April 1 Woke up very early and didn't feel like going back to sleep. So instead I attempted to organize the various photography pages in a somewhat more uniform fashion. It took quite a while.
After breakfast, it was decided that we'd visit the town of Prangins with its Swiss National Museum, followed by Nyon. To get to Prangins, we took the train, and would've taken the bus, had we not missed it. So we walked an extra half-hour instead.
The museum was situated in an old chateau, built in the 16th century. In it one received a selective, though interesting, description of major points in Swiss history, liberally illustrated with artifacts. Swiss mercenaries, exporters, labor leaders and bourgeoisie all had their place in the display. We had a pleasant tour.
Leaving, we barely made the bus to Nyon. There, we had our lunch in the Migros cafeteria. This was limited to deli items, as the rest of the establishment had finished its lunch shift. After that, we passed through the main streets of Nyon, visiting a friend of my uncle's who sold rugs in the process. We found ourselves, at length, by Lake Geneva, watching the boats, birds, and human passers-by.
Returning to Geneva by train, we walked back from the station. The day was sunny and clear, and so we saw huge numbers of people on the quay, in the parks, and in the streets in general. When finally back at home, there was an earlyish dinner, some phone calls, and I showed a few of the photos taken during the day. I went to bed early.
April 2 From Geneva to Lucern today. Woke up later than I'd either expected or hoped. Quickly stuffed my bags together, and had a quick breakfast. We took the bus to the train station, although more time was spent waiting for the bus and train than in the bus. Geneva was remarkably free of traffic, perhaps because it was still somewhat early on Saturday morning.
My train left at 9:10, and after difficulty finding the 2nd class section, I found a seat and took it. The railroad car I was in included several schoolgirls, a few businessman, and various people who's reason for travel were less apparent. Most were quiet and read or slept, save the girls who burst out occasionally into gales of laughter, about what I could not tell.
The train took the same route as the one to Nyon the day before. It did not stop in Nyon however, going along the lake, without stops, until we reached Lausanne after 30 minutes or so. From Lausanne, it continued along the lake a bit further, before turning inland. The day was like the previous one, so I enjoyed a good view of the surrounding countryside. We passed numerous little towns, stopping twice before Fribourg in little towns whose names I can't remember.
To Bern from Fribourg was perhaps another half hour. From Bern, the train made its way south and west, going through a large number of tunnels in the process. We made two stops, in Zofingen and Sursee, before Lucern itself, which arrived somewhat unexpectedly, several minutes before expected. The station was quite large, and bustling, when I got off the train there, just before noon. My cousin was there along with her husband and 2 year old son, and we went to their place: a beautiful house a few miles out of Luzern with a fantastic view of the Vierwaldstattersee (large lake) in front, and the mountain Pilatus in back. A number of the mountains had snow on them, and although there was a fair bit of haze, one could see all manner of towns and villages around the lakeshore.
No sooner had we arrived and I become acquainted with the scenery and the my cousin's son than my uncle from Zurich, despite having back problems all week, also arrived. We sat out on the patio for quite a while, warming in the sun, watching the little boy play, and eating a truly Swiss lunch.
Later in the afternoon, we drove a bit around the lake, and took a walk along it to the site where my cousin's new-house-to-be is under construction. Just the walk there was exciting, at the edge of a lake, on a narrow one-way road shared with cars and bicycles, and through the little town just off the lake, full of inns, old houses, and views of the lake. The construction site had a good bit of equipment there, as well as the basement section already laid out and the cement poured. I took quite a number of pictures. We returned through an equally scenic route.
In the evening, we had a cozy dinner, talked a good bit, and looked at the photos of the day (I'm beginning to believe in digital photography: almost instant gratification). Finally I indulged my lack of sleep.
April 3 I woke around 6AM, for reasons unknown. Peeked out the window and the lake outside was shimmering while the eastern horizon was beginning to lighten up. So I used the opportunity to take some low-light photos with the digital camera, and when the sun had risen enough to end the low-light conditions, I packed and did a few other useful odds and ends.
We had a shortish breakfast around 9AM, and then my cousin drive me to the train station in Lucern. The day was already gorgeous. At the station, said a quick good-bye, and ran off to the tracks (forgetting, apparently, the lunch we'd prepared).
From Lucern, I was 35 minutes in a local train that ended finally at Olten, having stopped in most major towns on the way (including Aarburg, which displayed an impressive chateau). There was a 15 minute pause in Olten, then the fast train (coming up from Italy) went through to Basel, making only one stop between in under 40 minutes.
At Basel, one must cross to the French portion of the station. This would have been easier if I'd read the signs carefully, instead of going off in the wrong direction. The French passport control did not inspire confidence. There was no line or booth, merely two men examining papers of people arrayed in clumps. The one I went to asked where I was born, and I answered California (which is what my passport says). But he persisted, so I told him "Half Moon Bay." "What?" he said. "It's a city in California," I responded. He then took a lengthy look at the passport, and returned it, without recording anything. Officials aren't easy to understand.
From Basel (France), the French train to Paris (Gare de l'Est) departs on a 5 hour odyssey. Despite the fact that it had less distance and rough terrain to cover than the train from Paris to Geneva, it was a considerably longer ride. So I read, gazed out the window, tried to nap, examined my maps of Paris, and so forth. The sun was strong which made photos of the scenery impossible due to glare and reflection. In retrospect, I think going to Lausanne and taking the TGV would have been both simpler and faster.
