Archive for the ‘Expressions Of October’ Category

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!


Memories Old and New

In Expressions Of October on October 30, 2010 at 12:36 PM

This will probably not come as a giant shock to anyone who knows me, but I am a very sentimental person. I do a lot of self-reflection, hence one of the many purposes for this blog, and every so often I am reminded of something from my past that triggers a flood of memories back into my consciousness. Today’s trigger was Sarah Gerber’s album that she posted on facebook of photos from our freshman year at college. Although I think I only knew Sarah by name my freshman year, as Hillsdale has an amazing way of doing, we became friends because of many mutual friends, particularly during this past year. Her album is full of many friends that I feel like I have grown up with because of our shared experiences at college. Although we didn’t know each other before college, particularly in these first few months after college, there is a certain bond I think we all share looking back at these photos knowing the people we’ve met, classes we’ve taken, and the experiences we’ve shared.

My first response to these photos was to smile knowing how much has changed, immediately followed by curiosity about where life has taken some of the people I haven’t heard from in a while, as well as where God will continue to lead and take them in their lives. My sentimental nature then takes over and I begin to daydream amidst my flood of memories and lose track of time before returning to reality and considering my mother’s advice, I thank God for the privilege of knowing these amazing people.

Seeing pictures of Sean McDermott reminded me of our ping-pong matches freshman year when I was obsessed with ping-pong and made some amazing memories on Friday afternoons playing match after match with different friends and the amazing Saga Steve. Steve and I would have rally after rally where one point could last upwards of 3 minutes, which in ping-pong time is almost unheard of. It’s memories like these that I cherish so dearly when I consider the time that I had at Hillsdale.

Last night I had probably what was the best night I’ve had since my arrival in France and I know it will be one of those dear cherished memories as well. My memories of people here in Europe are different than from those at Hillsdale simply because the amount of time we have isn’t as long and the cultures are very different. That doesn’t cheapen them, if anything it sets them apart as even more special because they only occur once. Meeting new people here has really taught me a lot about how my attitude towards people has changed in the past few years. When I consider how judgmental I have been in the past and sometimes still can be, it’s comforting knowing that my perception of others in general has become much more open to getting to know them and not judging based off of pre-conceived notions that don’t really exist. Of course I am not perfect at this, but it’s definitely something I am making consider efforts on improving on.

Last night my friend Ana invited me over to the hostel where many of the older students at the Institute live for the duration of the time studying at the Institute. (That word is impossible to spell. I give up. Whoever came up with the spelling for institute clearly didn’t consider the consequences of having so many “T’s” in a word consecutively.) Anyway, Thursdays are my longest days at the Institute. I have class with almost no breaks except for lunch from 9am until 5pm. It’s a long day and a long time to be thinking and talking only in French. Even during lunch typically I am either continuing to talk in French or listening to Spanish. This has ultimately led to my almost complete incapacity to speak in English any more. Aubrie warned me about this happening and now it has, oh well, I suppose it’s a good sign.

Yesterday was even longer than normal, however because I had my first wine degustation (tasting). Not a bad reason to have a long day continuing to speak French, but then again, consuming close to three glasses of wine and minimal portions of baguette and chevre after not eating anything since lunch isn’t necessarily conducive to having a big dinner afterwards, especially not two. I was really excited to have dinner because Ana said she was making Spanish food and Sangria which is pretty much like heaven on earth for me. Unfortunately I didn’t have an opportunity to tell my host mom that I wouldn’t be there for dinner, which meant she was planning on me for dinner and so I had to eat something. This something turned out to be a delicious crepe with ham, egg and cheese, but it didn’t leave much room for Spanish dinner afterward. Fortunately the Spanish are accustomed to eating late in the evening and so I had a couple of hours to settle my food and make more room once dinner was served at the hostel.

I didn’t know who was going to be at the hostel but I thought it was only going to be 4 or 5 people. It turned out being about 15 people with no plates, only forks and knives, sharing amazing Spanish tortilla and salad with lettuce, tomato, corn, tuna, and pomegranate. Needless to say, it was amazing! But not as amazing as the company, which never ceased to make, me smile the whole evening! The countries represented included the USA, Spain, Japan, Taiwan, Libya, and Kuwait. The entire evening everyone was going back in forth between English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German, and whatever other languages we learned people spoke. I had a great time talking with Ahmet and Walleed about my experience already from high school with Arabic culture.

I mentioned that I had gone to see Amr Diab in Detroit and they about freaked out that I knew who Amr Diab was let alone gone to see him in concert. Two of the more funny episodes of the night included talking about how in Arab culture if you meet a woman who is like a good horse, then you have found a good woman because Arabian horses are known for being the best in the world. The other kind of scary but awesome moment was when Ahmet was trying to describe a Giraffe, a 3 liter tube that one can order at one of the bars here called La Cabanne, and ended up comparing it to a Bazooka. He kept saying, they ordered three or four bazookas. Now of course because of the context of the story I knew he meant giraffes, but I died laughing and Walleed saw it in my smile, that I was laughing because it was such a typical demonstration of what as Americans we consider Arab culture to be like. These guys were great fun to spend time with and they are not my first experience with Arabs and so I really had an awesome night with people I felt like I could actually identify with thanks to my experiences in high school.

I was so blessed to simply meet many different people who were all pursuing learning French for different professional reasons and spend an evening talking and talking and talking. It really reminded me of home. Speaking of home, today is 50 days to the day till I come home! I have definitely adjusted to living here in France. I don’t get as antsy so much any more about spending hours by myself and it’s been actually really good for my faith to develop my faith independently from my friends and home environment. I miss having all of the Christian resources available to me however as well as the community of believers. I can’t wait to have a chance to visit Julie and discuss some of the theological differences that we have as Protestants and Catholics. We always have amazing conversation and it’s always very strengthening an encouraging.

Tomorrow I will be taking a day trip to Nantes, France which is the 6th largest city in France. I am looking forward to having another opportunity to travel around France, particularly on my own. I really enjoy having these day trips to just wonder around and take pictures and just enjoy living life in France. Of course it would be great to have friends with me as well, but I have learned to enjoy being both alone and with friends equally as both good just different.

That word different is something that I think in general as a culture we struggle to accept. Whether it be people, personalities, change, or the multitude of other examples, we seem to struggle with different. We have something within our nature that fights against change. We experience a period of challenge where something strange becomes familiar and then we don’t want to enter into a new period of challenge. It’s hard and it’s uncomfortable and sometimes it takes a while to pay off, my time spent here in France is a good example of that. For the first month here I really just wanted to go back to Germany. But once I got back from London I was ready to tackle French again and I have had a couple really great days here where I have been able to see my language skills really improve and my understanding of how the language works improve as well.

To be honest though, life here hasn’t been that eventful which is why I find that it’s reached a certain sense of normalcy. I have my classes and sometimes I hang out with friends after school, but typically I come home, spend a couple hours on the internet catching up on things and practicing violin, eat dinner, and then back to the computer or homework until about 10:30 or 11pm when I go to bed in preparation for my time spent in the morning reading, writing, and praying. It’s really taught me that life can change so quickly depending on one’s circumstances and those changes don’t have to be fought against. They can and should be accepted for their inherent value as simply being a reflection of God’s blessings being bestowed upon us.

