Scarlett Piantini ’11

It is officially over. La vie française has ended and I am now off to an intense summer in DC. I am supposed to write my reflections about my year, but I think it will take me a year to be able to verbalize the experience. All I know now is that I do not know how I will eat food elsewhere ever again. I spent my last days in a house where they grow their own strawberries and zucchinis in the garden, there aren’t many gardens like those in the world.

By the end I do admit I had had enough of the French ‘attitude’ if you can call it that. I think of all the countries I’ve visited (about 20), the French in general are the least into politeness. It’s hard to explain. For instance, if you go into a French shoe store a lady will quickly approach you and ask for help, but if you try on the shoes and you decide you do not want them, you better prepare to receive a very rude face because you made her waste her time. It is a generalization, naturally. The same can happen in the US, but it has been experience that it can happen in France much more often.

The service department, I think you can call it, is not top shape in France. If you go into a restaurant and you are seated, but you then decided you want to move because of the sun or whatever, they will not let you (I don’t know why).  Anyhow, I think this was the downside to life in France. I mean, I come from a country where labor is cheap, and though you treat people with respect, they can’t ever give you the looks I have gotten in France. But then again, minimum wage here is like 5 times the one at home.

I guess this can in no way be a happy ending, simply because it is overwhelming that it ended. It’s not like leaving college junior year, because I lived with a family for 9 months. I ate amazing food for 9 months. It was like a constant experiment everyday learning something new and seeing new things. I will miss it dearly. I will miss having a castle on every mountaintop I see, and going into some of the most famous museums for hours. Europe’s greatest asset to me is definitely its history. Its rich and long, long history that makes its food and its architecture like no other on earth. I shall be back.

This is not intended to be biblical, but us Strasbourg students (just 2) have really entered the “this is the last” stage. Indeed, these are our last days in Strasbourg, and who knows when, if at all, we will be back. Yesterday we had our last Saturday afternoon with Malou.

We had to write our family evaluations and decided to make it a whole evening by eating together instead of meeting at a cafeteria as done in previous years. Naturally, I suggested a last soirée crepes at Malou’s, but in the end the sun decided to grace us with its presence so Malou took us out for dinner at a terrace place in Kehl, Germany.

It was truly magical. There were tons of kids playing in the park and the garden (most of them half naked, some of them nude), and tons of peoples sitting out in the terrace drinking, eating, and enjoying the weather that just 24 hours before had made me wear my winter coat. The place was amazing. It was what they call a Beer Garden, just because you sit around the garden and drink beer.

The restaurant itself was a kind of gazebo with open doors that gave way into the terrace. The terrace was built with wood covered with plants that only let the sunrays shine through. It was simply lovely. There were more French people than German, and the waiter of course, was Alsatian.

So we ate schnitzel –again- and fries and wine and were so full that it took us two hours of chatting afterwards to be able to get up and drive again. We left at around 10 p.m. and the sun was still out. Unbelievable. You can’t beet that as a wonderful last meal of us three together.

I mean, the official last meal will be on Tuesday with the host parents, but it will not be the same. When it’s just the three of us we can talk about so much more. So to me, that was the last meal.

So packing has begun, as well as the shopping for things that I want to incorporate into my daily life no matter where I am, like the French press coffee maker :P. My last exam is on Wednesday, after which I head to Geneva for a couple of days before leaving the European continent for a long time….

Well, two exams down, two to go. And in the middle of it all was our last outing with chère Malou yesterday. We had pushed this trip back because we hopped the weather would rise up to the occasion and be what it’s supposed to be, SPRING, but it never has, so we stopped waiting and headed to Heidelberg yesterday. It is a small town in Germany about one and a half hours away from Strasbourg.

First stop was the castle, of course there is always a castle, there are probably as many castles as there are hills in Germany and France. This castle was no Versailles or Haut-Koenigsbourg; it had no rooms and oddly enough, it had a pharmacy museum inside. In any case it was particular in that is was meant to be a fortress and not a home, and its gardens used to be one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

The town itself was very nice, though not my favorite. We had our last fancy lunch together so of course I went all out and had my last German schnitzel with asparagus soup and knodels. It was yummy and so filling that I did not have dinner last night. Then we walked and walked for about two hours. Of course as usual I hunted H&M down only to try out like 5 things and not buy any, and Malou made us go and look at artisanal jewelry that imitated medieval craftsmanship. All in all it was an amazing day. All twelve hours of it (yes, the downside is you have to be at Malou’s place at 8am for these trips, but at least we stop for some croissants on the way :P)

I suppose the nicest thing about yesterday was that we got to catch up after so much traveling and ash cloud chaos, and we realized it was our very last outing with Malou in Strasbourg and Junior year students at Holy Cross. Even if we come back here in a year, which I very much look forward too, even if we live in Strasbourg again, which I don’t think I’ll do, the experience will never be the same.

