Monday, August 10, 2009

Camping 2.0

I've led a nearly non-technological life for the past few weeks, with only occasional access to e-mails and intermittent cellphone coverage, and zero logins to Facebook. It's been great!

Since finishing my internship, Nate and I spent a weekend in Lucerne, five days in Paris and a long weekend in scenic Overton, UK...then one night at my dad's (well, Nate had a flight rebooked due to weather and spent the night in Providence at a hotel) and 11 days camping in Acadia National Park in Maine. We sublet our apartment, you see, since neither one of us would be there for June and July, but the only way we could do it was to sublet it through August 16! So we are currently homeless, and having spent all our money in Europe, are living the cheap but wonderful life of meals cooked over the fire and days spent biking or hiking on beautiful trails or walking on rocks by the ocean.

We head back home on Sunday with stops at both of my parents' houses beforehand, but we are spending the last few days of this long vacation in Camden, ME. In contrast to our remote location in Acadia, the state park here is ultra-modernized and even includes wireless internet access at most campsites! So, I am typing this on Nate's tiny netbook from my seat at the picnic table in our site, with chips and salsa and beer (shhhhh) and Nate across from me, planning our activities for the next couple of days. The mosquitos are leaving us alone and our few neighbors are very quiet, so overall it is a lovely, peaceful evening.

But I kind of enjoyed being off the grid, so I'll retreat now to offline mode. Look for more updates and photos in a week or so.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm too sexy for this haircut

Almost unbelievably, today was the last day of my internship! It was a really good experience; in fact it was pretty much a perfect continuation of my coursework this past year. I had really nice colleagues and a lot of variety in my work responsibilities, and the drudgery of doing some boring administrative work was offset by the opportunities I had to exercise the kind of initiative authorized by my unique position as a French-speaking American staff member (actually a not-entirely-unique position: I shared it, funny enough, with another Jessica from Southeastern Vermont.

I'm ready to move on, though, and have a lot of fun plans for the next few weeks. First stop is tomorrow's drive to Lucerne to see some old friends and hopefully enjoy some Alpine scenery. Nate's never been to Switzerland so I'm hoping to put together an impressive itinerary of Swiss experiences.

My hair was getting a little shaggy so I decided to have a pre-vacation cut. The salon next door had two signs in the window, one saying "student discount" and the other saying "models wanted for haircuts: male and female." I was a little unsure what they meant by "models" and I didn't want to risk the embarassment of being rejected, so I went in to ask about the student discount, and offhandedly asked what the sign meant. As it turns out, it's common in France for aspiring hair stylists to get apprenticeships in salons where they gain experience between their school training and independent work. To help these apprentices get experience, they help at the shop and offer free haircuts. Free! and with no photography or actual modeling needed. So I quickly volunteered and I'm now sporting a brand new free haircut. It was well cut, but I'm still unsure how I like it. It's pretty short. I'm sure I'll have photos soon, and hopefully by then I'll be used to it. Anyway, the point is, I'm officially a model!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Le jour de gloire est arrivé

Happy Bastille Day! It was pretty uneventful here today: the fireworks tonight were canceled because of thunderstorms. Nate and I are having a great time, though. Yesterday we borrowed bikes from two of my colleagues and took off for a 25 mile trek through the wine fields of Burgundy to Beaune, where we would catch the train back to Dijon. I'm not sure who thought that was a good idea (it was me) but about a quarter of the way there someone (me) started to think it wasn't such a brilliant plan. But it was a great day, the vineyards and tiny villages were beautiful, and best of all, just when the fun was really wearing off, we arrived at the cute little town of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and found out it has a train station! After three hours and about 20 km, we were very humbled by the 7-minute train ride home, not to mention the TV coverage of 200 km stages of the Tour de France.

Last night we checked out a French tradition neither of us had ever experienced before: Le Bal des Pompiers. On the eve of Bastille Day, French firefighters open up their stations and host a huge party that's open to the public. One of my colleagues' description led me to believe we'd be the youngest participants by far and were in for a night of favorite French oldies, and we got kind of dressed up for the occasion. When we got there it turned out to be a sort of all-ages dance party, with favorite French pop classics, and of course random American things like "Summer Loving" from Grease, which always seems to pop up at European dances. It was a blast! Everybody was having fun, teenagers and young parents with kids on their shoulders, all dancing the night away. At 1 AM we got a special treat, when a small contingent of firemen (who, in France, are known for their good looks and physical fitness) put on a little strip-show on the roof of one the garages!