France is nice. Germany is nice. The USA is nice, but none of them are forever. I consistently try and remind myself that we are pilgrims on this earth living our lives for Christ and living in the light of eternity. When I think about this ideology it makes me miss Daniel Parker and as a result I miss him and think about him quite frequently. My thoughts turn often to him and his example that was his life testimony during his short time with us on this earth. I am very glad to have known him and I am grateful that God brought him into my life because I have learned so many rich life lessons seeing how he lived his life and how I can and should be living mine. God is so great and gracious to His people. He have but to take the time to notice it, and our whole life perspective changes. I pray this would be true in the lives of all my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s all I have for the moment. Ciao!

Eric Whitacre: A Joy I Never Knew

In Expressions Of October on October 24, 2010 at 1:58 PM

As I previously mentioned, sometimes I go on Youtube and I find some absolute gems of music. Typically I don’t spend time surfing Youtube trying to find funny videos, I usually just allow my friends to find them and show them to me. But actively pursuing videos of performances of violin concertos, opera arias, and choral works, that I feel I must do in order to help make more people aware of the amazing music that has been written and the beauty of what God allows us to hear and experience through music.

Today’s gem comes to us from the incredible composer Eric Whitacre. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this name I assure you that by the end of this post you will want to be and even more so if you watch the links I will put up at the end of the post. I first heard the name Eric Whitacre from my dear friend Matt Samson. I met Matt at Csehy when I was 14 and we became very good friends and spent at least a few weeks together at Csehy during our five summer of high school although I believe he was also there for the middle school terms as well. Matt is not only an amazing vocalist but an amazing composer. I remember him sending me his Myspace page with him singing each part in his 16-part arrangement of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Did I mention how amazing his voice is to be able to sing all of these parts? He was commissioned by his choral director to write many pieces, one of which he informed me he finished the night before the premiere.

I remember hearing the name Eric Whitacre from Matt because his compositional style was often compared to that of Eric Whitacre. For a 16 year old from Pennsylvania to be compared to one of the living giants of composers today, I don’t think that’s such a bad rep to have. Since that time I have heard the name Eric Whitacre consistently within the choir circle at Hillsdale and always with eager anticipation hoping that we in the chamber choir might be lucky enough to perform one of his works. Sadly, much to all of our chagrin, Holleman never gave us the privilege. I have heard some of his works in the past, but today I happened to stumble across one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Eric Whitacre put together a virtual choir on Youtube. By giving out the sheet music in pdf form of his piece Lux Arumque and having the vocalists record their voices separately, Whitacre was able to put all of their voices together in an incredible video that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The performance is flawless and the effect is incredible!

Since being here in Europe I have seen some of the most valued treasures and sights in the world. Yet, they don’t impress quite like they used to when they were first premiered simply because we know about it now. The idea exists and is familiar and so we are automatically cheated out by the fact that we have seen pictures or buildings or other physical manifestations of the idea via books, videos, and internet. This video I promise will give you that authentic experience like that of ages past. I have never once in my life seen a video like this and it has altered my perception of the capacity of music and film forever. Eric Whitacre is an absolute musical genius and his compositions are some of the most beloved by choirs across the world. Here I will give you three of my absolute favorite pieces by him and I encourage you to find as many more as you might be interested in. This man is only 40 years old and his career is starting to take off like a whirlwind.

Wikipedia, only the greatest website ever, offers this information about him. From October to December 2010, Whitacre will be a visiting Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge during Michaelmas (Autumn) Term, and will compose a piece for the college choir, as well as work with students in masterclasses and workshops. Whitacre is probably best known for his choral works; however, both his choral and instrumental styles use his signature “Whitacre chords,” or pan-diatonic clusters usually arranged in successive increasing or decreasing density. Whitacre achieves this growth and decay by splitting voices divisi—in one case up to 18 parts. 2010-11 commissions include works for Chanticleer, The King’s Singers and Conspirare. His cutting edge musical Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, which combines influences including trance, electronica, and anime with choral, cinematic, and operatic traditions, won the ASCAP Harold Arlen Award, the Richard Rogers award, and 10 Ovation Award nominations. He has received composition awards from the Barlow International Composition Competition, the American Choral Directors Association and the American Composers Forum. In 2001, Whitacre became the youngest recipient ever awarded the coveted Raymond C. Brock commission by the American Choral Directors Association.

This man is the real deal and his music I believe will continue to be appreciated and loved for hundreds of years to come. Enjoy the following videos and have a great Lord’s Day!



Bikes, Rain, Apples, and Unforeseen Kindness

In Expressions Of October on October 24, 2010 at 1:35 PM

Today is one of those amazing days when I find something on Youtube I never knew existed and completely blesses my soul and makes me feel alive and even more in love with music than I already am. But before I talk about my newly found treasure, I want to talk about yesterday’s adventure. The weekends here in Tours are pretty slow sometimes and so often the students from the Institute take the opportunity of having a couple days off to travel a little bit around France. With the many beautiful châteaux’s in the region surrounding Tours, many students rent bikes and take the beautifully planned bike path to the local castles. On Friday Claire informed me that she was getting together with some of the other students to go see Azay-le-Rideau which is just a few kilometers past Villandry about 22 kilometers outside of Tours. The bike idea is a great one on a warm day and a great way to simply spend the day with friends getting some exercise.

For those of you who don’t already know about this me, I am almost fundamentally opposed to the desire to exercise. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it when I do it; it’s simply the effort that it takes to do it that makes up this somewhat logical excuse for plain laziness. Nevertheless, after hearing how much fun Claire and the others had going to Villandry with the guys from Birmingham last month, I decided that I wanted to go as well. The forecast didn’t look that great, but we thought, why not? Let’s give it a shot! So Claire and I left at about 9:45 in the morning to meet everyone at the train station and on the way we stopped at a boulangerie and each of us had this pastry called a Pepito. Essentially in essence, it’s amazing! Other than pastry dough, and chocolate chips I have no idea what’s in it but it looks like this.

We met up with our friends and the weather at the beginning of the day looked very promising. We rented the bikes and began making our way through Tours. It was after I got on the bike that I remembered that the last time I have been on a bicycle, I don’t think I had my driver’s license. So when I crashed into a few corners and drew quite a bit of attention to myself in downtown Tours yelling, “WATCH OUT!” I knew it was going to be an exciting day. After about 30 or so minutes I got the hang of riding a bike again and began enjoying our 22 km voyage to Villandry. On the way we saw a ropes course and a tower we could climb and take pictures so naturally we took the opportunity and took in the scope of the town from our forested domain. After our little break we continued on our path through cornfields, old French farms and a couple cute little villages before arriving in Villandry.

I was pretty sore after biking 22 km but after a group discussion we decided to keep going because the chateau at Villandry was closed for two hours for lunch, along with everything else in the town. We decided to take the car route instead of the bike route for the next trek in our adventure to Azay-le-Rideau. This was where the “fun” really began. We had a chance encounter with Molly, a beautiful French white mare who came over to us as she saw us coming by so we could pet her. Her hair was long and elegant and frequently we noticed her turning her giant head towards the wind so that we might capture a glimpse of her luscious white hair blowing in the wind. Maieda fell instantly in love with her but refused to accept the name Molly for such an elegant horse.

