Monday, June 28, 2010

Last Day in Paris! Jim Morrison, picnic, banquet and river cruise

What a great last day! A few of us started early with a visit to the Père Lachaise cemetary. Carson and Andrew wanted to pay hommage to Jim Morrison, who died in Paris in the early 70s.

Later, the group met at the hotel and we picnicked at the Eiffel Tower.

Our banquet was great this year--a French restaurant in the Marais.

Our tradition is to end the course with a cruise down the Seine at sunset.

We just put our first group of students on the shuttle to the aiport--it's been a great experience for all!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Picnic at the Eiffel Tower

It is hard to believe that we are at the last day of the trip and we leave tomorrow. Today, we will picnic at the Eiffel Tower. Then the students will then have time to pack (or, if they have packed, time to pick up some last minute souvenirs. ) We finish with a closing banquet and a boat ride down the Seine.

Yesterday was a free day. There was a lot of good shopping and some of the folks went to some special places their parents' had recommended to them. Everybody was able to make their way around Paris and return to the hotel on time.

Dr. Nell has the camera so I assume she will post some pictures later. We will probably post on or two more times before we leave.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Free day in Paris!

Today Dr. Amy Wells, who gave a lecture to our students yesterday on the burka controversy, and I went to the Centre Pompidou (the French national contemporary art museum).

What a great choice for the free day! There was a great exhibit of the work of women artists from the permanent collection of this museum. Here's the website: .

I'm posting here a work by the Guerilla Girls which is part of the exhibit.

Also, we saw a special exhibit by Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, and a very interesting exhibit on "Dreamlands"--from the beginnings of theme parks to imaginary cities.

Tomorrow is our closing banquet and scenic cruise on the Seine!

Footloose and Fancy Free in Paris

Dr. Nell gave a great summary of yesterday and the pictures say it all. One of the promises we make to this class going in is that Paris itself is the classroom and you can see that it is the case from the pictures. The talks are so much more real when they are delivered in situ, so to speak.

The other promise we make is that by the end of the stay, the students will be the masters of Paris and today is the day they get to demonstrate that. Since a nationwide sale started earlier in the week, I know that some folks have been plotting their shopping excursions for days now. I am heading for a trendy new district called South Pigalle (SoPi) to see what I can find.

It is hard to believe that we are getting towards the end of our stay. Tomorrow we will picnic at the Eiffel Tower and then have a closing banquet followed by a boat ride along the Seine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ethnicity: the Jewish quarter and museum, lecture on the burka law and North African dinner

It's been another very full day. We had a free morning, so students slept in or went with Dr. King to visit the Arc de Triomphe. At noon, some of the students met me at the hotel and we went to the Marais district for "the best falafel in the world"--where we ran into Dr. King. After lunch, we went to the Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) where we learned about Jewish life and traditions in Europe.

Before dinner, we met for a lecture in the park by Dr. Amy Wells of the University of Limoges.
Dr. Wells talked about the current controversy in France concerning wearing the burka. Currently the French government is considering outlawing the burka.

After the lecture, we headed to "Toucan Café" where we had a delicous North African dinner--couscous!

We ended our dinner with mint tea. Tomorrow is the "free day"--what will our students decide to do???

Our fantastic day at Giverny!

The stars aligned, the gods smiled and our day in Giverny worked out really well! Problem: there was a strike yesterday. The French government has decided to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and the unions called a strike. It didn't shut down everything, but did slow things down. Our train was delayed for 30 minutes on the way to Giverny and about 40 minutes on the way back. We had no problems getting tickets for the group from the bus driver (I was worried about this), but he did look at me a bit funny when I asked for a large number! We had ordered picnic boxed lunches from a restaurant in Giverny and were able to have our own version of "Luncheon on the Grass" (a famous painting by Manet).

We were able to stay on schedule with our group reservation at Monet's house and had a wonderful time wandering the gardens and touring the house.

It was great this year to have extra time in the village. We all walked to Monet's tomb and I had some delicious sorbet at a restaurant where Monet and the other impressionist artists hung out. I also had an impromptu conversation with an elderly French man and his wife about the weather, the American revolution and Lafayette!
(Sharon Nell)
The wireless in the hotel is down so I am on a French keyboard which is a pain. Yesterday was a great day in Giverny, which is my favorite part of the trip. The weather was perfect; the sun was perfect to appreciate the full splendor of the pond. We have lots of great pictures; which we will have to figure out how to post.

Today is immigration day (I cant find the quotation marks) and we will have a guest lecture by Dr. Amy Wells of the University of Limoges. Hope to have the Internet issues resolved soon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rambling Around Paris

The weather in Paris has gone from cold to hot. For most of the day, it was just perfect. But from time to time, it was just too hot. It should be hot and sunny for the rest of our visit (at least that is the forecast.) Hot and sunny is better than cold and rainy.

