Archive for November, 2010|Monthly archive page

Thanksgiving Weekend in Tours!!!

In Sounds Of November on November 29, 2010 at 10:31 PM

THANKSGIVING!!!!! Normally I like Thanksgiving but it’s not my favorite holiday. However, after spending the last month in often silent and yet sometimes very verbal anticipation for Thanksgiving’s arrival as well as living with Claire who comes from the East Coast where Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday of the year for her family, as well as being absent for my first Thanksgiving at home, I have really gained a new found love and appreciation for the traditions of the holiday and what it really means not only in terms of family and community, but of being proud to be an American and being a sort of good will ambassador while I am here in France. Claire and I had been wanting to cook for our host family for a while, but we didn’t know when would be a good occasion until we remembered that Thanksgiving couldn’t be a more perfect opportunity. Claire’s mom was kind enough to spend the money necessary to send us a giant box with decorations that we set up all over the kitchen, enough plates and napkins for about 25 people, and a myriad of other Thanksgiving treats including Pumpkin spice, mix, and pie crust so we could make a pumpkin pie, which I will admit Claire, Danielle, and Madame did quite successfully. As well she also sent us a bag of stuffing, turkey gravy, a can of cranberry sauce, and Thanksgiving chocolates. We knew once we got this box that Thanksgiving was going to be epic and so with dinner in mind I started planning my portion of the holiday celebration. I had been wanting to make this meal for my host family for a while and was planning on it eventually and it worked out perfectly this weekend right before Alexis and Camille left for the afternoon.

For those of you who have never experienced a Newman brunch, you are missing out on one of life’s greatest treasures. Newman brunch might be the single most important and preferred meal of all Newmans around the globe and galaxy. Whenever we host a party, or if it’s just a family gathering and we want to have a nice meal, the Newman brunch always takes the top prize. Even with heavy competition like Boneyard’s All-Beef Ribs, Guernsey’s Broasted Chicken, Pizza Papalis’s VIP or Seafood Pizza, and our Super-Bowl tradition of Kosher Corned Beef and Pastrami Sandwiches, none of these truly compare to the Newman brunch. I think a large portion of this has to do with the fact that it is often one of the few meals that we make ourselves without help from any outside sources. The key ingredients to this brunch that I made for my family are fresh vegetables. Ultimately the meal is really quite simple, but it’s the idea of big breakfast food and relaxing around the table while picking, snacking, or my favorite word, gnoshing on the leftovers for hours and hours afterwards while staying in pj’s that really makes Newman brunch complete.

To make the experience that much more within the tradition of Thanksgiving I added one detail….MORE FOOD! I had already in my mind to make a giant pot of eggs with onions, mushrooms, green pepper, and cheese, but then Madame mentioned she had a waffle iron and my eyes lit up! I was so excited to make waffles, particularly after Madame made her own recipe for them and then we added raspberries, whipped cream, and nutella to them. Claire said afterwards, “That literally might be the best thing I have eaten in France.” Believe it! So with our amazing waffles we had American bacon that comes as you would expect and French bacon that comes in circles, and honestly is less greasy and retains more meat than fat. I then added spiced French sausage to the other ingredients in the eggs, and Claire helped prepare two absolutely beautiful plates of fruit and vegetables. The first made up of apples and oranges and the second made up of green pepper and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and oil. Magnifique!

The entire weekend we kept emphasizing to our family how important it was that they eat a lot and that they have everything on their plate at once. For a people that eats in courses, having a big breakfast with five different things on their plate at the same time was not something they were accustomed to. During our Thanksgiving dinner I kept swirling my mashed potatoes turkey with the turkey and then adding some stuffing and green beans and putting it all in my mouth together and my family looked at me like I was crazy. But then they tried it and they loved it. Speaking of trying things and loving it, I have found a new passion in food as well here in France. At my wine tasting the other night I tried a real Camembert that comes from Normandy and reeks to high heaven with some Cherry jam on some baguette. This little combination of flavors is stunningly brilliant and I have been eating it every day for lunch as the idea of Salty&Sweet has been dominating my culinary experiences here in France. I highly recommend if you can find a Camembert and a baguette to simply add some cherry jam to the mix, and be amazed!

In talking with my host mom and getting to know the kids better I have realized how difficult it’s going to be to leave. They really like both Claire and I. We’ve very much all become a family between the 6 of us. Madame has been so well natured about everything during our stay and I know there was some definite concern by all considering it was the first time they have taken in students for 4 months. Normally they host students in the summer for a month or 15 days. But we were the first they agreed to take for four months. Madame assured me that we have not only set the bar very high, but that the kids are going to miss us a lot. She said that Alexis will cry and Camille will be fine for a few days and then it will hit her and she will cry too. It made me very sad to hear that because I will miss them dearly as well. I have been very adamant that if they ever want to come to the States they can stay with me and we will speak French the whole time if they want! It’s been funny as well to see how much they really care about what we think. Alexis heard me talking with Madame about faith and gave me his copy of the Manga Gospel to read in French. When Camille celebrated her birthday Claire bought her a little necklace that she found and now Camille wears it all the time. I told Arthur that he should continue to practice piano because it will serve him well in the future and girls love it. After seeing the strong look of approval and assurance on the faces of both Claire and Camille, Arthur has been practicing piano every day!

We talk a lot at dinner about different expressions in both French and English. The kids are all studying English and sometimes to punish them Madame will make Alexi or Arthur speak to us in English if they want something. Camille has been studying English for four years and has a real gift for it and I know she understands almost everything that Claire and I say to each other but she has been very good about continuing to speak to us in French. They notice how I make funny noises when I eat and how I say “oof” all the time. They have all started to copy me now and we all laugh whenever someone says it. Outside of the house apparently I am well known as well. Madame told me yesterday and that she has neighbors who tell her, “Oh….I heard your student the other day.” They don’t see me, they hear me! Sometimes when I walk down the street on my home from school I will be listening to music on my iPod and I will start to sing along. Of course I don’t use my full power because I don’t want to scare people, but I will sing along with Tracy Chapman or Sam Tsui and start dancing as well while walking down Rue San Franciso with my keys jingling in my hand and rockin’ out to whatever strikes my fancy. Madame’s neighbors were shocked to hear that I was actually happy living here. As if it would somehow be miserable for an American to live in Tours with a French woman and her three children? Honestly I  couldn’t ever have asked for a better fit. I have been so blessed and this Thanksgiving I am grateful for both my families. My family that I have back home that I am so dearly looking forward to seeing again in 22 days, and my famille d’acceuil, who has truly welcomed me into their family.

After the meal on Saturday Claire and I met up with Danielle and we went up and down the streets in Tours looking in at the Christmas Market that had just opened up and will be out every weekend until Christmas. I didn’t think it would be possible to have so much fun in Tours, but this weekend was great. After coming back for dinner on Saturday night, Claire and I left again to go out on the town and walk around at night a little bit more. We ended up going to L’Alexandra and I went to go look for Nico cause he said he would be out and when I came back Claire and Danielle were talking with this French guy. Well as it turned out he was with another friend and two girls and they invited us to go grab a drink with them. Only one of them was from Tours and she wasn’t very familiar with the city and so we went to a few different places trying to find a drink. We ended up deciding on the tequila bar, my one weakness to alcohol, and each having a shot. After sitting there for a while we decided to go have a promenade about the town and so we walked down to the river and the entire time we were talking in French. One of the girls kept trying to speak English with me so I would understand, but I kept continuing to speak in French and eventually she gave up and her friend actually told me that my French was very good!

Definitely one of the highlights of being here in France and something I had been hoping to find and one day to hear.  We parted ways and Claire and I went back to the house totally exhausted but thrilled with our day. After our huge meal the following day, neither of us were really up for doing anything else, especially not homework, and so we both just crashed and went to bed looking forward to recounting our adventures of Thanksgiving and in Tours from the weekend. Needless to say, most people were shocked when they heard that we had a great weekend in Tours. Even after being here for three months now, we still found new stuff to enjoy like the Cathedral that might be my favorite church in all Europe that I have seen and the stuffed Elephant, Fritz, inside the grounds of the Museum of Beautiful Art.