We weren’t sure of our route and the cars racing past us at 70km didn’t bring us any further assurance but like good hikers we persisted through the trials and found our path towards Azay. We turned left at our appropriate destination point and what met us did not please our already weary legs. A massive hill manifested itself and caused us to not only block oncoming traffic but also ultimately force all but two of us off of our bikes to walk the distance of the hill. At one point I remember looking back and seeing the weary faces of my friends I was reminded of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the Fellowship is trekking through the snowy mountains and each of the members are struggling to find energy to continue. I found this image only helped add to the epicness of our journey. Another Lord of the Rings reference was soon incorporated into our journey as well. As we continued down our path of an unforeseeable distance, we began to be separated by energy levels, distance, and now the beginning of the rain. At first it didn’t seem so bad, but as we continued and the rain became stronger, we knew we would have to find shelter and rest for a little while. Yet seeing as how we surrounded by nothing but fields continuing on was our only option. As we found ourselves unknowingly at the time closer to Azay we found an apple orchard amidst all the fields. I approached the orchard thinking that they were pears because of their pale green color on the vines, yet much to my surprise they turned out to be some of the most delicious apples I have ever had.

At first I thought they were not ripe but after Maieda’s request of simply trying one and her shout of enthusiasm to the incredible taste we all became thieves of the orchard and seeing as there was no one around and no cars, grabbed a combined 10 between all of us. Trying to get back on the road I got back on my bike only to find that my chain had fallen off. Fortunately by God’s grace my memory of how to reset a bike chain came back to me and I flipped my bike over and got the chain back on the track. After catching up with the others and now with my hands covered in bike oil and drenched from the rain I started seeing spots and needed a spot to sit down. We found some sort of building that looked like we might find some place simply to get out of the rain for a moment and so Caroline and I made our way to see what was inside. Before we could even see the open door a Ford Focus appears out of nowhere at this corner crossing and begins yelling at us that “we can’t go inside because there are pumps inside.” Caroline began trying to explain the situation but the crazy woman would have none of it and simply tried to close the unclosable door over and over again while yelling at us. When Caroline tried to explain that I was sick and simply needed to get out of the rain the woman simply pointed in a direction that none of us recognized saying, “There’s a doctor right there.” After asking how close we were to Azay and her response of “You’re there now,” we decided to sit on one of the outside pumps for a couple minutes and then finish as quickly as possible our now almost four hour long journey to Azay that spanned almost 40 km.

Getting out of the rain was our first priority and so after locking up the bikes we made our way inside a café for some lunch and hot beverages. I ordered a wonderful galette (kind of like a crepe) with ham, cheese, and an egg on top that was simply delicious. I wasn’t planning on having a dessert but after asking for the dessert menu and seeing an impeccable looking dessert with the name Benjamin, my choice became instantly clear. How could I pass on a dessert with my namesake in France? It only consisted of whipped cream and ice cream, but it was some of the best ice cream I have ever had. Trying to decide what the best course of action would be with the rain becoming stronger and stronger every moment we sought out the office of tourism to find out if there might be any trains available that we could take to get back to Tours. The bikes were due at 7pm and considering how long our original voyage had taken us we knew we wouldn’t have much time to see Azay unless we could find a train.

Caroline went to go find out and the office informed us that there were no trains and so realizing we would have to bite the bullet, we made our way over to Azay for some quick pictures. This is what it would look like on a nice day. Unfortunately with the bad weather and the price of admission and the lack of time we decided that it had been awash (no pun intended…seriously, I hate puns.) and made our way back to the bikes to start our unfortunate journey back. With the weather being what it was, I knew that we would become exhausted and miserable quickly and suggested either finding another way of making it back to Tours or getting a hotel for the night and getting out of our soaked through clothes. Returning to the office of tourism to ask about hotels or other accommodations, the lady informed us that she had been mistaken when she originally informed us that there were no ways for us to return to Tours.

I would like to say that this represents the very typical French attitude of inconsideration. Rather than searching for us to see what other options might be available or trying to help us find some sort of solution, the woman simply told Caroline that there were no ways back and didn’t think twice about helping us or considering our miserable soaked state. Had we not returned by God’s grace we wouldn’t have learned that there was a bus that would be coming in an hour that would be equipped to take bikes on the bus. She did tell us though that sometimes on Saturdays the bus driver forgets to show up and so we might still be out of luck and so we requested information on hotels, just in case. We gathered our bikes and made our way to the bus stop. We sat and commiserated about the craziness that had been our day and praying that the bus would come and be able to take us with our bikes.

Praise the Lord the bus came and had room underneath for three of our bikes and the bus driver very kindly allowed us to put the other three in the back of the bus even though they would be taking up seats. We arrived in Tours about 30 minutes later and after paying less than two euro for the trip we realized if we wanted to go back one Saturday it would be a lot cheaper and a lot faster to simply take the bus next time. The bus driver had been so helpful and the complete opposite of everything I have experienced here so far in France. Most of the people have been like the woman in the Ford Focus or at the office of tourism simply assuming the worst and acting as if we were imposing a huge burden onto their lives, whereas this bus driver went above and beyond to try and help us get back to Tours in the horrible weather conditions.

This man was by far the most generous man I have met here in France and I hope I pay a little tribute to him here by mentioning him. Not only was he very helpful with our bikes, but when we arrived back at the bus stop in Tours a bus official came to yell at the driver for allowing us to board with our bikes and the driver shielded us from his angry speech and said, “If you have a problem you can speak with me, you can yell at me. Don’t yell at the kids.” I almost cried at his defense of six American students he had never come across before. He acted in so many ways like our savior for the day providing us with shelter and a way to our destination even through difficult measures and then defending us for no reason beyond his own kindness. I will never forget this man and it made for such a bright end to what had been a rather unfortunate but fun day.

It’s amazing the people you will meet and the experience one can have while traveling. Yesterday was definitely a day that will by in my memories for a long time. 40 km by bike, stolen apples, a dessert named Benjamin, inconsiderate French women, one amazing French bus driver, and a great day with friends. I couldn’t have asked for more out of a day in France. I will talk about the Youtube thing in my next post simply cause this one is already way too long. But before then, enjoy this awesome short! Thanks for reading guys! Ciao!

Good Day!

In Expressions Of October on October 20, 2010 at 9:42 PM

I wasn’t planning on blogging at all today, but the Lord really blessed me today and I simply had a good day. It’s also 20-10-2010 which is worth mentioning simply because the date won’t occur again during our lifetimes. My good day is very significant because there are definitely times when I feel like on top of the work I am putting into learning French, listening to Spanish, and trying to remember German, I am also fighting depression. It’s not serious, but it can be hard to simply stay in my room for hours at a time and not have anywhere to go because it’s so cold. But today was really wonderful, and for no particular reason, which is why I am so grateful. My classes ended at noon today and so I went and got some lunch and ate at the Institute with some friends before heading off to H&M. The last time I was there we were evacuated because someone had set off a pepper spray bomb in the store and within minutes there were 15 police officers outside. Pretty intense to say the least. Today however I was fortunate enough to avoid the pepper and the spray and simply make my purchases that I had intended on making the other day. The weather here has been really cold and apparently that’s typical for France at this time of year. In the morning it can be as low as 30 but today the high was probably about 62 and sunny which made for nice walking weather. I bought a really big scarf today and I am very excited about how it will look with my new pea coat I purchased. When I got home I tried on the scarf with the coat and it looked really cool!