When I arrived in Paris, the immediate question was how to get to the home of my host family. Metro (subway) was the most straightforward option, except that I could not figure out how to buy tickets. I had no Euros, and the exchange places were closed. The machines didn't take my credit card. Finally, I found an open booth, where one could buy tickets from a person. This I did.
After that, the metro wasn't too bad. I had to change lines at the Palais Royal station, but the trains on both lines were not too full. It was once I left the metro that matters again became difficult. Rue Charles de Gaulle is originally called Rue de Neuilly, so I ended up going in all possible (wrong) directions, and not finding what I wanted. Finally, I realized which of the 6 streets the signs pointing to indicated Charles de Gaulle. After that it was easy. A quick cell-phone call afterward, and I was in.
My host family live in an upper floor appartment which is surprisingly large. My room is the same size as the double I had at Stanford. The other parts of the appartment are smaller, like the shower and elevator, but it was still interesting.
We chatted for a bit, had a tasty light dinner, and then I began the exciting process of unpacking. I discovered in the process that a large amount of the somewhat important things (French dictionary) were in the bag I'd left at my uncle's the previous Monday. Oh well. Spoke a good bit with the other student who is staying with the same family, and finally made my way to bed at 11PM, and slept quite with problems.
April 4 First day of orientation. Me and the other Stanford student with this host family (hereafter denoted R) had a quick breakfast before leaving around 8AM. We took the metro down from Porte Maillot, but the train, for reasons that were explained only in very rapid French, broke down in the Concord station, and so we changed to a different line, which turned out to go direct to Notre Dame des Champs, about 100 meters from the building that Stanford in Paris is housed in (l'Institut Superieur d'Electronique de Paris).
Orientation proved to be a rapid-fire explanation of all manner of things that might (or might not be useful). In practice, it proved to be a half-French/half-English lecture on French society, culture, and the facilities of the Stanford program. The net result was that from 9:30AM-7:30PM, with occasional breaks, we were being bombarded with information.
The more interesting things we learned in the course of the day were where the Stanford in Paris library was, why we should not smile when in public, why we should not try to make smalltalk to French people on the metro or elsewhere, how pickpocketry was a lively industry, and how we must try to blend in and not be tourists. This was a highly amusing way to look at things given the fact that most of us had only a highly imperfect grasp of the language by then. I suppose had we been given such an orientation before leaving Stanford, one would have been far less likely to go, which is why they didn't.
Still, I did manage to drop by my uncle's house in the evening to pick up a back that'd been left there before going off to Switzerland. As it was somewhat heavy, I had a full appreciation for just how big the "correspondance" at the Franklin Roosevelt metro station was (about .5 km I'd say). Back at my room in my host family's apartment (Madame and Monsieur Z) I concluded my unpacking, discovering that I was missing a few important odds and ends in the process.
April 5 Ah this feels like Stanford already. Which is to say, today was devoted mostly to orientation information of less-than-widespread relevance to our group. Like, for instance, medical internships. The one interesting bit was a slightly in-depth talk about classes. Otherwise, R and I took the metro in, sat through our orientation, had a break for lunch, and another used for e-mail, and finally returned sometime in the evening after meeting with our ISEP "language partners." Mine (W) seems a good enough fellow, but terribly busy (3 phone calls during our introductory discussion) so I'm uncertain how often we'll be meeting. Returned to Madame et Monsieur Z's for the evening, this time in time for dinner, which was tasty, but also a reminder of the limits of my French.
April 6 Definitely feels like Stanford. Especially the feeling that everything is going slightly but indubitably wrong. Still, things began on a good note. Was in the library (of Stanford's program, a small room who's main interesting feature is available ethernet jacks if one arrives early). First course of the morning is a history one, entitled "Empires and Cultures." In practice, it looks like ours will be a course devoted to an alternative to the "Rise of the West" teleology that one receives through much of the education system.
Next course is French, and it's the easiest French offered hear, since I did abysmally on the placement exam. This is amusing, since a number of people who can barely speak (but apparently have good grammar) placed into the higher 2 French courses. Good for them. Our course seems to have a spread of ability about the size of Alaska, from people who can both talk and understand quite well, to people who can do neither at all. I'm somewhere in the middle, which is perhaps good news. In the course of the class, we learned there is no textbook, and the course plan is not fixed in advance. Highly encouraging. Something tells me that improvisation isn't likely to have very happy results.
Final course of the day (right after the other 2) is history as well, "Franco-Arab Encounters" whose premise is that Franco-Arab interactions contributed not only to the Arab world, but today, in many ways, to the French world (witness the huge numbers of North Africans in Paris's banlieus err... suburbs). A lot of people seem attracted to it since it only meets once a week for two hours. These probably aren't the sort of people one wants in a history seminar.
Afterwards, I spent a depressing amount buying two rather small texts. Stanford in Paris makes the Stanford bookstore's prices look like nothing ($45 for 200 page paperback here?!). Like all monopolies though, alternatives basically don't exist. I also wanted to pick up some odds and ends like stationary, but my after-classes-walk led me in a big circle revealing neither "papeterie" nor reasonably priced "boulangerie" and so I returned to the house. Had dinner with M. and Mme. Z and R., which was quite elaborate, and played some flute afterwards. I haven't played in 10 days, and it sounds like it. Was sufficiently tired to go to sleep around 10PM.
April 7 Only one class today, and that one first thing in the morning (which here means ~10AM). Still, was almost late to that trying to make double-sided printing work, since a lot of course materials for the history class is online, and there will be no course reader (officially). Lecture was on the global balance of power and trade before the Black Death. Which is to say, definitely not in favor of the "west" (which was hopelessly disunited at the time anyway).
