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1st Day In London: A Day I Will Never Forget!

In Septembre en France on September 28, 2010 at 11:18 PM

I have much to talk about this evening. First pounds, Haircut, shampoo, unknown bodily problems, and some how also in that order. First of all, I have to address the issue of spending my first pounds. The reason for this is that almost 13 months ago my dear friend and housemate gave me a pound after he spent the summer in Oxford schmoozing with the high intellectual types of England and having tea with Margaret Thatcher. He had also given a pound to our other housemate Alex, which Alex promptly left in my car, (My amazing Mazda 6, Vincenzo, whom I miss almost more than Patron.) and so I claimed it for myself vowing that they would be spent one day when I had the opportunity to go to Britain. I had held on to these two pounds through my entire senior year of college at Hillsdale and even made sure I packed them with me among all the other things I had to remember when I packed for Europe back in July. I felt it was of special importance not to take this gift from my dear friend for granted and be sure to use them towards some noble purpose.

If Ian himself could have chosen how I would have spent these two quid I am sure would probably have fallen somewhere on the spectrum of either beer or an offering at St. Paul’s Catholic Church going towards helping children in Ireland learn how to read books on the economy so they might help prevent their country from entering the 3rd World. Unfortunately, neither of these options was available to me at the time and so after snapping a picture of my very first two British pounds, I promptly bought myself a Vanilla Americano from Starbucks. Unfortunately, that’s about all two quid will buy you In London as the city is so expensive.

That works as an amazing segway into my next subject. Because of the incredibly high prices of London because of the value of the pound in comparison particularly to the American dollar, trying to find a place to get a decent haircut in Central London for less than 30 pounds was almost impossible. I went searching with Sarah who also wanted a haircut to see what we could find, and to our shock, no place would charge under 40 pounds for men and 50 pounds for women. Forty English pounds is almost $65, which I would never EVER pay for a haircut in my life. Considering I had never been to the barber before I found this price to be outrageously expensive considering the wonderfully talented hairdresser Kari Snyder would cut my hair for $10 or either a bottle of wine or a 12 pack of a non-crap beer.

This being the case, and realizing that we were in London where the art of haggling is not only accepted but also appreciated, I began using my Jewish powers of persuasion to bring the price down so that my ridiculously long hair might find a quick and quiet death on the floor of an English stylist with 17 years of experience. I focused, looked Tina (they’re always named Tina, how is that even possible? It’s like they have a club or something.) in the eyes, and informing her of my desire to merely have my head shaved I raised my eyebrow and asked for a lower price. After consulting with her colleague sitting at the desk across from her, she said that she had ten minutes before her next appointment and if all I wanted was a shave, she could do it for 20 pounds!

Being the Jew that I was born, I asked for 15 to which she responded that 15 quid was not really any money at all and so I agreed to the 20-pound deal. For those of you who don’t know this about me, the fact that I went to a stylist/hairdresser/barber is a very big deal! September 28, 2010 marks the first time in Ben Newman’s life that he received a “professional haircut.” This is not to discount any of the other haircuts I have received particularly those of Kari Snyder who will never cease to have my highest recommendation and whom I asked to marry upon realizing that we would be graduating and I would no longer have anyone to cut my hair. A special thanks to Ben Parker, Pam Parker, Keri Bishop, Marcela Newman, Sarah Brown, Tim Brown, Elizabeth Florence, and my mom for all of the haircuts they have given me over the years. I know, I know…many thought this day would never come, I tried to make it so it would never come to pass, but alas I could not restrain myself any longer. It had been my dream to be able to have some dear friend say at my funeral, “Ben never got a professional haircut in his life.”

Perhaps this sounds silly, but I suppose it plays into that part of my personality that I refer to as the hopeless romantic. How many of you have known an old man who collected an inordinate amount of stamps or had a pattern or habit that he did every day that was noticed by members of the community and when he died the reminder of that habit brought a big smile to their lips knowing that habit was a genuine part of who this old man was during his life. My little habit was going to be my never getting a haircut! Maybe it’s dumb, in fact I am sure that it is, but I still liked the idea. But time and poor genetics won this round and yet again I must put another part of my hopeless romantic nature to rest. (To be fair, I am the only Newman genetically graced with a decent set of eyebrows, so all is not lost. Perhaps that can be mentioned at my funeral instead while Barber’s Adagio for Strings is playing.)

The haircut was indeed a wonderful experience. She insisted that there would be no cutting, no shampooing, and no hair blowing, and what did I get, a partial shaved head with a clean cut top that was trimmed with scissors followed by an amazing head rinse with shampoo and head massage and a blow dry with a little bit of gel in my hair! And all I paid was 20 quid! I think my Savta and Dad would be proud, and my mom simply because I got a deal.

There was one small problem, however, during the whole experience. Amidst the pleasures of having my hair rinsed in one of those fancy lean back sinks and having my head massaged, I realized that I started noticing all sorts of little bumps on my head that I hadn’t noticed before. As the day progressed, I noticed more and more as they began to hurt. As Sarah got her hair cut, I used the restroom and discovered tons of little spots almost like little pimples on my stomach. I had noticed that I had one on my leg from the day before, and another under my left arm, but I just thought perhaps I had eaten something funny in France that had caused me to break out in some new way. Yet more and more have started to appear. I will admit, I am a little concerned. But, I believe I have found the problem and the solution.

For the past four years I have been using a body wash by the name of Axe Kilo, which was released in 2002 to the general public. I have severely enjoyed using this body wash and found that it has been the cause of many compliments from beautiful women and even on one occasion my father who noticed the scent as we were walking into a Ruby Tuesday the evening we bought Vincenzo. Naturally, I packed two bottles to come with me to Germany so I could continue to smell good amongst the different smelling Germans. Sadly, after the two bottles had ran their due course, I ventured towards finding a new brand as Axe isn’t available in Germany. I was happy to find a body wash with a scent of oil and lemongrass that seemed to be appropriate for the coming months of August and September and the image in my head of luscious green fields associated with this time of the year for no sensible reason whatsoever. Yet this bottle too became dry and this time I had France to deal with. In my elongated efforts to try and find a body wash, which lasted about 30 minutes, (I promise this will get back to the spots) I finally found ONE body wash that sounded reasonable. I purchased this strange off brand two euro body wash and began using it about four days ago now. It is this body wash that I believe is the reason for my spots!

I recall once during my four years at Hillsdale I decided to stray away from the faithful Axe Kilo for another brand. I thought, “College is a time to experiment and try new things, why not?” For my brave adventure I decided that I wanted to try the ever-tempting Irish Spring Body Wash! I had seen commercials and thought the idea sounded pleasant enough so I decided it was a legitimate source for my experiment. Well, like most college experiments, this one went horribly wrong! After about three days of using a body wash that was supposed to remind me of pleasant Irish pastures and tending to sheep, I instead felt like it was making a furry sheep grind it’s wool up against my body as I showered. I began itching everywhere and my arms became extremely sore from all of the scratching and I immediately went back to Ole Faithful.

It has been about two years since this accident and I had almost forgotten about it until today. I hope that the problem is actually the body wash and not anything else because then I might have to see a doctor to explain why I am molting. So if you would, please pray that the Lord has already shown me the solution and that I might get better. As well, I still have a little bit of a cough leftover from my cold last week. It doesn’t come up often, but when it does, I sound like an old man who has been smoking for 60 years and bitterly hackles at his great-grandchildren.

So what solution then could I find in England to my sad body washless state? Well, as God’s providence would have it, Sarah and I wandered our way into a store that was somewhat like a smaller better quality version of Wal-Mart. As she began eying clothes, I began looking for a new body wash to save me from my spotted corps. As soon as I found the aisle with the toiletry products I was at first stunned and then pleasantly surprised. Sitting on the second shelf from the bottom right in front of me was a bottle shaped exactly like Axe Kilo with a logo similar to Axe and even the same font on the bottom for the scent. As I picked up this familiar bottle I read the brand Lynx and the scent Africa and stared strangely at this new discovery. As I opened the lid to smell the scent, the unmistakable scent of Axe Kilo rushed out of its seal. Never did I think I could experience such bliss from smelling a bottle of body wash. Patron yes, but not body wash. Yet the scent was irrefutable. Somehow this company Lynx had managed to steal the scent of Axe Kilo and change the name of it to Lynx Africa.

