The Real World: Aix-En-Provence

I’ve always said that I would never want to be the last roommate to leave the house on The Real World. And so when I realized yesterday that I would be one of the last AUCP’ers to leave Aix this weekend (only to return and be toute seule aussi!) I suddenly began to sympathize with Snooki and all the last ones who came before her. Regardless, being last has made me start thinking about goodbyes. And a hard, sad, tear-filled goodbye it will be. But I can’t help but think its not all bad. That pit in your stomach means you’re saying goodbye to something that was worth having, worth cultivating, worth smiling and crying at at the same time. Now, coming from me, these sentences must be shocking. Afterall, I’m the person who truly believes that emotional separation from other members of the human race is the best way to avoid sadness – and trust me, goodbyes are made easier.

But I’ve come to see that this belief is, well, dumb. I adore the people I’ve met here. In fact, I owe most of them huge thank you’s for opening my eyes to the world around me. I’ve (re)learned that you can, and should, let people in and that being dark and twisty can also be coupled with lots of bright moments filled with laughter and smiles. And from this lesson, I’ve gained the most wonderful souvenirs of the people who have been here in Aix with me. I’ll even go so far as to say this: I don’t HATE christmas and I have emotions. God that was difficult. But I now find myself in the same place as when I got here: eyes teary, next to my desk, sweatpants on, bags half-packed, squinting at a screen writing this entry bc (after 4 months of trying) I still have no internet in my little bedroom corner of Provence. Save for this time, I’m crying for a different reason, my desk has had many nights of studying upon it, and my eyes have seen the most amazing 4 months that I never even imagined.

So I may be leaving…but only for a short while! And with this weather, maybe not at all. If European blizzards have nothing to say about it, I’m off to Paris tomorrow, Switzerland til Friday and then Aix on Monday! And while it’ll be weird to not call Audrey or Laura or Jamie or anyone else to boire une verre on the Cours with me, I’ll have my family here and I guess some French kid to keep me company 🙂

The final countdown: Amsterdam Edition

Wow, that sounded way more final than I meant it to. But nonetheless, it is true. I am in my last week of classes here in Aix and being the considerate friend and blogger that I am, I decided to give all of you study-holics and insomniacs who are in finals mode a new way to procrastinate that doesn’t include Robot Unicorn Attack or (it’s just creepy). A new blog post! (applause)

So before the final week of classes began, I had my final trip. And what better way to end 4 months of Euro-fun than AMSTERDAM. In an effort to keep this blog readable for all ages, I’ll omit many of the morally questionable events of the weekend (not that there were any, Mom and Dad but hypothetically). I arrived with my fellow voyagers, Audrey and Laura, around 4 on Friday. We made sure to profit from the free drinks policy on the plane (Author’s note: US, please try to adopt this policy. Flyers would be MUCH happier and I’m pretty sure this would’ve avoided the Jet Blue worker freak out circa Aug/Sept 2010) and even created a flight sensative drinking game: most important rule being that when Ali freaks out, Ali has to drink. Mom, I”ve been flying without Dramamine these past few months and so the freakout have been plentiful. They lessened as the flight went on grace à our little game. Lesson learned: All these years of sleep-inducing Dramamine should’ve been replaced by white wine, rum, vodka or – most recently tested – gin. Who knew?

After arriving on Friday, I could officially start answering the question “Whatcha doin’?” with “Nothing, chillin’ at the Holiday Inn.” The 10th grader inside of me felt a great deal of pride being that since the first time I heard Chingy utter this phrase, I had – for some reason – a huge urge to use it in my day to day life. Mission accomplished. We then left our Holiday Inn and went to a coffee shop to, ya know, get some coffee. When in Rome, right? There we rendez-vous’ed with our, for lack of better phrasing, French entourage. Cultural lesson here, readers: We Americans are used to very specific directions when trying to meet up or get somewhere. And after an entire semester of reading chapter after chapter of Raymond Carrol’s “L’etrangete Francais” I thought it was all bull$hit. Turns out, she may have been right on this one: directions can be culturally based. Example: “Meet at the church.” People, this is Europe. If you didn’t know, there are churchs everywhere. The Europeans of days past were verrry adament about churches on every street just as we seem to be determind to place a Starbucks on every street corner. Thus, meet at the church gets a little confusing. Still, we managed to get by and find our way through the cobbled and snow covered streets of the ‘Dam.