After class, I made a valiant and ultimately successful effort to find stationary, but got lost on my way back, went in a circle, and finally could not find the lunch place I was looking for (we'd eaten there 2 days earlier). Returned to the house for a lot of reading, and discovered my French reading speed (at least of historic texts) is about 10 pages an hour. Yikes! Did a little flute, had some dinner, did some more reading, had a phone call from the folks back in California that completely killed my phone's battery, and went to sleep. Je ne suis pas content.
April 8 Never quite knew what to do with Fridays. Not at Stanford. Not apparently in Paris either. Stayed in bed instead of getting up right away to think on that problem. No answers were forthcoming, so got up anyway. Decided the day would be excellent to complete the chores I hadn't done before. First problem: rain. Partially solved with jacket. Second problem: money. Despite having found banks by accident on several occasions, had a hard time finding one near the Stanford center.
Since we don't really have a library to speak of at the Stanford center (one smallish room, always with at least 15 people in it), my next stop was at the Institut Catholique (Catho in local parlance). There, with the aid of 40 euros, I got a library card for their library. Library is supposed to be big, which means plenty of spots to study. Their hours are also better. Stanford is supposed to refund the costs of such academic expenses. Hope Stanford keeps its end of the bargain up. Of course I got lost on the way, so I also found where the Jardins Luxembourg are. Another place to explore more fully later.
Sat in on the Art History class on the architecture of Paris. It wasn't a bad class, but somehow rewriting the "rise of the West" seems more exciting than figuring out the role of various buildings, monuments and other landmarks in the city. Plus, I can only concentrate for 15-20 minutes on lectures in French. Then I get very mentally fatigued, and my comprehension drops from okay to negligible. A problem for a course primarily given in French.
For lunch, I followed R and some of his friends to a crêperie. The crêpes were fine, but I can easily see how one exceeds the daily lunch stipend. And honestly, for $10, it wasn't that much food. Have to adjust to the cost of living here.
After various monkeying around in the Stanford "library" (printing, sending e-mail, getting course materials online), I decided to head off for my second major errand: finding (and getting access to) the American Library of Paris. Going by foot was quite an ordeal. Up the Boulevard Raspail (now with a map I know which way north is), a pseudo-detour on the Rue de Bac, a long ways on the Rue de Grenelle, interrupted by a mistake (and detour) around Les Invalides, and finally arriving at the surprisingly small and unassuming entrance of the library.
This library I actually got to explore, for I couldn't get the card initially due to some missing paperwork from Stanford. What I discovered was a lot like the HMB public library (where I did 40 hours of volunteer work a few years back). It's collection was perhaps more select, with fewer children's books, and it had a stacks which I didn't see. But the software-catalog of the library was identical, and I mean identical, to the one HMB had 8-9 years back (and may still).
After that I crossed the Seine, discovered a Metro station that I didn't know existed (Alma-Marceau) and apart from the interminable 'correspondance' at the Franklin Roosevelt station, I returned home (host family's appartment) in good time. R was apparently off to the movies (to be followed by dinner and possibly clubbing). I for my part tried to get some flute practice in, ate a quick dinner with M. and Mme. Z, and retired for reading and bed, whilst they arranged the local church's Sunday Mass. Amusing that I, the atheist, should find myself in such a house (not that it's been a problem: all that I am expected to do is bow my head before dinner with a glass of water in my right hand, and say amen, much better than at preschool where we were all expected to say grace).
April 9 Woke up far more times last night than I would have liked. The problems are 2. First, it's pretty cold today. Second, the window panes like to vibrate every time an even moderate amount of traffic is going by on the road. And by vibrate, I mean they make an incessant buzzing noise. It's more than a little irritating. So I got up, eventually, around 9AM. Nobody else was around for quite a while, and then, only M. Z who correctly recommended that I have take a good jacket when I went out.
Outside was the sort of clear day which is due almost entirely to wind have blown most of the clouds off to other locales. It was frigid. Still, I did have a good look at Neuilly, including the so-called 'centre-ville.' I found Monoprix the functional (though not qualitative) equivalent of Migros, and so could pick up food for the afternoon for less than I had feared (we receive neither lunch nor dinner on weekend, rather 20 euro a day to get them for ourselves. My return was rapid on account of the cold, and since nobody else was in back at the house, I had a good relaxed time practicing flute, although sirens on the road occasionally distracted from that aim.
For most of the afternoon, I was in some fashion reading Eugen Weber's "The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s." While the topic in general is what one would expect, there are also sort of fascinating details. From the fact that the depression hit France late, to the wrangling over war debt repayments with the U.S., to the fact that the ambassador to the U.S. over much of that period could speak no English, the anecdotes basically speak for themselves. The (3rd) Republic was running on empty.
Indeed, I got so caught up by the reading, that I went to bed both later than usual, and feeling less tired, which meant for the first time, I actually lay in bed, awake, for a while. Not that I came up with anything brilliant. But a little thinking/relaxation time was pleasant amidst all the hustle and bustle.
April 10 Still cold, but I need to do stuff today. So after a quick breakfast, I went downtown to visit the only open library mentioned in the guide Stanford gave us. On the way, I discovered an in-progress marathon going along on the main road by the Seine. The library for its part was part of a Holocaust (Shoah) remembrance center, which included a security guard, X-ray machine for bags, and wall with the names of 70,000+ Jews from France who'd been killed. Including 1 with the same (uncommon) last name as my great-grandmother.