So I savor it now, before I go back to studying for my next exam on Wednesday…

Yes, it’s finals time! One down, three to go. However that is not what I want to tell you guys today. Today I would like to share what I consider to be my single most exciting moment in a class at the Poli Sci Institute. You see, contrary to what I expected, professors here do not ever touch upon sensitive issues for the French, so nothing ever happens beyond the structured lecture. During the last class, however, things were different.

During the two-hour Political Geography one thing led to another and a student asked the professor what he thought about France wanting to forbid the burka in all public places. Silence. Then he spoke. And what is eve better, I agree with him. “I suppose I am more of an anglo-saxon man when it comes to individual liberties,” he says. Why? “Because there are certain inalienable rights that cannot be transgressed in France or anywhere else. What do people care is a woman decides to cover her face? It’s her choice.” And he even said the French all-time favorite phrase: “On s’en fut.” (Who cares!…It sounds cooler in French).

At all times he kept saying that this topics surpassed the lecture but he just kept on explaining why he believed it was complete insanity. His strongest point (and mine) is that Sarkozy is so lousy at finding escape-goats (and one is needed NOW due to the Greece bailout) that he has to blame it on the poor Muslim women. It was wonderful, the best way to end the year. Of course, at HC that happens pretty much weekly :P

So yes, classes ended for good. Exams in the process….

It is much much cheaper to travel in Europe than in the US, thanks to Easyjet, Ryanair and the likes. I just survived the ultimate low-budget experience: a very very cheap flight from a city ‘near’ Strasbourg to a city ‘near’ Lisbon; and after all the hassle I cannot say it was not worth it. But once I work there is no way I’m doing budgets again.

Behold the ultimate low-budget experience: one tram ride to the bus stop, one bus ride from bus stop to the Kehl train station, two trains rides to the Baden Baden Station, one bus ride to the Karlsruhe-Baden airport, one plane ride from Karlsruhe, Germany to Porto, Portugal, one taxi ride to from the Porto airport to the Porto bus station, one bus ride from Porto to Lisbon, and voila! That is low-budge for you. For a total duration of 9 hours (from 5am to 2pm) you save about 150 Euros and lose 7 hours of your life. If you don’t work and want to see as much as you can, it’s worth it. I do wonder though, how can those people who work for a living bear the pain and fatigue? It takes me two days to fully recover.

By the way, Lisbon is beautiful, possibly my favorite city in Europe, alongside Barcelona. I mean, Vienna is also magical, but Lisbon…Lisbon is heaven on earth because the weather doesn’t suck as it does in Vienna, London, or even Paris. From what I’ve seen and based on where I’m from (the Caribbean), Portugal is the closest to home. You also cannot beat the Latin culture (Spain, Portugal, Italy and the former colonies), so warm and lively, how can you settle for cold and arrogant? I cannot. Of course this is my own personal opinion :P

I’m off to Manchester again tomorrow (yes it’s horrible, but my boyfriend did not consider the weather when choosing a school and I have to pay the consequences), and then I have two weeks of FINALSSSSSS.

Eh oui, c’est presque la fin!

When you come to a new country at some point you will have to discover that the law is different and that what is wrong or right in your society not necessarily similar elsewhere. The topic of drugs and prostitutions, unpleasant thought it is, has been talked about a lot these days in my entourage. Maryjane is naturally a complicated subject because it is not as clear-cut as one might think. Though it is illegal, in the US and in France, it is also everywhere.

I cannot explain how shocked I was when I went to Amsterdam and saw the word ‘joint’ in the coffee shop menu. It was shocking, but the more I think back to that moment, it is also looked very logical. Indeed the Dutch model is quite realistic: if you cannot beat it, control it. So yes, when you go to Amsterdam you will smell and see maryjane everywhere, along with the thousands of spring-breakers that fly across the ocean for some 9 hours just to do it freely for two days. The Belgians are really close to adopt the model and I think the Germans will follow.