Immediately I ceased three bottles of the product and ran with my yogurt covered cranberry oatmeal bars to the register. Overjoyed to see a reasonable price for a liquid, I gladly handed over 10 pounds for the entire purchase and walked triumphantly out of the store with Sarah. It was only later upon walking down the street and seeing the Lynx product label again that it finally triggered that perhaps Lynx is the British version of Axe. Upon my arrival back at my hostel I discovered that this was indeed the case and that Lynx is actually older than Axe because it was in Britain before Axe ever came to America.

Filled with a sense of relief and many wonderful memories from the excitement of the day, I knew the only logical way to end the day was the tell each and every one of you about my first day in London. Many memories were made and yet few of them contain monuments or places well known. I think this is how memories ought to be. They are better in small places with close friends and remembering the big details out of the small things in life. I believe this is what makes making memories with friends so great. It doesn’t require huge amounts of money to be spent or lavish vacations, (although those circumstances certainly did in some ways bring about this situation) but merely close friends and a bond of love that is strengthened with each moment spent in the other’s company.

I must end by thanking my dear Lord and Savior for His grace and provision during all of this. The day was quite hectic and He has provided in so many countless ways. The fact that I was able to find my favorite body wash in a random store, purely by chance in the middle of Central London while roaming a mall is all the proof I can offer of God’s amazing Providence. I pray you all will find God’s providence in these situations in your own lives. Though they seem small, it is more often than not that God works through the small situations in our lives to get our attention than the big ones. It is in the details that we must be paying attention and realize that it is the providential hand of our loving Savior who brings forth such fortune and grace. All praise, honor, and glory, be unto the Lamb, forever and ever. Amen!

Lessons Being Learned by God’s Grace

In Septembre en France on September 27, 2010 at 12:15 PM

I have a little bit more time before I have to leave for the tiny airport in Tours and there is something I have to confess before I leave. For the last three weeks in particular I have fallen grossly behind in my walk with the Lord. As great as it has been getting to spend time with new friends, I have been ignoring my Best Friend and making multiple excuses as to why. My lack of dedication to Christ culminated in an email written to my best friend in Argentina, Ben Parker. Through his faithful words I was reminded that he isn’t my best friend, but Christ is. And more than missing my friends from back home or wishing I could spend time with the people God has put in my life, he reminded me that these people are nothing to me separate from Jesus Christ. My greatest friendships each have one thing in common, the desire to be sanctified and be made more and more into the image of Jesus Christ.

I had forgotten that for the past three weeks and as a result, my time in my Bible stopped, my prayer life stopped, I even stopped praying before I ate simply because I found it to be inconvenient to my conversation with friends or somehow inappropriate to the context of the situation. In other words, just a whole bunch of excuses. I would consistently say to myself, “ I want to love God more.” Well the truth is, if I actually wanted to love God more, I would spend more time with Him. My actions over the past three weeks and the email that I sent to Ben are a huge indication to me that I don’t actually love God like I need to and after listening to Mark Driscoll’s sermon on Humility from his series entitled, It’s All About Jesus.

It is really an amazing thing and one that as Pastor Driscoll I believe accurately points out, to know the sacrifice that Jesus made for us as His chosen people. There is no comparison that can be made to help us understand how truly low Jesus humbled Himself for our sakes. Mark Driscoll said some very important things I believe in order to help us as Christians to better understand how truly humble Jesus was.

For starters, the idea of God’s humility is unique to Christianity. It is the only religion in the world that believes that God came to earth and subjugated Himself and made Himself something less than God, even though He was God for the sake of those whom He created. Almost every other religion in the world, and maybe all of them, tells their followers to search deep within themselves and focus more and more on themselves to find their “inner god.” The idea is that we move up to God, whereas Christianity believes the complete opposite. We don’t move up to God, God moves down to us. If you just take a moment to consider that, it will immediately change your whole perspective on who God is. Every action that God has ever taken has been towards revealing Himself has been through revealing Himself to us. He comes to our level. When we consider that God would do this, the idea itself is not only remarkable, but when you consider how truly great God’s goodness is, it changes everything. Driscoll points out in Isaiah how the angels won’t even look at God they simply cover themselves and cry, “Holy, Holy Holy!” They are privileged enough to live in communion with God and even they don’t look upon His face.

This is not an idea that we can fathom easily. And on top of it, Christ is sitting on His throne in heaven. He is not frantic or seemingly out of control. He is sitting on His royal throne in complete sovereign control of all that is happening on the earth that He created.

The fact is, God says in Jeremiah 29:11-14: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

It’s consistently Christ who is interposing on our behalf. We do nothing. All of our efforts to save ourselves and earn our salvation are completely and utterly futile in the eyes of God. And yet, this is not how we act in our lives. We have this pre-conceived idea that somehow we have control over our lives. I very much like the imagery of a clenched fist. It is with this clenched fist that we each live our lives with some sort of idea in our heads that we have control over our lives and the clenched fist is symbolic of the control we believe we have. But in reality, the only person who is really in control and has the right to a clenched fist is Jesus Christ.

We consistently do all that we can to not let go of our control, to not unclench our fist.. It is all that we have sometimes. But Jesus Christ came to release us from the need to have clenched fist and to teach us that all that what we are and what we have doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Him. We have a clenched fist because it is uniquely ours. It indicates that which is most personal to us. Our jobs, our families, our friends, maybe even a tv show. There are so many idols that fit into our clenched fists and God tells us to release them, open up our hand and raise it up in praise to the Author and Perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ! That imagery is simply amazing, and I think very prevalent to our lives. I will end with three verses that under this context of Christ’s power and humility offer such tremendous comfort and strength.

Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud and give grace to the humble.”

Hebrews 13:5 God says, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

James 4:7-8 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

May this always be true of all my brothers and sister’s in Christ that we might together grow in knowledge and truth of this amazing God we have the privilege to serve!

Meeting an Old Friend in London!

In Septembre en France on September 27, 2010 at 11:28 AM

In a few hours I will be on a plane for London, England. For the first time in three months, I will be able to address someone on the street and know that there is a greater than 75% chance that they will understand me. I will be able to read all of the street signs and menus without any difficulty. I will not have to constantly be thinking to myself, what’s the word for that again in both German and French? In other words, I get a week of vacation! This is exciting for many reasons, the most exciting of which is that I will get to see one of my best friends, the wonderful Sarah Hall. For those of you who are regular readers, you are probably asking yourself, I have known Ben for a while; he has never mentioned this person to me before? Well dear friends, that is because Sarah is one of my few friends that I have from high school. Yes, you heard me right. Ben Newman had a friend during high school. Although it might seem like this very outgoing overly friendly Jewish violinist and opera lover has always had lots of friends, this is actually not at all the case. Up until I was about 14 I didn’t really have many friends. Being homeschooled and very socially awkward helped make that a reality until I went to a music camp called Csehy Summer school of Music the summer before my freshmen year of high school in Philadelphia. It was here that I met this amazing girl named Sarah Hall. I will never forget how we met. Being a Baptist conservative music camp, Boys are Blue and Girls are Red and there is to be absolutely NO PURPLE! So of course being stupid high schoolers we took this as an opportunity to ostracize all things purple from our lives while shouting the word as often as possible whenever something purple came up. (Very homeschool high school, I know, but what can I say? These are my roots.) So when the opportunity arose to go hear the Philadelphia Orchestra play an outdoor concert that ended with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture and fireworks that of course included purple colored fireworks, the kids from our camp had a hay day shouting purple every single time a purple firework shot up. Well trying to be the cool kid who was different I would shout, “GREEEENNNN!!!” as loud as I could every time a green firework shot up. Most of the kids looked back at me in the rain, thought I was very strange, and then turned back to looking for purple fireworks, not Sarah Hall, however. She laughed at me and thought my shouting green was the funniest thing she had ever heard. Well over the next two weeks and the following two summers, we spent a lot of our time together hanging out and being ridiculous high school kids. I went to the camp for five summers, but she unfortunately wasn’t able to make it for my last two because of drum major camp, which at the time I thought was a very lame excuse to miss Csehy, the greatest place on earth! Well, it’s been five summers since the last time I attended Csehy, and four since the last time I visited, and yet Sarah Hall and I remain good friends. She lives in Virginia and although I have visited Virginia multiple times to visit other friends that I made from Csehy, I have only seen Sarah twice since the summer before my Junior year of high school. Once she was able to make it for New Year’s Eve at Heather Miller’s house and another time, I drove down to Suffolk with my two siblings to stay at the Miller’s and I drove the almost three hours to Victoria, Virginia to meet her at her house. That was the last time I saw Miss Sarah Hall, and I believe that was four summers ago. She has been at Virginia Tech majoring in architecture and is in the middle of her senior year there. Well as it turns out, during our semi-annual phone call to each other we discovered that we would both be in Europe this fall completing our degrees. Tech offers a program for their students to go abroad to Europe and essentially tour across the country and see up close and personal all of the amazing examples of architecture that they have been studying for so long. How cool is that? Personally I think that is an amazing reason and way to go see Europe and I am so glad she has that opportunity. While we were talking we checked our schedules to see when we might be able to try and arrange a visit and as God’s will would have it, we both had the same week of vacation. So we agreed to meet up in London during our week off at the end of September. Well that week is finally here and I am so excited to spend some time with this very dear friend of mine. Although I am sure we have become very different people over the past four years since last we saw each other, during our conversations I have seen that we are still very good friends and I can’t wait to see her again! I have no idea what we are going to do, but to me, it doesn’t really matter. I am simply looking forward to seeing a very dear old friend and creating some amazing memories for the future. Many people look at me and say, “How do you still keep in touch with these people? How do you keep friendships with so many of them going?” Well the truth is, it doesn’t require a lot of work, only a lot of understanding. I don’t spend hours and hours keeping all of my old friends updated on my life. That takes far too much effort and time. But the agreement has always been the same. Try and find time to talk whenever you have time, and if it turns out that our paths cross again, I look forward to seeing you. I simply write my friends on facebook every once in a while just saying hello or reminding them of a good memory that we once shared, and it serves as a great reminder of friendship. I have friends all over the country like this and now that I have gone abroad, my community has become international. I have made friends here at the Institute who have invited me to stay with them in South Africa, Colombia, South Korea, England, and Italy and in turn, I have told them to come visit me in the states. Of course the US is huge and meeting up with them might not necessarily be practical, but even if they get as close as Chicago, I would go visit them. It’s really an amazing blessing meeting these people and an even greater blessing to maintain friendships with them. It’s something that I value tremendously and something that I hope I will be able to continue to participate in for the rest of my life.