Its hard to believe that I have three weeks left here in Europe and 18 days left in France. I will be back in Germany for my last three visiting some friends I made over the summer and then I will be back home the 20th of December. Can’t wait to see you all and recount the stories I haven’t already told on this blog. Hope you are all having a blessed Monday! I special congratulations to Zach and Betsy Howard who got married a week ago Saturday and to Rob and Lindy Stewart who got married on Saturday. May God bless both of your marriages mightily! That’s all for now. Ciao!


Rome Days 2&3 and HP7!

In Sounds Of November on November 24, 2010 at 6:32 PM

Lots of things to talk about today. I want to finish talking about my weekend in Rome and just different thoughts that have been going through my head as of late from living in Europe for the last now almost 5 months. But before all of that, I think today is the last day of the crazy month of birthdays in my family. It’s been almost every day for the past ten days that I have told Nicolas in class, “Today is so and so’s birthday.” So allow me to take the opportunity to wish a Happy Birthday to Ben Haggard, Dan Newman, Geoff Matteson, Brandon Carmack, Samuel Newman, Sarah Newman Brown, Bobby Florence, and Abigail Newman and anyone else that I might be forgetting.

After spending the day trying to see as much as possible in downtown Rome on Friday, Nicolas and I went to the Vatican and the Vatican Museum on Saturday. (Musei Vaticani as it’s called in Italian.) When we first arrived at the Vatican the principality was closed because of Mass and so although groups had gathered together, we weren’t allowed to enter St. Peters Square or the Basilica. That being the case and it raining we decided that it would be a good idea to try and see the Museum and come back in the afternoon when the Vatican reopened. What we didn’t realize was how long the line was going to be standing in the rain. I had prepared for rain by bringing a zip-up hoodie that I don’t mind getting wet. Nicolas however, realized that standing in this line in the pouring rain with just a sweater would not be possible and spent the five euro necessary from one of the 100 Indian men selling umbrellas in order to stay dry.

Although the umbrella definitely helped, after standing in the rain for what turned out to be two hours in line for the Museum we were both soaked and very glad to get inside. The Vatican Museum is absolutely fascinating and incredible. The amount of works from antiquity as well as sacred pieces whose valuable is priceless is simply astounding to view in person. It’s simply surreal because I imagined every single piece being a special exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art with how ancient and beautiful some of these pieces are. I saw mummies, Etruscan clay pots, incredible statues of Greek gods and goddesses, 25 foot long ceiling to floor tapestries, some of the most beautiful crosses, Bibles, and holy relics known to the church, as well as some of the most beautiful artwork including the works of Raphael and the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo. I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed by the Sistine Chapel, but it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting either. The room is absolutely crowded and although the guards try and enforce people not taking pictures and remaining silent, it seems that most people just use that as encouragement to talk about anything and everything somehow they weren’t able to talk about during the other thousand rooms of the Museum. When a guard tried to insist that a man take off his hat, the man responded extremely negatively and completely confused as to why it was necessary to take his hat off. It was as if he had never been taught that removing a hat in a place of honor or times of silence is appropriate and respectable. The insensitivity of people in the Chapel was really quite frustrating and it made me wish that much more that I could simply walk in there one day and just sit and look at it for hours just in honored and revered silence, how I hope Michelangelo had intended it to be.

After finishing up the museum it was about 2pm and we were hungry and so being in Rome and feeling the need to do as the Romans do, we grabbed lunch in a restaurant of bread, salad, and lasagna for the relatively decent price of 8 euro. Being refreshed and ready to keep walking and head back to the Vatican we noticed not only had the weather cleared up, but also the line for the Museum was literally non-existent. People were walking right in without umbrellas and not having to wait at all. The irony of it all just made me laugh, particularly when considering that after we had been waiting in line for an hour a tour group came out of nowhere, cut Nicolas and I off out of the line and firmly planted themselves in our spots. The group of Spaniards behind us for the past hour as well was equally frustrated and so we agreed that we would all try and get back to our original spots behind two French girls. As I begin to move up the tour guide for this group looks at me like I am crazy and asking what I am doing. I’ll admit I think I had a Mrs. Thomas moment because this tiny Italian woman was shocked when I told her that she cut us off and I was simply retaining my original position. She looks at me and says, “I am a tour guide I have this spot in line for my group.” As if my name were ShaNayNay BomBeesha Laquishea, I looked at her in face and said, “ I don’t care who you are, we’ve been standing in the rain for the past hour and you waltz in here with your group and cut us out of the line. That’s not gonna fly!” Being shocked by my response and that I spoke in such fluent English she simply asked if we were with the French girls in front of us. Saying yes without consulting the girls, she no longer objected to the group of 6 of us trying to move back to our original position. When we got up there we thanks them in French and explained to them what happened. Gotta love the unspoken code of the cue!

Anyway, we finally made it over to St. Peters Square and just in time for the 4pm sunset in Rome in late November. It was absolutely gorgeous and I got some great pictures. I will say though in terms of sightseeing, the greatest part of the whole trip came when we went inside the Vatican. When we first entered we wanted to see the Popes tombs and on the way I see a sign with the words “Via Santo Gregorio L’Illuminato.” I immediately recognize the name, but couldn’t remember why, but I knew it was important. You might be asking yourself, who the heck is this guy, and should I know him? Well when I turned just the other direction I flipped out when I saw the statue of him and the writing underneath it in ARMENIAN!!!! St. Gregory the Illuminator is the official head of the Armenian Apostolic Church and credited with being responsible for Armenia being the first nation to adopt Christianity as its national religion in 301A.D. Seeing Armenian writing in Rome made me the proudest Armenian in the world. I just wanted to tell the whole world that I was Armenian and this Saint is the coolest guy ever!

As full of pride as I was, it was perhaps the complete opposite feeling seeing the tomb of Saint Peter. I stood there and prayed for about 5 minutes in sheer awe of being the closest I have ever been to history and the grave of one of God’s most faithful servants. I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to simply sit there for an hour and just soak it in and read my Bible. It was a similar experience being in the Basilica. The atmosphere is stunning and it made me wish that I had the opportunity to attend Mass there and simply soak in God’s presence with other believers.

We left the Vatican and headed back to Blues BB and crashed for a little while hoping that we might get a response from two of Nicolas’ friends that he had made in Tours during July who live in Rome. After waiting for a while we finally got a response and we made the almost hour long walk over to the square to meet them. Benedetta and Maya are two of the sweetest girls I have ever met and they showed us an amazing sense of Italian hospitality. We went to an awesome Italian restaurant for Italians and there I had the best Italian pizza in the world. I had had a pizza in Rome on Friday and even went to an Italian pizzeria in Wurzburg when I was there, but those paled in comparison to this jewel of Italy that was my mushroom, onion, and Italian sausage pizza. Not as good as Pizza Papalis, but it’s a totally different category and in this category of Pizza, Italy For The Win!

After dinner we went out and found this sketch bar that Maya really liked and had a shot of tequila and then hung out in the street for a while talking to the girls and this other girl who none of us, not even Benedetta, knew her name. But we had a great time and finished the evening with conversation and authentic Italian Gelato! I will definitely miss Gelato when I am back in America, amongst other things.

Sunday morning we woke up a little later and headed out to see a few smaller sites including another gorgeous Basilica and then got on the bus to take us back to the airport. The flight wasn’t bad but because of the timing of everything we didn’t get to eat any lunch and then the bus ride from Beauvais to Paris was two hours and so by the time we actually got from Rome to Montparnasse it had been almost 8 hours and I was starving! Nicolas and I went to Quick (the French version of McDonalds) and sat there for a while eating and watching Youtube videos with their free wifi. Once we finally made it back I was thrilled to see my bed and crash in preparation for the next day.

Why the next day you ask? Well because on Monday I went with my friends Hector and Irene to the French premier of Harry Potter 7. A special thank you to both hector and Irene for buying the ticket for me. It was very generous of them to think of me while they were standing in line for their own tickets. The Weasley brothers and Neville Longbottom were there as well as the Weasley dad and Fleur Delacoeur. I didn’t get that great of pictures, but the event itself was really exciting and the movie was really cool too. Seeing all sorts of screaming fans and being that close to a red carpet situation while in another country was definitely one of the highlights and best memories I will have from this trip.

