Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Vive la France!

I just got back from my first trip ever to France and I have to say that I was in no way disappointed. I've had several friends go before me, and they've all said that they didn't like it so much, so I was afraid that I would have a similar experience. Plus, French people in general tend to have a bad reputation (spread mostly, I imagine, by the jealous Brits) for being unfriendly, erudite, and rude. I found none of this to be the case.

In case anyone is considering going sometime in the near future, here's a list of my favorite and least favorite things that I did. I could go on for a long time about all the great stuff to see, but I tried to limit myself. Must see's that don't make this list include Mont St. Michel, the Eiffel Tower (at night), and more.

Les Bons:

1. The food - French food is amazing. They really know their stuff. We had great dinners every night, but my most pleasant surprise were the lunches. Get a sandwich French style and at first you'll be disappointed. It's a baguette with butter and meat (usually ham) and not much of that. But the bread is fresh and delicious, the butter is BUTTER not margarine, and the meat is top quality. They know what tastes good and they don't fancy it up with lettuce and other stupid ruffage.

2. The gardens and the Seine (Paris) - walking through Paris was a fabulous experience. You get to see everything on foot, from the flower market to the Notre Dame. Walking by the Seine was even better. In most cities (like NYC) you don't get a lot of sunlight or see the sky that often. But Paris' streets are wide and there are tons of gardens and the Seine which give the city an open feel, and makes you forget that you're in a city with over 2 million residents and what felt like half a million tourists.

3. Climbing the Notre Dame (Paris) - I think it was 422 narrow steps up to the top of the Notre Dame but it was worth it. The cathedral itself it amazing even from the ground, but at the top you can see all my favorite parts. There are up-close views of the gargoyles, the statues, and the flying buttresses, and great cityscapes of Paris. Plus, making the climb feels like such an accomplishment in itself!

4. Le Pointe du Hoc (Normandy) - We spent half the time in Paris and the other half in Normandy. I really liked Normandy because it wasn't such a cluster fuck of people and the weather out there really suits me. We did a tour of the WWII beaches, and by far my favorite stop was le Pointe du Hoc. This point was heavily bombed by the Allies before D Day and it really left an impression. The tour takes you on a path through the craters, some of which are 20 feet deep, that were left by the bombs and the twisted remains of the batteries that German troops occupied on the cliff face. No other site gave me such a vivid image of what fighting in WWII must have really been like. I can see the German troops, huddled in their batteries while the bombs dropped around them like rain, praying that their luck will hold out long enough that they can make it through one more day. I can smell the fear and the sweat and the piss of the barracks where they were trapped with no escape. It gave me goosebumps.

5. The Louvre (Paris) - I thought that it would be overrated. After going there, if anything, I think it's underrated. Not enough can be said about the immensity of the art collection and of the building itself. It's a former palace, but I don't know how any king could have borne parting with this absolutely stunning building, which to me is a work of art unto itself.

Les Mauvais:
1. The metro (Paris) - I was told that the metro smelled like urine. I didn't get that sense from it so much as vermin feces. Being in there made me feel like a rat too, always scurrying around underground, trying to find the right train, the right exit, a breath of fresh air. Walk around Paris, no matter how far away your destination might be. It's worth the sore feet.

2. Charles de Gaulle Airport (Paris) - Anyone who's talked to me lately knows the horrors that occurred on my flights to and from France. While the CDG airport wasn't the cause of all these problems, I certainly don't have fond memories of the hours spent there. Plus their security line and baggage claim are really unorganized.

3. Napoleon's Tomb (Paris) - Maybe part of the reason I didn't like this so much is that I don't really know much about Napoleon. I know he was a self-proclaimed emperor, he was short, he fought a lot of wars, he was exiled twice, and he wore a funny hat. But all that doesn't really add up to much as far as knowing who he was and what he accomplished. And I didn't learn anything new from this site except that Napoleon was a man of great excesses. His body is actually contained in 4 or 5 different caskets, all one within the other like a babushka doll. (Although reaching the middle of this doll would be a far less pleasant experience, I imagine.)