New Friends, New Experiences, and New Challenges!

In Septembre en France on September 23, 2010 at 7:41 PM

So as usual, I cannot remember everything I want to talk about. Maybe I should stop imposing this sense of guilt upon myself and just write about what I remember. But if it’s important enough, then I should write it down. Well today I have quite a number of things to talk about. First of all I would like to talk about how great it has been getting to know the people at the Institute this month. Many of them are leaving and so I will not have much more of an opportunity to spend time with them, but I hope to go to Birmingham at some point while I am still here in Europe and visit these great friends I have made.

It all started with Sam, the lone Brit that all the other Brits think is way to American to actually be British. As it turned out, because we, (the Americans) got to know Sam, we got to know the other British students here as well. At first I think they were checking us out as if we were dumb Americans who aren’t worth knowing. But then again, if I were British, I probably would have done the same thing. Typically the Americans here at the Institute are under 21 and party way too hard simply because they can. But for the Brits, who have been able to drink for a while before they get here, simply want to enjoy their time in France learning the language and spending time with friends.

All of the Brits who are here are just finishing up their third years at Uni (as they say in Britain) and what is called their Gap Year. They are required for their majors to spend a year abroad learning the languages they are studying in their languages of origin. (A novel idea, I know.) Unlike in America where most universities only recommend going abroad, it’s really cool that in Britain they have to go abroad for their degrees to not only learn the language, but to gain the life experience of living in a different country. And what better age to do that than 21-22? That’s why I am here isn’t it? What’s been really cool is talking to all of them and learning that they all study more than just French. Actually, all of them chose to do 10 months in a different country other than France and then a one-month intensive here at the Institute in Tours. For example, Karina and Chiara did almost a year in Spain, Lara in Argentina, Darren and Louise in Japan, Max did 5 months in Italy and 5 months in China, Neil did 5 months in China and 5 months in Russia, and Huw did a year in Italy. It’s really amazing to hear how they can all speak so many different languages. Every single one of them speaks at least two other languages besides English and most who didn’t spend time in Spain can still speak some Spanish.

There are also a ton of Colombians here who I am glad to say will still be here until December and I look forward to getting to spend some more time with them over the next three months. They have been teaching me some Spanish too, which has been really cool. (I am getting used to people saying jejeje all the time online.) Hopefully I will be able to come back to the States and be able to communicate better with Marcela and the little chicas. Once you start learning languages, you realize in some respects how easy it is, and how difficult all at the same time. You learn basic conversational words really quickly, but it’s the more situational words that become difficult.

For example, yesterday I sang with the choir I found here in Tours for the first time and I had to learn a whole brand new system of how notes and described. I figured that they would use at least some similar words but interestingly enough the only words that helped my understanding yesterday from English were trope and organum, which the dictionary on Word doesn’t even recognize. They don’t use letter names either for notes. They use solfege, which I suppose doesn’t really surprise me, but the way our director uses it doesn’t always make sense. For example, when describing the distinctions between harmonic and melodic minor he didn’t adjust his solfege syllables at all. So when we had a chord the altos on a C# and the sopranos on an E-Flat, and the tenors on a G-Natural, and he defined them as Do, Mi, and Sol, I had to say I was struggling to follow why they use the system they do. For those of you who didn’t follow that, essentially there are different words you would say instead of the ones he did to make more sense of the chord that was being sung. We are singing a Mozart mass in D-Minor so what a chord like C#-E-Flat-G-Natural was doing in D-Minor I will leave up to Matty Hatty and Cameron Wilkens to dwell on. J

I am by far the youngest member in this local community choir by about 25 years, but I can’t say that I am surprised. I wasn’t really anticipating or even hoping for younger people. Honestly, I get the impression that most of the French youth, I won’t say all because I don’t want to make that judgment, but most seem to be pretty pre-occupied with their looks and don’t really seem like people I want to get to know. It might sound strange, but I feel like these older chaps will treat me better simply because they are older and aren’t going to judge me as harshly simply because I am American. In fact, they seemed to be very sympathique with me and enjoy that I am there. I only wish I hadn’t been sick for my first rehearsal. I learned during my four years at Hillsdale how to sing with a cold. As long as the throat is ok and you aren’t coughing up a lung, you can sing just fine.

I got sick starting on Sunday when I woke up in my hostel bedroom in Paris and felt a strong sore throat coming on. I figured part of it had to do with not getting enough sleep and being in a bunch of strange new environments. Huw and I had decided to go to Paris for two days with Louise and Karina for les jours du Patrimoine. It’s a two-day opportunity that only comes once or twice a year where the exhibits that aren’t normally open to the public are not only open, but free as well. This being the case, we felt a trip to Paris and as many exhibits as possible was in order. Unfortunately the line to President Sarcozy’s house was about 6 hours long, so we decided not to embark on that adventure. But instead we found ourselves taking pictures along the Seine in front of the Eiffel Tower and then relaxing by the river talking for a couple hours and me explaining to Louise about the 3 Questions game and the 5 Love Languages. For those of you who don’t know what these are they require a bit of explanation so see me personally if you want more details.

While in Paris I got to see parts of the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the Arch de Triomphe, the Pont des Arts, and much more. It was an amazing trip and if you want to see pictures there are plenty that I posted on my Facebook. I would upload them here but it takes a long time. In terms of Parisian food I have to mention an amazing cheeseburger that I had two slices of cheese pieces on both sides of the burger, as well as an amazing ham appetizer beforehand that really demonstrated to me why people were talking about the ham here in France being so much better. I hadn’t believed them until now simply because I hadn’t had much opportunity, but now I can definitely see where they are coming from, and I am definitely going to miss it when I go back to the states. Although I do have to say I do love coming home around holidays and mom has baked a ham that lasts us about a week as we all use it for sandwiches, omelets, midnight snacks, and many other dishes. I also ordered trout and it came out very well cooked but not at all de-boned and still with a head. I was not expecting this, but I am very glad I got lots of practice as a kid on de-boning fish because now it’s not a problem at all. Thank you, Mom!

The company in Paris was really wonderful and I feel like I really got a chance to get to know Louise, Huw, and Karina much better as a result. Although as much as Huw might speak to the contrary, he is not a “party boy.” Oh, and before I forget, I have to mention the absolutely amazing moment I had that resulted in a new facebook profile picture, and that was seeing the amazing Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately there was no elephant and there was no Gothic Tower, but seeing the giant red mill pretty much made me the happiest camper in France. For those of you who don’t know this, Moulin Rouge is and probably will always be my favorite movie. I have seen the movie probably 50 times, and never grow tired of seeing it. Although Inception is putting up a good fight, Moulin Rouge wins in terms of ridiculous drama, amazing music, and midgets. There was a definitive lack of midgets shouting life messages at the top of their lungs in Inception and I think that is going to keep Moulin Rouge at the top for now. I will have to watch Inception again though when I get back home.

