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Monday, August 24, 2009

Of braised cucumbers and other things of significance

I have yet to thumb through my notepad and my mind to see what other significant aspects of my trip I want to document. In the meantime, braised cucumbers are on my mind!

If you haven't seen the movie Julie and Julia, you should. I wouldn't say it was perfect, but it was certainly enjoyable. How, after all, can one not enjoy a Meryl Streep performance? Actually, though, now that I think of it, I hated The Devil Wears Prada, not even her performance could entertain me. But in this, she is, as usual, amazing. And I will confess to loving Mamma Mia, too, think of me what you will.

I imaagine there are hundreds, maybe more, blogging about the movie, and about Julie, the blogger whose story is the counterpoint to Julia's. So add me to the list. I came across a bunch of them while trying to find Julia's recipe for braised cucumbers, which I couldn't find. Guess I would have to buy, or at least browse through, her famous cookbook. Which I may well do, at Borders. I certainly give them enough business to not feel guilty about that.

I had cooked braised cucumbers a day or two before seeing the movie, just looking for a way to deal with an overabundance of overripe cukes. And basically used a recipe from the Victory Garden cookbook, from another old TV cooking show produced by the Boston Public TV station, as was Julia's. I tweaked it a little bit, because I can never make a recipe exactly as described. (I think this says something about me, but I am not sure what.) I must say it was delicious, hot the first day, and maybe even better cold, the next.

So, at the movie, I was thrilled when one of the 500 plus of Julia's recipes that Julie prepares that gets some attention in the film is the one for braised cucumbers. The other thing beside Meryl that thrilled me was that so much of the action takes place in Paris, where I had been a mere weeek before.

Julie cooks every one of Julia's recipes in the course of a year, the basis of her blog and one of the two parallel stories of the movie. I have never cooked any, because I have always thought that Julia's recipes must be quite complicated. (From the movie, I think that perception is correct. ) ANd, I am not a particularly good cook. But some, including the cucumbers, I think must be quite simple, unlike, for example, boning a duck. So I am now quite curious about how simple or difficult her recipes actually are.

It also seems like a significant co-incidence that I cooked braised cucumbers right before seeing the movie. I know that it signifies something, but haven't a clue what.

Julie blogged about food, about Julia, and about herself and life. So here I am, blogging about Julie blogging about Julia, along, I am sure, with a significant number of others. And, for what it's worth, I understand that Julie's favorite recipe of Julia's was, dadadadadada...braised cucumbers.

In addition to making me think about cucumbers, Paris, and life, the movie has made Loring and me revive our once common habit, also no doubt shared with a significant number of others, of mimicing Julia at every opportunity, and particularly while cooking. Our four young adults, two guests, two quasi-permanent, look at us aghast and askance.

So here's a hearty "Bon Apetit!" Julia-style, to all. (In France, they really do say it at every meal, but not quite in Julia-like tones.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mosaic Complete!

Just realized I ought at least to post a photo of the finished project and the volunteers. I have tons of photos, and have posted about a hundred of them so far, but on my facebook page. I will perhaps post a few more here as well. I believe everyone in the project is a part of this photo, including Giselle, our French professional mosaicist who was an absolute pleasure to work with. She taught us so much, but also gave us a lot of latitude in deciding how to plan the design and how to choose the colors, shapes of the pieces, etc. I think we all had a wonderful time with the project. I hope the fact that I described some of the volunteers as determined to spend time sightseeing, etc, did not give you the idea that they were not committed to the project. I feel that everyone was indeed quite committed, and that we worked very well together as a team, even as we tried to work out some of the differences of opinion about design and technique along the way. I know I learned a lot, not only about working with mosaics, but also about working with people, and I am sure everyone else in the group would agree.

Also wanted to mention that there are two volunteers whose bios have not yet made it into this account; Hasmik from Armenia, and Lucille, one of the two group leaders, who is French. Because I was working on three different computers along the way, I have their info in another place. I will transcribe it soon, I promise. Hasmik and Lucille, please don't think I am ignoring or forgetting you!

And, in theory, all of our work will also be immortalized on the webpage of one of our sponsoring organizations, Freres des Hommes, on whose behalf I conducted the interviews.