The funny one is prostitution. The French are shocked at a famous case going on in Paris: a Muslim minor who ‘frequented’ football players from Real Madrid and earned a good 20,000 Euros a month. Something along the lines of Moulin Rouge, I suppose. The joke is not on the fact that the world has to face that football players are men, but in figuring out whether they knew she was a minor or not at the time that they ‘saw’ each other. I realized that some French think prostitution is legal in France, because it is quite a custom here, and others say it is not. Regardless of what the verdict is, it is done everywhere in France for an average of 30 Euros per performance.

So remember to not be judgmental when you come live in a foreign country, amuse yourself, be prepared to see it all and hear it all, even in a safe and small city like Strasbourg.

That sums up the dominant event of the past week. Europe has really lost all sense of organization and control this time. These past two weeks have been rather good for me, we had a long break and I was able to get some work done, rest and visit some unique places in Europe.

These past few days, however, kind of ruined the possibility of nicely ending the vacation because a volcano in Iceland decided the world was not already dealing with enough challenges and he felt like he had to erupt, thereby causing an ash cloud that European air technology is simply unable to handle. Consequently, there are no planes moving in the greater part of continental Europe, the UK and Ireland.

Thankfully, my boyfriend and I came back from Amsterdam last week; but sadly for him, and for my work, his flight back to Manchester has now been cancelled twice and there is simple no certainty as to when he, or the hundreds of thousands stranded, will fly. All you hear about on the radio and see on TV is the voices and images of the ‘victims’ of this situation in all the airports across Europe.

The airlines are obviously digging their graves, because the losses are now estimated in the hundreds of millions per day. The governments are trying to act powerful and attempting to find ‘corridors’, as the French minister said, to bring back the French stuck outside of their motherland.

I believe the French are freaking out the most because there is a group in particular whose vacations had just begun or ended when the eruption occurred, the Parisians. If you know the Parisians, you’d imagine how happy they are to be stuck in some airport or to be trapped here and have missed their flight. Parisians barely have time to say Bonjour in the street, much less to be trapped in a non-smoking airport with no way out.

Europe is thus freaking out. No one knows when flights will resume, including the other HC student in Strasbourg Katherine who is stuck in Madrid, and no one knows if the volcano eruptions will continue. Hopefully my next blog post will be of happy news that things have resumed their course! A la prochaine!

Despite the fact that I escaped my life ‘strasbourgeoise’ a weekend ago, it seems like I have not had a break in ages. This past week I finished a very important of my ICIP (cultural immersion project that all French study abroad students must to): research. I finally interviewed all those I had to interview to finish the last part of my ICIP. Now, please don’t take that to mean that I am almost done with it, since I have only actually written about 2/5 of it, but I have all the information to write it now. All I need is time and inspiration to finish it. Don’t ask me when those will come around.

My weekend was incredibly uncomfortable yet satisfying at the same time, this because it was my first (and only) camping weekend with my louvettes (girl scouts). From Saturday to Sunday we (myself and 3 other cheftaines) were responsible for 22 little girls in a small village outside of Strasburg.

Thankfully, the weekend concluded without any problems. Except of course for the rain. The rain that fell as we tried to start the fire for the food, the rain that fell as I tried to cook the various delicious meals in the fire (pasta, rice, chicken), the rain that fell as we were starting our evening activities and forced us to run to the barn. The barn, thank God, was where we slept, which saved us the trouble of setting up tents and getting wet during the night. Not that we slept at all, since we had to be constantly comforting girls that cried or woke up with nightmares.

Regardless, come the morning it was a wonderful experience. We had the opportunity to assist in the Convent mass on Sunday, then we played games and there was enough sun to spend the day outside. The fire was also much more cooperative, somehow the ashes from the previous night were strong enough that we did not need to use matches anymore. Before I knew it, it was 6pm and I was in the shower at home.

I would have loved to crawl into bed, but we had dinner at Malou’s since she wanted to celebrate my and Kate’s birthdays together because they are conveniently a week apart. So I headed to Malou’s and ended my Sunday in the company in the people that are closest to me here. It is always nice to go to her place, we talk for hours without noticing and in no time it is midnight.

Needless to say I am dying today. My back is killing me, I caught a minor flu, and the allergies barely let me breath. But it was worth it :P The weeks to come will be of official vacations: Pâques (or Easter break). After these four days of work-class-sleep (boulot, dodo, boulot, dodo), it’s over until April 19th :P I don’t have many travels planned since prices are very high, but I am going to Amsterdam and my boyfriend is coming over to my lovely French city for the weekend. So, I shall write again on the 19th!

Bises!!