Soon after looking in the mirror however I realized that I really needed to clean my room but a nap was calling first and so I set my alarm and slept for two hours. With the bed problems I have been having lately I just put the mattress on the floor and crashed until about 5pm. At that point I put on some exciting European jams from my “Europe 2010” playlist on iTunes and got to work. I organized my clothes, hung up my coats on the coat rack I didn’t realize I had, and then sat down to talk with Elyse for a while. We had a great conversation about so many different things but I think I particularly enjoyed the most when we started talking about Vincenzo and Tuna. Those would be our cars that used to spend lots to time together while parked next to each other in the Howard parking lot. I miss those days.

I had to cut my conversation with Elyse to get ready for choir and so I put on my new gloves, (Gantes or Mittens as they are called here in France) and walked out of the door for choir. There were only 5 basses and 2 tenors tonight and so it was a little rough, but my voice finally opened up and I was able to sing like I used to when I was at Hillsdale last semester. There were a couple moments as well when I could really feel it, when we got to the Deceptive Cadence the basses hit a B-Flat that my voice rang so clear on, it just lifted my spirits so high. (I love how music can have that affect sometimes.) The choir itself is also very nice. The ladies are always talking about me when they think I don’t know it but all I have to do is scan the room and all of their eyes are on me, I think they are always surprised to see an American who is 30 years younger than all of them making the choice to sing with a choir like theirs, but I enjoy it tremendously. One of the basses told me today, “What are we going to do when you aren’t here? We won’t know what to do?” I laughed and told him they would be fine. It’s funny how quickly one can make an impact here in a group setting like a choir.

There is also a lady in the choir who I don’t know but the only way I can describe her is “That lady that everyone knows.” What I mean by this is that this woman is probably 65 but trying to look ten years younger with obscene amounts of makeup and dying her hair an almost dark orange color. She is that woman who wears that perfume with the very particular grandma “refined scent” and the scarf that only someone like her could wear. Every time I see her and she smiles at me with her giant round face, I simply smile back and realize that she is helping contribute so much to what my dream of French people were. As well, as often as France smells absolutely wretched, it can also offer some of the most intoxicating smells in the world. Today as I was walking to and from choir I smelled something cooking that reminded me of Rachel cooking pilaf and the butter boiling but the scent today was that of butter and cheese mixed together and it made me want to climb the wall and find out whatever that delicacy might be and snatch it all up.

The walk home was remarkable pleasant with the full moon and clear sky showing it made me realize how lucky I really am to be in France and see things so many other people never have. God has been truly gracious to me today and I am now going to go to bed and look forward to another morning spent in communion with Him through His Word in Acts. I am currently working on Acts 9 and taking extensive notes. If anyone is interested in reading them, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a message and I can email them to you. Hope you all have a wonderfully blessed day and can find a moment to notice God’s beauty reflected in nature and how truly blessed we are. That’s all for now. Ciao!

The Lack of Social Connection in France!

In Expressions Of October on October 18, 2010 at 5:21 PM

So here are a couple of relatively sad thoughts for the day. One, the rents said no to Spain. Although Mom suggested going to Provence so I might try and get down there and Avignon, Marseille, and Cannes or Nice if I get the chance. If not there are so many other wonderful sights to see in France. so it’s not really a loss other than going to another country. Also, the post I was working on yesterday about The Social Connection (a.k.a. The Facebook Movie) was suddenly destroyed by the will of my computer. It didn’t shut down, no no, it simply logged me off as the user and I have no idea why but when I logged back on, the document had been completely erased, even though I had saved it and was over a page and a half in.

Whenever that happens I never have enough energy to go back and rewrite everything. It would be like brushing your teeth and then brushing them again. You would just feel stupid because your teeth are already clean. Or it would be like me writing this sentence twice. You don’t want to read it twice and neither do I. But I still want to say a few things so I will give you some highlights from the movie. Although I didn’t like how it seemed like Facebook was founded as a means to impress a girl after calling her a bad name on the Internet, there were some really interesting things that happened in the movie. For example, the rowing scene with the Winklevoss brothers might have been the most intense sports scene I have ever seen on film….and it was rowing! There were also a couple lines that spoke to simply how universal facebook has become. One of the characters in the movie says, “In Bosnia they don’t have roads but they have Facebook.” My host mom here went and saw the movie today with her son Arthur and that line really got her thinking about how expansive Facebook has truly become and I have to agree with her. It’s amazing how people have more access to other people through the Internet than through actual lives. Sad but also indicative of the times and perhaps good subject matter for a novel of our time. (Cough…Bess….Julie….Cough….)

For me probably one of the most interesting lines to me in the film was when the Wiklevi Twins went to meet with the President of Harvard and he says, “The students at Harvard prefer to spend their time creating jobs not finding jobs.” I find this to be indicative not only of Harvard students but of students in general. It seems to be the tendency of college students across the country to try and invent a quick or easy way to make a fortune rather than do it the old fashioned way of working hard and getting to the top through legitimate hard work and earning respect. Although I can’t say that I blame them. If I were in any way creative, I would probably have invented the Snuggie and made my millions that way. Although I do personally believe that far too many people in my generation and generations past are seeking the fastest way to make lots of money without ever doing any of the work.

It’s even this way in France. There are tons of strikes right now in France because the government wants to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Even though in both Spain and Germany the retirement age was just raised from 65 to 67, it’s not good enough for the French. They demand to have what they want because they are French! It’s that idea of the clenched fist that I have talked about before. For the French their clenched fist as a people is change and progress according to their cultural identity. This manifests itself through completely inconsistent arbitrary schedules for every business which makes it’s own hours as well as the average work week being 35 hours a week, which is one of their stamps of pride. Frankly I find this insulting. Every other culture in Europe sucks it up and works and makes a good life for themselves and their loved ones by getting around government regulation. But no, not the French. They think they are so great and wonderful and their progressive ideology is what will continue to make them great, at least in their own minds, because I have come to learn the stereotype that everyone hates the French, is entirely true.

I do not mean this to say that the French people are all bad and that they have no idea how to build a culture or a society, but simply that their profound selfishness and narcissism will continue to blind them to the way the rest of the world views them. I had a really good conversation about this with my friend Anna today at school (entirely in French I will have you know for almost two hours!). She is from Spain and she was telling me just how loco the Spanish think the French are because of their constant dissatisfaction with things and I have to agree. Because of the strikes thousands of people haven’t been able to go to work and it’s caused immense frustration simply because people are so attached to this idea that they shouldn’t have to work beyond the age of 62 that they are willing to impose their ideas onto the rest of the country. I’m sorry, but that would never fly in America. We would tell you to get over yourself, and get back to work!