Actually, looking back at my title for this entry, I realize that the mosaic is not complete. It remains for it to be mounted on the wall, where it will hopefully be both noticed and admired.

It was so gratifying, at the very end of this trip, to go back and see the garden from my previous project realized in the neighboring 18th arrondissmont. That gives me addditional hope that this mural will eventually, and hopefully in the near future, be put in its place and appreciated. I also realize, and forgive me if I have already mentioned this, - that the motivation for me to take part in this mosaic project is partly due to my brief experience with mosaics from the
previous project, where I took discarded mosaics from the Paris Mosquee and reworked them into steppingstones for the garden.

Also, I am pleased to have planted the seed of an idea for Seyhmous and Naima, from Compagnie Resonances and the garden project, and Giselle, of the mosaic project, to possibly collaborate on a future volunteer project. Anything is possible.

Would I, Naima asked me last week, participate if they did another project? WOULD I?!


Thursday, August 20, 2009

One more Paris vignette: incident on the metro

This one incident keeps coming to mind, I am not sure why, so I wanted to get it down in writing before it fades from memory.

I don't always romanticize the metro, as I once did. Sometimes it's just a hot, tiring way to take me home or wherever I am going. But sometimes...

It was late at night, I don't remember which night, and I was heading back to my hotel. There were lots of people on the platform, so I knew the train was coming soon. The metro is prompt and efficient, one never waits long, although the wait is longer, of course, late in the evening.

I had noticed the voices behind me as I came down the corrider to the platform. Two women, in heavily accented English. It sounded as if they were arguing. I was curious but didn't want to be obvious or rude. As I came onto the platform I noticed a family of four, parents, two kids. They were American, of rather few I'd seen, surprisingly, in all of my time in the city. The older, a boy of perhaps 14, had tears running down his face. His father,sitting on the bench next to him, had his arm around the son. I was, again, curious.

The women I'd heard behind me emerged onto the platform. One was tall, thin, dirty blonde hair, nondescript. She could have been one of the young adults from my volunteer project. The other woman one could not have missed, in any setting. She was a bit plump, wearing a very lowcut top out of which one nipple peeked, and a very short skirt. Her hair was black, her eyes heavily made up. Her lips were bright red and the lipstick bled beyond her mouth. She looked like a caricature of a prostitute. Each of them was carrying a well-worn plastic shopping bag filled to the brim, although I actually didn't notice that until a bit later.

As the train pulled in, the family went toward the car on the left, the women to the car to the right, and I had to decide which way to go, which story to follow. I chose the women, and so never found out, if I indeed could have, why the teenage boy was crying.

On the train, I tried my best not to stare at the women, and especially not the one woman's chest. It was hard. We were all holding the same pole. The bland woman answered her phone. In English, which sounded Eastern European to me, she spoke and said, I have to take my friend home, she has a lot of bags to carry, she needs my help. That was when I noticed that each one had a worn plastic bag, like a homeless person would carry. Neither of the bags looked heavy. There wasn't any luggage or anything else they were carrying.

When she ended the phone conversation, she commented quietly to her friend, he always has to know where I am.

My mind went through possibilities. Prostitutes and a pimp? Eastern Europeans lured west? The two women seemed such an utter contrast to one another. That, I think, was what captured my attention more than anything else, and the fact that whatever their situation was, it didn't seem it could be good.

They left the train before me. In the end, of course, I knew little more about them than about the American family, about the crying boy. Probably, his situation was much more mundane than that of the women, who were only several years older than him. And maybe I had entirely overimagined their problems.

I'm not sure why, out of all my experiences travelling, I cannot get either of their situations out of my mind.

And back to Karlsruhe...

I spent only a couple of days in Karlsruhe with Mari and Falk. But, as in Loche with Marie and her family, we seemed to compact an awful lot into a small amount of time.

Like Christian and Dorthe in Koln, Mari and Falk work during the day. And so I was left alone, in their apartment, to relax and linger and enjoy my circumstances. I hope they didn't feel badly, because I truly enjoyed both the time on my own in their city as well as the delightful times with them.