  • 23

  • March 22nd, 2010

I am officially old. Had I not chosen to study in the US, I would probably be engaged now and working in some boring law firm in Santo Domingo. Life would be simple, easy, and certain. But I chose the US and this weekend I turned 23 in Geneva, with what little family I have in all of Europe and with my boyfriend. I must say, one year ago I would have never guessed I would spend this birthday in Europe. It has indeed been an exciting path and I’m happy I took it. The time is also coming to think ahead: after Strasbourg, after the summer, after senior year. God, it’s all happening so fast and every step taken can determine where I will be in the future.

What better way to celebrate it than visiting a possible Grad school? Since I was in Geneva, I took the opportunity to visit a Graduate Institute of International Studies and Development. I also went to museums: Ariana and the Red Cross. The Red Cross is really something to see, it is a complete documentation of the organization’s existence. With videos, pictures, recordings, etc., you can feel how the Red Cross has really been everywhere, in every crisis, every war, and every disaster relief operation. It was really touching, so if you are ever in Geneva, Go!

Saturday we went to Charmonix, again. It is a very touristic town because it is the closest town to Mont Blanc. So it is just full of restaurants and souvenir stores, I am not sure I like it so much and I’m pretty sure that the French living there do NOT appreciate being part of a theatre show. In any case, you have to visit it because Mont Blanc will surround your view when you are there. Unless of course you ski, then you can go all the way up to the mountain. I don’t skii, so I settle for Charmonix.

I spent the rest of the weekend at my boyfriend’s aunt’s house in Thonon, a French town close to Geneva. I am happy to have seen that part of France, because it really fits the stereotype of la Provence in France, something that Alsace certainly does not because there is too much German influence in all its cities. But Thonon is just lovely. The saucisson…the milk…the breads…it is the heart of the French countryside; the perfect getaway from the real world, just 45 minutes away from Geneva.

Now I’m back in Strasbourg. Another two weeks of work, class, work, class, until the next break. Countdown…

I stole the title from a dance show we saw last week, called “More, More, More…Future!” So Tuesday night we went to the Maillon theatre (known for being the socialist, anti-conservative theater in Strasbourg) to watch this African dance show that had sold out. It was sort of good, but way too long. The idea was nice and attractive: a dance that symbolized the demise of African nations and the persistence of poverty. To illustrate that they had costumes made out of bags. It was a good concept, but it was 2 hours of the same concept and that is just too much.

Friday I went to Colmar, one of the bigger ‘cities’ in Alsace. I guess it is big enough to be more than a town, but regardless of the size the town is charming. Only 13 Euros round-trip away and I found myself in a very historical city with amazing architecture. The houses are more provincial than in Strasbourg, so it is easier to appreciate the typical Alsatian architecture. The centreville is just charming, it’s much like La Petite France in Strasbourg but it encompasses much more than just a few blocks. It also has, to my surprise, La Petite Venice. Well, don’t expect it to be like Venice, but the scenery is just lovely with all the little restaurants around the canals. The other nice thing is the it hosts one of the most important pieces of Catholic art: Le Retable d’Issenheim. I love that fact that it is just in the simple town museum, entry free of charge for me, and only people who are well informed go look at it. Unlike the Monalisa, which is the size of a paper napkin and is made much too fuzz about. It was a nice daytrip all together.

Saturday night we had another Soiree Crepes at Malou’s. I wish we had one every weekend. I could just eat crepes everyday. This time we had crepes with pesto and cheese followed by the typical assortment of sweet crepes with nutella, etc. We had such a nice evening!

Sunday, OH MY GOD. Sunday we went to Caracalla, one of the natural thermal baths in Baden Baden. Thank you Scarlett for suggesting it. It is just one of earth’s natural gifts to man that are a big part of German culture, so why not? For two hours we hopped from one thermal bath to the other: freezing cold, warm, very hot, average cold, Jacuzzi, pool, waterfall, massage jet. It was just heaven. Totally worth the trip. Afterwards we went to this really nice restaurant, very Vienna-like, and of course I had the apple strudel because it is the one pastry Germans do really well.

We ended the day by going to the Frieder Burda Museum and saw this temporary exposition by a disturbed East-German man who draws people upside down. It was hilarious trying to understand why he does paintings the way he does. We ended up making up his life according to how we thought it made sense from his paintings. I mean come on; no one really knows what goes on in artist’s heads when they draw.

Naturally today I am beat. I shall rest until heading off to Geneva to celebrate my birthday in family.

Cheers!