More photos (including half-naked firemen).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday Night

Today I moved out of the nunnery and into a student's apartment that I'm subletting for the week, in time for Nate's arrival tomorrow. It's great to have a real living space instead of a tiny little room. Also, I have my own private internet now, instead of waiting for a spot at one of six hookups to share with 30 other women in the computer room. This means I have spent the last couple of hours catching up on useless things like YouTube and Facebook. I think I may have lost a few brain cells. But on the other hand, I got to watch the trailer for the new Ricky Gervais movie!

I have just 20 pages left to read in Infinite Jest! However, with sentences like the one below (yes, one sentence) those 20 pages might take a while.

Gately now simply blows through Inman, heading for B&C over on the upscale northwest side nearer to Harvard, every light suddenly green and kind, the Aventura's ten-cylinder backwash raising an odd little tornado of discarded ad-leaflets and glassine bags and corporate-snack bags and a syringe's husk and filterless gasper-butts and general crud and a flattened Millennial Fizzy cup, like from a stand, which whirls in his exhaust, the tornado of waste does, moving behind him as the last pearly curve of the sun through baggy clouds is eaten by the countless Sancta Something and then whitewashed WASP church roofs' finials farther west, nearer Harvard, at 60k but sustained in its whirl by the strong west breeze as the last of the sun goes and a blue-black shadow quietly fills the canyon of Prospect, whose streetlights don't work for the same municipal reasons the street is in such crummy repair; and one piece of the debris Gately's raised and set spinning behind him, a thick flattened M.F. cup, caught by a sudden gust as it falls, twirling, is caught at some aerodyne's angle and blown spinning all the way to the storefront of one 'Antitoi Entertainment' on the street's east side, and hits, its waxed bottom making a clunk, hits the glass pane in the locked front shop door with a sound for all the world like the rap of a knuckly, so that in a minute a burly bearded thoroughly Canadian figure in one of those Canadianly inevitable checked-flannel shirts appears out of the dim light in the shop's back room and wipes its mouth on first one sleeve then the other and opens up the front door with a loud hinge-squeak and looks around a bit, viz. for who knocked, looking not overly pleased at being interrupted at what his sleeves betray as a foreign supper, and also, below that harried expression, looking edgy and emotionally pale, which might explain the X of small-arms ammo-belts across his checked chest and the rather absurdly large .44 revolver tucked and straining in the waistband of his jeans.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Avian Childcare

My little studio at the student residence is located just off a small courtyard, and across from my door is a little nook in which a bird had built a nest. A few weeks ago I realized there were three tiny baby birds in there and a mama bird who flies back and forth bringing morsels of food for the little squawking babies. The hatchlings are very excitable, and can actually make a very high-pitched racket when clamoring for a meal.

When I lived in Amsterdam in 2001, a pigeon built a nest on my balcony and laid an egg in it, hatching a little baby bird; I thought it was cute so I stepped out on the balcony to take pictures, and shortly thereafter I discovered the baby abandoned, splayed pitifully across the nest, having starved to death. Since that event (and the accompanying trauma of having to dispose of the dead bird and nest by myself) I've been cautious about getting too close to live baby animals. So I didn't try to get a close look at these little ones.

Today I stepped out of my room and noticed that the nest was empty and the regular twittering was a little further away, out in the courtyard. The babies had learned to fly! (They grow up so fast, don't they?) I walked past the courtyard where the little cuties were fluttering around, bumping into walls and windows, still getting used to using their wings. The mama bird was nearby, and squawking loudly at me to move along.

Well, apparently by the time I came back for lunch, the mama was quite tired of humans walking past her baby and had gone on the defensive to protect them. As I tried to cross the courtyard she came at me, landing briefly two times on my head as I retreated back into the main building. I tried to go through a side hallway and come out another door, but there she was, hovering. Mind you this is a very small bird, but still! It was hilarious and a little scary at the same time.

I managed to leave out the back doorway undetected after lunch, and I'm already planning my defense for this evening. Let's just say that the umbrella I'm carrying is only partly because of the gray skies.

Speaking of weather, I'm pretty happy about the forecast for the next few days:

That might be too small to read, but basically it indicates very reasonable, balmy temperatures with little fluffy clouds for the next few days. I'm also excited because this four-day forecast finally includes this Sunday (dim for dimanche) which is when Nate gets here! Yay! And it's a four-day weekend, since the school "makes the bridge" between the weekend and Bastille Day on Tuesday. I'm very excited to show him around Dijon and to have a partner for exploration of undiscovered parts of the city.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Supposedly Fun Thing that's Actually Really Fun

I am a bit frustrated at work these past few days, dealing with some people who are, let's just say, difficult. I would love to have a big rant about this, but I am aware that public rants about professional issues can sometimes be a little bit harmful to one's career development, so I will keep the details to myself.