Although I personally haven’t been affected by the strikes, they anticipate them continuing for another month and the people will continue to suffer during that time. To me it’s absolutely insensitive and entirely selfish. How the rest of the country is simply standing idly by as these things happen blows my mind. And yet the French are so active in protesting, constantly! We protest things all of the time in America because we want our voices to be heard, it makes sense and I agree with the principal of “The voice of the people” but how our strikes and rallies sometimes fail to have any affect thus causing a severe attitude of despondency, in France they are far too aggressive with their strikes and demonstrations and will take off of work at the drop of a hat to go walk in the streets protesting for something that only meagerly affects their lives. Pick your battles my dad always says. I think the French could learn a thing or two from my dad. Practical life lessons and Reconstructionist Calvinistic theology for starters.

To end this post I would like to talk about my bed. For those faithful readers out there who have perhaps read my past ravings about my bed, I must now admit that the relationship has become one of love and hate. Where my bed first offered me nothing but sweet bliss and reminders of God’s consistent support of His children, now with the slightest over extension in one direction with my weight, I can cause one of the slats of wood that makes up my box spring to snap out of place painfully reminding me of my current weighty state. I will not say that I am fat, because I have gotten past that stage….for the most part. But I am consistently reminded by Madame that I eat a lot, and I am the biggest student she has ever had, and my voice is very loud. I get it, big just describes me! I generally don’t consider this to be a bad thing, but now I must lay on eggshells whenever I get on my bed because the slightest movement could cause almost the whole bed to fall apart. Lord willing I will not have many more problems for the next two months.

On a brighter note, one month from today I will be in Rome and two months from today I will be back in Germany preparing to finally go home. I also had a great opportunity to talk to Ben Parker for a while last night. Not talking to my best friend has been hard being here in Europe, but it makes me that much more grateful when we actually do have the chance to talk and catch up on what God’s doing in our lives. It makes me miss home that much more though. I can’t wait to come home for Christmas and see family and friends. I miss you all dearly. That’s all for now. Ciao!

More Long Time Traveling!

In Expressions Of October on October 16, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Yet again, like Bess, I have been lazy in my blogging efforts. Although I haven’t been babysitting chitlins for 14 hours like she has. My excuse has simply been that I have been really tired. I don’t know why, but I can’t really do the whole only getting six hours of sleep thing anymore. I was very blessed to talk to Ben Parker the other day and he reminded me that he got that way when he was about 18 and then I remembered how frustrated I would be sometimes when I would want to hang out at like 11pm and he would just want to go to bed and now that’s where I am, funny how life works that way sometimes. School has been exhausting me since I have been here and I think that’s probably part of why I have been so tired as well. Where I used to have some sort of break in my day at Hillsdale, here I have class all morning five days a week and all afternoon three days a week with the exception of Wednesdays and Fridays. I treasure those afternoons because they give me a great chance to relax and talk with people. This past Wednesday I talked for fours hours in French with a few of my classmates and yesterday afternoon after our little goodbye party for Shang-Shung (a.k.a. Jang-Jung, Remi, and Randy) I hung out with the Colombians for lunch and then spent the afternoon at The French Coffee Shop (that’s literally what it’s called. Original, I know.) talking with friends till almost 6pm. I met one of Erica’s friends named Cecilia from Mexico and we all had really good conversation together for the afternoon splitting an amazing pistachio pastry I picked up from the Boulangerie earlier in the afternoon.

Since I have been here in France I have kind of had a negative attitude about being here. The people aren’t as friendly and life seems much more constricted than when I was in Germany. To be honest I think Germany spoiled me because it made my expectations of Europe so high. Now that I have come down from Cloud 9 I have begun to appreciate France for what it is. I really enjoy walking past all of the houses and seeing the typical French balconies from the windows. I enjoy seeing all of the different people and their different styles. Although I haven’t gone out, I still relish the opportunity to see new people and new faces. The other day I was walking through the park and a Jehovah’s Witness stopped me. I felt like I had been initiated into the club of so many who have had these people come to their doors and telling them doom is coming!

Yesterday I set my pastry on top of the mailbox for a moment right as the post office worker was coming to collect the mail. I didn’t see him but he saw me set it there and responded, “Oh, mais c’est gentil!” (That’s so nice!) I laughed and as soon as I spoke one word he recognized I wasn’t French and began speaking to me a little bit in Franglish. He told me the weather has been nice and that he enjoys riding his bike and not smoking or drinking. It’s experiences like these that make me begin to enjoy being in France a little bit more every day. I know I will definitely miss it when I am gone, but I hope that I will really begin to appreciate being here in France while I am here and not simply notice all of the good things once I get back to the states.

Speaking of traveling….kind of…..two days ago I was talking on Facebook with my best friend here at the Institute, Nicolas from Colombia, and he asked me completely randomly if I wanted to go to Rome. At first I thought, well wouldn’t that be nice, but probably won’t happen. Then he told me he found round trip tickets from Paris Beauvais to Rome for 45 Euros! My response of course was, “Holla back on that! We goin’ to Rome!!!!” So while I wasn’t planning on visiting Italy necessarily during my time here, the Lord has graciously provided me with a great opportunity and I am very excited to go to Rome with Nicolas. We will be there just for a weekend from November 18-21. We will skip our Friday morning classes but it will be fine because it will be right after midterms.

Another possible travel opportunity has arisen as well to travel to another new country. Since we have midterms in Mid-November we get  Thursday and a Friday off of school. That being the case, everyone is trying to schedule a fun trip for the extra two days. I was thinking of going to Ireland or maybe England again, but I was invited to go to Barcelona and Madrid, Spain for the few days off. I don’t know if I will be going yet simply because I am not sure if I will be able to afford it. If I can find a reasonable price for the flight then I hope to be able to go and add another country to my list. If not, however, I will find another place in France to venture for the few days. Besides these two new developments I have decided to try and visit some of the larger French cities besides Paris and get a better idea of what the different sides of France look like.

I have an opportunity to visit Mont Saint-Michel and St. Malo with the Institute in early November and so I think I am going to take advantage of that opportunity because Mont Saint Michel is a French must! No questions there! Other cities I am hoping to visit before I leave are Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg. I have a couple friends from the Institute at Dijon as well who I would like to see if I can, but with all of the strikes that have been going on lately here trying to get to Dijon from Tours is tough. I don’t know how many of those cities are possible for me to see, but Nantes and Bordeaux are pretty close and I will hopefully be able to do day trips for both of those. Lyon and Marseille will be more difficult so I might not get to see those but there are a number of students from the Institute going to Strasbourg for the Marche de Noel (Christmas Market) that is very very popular. Strasbourg is near the French-German border and so the market offers a French twist on the many wonderful German Christmas traditions.

I also hope to be able to experience the authentic German Christmas spirit before I leave as well. My classes finish up at the Institute on December 17 and my flight back home isn’t until the 20th in Frankfurt, Germany. So for the three days that I have I am hoping to return to Wurzburg and see Marci, Heiko, Flo, and Philip and Barbara and experience some of the German sense of Christmas before I leave. Unfortunately all of these trips cost a lot of money, but I have been really lucky in finding good deals like the Rome one to ease the pocketbook.