Speaking of trips, it’s funny talking about being here in Europe like it’s a trip. It is, most definitely. But at the same time, who takes a trip for 6 months? It really stopped being a trip once I got to France. In my mind I think I was still thinking about my time here like it was summer, but I realized that Germany was 4 months ago now. Similarly, it’s finally starting to hit me that winter is coming. Normally in Michigan you can smell and sense it in there air. There are definitive moments where one can feel the seasons change. As much as I have become more observant of things here in France, simply because everyone here notices every little detail, I don’t have the same feeling for the changes of the season as the French do, simply because it’s not my country. I get the feeling it’s gonna hit me as soon as I step outside in Michigan in 26 days. I recall getting off the plane from Rome and feeling like it was home because of the wind and the weather, but that’s about the closest I’ve come.

I have a lot more I want to say and a lot of different things I have been thinking about. But as usually, after typing 2000 words, I have gotten sidetracked and exhausted. I guess you’ll just have to come back later to read more. That’s all for now. Ciao!

Rome Day 1!

In Sounds Of November on November 22, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Rome! What more can I really say besides wow! I have wanted to visit this city my whole life and thanks to a very good offer by RyanAir a month ago and the astuteness of my friend Nicolas to be searching for possibilities of cheap tickets we managed yesterday to find out way over ten hours from Tours to Rome. No it was not a ten-hour flight it was everything else that took that long to manage. We left Tours at 2:40pm on a TGV to Paris. After arriving in Paris we had to grab a metro for a little over 20 minutes to get to the stop where the bus would take us to the airport. Flying with RyanAir has a lot of perks like flying from France to Italy for only 25 euro. Where they get you is with charging for bags and using a credit card. Well the bag situation is avoided easily enough because they allow you one bag with up to 10 kg for free and considering we are only here for a couple days it was not a problem for both of us to pack in a backpack. The other way in which the customer gets screwed but serves the economy in yet another way is through the distance between the major city and the RyanAir airport location. From Paris we had to not only take the metro for almost half an hour, but also then pay an additional 15-euro for a bus to drive us to Beauvais airport. After 90 minutes we finally arrived in Beauvais and got checked in and went through security.

Unfortunately our flight was delayed by about 45 minutes and so we weren’t able to take off until after 9pm when our flight was originally schedules for 8:20pm. Upon our arrival we found the bus that would take us to downtown Rome and our Bed and Breakfast that we booked. Fortunately this bus only took us about 30 minutes and dropped us in front of the Rome train station which is simply enormous! Our directions to our hotel indicated that we needed to leave the train station through exit 29 and we were exit 2. Normally this would not be a problem with the exception of the fact that the walk from gate 2 until 29 was 400 meters. After trucking our way through the train station we finally found our way towards Blues BB. Yes, that’s actually what it’s called. This tiny little place is actually an apartment that a young couple decided to rent out and have done an amazing job with. They are absolutely generous and the best examples of Italian generosity. We arrived after midnight and although our host was exhausted he said he would check us in the next morning and simply allowed us to have a restful night sleep without having to worry about the hassle of checking in and paying right away.

We woke up the next morning after a great night sleep from a comfortable solid bed and well supported pillow and warm blanket to a hot shower and breakfast of croissants and fresh juice and great strong Italian coffee. After receiving maps and directions and suggestions of a route to take we headed out with these words from our host Sabino, “Rome is a lovely city, it’s very safe. Watch out for pickpockets!” Digesting this contradictory statement and being surrounded by graffiti I was a little worried but upon seeing the colossal Coliseum all of my worries went away and Nico and I got in line for tickets. The ticket not only included the price for the Coliseum but also the incredible Roman ruins across the street from the Coliseum.

After spending the morning touring around and seeing some of the most beautiful and ancient sites in my life we ventured towards a restaurant to take part in our first authentic Italian meal. We found a nice restaurant and decided that an appropriate first lunch would be none other than Pizza! I had also heard of these fried Italian rice balls called Suppli and decided to order one to go along with my Pizza Marinara and Nico’s Pizza Diavolo. Seafood seemed to have been the order of the day for me because only by accident did I also order it for dinner as well, but more on that later. Nico’s diavolo had spicy pepperoni and mine had mussels and calamari. The Suppli was actually very small and although I had only wanted to try one our waiter gave me an additional three for free, a very nice gesture considering they are 1.50 each.

After lunch we ventured out to see the Pantheon and the various different plazas around downtown Rome. We arrived at the Spanish steps just in time for the sunset at about 4:30pm and had some amazing shots of the top of Rome from the steps. Walking around all over downtown Rome was completely exhausting however and we decided to trek home and crash before dinner. Upon our arrival we realized that we had been walking without really stopping with the exception of lunch for almost 7 hours. Exercise for the day…check! After a quick cat nap Sabino recommended a restaurant to us that was right down the street from Blues BB and of course it just happened to be called Mamma Mia! The food was utterly incredible the service superb and entertaining and Nico and I thoroughly enjoyed our appetizer of Buffalo Mozzarella that melted in your mouth with the freshest tomatoes I have ever had covered in oil and balsamic vinegar. For our entrees he ordered Pasta Carbonara and being the culinary risk taker that I am I chose the pasta of the day for my entrée to support our wonderful half bottle of house wine.

When our entrees arrived I was welcomed by yet more shells on my plate and a fresh giant shrimp on the side. Allow me to say that the sauce for this pasta might literally be the most delicious thing I have ever had in my entire life. As I was telling Nico this meal is by far the best I have had in Europe followed only by the incredible Moussaka that I had in Wurzburg with Marci and her classmates one evening in July. I have no idea what was in this sauce but never have I experienced such an incredible combination of flavors with three different types of mussels and the best asparagus I have ever had second only to Mr. Parkers in Jonesville. Following our Mozzarella, Red Wine, and Seafood Pasta, we decided the only natural course of action and an appropriate end to our evening would be Tira Misu. Probably the richest cream I have ever had in a Tira Misu, this sumptuous dessert was a perfect end to an incredible meal. Our hosts were so generous and as Nico and I were trying to figure out how to pay he took the bill and reduced the price for us knowing that we were staying at Blues BB. He said that he and Sabino are friends and his generosity and Italian demeanor and smile sent us on our way with a Grazi and Bonne Noche and the conviction for a return trip tomorrow evening.

As Nico said when we got back to our room, “Rome was a great decision!” I full heartedly agree and can’t wait to see what adventured await us tomorrow at the Vatican. That’s all for now. Ciao!

I have more to say about this past weekend in Rome, I am just exhausted and need to sleep before I remember everything else. Thanks for reading guys!

Holidays in France

In Sounds Of November on November 15, 2010 at 10:08 PM

It’s now half way through November and I haven’t updated in a few days so I figured a post is in order. It wasn’t due to a lack of time, however. Time was something I had in plenty the past few days. We had a break on Thursday and Friday from classes because November 11 is a national holiday because it was the day the armistice treaty was signed that ended WWI and since we had exams on Monday and Tuesday they decided to give us Friday off as well so it was like Thanksgiving break, which is nice because we don’t get one here in France because Thanksgiving doesn’t exist. (Sad but true, at least I don’t have to miss Christmas in America, yay!) Speaking of, at first I really wanted to spend Christmas here in Europe thinking to myself, when am I going to get another chance to spend Christmas in Europe? But, after being here and realizing how much I am going to miss being in the States for Thanksgiving, I am so glad that I am going home for Christmas. (It feels like the movies!)

Fortunately however, Claire is a giant advocate of Thanksgiving and we are celebrating here in France. She is from outside of Boston and so considering it’s where it all began, it makes sense that Thanksgiving is a big deal to them. Her mom sent her this massive box with a pumpkin scented candle and ingredients for pumpkin pie, a can of cranberry sauce, stuffing, and other amazing goodies that I can’t wait to partake of come Thanksgiving. Small detail. Because the Thursday of Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here in France we are adjusting Thanksgiving a little bit. We are splitting it into two days because the kids won’t be here and I wanted to do my portion of Thanksgiving, which is a huge American breakfast. Normally this isn’t something that we do at the Newman house for Thanksgiving, but it’s definitely something we do as often as possible because Brunch = Newman’s favorite meal. Therefore on Saturday the 27th in the morning I am going to wake up and make a big breakfast that includes waffles, eggs with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and cheese, cook up some bacon, and Claire is going to help by buying strawberries and whipped cream for the waffles and to top it all off, no late November Saturday morning Thanksgivingish breakfast is complete with out good ole Hot Cocoa!