Saturday: huge ititerary (how badly did I butcher that spelling?) With only 48 hours in Amsterdam, Audrey made sure to wake us up at the crack of dawn to really take advantage of our time. Her shrill, morning-person voice still echoes in my ears…at least she followed through on her promise of coffee within 5 mins of waking up. Nonetheless, we started early and got a lot done! First stop: Van Gogh museum – which turned out to be a great way to pass time in a culturally educational fashion because it was blizzarding outside. Then IAMSTERDAM sign, then a park (see Facebook for photos) and then the Heineken Brewery, all while trudging through the continually falling and ever so slippery Amsterdam snow. The rest of the night went in typical Amsterdam fashion – coffee shop, Red Light District, general loss of morals and my soul. No big deal.

Sunday: Anne Frank house. Truly one of the best experiences I’ve had since in Europe. We went the four of us and I’m pretty sure not more than 4 words were uttered upon entering the half-museum, half-memorial to the writer of one of the most celebrated journal’s of all time. I found myself holding back tears, many times without even knowing I was about to cry, upon re-reading the lines of the Diary I had read so many years ago. I found it only fitting to finish the visit with a copy of the book that came from the Annexe itself. But to me, the best part of this visit was the way that they made the issues relevant today. Interactive features that created ties to present societal issues of persecution and prejudice help the legacy of Anne Frank to live on in a capacity that isn’t just a remembrance, but a precedence and an applicable example. In this way, Otto Frank’s dreams and wishes have been acheived: tolerance will forever be relevant and in this way, we can use Anne Frank – her words, thoughts, wishes – today. I will always find it amazing how much relevance history has (and always will have) in contemporary society not just from a political and economic standpoint, but from a moral point of view as well.

We left Amsterdam Sunday afternoon – tired but well-toured; praying for sleep but instead receiving a death-defying flight home. I swear, I was preparing in my head for where I would exit in the case of a water landing. Still, we arrived – safe and generally sound – just in time for our last week of classes here at AUCP. And speaking of, I now have my last art class. Author’s note: Art classes generally tend to be more trouble than they’re worth – especially if you’re someone who just really isn’t an artist and, honestly, just took the class because you didn’t want to take anything that would involve using your brain. I now know for next time.

Hope this provided sufficient procrastination! Now get back to work – most of you have finals to take and I don’t want to come back and hear you crying about how you failed. Good luck little Smarties! À bientôt!

Holiday From Real: Paris Edition

I had a bunch of worlds collide during this most recent foray into the world outside of Aix – High School friends, meets Tulane friends, meets AUCP friends. Needless to say my triple lives all meshed together into one gorgeously harmonious trip to Paris. But this harmony was not without moments of dischord. Our initial train from Aix to Paris was cancelled on Thursday (less than 24 hours before we were supposed to leave!) and so I spent an hour scattering around on the Internet trying to find cheap plane tickets. Mission accomplished. We arrived at the airport for our 7ish flight and spent the next 3 hours on the floor near our Gate, drinking demi-bottles of wine and navette cookies. 4 bottles later and more cookies than I care to count (or publicly display), we boarded. (Picture to follow…)

We landed in Paris circa minuit and proceeded to take a bus and then attempt to walk to our hotel. 20 minutes in, my too-trendy-for-walking-but-still-adorable-booties decided it was time to take a cab. And good thing, too, because we would’ve been walking for over an hour more! But nothing can be easy and the cab driver, of course, didn’t know where our hotel was and – for some reason – didn’t think it necessary to use his GPS. I’m gonna go all Allegiance to NYC on you right now and say this would never happen in The City. Public transportation in Europe (and sometimes other US states, I’ll admit) just boggles my mind. Dad, I understand: I can never live anywhere but NY. Anyway, we arrived to our hotel at a whopping 1:30am. In NOLA this would pose no problem. In France, there is a law that bars must close at 2am. Thus, we made the executive decision to (grudgingly) change into PJs and wait to take on Paris tomorrow.  

And take it on we did! But we were not alone. In fact, there were over 25 fellow Tulanians in Paris this weekend. And while I (very sadly) didn’t manage to see them all. I did get to see a bunch of my favorite people who have also crossed the pond this semester and who are pursuing their studies (drinking habits) abroad.