Only one sad thing - Mari debunked one of my favorite stories, which I guess I will now no longer be able to tell. So I will tell it here now, perhaps for the last time. Her dad, Raul, was our adoption lawyer in Peru, who arranged both Max's and Carolina's adoptions. I have known Mari for 21 years. On the morning Raul was supposed to bring Max, then 12 days old, to us, he was about an hour late. We had been hanging out the window of our 10th floor apt. waiting for him, when he finally arrived at about 10am. Baby in arms, he made some joke about being early, ie. only an hour late, rather than 2-3 hours late, which is typically Peruvian time. I have recounted that story dozens, maybe hundreds of times. Now, in Karlsruhe, as we are reminiscing and discussing different concepts of time in Peru and Germany, Mari insists that her dad is extremely punctual, unlike most Peruvians, and must have been delayed by something unforseen. Now that I think of it, none of our friends with Peruvian children has mentioned a similar story about Raul. Mari explains that she is always telling her dad, with his dry sense of humor (very true) that other people may not realize he is joking. Also now that I think of it, Falk also has a rather dry sense of humor, perhaps part of what has attracted Mari to him? I will have to take this up with Raul. In the meantime, recounting all of this to my family at home, Max remarks that he has also often used the story to excuse himself for being late. But that is truly a Peruvian characteristic, irregardless of Raul's promptness or tardiness.

Well, anyhow, Karlsruhe was delightful, with and without my hosts. I went to a museum at the local palace, itself an impressive place. Only problem, Mari had described the climb to the tower as a small one, and I made the mistake of believing her! Up and up I went. The view was delightful, though. In the museum itself was a wonderful exhibit of things Art Nouveau, with which I was entirely entranced. I spent most of my time there, and regretfully did not get to see much of the rest of the museum. What did particularly impress me, though, in my brief visits to the exhibits, was the interractive nature of some of them. In one place depicting ancient Turkish culture there was an area of kilim rugs and pillows, and metal trays and vessels, in which you could sit. Around you were the more precious items ensconsed in their glass cases. At another place depicting culture around the 1700's there were cardboard mock ups of costumes and wigs with holes for the faces that you could pose in. What I liked the best was that these were aimed at adults as well as children. In fact, the only people I saw sitting or posing for photos were adults.And if I had been with other people I'm sure I would have done the same.

In the gift shop were just a couple of postcards from the Nouveau exhibit. What also caught my eye was a bright picture of an item that I hadn't seen. The description said "mosaic." I asked a shop employee where it was, planning to re-enter the museum to find it. She asked a museum guard, who said something about another museum and the "blue path."

The next day, Mari and I attempted to find the elusive item, returning to the museum for Mari to enquire in German. They indeed sent us down the blue path (ceramic tiles in the pavement) to the museum of a famous ceramics company, Majolica, which is still there. We had a wonderful time there perusing the beautiful old pieces in the museum, and modern art pieces in the shop (very expensive but which I didn't actually much like). Best, though, were the individual tiles in various designs which one pulled open drawers in one room to see. Both Mari and I were extremely drawn to these, pulling open drawer after drawer, and both of us agreeing that they should manufacture replicas of these to sell, both as individual souveniers and to use in home designs as originally intended. The drawers themselves reminded me so much of drawers of ancient textiles in a small museum in Lima, perhaps the Herrera? I couldn't remember the name, and Mari didn't seem to recognize my description. There were also similar drawers full of items, treasures waiting to be discovered, in the Peabody Essex Museum right here at home in neighboring Salem, at an exhibit I recently attended.

The mosaic angel on the postcard, which we never found (neither museum seemed familar with it, interesting since it was one of the postcards at the Palace) led us to the Majolica Museum, for which I am grateful. And here I always thought Majolica ceramics were from Spain, why, I don't know. A question to answer at another time.

Adventures abroad

How strange to find, on the kitchen counter, pains au chocolat. Max now works for Panera, a bakery and sandwich chain. When he closes, which seems to be often, he brings home large quantities of whatever is left over. So, we now have a freezer full of bread, and a counter full of sandwiches and pastries. Pas mal!