The kids will leave after brunch and Claire and I are thinking of going afterwards outside of town to see a French version of Ikea and a football match. (Real football!) Sunday we’ll wake up and begin preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Normally here in France they eat turkey for Christmas and so when my host mom asked her friend that lives out in the country if we could get a turkey now, the friend and the butcher naturally wanted to know why. When she explained that she has American students who want to make Thanksgiving dinner, they picked out a turkey and began talking to it saying, “Toi! Tu es pour Thanksgiving!” Of course said with an amazingly hysterical French accent. I am thrilled about having the chance to show off American culture here in France. My whole life I have been showcasing being Jewish and Armenian and now I get the chance to be proud to be an American! Yay again!

We are going to have a big Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday night when the kids get back and fortunately Claire’s mom also sent tons of Thanksgiving decorations that we are going to set out and as Claire put it, “Go all out for this thing!” I am psyched! It’s going to be a lot better than the last few days. Not that they were bad days, nor a waste of time, (perte du temps en Francais) but I didn’t really do much. Mom and Dad had allotted me some money for traveling during the break but everyone I talked to had already made different plans and so I decided to stay in Tours and just do a little bit of shopping instead. The weather here was pretty miserable and so I hardly left the house during the four days off. I slept a lot which was great because trying to speak and think in French is a lot more exhausting than you might originally imagine. Because it was raining I just enjoyed staying in the house and talking with my host family. They were really cool and Arthur and I have been getting along really well and talking more and more. Funniest thing, because he’s 15 and French, we were talking about instruments and he says he plays piano and I told him, don’t quit because there will always be pianos everywhere you go and people will love it if you can just play by ear and make people happy with that, and here’s the kicker, the girls love it. (Ladies, you know it’s true.) As soon as I said this, his head perked up and Camille laughed really hard.

The best part was later the following day I am sitting in my room typing on my computer and I hear piano for the first time since I arrived. It was Arthur practicing on the keyboard in his room. And on top of it, almost every time I pull out my violin I hear Alexis practicing his recorder as well. It’s so cool living with a musical family. Arthur really likes the music of Wem Mertens a Belgian minimalist composer and so lately I have been sharing more music and different videos with the family. Including this hilarious video that Claire showed me that I know you will all enjoy as well.

I tried going shopping since I wasn’t going to be traveling I figured it was a good opportunity to maybe find a new sweater or something. Well, as it turns out, they are a lot more difficult to find at a reasonable price than I first anticipated and so I didn’t end up buying anything. Over the four days that I would have potentially spent over 300 euro I spent 10. I bought a McFlurry with Claire on Sunday night and I went and saw Moi, Moche et Mechant which you might all know as Despicable Me. Watching it in French was cute, particularly Agnes. I want to have a daughter like her one day. But I know it would have been funnier in English. Other than those couple small things I spent the rest of the time looking up potential flights to Marseille for an amazing round trip flight of, yes that’s right, 14 euro. Might be too good to pass up. We’ll see.

I also finally finished my notes on Acts 13. They ended up being the equivalent of a 30 page Hillsdale paper, but one I am most certainly glad I wasn’t turning in. This week is exciting though. I leave for Rome on Thursday. It’s definitely going to be the highlight of November and, hopefully the highlight of the whole trip. More details will follow! That’s all for now, Ciao!

Arts, Homosexuality, Sin, and Victory!

In Sounds Of November on November 10, 2010 at 6:00 PM

Allow me to pose a question here. What is the point of the arts? As of late I have been asking myself this question not frequently but as I learn more here in France about the history of art, music, dance, etc. each of these fields has produced geniuses within their respected fields for a variety of different reasons. I will stick to the subject of music simply because it is the field about which I know the most but the things I am saying apply as well to the other arts as well.

The reason I am addressing the subject is because it’s one that has recently sparked my attention thanks to none other than the now infamous Glee. Only a few episodes into season two, I can see what direction the show is taking and why although it took a little while to get there and I definitely think that some of the steps taken to simply draw in an audience could have been avoided, nevertheless I must admit that I was very impressed with last night’s episode of Glee for the first time this season. It wasn’t the music and it wasn’t the acting, it was the message. Allow me to explain before those of you who have already seen the episode burn a gasket.

During the Rocky Horror Picture Show episode for Halloween Will Shuester says, “Isn’t the point of the arts to stretch boundaries and cause people to think outside of their comfort zone?” Where he is right is that this is exactly what the arts have done. Although I heavily disagree with the messages of Lady Gaga, I do have to admit that she is pushing boundaries and creating a new style that personally I am grateful for as a musician simply because we as a generation have nothing bringing us the new spark of art and creativity.

What I would like to point out is that if you look in history there are an enormous amount of examples of musicians, artists, and sculptures that were seen as controversial because they upset the status quo and as one of my favorite characters of all time once said, “The status is not….quo…” (Points for whoever knows the reference.) They shake up society by pushing limits to challenge people. I will be the first one to say how much I hate art and music that challenges simply for the sake of challenging or being ugly simply for the sake of being ugly. But for those artists who sincerely seek change and reflect the values of the society and culture I believe there is much value in what they present because through our attainment of understanding their purpose, we can present to other cultures the problems that we as a society face.

I am sure you are wondering, where is this going? It’s complicated I know, but go with it. Here’s a great example. In 1804 Beethoven wrote his 3rd symphony and gave it the title Eroica (Heroic). Within the dedication of the music he also put the note, “Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The man he was referring to was none other than Napoleon who before this time represented freedom and liberty of both body and mind. It was this ideal that today we consider without even thinking about that Beethoven was fighting for and was deeply saddened when Napoleon changed his entire persona and became Emperor of France and ruining the hopes of so many who fought for change. Although Napoleon was still alive when the symphony was composed, the man he had been to Beethoven was dead and it is to this man that the 3rd symphony is dedicated.

The music is beautiful, but its beauty is ameliorated only by its message and it is for that message that we remember so fondly the 3rd symphony of Beethoven. It remains today a symbol of freedom and liberty for artists and is used symbolically at concerts, in films, and many other venues to symbolize the ideals of liberty and equality in every country and generation. This is what I mean when I refer to the problems that we as a society face and the work that artists do to reveal those concerns and frustrations. This is why art is remembered and is so integral to our understanding of history as well. But it requires a large amount of knowledge of the times and situations in order to truly understand why an artist’s work like Beethoven’s 3rd symphony is so important.

All this has been a lead up to yesterday’s episode of Glee. The show has taken a shift in focus from focusing on competition as it was embodied through the character and voice of Rachel, to a more polemic focus as it is embodied through the only out-of-the-closet gay character, Kurt. The entire second season up until this point has been much more brutal, very in your face, and a lot less family oriented than last season. The script writing in many respects has gone down as well although yesterday I think they did a decent job and didn’t seem as desperate as in prior episodes during this season. However the focus has shifted towards the personal lives of the characters and the directors have chosen to not hold anything back in their portrayal of the desires of the students.

The show takes place in high school, which as we all know is a time of figuring things out and figuring out who we are and where our place in the world lies. Although this personally happened more for me in college, the show uses the scenario of a high school to exacerbate the sentiments of the students by having each of them show without hesitation the feelings they have in their hearts but are too afraid to act on. In this respect I think the show has done well, now that I think on it and understand what they are doing. By showing the true desires of the students hearts and minds they show the consequences they must deal with in reality because of those choices. Each character represents a specific viewpoint, outlook and motivation that is different from the rest and therefore at times causes immense conflict that is brutally shown sometimes on the show.