Tonight is sadly the last night we have with the Brits and so I am a sad panda. L I will miss learning expressions in British like, “Taking the piss out of someone,” “Looking smart,” and “being fussed.” It has been so great getting to know them and learning about their experiences and their lives. They are a fun group to spend time with and I look forward to having the occasion to visit them in Birmingham potentially for Guy Fawkes Day in early November.

Last but not least, I want to mention my conversations that I have been having with my two new very good friends, Chiara and Lara. Both have become good friends in that we have many very good conversations about the subjects that I most enjoy discussing, that being the Gospel. Interestingly enough though, what I find most enjoyable is that they completely disagree with me, and I completely disagree with them, and we still manage to have excellent conversation. I can say with full assurance it is literally the first time I have ever had consistent conversations with individuals whom I have no common foundation with. We believe completely opposite things about almost everything. Every major issue we have discussed has ended up with us coming to the realization that I accept truth based on faith, and they accept truth based on empirical evidence and cold hard facts. Our conversations have definitely been the most challenging I have ever had with any individuals simply due to how well they really defend their points and what they think is true. Talking with people who can explain so well why they think (I won’t use the word believe) everyone can find their own truth including within religion has been really fascinating. At first, it was discouraging to me, but after thinking about it and realizing how strongly I do believe Jesus Christ is the Way the Truth and the Life and that only through faith in Him can we receive eternal life, I became stronger in my resolve to talk to them and tell them I am praying for them. And yet, through our huge worldview differences, we are still very good friends.

I have a lot of respect for them because they take it upon themselves to be educated about the issues and sought out talking to me and learning about my perspective. They relished the opportunity to talk to me and learn about what I believe and why. Although it might not necessarily have a positive effect, although I pray it does, I am glad to have made their acquaintance and friendship during the past month. They are both wonderful people with really amazing life stories. Both of them speak English, Italian, French, and Spanish, and Chiara and grew up in Kenya speaking Swahili before moving with her family to South Africa. I have really enjoyed meeting both of them as well as every other person I have met at the institute. I feel like I am finally starting to become part of an international community and that’s something that I value tremendously.

Last thing before I go, during my conversation with Lara this afternoon she mentioned something I found to be absolutely fascinating and yet another example of how we live our lives differently. She said that she would never make a decision thinking about it’s future consequence. We have this life to live and we can’t make decisions thinking about future consequences. (Forgive me if I got that wrong, Lara, but I think that was essentially right.) Of course notwithstanding things like murder, rape, and theft, this is her attitude. As soon as she said this, I got a big smile on my face because it reminded me yet again that I do, and I pray all Christians do, make their decisions living in the light of eternity. Although Chiara and Lara hold a very different worldview than my own, I found that talking to them only made me that much more convicted of why I believe what I do. I only pray that my convictions bring God glory and that I do not believe out of blind ignorance.

Long Time Taken To Address

In Septembre en France on September 21, 2010 at 6:58 PM

Last time I finished writing on my blog it was only about half of what I wanted to say, and yet as usual I forgot what it was I wanted to write about in the first place. As I mentioned on my dear friend Bess’s blog, I find that if I don’t end up writing what it is I have on my mind at that moment, I always end up forgetting what it was the next day, even if it was important and never finish saying what it is I want to say.

I was going to blog last night, but I figured since I had a presentation and a paper due today, it was a good decision for me to not to procrastinate any further than I already did.  I noticed during my procrastination that one of the many things the wonderful Hillsdale College taught me is exactly how long I can procrastinate before needing to begin working. As it is, I started working and finished everything by 1am, which was about 3 hours earlier than I had anticipated which means that I could have actually blogged for three hours. I wasted three perfectly good hours of procrastination by actually doing what I was supposed to do. What’s up with that? Clearly my Hillsdale procrastination skills have yet to be perfected. Although, I suppose the fact that the paper was only two pages made it so that I could do it quickly. I usually write more than that in each of these blog posts.

As a result of finishing my paper faster than I anticipated I was able to sleep for six hours. But I find getting that much sleep here actually makes me more tired. Last week I had a night where I drank a coffee and was up until 5:15am but had a great day afterwards. But when I get 6-8 of sleep, I’m actually more tired and require more coffee. I think it’s Europe. It does weird stuff to me. But I think part of it has to do with my bed here in France. If I haven’t mentioned this yet, my bed here is simply amazing. If I had to make a list of the best things about France so far it would be my bed and Madame’s cooking that manifests itself in an amazing home cooked meal every night. Also grapes, yet again have been making me really happy. I think grapes are probably becoming my favorite fruit. I ate a lot of them as a kid, I guess I never really realized before how much I really actually like them.

I would also like to mention the fact that because I am so frustrated with forgetting what I want to talk about I began this post yesterday during my procrastination by writing a list of five things to address. Included on the list of five things to address was #5, “Address needing to make a list of things to address.” I think this indicates that I am spending way too much time thinking about blogging, but I don’t really care. I find it to be very relaxing and another really good English word that I can’t think of at the moment, Cathartic! That’s the word! After finding the word on dictionary.com it literally means evacuating the bowels. I think we use it in English though to simply mean something that offers a release, but interesting piece of information, no?

#3 on the list of things to address is the many responses I received from people frustrated with my dislike of Michigan saying that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone visiting the states to come to Michigan because it’s boring. Although I tried to defend Michigan by talking about how the people in Michigan love how it’s kind of boring. But as my mother pointed out, I make Michigan out to be a horrible place to live. Well, this was not my intention, although I can see where she is coming from. She did say, however, that it seems to be the trend of young people to not love where they come from and move out of a desire to find something better and get away from the place that has always been familiar to them. I think this is only a half-truth, however. First of all, I do like Michigan. I don’t love it, but I do like it. To be fair, it’s winter for 6 months out of the year, when it’s not winter, it’s really humid and buggy, and we have to drive twenty minutes to get anywhere and we live in a city. I find all of these things of course to be characteristics of Michigan that some people love, but personally, I am just not sure if they are for me. I mean this to say that although I love home and the feeling of being home, the sentiments towards home are very different for my generation than I think they are for my parents.

As much as I hate to say it, the times have changed. In further addition to what my mother said, I would say that the reason why so many kids leave their families to live in different parts of the country isn’t simply because they don’t want to be near their families, but particularly now, because of the economy and the job situation. Sadly, many of the graduating seniors in my class of 2010 have the attitude of “go where there is a job” simply out of necessity, not out of desire. But the idea is not at all a novel one. For thousands of years children have been leaving the lands of their parents to try and make it on their own. As my mom said, after living in Canada and having five kids, they realized that they wanted to live by family and that family is what is most important to them.

I appreciate where my mom is coming from, but I also think that had my parents not moved from Michigan to live in Canada for 13 years and then Wisconsin for 6 months they would not have the perspective they do today. I have already seen how my perspective on life has changed simply by living in Europe for 3 months and I have another almost 3 to go. I can say though, that being in a foreign country has really helped me to appreciate that much more what I’ve left behind in Michigan and have to look forward to returning to when I get back.

For example, I prefer the cold to the warm. I can’t stand it when it’s 80 degrees. It used to be 90, now it’s 80, it might even get to 70 by next year. And as strange as it sounds, I miss the consistent gray skies of Michigan. I think perhaps my perspective of Michigan has also changed a lot as well having attended university at Hillsdale. I think that perhaps my lack of love for Michigan comes from what I believe is a lack of community in West Bloomfield. I think my parents have a sense of community, but having been away from it for quite a while I haven’t really had the opportunity to experience community at home like I was able to at Hillsdale and it is this type of community in which I desire to live.

I would love to talk more about this with someone from Michigan or someone who might have had a similar sentiment and then changed it. Please feel free to comment. I am always in the mood to talk to friends and family from home at any time so please don’t hesitate. As usual, I have more to say, today opened my eyes to something I had never considered before that I believe should be addressed so I will write about that later. Better start a new list. ;/ Tis all for now. Ciao!

P.S. Been spending a lot of time with British people will talk about that later this evening or tomorrow when I have a bit more time. I have learned all sorts of new expressions from them, it’s been great.

P.P.S. I have new music that I want to talk about as well,  but for now I will simply give you the video to one of my favorite songs. I will address it in the next post though. So please enjoy Calling All Angels by The Wailin’ Jennys.