I have adjusted back to real life pretty smoothly. (Liss=smooth!) Except that my left little finger now seem to be going for the q as often as the a! I just re-read my whole blog, well, at least this summer's entries, partly to remind myself what I have already written and what I still want to capture on paper. And I am glad to have documented so much, for myself as well as for anyone else who cares to read about my experiences.

I have just posted two albums of photos to Facebook. One is about the mosaic project itself, one more quirky pictures of various things, artistic in one way or another, that have caught my fancy along the way. I hope to post more of my 800 plus photos (I've been good and deleted about 150 so far) soon, if you are interested in the visual version of my adventures.

I would like, now or shortly, to describe at least a few more of my adventures abroad. Adventures Abroad, I suddenly realize, was the name of the company with whom I travelled to Europe the first time, when I was 17. The trip that led me to the avant-guard Living Theatre troupe, to Avignon, in an indirect way to going to live in Paris the year afterwards. I learned from my mother only recently that she and my father had sent me to Europe that summer because they thought I was so shy and withdrawn. Hmmm, guess it worked.

I want to return to Germany, in my thoughts anyway, for a bit. First, to relay a bit more about Koln/Cologne and my visit with Christian and Dorthe there. I went to some wonderful museums, which I will try to describe shortly. But first, to once again thank C and D for their wonderful hospitality. It's funny how some people immediately feel like friends when you meet them. Or, is it the fact of being outside your normal reality that contributes to fostering the relationship? I didn't really know Christian very well when he invited me to come visit. We'd met in Ukraine last year, and I was taken by his committment to Czernowitz and the cemetery project although he had no personal connection to either. We knew one another over perhaps five days there. I didn't know Dorthe, or even that there was a Dorthe, until shortly before I arrived in Koln. She bounded into their apt, full of cheer, although her mother was ailing and D. had just come from visiting her in the hospital. I spent the next three days enjoying myself on my own in their apt and the city, and the evenings with them in conversation discussing topics serious and light. Somewhere in the conversation the topic of fig flavored mustard arose. Dorthe's eyes lit up as she asked what time my train was departing the next day. I knew what she had in mind. Sure enough, at the train station, she met me with a package of three kinds of local mustard, fig, coconut curry, and chili. Of course, I will remember her and Christian as I savor them. But it is their friendship I will truly remember.

There are several wonderful museums in Koln, in addition to the remarkable and unmissable Dom Cathedral.Unmissabble for several reasons: one, because you shouldn't, two because you can't, it dominates the city, and three, because, if you come into the city by train it is right there, across from the train station. It is huge, gothic, filled with stupendous stained glass windows. One was, I believe, destroyed in the war. (as was much of the city.) A new, quite modern and brightly colored window was designed by a famous artist (I'll have to look up his name) to replace it. From what I gather, it has caused some controversy like most things new and different. Too be honest, I wasn't as impressed with the new window as I wanted to be. I also need to read more about how the cathedral was preserved from wartime damage.

There are two wonderful museums adjacent to the cathedral. One is the Ludvig, an art museum. The other is the Romanische-German. Both buildings are spectacular and highlight their collections well. The Romanishe contained, among other things, some incredibly preserved Roman mosaic floors, of which I of course took many pictures. As much as anything else, I enjoyed watching the skateboarders on the plaza in front of the museum through thelarge glass windows, sandwiched between Roman heads displayed on tall modern pillars.

The Ludvig was the private collection of a couple named, of course, Ludvig, and is features modern art, including pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein, George Segal, many more, and a great design collection. I was taken by their cafe, and a view from under the stairs that included some stashed away cafe tables plus a work on the stairwell wall that featured some chairs. There was also a sectioned off area of many chairs, of all kinds. I couldn't decide whether it was an exhibit in the process of being put together or taken down, or one actually on display! You can see the photo in my Facebook album "But is it art?"