I have been trying to figure out what Glee has been up to this season and why they have made the choices they have and now I think I am beginning to understand. Like any art that is difficult to understand there is reasoning behind it. The show has always featured themes of equality, acceptance of differences, and opening the eyes of the ignorant as its primary themes. Last night,  each of these themes manifested themselves stronger than ever. I have been taught to criticize and critique that which I see and hear and test it to see if it complies with God’s Word and its teachings. With a show like Glee that has chosen to become much more provocative in its depiction of sexual themes and even more violent in some respects I naturally responded negatively and criticized severely the choices the directors were making as I felt they were losing their roots.

Although this might be the case I am starting to see the point of why the show has taken this turn, for what I will refrain from calling the worst, at the moment. The first detail that is essential for any artist that is trying to make a point is an extreme. They have to show and present an extreme that automatically not only puts you on your guard, but will shake you and perhaps open your eyes to what you might not have noticed before. Last night, the extreme presented within Glee was the extreme ignorance to the intolerance of homosexuals. Kurt is constantly oppressed by an enormous football player who violently and painfully slams him into the lockers every time he walks past him. Until this point, Kurt has conquered many obstacles being the only out gay student at the high school, but it seems that it is finally starting to get to him. Like anyone in high school i.e. life, he can’t constantly have barriers up to protect himself and it is in this episode that he begins to break down. Within the news there have been a number of stories as of late of students bullying other students in both high school and university simply for being gay. It is this fact that the episode of Glee is trying to speak out and raise awareness. The result of these bullying attacks has been a number of students who, unable to deal with the circumstances and the tremendous cruelty of their surroundings, have chosen to take their own lives.

If this doesn’t disturb you, it should! Even as a Christian this makes me want to punch those kids who treat homosexuals as if they aren’t people. I understand that the Bible teaches us that the act of homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. That I will not contest. But one must understand that it is the act that the Lord finds offensive. Simply being tempted by a sin is not sin itself, Jesus teaches us that and acts as the perfect example of finding strength in the Lord and not in ourselves during his temptation in the desert by Satan. Yet again, the ignorance of homosexuality is an example where we need to put ourselves in their position. Taken to its extreme, as many homosexuals have already taken it, the homosexual agenda CAN seek to set themselves up as better or entitled to more rights or better lifestyles simply for being a homosexual. It is this way within the extreme of the feminist movement as well.

However, the fact that we live in a culture where this sort of treatment of other humans is cast a blind eye towards makes me absolutely sick! The episode shows explicitly the crashing of Kurt into the lockers as he is slammed by this football player. Rather than taking extreme action, Kurt ends up meeting another openly gay student at another school who ends up encouraging Kurt to find courage within himself and face the bully and force him to confront his fears that are clearly the reason for his extreme action against Kurt. The idea that we respond negatively to an extreme because we don’t want to accept something that is true of ourselves is something that is not always true, but has also been historically and perhaps even scientifically/psychologically proven. (I don’t want to get into a discussion of psychological mumbo-jumbo but this part is simply true of human nature I believe.) We respond negatively to that which we don’t know or don’t understand. That part has always been true. We respond even further and oftentimes violently to those situations we don’t want to accept as true. It’s essentially someone hitting your soul button. They see into you, into your secrets and the things that only God and you know, and they manifest them to everyone. And so we respond in one of two ways: through tears or through violence. With women it is often through tears and with men it is often through violence but the inverse applies as well in both situations.

Such is the case in the episode of Glee. Kurt confronts the student who is bullying him and asks him what he is afraid of. The student pulls out his fists and threatens to punch Kurt in the face. Rather than back down to the threat, Kurt stands his ground and responds by saying, “You can go ahead and punch me it won’t change the fact that I am gay the same way I can’t change the fact that you are an ignoramus.” It is at this point the ignoramus kisses Kurt and showing what is still a very controversial subject of two men kissing on television. I don’t think I need to explain why it’s controversial, one only has to look at our society to know that an action like that makes everyone shift in their seats and that is exactly the point that the directors are trying to make. It’s an extreme and the tension built up tremendously and then snapped with this moment and shocked millions of people I am sure.

They built up this tension to prove that this football player was indeed hiding behind walls that he can’t accept. That a big football player from western Ohio could be gay is exactly the fear that so many Americans can’t accept. They believe that all gays are small, feminine, act very flamboyantly, and as Kurt accurately depicts the stereotype that “all straight men have a fear that every gay guy just wants to see their junk.” The equality that Kurt is trying to seek here in his life is simply that of not being oppressed for something that he didn’t have any decision over. As many gays complain, “I didn’t choose to be like this. Why would I choose to be tortured for my entire life?” It’s a fair question and one that I think there is still much misunderstanding about within not only the secular American culture but within the Christian culture as well. Many Christians still believe that being a homosexual is a choice and that one chooses to be straight or gay. Yet it is the belief of some Christians and the Muslim community as well, and I believe the correct one,  that homosexuality is an innate or natural tendency and impulse but that it is always a choice to act on those impulses.

This is where we have to make a distinction. It is not a sin to have homosexual desires. It is a sin to act on those desires. Is this fair? Sadly, not at all. So many homosexuals who have come from Christian families have struggled with this concept. They ask themselves the question, “Am I supposed to live my entire life alone repressing the natural desires that supposedly God has given me simply to conform to what I believe is supposedly God’s Word and Law? My dear friends, as harsh as the answer sounds, the truth is yes. Paul teaches us that it is better to walk into heaven with one eye than to walk into hell with two. Similarly, we have to understand that living your entire life repressing one’s desires is a totally selfish perspective and as Christians we aim daily to die to self and it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can succeed in dying to self, not focusing on our own desires but on the furthering of the Gospel and being conformed to the image of Christ.

1st Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” This verse is so essential to our understanding. If we are within the covenant of Christ’s love and the Holy Spirit is actively working within us to conform us to the image of Christ, then we must encourage those who we know are struggling with homosexuality with these words. Their temptation is not singular and more importantly, if they couldn’t bear it, God would not have given the burden to them. If we can truly understand this verse an amazing truth comes through that can thoroughly change one’s life and shake one’s entire perspective. God gave you this burden to bear as a gift that you might have a means to glorify Him.

You might ask yourself how can you say that? Each of us has specific natural tendencies towards sin and as we understand it, all sins are equal in the sight of God. Simply because one sin tendency, like homosexuality has become culturally more acceptable, doesn’t mean that it isn’t any less wrong. Similarly, I believe that there are many people who struggle with extremely violent thoughts or perhaps have a natural inclination or impulse towards murder. The majority of people don’t give in to this impulse because we believe that murder is wrong and it is also not culturally acceptable. But imagine if we lived in a culture where murder was acceptable and it were culturally acceptable as homosexuality has become. It’s the same situation just with a different sin and any number of sins can be applied to this situation, pedophilia, nymphomania, kleptomania, masochism, sadism, and others.

The fact is that we have grace in our lives because of Christ’s death on the cross. We have done nothing to deserve Christ’s grace or His dying on the cross for our sins, yet He still did in order to show grace to the world and the amazing sovereignty and good plan of our Heavenly Father. We are so focused on ourselves and our desires that we think to suffer in such a way is the worst thing that one can experience that to be deprived of the right to sex is like being deprived of air. My brothers and sisters, this is not at all the case. We think this because we see things through human eyes but as Jethro sings in the Prince of Egypt, “Look at your life through Heaven’s eyes.” It’s not about how we see things. Life is about serving Christ and in order to do so biblically we have to aim to see the world as God sees it and has planned it. We are fallen creatures who cannot understand the plans of our infinite and sovereign Father. We see in Job where Job questions God and says, “God why are you allowing these things to happen to me?” And God responds, “Who are you, O man, to question me?” This answer is our key. Who are we as men to question the almighty and infinite God? He is sovereign not us and we are his creatures and all that we are is owed to Him not to ourselves. Throughout history we have lost this attitude and it is our responsibility as Christians to gain it back for Christ!

The world is a complicated place. Every culture suffers with its own problems that manifest themselves in different ways. The writers of Glee are showing that the intolerance of homosexuals is a serious problem and I agree. But that is only part of our problem because it is simply another manifestation of our sin. If we can get past ourselves, gain a biblically understanding of sin, and focus our thoughts and energy on seeing the world through our Heavenly Father’s eyes, I believe that we might see victory for the world one day. I don’t know what day that might be, but I trust that Christ will come and He will have victory as the Bible says He will. May God bless you all on this Wednesday and guide you in your walks with Him. That’s all for now, Ciao!