The library was disappointingly small (although perhaps the archives were larger) but I stayed and read there for quite a while. I did find in it, amazingly, a book describing Jewish refugees in Switzerland during the war. The claim was that Jews were treated well there, and that the Simon Weisenthal Center was attempting to extort money from the Swiss by publishing nasty (and false) accounts of that period. Wouldn't surprise me, although the author seemed a bit too pro-Swiss in his telling to be completely free of scholarly precommitments.
I returned to the house in the afternoon where I continued to read the history of France's Jews. In the medieval period, hardly a king went by who didn't either expel the Jews, or force a change in lending practices that hurt Jewish bankers. Quelle surprise. A quiet day, but spent on what was necessary.
April 11 Time to get busy working. No, really. Up early, a quick breakfast and I'm off and running. Have a good hour to do various small errands, followed by French class at 11:30. Aside from leaving a little dazed, class went fine. Learned about a few more tenses that I didn't know existed.
Spent most of the afternoon in the library of the Institute Catholic. Did a whole series of readings for my 2 history courses. I've no objection to a detailed account of the French invasion and occupation of Egypt under Napoleon. However, because the reading was in French, it took about 4 times longer than it should have.
Discussion for history class was in the evening. Somebody afterward claimed it was a bit like IHUM (Stanford's Introduction to the Humanities series). What he meant was that the purpose and results both seemed vague. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Considering history as merely a new kind of mythology (to replace the old) is not a bad idea. Once one accepts the legitimacy of contradictory narratives, one doesn't have a lot of choice in the area.
R and I arrived back at home just before the beginning of a truly grand dinner. A large array of courses, all exotic, followed. Unfortunately, exotic meant also potentially unpalatable. The wine was my own fault (I don't like wine, but I accepted a little bit, on the premise that it couldn't hurt. Needless to say, it was all I could do not to pour it out on the nearest plant. Yuck.). The oysters, crab and mussels were not. I am not especially fond of seafood to begin with, and tearing animals out of their shells to eat is something I'm not fond of doing. So I was happy enough when dinner was finally over, and I could gracefully head to bed, to go to sleep (for it was also a long dinner, with much conversation that I was too tired to fully understand).
April 12 First course of the day was a history of how the Portuguese and Spanish began the "Age of Discovery." The whole thing sounds even more improbable now: a combination of impossibly unlikely circumstances and luck chances. The afternoon I spent, without pause, in the same library as the day before. Pretty much spent the whole day analyzing the text I finished reading yesterday, although I also read a few other things, most notably a tract on the Indian-French fur trade in North America. Looks like some of the Indian values when it came to trading rubbed off. Oh and to Ben down in Chile, happy B-Day!
April 13 Fully day. Wednesdays are like that. First bit of the morning doing internettish things (learning about the Bitkeeper Debacle). Then History class. Then French class. Then other history class, in which I give an 8 minute presentation. Hopefully it went over well. Then a break. Then we go to the Louvre, and get a tour of the Egyptian antiquities section. Then we go to the Place de la Concorde to view the obelisk that's originally from Egypt. Then I went back home and rested. Then... Still, by the end of the day, I'd expanded my horizons for Paris, completed an assignment, met an Italian couple who'll be staying in the house with us for the rest of the week, and even managed to get rained on a fair bit. Not bad for government work. But downright good for "me in Paris" work.
April 14 Intending to productive today, I was sidetracked printing out course handouts in the morning. This proved easier said than done. The handouts were mostly sections of books that were scanned into pdf docs. First, this makes them large. Second, whoever did the scanning wasn't paying particularly good attention. There are 2 readings where entire pages are missing (important pages, by the looks of it), and many more where large portions are illegible due to poor scanning. Ah, modern technology. Met my uncle for a dinner and chat at his place which proved surprisingly lengthy. Had the opportunity to show off the photos I took in Switzerland, which I took advantage of. I'd kind of like to go back now.
April 15 For most of the morning, I wrestled with strange computer problems that made Stanford's network inaccessible from ISEP. Still no explanation, but at least now I can read my e-mail elsewhere, if need be. Also got a view of the town, courtesy of the Archiecture of Paris course. Returned in the afternoon after a moderately productive afternoon in the library. It started raining on my way to the metro. Hard. By the time I got back to the house, it'd rained for a good half hour. Yet, when I went out to pick up some edible items for the weekend, the sun was shining, and most of the sky was blue. Weird. Evening was extended by the numerous guests in the house. We were 9 at dinner, and between a bit of French, Italian and English, we more or less could communicate. I was dragooned into an impromptu concert after dinner which didn't work out too well.
April 16 A day spent doing what I should have been doing all week. Which is to say reading, taking notes, practicing flute, and a bit of other stuff on the side. Lunch was considerably better than last weekend, since I substituted good bread for matzo crackers. Finished reading about the 1930s and France ("The Hollow Years", Eugen Weber) which will hopefully allow me to move on to happier things. For the evening, took the metro to visit some friends of my uncle's down in a suburb south of Paris. Quite a ways. Dinner was quite the feast, although the conversation was mostly not understood, owing to language limitations. Being quadrilingual would be very convenient. For now though, I'll stick to improving my French. Returned in the 2nd to the last metro train of the night. Jam-packed full of 15-25 year olds returning from a night out on the town. Was too tired to complain about the fact that many smelled strongly of cigarette smoke.