Instead, I'll tell you about a little side project I have going on, along with supposedly a couple thousand people around the world. Infinite Summer is a three-month long project in which people read and discuss the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It's a three-month-long project because the book is more than 1,000 pages long, including many many endnotes, some of which refer to other endnotes or have endnotes of their own.

I first heard of DFW when I met Nate; he (Wallace) is his (Nate's) favorite author. I'm pretty sure it was on one of the very first times we went out that he told me about IJ and its notes, the reading of which is essential to understanding the novel. I remember specifically that he talked about one particular endnote, an eight-page filmography of one of the book's characters. He said it seems kind of excessive but turns out to be really important. Intriguing!

Then last September David Foster Wallace killed himself in his home in California. Like lots of fans, Nate was very sad to hear of his death, and set about collecting as many non-published works as the internet could provide (he already owned all the published works.) It's unfortunate that a tragic death can create a whole new wave of fans for a writer or artist, but it is so. I read a few of his "easier" non-fiction pieces, including A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again (about a luxury cruise) and Consider the Lobster (about Maine's annual Lobster Fest.) With a writing style prone to endlessly contorted sentences, detailed reference from everything from pop culture to linguistics to biochemistry, reading his works is both challenging and frustrating, but for these same reasons is also very rewarding.

But so anyway, being away from boyfriend and family and friends, living in a quasi-nunnery in France with no money and no TV, as it turns out is a situation that's very conducive to reading a complex and massive novel like Infinite Jest. I'm currently on around page 800, but when the Infinite Summer project started up on June 21, I doubled back to start again from the beginning, reading a first and second time simultaneously to keep up with my own schedule but also participate in the scheduled and spoiler-limited Infinite Summer forums. This means I am using four bookmarks (two for text, two for endnotes) and it means that I will have plenty of reading material for the rest of the summer, including this weekend, when I'm leading a group on a weekend excursion. And I'm not going to go into detail on why, but let's just say at the end of each long day I'll be glad to retreat to my room and read in solitude.

Monday, June 22, 2009

La stagiaire

I have now reached the halfway point of this internship: four weeks behind me, four more to go. Out of the seven groups of students coming over for summer programs here, six have arrived, and of those, three have already left. So as it happens, just as I am getting into the swing of things and learning the names of people and streets, the number of people who get to benefit from my increased knowledge keeps getting smaller.

I have to say it's a strange thing being an intern (stagiaire) again at age 33. I have supervised enough student interns in previous jobs to know that the range of capability and initiative can vary greatly from person to person. And I recognized some apprehension at first in the assignment of new tasks, when colleagues wondered just what end of that range I would occupy. Of course, I'm capable of managing my own work, so I don't think they are too worried about me.

My colleagues are busy with their own work, so I'm trying not to be that intern that constantly needs to be helped with her job...but the French language keeps getting in my way! Sometimes people have to explain things to me slowly, or a second time, because of some unfamiliar vocabulary. Sometimes I have to ask for help with wording of a phrase or interpretation of an e-mail I'm writing or reading. In short, I need a little more supervision than I want, which is sometimes frustrating.

And another thing! In general, I think I have a pretty good sense of humor and in general I like to make jokes and laugh with colleagues. Unfortunately, in my experience, the ability to show your full sense of humor is one of the last foreign-language skills to develop. I'm getting there, but not quite as quick on the draw with wit as I would like to be. I should work on this, because I'd much rather be remembered as the intern who was funny but didn't always say things right, than as the intern who spoke perfect French but was really boring to have around.

But overall things are going really well. I have finally learned enough about Dijon and the school to be considered some kind of expert for students with questions. I'm working on an extensive list of upcoming events in/near Dijon: in summer months the music festivals and free events abound! I'm keeping close track of exchange students' fall course registrations; I am involved in serious discussions re: student behavior and how beer pong is not an accepted part of French culture; I have nearly memorized the English-speaking doctor's phone number, and just today learned the word for "rash" (the itchy skin kind, not the behavior kind.) I get to be part of all kinds of fun tasks and activities, and who knows what is in store for the next month!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bonjour Dijon