Mont Saint-Michel et Saint Malo :)

In Sounds Of November on November 7, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Yesterday was my first and last field trip with the Institute. They have offered a number of different excursions but most of them have been too expensive to participate in with the exception of this one. As soon as I saw the words Mont Saint-Michel I knew that I would be signing up for this trip. When I first came to France it was one of my few goals that I had along with seeing the original Moulin Rouge to see Mon Saint-Michel. I was talking to my parents the other day and I told them I had signed up for this trip and my dad’s response was somewhat less than enthusiastic until my mom heard where I was going and got really excited. At which point my dad said, “What’s Mon Saint-Michel and why have I never heard of it?” Hopefully my dad gets a chance to look at some of the photos that I took while I was there and see how really wonderful this monument is.

The trip began at 7am with a 4-hour bus ride. Normally I have no problem sleeping on a bus or at least drowsing in and out of consciousness, but the chairs on this bus were very uncomfortable and considering we would be sitting in them for a combined 9 hours of the day, none of us were very pleased. But considering we were seeing le Mont Saint-Michel we realized it was worth putting up with and so we all did with the least amount of grumbling possible.

Approaching Mont Saint-Michel was not at all what I expected. It’s on the coast of France in Normandy and the only way I can describe it is in terms of similar experience at the Sear’s Tower in Chicago. I remember every time I drive into Chicago the very first thing you notice is the massive array of buildings the most supreme of which is the Sear’s Tower. Now imagine driving into Chicago but there are no buildings, no apartments, not streets, but one single mass of a building resembling a mountain with a giant tower on top pointing towards heaven. This is the experience of seeing le Mont Saint-Michel for the first time.

Upon arrival we learned that there is only one street that leads up to the Abbey and as you walk in you realize it’s not a town but it’s not just a monument either. It’s very castle-like in its structure, which makes sense considering it had been used for hundreds of years as a prison. But the tiny street is lined with tons of little souvenir shops and cafes all hoping that you will buy something at their ridiculously expensive prices. I was fortunate enough to only make one small purchase of a gift for a family member.

What makes le Mont Saint-Michel so exquisite isn’t even so much the Abbey or even the little street leading up to it. What makes the monument so spectacular is the landscape that surrounds it. The weather sadly was not that great but I very much appreciated the clouds and rain at the time because it really brought into perspective for me how incredible the terrain surrounding Mont Saint-Michel truly is. There is an incredible balance of flat terrain, field, sand, beach, and water altogether at the same time. I have honestly never seen anything like it in my life. Imagining being a prisoner and trying to escape would be nearly impossible given the natural defense against fleeing prisoners provided by the environment.

After walking around with friends and taking pictures we met up with our professor and guide for the day who brought us up to the Abbey an explained the history of le Mont Saint-Michel from when it was created almost 1300 years ago to today. As a Christian I found the history of the construction of MSM absolutely hysterical. Supposedly, Saint Michael came down from heaven and told a particular priest to build an Abbey in his name at this location. The priest at the time didn’t feel like listening, much like Jonah, and chose to go on with his daily life. When Saint Michael returned later and gave him a big hole in his forehead, he decided that this time it was time to listen and so he built the first MSM. Since then MSM has become a prison, an abbey, a place of pilgrimage and solitude, and now almost an amusement park. However, the foundation for MSM is very weak. This is what I find to be so hysterical. Christ gives us the parable in Matthew 7:24-27 of the man who built his house on the sand and the man who built his house on the rock. As we know the man who built his house on the sand quickly had his house destroyed after the storm came but the man who built his house on the rock survived the storm without any problems because his foundation was strong.

As it turns out, Saint Michael didn’t care about this architectural difficulty when he asked the priest to build the Abbey because the foundation of MSM is entirely sand. As a result, over its 1300-year history it has had to be rebuilt on three separate occasions to keep the entire thing from sinking into the sand leading to the version that we have today. Correspondingly, one of the most remarkable things about MSM is the architecture because they had to create ways of keeping the Abbey from collapsing in on itself and so many of the architectural choices that may look bizarre were actually done in an effort to make the island weigh less to keep it from sinking into the ground.

Nonetheless, the Abbey itself is absolutely beautiful and still to this day remains a place of religious importance to many seeking a place of solace and silence. The architecture reflects a monastic lifestyle with very little ornate design and attachment to aesthetic beauty unlike some of the other churches and sanctuaries built around the same time. After going in, out, and around the whole fortress we made our way through the gift shop and back onto the streets towards the bus for Saint Malo. We had only a couple hours to spend sadly in Saint Malo simply because we had to be back and the drive home was an additional four hours on the bus. That being the case we all took the opportunity for some dinner while we were in Saint Malo.

The size of Saint Malo is similar to that of Tours, about 130,000. The downtown really reminded me of Wurzburg with its big open streets with all of its little shops and people walking around eating crepes and Far Breton, which I was definitely sure to try and loved!  But the main difference to Saint Malo and Wurzburg was the OCEAN! I am sure I have mentioned this before and if you have seen my pictures from any of my trips around Europe thus far, you will know that I absolutely love water! I take tons of pictures of rivers and banks and anything involving water because I think its beauty within nature is sublime and incredible reflection of God’s beauty, purity, and power. Seeing the ocean for the first time in this setting of cliffs with jagged rocks and sandy beaches put me in an instant state of tranquility and contentment. As we were approaching the view of the ocean I got a glimpse of it and a huge smile showed across my entire face from pure joy and ecstasy just from seeing the ocean.

We took pictures and found a lovely little restaurant where I ordered a complete with ham, eggs, cheese, and potatoes and Ana and I split a pitcher of the regional cider that was excellent as well. The restaurant was situated right next to the wall of the ocean and so we had a great view of the sunset and of course I ran out to take pictures as soon as I could. By this time the weather had finally cleared up a little bit and I finally experienced the sentiment that I had been waiting for in France of sitting in a restaurant with friends after spending the day together with the wind blowing in our faces and experiencing the incredible sights of nature. As you can imagine, I wish we had more time to spend in Saint Malo, but sadly time would not allow and so I must simply be grateful for the time that I had and hope to go back one day soon.

The bus back home was long but I enjoyed having some time sharing music with Nicolas and jamming out to some of our favorite tunes. I slept for the last hour and then walked with Claire in the rain back home and crashed as soon as I hit my bed. Last funny detail, I promise. Today for lunch Madame prepared for Claire and I what is called Boudon Noir. I have never had anything like this before and probably won’t eat it ever again. It wasn’t bad, but I am very glad that there were potatoes and stewed apples to go along with it or it might not have been as pleasant. I was told it is something like blood sausage and apparently that’s what it is, but I had no idea that pig blood would taste like this. (The Jew inside of me felt incredible guilty not only for eating pork but for eating the blood of a pig as well. Good thing I’m a protestant.) The flavor resembled that of liver but not as strong, for which I was grateful.

Fortunately the meal ended with a big slice of apple tart that Madame had prepared and I made myself a cup of coffee to help me prepare to do my homework. Yet, as a good procrastinator always does, I found that reliving the events of yesterday were more important to share with my friends on my blog than actually start working on my three assignments, two of which were due on Friday. Oh well. Such is life. I suppose that now that I have finished I should probably start working. But before I do, I have to say that as great as the Saturday was visiting some of the most beautiful places in France, I think I would have gladly given it up to be back in Hillsdale for Homecoming. Knowing that so many of my closest and dearest friends were all back together again and I wasn’t there to see them and talk and catch up was hard. But I am glad to just know that they are all safe and in God’s hands. I miss you all and can’t wait till we see each other again. That’s all for now. Ciao!

God’s Work in My Life

In Sounds Of November on November 5, 2010 at 10:02 PM

So this marks my first official post in the month of November. Although I posted on the 1st about Nantes, the content was concerning actions that took place in October so that doesn’t count. Although not much really exciting has happened in terms of trips or exciting experiences, although I am going to Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Malo tomorrow, more on that later, I did want to take a moment to talk about what God has been impressing upon my heart as of late. I have been talking to a few people about this, particularly family and a couple friends, but I want to share where I see the Lord leading me once I arrive back in the States.