Europe is great, but it ain’t Home! (A Brief Defense of America)

In Septembre en France on September 17, 2010 at 4:19 PM

Although it’s only been a couple days since I last wrote on my blog, I feel like I have a mountains worth of material to write about. It’s been an interesting week here in France, and I suppose looking back on it, it makes sense. It’s a strange thing being in a different country and trying to be open-minded and not be crushed by disappointed expectations. Yet, I suppose I can say that looking back on what has been a very long three weeks, I know much better now what I am doing here. The sense of identity that takes a little while to attain is started to come within my grasp. I guess what I hadn’t expected was the means by which that would occur. (I love using sentences like that.) For example, I have lived in America my entire life, but never really been a very patriotic spirit. Some of my friends reading this might know this all too well by my consistent criticisms and comparisons to European countries. But being in a classroom with a professor who thinks he doesn’t ever need to ask the American students about their opinions on controversial subject matter such as gay rights, drug laws, and the separation of church and state, has not only gotten on my nerves but awoken a spirit of patriotism unlike anything I had ever expected.

It finally got to the point that I couldn’t stand it anymore and I made the professor finally see that perhaps my perspective on things as an American isn’t that of a redneck with a 4th grade education. After talking with a couple of girls in my class from Italy I learned that the perception of Americans, at least in Italy, Spain, and France, is that we are really dumb. We don’t understand how to think, we are really fat, we are really loud, and we don’t take responsibility for our communities. Sadly there are definite cases in America where this is true. But there are also cases of this in every country. Trying not to have stereotypes of people is almost impossible, but to see two Americans in a classroom and simply pass them off as if their opinions don’t count, I personally found to be reprehensible as an educator.

I do have to say, however, that the other American girl’s presentation on the subject of gay rights was absolutely wretched. She said homosexuals don’t have the right to marry in 45 of the 50 United States and then showed clips from three American films depicting homosexuals that had almost nothing to do at all with the subject. In our class discussion afterwards our professor didn’t even refrain from showing his disappointment in the presentation by almost completely disregarding her questions and posing his own “better” questions. Yet, as much as it pains me to say it, he was right. She didn’t bring up any of the actual issues with gay rights in America. If she had simply thought critically about the subject and addressed perhaps the fact that we have a very strong religious population who is opposed to it for biblical reasons or brought up the question of gays rights to adopt children and offered a little bit of perspective on the issue, the presentation would have been received in a much better and different light.

I have to give my presentation on Tuesday and I am truly hoping that his response to my presentation will redeem the attitude of the Americans in our class. Being the musician that I am, I chose the subject of French opera to discuss with the class and I am using the brilliant Natalie Dessay and her interpretation of Ophelia from Ambroise Thomas’s opera Hamlet in order to try and persuade my class into seeing the tremendous value and emotional power of opera. I am very excited about the subject and I only hope that my passion for the subject comes though and that I can speak with an authority that is translated as genuine knowledge and understanding of the subject. If you would pray for me it will definitely help.

Here’s another interesting tid-bit about me if you didn’t already know this about me. I become very passionate about subjects that I believe are worthy of being defended. I will defend my friends, my family, and most importantly my faith until I am blue in the face. For a long time, I didn’t believe America was worth defending. That was until the attacks became consistent and unfair. Understanding that one’s country isn’t perfect is a necessary part of being a good citizen. It keeps the community consistently working towards better change and better lives for the people living in the community. But what I didn’t realize until now was that patriotism is an important part of being a good citizen as well because one must love the country and community one lives in, in order to see positive change occur. If you have no pride and love for your home, you won’t work to improve it or keep it strong.

Since realizing this, I have been able to understand so much better the American mentality of life and have begun to have a deeper and richer appreciation for the country I call home. For example, I consistently tell the people I meet here not to visit Michigan if they come to the states. Think about it. If you are a tourist to America, Michigan isn’t exactly the greatest place on earth to visit. It’s flat, with a lot of suburbs, and downtown Detroit isn’t really worth visiting except if you are going to see a show or go to a game. We have the lakes, but they take a while to get to and don’t really offer much in terms of stuff to do besides hang out at the beach. But does that mean I don’t like it? No! Of course not! I love it there! Is there much to do? Not really. Is life really exciting there? Yet again, not really. But it’s home!!! We like being boring! We like leading lives of simplicity without much excitement and lots of repetitiveness in schedule. And honestly, if we didn’t actually like this system, I think we would change it, because that’s what people do when they don’t like where they live, they seek change.

In France, the workweek is about 35 hours a week with a very bizarre schedule of how many hours per days. It’s 8 hours one day, 5 the next, and 6 the next, depending on the day and how it affects the community. People take off of work all of the time and the consumers just deal with it. The ticket box office at the opera house is open about 5 hours a day consistently. If you want to buy something you have to conform to everyone else’s schedules. It’s a very different mentality than we have in America where the consumer driven economy keeps people working 40,50, and 60-hour workweeks. But we like being busy, and we like coming home to our lives with our wife and 2.2 children. (Just a random arm and leg hanging out helping the other two kids out with the chores on the weekends.) We value our simplicity and our privacy. We value having the ability to raise our kids in love and help them to lead good lives full of prosperity.

It’s not that they don’t value the same things in France it’s just different. They choose to spend their time and their energy differently. They value traveling and having the ability to simply relax frequently. They think the American idea of being stressed because of work all the time is completely absurd. I suppose they have a point, but if it’s so absurd, why do so many people choose it? Personally, I think what we have in America is good. You know why, because it’s American! As much as America has an identity that was shaped by a mélange of other cultures (How’s that for some French for ya?) we have developed into a culture with a definitive identify that is irrefutable. Are there things about America that I wish were different? Of course. The lack of good beer, bread, and cheese are among the first things that I would like to see change. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t home. Where I think some of the Europeans fail to recognize their own lack of open-mindedness is in their inability to even seek to understand why over 300 million people have chosen to live in America. It’s about more than just money and a middle-class lifestyle. I sincerely believe that there is an American identity that has developed and is treasured by the true citizens of the United States.

I have a lot of other things that I want to talk about, but I am going to stop for the moment because my posts have a tendency of getting a little exhaustive and I am trying to learn to be more concise and not blab for the equivalent of an 8-page paper at Hillsdale. More to come very soon. Ciao for now!

P.S. I saw this on the news and just saw a link to it on Facebook and then fount it on Youtube. Enjoy! It will make your day!

Late Night Thoughts on Versailles and Jim and Sue!

In Septembre en France on September 14, 2010 at 2:54 AM

First of all, in respect to all of my mother’s everywhere, (there are many of you whom I consider to be like my 2nd mom) I have to give credit to the motherly ability that is to be always right about everything practical. When my house mom told me that it wasn’t wise for me to drink a cup of coffee at 8:30pm because it would keep me awake all night, I should have known better, but seriously, I am a self-confident know-it-all 22 year old American living in France. Now at 4am I see that she was completely right! My own mother has proven this ability to me multiple times in my life. I recall very specifically being about 10 years old and saying, “No Mom, I don’t need a coat, I’ll be fine!” After being outside for about 5 minutes I realized I would not be fine and spent the rest of the evening in utter confusion wondering why my foolish man pride decided that it wanted to keep me from staying warm for the evening. Unfortunately, this was a trend that stayed consistent for a number of years, and now continues today with my new 2nd mom Geraldine Meunier, my wonderful host mom here in France.

My 2nd mothers have always been very important to me. My two best friends Ben and Brandon and I each share this uncanny ability where moms just really like us for some reasons completely unknown to us, or at least to me. I suppose that generally the moms that really like us also have daughters around our age who they want to see end up with a “nice boy.” I have had many friends whose mothers I also consider to be close friends and yesterday I had the great opportunity to spend time with one of the few women in my life who has consistently been a 2nd mother to me. Where some of my 2nd moms are 2nd moms for only small periods of times, like Geraldine, this woman has consistently fed me, laughed with me, and taught me about culture, politics, life, how to memorize the Bible, and along with our mutual Christian faith, we share a love for Europe and European culture. This woman is none other than Sue Walker!

I met Sue when I was about 13 years old. At the time I had no idea that I would be spending multiple Sunday afternoons at her and Jim’s house eating lunch with them and falling asleep on the couch watching the Lion’s lost before going off to Bible Quizzing practice back at Cornerstone. Jim and Sue were also the first adults I met who demanded that I call them by their first names. They have never been Mr. and Mrs. Walker, they have always been Jim and Sue, and they both continue to be like Mom and Dad to me with their consistent generosity, friendship, and guidance.