Today was a great example of the way the trip works. In the morning, the students visited the Musee d’ l’Orangerie, which has a huge collection of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Tomorrow we travel to Giverny to see the pond on which the water lily paintings are based. At least we hope that is what we will be able to do. Real life has intruded on the trip as there will be a general strike in Paris protesting raising the retirement age in France to 62 (from 60), one of the actions taken by the current government in response to the European debt crisis. Railroad officials assured us there would only be minor delays on the trains, so we hope the trip to and from Giverny will be uneventful.

The rest of the day consisted of going to Napoleon’s Tomb and the Museum of the Army. The students then went on their own to the Rodin Museum and the Pantheon. We had Italian food for dinner.

Everybody is getting along well and I just heard that Shioban Prior, who graduated a couple of years ago and is now playing women’s basketball professionally, may visit with us on Friday, which will be fun.

Oh, and one more thought. Being in Europe, we are following the World Cup soccer tournament pretty closely. It has been a disaster for France—one newspaper’s headline called it “the end of the world”—but USA won a thriller today.
If you squint real hard you can see Dr. King talking to the students on the steps of Napoleon's tomb. For this course, Paris is definitely our classroom.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Today we visited Versailles. Obviously this is on the “A” list when it comes to visiting Paris. But for our students, it is also another important step in mastering their way around Paris. While Dr. Nell and I accompanied the students to Versailles, they made their own way back to Paris. One group of students stopped at the Eiffel Tower and others made other stops on their way back. The students are becoming increasingly confident in their ability to negotiate the mass transit system here.

Until now, the weather has been very cold and overcast (but fortunately no rain). Today, there was a glorious blue sky and warm weather. We are looking forward to good weather for the rest of our stay.

I forgot the mention that last night we ate in a Spain Tapas restaurant. Tomorrow night we will eat at an Italian restaurant. The final two dinner stops will be North African and then back to France for our final banquet. We learned today that the crepe place by the hotel is run by people from Sri Lanka and I found out that we have a lot in common—none of us can speak French. (Some of our students speak French quite well and the others are doing their best to pick it up.)

Tomorrow is another big museum day. The difference is that after the first stop—a museum that has a huge collection of Monet’s Water Lily paintings (we travel to the pond on which they were based the day after tomorrow)—the rest of the day the students will make their way around town on their own.

It is hard to believe the trip is at the halfway point, but it clearly is. Some of the students have begun to plot their shopping excursion for the free day on Saturday.

Coffee with the Existentialists

Okay, Dr. Nell and I are both posting independently now because we are having so much fun.

The trip is now in full swing. Yesterday was a great day. We visited the Montparnasse Cemetery to visit the graves of Alfred Dreyfus, Jean Paul Sarte and Simone de Beauvoir. Each of those figures played central roles in the readings of the course and it was amazing to actually visit the graves. One of the objectives of the course is to make the readings real and the visit to Montparnasse does just that.

In the cemetery, we also discussed the Franco Prussian war and the Paris Commune. Once again, the material comes alive when you are actually standing in front of a monument memorializing those events. One of the student’s parents joined us at the cemetery. One of the fun parts of the trip is when students’ friends and family are able to join us for a day. Last year, the brother of one of the student’s showed up. It is incredible to be drinking coffee with your parents in Paris.

After the visit to the cemetery, we went to the Café de Flore, where the existentialists liked to hang out. We divided the class into groups, who bought coffee and discussed the idea of change in society and the class of conflicting social forces. Later in the day, the students wrote their first reflection papers, comparing the competing social forces in France in the age of Dreyfus to competing social forces in other time periods.

At night, we got to participate in the Music Festival. On June 21, the longest day of the year, there is a city-wide music festival. Basically there are people playing music on every street corner and there must be a million people in the street. It is quite an event. The students fanned out across the city to partake in the fun.

Now, on a personal note, what’s up with the bathrooms in French hotels? Okay European hotel rooms are small. I get that. And I don’t even mind hand-held showers. But they can’t add six inches to the shower stall and six inches between the edge of the toilet and the wall. I mean, come on. Otherwise, the hotel we are at, the Alhambra, is very decent. The rooms are a decent size (which means there is actually floor space in most rooms after people bring in their luggage) and the public areas are very nice. The breakfast if pretty standard and some of the students have taken to eating breakfast at the cafe on the corner. They look very French sitting at their sidewalk tables.

Philosophy at the Café de Flore

Yesterday, we visited the Cimetière Montparnasse and visited the tombs of two iconic figures of our course: Alfred Dreyfus and Simone de Beauvoir. Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre are buried together although they never married. After visiting the cemetery, we had coffee at the Café de Flore, an existentialist hangout. In the 1930s and 40s, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus and other writers would hang out upstairs in the café, discuss and write. This is one of the highlights of the trips: we put our students into groups and they had a philosophical discussion just like these great philosophers.