April 17 It looked pleasant outside and so it proved to be. On the way over to my uncle's house (via metro) I saw a man take a dog off the train by dragging it from the tale. Odd. From my uncle's we walked south, eventually crossing the Seine, near a smaller version of the Statue of Liberty. We walked along the 'rive gauche' for quite some time, passing large numbers of Parisians and tourists making similar promenades.
The route along the Quai d'Orsay is legendary, and rightly so. You see much of central Paris on the other side of the river, including the Place de la Concorde, the Point Alexander and the Hotel de Ville. We made it as far as the Place de la Concorde before turning back. On the way, we passed platoons of tourist buses, small fleets of sightseeing boats, larger fleets anchored by the river as restaurants and shops, and a respectable contingent of pricy hotels. The return took us up the 'rive droite' past a plethora of memorials along the river side, including one apparently donated by the 'School-children of America' in honor of Lafayette, and another honoring Prince Albert of Belgium and his efforts in WWI (the memorial was inaugurated in the auspicious year 1938). Around Trocadero, we turned in and completed our walk on a collection of small streets filled to the brim with cars, shops and busy people. Such was Paris on an April Sunday.
The rest of the day wasn't quite so exciting. We had something of a latish lunch, before I returned to my home (or rather that of my host family). My headache and tired legs translated into a rather light afternoon in which all manner of little tasks were accomplished, while all the significant ones were left undone. Tomorrow is indeed another day.
April 19 My tour of libraries continues, with a brief interruption for class at 10AM. Found that most of the books I hoped to use for research are neither at the Institute Catholic, nor the American Library. Still, I found useful bits from each, and both trips were time consuming. Wound up quite tired from walking, with a heavy backpack fully of books, across most of the 7th arondissement. Not too fun. Dinner was good though, and I had the chance to get in some more flute practice. I should apologize to the neighbors one of these days.
April 18 Not really ready for the week to begin. Nonetheless, made it to French class on time. Felt like a dope throughout most of it. Guess I can't conjugate verbs too well in the necessary tenses. Oh well, at least I was early enough to print out my assignment successfully. Quiz Wednesday on the various "past tenses" that we've used. Yay. Not.
My brilliant plan to run down and return the books I'd finished reading to the American library was aborted by one simple fact: when I got there the library was closed. Pretty hard to work around that. So instead I just sat and had lunch. About 200 feet from the Eiffel tower. It would have been more idyllic if the sky didn't look quite so threatening of rain. When I got back to the open library near ISEP, life was getting a bit wet. At least I explored a bit, and have a better grasp of just how big the Montparnasse metro stop is.
History discussion in the evening centered upon an interesting article about the French-Indian fur trade from 1600-1800. The idea of business serving social ends isn't exactly new, but it took a while to sink in. Yay golf. Business and empire. Which comes first?
April 20 Too busy. History lecture, followed by French quiz and review of the "subjunctive" form of verbs. What's wrong with good, old-fashioned, indicative speech? History lecture was mostly a crash course on the industrial revolution. Whew. History discussion dealt with the penetration of western ideas and societal frameworks into Egypt. Beware the dangers of anachronistic thinking: just because someone does something that is today associated with progressive values doesn't mean they were a progressive in their time, or even that the term meant anything.
We were supposed to visit the Institut du Monde Arabe after class. We did this more or less, except I used a combination of walking, metro, and dead-reckoning to arrive at the place. Naturally nobody else was there when I got there. Spent a lot of time trying to surmise where the rest of the class was. Turns out they were late, since a bus never arrived. Our tour was given by a guide who knew a lot about architecture, and not much about Arabs. Thus the tour was about the building, more than the institute. Nonetheless, their top-level has an impressive view of Notre Dame, and their museum has some interesting bits, although how Persian rugs and Spanish vases are "Arab" I wasn't too sure. Islamic != Arab in the general case, at least.
For dinner I visited my uncle's. He wasn't actually around when I got there, so I had a little time to read Le Figaro (no it's not really a fascist newspaper, even though I made the comment that it was). I do have to say that for someone with poor French, it is much easier reading than the other stuff I'm used too. We had a pleasant dinner, in which somehow the new Pope and the proposed European constitution ended up a mainstay. By the time I'd finished, it was late, and I'd received an invitation to visit Germany via phone (not an unsolicited call in this case). Germany sounds fun. But better after I've survived the quarter itself.
April 21 "I never could get the hang of Thursdays." Yes, I know I've said this before. Still true though. Begin with a history lecture on the European enlightenment. I don't like oversimplifying, but it was rather nice to receive the academic version of "the Enlightenment in a nutshell" in a little under 50 minutes. It is amusing how much "liberal universalism" was a matter of pragmatic self-interest for many of its proponents. Or, to bring the idea to the present, our "liberation-minded" neocons have a project which just happens to be, at least in theory over the longer term, quite lucrative: bringing Iraq and the Middle East into the fold of American neo-liberalism, not to mention hegemony (important in light of a rising China).
That completed, I spent a thoroughly unsatisfying afternoon trying to do numerous small things, including read for history, organize photos, and hunt down a book at the American library. This would be my third trip there in four days. Found the book, and the missing page for this week's history reading, at a cost of 2.3 euro (photocopying costs).
Back at home, I read, practiced flute, had dinner, packed, and generally had a late night of it. Went to sleep feeling quite sorry for myself: have yet to make any real friends here. Whose fault that is remains to be seen.