Although I wasn’t a great Bible quizzer, Sue and I began sharing out love for Europe when I was about 15 and she told me that she had been to Germany multiple times, spoke German, and continues to travel to Europe as often as she can. She reminded me yesterday of a time after her and Jim had just finished renovating the back room that we often used as a dining room during out after quiz parties at their house, where she showed me her map of Europe on the wall and showed me all the places she had been and the different sites in the different cities in Germany that she loved so dearly.

At the time, I had no interest in Germany whatsoever. With my family background, we don’t really have any reason to want to speak or have much association with German culture. But it was because of Sue showing me all of the different places on the German map as well as my two months spent there that I can now speak of Germany in terms of direction and knowledge of cities better than I can Ohio, which is only one state below me. I can tell you where Freiburg, Cologne, Berlin, Leipzig, Nurnberg, Frankfurt, and Munich are without a German map because of Sue’s tutelage. I knew the names of more German cities than I even realized because Sue had told me about so many different things in each city that she had been too.

Standing in that room talking about Germany, Sue said, “If you ever want to join me on one of my trips over there, it would be great to have some company!” Never in a million years did I think that the fall after I graduated from college would I be talking with my dear friend Sue, who like a fine wine only gets better with age, over Facebook chat completely in German arranging our visit in front of Notre Dame in Paris! Never could I have imagined learning German at Hillsdale in a million years, nor that I would love Germany and want to spend many more weeks there in the future. But life is funny and I have learned to expect the unexpected and let God control my life and simply follow the path that He has planned out for me.

I am very privileged to have had the experience of meeting up with Jim and Sue and Sue’s mother Marilyn yesterday, who I must say is quite the trooper for an 81 year old Michigander. Having arrived an hour earlier than I intended I was fortunate enough to attend the Latin Mass at Notre Dame and hear some of the most beautiful live singing I have ever heard in my life. The small choir made of about 6 woman singing in unison beautiful modal melodies reading them from middle age note notation was something I don’t think I will ever forget. I kept the program and put in my Bible so as to have a memory of the experience. I met Jim and Sue outside the church after Mass and we toured the interior of the church together and came to the mutual conclusion that Notre Dame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For as large of a tourist attraction as it is, the church itself isn’t really that impressive in comparison to some of the other churches in Europe like The Cologne Dome or the Freiburger Muenster. But nonetheless, the church was wonderful to visit, participate in mass, and feel God’s presence.

It is really remarkable to worship in a place that is so grand and that symbolizes the greatness of God and how truly small we are and standing in light of His grace, how much we truly owe Him! The liturgy, the sermon in French, and then the absolutely terrifyingly beautiful organ postlude that ended the service made for an absolutely uplifting Sunday morning worship. Walking out of the huge front doors of Notre Dame and looking out at the city of Paris really made quite an impression on me. Knowing that people have been walking out of those doors after worship for 500 years with God’s love impressed upon their hearts and His Grace impressed upon their lives and souls simply astounded me.

After touring around the exterior of the church, we found a nice little café and had quiche, salad, wine, and cheese for lunch. After my delicious salmon spinach quiche had settled we made our way towards the train station and hopped on the RER towards Versailles. Never having been there before, all four of us were a little confused and after about 45 minutes of searching for where to buy tickets, standing in line for tickets, going through security, and going through all the pointless junk, we finally went inside the Chateaux of Le Roi du Soleil Louis XIV. The palace is simply stunning to witness all of the incredible architecture that was so indicative of the Baroque period but even more than the architecture, the one word that I can use to describe Versailles, GOLD! There is gold absolutely EVERYWHERE. When you first arrive, the front gate to Versailles is made entirely out of gold. It’s simply mind-boggling and almost impossible to process how much gold there actually is throughout the palace.

Interestingly enough, interspersed among the beautiful vases, statues, and paintings, were exhibits of contemporary Japanese art. These pieces were incredibly colorful and at times disturbing but I think I understand why they are being showcased in Versailles. At first I found it to be disgraceful to have art that contrasts so heavily with the classic Baroque beauty of Versailles in the middle of this incredible monument. But after careful consideration, I think I realized what these pieces were doing in Versailles. Versailles is an example of extreme Baroque architecture and style. At the time it was created, it would have been overwhelming to anyone unaccustomed to the style and look. Even having seen similar architecture in film, Versailles is still incredible to behold. Similarly, this contemporary Japanese art hits you right in the face as you look at it. They feature incredibly vibrant colors as only the Japanese use and images that I never would have imagined in a million years. But when             I compared them to the paintings and statues in the palace at Versailles, I saw that it wasn’t a contrast, it’s a comparison. The modern artwork represents a modern Versailles and offers the spectator a sense of the scope of grandiosity that is Versailles. After coming to this realization, I very much enjoyed the artwork and felt like it perhaps offered a side of creativity in art that isn’t often displayed.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time because they were closing early and so we didn’t have an opportunity to tour the gardens. Personally I was ok with this conclusion simply because I like having a reason to come back to visit a place a 2nd time. I did the same thing at Schoenbrunn in Vienna. I simply walked the grounds because I wanted to come back again at a later date and see the inside of the palace. As it turned out, there were tons of people trying to all leave Versailles at the same time, as it was closing, and the tickets at the tram were not working causing a backup of over 100 people. At one point someone just opened up the emergency door from the other side and over 150 people flooded through the open door to get onto the next available train going back into the city.

Being the honest people that we are, we waited in line and got our tickets and made it onto our train just in time and as luck would have it, on the line that would take me to my train station that was taking me back to Tours. It was sad that I wasn’t able to book a later train, and even more sad that I was on a train that took almost three and a half hours to take a journey that only lasted one hour on the way there. I suppose it couldn’t be helped. And as it turned out, no one checked my Eurail pass again, so I still have two days to use. This is I think the 3rd or 4th time this has happened enabling me to travel essentially for free, so I can’t really complain.

All in all it was an absolutely wonderful day full of wonderful memories, amazing sites, and dear friends. On the train on the way back I read 50 pages of The Light That Failed by Rudyard Kipling and I found it to be a perfect end to a great day. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit with Jim and Sue for a day in Paris. It really helped getting out of Tours and seeing friends from home comforted me greatly and has given me a much larger sense of confidence going into these next three and a half months. Now that it’s almost 5am I am going to try and get 3 hours of sleep before being in class for 8 hours tomorrow. Oh joy!

Food, Dance, and Friends. 3 Things I Need In My Life!

In Septembre en France on September 10, 2010 at 4:26 PM

You know, I don’t know exactly what font they use when I make comments on other people’s blogs, but I have found I very much like the font they use. It’s very aesthetically pleasing to my eyes and I wish I knew what it was so that I might be able to write in it more frequently. As nice as Times New Roman is, I think perhaps it’s time to shake things up a little bit and maybe have a new standard font. I recall in high school I used Baskerville all the time simply because my teachers didn’t care what font my papers came in, as long as it was typed. At Hillsdale however, it was a different story. I believe every paper was required to be in Times New Roman.

I wrote something earlier of interest on to my dear friend Vivian’s blog in response to her most recent post on the different ways of eating and using chestnuts in a culinary fashion. If you might be interested in following the musings of a brilliant chef I highly suggest having a look at Vivian’s blog. http://youngpastrychef.wordpress.com/

Vivian is one of my closest friends and one that I miss dearly. (Maybe I should start doing friend reviews in addition to my book and album reviews? Only a joke of course.) Not only have we had great conversation and our faith in common, but also the mutual love of food has drawn us together on multiple occasions simply for the sake of learning new things and having new experiences. As I often like to say to my friends who simply enjoy their meat and potatoes with salt and pepper and that’s about it, you have to look at food as much more than just food, it’s an experience and a memory waiting to happen. This is why I take pictures of my food when I go places, because it’s a memory that I don’t want to forget.

Vivian is not only a great friend and chef, but she was a huge help to me in preparation for my senior recital. I had been working for over a year in preparation for the event and wanted everything to be perfect. I knew that along with choosing great music that people would want to hear, I would also have to pick great food to compliment the music I would be performing. After talking to my parents we decided that the best solution was to have Vivian cater the whole thing. I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the whole thing turned out! Not only was my recital a massive success with over 200 people in attendance, but the food was spectacular, from what I heard from my friends. I had been so busy talking to people and taking pictures that I had no opportunity to eat anything, but many people came and told me that the food was incredible. So thank you again, Viv, for all the work that you did, my senior recital will stay with me as the highlight of my college career.