I have also added a new endeavor to my plate that I hadn’t anticipated on adding quite yet. I recall Dr. Chamberlain mentioning to me in Germany that he studying German and French at Hillsdale when he was in Undergraduate studies and ended up learning Spanish simply because he had friends who spoke it and he was able to pick it up very easily with his knowledge of French. Well I am trying to do the same thing. Typically the Colombians speak entirely in Spanish and so I simply sit there and listen and try and pick up whatever I can from what they are saying. In these sorts of situations it’s important to simply catch the context of the conversation. If you can catch the context, the words that you hear will attach themselves to the context and you can learn them faster that way. This was how I learned German and I found it to be very helpful to learning large amounts of vocabulary very quickly. My attainment of French has been a little different simply in that I can usually pick up every word. The only problem now is remembering to think in terms of context so I don’t get frustrated trying to process every little word. Spanish will be my 6th language that I have formally studied and I hope to be able to continue learning it and come back to America saying that I learned Spanish in France. I was going to continue this post but after seeing how long its getting I am just going to end this one and put the next one up afterwards. Hope everyone is having a great weekend. Ciao!

Album Review: Hilary Hahn Tchaikovsky and Higdon Violin Concertos

In Expressions Of October on October 12, 2010 at 5:28 PM

Time for another album review! I wasn’t planning on reviewing this album necessarily, but after listening to it some more on my walk home today from the Institute I decided I have to say something. Hilary Hahn, although one of the most brilliant violinists of this century, and perhaps the only violinist whose interpretation of the Bach Chaconne I consider to be almost perfect, kind of missed the mark on her new album. Miss Hahn has done wonderful recordings of the best concertos ever written including Mendelssohn, Brahms, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Barber, Stravinsky, Schoenburg, and Sibelius violin concertos. She has also been fortunate enough and delivered beautifully on the premiere recording of the Edgar Meyer Violin Concerto. If you have never heard it I highly recommend it, it is absolutely stunning. Her latest album features yet another world premiere concerto this time by Jennifer Higdon as well as possibly the most well-known and beloved violin concerto of all time, the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.

Having listened to multiple different recordings by Hilary I am not going to even go as far as saying that her musical decisions are immature or dumb, some of them are just not to my liking. Others on the other hand are simply brilliant! It’s really amazing actually how her sound can be so suited for certain kinds of music and not for others. For example, her Bach recordings are rock solid and transport the listener into the magic unknown world of Bach in an almost unrivaled fashion. On the other side of the spectrum her recordings of Stravinsky, Barber, and particularly Meyer show off her crisp clear sound and offers a new approach to these concertos in a way I never imagined. Every note pops off of her violin with such precision and brightness that it makes the pieces seem new to me every time I listen to them. Her interpretation of the Korngold concerto is another excellent of what I am referring to.

So she can play the classics of the Baroque period and the modern classics of the 20th and now 21st centuries, but it’s the almost 200 years in between that I feel she misses in many respects. Her Mozart is solid, but nothing special. Similarly, although her recordings of Brahms and Beethoven are probably the cleanest I have heard, the Beethoven lacks the sparkle Beethoven must have and the Brahms lacks the massive German passion that is inherent within Brahms music. Her Sibelius recording, which might arguably be the 2nd most beloved violin concerto in the repertoire is probably the closest I can find of a comparison to her latest recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto. I hate to say it, but it lacks the pop and flashiness that is so inherent to these pieces that makes them possibly the two greatest concertos ever written. Normally her intense control of every note serves her well in her recordings but here they are detrimental. The pieces say, “Go for it!” and Hilary Hahn takes that risk factor and throws it out the window with her control and as a result the recordings are boring. Clean and practically perfect yes, but that’s not what these concertos demand. They demand unrequited passion that knows no limits and almost causes the violinist to breakdown emotionally at every moment of the piece. Here is the amazing Janine Jansen during rehearsal for her recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto with Daniel Harding.

That’s the intensity of these pieces that Hilary misses and I hate to say it, but it’s blatantly obvious in her new recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto. It’s flat. It doesn’t move you and as a result, the orchestra sounds flat and uninspired as well. What might be one of the most exciting pieces ever written becomes just another classical piece that you can listen to and not remember. The reason the Tchaikovsky concerto is so celebrated is because its melodies jump out at you as you walk out of the concert hall filled with a life spring of energy and an incredible sense of excitement and victory! That’s the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. I highly recommend the recordings of Gil Shaham and Janine Jansen for passion and integrity, but my highest recommendation has to go to the incredible Jascha Heifetz! Where other violinists play the first movement of this piece in 18,19, and 20 minutes, Heifetz plays it in under 16!!! The speed is incredible and at the end you are simply blown away by the feat of violin acrobatics this man has just pulled off faster than any other violinist and with such musicality to boot!

Hilary Hahn even said in an interview that I watched that she hadn’t played the Tchaikovsky concerto in almost 14 years and she had to relearn it now that she is I believe 26 or 27. Well personally I think it probably would have been really good for her to play through this emotional piece as an angsty teenager because then she might have some shred of emotion or passion come through in the recording. And this is not to say that Hilary Hahn is a mindless robot as some have called her interpretations. Her Paganini caprices, the Ernst reduction of Der Erlkonig by Schubert and the incredibly difficult Ballade from the Sonata No.6 by Eugene Ysaye are all masterfully played by Hilary with perfect emotion and subtlety. But for whatever reason she really just misses the mark on this concerto and the Sibelius. I am not even that impressed with her interpretation of Prokofiev No.1 for the exact same reasons. Although it’s a neo-romantic almost modern piece, she misses the excitement of the piece and if I recall correctly her Glazunov is the same. There is just something about the heavy hitters from the Romantic era that she can’t play even though she is wonderfully talented beyond doubt.

Her world premiere recording of the Higdon concerto however is wonderful. For those doubters of 21st century music’s quality, I think you might have found a champion in Jennifer Higdon. Her concerto is quickly gaining international attention particularly after this concerto of hers won the Pulitzer Prize for music this past year. Although not atonal and not terribly melodic, the piece combines wonderful musical motives with creative 21st century ideas about the possibilities of music. Higdon wrote the concerto for Hilary and as the dear friend that she is, she did not let Higdon down in her expectations of what she was looking for in a premiere recording. When a composer writes for a specific violinist, they write according to what they like about that violinist’s sound as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing that she would be writing in a 21st century style, I doubt Higdon had many concerns about Hahn’s emotional capability with this piece. Standard in its presentation the names of the movement are very interesting: I. 1726, II. Chaconni, III. Fly Forward. The movements each have such a different nature and really challenge the listener’s ears in a very positive way to embrace the idea of modern music and new ideas. I think it’s an awesome achievement on the part of Jennifer Higdon and I think her concerto will be well respected and enjoyed for years to come.

Here are a couple of my favorite videos if you feel like having a listen to some amazing music.


Enjoy and have a great Tuesday!

The Unhappiness of Glee

In Expressions Of October on October 10, 2010 at 1:40 PM

We have been very blessed here in France for the past few days with absolutely lovely weather. Where the week started out cold and rainy it has ended very beautifully and that made the day yesterday and the sites in La Rochelle that much more beautiful. Today is 10-10-10. I find these date games to be a little amusing simply because although most people wouldn’t know it, a numbers person. I remember doing algebra in high school and having to solve three equations for three unknowns was the coolest thing in the world to me because I knew the formula and I wanted to show the three pages of work it took me simply to solve one problem. Math was always enjoyable to me and perhaps I should have followed it further, but as much as I think numbers are cool, I really enjoy words, ideas, music, and people much more. I think that in part is what makes me an extrovert.