Ramirez & I somehow finding perfect lighting in the strange High-School-Party-In-A-Parisienne-Basement-Club that we were at. Love it!

Yeah, we got a little fratty circa 3am!

There was even an appearance from another resident of the 914 area code who has relocated herself to France for the semester. She braved angry French strikers and police armed with battering rams to make it to my hotel for an aperatif before we cabbed ensemble to Montmartre for dinner with Tulane friends! This little “mush” will also be joining us in ROME in less than two weeks. jewagjewkjgfwigjawg – meaning to say, EXCITEMENT!
All in all, it was an amazing trip. I’m lucky enough that it was my 4th time in Paris but we still managed to hit all major tourist spots just by promenading along the Siene – thank you Ancient Parisiennes for making all of your monuments so easily accesible and tourist friendly. This was obviously their thought process when mapping out where to place the Louvre in relation to the Eiffel Tower in relation to Notre Dame.

I cannot wait to get back to this wonderful city – hopefully sans grèves – in December with my family and see even more of the wonders that Paris has to offer once you get up the courage to leave the sight of the Siene and begin winding your way up the weathered streets of the City of Lights. Until then, I leave Paris this time with (shockingly) no new purchases but an entirely new set of memories to attribute to this wonderful place – plus an complete set of photos for a potential Pi Phi Does Paris Abum (say that 5 times fast) and an array of choices for the Penthouse Photo Display that we’ll be putting up in our apartment come January. [Update for all of you Tulane readers: I will be back in NOLA January 5th rolling squad deep with Pange and Lyss and maybe even the Great Sweet Lou.]

Until then, it is currently midterm week here and while I am quite enjoying my time here – which can be described as nothing but a Holiday From Real – I have to stop “wasting my weeks beneath the sun” and actually remembering I have school (womp womp). Here’s to studying AND THEN MILAN ON FRIDAY!

Pain, Fromage, Vin.

Bread, Cheese, Wine. The new, French equivalent of GTL. I don’t hate it…But when I’m not PFV-ing, I’m usually here:

That’s my room – Anna and Beary front and center on the bed.

Every night I close my shutters and leave my windows open to the sounds of les motos and the breeze through the trees. Upon waking, the shutters are opened and in rush the rays. It’s definitely a great way to wake up in the morning, albeit it’s getting colder by the day!

My typical day continues here:

Le Centre Americain – home of American University Center Provence. This gorgeous house is my new campus. That is, if you consider a garden, 5 classroom house and a pond-complete with fish-a campus.

After classes – which don’t exist for me on Tuesdays as I am continuing my unofficial, but very well-liked, Tulane tradition of easy Tuesday/Thursdays – it’s probable that I’m on the Cours Mirabeau. This gorgeous stretch of cafes and shops is the center area of Aix. “All roads descend to the Cours Mirabeau,” was one of the first directional tips that my host-mother, Marie-Claire, gave to me and it’s rang true ever since. Longchamps, Les Deux Garcons (a favorite hangout for the famed painter Paul Cezanne) and my new second home, Monoprix, are just some of the things that can be found on the stretch!

Maybe not the best shot, but the street culminates in a huge fountain (typical Europe) and roundabout with lots of crazy French drivers and lots of scurrying pedestrians. The mossy mass in the middle is, yet again, a fountain. Quelle surprise!

And after that, I take a bus home and usually settle down for some homework and, more typically, my favorite French show: N’Oubliez Pas Les Paroles – the French edition of “Don’t Forget the Words.” It’s been a great way to learn some French songs – Michel Delpeche, anyone? – and I love when Marie-Claire sings along, which is 9/10 times. Needless to say, I’m loving my time here. Even the most average of days brings a new adventure and a new experience. I think that’s it on playing catch-up. Perfect timing too because I can hear that I’m missing some embarassed contestants who forgot the words. Yup – now Marie-Claire’s singing. A bientot!

Of course, can’t forget les bon-bons! My friend Christy and I made sure to make a pit stop in this heavenly place for a free taste of a strawberry cookie and a purchase of des calissones – a type of cookie that, as far as I know, is famous in Aix. Bon appetit? Don’t mind if I do!