reach the poorest of the poor and meet a need. The part of this which has been so moving to me is how she was fearless. As a GLOBE Fellow, I will be traveling to Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere behind Haiti. I have been wanting to do fieldwork to study microfinance and to work in economic development but I am afraid. Afraid of illness and also the dangers that come along with being in the most desolate areas but seeing Rosalie Rendu's legacy and how fearless she was inspires me to conquer my fears. I am especially motivated when I see how my work can actually help pull people out of poverty.
The people seated to the left are the recipients of the Rosalie Rendu Revolving Self-Help Loan. Each of them is involved in petty trade and with the loan GLOBE provided, they are getting a head start in being able to sustain themselves. I want to leave a legacy of more success stories and I also want to reach more people but it ultimately requires me to go out into those rural areas that are not being reached and figure out how to address their issues. In likeness to Rosalie Rendu I hope that one day I may help even just a fraction of the people she was able to reach.
I think this picture pretty much sums up my experience in France this year, I spent a good portion of it just as I am seen in the picture above. The food was fantastic this time around. The first photo there is of me eating a crepe on our last night of the program and it was also my first crepe in France. I am not sure if you notice but there is definitely a theme here, I did not enjoy France at all the first time I visited. To tell you the truth, I experienced more in two weeks the second time around than I did during the five weeks I was here two years ago. This entire experience I have had with France taught me a lot about myself but also about people in general. I allowed some of the people I was with, the weather, and my own fear prevent me from taking in all that Paris had to offer. Your attitude has a large effect on how you perceive things. Positive attitude: positive outlook which makes you see everything in a completely different light. I can tell you that my vision of Paris two years ago was one of a cold, dark place with catacombs and really just a shadow of darkness over the entire city. Now, after somewhat of an attitude adjustment, I have a totally different perspective.
To everyone reading this, excuse me because I am going to speak directly to Dr. Upton for just a moment:
Does this look familiar? Dr. Upton the morning you and I had breakfast together, this is the jam I was crazy about. I did a little digging and learned some pretty interesting stuff about that tasty treat!
The english translation of the french word coings is "quince" and it is an apple/pear-like fruit that originated from the Fertile Crescent. It is certainly not a piece of fruit we can pick up at the local market in the United States. I wish the Paris campus included this ancient apple along with the rest of the fruit they served us because apparently quinces give off a powerful aroma.
The most interesting fact of all that I discovered about the quince is that because apples were unknown in the ancient world, a quince might well have tempted Eve. In the garden of Eden that forbidden fruit might have been a quince instead of an apple. Fascinating because when I think of how delicious that jam was and the information I have learned about the quince, I can imagine how it could have been tempting. Not only does the fruit look appetizing but the strong aroma was probably alluring as well.
This delicious sandwich pictured above is Croque Monsier which in my opinion is grilled cheese taken to a whole new level. It looks very simple to make and it is incredibly tasty. The first time I had it was on my grandmother's birthday at Mont Marte where all the shops are before you go up the hill to the Sacre Couer. I am disappointed that I did not get to try this two years ago but maybe if I had been paying closer attention I would have known to try it.
The night before Versailles that my grandmother and I spent with Anneliese was the first time I tried foie gras and it was very delicious. It does bother me that the birds are force fed so their livers will be larger but I tried it regardless and thoroughly enjoyed it with our meal. I did not try as many different foods as I would have liked to but my grandmother and I did try quite a bit. I tried more french food during my week with her than I did during my entire month of discovering France. While we were in Versailles, we ate at a little restaurant right outside the palace where she had French onion soup.
My grandmother and I made a friend at the Cecil Hotel where she was staying named Khalil. He was probably one of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I helped him practice his english every night while he helped me practice my french. In those moments when I had to leave my grandmother to fend for herself, Khalil took care of her and made sure she got to where she needed to be. He really served as our lifeline to one another becuase I could contact her through him. He was so sweet that he even took us out to dinner the Saturday night before my grandmother's birthday. I wanted to see what the French onion soup was all about so I ordered one too! Khalil has kept in touch with both of us and this winter I may take a graduate course in his home country, Morocco. He lives in Paris now so we would have to coordinate our efforts to visit but it would be worth it! The picture below was taken by our waitress.
Khalil, Anneliese, and even some of our taxi drivers really helped mold my image of Paris. They were so open and welcoming that I felt this warmness as opposed to the darkness I felt during my first visit. They restored my faith in people and really encouraged me to try things. Khalil and Anneliese both really encouraged me to practice my french (which I had never tried before this trip) reassuring me that failure should not deter me from trying. I walked away from this program with more of an open mind to trying new things, being positive, and most of all giving people a chance to make a good impression without assuming they will look at me a certain way because I am American.