Yesterday was the last day of my Eurail pass before it expired and it has indeed been quite a blessing using it because God provided for me to travel 15 days with it when I had only purchased 8. I was able to use my pass to travel to Basel, Switzerland, Salzburg and Vienna, Austria, Freiburg, Germany, it got me to Cologne before I had to pay to get to Paris and then Tours at the end of August for my term here at the Institute and since then I have used it for two trips to Paris over three days and my trip to La Rochelle. All in all I think it was an investment well spent and I am very thankful to my parents for enabling me to buy the pass so I could have the opportunities to travel that I have. And since I am mentioning my parents I should mention that on October 6, my parents celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary. I am so proud to have Eugene and Robin Newman as my parents and I am so grateful to have two people who have been so dedicated to each other and to Jesus Christ to be married for the last 39 years. I hope that they might have another 39 more and that my siblings and I might all be privileged enough to be present to celebrate all of their coming years of joy full of God’s love and an ever-growing family.

I have a bone to pick now with someone and that person is Ryan Murphy. Who is Ryan Murphy you might ask? He is the director and one of the creators of one of my favorite shows, Glee. Yes I watch Glee and yes I love every second of it. Judge me if you like, I don’t really care. I am a music major and will be until the day I die and as the great Facebook bumper sticker once said, “Musicals: Because who wouldn’t love a world where people randomly break out into song and dance?” The first season of Glee was a huge success and was nominated for 19 Emmys this past year. I was looking forward to season two with eager anticipation and I have to say that so far I am very disappointed and more than that I am simply angry with how Ryan Murphy has chosen to change the direction of the show.

Last season the show had a definite element of doubt and vulnerability that pervaded through the entire show. Every episode featured characters trying to figure out if they were going to make it, if they were going to survive. Essentially reflecting the doubts and fears of the directors wondering if the public would enjoy the show and help it to make it and survive. This season, however, after the tremendous success the show received the show has been blown out of proportion in arrogance. The characters who used to be friendly and respond out of simply teenage confusion are now bigger, bossier, and meaner than ever before. Where questions and doubts once were, now only exaggerated pride exists. Each character has taken full control of themselves and is reveling in their own self-pity and selfish desires.

I also have a huge problem with Will Schuster who is the teacher for the Glee club. He appears to be getting dumber and dumber as each episode passes. There was a moment in one of the episodes where the guidance counselor that Will is interested in says, “sometimes I feel like we have to learn the same lessons we are trying to teach to our students.” I suppose this is what the show is aiming for, having some sort of purpose or message that they are trying to get out with each episode, and that I have no problem with. Where I have become angry is in the ruthless attitude that Ryan Murphy consistently develops within his characters from season to season.

I am ashamed to say that I used to watch the show Nip-Tuck. It was a show on FX about two plastic surgeons that was also written and created by Ryan Murphy. I haven’t watched an episode of this show since my freshman year at Hillsdale for the sake of my spiritual health. It was literally destroying me to watch the show and so I cut it off from my life. The extremes that Ryan Murphy would present in his characters on Nip-Tuck are similar to the ones that he is beginning to take on Glee. He always starts the drama off small, but then creates an environment where the extremes become larger and larger. In Nip-Tuck this involved murder and sexual addictions of a very perverted nature. (Like I said, this was the reason I stopped watching the show. It was KILLING my spiritual life.) I stopped watching before it got really bad, but I saw a preview of a recent episode on Youtube recently and I almost started crying watching it because it was so scary to see what has happened with the show. I am honestly surprised people don’t have heart attacks watching the show the drama is that intense.

On Glee, Ryan Murphy has begun this trend yet again. The beauty of the show was that it was very family oriented and people wanted to root for the glee club because they were the underdogs. Now, the underdogs are still the underdogs but they have used their identity as underdogs to root themselves in bitterness against the world. The character of Rachel Berry who was always seen as an attention whore and wanting the solos too much has now not only taken that element of her personality to the extreme, (upon meeting a girl who is equally talented as her, she gives her directions for a glee club audition that actually sends her to a crack house,) but she is now despised by every other member of the glee club who are more so caught up in themselves and their own problems they have simply stopped caring to be nice to her. Last season they were all friends, even if some characters had personality elements that were annoying or grating, they understood that you don’t abandon your friends simply because they have character traits that you find annoying.

Even more than this, the kids have become insubordinate of Will Schuster, and I can’t say that I blame them as he does nothing to deserve their respect, and the storyline has become much more sexual and controversial. The second episode of the season was a tribute to Britney Spears that was probably the most scandalous thing I have ever seen on a “family program” in the history of television. Similarly, the latest episode questioned the very existence of God in a very negative way. After Kurt, the gay character on the show, finds out that his dad has had a heart attack he essentially has an existential breakdown and expresses that God can’t exist and the episode takes a turn for the worst as it shuns the kids from expressing their personal beliefs about God and even having one of the characters “lose his religion” REM reference for those of you who know it, because he made a grilled cheese sandwich and “saw the face of Jesus on the grilled cheese sandwich.” Thus the name of the episode being called “Grilled Cheesus.”

I was horrified to see this character praying to a cheese sandwich because he believed that he saw Jesus Christ on the sandwich. Not only that, but he prays that he team would win a football game and they do so he prays that he might be able to get to 2nd base with his girlfriend which also happens and so he prays again that he might become the quarterback again and after the new QB gets injured he regains his old position. Yet because his friend got hurt, he starts questioning God’s motivation as “what kind of God would give me what I want by hurting my friends?” So he “loses his religion” because he believes that God has essentially acted like a genie and granted him three wishes but not exactly as he had intended. There were so many things that made me cringe during the episode and I am more and more shocked every week by the choices that Ryan Murphy is making with what has become my favorite show on television.

I don’t expect a moral high ground out of the show by any means, but what I deo expect is to keep the show a musical that families can continue to enjoy without having to be scandalized or feeling like they need to shield their children from public television. The show is about a high school glee club. Of course kids are going to ask themselves questions about religion in high school, but to think that these kids are making final decisions about their spiritual lives at the age of 16 and presenting them as if they are absolutely self-assures in their decisions is absolutely absurd and I think absolutely reprehensible. The show has become very disappointing in my eyes and the focus has changed for the worse. We will see what happens but for the time being I have become very wary of the show and might stop watching it if it continues in this direction.

I asked myself the question the other day, “has Glee become too large of a thing of importance in my life? Has it become an idol? Would I be willing to let Glee go if God asked me to?” The answer I have discovered is yes. Like anything that we enjoy that isn’t good for us, it won’t necessarily be easy to let go, but I know it’s just a tv show and I don’t need it and for that I am grateful. I am grateful that my need for Christ has made it so I can so I don’t need something like Glee or anything else of an addictive nature. I have dealt with this question most severely in terms of my friends in the past. I have made my friends the idols in my life that I wasn’t willing to let go of. I hope, reader that you might see what areas in your life God might be calling you to let go of in terms of addictions that have become idols in your life. They are different for each of us, but the surrender of these idols to Christ, to lay them at the foot of Jesus Christ, is one of the greatest and most rewarding things that we can experience as Christians. It is one of the most special gifts that God gives us when we intentionally surrender part of our sin nature to the power of Jesus Christ and strive daily to live more and more to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. I pray you will find success as I have and cling to the cross of Jesus Christ for comfort in times of temptation and distress as we aim to follow Christ in imitation of His life and His Word.