The last museum I visited in Koln was in the former Gestapo headquarters, now called the Documenation Center. It consisted of cells where prisoners had been housed, and tortured, and much more in the way of exhibits, mostly, though, just captioned in German. Most impressive, though, were the cell walls on which hundreds of prisoners had written thoughts, in poetry and prose, with pleas and wishes to loved ones, in pencil, lipstick, scratched into the walls, etc. It made me wonder if this was a phenomenon particular to this one prison. Or if others had existed but been demolished. Apparently when this one had been discovered the original plan had been to demolish it but someone had the idea to preserve it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Of the kindness of strangers

In Karlsruhe, we rushed to catch my afternoon train. We'd had a pleasant, leisurely wonderful breakfast, Mari, Falk, his mother, who was visiting, and me. Then Mari and I went to a museum, a story in itself, which we both really enjoyed. We all met up again, did a bit of shopping in an Asian grocery store, and then, somehow, lost track of the time. We ran into the station with literally minutes to catch the train, and I was out of breath with only a minute to go when I got onboard. I needed to, but hadn't had time to, pay the 5 Euro reservation fee. On the train, while I was still recovering from the rush through the station, the conductor came by. I explained that I hadn't had time, and tried to play the dumb foreigner. Nothing doing; the conductor informed me that there would be an additional 10 euro charge for paying onboard, so, 15 euros rather than the 5. Ten euros is about 14 dollars. I was frustrated, and asked if she couldn't give me a break. She was nice enough, said she would if she could, but it wasn't a possibility. And I am sure she was right.

I paid the money, then asked her if there would be another extra fee on the next train. I said I hoped I had enough to pay for a taxi when I got to Colmar, back in France. She assured me there was no additional fee. And I, of course, had my credit card and could easily get more cash, although I didnt know if there would be a machine at the station.

As soon as the conductor moved on, the woman across the aisle from me waved a ten euro bill in front of my face, and said, in typical German style, "take it." I of course refused. She insisted, and I kept insisting that I could't, realizing that around us, people were observing, and probably had observed the entire interraction with the conductor. I started to sniffle, and then tears began to roll down my face. I was both embarrassed and extrememely touched. I eventually realized that she would outlast me, and I told her I could only accept the money if she gave me her name and address so that I could send her something. With this, we seemed to have reached a truce. Her name was Sonja. She works with addicted women and their children. I told her I would write about her in my blog, and now I have. I told her that I would't forget her kindness, and I won't.

The trip to Strasburg from Karlsruhe wasn't very long. Sonja qlso got off there to change trains. She was going to Marseille on vacation. She helped me carry my bags off the train, and we went our separate ways.

The next train was ten minutes later, from Strasburg to Colmar. It also was a fairly short ride. I sat down next to a man perhaps a little older than me, opposite a woman who I thought to be his wife.But it turned out that they didn't know each other. The man immediately asked if I would like some grapes. I was indeed hungry, and eagerly accepted. I told him it was the second gift I had received in a short period of time, and I told him about the incident on the other train. I explained how I hadn't wanted to accept her gift, but that she was insistent. He said it was important to accept when a gift was offered. He was somewhat courtly in his manner, and very kind as well.He was from Bulgaria, originally, but lives in Switzerland and works for an organization that helps folks in prison. His name was Ivan. He gave me his card. And then it was time to disembark, in Colmar.

And I will stop here, but please check back.Who knows what I may encounter between here and Boston. And there are still quite a few incidents and encounters that I need to tell about.

Until then, take care.

My last post from Paris

This is my last night. I need to wake up at 6am to catch a taxi to the train to the airport. My trip back will be 17 hours including a three hour layover in Detroit, of all places. Just when I am finally getting the hang of where the a is on the keyboard. Oh well.

I will recount as many of my adventures as I can here, and hope there is some internet access in Detroit, which would be a great way to pass a couple of hours.

To continue about yesterday, the Jeu de Paume holds photographic exhibits. I went there without knowing what was on exhibit, and discovered a fantastic show called Planete Parr. Martin Parr, if I've got his name right, is a British photographer. He also is a collector of all kinds of things, mostly items that make some kind of social commentary. So there were, for instance, Sputnik souvenirs, Afghan rugs commemorating Sept. 11th, Obama items, etc. His photos, at least the ones on display, often highlight incongruities in a scene he observes, like tourists at Nagasaki, or someone on the Champs Elysees, except it's the one in Las Vegas. I took some of my usual people looking at art photos. When I left and was outside the museum, I realized that there were hugh blow-ups of about ten of his photos outside/ It was an ad for the exhibit, but it was also an installation on its own. So I spent probably a half-hour taking photos of the people looking at his photos. Except, of course, that if they noticed me they moved away, so as not to be in my way. I think I may write Parr a fan letter with some of my photos of his photos! I can't be the only one to have thought of this, though, can I? Or maybe he took some himself. Mine are probably all out of focus, anyway.