Two and a half weeks ago, I was at home putting the final touches on a semester-long group project, proofreading our 60+ page proposal, getting ready for our final presentation, and not really thinking too specifically about my upcoming internship in France. In quick succession the unresolved elements of my life came together: we succeeded in subletting out our apartment for the whole time we’d be away, I’d finished off my final assignments one-by-one. Nate and I had worked out our travel plans: he, on tour until mid-July, will come to France afterwards for two weeks and we’ll return together. On the very last day of classes, after a successful presentation, I was offered and accepted the job I had been hoping to get for next year. Whew! The end-of-semester fog of stress cleared and it was time to pack.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little room here at the Tremouille Young Ladies’ Residence in Dijon, France, exhausted after 24 full hours of car-train-plane-bus-plane-bus-train-bus-train-taxi transit. The residence, mostly for students, is female-only (as you may have guessed from the name) and run by Catholics; the room décor and furniture are spartan and what I imagine to be nunnery-like. It’s clean, though, has common kitchens and lovely gardens and terraces, and best of all is very very cheap, which is important on my measly intern stipend. It felt great to unpack after carrying luggage all around all day in the 90 degree heat. Bedtime was early because of jetlag and to prepare for an early start to my first work day: 5 AM meeting time with a colleague to ride together to Paris to pick up two groups at the airport. Both groups are U.S. college students, participating in summer programs abroad at Burgundy School of Business, my employer for the next two months.

Last week, I was settling in. My supervisor, absent at a conference the previous week, had returned and given me lots of tasks. I was getting to know my colleagues and finally had a proper tour of the building where everyone was very nice and welcoming. My French is doing great and I’m having no trouble communicating. I had realized with a shock that I’ve been speaking this language for twenty years, and decided it’s time to stop worrying about the words I don’t know or don’t pronounce right. I was finally beginning to know the answers to some of the questions asked of me by the group: Where is the student restaurant? How do I access the wireless network? Why did it take so long for the waiter to bring my coffee? Where do I go to get medicine for this sore throat? What does that sign say?

This week, I’m taking on more responsibilities. A new group arrived yesterday, and I gave them an introduction to Dijon and a tour of the school, and tomorrow lead two groups on a visit to the Regional Counsel. I’m enjoying the little perks of the job, like the opportunity to participate in field trips and the occasional wine tasting. I like the way my involvement in these programs neatly connects my past and future careers: tourism and education abroad. Of course, my clothing and shoes are all wrong and with no budget for shopping I will have to resign myself to always looking like a foreigner…but I don’t mind so much.

For photos of my first couple of weeks, click here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sharp knives and hot oil at 1:30 AM

The first week of classes went well, I like all my professors and the classes seem interesting so far. Last night we went out with some classmates to celebrate the end of the first week. We started at a friend's house where we watched the debate. We made up our own very flexible rules for a debate drinking game, which included taking a drink any time:
-Obama said "Look" at the beginning of a sentence
-McCain said "Warshington" (or any mispronunciation)
-either candidate dropped names, especially of an Average Joe met on the campaign trail (hello, bracelets!)
-we felt like it

It was a good time, and from there we continued down to the local wine bar, which apparently becomes the local hip-hop club for the Barely Twenty-One crowd in Brattleboro on weekends. Given their raging youthful hormones perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised that a fistfight nearly broke out in the bar, requiring four police officers and a state trooper to intervene. That was a good sign that it was time to go home.

In a larger city, a long night out might call for a visit to the local greasy pizza place, greasy kebab shop, or (my favorite) greasy french fry stand, but sadly none of these are available here. So we decided to go home and make our own greasy snack. It perhaps was not such a wise decision to handle sharp knives and hot cooking oil after consuming a number of alcoholic beverages, but we went for it anyway...and it was GREAT.

Our fries took only about 20 minutes and were flavorful and delicious. Here's how to do it:
1. Cut two potatoes into french fry strips, as thick or thin as you want.
2. Pour about an inch of cooking oil in a deep pan, and heat it on medium
3. Put a couple of tablespoons of flour, some salt and pepper, garlic powder, and any other flavorings you want into a brown paper bag. Add the potatoes and shake it all around.
4. When the oil is hot, put the potatoes in the pan (careful not to splash yourself) and cook them, flipping, poking and rotating so they cook evenly and don't stick together, until they're a nice golden-brown.
5. Drain the fries on several paper towels, then put them in another brown paper bag while still hot. Add salt, and shake them all around again.
6. Scarf them down ravenously, preferably with mayonnaise, but ketchup and mayo mixed works too. Yum!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Photographic evidence

It's a quiet weekend here. Nate is in Charlottesville celebrating his friend Nick's 30th birthday, and I am working on my first two papers for school. One is done (and was submitted this afternoon) and the other one should be fairly easy, so it's not a stressful time here.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we hiked up Mt. Wantastiquet, the local peak just across the river in New Hampshire. It was a nice hike and the view was beautiful:

View of SIT from Wantastiquet
(See the white buildings in the center of the photo? That's my school.)

We're lucky to have had beautiful weather most of the time since we've moved here. Last weekend we picked apples, a fine New England tradition. Can you see me in the tree?
The best apples are at the top

I finally uploaded some photos from our move. Here's one of our long and narrow room. Thankfully, it looks a lot better now:
The main room

To see more photos of the apartment and our weekend adventures, check out my photoset on Flickr.