Where this involved my experience today comes through Vivian’s blog. Vivian’s post about chestnuts reminded me of a little pastry I had today that was absolutely delectable! Today I went to a French Boulangerie and ordered what looked simply like a smaller French version of a meat lover’s pizza but without sauce and more cheese. Of course being the cheese lover that I am, I had no problems with the lack of sauce and the addition of more cheese. What I hadn’t been expecting however, was that there would also be another special ingredient thrown into the delicious mixture of bread, cheese, sausage, and ham….WALNUTS! Right on top covered by a layer of melted cheese were pieces of walnut. At first I was very taken aback by this unexpected flavor, but then once I began to fathom the idea, I actually rather enjoyed it. I think in the states the nutty addition probably wouldn’t go over very well and people might actually be rather upset, particularly if they are allergic to nuts, but other than that, I found it to be a very creative and refreshing additional ingredient to a classic idea.

Last night as well, my house mom made Croque-Monsieurs for us.

Essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, this is a French specialty and one that I was very glad to participate in. When I went downstairs I saw that Madame had prepared a rather large number of these sandwiches ready to be grilled and was quite surprised because there are only six of us here and normally she doesn’t prepare that much food. Yesterday evening however, she must have anticipated me being very hungry through premonitions being sent to her through my stomach. Normally, even in America I would eat only two of these sandwiches, but as I have become more comfortable with the family here and the very pleasant lack of formality at the dinner table, I didn’t hesitate in taking a third last night. My surprise came only when Madame tried offering my a fourth one because there were still two Croque Monsieurs left on the table. She had had one, Camille and Claire each had one and a half, Alexis had one and Arthur had had two. Why she had cooked so many I was very confused until she told me that the extra two had been accounted by her anticipation of Alexis wanting another, which he eventually did eat, and my eating FOUR!

I have no idea what might have compelled her to think I could eat four of these buttery un-kosher delicacies, but the thought of trying to get another one down was not one that I could handle. Even though I expressed that since arriving I have become more and more hungry at dinner, four Croque Monsieurs were just one too many for me. And on top of these sandwiches of course the request for cheese and bread or dessert was still offered, to which I gladly declined and went upstairs to try and recover.

I wanted to mention something as well that seems to always make me feel better whenever I am missing home, which has become more frequent as of late, and that is my consistent love of dance routines, particularly planned spontaneous dance routines. What do I mean you ask? Simply enjoy the following video and be amazed! 

If you didn’t enjoy that, you must also hate baby Burmese Mountain Dogs.

The idea of planning these dance routines out and putting them up on Youtube later I find to be not only absolutely brilliant, but incredibly entertaining as well. This video is not the only one of its kind as well. There are a number of different ideas like this that have been done and the videos put on youtube as well. If you have an interest let me know and I will put some more videos up because I find them to be absolutely amazing!

On a slightly more serious note, yesterday was a very rough day for me being away from home. I had made plans with people to go out for the night and decided to just not go because I was feeling so down about things. Fortunately I had the occasion of talking to Ben in Argentina for a few minutes and something that normally have been upsetting to me that he said I found to actually be the words that I needed to hear. After venting a few frustrations and expressing my wish that we wouldn’t have to go a year without getting a chance to hang out, he told me, “Well, keeping up with people from home isn’t really my priority. I am here to be here.” These were exactly the words that I needed to hear. Somehow I had forgotten that it is for the same reason that I am here in France.

Of course learning French at the Institute is great and very helpful, and living with a French family is awesome. But where I know I learn the best is with my friends in social situations. As much as I learned German in class while I was in Germany, Dr. Geyer was always encouraging us to make friends and speak German with them because he knew it was the best way for us to learn, and he is absolutely right! Not having any native French speakers here has been really detrimental to my learning the language. I know I have only been here for less than two weeks, but it’s still frustrating because that was part of my reason for wanting to be here. I really want to develop relationships with French people, but because they are so closed off I have no opportunity to meet anyone, especially my own age because all of the students my age are not at the Institute. I hope this will change soon as I am looking at potentially joining a choir while I am here for the next four months. Hopefully that will be a social opportunity that will enable me to meet French people and engage a little bit more in the community. I will report back later with an update as to whether I get in or not. It looks like it’s a basic community choir, which would be perfect for me because the obligation is light and often times the people are very nice. That’s at least what I am hoping for. In the mean time, I would really appreciate prayers that God would open up doors for me to meet people here in France for the next four months and that I wouldn’t succumb to an attitude of depression and solidarity as I did last night.

Sometimes because I am such a social person I can become almost bitterly mean towards people the few times a year when I just need to be alone. Last night was unfortunately one of those times. I just pray that with the amount of time that I end up spending alone here that times like these will not become a permanent trend. On a lighter note however, I bought a season pass on iTunes a couple days ago for season two of Glee because I won’t be able to watch it here in France this fall as well as an IP of a group called The Band Perry that Julie introduced me to through of course, Vivian. Take a listen to this great song! 

Have a great day!

Ciao for now!

The Beginnings of my French Experience

In Septembre en France on September 8, 2010 at 5:33 PM

I have now been in France for 10 days. 10 days of life in the country that made cheese and wine famous. 10 days in the country that gave us Victor Hugo, Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin, Frederic Chopin (only technically because he is actually Polish) George Sand, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint Saens, Jean Baptiste Lully, Renee Descartes, Albert Camus, Moliere, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Racine, Francois Mauriac, Blaise Pascal, Andre Gide, Emile Zola, and Honoré de Balzac. 10 days in the land of luscious countryside, giant mountains, and flowing rivers. 10 days in the land of Louis XIV (Le roi du soleil) the Eiffel Tower, Versailles, and the Louvre. But these are all people and places that only represent a part of France. What is behind each of these places is what can only be described as the French spirit, of which the French take much pride. They love their land, they love their culture, and they love who they are. Even if they don’t understand who they are, even if they don’t like who they are, they love that they can say that, “They are.” They take pride knowing that whatever it is that they have, it belongs to them and they aren’t giving it up!

How has this attitude affected my first 10 days in France? Well for starters, the most apparent manifestation of this attitude is a complete indifference towards strangers. Where in Germany I experienced people sincerely interested in getting to know me and curious why I was in France, here I receive looks of disdain and lack of concern from the people I walk past on the street. Even the cashiers here seem generally disdained to even look at me while I am in their stores. I have seen people notice me, look me up and down, and choose not to address me while I am in their stores. My wonderful house mom, (who I will get to in just a moment) explained to me that I shouldn’t try to address anyone on the street, she said the French are simply not personal in that respect. She even said that she herself wouldn’t address her neighbors on the street with even “Bonjour” if she didn’t know them.

Although I can’t say that I am particularly shocked, it makes for a very closed off sentiment for someone like myself who is sincerely interested in and very open to getting to know people who represent the culture I am currently living in. Today one of the girls in my class told me that she has been privileged enough to make a couple French friends. She used the word privileged not only because it is indeed a privilege to make friends in a different country, but because the French are usually so closed off to foreigners it is indeed a privilege that these people opened themselves up to her. She had said that she had felt very lonely before and now because of these friends she feels much more confident in the culture and in the city.

This is a sentiment I can most assuredly identify with. Making friends like Marci, Heiko, and Flo in Germany made me much more comfortable within the culture and the country that I was in. It makes a HUGE difference. One of the downfalls of the program at the Institut de Touraine is simply that there are no other French people around besides the professors. Of course the professors are patient and generally very nice people, but they are not an accurate representation of the rest of the French public. They are teaching. You can’t be completely cold hearted and unhelpful when you are a teacher.

My host mother, on the other hand, is simply one of the most wonderful women I have ever met in my life. She is so sweet, generous, and very much like a second mother to me. She even has said that she considers Claire and I to be her kids. Claire is the other American student living here. She is 18 and from the Boston area and just graduated from high school. She came to study at the Institute for four months like me but has no experience with French whatsoever. But Madame has been very patient and we have had some wonderful conversations. Madame also has three kids: Arthur, Camille, and Alexis. They are 15,14, and 13 and at first didn’t seem to care too much for Claire or I, but have seemed to warm up to us recently. I didn’t expect them to be open right away, but I am glad that they have been getting used to us and aren’t as cut off from us at the dinner table now.

Talking with Madame is always wonderful. I believe that her husband was killed fighting for the French military in the middle-east at some point I believe after 9-11. It’s very sad, but she doesn’t let it affect her. She loves having us here and she always has a smile on her face. She told us that some of her neighbors and family have criticized her for bringing Americans and foreigners into her house. “Why are you bringing them into your life?” they ask. But she told me that she loves the company and she loves having a generous spirit. I think Madame’s love language is most definitely acts of service. With the way in which she lives, I think it would have to be. She is so selfless. I can learn so much from how she lives her life. She is constantly working and never for herself. She told me, that she believes God told her that even though she has to suffer and deal with life being unjust, God told her that it is her responsibility to raise her children to do well and be well educated, that that is her purpose on earth.

