Sunday, September 24, 2006

Guten Tag

I don’t speak German.
Munich was beautiful and busy, just like I wanted it to be. There were dirndl and lederhosen clad natives walking around everywhere; on subways, downtown, at Oktoberfest, at the museum. It was amazing to see so many people wearing traditional clothes in celebration of their heritage and country. Not so much as a joke or an excuse to show off certain body parts, i.e. Halloween, but because it’s tradition. Le chiam!

We arrived after a mostly dull train ride (German men think it is very inconsiderate to have your foot resting on the train seat opposite you because you are trying to sleep, and are not afraid to tell you that it’s “Not Goot”) to ascend the subway escalator into the heart of Munich, Marienplatz. On our left was the enormous gothic Neues Rathaus with the animated glockenspiel (we saw the 5pm show). The sun was shining, there were gorgeous churches around every corner, there were about five different H&M’s on one city block, and it was time to eat. I had some potato pancakes and my first real attempt at sauerkraut. Delicious. And one cannot forget the apfel (I know one german word!) strudel. We sat for a long time and then wandered around the downtown area. We met some friends and decided to eat dinner. It was a small affair, since we were trying out the eat-a-big-lunch German approach to dining. But we did have some enormous radlers (the Arnold Palmer of beer) which were surprisingly refreshing.

We finally went back to the dorms we would be staying in and met our new, german speaking friends from Lewis and Clark College. They were all very welcoming, all 12 of them, and made us feel quite at home and safe, even if we were sleeping in a somewhat frightening student lounge, without lights or keys, in the middle of a foreign country.
We woke up bright and early the next morning to head over to Oktoberfest. We had heard rumors that the beer halls fill up early, so you have to get in and get a table in the morning. The rumors are true. We got to the amusement-park type grounds at 9am, bought some krapfen (warm jelly doughnuts) and walked into the festively decorated Spaten Hall at 9:10am. We almost did not get a table. Seriously. And there were already people with giant maases (glasses) in their hands. We sat at a table with 6 German young adults who were very docile until their second glasses. Afterwards they were much friendlier. The traditional band started playing and people were singing and dancing and in general being raucous. For lunch I had spätzle, which was amazing, and then the Italians showed up. Apparently it was “Italian week” at Oktoberfest, not-so- fondly called so because half the population of Italian males was in Munich this weekend. Needless to say, we met some, they kissed Jane on the cheek, took pictures with us and tried to get us to leave with them. We politely declined in our best rendition of a “no, grazie” and went to walk around the grounds.

It’s really just a huge carnival. There are rides and games and lots of greasy food. I had some real sugar roasted almonds, from the source, and Katie bought us cute gingerbread cookie necklaces that said, “You are my star” in German. They didn’t taste amazing, but it was definitely adorable to wear. We got a little tired so we went back to the dorms and hung out with the L and Csters for the rest of the night playing games, eating Oreo’s sent from someone’s grandma, and going to the Englischer Garten, formerly a hunting ground, now one of Europe’s largest parks. It was very Jane Austin. We went in a big group as it was getting dark and played in some of the vastest fields I’ve ever seen. The stars were really bright for being in a big city. Then it was time for bed.
Sunday morning we woke up and headed off to do something positive for our brains. We took the subway (f.y.i. Do not EVER buy a subway ticket in Munich. There is nowhere and no one to check it) to the Pinakothek Modern Art Museum. Admission is only 1 euro on Sundays, which was a plus after really expensive beer the day before. We saw a big collection of decorative arts (furniture, house wares, and jewelry) which was nice because I don’t usually get excited them. But I really liked the design aspect of the galleries and how all of the works were pulled together and displayed. There was almost no interpretation, and when there was it was in German, so that was a little disappointing, but it made the experience completely visual which is a good thing. Upstairs was a huge, I am assuming in-situ, multi-colored plastic sculpture that looked a little like lasagna pasta that enfolded and cascaded down the stairs. In the galleries there was a lot of Beckmann, Ernst, Klee, Kandinsky and Marc. It was breathtaking. I was so elated. I wanted to stay for so much longer but the train was calling.

I got one more krapfen before we got on the train and headed back to Strasbourg. The weekend was wonderful but very difficult. I had never been in a place where I could not communicate at all with the natives. It was frustrating, but luckily many people knew English, or even French, so we weren’t totally lost. And everyone was really nice, even if Europeans aren’t supposed to be nice until they know you. I would love to go back and see more of Munich, and Germany in general. The country side was just like a calendar or postcard. Classes start tomorrow. Back to business.
Auf Wiedersehen

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Paris: The city of metros, museums and misgivings.