April 22 The best temporary way for me to stop being depressed is sleeping. The second best way is to be incredibly busy. Tried both. Finished packing for the bus trip to Tours (central France). Ate a quick breakfast and rushed off to school. "Discovered" the scanner there (in much the same way that Columbus "discovered" the New World). Set about scanning a large number of pages for my history courses.
A word of explanation about course materials here. Two of my courses have texts and excerpted readings. Most of the texts are yet to arrive, and those that have come are rather exorbitantly priced (on Amazon: 15 euro, here 29 euro). Now, because of copyright law complications, we can't have a course reader made of those excerpts. Instead, they're all available as pdfs on the web, from Stanford. In theory, these constitute only one "copy" and are in the U.S., so the vengeful copyright Gods should be satisfied. Unfortunately, downloading them takes forever, since they're pdfs scanned from the books. Secondly, the person doing the scanning did a rather shoddy job. So some pages are missing from the pdf (like the one I went in search of yesterday, and found in the basement of the American Library). In others, large parts of the pages are just unreadable. So the professor photocopied his originals, and there are now copies available in the library. But if we want paper copies, we have to photocopy them, at 10 cents a page, by hand. Or rather we did. I've now scanned most of them.
Our bus was due to depart at 1PM, so I duly rushed off to grab a sandwich for lunch around 1:05PM. The bus arrived at 1:15PM. We left around 1:30PM.
Once we had painfully been disengaged from downtown Paris, we took one of the main "autoroutes" south, in direction Orleans. The sky was overcast, with occasional darker patches. The scenery was almost entirely green rolling hills, with occasional farms, villages, and fields of some bright yellow flower that I am still not familiar with.
It wasn't the most exciting bus ride, but I made due with staring out the window, and chatting a little bit. We made one stop, passing through Orleans, and continuing on to Tours, around 5PM. Finding the bus a spot to stop proved challenging, involving sharp turns in amazingly tight quarters. I'm glad to report that nobody's house lost its front room in the process.
Our hotel, the Hotel TurOne was a multistory, depressingly modern building. Nonetheless, it had a nice view of the adjoining plaza, with its fountains and colored lights. I shared a second story room with R (my housemate in Paris). However, we left almost as soon as we had unpacked, most of us quite dressed up despite the rain (especially the girls, who were definitely enjoying the opportunity), for the town of Chenonceaux (by bus).
The trip took a good while (almost an hour). Dinner was on a boat in the river Cher. Thanks to the wine at the tables, a good number of the folks became quite rowdy. The bonus of being on a 2-level boat was that I could go upstairs for a chunk of the evening, missing the noise downstairs (as well as the banal table-conversation). We also had a nice view of the famous Chateau de Chenonceaux, not mention a sunset that took about 2 hours to finally finish. It was something like a journey back in time, since much of the riverbank had not obviously altered since the time of the chateau's construction (which took 100 years, and 2 architects to complete). Dinner itself was quite extensive, not mention rather tasty. The high point was trading half a bottle of our table's wine, for a chunk of cheese from the other table.
After returning, a few folks wanted to go out for the evening. Our location (not really in the center of the commercial district) plus continued rain ensured we ended up in a brasserie across the street over what ranged from tea to Heineken (and no, I wasn't the only one drinking tea). Around midnight, we finally cleared out to go to sleep.
April 23 While mornings may well not be the best parts of the day (to quote Silk from The Belgariad, "I hate mornings. The only reason for mornings to exist is to keep night and afternoon from bumping into each other."), a good breakfast helps a lot. I think all the "Stanfordians" (myself included) were quite impressed with the Hotel Turône's exceptional morning buffet. And the jam in the miniature (glass) jam jars was a very nice touch. I made sure to take some souvenirs.
The bus ride to Amboise was punctuated by various attempts by our guide to relate local history. Initially I was quite attentive, but then my mind began to wander, as we passed along narrow roads, through tiny towns, and finally into Amboise itself. Since concentration is more or less a prerequisite for me to understand French, this meant most of the "guiding" remeaned incomprehensible to me.
In Amboise, we made our way to the Chateau d'Amboise. While the weather tried its darnedest to rain on us, it failed, leaving us along for the duration of our lengthy tour of the castle which King Charles and his wife, Anne of Brittany, spent a few nights a year as they made their way around the realm sometime in the late 1400s. Given how uncomfortable the furniture was, especially the bed, I can see why King Charles might not have wanted to remain in one place for long. The view from the top was quite nice though, as was the little chapel that Leonardo da Vinci was said to have frequented.
Our next stop was a much less monumental chateau, whose main claim to fame was the presence of Leonardo for more than a decade. Consequently, the chateau had a few paintings by him, as well as information about him and his patrons, and a suprisingly large collection of models of machines that he had invented. They all looked like fun, but the signs outside strictly warned visitors not to attempt to use them. A pity, since machines were designed for use.
The bus ride to the restaurant for lunch was notable only inasmuch as we made an amazingly sharp turn, and backed up a long and narrow driveway, while miraculously neglecting to prune any of the nearby walls or shrubbery. Our driver is evidently a women of considerable talent, not to mention a heck of a lot of luck. Our restaurant, the Auberge Cave Martin, was in fact in a cave, or rather a hole, dug into the cliff. Vouvray is a town known for its "troglodytic dwelling" so I suppose it made good sense to stop where we did for lunch. Which was incidently quite good. I'm getting used to being full again after meals. Not a good position for a college student to be in.