Last night was the annual music festival. It was amazing as usual! We go to Versailles today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Heart Paris

The first two days of the trip have action packed. The first day we spent three plus hours at the Louvre (we will have to post pictures later). In addition to being incredible, the Louvre is one of the most frustrating museums I have every encountered. Everybody gets and audio guide and I tried to follow one of the tours. It was basically impossible. Still, everybody seemed to be able to find the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Nike Swoosh—I mean Winged Victory.

After lunch, we went to the Museum de Cluny. When we first told the students we were going there, a couple could not believe that George Clooney had his own museum in Paris. It is actually the museum of the middle ages. Most people found it interesting anyway. After that, people made their own way back to the hotel and we enjoyed a great Chinese dinner in a local restaurant Dr. Nell and I found last year.

The second day consisted of a trip to the Musee d’ Orsay, the impressionists museum, which tied directly into the reading we did prior to course. We then stopped at the grave of Emile Zola, one of the central figures in the course and followed that with a trip to Montmartre and the Church of the Sacre Coeur. The place was mobbed. We had dinner at a charming French bistro.

Today we will go to the graves of Sarte, Simone de Beauvoir, Dreyfus and the other leading lights of French culture and intellectual life. That will be followed by philosophical discussions at the Café de Flore, one on the Existentialists’ favorite watering hole. Tonight is the musical festival. There will be music all over Paris and a million people in the street.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Students Arrive!

The students arrived today. Collecting everybody at the airport and taking the RER (light rail) into town was very uneventful. But on the flights over, the students had some adventures. One student who expected to fly on Continental from Baltimore to Newark to Paris arrived at BWI to find her flight to Newark was cancelled. This happened to me two years ago. Apparently that flight is only theoretical. NEVER BOOK A FLIGHT FROM BALTIMORE TO NEWARK ON CONTINENTAL.

Two years ago, the folks at Continental put me (and four other people going on the trip) on Amtrak. This year they could not even do that. The student’s mother had to drive her to Newark, fighting rush hour a good part of the way. But she made it and arrived safely and on time.

Another student’s flight was double booked and an irate passenger had to be physically removed from the flight. And there was more that wasn’t pretty.

But everybody arrived in good spirits. Dr. Nell and I met everybody and I took the first group into town and Dr. Nell followed with the late arrivals. After getting to the hotel, we took a tour of our neighborhood, locating our friendly neighborhood café and other important locations. We went to Republic Place where there is a memorial that provides a concise history of the development of democratic government in France through 1880.

After our rooms were ready, the students took short rests and then freshened up. We then took a walk through the Marais district, the former Jewish Quarter which is now a trendy boutique area. We visited both the Holocaust Memorial and a memorial to the deportation of the Jews during World War II. This tied into some the reading we had done earlier.

We then went to the Cathedral de la Notre Dame. Awesome and a great way to really start the experience. We finished with a dinner of crepes and traditional French sparkling Apple Cider in the Latin Quarter. The consensus was that the desert crepes were much better than the dinner crepes.

We then headed back to the hotel. Most of the students headed to bed early, which is a little hard because it is light until 10:15. A few decided to chill a little at our friendly, neighborhood café.

Tomorrow we are off to the Louvre and we will really be underway.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Trial Run in Giverny

We went to Giverny today to prep for when the students travel there next week. We think that Monet’s pond at Giverny is one of the most tranquil places we have ever visited. For people who have seen Monet’s series of paintings based on the ponds, with all due respect, they don’t rival the pond in any way. The pond may be Monet’s greatest work of art.

In years past we have taken an organized tour to Giverny. This year we are going on our own and it will be much better. The town of Giverny is really cute and we will visit Monet’s grave as well as picnic and stroll around. We saw some incredible sand sculpture today. The day at Giverny should be awesome. The photos are of Dr. Nell next to a bust of Monet and at his grave.

The students arrive tomorrow and we can’t wait.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First post of the 2010 course--Dr. King at work in Paris!

Dr. Nell and I arrived safely in Paris this morning. The trip from Philadelphia was mostly uneventful. It was a little chaotic at check-in as US Airways where there are only kiosks for the check in and there wasn’t an orderly procedure for check-in. You have to try to figure out which line will be the shortest. Other than that, everything went smoothly.
The weather today was very variable—cool, then warm, then windy. The forecast is for the highs in only the 60s for the first couple of days. We will need a lot of different layers of clothing that we can put on and take off as the weather changes.
This is the third year in a row that I am in Paris. It is starting to get familiar and I am speaking a little French (very little). We did a test run today for day one. We are looking forward to everybody arriving on Friday.
We didn’t know it but apparently a lot of eating establishments are closed on Wednesdays. We thought it was a sign of the recession but no, just a day off. All and all, Paris is as dynamic as ever. More anon. Dr. King