It was a nice and very busy trip. We got on the train Saturday morning, arrived in Paris around 2pm. We took the metro to the Minerve Hotel, then went exploring. Our hotel was right in town, very near St. Germain and Notre Dame. We were surrounded by little cafes and markets, and a pretty strange amount of comic book/video game/anime stores.
Later that night we went to see “La Cantatrice Chauve,” a play by Ionesco, at a theater that was basically a stage inside a closet. What was special about it was that this play has played here EVERY DAY since it opened in 1950, without interruption. And it is always full. It was pretty absurd, emotional, and ultimately successful. Afterwards we went out to eat Indian food, went back to the hotel and decided it would be a good idea to walk over to the louvre (about 40 minutes) where there was supposed to be some kind of dance club. First mistake: There was a dance club 10 minutes from our hotel. Second mistake: Girls wearing high heels. Third mistake: Bringing about 8 people to the club, half dressed in jeans and polo shirts. Outcome: We did not get in. But it was a nice night and we got to see some of the sites and monuments illuminated.

Next day was museum day. It was the day of “Patrimoine” so all of the museums were either free or reduced price, which was nice for getting in, but very crowded for looking at things. The Musée D’Orsay was really good, better than I remembered, but maybe that’s because the last time I was there I was 12 and we only looked at Impressionist paintings. There was an incredible exhibition by a Danish artist named Willumsen, who worked really in every medium (painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography) and had an amazing period where he was really inspired by El Greco (<3). Then there is always Olympia and her arresting gaze. The Louvre was nice but really crowded. Jason and I hit the big stuff, and I sort of played tour guide which was fun.

That night we had dinner at a little restaurant and decided that tonight would be the night of the Eiffel Tower. It was beautiful. We took the metro over to the massive, light-radiating monument and sat on the lawn for a couple hours. It was great, besides the never ending vendors who tried to sell us wine and champagne every five minutes. We just sat and talked and relaxed. It was the best night of the trip. And there were hundreds of other people there too. It was a French bonding experience.

Monday was the Opera House day. We went to the Palais Garnier for a guided tour, but we were not able to actually see a show which was disappointing. The place is huge and gaudy and wonderful. My favorite thing is the ceiling of the theater which was painted by Chagall. It’s gorgeous. Much better than whatever academic, boob baring, soft focus painting was up there at the time of Napoleon.

Then we went down to the Place de la Concorde, over to the Champs Elysée and down to the Arc de Triomphe. The only thing I bought was a delicious crepe with lemon sugar that kept me going until the most delicious meal I’ve had yet in France. We went to a tiny restaurant far away from the touristy areas that specialized in Italian type French food. Eggplant, chèvre ravioli, cheese and cherry jam, crème brulé. Incredible. After the meal I went over to Sophie’s house (took the metro by myself) and we talked for a while and went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up and Emmanuelle and I got to catch up a little before I had to get back to the hotel to pack up. The first half of the train ride home was agonizing thanks to a mother with 4 sons, all under the age of 9 and a baby. Basically there was a lot of slapping, crying and loud noises in general. Luckily they got off at Nancy while we took the train the rest of the way to Strasbourg.
Paris is beautiful and exciting, but I’m really learning to appreciate Strasbourg because I feel like I could actually live here. It’s not too busy, not too crowded, not too scary. You can be familiar with it. It can be cozy and quiet. It’s good to be here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Just a taste of Paris for now. More later.

C'est magnifique.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Notre Dame

So I was thinking that I was going shopping on Saturday, but plans fell through, so I went out by myself on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I walked downtown through a small antique/flea market that was really cute and had some nice dishes and jewelry. If only I had my own home to furnish!
Then I got to the Cathedral, capital C, in the middle of town. Notre Dame de Strasbourg. I thought, “What a nice sunny day, perfect for viewing stained glass. I should go inside.” And inside I went.
First of all, it’s enormous, and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. It was built between 1015 and 1439, over the foundations of a roman sanctuary, and was from 1625 to 1847 the world’s tallest building. It is one of the best examples of high gothic art I’ve ever seen. It is built of pink sandstone and has an astronomical clock inside that features animated figures and could calculate the date of Easter before computers existed.

But it’s all about being inside. The vaulting is incredibly high. The windows throw little specks of red and blue onto the pink stone. The little private shrines along the sides are filled with large, richly decorated altars. The pulpit is intricately carved with figures and a cute little dog (who also peeks out from under a figure on the outside of the church).
It was beautiful. I walked down the side aisles, and up to the altar. Then I sat for a while. It wasn’t quiet; there were lot of other tourists, mostly Germans, but it was calming. I sat and looked at the decorations and the people and just kind of enjoyed my opportunity to be there. I breathed old, damp, smells-like-the-feet-of-hundreds-of-years-of-pilgrims air. There was a small organ playing somewhere in the back, or it may have been a recording they play to set the mood. It was good to be able to think quietly and calmly after a week of being hit in the face with French for 7 hours a day. I felt better as I left without buying a souvenir.