Our final chateau of the day was the Chateau de Villandry, which some Spanish noble bought (with his American wife) to showcase his art collection. His gardener must have been a man of both vision and stamina, for the garden has definitely outlived the less exciting art collection. In terms of size, and precise pruning, it is a garden whose equal I have yet to see. Hopefully my photographs will reflect that. The tour was cut short by the fact that everybody wanted to see the gardens, and were not especially excited about poking around inside the chateau.
Dinner was not too much later, in the hotel. In fact, it was too not much later, consequently most people weren't especially hungry. The food was decent, and to my surprise the wine at our table was not finished. Since my ill-fated experiment at dinner a few week back, I've done everything possible to avoid tasting the region's most famous export. Apparently others were following suit. Interestingly, quite a number of the more "Asian" folks wound up with the tell-tale red face after just a glass of wine. I'd be curious to know the biological basis for such a reaction.
After dinner, following much hemming, hawing and general indecision, we finally made our way toward the downtown, me in search of exercise, them in search of clubs (or bars). The town was well lit, and I made a number of unsuccessful attempts at night photography, cursing my lack of tripod. Once they did seem on their way to finding a bar, I excused myself, returned, and went to sleep early. Around midnight.
April 24 Going to sleep early is a good idea when the wakeup call is at 7:30AM. Up and prepared quickly for breakfast, which was again impressive. Collected a few more jam jars. Then said a swift goodbye to the hotel, and off we went. Left almost on time, despite the obvious evidence that a lot of folks were still trying to cope with whatever they had drunk the night before.
We took more than an hour to drive to Chambord, the village outside the chateau of the same name. It looked big, and impressive, and it had a moat. So when people began to drift every which-way, I figured we were free to do as we pleased, and proceeded to try and walk around the castle, clockwise. It was a cool crisp day, with ripples on the water in the moat, courtesy of some wind. The sky was pretty dramatic, thanks to storm clouds that hung around, as if waiting for a signal which did not come for a few hours. Walking in what felt like, for all intents and purposes, countryside was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, I disovered that there was no bridge over the river that flowed out of the moat, and so had to go back the way I'd come, to discover that the Stanford group was gone.
Still, after I'd paid the 8 euro entrance fee, I felt it hard to be unhappy that I'd gotten lost (or rather, had lost the group), since it meant I could wander through the chateau as I pleased. I did visit the more prominent rooms, but most of my endeavors were directed at trying to find the staircase leading to the upper levels, from which one had a superb view. Since the chateau has (it claims) over 400 rooms and 70 staircases, the process was quite time-consuming. Eventually, I got tired of taking pictures, and went back to the bus, to learn that we were supposed to meet elsewhere for lunch.
We all reassembled somewhere out in front of the enormous chateau, making a sluggish pilgrimage that landed us in the "Restaurant le Chambourdin" where we had yet another lengthy, substantive, and wine-included lunch. Discussion was actually surprisingly dull, although I managed to offend the guy next to me by asking what he thought about the possibilities of the U.S. going to war against Iran this year. Apparently he thinks I'm some sort of neo-con now. Heehee.
We finally loaded up the bus around 2:30PM, and drove toward Paris via the autoroute. Rain started about an hour out, and after a short rest stop, and another half an hour, we reached Paris traffic. Which means we didn't actually make it to our destination for another good hour, during which a lot of illegal and complicated manueuvers had to be made. Still, we landed somewhere near the #6 metro line around 6PM. A whole group of us ended up going back together, which made things easier. I realized partway through that I actually knew most people's names, which was a pleasant shock. Ended up arriving at the house just half an hour before 8PM.
It being Sunday, we were obliged to grab our own dinner, which we did, after pausing to drop off traveling stuff, at a small Indian restaurant in Neuilly. One of the waiters turned out to be an Indian MBA student, which was not a possibility I'd been considering. So I tipped extra-generously. I know what it's like being a foreign student. Finally came home shortly thereafter, and spent a solid amount of time looking at and organizing photos, now that I have the digital computer needed to "process" all 300+ digital photos that I'd taken over the previous 3 days.
April 25 Back to the grind. In this case, that meant a long exciting morning with the scanner, putting fixed copies of the various broken documents on the 6 machines in our study room. Which is basically my means of procrastinating, since I didn't receive any interesting e-mail, or other things to do before class. French class left a bitter taste as usual. I'm just not excited enough about grammar to try and effectively practice every little rule that pops up. Which means that the class isn't likely to be too enlightening.
For the large block of time between classes (11AM-6PM), I retreated to the quiet library for some reading, thinking, but not writing. Unfortunate, that, since I've a paper due Wednesday. Hopefully I've finally come up with some decent ideas. History section was a little bit like always, which is to say I think I missed the point on the readings. Oh well...
Back at the house in the evening for dinner, which proved suprisingly short. Then back to work, finishing the readings for that paper. We're supposed to compare two accounts. The problem is they are completely non-analogous. One is a quasi-novel covering the conquest of Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s, and connecting it to present experiences of Algerian women. The other is a straightforward account, aimed at explaining the war from 1954-1962. It spends all of 2 pages discussing the early conquest. Sigh.
April 26 A lecture on reasonably modern Egypt today. I had no idea just how serious Muhammad Ali was about industrializing, nor how seriously worried the British were. Fortunately for the history of imperialism, the British did whatever they could to undermine him. Some days I really wish there was such a thing as karma in history. I mean, when do the British finally get to have a lesson in humility? That's where Nasser comes in, I guess. Poor Tony Eden. Dare I hope Tony Blair will have the same fate?
Came home early in the afternoon to work on my paper. It was a long afternoon/evening in front of the computer. Not particularly exciting, but at least I have a quasi-coherent argument. At least, that's what my sleep-deprived brain thinks. To bed.