When I “graduated” from Hillsdale in the spring at the last orchestra concert they honor the graduating seniors and give a brief description of who they are and their future plans. At the time Professor Holleman read something that sounded something like, “Ben majored in everything and now that he has gotten his hands wet in every field possible, he is thinking of pursuing grad school in Hospitality Business, French, or Christian Counseling or possibly getting into the wine industry.” Although some people seemed impressed and some laughed, the fact remained what Holleman should have said is, “Ben has majored in everything trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life and after trying everything Hillsdale has to offer he has decided to pursue every other field that Hillsdale doesn’t offer at a different university until he figures out what the heck he is going to do for the rest of his life.”

Well in order to escape the inevitable reality of the real world and complete one of my life long goals of living in Europe for a period of time, I realized I could have in addition to my Music major a French major and a German minor if I went abroad. So I thought why not kill two birds with one stone right? These were the circumstances that lead me to where I am now. Done with a German minor and on the cusp of finishing my French major and bringing my time as an undergraduate student to a successful end. The only question now remains, what does Ben Newman do now?

Well being here in Europe in both Germany and France has taught me a lot. When people said that going to Europe will change you, they are absolutely right. It has changed me and I am grateful for the changes that have occurred. In many respects I feel like being at Hillsdale as great as it was, was an environment that was very contrived and lent itself towards a false idea of reality and life. Hence the cruel desperation for a return to Hillsdale that so many of my friends I know are currently experiencing. But being here in Europe has helped me to grow even further in my independence and growth as a man. For example one of the things that I have made an intentional effort to grow comfortable with is being alone and being content with that. Although God did not intend man to be alone as we learn in Genesis with Adam, the fact remains that for the time being God has called me to be alone and I am meant to relish the opportunity to serve God as a single man without distraction not begrudge Him for not bringing me a wife while I was at Hillsdale.

Similarly my desire to continue learning languages has only grown stronger. During my time in Germany I became pretty conversable in the short two months I was there. This was symbolized for me by a woman I met on a train on my way back to Wurzburg who I spoke with entirely in German for an hour and a half. She didn’t speak any English so we didn’t have any other choice but to speak in German. We had a great conversation about multiple different subjects including Vampires and suitcases and traveling and at the end of our trip when I had to get off the train she told me that she wished I could continue with her on the train because she very much enjoyed my company and thought we got along very well. This was by far probably the highlight for me of my time spent in Germany. Knowing as well that I could go to any information desk in the country ask them for information in German and I could understand with almost 100% comprehension was being said to me was very encouraging to me as a student of languages.

Since being here in France I have gained the same capacity. I have come to understand that my French isn’t actually as bad as I think it is, it’s simply formal. I have wondered about this for a while simply because when I talk to professors or anyone in any sort of academic framework in French I have no problem understanding them, or them, me. It’s when I walk out to the streets and listen to French that I can hardly understand a word of what people are saying. I am finally learning some of the slang and less formal contractions that the French make in their everyday conversations. For example where I was taught to say, “Je l’ai fait” and the French say “J’l’ai fait.” They just shorten everything to where the sound “T” they now refers to “You.” It’s really incredible but difficult to understand.

My family continues to tell me that my French is quite good and that I should have no problems getting by anywhere now in France although there are definitely times where I feel like I don’t understand a thing but then again at the same time I walk into my class and I don’t even register anymore that the class is done in a different language. At the same time as well once I am out of class I hang out with a lot of Colombians as I have mentioned previously and so I hear a lot of Spanish every day and am picking that up as well. Everyday I learn something new and I love it. Meeting people from Japan, South Korea, and China has been absolutely fascinating to me simply because they have the Internet the same way we do, and yet is entirely different at the same time. It’s really remarkable when you think about it.

I have considered going back to Germany for a semester to take some classes to continue my studies in German and I know once I leave France I will be desperate for an outlet to practice my French in my everyday life like I already do now with German. But as much as I love learning and speaking other languages and learning about other cultures, I know it’s not where God has called me entirely. I believe that God has given me a gift for learning languages. Perhaps not like He has gifted others, but I know that I have a certain capacity for learning languages well. But when I consider making learning languages my passion I find myself disliking the languages and losing my motivation to continue learning them. It’s like music in many respects for me. When I focus all of my energy on music as much as I enjoy reaching the new levels of understanding of music that I hadn’t understood before, it’s only a fraction of who I want to be and who I believe God is calling me to be.

In many respects I consider myself to be a Renaissance man. I try and know as much as I can about as much as I can and get my hands wet in lots of different subjects. I find that it helps me to be able to relate to a lot of different people who love different subjects simply because I am genuinely interested in what they study. Of course I will always love having my music nerd moments with my friends like Natalie, Elyse, and Melissa where we talk about the smallest intricate details of different violin concertos and why we love them. I will also miss comparing French to German and both to English multiple times every day and finding all of the exceptions and realizing how different the languages are. For example in French they say, “Je suis dans le bus.” I am in the bus. But in proper English we say, “I am ON the bus.”  Have you ever considered how ridiculous this sounds? Are we actually ON the bus? No we are IN the bus. But for whatever reason English has decided that we will be ON buses, trains, and planes.

So spending my time as an undergraduate student I have come to appreciate so many things I didn’t before. I hated German and never wanted to learn the language. Yet, I can definitely see myself in a few years spending a considerable amount of time in Germany. I will explain how this corresponds to where God is leading me in a moment. Before I got to college I really had no appreciation for Art, a minimal appreciation for Opera, and no comprehension at all of Architecture. But because of friends and different influences and people that I have met, I can now recognize without even thinking names like Verdi, Puccini, Van Gogh, Courbet, Rodin, Pompidou, or Norman Foster. Authors I have been exposed to particularly in French literature such as Paul Claudel, Ionesco, Camus, Sartre, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rouseau, Gide, Maupassant, Ernaux, and Mauriac have made such an impression on me in terms of understanding the French spirit.

Coming to France as well has really impressed upon me not only how little I know, but how I take for granted the amazing lifestyle we live that has changed so much since even 100 years ago. The things we expect everyone in the world to understand and accept as true are simply remarkable. As you can see Europe has made its impression on me. But more than anything it has made an impression on me spiritually. I will admit my largest fear when I came here to Europe was that I would spend 6 months living a lifestyle I would regret, and yet the opposite has occurred. I remember as well wanting and being scared of having a European romance like we always see in the movies. Well I can tell you with full assurance that I have indeed had that European romance and I am proud to say that it has been with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Every time I have considered my life choices and I pray about it I find that my thoughts about that field are shot out the window faster than they arrived in the first place. Thoughts of Masters in Hospitality Business, French, and German, are all gone. Similarly, wine makes me tired and as much as I enjoy learning about it like I do about good literature, I know it’s not meant to be my life. One field stays consistently clear in my mind and as I have considered it more and more and prayed about it and aimed my focus towards this field more windows keep opening up. When I return to the States I plan to work for 6-8 months hopefully up in the East Lansing area and then return to school in the fall at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where I will be pursing an MA in Biblical Counseling.

I have been making efforts towards this end for quite a while but it’s only been recently as my love for the Lord has grown stronger that I have found my desire to go to Seminary growing stronger as well. I can recall a few years ago applying to Wheaton University and they asked a Pastor’s reference and I had a hard time finding one because of the choices that I had made in high school I hadn’t made being an active part of a church one of my priorities. Now I have no worry at all about that after spending the past three years being part of the family and congregation at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville just outside of Hillsdale. Similarly I hope to become a member at University Reformed Church in East Lansing during the following months in preparation and study for my time at Westminster. I am taking this decision very seriously and I am very excited about it. Today I was on the website for Westminster looking at some of the requirements for the application and seeing what they offer and I my heart started pumping like crazy just looking at the website. Of course anticipating a new and positive change can have this affect on a person, but what really got me going was when I saw a link to something that said, “Reformed in Germany.” Westminster is working on restarting the Reformed Church in Germany and they are creating a community in Heidelburg, Germany, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Baden-Wurttenburg and the home of the Heidelburg Cathechism. They are looking for people to come over to Germany potentially very long term and participate in helping keep this Reformed community alive and growing in Germany. Of course this is very pre-emptive thinking but I would absolutely love to go over there for a while and serve Christ’s church in a couple years. Who knows what will happen and what other doors will be opened up for me but I am so excited about returning to Philadelphia. I spent five summers there at the Csehy Summer School of Music and still have many dear friends in the area that will help me feel like I have a place in the city already as well as offering me support when I first arrive.