Yesterday was quiet. I woke up late and went to the Parc de L’Orangerie and read. Jason caught up with me, and it was nice to have company. We chatted, thought about buying some of “the best ice cream in Strasbourg” but didn’t, then I walked home. It was a nice day, not too hot but very comfortable in the sun.
Paris soon, then maybe Germany and a little bit of Jost? I feel like I’m really fitting in with my family, as not quite a member, but definitely a participant in conversation, which is very satisfying. Time to take a mini shower, i.e. sitting in the tub for only 5 minutes and with a hand held shower head. Au revoir

Thursday, September 07, 2006

First Week: Difficile

So, I’ve basically learned my way around most of the city by way of maps, tours and common sense. Getting lost and wondering around helped, too. It’s pretty incredible how quickly you have to adapt to a place you don’t know, especially a city with fast little cars, lots of bikes, and trams that run right on the ground between roads (not underground or on separate platforms) that could hit you if you walk out in front of one, which is very easy to do. I know my way around, and a few different places to eat and drink a little bit of Alsatian beer (sweet and usually blonde).
There are a lot of great churches around that I want to visit; the Cathedral, of course, St. Guillaume and a couple others. The great thing about Strasbourg is that not all the buildings are from the same period, so you get gothic architecture mixed with baroque, plus a lot of 19th and 20th century French residential style, and a good amount of traditional German gingerbread houses. Here are a couple of the beautiful places I’ve been seeing (thanks for the camera, bebe).
My host mother gets props for making me vegetarian dinners, which are pretty good, always some kind of salad to start (but last night we had fresh radishes, which I thought I didn’t like, but in fact I do, sorry Mom), then a main course, sometimes of vegetables and some kind of meat product that I don’t have to eat, or of something with eggs so that I get my protein. Then sometimes we have bread and cheese, sometimes just bread, then yogurt or fruit which is usually dessert. For the past two nights we’ve had these wonderful plumbs that my host parents picked on their vacation last week, mixed with a heavy yogurt. So delicious. Lunch is sometimes the student cafeteria which is cheap and not bad, sometimes buying a big baguette and cheese and fruit and splitting between people, and sometimes out to get a falafel sandwich.
Classes are rough. We are in school from 9am to 12:30, when we have lunch, then 2pm to 5pm. I have to be home around 7pm to have dinner, and after that I’m so exhausted I can only do the little amount of homework I have, maybe talk to some one on the phone and then go to sleep. Luckily this is not the schedule I will have all semester. For the first two weeks we have an intensive French course called the “stage” and it’s basically to teach you to take notes in French, write papers in French and think in French. We have language class everyday in the morning, then lectures in the afternoon on French literature, French history and the European Union. But after the stage we go to Paris (!) then have a week off, and then real school starts.
Enough for now. I wish there were seriously exciting things to tell, but those will come. Tomorrow is the weekend, and who knows what that will bring.
a bien tot

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bienvenue a Strasbourg!

Sorry it took me a few days to find a cyber café and actually sit down and type.
I want to put this at the beginning, so that if you get bored over the course of this update, which you very well might, at least you’ll get the important information. You can actually send mail to my house, it’s better to send it there than to the direct of the program, although if you already sent me something to the first address (aren’t you sweet) I will still receive it. Just use this from now on:

Erin Milbeck
s/c Mme. Charron
6, rue de Charles Grad
67000 Strasbourg FRANCE

Ok, now on to the real deal. So we arrived in Paris early Friday morning, about 7:00 am maybe, very tired. We had a 4 hour layover during which I slept, and I guess other people just talked or read, but I don’t know because I was asleep. We boarded the plane to Strasbourg and arrived sometime between 2 and 2:30 pm. We met the director of the program, Mme. Zehr, who is nice but does not have the most beautiful French accent. We got our luggage and our host mothers proceeded to “adopt” us. I left the airport with Mme. Charron (Anne and Jacques) and we drove about 25 minutes to their apartment in Strasbourg. These are a few pictures of the place, my room, and the garden behind (Fiona, that one is for you. It’s riding a pig).
They are a very kind couple, probably late 50’s early 60’s, with 3 grown children. But I didn’t get to know them very well because they left the next morning for a weekend vacay to see friends. Did I have the house to myself, you ask? No, but almost. Living with the Charrons and I is another university student, but he is a friend of the family. He is here for two weeks to take his final exams for some classes. Who knows when these classes were or why the tests are at the beginning of the year, but that’s how it goes. So, this young man, whom I did not know (I didn’t even really know his name) and I were staying in a house that neither of us owned, and it was strange. Pretty lonely when I was in the house too, so it was a good thing that this weekend was taken up mostly with tours.
I have more pictures, but I think I will upload those one or two per post.
I'm not sure what else to add at this point, other than everything is beautiful. There are enormous cathedrals, a winding river, tons of cute cafes. It's a great atmosphere. And having to learn the streets by yourself can be a very self actualizing and self motivating task. Learning things for yourself that are completely necessary but that no one else will tell you is hard, and it will still take me a few more days to figure out where everything is, but I'm getting it. I'm learning. A lot.
Ok, hopefully more soon. A tout a l'heure.