April 27 Today was one of those days I am just happy to be done with. Had a rapid history lecture on the colonization of Algeria (stuff that would've been handy to know while I was writing my essay). Then came a French quiz. Finally, we turned in our history essays, and discussed the readings. It was pretty much open season on Alistair Horne, which I found slightly unfair. Yes, he does have an agenda. No, that doesn't mean that everything he had to say is garbage. And I rather liked the title: "A Savage War of Peace." I don't think there's anything morally reprehensible about quoting Rudyard Kipling. Our other author for the week wasn't exactly been shy about her opinions either.
We then watched a brief film on the role played by the Grand Mosque of Paris during WWII, sheltering Jews, an event I'd never heard of. Unfortunately the French in the movie was too fast to catch much of the details. We went to the mosque too, afterward, and had a tour. It was an interesting compound, rather nicely decorated I thought, but a bit too official looking. I imagine devout believers tend to shy away from government-financed religious institutions. Still, it was my first actual visit to a mosque, albeit one in the 5th arondissment (which is to say, in a pretty upscale neighborhood).
Since we all had tickets to the ballet for the evening (courtesy of a generous Stanford donor), I went in the direction of the opera house, but of course arrived early. To amuse myself, I more or less circumambulated the Galerie Lafayette, a humongous mall-like structure that appeared to house only stores selling bizarre clothing. I guess everything has its place.
The ballet started at 7:30 at the Opera Garnier, and was quite a scene. The building claims to date from 1659, which I don't quite believe. The seats and the decor were quite spiffy though. There was also a weird painting overhead, courtesy of Chagall in some earlier age. The production itself was Cendrillon (Cinderella) with music by Prokofiev, and the original set-pieces from the 1986 Noureev production. The high-point for me was Cinderella's visit to a Hollywood busy filming King Kong. King Kong moved a surprising amount in that scene. The dancing was of course superb, all the more so because the lead was quite tall, which I'm sure made much of it much tougher.
Still, it was a 3 hour production, with 2 intermissions, and a good 5 minutes of audience clapping at the end. So I was pretty happy to get back home, eat dinner, and go to sleep more or less immediately. Nothing due tomorrow. Yay!
April 28 The "scramble for Africa" was the lecture topic for the day. I must say that the "social imperialist" argument was quite amusing: colonies are necessary to export surplus goods at a profit, so that one can afford to pay workers at home better, and thus prevent social unrest. No, this wasn't the argument only made by Marxists, but rather by grizzled nationalist aristocrats, like Bismarck. Not that it actually worked in practice.
My next order of business is to start planning for a trip to Chamonix in two weeks. Hopefully there won't be so much snow as to utterly ruin the hiking prospects. Found a bookstore that was described on the internet as the most complete travel bookstore in Paris. Turns out it was a little hole in the wall on the Ile St. Louis. Also doesn't open until 2PM, so I spent a bit of time wandering around, waiting. While the women there was quite helpful, I didn't find the maps I was looking for, but got instead rather vague directions to another place.
This other place turned out to be near the Champs Elysees, and I did quite a bit of walking before accidently, and rather miraculously, finding it, given just how sketchy the directions I had were. IGN definitely had a lot of maps, though it took me a while to choose, and then I discovered that I didn't have enough money, and they didn't take Visa (but did accept American Express). So I got one fewer map. No big loss.
Decided to walk home from there, which turned out to be a good solid half hour. After a short period of letting my legs rest, I headed off to my uncle's house, buying a metro pass for the new month along the way. Wow, I've been in Europe a month. Whew. Discovered that the Windows machines at his house are not having a good month. Didn't really have much to suggest, since I've basically given up on ever using Windows. Much as I like tweaking my computer, I also like not having to constantly worry about one or another new security holes that will force me to reinstall after getting infected by a virus. Still we had a pleasant dinner, though I couldn't show my photos due to another Windows bug. Interesting just how broken XP really is. Called it a night shortly thereafter.
April 29 Back to school earlyish to do various tasks. Included was scanning in another book for class (since it looks like we won't be receiving any more of the books ordered this quarter). Also tried to look up travel and lodging information for Chamonix. The whole thing took far too long, though I did have a tour of the Ile de la Cité in between. Net result was an itinerary that involves leaving at 7AM and arriving a little before 2PM. Not bad at all, considering it cost only 70 euros for me. And beds are only 17 euro a night, including breakfast, though it does involve sharing rooms with a good number of other folks (kind of like the CAS huts).
Returned after visiting the SNCF store to get the train tickets, and picking up lunch along the way. Did some grocery shopping, and had a latish dinner that was somewhat improvised, since Mme. M who usually cooks is on vacation for the time being. Was tired enough to go to bed almost immediately after, although I got a phone call just as I was dozing off.
April 30 Keep waking up early. The weather looks very promising. Had breakfast, which always makes the day seem happier, and decided to run off to ISEP to do some quick web-browsing. Free internet access is definitely a plus. After spending far too much time trying to draft a schedule that allows me to go to Chamonix and one other place (Zermatt?) each for a weekend, went to the American Library. My speed-reading skills are in serious disrepair. I did finish at least 2 chapters, before getting hungry, and going home for lunch. Realized the bread I'd bought yesterday wasn't the type I liked. Oops.
The afternoon and evening was just a blur, switching between this and that assignment. I hate working on lots of things, and finishing none of them. Here's looking forward to next Thursday.