To understand that and not become embittered is simply the grace of God in a person I am convinced. She is a light to those around her who have even told her that they are jealous of her because she has to raise three kids on her own and her neighbors are married with nice cars and they can’t stand being with their spouses for more than 15 minutes and their kids are drug addicts. So whose life should we really envy? She is a wonderful example of someone who understands that money and material things can’t bring happiness or satisfaction.

I love being in this home. I have to say that the salads that Madame makes here are the most INCREDIBLE salads I have ever had in my entire life. Every evening the salads are in my opinion often the best part of the meal. Madame cooks dinner for us every night and I can’t tell you how much I love being cooked for. Having a home cooked meal every evening is a small taste of heaven on earth. Madame is a great cook and every meal there are consistent elements of bread and cheese and vegetables. The bread and cheese part is something that the French have mastered. Every single pastry I have here has a wonderful balance of bread, butter, and cheese. It’s like heaven in your mouth! Although Germany definitely has better beer and sausage, the French definitely win in the cheese and bread department, although German bread is pretty amazing too.

A baguette here is only 80 cents and it’s almost 2 feet long. It’s amazing! Today I discovered that I could get a large sandwich on a baguette with chicken, mayonnaise, and a couple vegetables, two dessert pastries called panache chocolat, and a drink all for 3 euro. It’s an amazing deal and one I anticipate taking advantage of every day for the next four months because at that price, you can’t beat the deal! I was also really happy to find a great crepe bar and normal bar here in Tours as well. The bar called La Cabanne has been great because they don’t mind that our French isn’t fluent and they are so friendly! In fact, the other night we went for a drink and the waiter after about an hour or so simply came over with a pitcher full of beer and put it on our table as well as two sangrias for the two girls who were with us, as that was what they had previously ordered. Totally free! It was amazing and I told them that I would be back for sure! Even if the beer isn’t that great, it’s nice knowing that I can share 3 liters of beer with friends for 16 euro. Yet again, another deal that’s impossible to beat. And all because they were nice to us. Such are the pleasures of life in France.

I do feel more and more at home here though because of the Meunier family that I am living with. Last night Claire and I watched a movie in the living room about Moliere and it felt like I was at home for a minute sitting on the couch with one of my siblings or my mom watching a movie on our couch at 10pm after mom had finished her 4 hours of checking emails.

So that’s what life in France is like. I will write more later about habits when I get them more established. But for the moment all I can say is that life here isn’t what I expected, but I am learning to appreciate it more and more a little bit every day. Some days are frustrating in class, and other days I really enjoy just sitting in my room and spending the whole day sitting by myself, reading, blogging and practicing violin. But I must leave for the moment because I smell the delectable smells of dinner on the table. That’s all for now. Ciao!

Album Review: Alicia Keys – The Element of Freedom

In Septembre en France on September 6, 2010 at 3:02 PM

I mentioned before how I wanted to do more album reviews and the first I want to do is The Element of Freedom by Alicia Keys. I have been a huge fan of Alicia Keys ever since I bought her first album Songs in A Minor when I was 13 years old. At the time Alicia Keys was a student at NYU and gaining international recognition and winning five Grammy awards including Best Song and Best New Artist. After the success of her first album wish showed off her not only amazing voice, incredible talent as a pianist and musician, but her incredible imagination and original song writing. To this day the song Fallin’ can be heard on the radio and enjoyed by millions of people including my German professor Dr. Geyer. After the success of her first album her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys took a different direction in terms of musical sound. Where her first album exhibited very simplistic piano with Alicia’s voice and minimal accompaniment for the majority of her songs, her second album showed a new side to her style with louder broader accompaniment combined with her musical originality. With songs like Karma, Heartburn, and If I Ain’t Got You, Alicia shows a musical side that seemed almost experimental. In fact, every time I hear one of Alicia Keys’ albums for the first time, I always feel like some of the things she does are so new and experimental and I never would have expected them. But what I appreciate is that I later come to love those new motives that I once found so strange. Although Diary of Alicia Keys was a success I personally didn’t enjoy the tracks as much as the first album.

A similar approach was taken by Alicia on her 3rd album entitled As I Am. Broader accompaniment yet again and this time a very classic approach was taken with an almost 70’s disco style to the music. I recall very specifically working her concert at the Palace and hearing all of these different rhythmic motives that reminded me of 70’s soul. I wasn’t as big of a fan of the second album in comparison to the first and I felt like this third album went further away from her roots that I really liked. Her style before I felt was much more personal and intimate, not as loud and exotic.  Yet, even within this criticism, what I do love about Alicia Keys is that even within a new style, she still brings her A-Game musically. Even if I didn’t appreciate it, I know multiple people who thought it was a great album and really liked her more Soul style. It was off of this album that we heard the single’s No One and the song that became an anthem for feminists everywhere, Superwoman. I remember Alicia giving the intro to this song at her concert very specifically.

She said, “ Let me talk to the ladies for a second here. You know how sometimes life gets you down, your boyfriend just broke up with you, and you just need a pick me up?”(Insert large screams here.) “So you go buy yourself a nice dress, dress up and look really good and head out to the clubs and dance with your girls!” (Insert louder applause here.) “But you know how sometimes that just doesn’t cut it any more, and there’s just an emptiness that’s in your life. So you find a new guy, and things are going really well and you feel great.” (Insert even louder applause here.) “But then that relationship doesn’t work out and you realize that nothing is going to make you happy and other people just keep getting you down because they are always disappointing you. And then you realize the only thing that is going to make you happy is yourself and you realize that I am a Superwoman!!!!” At this point I kind of felt like she was going on some female power hungry psycho trip, particularly because it is exactly those times that God calls us to turn to Him and not to ourselves for our satisfaction. Even if we seek to find satisfaction within ourselves we are only going to end up bitter.

Ironically enough, after the blatant feminism and broken hearted love songs, Alicia Keys’ fourth and most recent album The Element of Freedom immediately shows a brighter happier mood and very clear signs that she is in love. Each song talks about how deeply she loves someone, but I wasn’t sure whom? Then after looking at her website to see if she is going on tour for the new album I see that there are no tour dates scheduled because not only is she just married, but Alicia Keys is pregnant with her now husband’s first child. On the website she is radiant in the photos and her album is a clear indication of the love that is in her life.

I have been listening to this album almost non stop after my dad’s 60th birthday party when my sister in law Eileen told me that the album was really good and she got my brother Jesse to give me the album. I am so glad they did because it might be even better than her first one. My sister in law Eileen is a huge Alicia Keys fan and I really appreciate that a lot because we don’t get the opportunity to spend much time together so it’s nice that we have something like this that we can share. I sent her a message on Facebook the other day telling her that the next time Alicia Keys does a concert in NY I am flying out there, staying for a couple days with them and going to her concert. When that happens, I will be very happy because it will also give me a great opportunity to see my dear friends Bess Cozby and Vivian Jago, who will cook me at least one five course meal when I come to visit her in NY.

I would have to say that my favorite songs off of her new album are Love Is Blind, That’s How Strong My Love Is, Put It In A Love Song (Featuring Beyonce) an awesome dance song that I hope gets released on the radio because it is a sweet club jam, and How It Feels To Fly. As usual Alicia’s voice is simply phenomenal. I am always blown away by her vocal capacity and power. I used to watch American Idol when I was younger and every time someone would try and cover an Alicia Keys song the judges were always super strict. They pretty much said, “Sorry, you can’t cover someone if you aren’t going to sing it at least as good as they do.” Which none of them can. Similarly Alicia shows off her vocal range on this album in a similar spectacular way. Each song shows such originality in ways that, yet again, I never would have expected, but the happiness that protrudes through each song is infectious and always puts me in a good mood. I highly recommend listening to this album if you get the chance; I highly doubt you will regret it! I have attached some links here to my favorite songs if you are interested. Enjoy!

I also have to take this opportunity to wish a very special Happy Birthday to my incredible Mom who works day and night for the ten kids that she has raised and continues to do it with a smile on her face. She is a light to all who know her and I am so proud and glad to be able to say she is my mom. I miss her dearly and can’t wait to come home for Christmas to spend time in the kitchen watching Christmas movies on TCM with her and the rest of my family while she prepares her delicacies for Christmas Eve and Christmas day! I love you, Mom!