Similarly, I hope to begin attending 10th Avenue Presbyterian Church in Philly. I have heard wonderful things about this church and I hope that I might be able to use my musical skills there as well as I have at Countryside. My connections from Csehy as well will allow me to continue to keep up my love of music and hopefully sing in a choir or play in an orchestra while I am there as well. As I see it, all directions are pointing me towards Westminster. Of course, this could change. We will see what the next 8 months bring. But as it stands I am seeing this as the path down which God is calling me and I could not be more excited. I ask for your prayers and your support during this time that God would show me how He intends for me to serve His church and to guide me in the ways I must grow in order to better serve Him and be conformed to the image of Christ, no matter what the cost!

I thank you all for your love and support and the help that you have rendered me as I have spent time with each of you. I cherish you all dearly and hope that I might encourage you all as much as you encourage me with your friendship and lives. I look forward very much towards coming back home in what will be a very short 45 days and seeing smiling faces and recounting the many tales from my experiences here in Europe.

I should get to bed now because I have to be up at 5:45 to catch a bus for Mont Saint-Michel and Saint Malo in the morning. When I knew I was coming to France Mont Saint-Michel was one of the places on my list that was an absolute must see and now I am fulfilling that dream. I am so grateful to God and my parents for giving me this opportunity. It is indeed one I will never forget and one that has truly changed my life and my perspective for the better because it is now focused more than ever towards Christ. I know this has been long, so thank you for reading all of my thoughts. I really appreciate it. That’s all for now. Ciao!

Holiday Weekend Trip to Nantes

In Expressions Of October on November 1, 2010 at 10:14 PM

I am entering into my last full month here in France now that it’s November. November 1, as well as being Reformation Day is also All Saint’s Day as many of my Catholic friends remind me of every year. Although the holiday isn’t particularly well celebrated in the USA, here in Europe it’s a national holiday and so everyone takes the day off. Considering this year it fell on a Monday, many people took the occasion, including my host family to have a little vaca out to the French countryside. I was left at home all alone as Claire had left for Paris for the weekend as well. I was not worried at all though. On Friday, before my host family left I had dinner with my host brother 13 year old Alexis and after sharing our crepes and our fantastic mutual taste for Nutella and bananas we sat down to watch Ihznogoud (It’s no good) a French comedy for kids that was actually quite funny. I have really enjoyed the time I have spent with each of the kids here in France. They are each different and have taken to me in different ways. Arthur understands my sarcasm, Camille understands my sentimentality, and Alexis and I have the same stomach. There is a garlic cream cheese spread here in France that normally Alexis is the only one to eat and tonight I asked for some and he was shocked and I enjoyed it so much Camille took some as well. It was really funny.

On Saturday the family left and I had a great almost three hour conversation with one of my dear friends Jareb Popiel. Most of you who read this are probably thinking, What? Ben has another very dear friend that I have never heard of? The answer is in fact, yes! I don’t know how it happens, maybe I consider too many of my friends to be near and dear to my heart, but consider it to be a compliment because I do esteem you all as my dear friends very sincerely. After my conversation with Jareb I finished up season 1 of 30 Rock on Cuevana and went to sleep being sure to set my alarm with the change of time because Daylight Savings Time was yesterday here in France. For the next week I am at a five-hour time change and not six. Those of you who have been trying to get a hold of me, now is a good time!

In the morning I got up and headed off to the train station to grab my train for my day trip to Nantes. I was really excited about going to Nantes and seeing the 6th most populated city in France. Since arriving in France two months ago (4 months to the day that I have been in Europe, crazy!) I have seen Tours, Paris twice, and La Rochelle but other than those cities I haven’t really seen that much so I was relishing the opportunity to visit a large city in France. As it turns out, Nantes isn’t really designed as a tourist attraction. It reminded me a lot of Wiesbaden, Germany actually in that it felt like a business town with certain pleasant aspects about it designed to help the families of the rich businessmen who live there to have something to do and certain pleasantries to help keep them occupied.

Nantes is host to the Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany as well as a wonderful very large cathedral and an amazing waterway and nature path. Each of these aspects I had the chance to soak in during my visit. The Chateau was very large and beautiful from the outside but from what I gathered from the people I saw there, or the lack thereof, the chateau itself from the inside wasn’t really worth seeing and I am on a tight budget so I figured I would skip that part and simply enjoy the exterior of the Chateau which was surrounded by a beautiful moat. I got some great pictures of the moat with the chateau in the background. After seeing the Chateau the Cathedral was only a few minutes walk away and I walked in just in time to hear the end of Sunday morning mass. Yet again, it is services like these that sometimes make me wish I were a Catholic. The Cathedral is built in a beautiful Gothic architectural style and has huge vaulted ceilings that seem to stretch to the heavens as I am sure was the intent.

I was getting a little hungry so I decided to wander around. I knew that generally in a city one can find the center of the town around the river so I ventured over to the Loire hoping to find something. I crossed the bridge and ended up walking through the residential section of Nantes and seeing absolutely nothing! It was definitely disappointing. At this point I had been on my feet walking for two hours without a break, but this was only the beginning. I came back around to the other side of the city after crossing a different bridge and made my way back towards the Cathedral. I sat in the courtyard of the cathedral and soaked in the beautiful fall colors that finally hit France as of this past weekend. I was starting to think that fall was going to come and go here in France without any color change. Although you don’t get the same fire effect that you get from the trees in Michigan, they were still quite beautiful particularly in the Japanese garden I found later in the afternoon. After finding a map of the city I discovered that I had been walking the complete wrong direction but as well that there really wasn’t that much to see in Nantes in the downtown area.  You have the Cathedral, the Chateau, and then the main street where every shop was sadly closed because it was Sunday, and that’s about it. That was until I discovered the Boat walkway.

After walking past the Cathedral again I found on the map a body of water that seemed to be going north from the city and so I decided to follow it. I am glad I did because it was here that I found a stunning Japanese garden as well as boat after boat in what reminded me very much of what I imagine Venice to be like. I found a sign that indicated a large nature path and since I had seen almost everything else I could I decided it would be a nice treat and a good way to help myself continue my efforts to start liking nature. So I just started walking with no set destination in mind. I ended up walking two hours north, finding pretty much nothing, and then turning around the other direction of the path and coming back to the center of town. The only times I stopped during the four hours of nature was for about fifteen minutes to rest my legs that were killing me. They didn’t get better either. I realized the best course of action was to simply keep moving. I got back to town and had a small box of French fries with a cherry coke and then found the last remaining monuments I hadn’t seen including a statue of Charles de Gaulle and then made my way back to the train station with two hours left before my train was supposed to leave.

I figured there had to be a train going back to Tours at some point earlier than 6:50 and low and behold I was right. I was able to exchange my ticket and even get some money back because I wasn’t taking a TGV and I was back in Tours two hours earlier than I had anticipated. It was a really nice day, and the weather had predicted rain all day and it had only sprinkled briefly in the morning and so God was very gracious to me in that respect. Ultimately though, I felt like Nantes was just ok. Not my favorite city in the world. After talking to the old lady that takes care of Madame’s students when she is not here, Marie-Cecile, she informed me that I probably just didn’t know what to see, which I would agree with as well as the fact that it was a Sunday probably didn’t help matters. All in all it was a very nice day though although my feet are still killing me from walking for 7 hours straight. I was very glad to get back and simply rest my legs and not move for a few hours. Even though it was Halloween there were hardly any trick-or-treaters and the entire day I only saw one person in any sort of costume. It was honestly a very welcome change to know that All Saint’s Day was a bigger day than Halloween.

This is sadly the last post for my Expressions of October. It has been a great month and thank you to everyone for reading and continuing to read. It’s been yet another great month and I have learned a lot. Who knows what changes November will bring. We will just have to find out. That’s all for now. Ciao!