I also have to wish a very Happy Birthday to one of the most talented people I have ever met and a girl that never ceases to make me smile in realization of how awkward I am, of my best friends and a woman continuously growing in godliness,  Elyse Mayotte!!! I miss you and love you and can’t wait to come back to Michigan so we can hang out and have more awkward, strange, weird times together. 🙂

For your enjoyment I have my friend Erin Risch to thank for this hysterical video. Have a great Lord’s Day!



God’s Way on the Coast of La Rochelle

In Expressions Of October on October 10, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Sadly I have been very lazy in my blogging responsibilities this week. It was the first week of classes and I had to adjust to a new schedule and although the week started out very positive, I don’t think it ended as such although I think it was definitely a blessing from God. You know how sometimes you plan to do something starting at a certain time and the first week isn’t exactly as good as you would have liked but you learn lessons that end up teaching you lessons that you needed to learn in the first place and so you end up more prepared than you were in the first place, that’s kind of what I feel happened this week. As well, I think it was another great reminder from God that I don’t have everything in control. I was trying to wake up every morning this week at 7am and have an hour of private time for devotions and Bible blogging and I succeeded until Thursday morning where I accidentally slept through my alarm for the first time since I arrived in Europe but fortunately still made it to class on time but sadly lost that time for devotions. Then that night I ended up going out with Claire to meet up with some friends down by the river and do the “usual routine.” For us this means getting some beer after school gets out, coming home having dinner waiting until about 9:30 and then meeting up to just drink down by the river for a couple hours. Afterwards, we go to this bar called La Cabanne for more beer or my personal favorite, sangria with tequila in it, and if we feel like it, which generally everyone does after they have been drinking so much, we go to this tiny free club called Wake Up to dance until about 3:30 in the morning.

Before we left for the night I told Claire that I didn’t want to end up at Wake Up and then we did. I then was too tired to do my devotions in the morning on Friday and then yesterday we went to La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast and our train left at 7:30am so I didn’t really have time to do them yesterday either. I am disappointed in myself but I am glad that things happened the way that they did because like I mentioned previously, I feel like now I have learned the lessons that I need to learn. For example, I am not going out on Thursday nights anymore. For whatever reason everyone here goes out on Thursday night, I don’t know why, but they do. I have done it a couple times, but after what happened this past Thursday I can’t do it anymore. I wasn’t drunk, and it wasn’t that I didn’t have a good time, I did. But that’s exactly it. I realized that with my going out like I did on Thursday night, I unconsciously said to myself, “No God, I am going to take a break from worshipping you and worship myself for the night.”  I felt it inside me on Thursday night but I felt like it would be ok and so I pushed my conscience and the Holy Spirit aside and I had a good time soaking up being a worldly jerk. What I can now say is, I’ve had enough! I don’t want to do it anymore. I missed spending time in my Bible, I missed searching for sermons to listen to and articles to read and I missed worshipping God as the One whom I truly rely upon for my all in all.

Even yesterday at La Rochelle, I realized that the group of people I was with, although great people, are not people who are going to encourage me in the slightest to be the person I believe God is calling me to be. I think part of it is an age thing. Almost all of them are 18 and I am 22. I know it’s not that big of an age difference, but for those of you who are reading this and can remember what happens in those four years between 18 and 22, the difference is huge. I find it particularly prevalent for my time here in France because a friend of mine mentioned how when she was in Argentina there were so many Americans who got to Argentina at the age of 18 and realizing their new found freedom to drink and party as much as they wanted, did so and went crazy, and that’s exactly what these friends of mine are doing. Frankly, I’m over it. I keep telling them I’m old and done with partying and they look at me like I’m crazy. Well the fact of the matter remains, I don’t want to go out drinking three nights in a row and be out until 4am each of those nights and do it all in the name of “living it up” and “sleep when you’re dead.” One of my friends said this yesterday as her reasoning for why we should go out and act as crazy as possible for as long as possible. You only get one life, so you need to live it up before you sleep forever. I have written about this attitude before so I won’t use more space talking about it other than simply to say that the lack of an eternal mindset is ultimately what separates me from these people.

I do want to say however that the trip to La Rochelle was really a trip worth taking. It was one of my goals while I was here in France to get to see the Atlantic Ocean from the other side of the world and it was a wonderful experience. La Rochelle reminded me a lot of Traverse City but a little bit smaller. It’s a port city like Traverse City and therefore has a large focus on the nautical aspects of life and this can be seen in their architecture, which I really enjoyed. One of the churches that we walked into had a very coralish theme and was probably one of the most beautiful churches I have seen here in Europe as a direct result of the different architectural ideology that went into its construction. But before the nautical architecture was built, La Rochelle was a French fortress town and so the medieval remnants of that time period still remain in the city and include the world’s first Lighthouse as well as two small towers that were used as defenses against the British if they ever attacked. It was really cool to stand up on top of these fortresses and imagine soldiers firing their arrows off of the roof onto invading British troops. The view of the ocean from these bastions were incredible as well and I felt a large sense of peace as well as the expanse of God’s love for us as I viewed the incredible expanse of the ocean over the French coast.

When we first arrived there seemed to be some sort of outdoor market going on and because of the nautical nature of the city, there were vendors selling some of the coolest and well weather protected vestments I have ever seen. The amazing thing as well were the prices for some of these jackets, fleece sweatshirts, and winter coats. I was immediately attracted by a combination sweater and puffy vest coat that had a thick inner lining to add more warmth but upon realizing it would make me look like an even more chubby marshmallow I put it back. It was then that my eye caught a really cool pea coat with a sailor’s emblem on it. For those of you who don’t know, I have wanted a pea coat my whole life, but because of how many of them cut very funny around the middle, I haven’t had much luck in the department of finding one. On Saturday, however, my luck had changed. Apparently in Norway they make pea coats a little differently and this one shocked me with how well it fit. There wasn’t a single doubt in my mind. I had to have this coat. I had been at H&M the previous day attempting to purchase a rain jacket for the fall because it rains so much here in France in the fall, but each jacket was either ugly or the one that I really wanted was 80 euro and at that price it wasn’t worth it. I am very happy to say that I found this awesome Norwegian pea coat for half that price and now I can’t for the weather to get a little cooler so I can have a chance to wear it! Perhaps I will regret those words, but considering in France the average temperature around December typically doesn’t get below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, I think I will be ok. I grew up in Michigan; I think I will be able to handle 30 degrees just fine.

The rest of the day was spent taking in the sites and having a picnic on the bay with the view of the ocean in full view. We toured the towers and found iced coffees and French macaroons before heading back on our train at around 7:30. I have much more to say, but for the sake of posting length I will refrain from addressing the other subjects until I open up the next page.