4. The Orangerie (Paris) - This impressionist museum is located in the Tuleries gardens and has eight great works by Monet. But besides that, the museum doesn't offer much. If you have a love of Monet then you'll appreciate it, but the rest of the museum is several long halls with paintings that don't have explanations (at least not in English) that I didn't like too much. One thing I did enjoy though, were Soutine's work. He paints twisted versions of the realities around him that I really enjoyed. Maybe someday when I'm a billionaire I'll buy one :)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Survivor, a season in review

This season of Survivor was one of the most pleasantly surprising that I've watched. I don't think it was as good as last season's ethnic division theme, with dominating performances by Yul and Ozzie, possibly two of the best players Survivor has ever seen. But I went into this season not expecting much. After watching the finale last night, I have to say that it's now among my favorites.

To me there are three reasons why this season is great: 1) the twists the producers put in, 2) Yau-Man, and 3) Dreamz. The twists were all amazing, particularly the adding of two immunity idols, and the fact that if you wanted to play it you had to do so after the votes but before them being read. This change in rules was the catalyst for the greatest single episode of Survivor that's been aired (if you don't know what I'm talking about, that's too bad, it would take way too long to explain).

However, none of these twists would have stood for much if it weren't for Yau-Man, the wise and clever elder, and Dreamz, the young buck with a very skewed sense of reality. Yau's scheming, alliances, and surprising challenge victories made it look like he was a shoe-in to win this season. But Dreamz-- who rattled on and on about integrity and being a good role model for his son-- betrayed him (as Yau thought he might, which is why he made the truck deal in the first place) at the very end, snatching his victory away.

Without the Disneyland-ish tribal council and all the challenges, this season could be the basis for a fantastic, classic book. Earl would be the main character, the young grasshopper with talent who is taken in my his wise mentor Yau. But the villified Dreamz comes in and kills his master so Earl has to go on by himself and get vengeance and the booty. You get the idea.

The big question for me though is, is Dreamz really a bad guy? Yau seems to think he's a smart young man who needs to get some discipline and priorities. The show depicts him as across the boards unpredictable, unreliable, and untrustworthy. Jeff Probst seems to like him. In the made-up book, Dreamz would be a sympathetic bad guy. He has a rough history and personality that endear people but everything is does is wrong. My guess is that Dreamz could be a good guy, but he doesn't have a good sense of ethics. He also doesn't seem to have a grasp of the consequences of his actions. Which, in the end, make him a bad guy. He may be charming, but he's not the kind of person that I'd want to be friends with. I'd never trust him. Maybe some day he'll figure all this out, but for now, I do think he's the villain.

Monday, May 14, 2007

France baby!

I'm going to France next week and I'm incredibly excited! I've never been before, but I have taken French classes for 9 years of my life, so I feel like this is sort of the reward for all my hard work, academically speaking. I'm going with my parents to Normandy and Paris, where hopefully one of my friends from college will meet up with us! She lives in Switzerland, so I don't get to see her very often.

Things I plan on doing while there:
1. drinking wine in Paris and hard cider in Normandy (that's apparently what they're known for.)

2. eating delicious French foods, particularly baguettes and other bread products

3. visiting the Louvre and other touristy Paris sights

4. seeing all the WWII stuff in Normandy and seeing Mont St. Michel, the castle that's surrounded by the water at high tide.

5. buying French souvenirs/clothes (I'm packing an extra bag just in case I overdo it. I do plan on going a little nuts in this department.)

6. Maybe getting a little of my French back? I haven't spoken in 5 years and I'm trying to practice, but I can barely come up with numbers. Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq... got those, but once I get to double digits, things get tricky. Hopefully I'll come back feeling a little bit better about this.

Any other suggestions?