I walked around the Tuileries for a while. Lots of people were sunbathing, and some, not just kids, were wading in the fountain. I had a lemon and blood orange sorbet cone and sat for a while, but in the shade.

Last night I ate once again at the corner restaurant where I'd encountered the drunk Whoopi Goldberg look- alike a couple of nights before. I had trouble finding it, and had actually given up and decided to eat at the next place I came across, which just happened to be... I ordered lambchops with green beans. The beans were especially delicious, cooked in butter but not drenched in it. And there was a huge pile of them, the beautiful thin French ones, on the plate. I don't think I've ever seen such a large portion of vegetables on a restaurant plate. I savored each one, along with the lambchops.

Today, I had decided to go to an area in the Marais (again!) called village St. Paul, which was described as a series of shops of antique dealers and other interesting things. Near there is an elevated park built on an old railroad viaduct. It extends for several kilometers. I had never heard about it before,but was intrigued. Apparently several other cities have taken the idea and used it in their own environments. My final plan was to go to the Orangerie, the museum opposite the Jeu de Paume that houses Monet's Water Lilies series of paintings. And then home to pack, write in my blog, and then have a final dinner, spending the last of my mother's gift, back in the garden restaurant that is outside my window. I am happy to report that aside from dinner, I have accomplished all that I intended for my final day.

I didn't realize until I got there that I had already been to Village St. Paul, but had'nt recognized it. It is housed in a series of old buildings that I had read was once a convent/ Very pictursque, of course. Many stores were closed for the annual vacation, or had limited hours. But I soon stumbled upon a shop with all kinds of brightly colored straw items. There were hats and purses, but also jewelry and other unusual items made from the straw. In my typical fashion, I asked the owner/designer, Veronique, if she could put this together with that, and soon we came up with a necklace that combined several elements. I can't explain it and do it justice, so you'll just have to see it. I also bought a hat from her; as well as a brooch which we pinned on the hat. Her prices were amazingly resonable, for Paris, and for handmade items. She had all kinds of drawers filled with little elements for necklaces, hats, earrings, etc. Oh, I forgot the earrings!

I asked Veronique if she ever put any of the small elements on her purses. Her answer was that she doesn't like to do too much, because that raised the prices, and she wanted to keep them affordable, but that when she sold things to places like stores in the US, she made them fancier and more haute couture. But here, it was only when someone like me had a special request. Oh, I felt so haute! She didn't have a website, didn't want one, but she did ship things, to stores, and to individuals. Hmmmm...

By the way, I have to mention that this, and virtually every conversation I have had here since the project ended, has been in French. Not perfect French, probably more like second grade French, but French nonetheless. I am so pleased that I have pushed myself, even when people speak English, even sometimes with friends like Marie and her family, to communicate in French. Now I have to find ways to continue practicing and learning when I get home.

I did finally leave Veronique and headed to the Passage Plantée. It was nice, but not as nice as I'd anticipated. It's a great use of the space, and there did seem to be quite a few people using it. But, I guess because there are so many wonderful parks in Paris, both large ones and tiny little neighborhood pocket parks, I just didn't find it that exciting. Plus I like looking at the architecture so much here, and you couldn't see all that much of it over the trees and plantings, that I found myself wanting to descend again to street level. I am glad I took a look, though.

Next stop, Place de la Concorde and the Orangerie. The Orangerie houses Monet's incredible panels in the space for which they were desgned. There are about 7 panels, in 2 rooms. The images are so ubiquitous, on scarves and postcards and you name it, that I don't really focus on them when I see them. I think I must have seen the paintings before, but have no clear memory of doing so. They are exquisite. If you are in Paris you must make sure to see them. Yes, they are overtouristed, with people snapping photos, of the paintings, each other, etc. Me too. But it doesn't matter. The colors and images are so vibrant. No postcards or photos in books do them justice. And I doubt my photos will, either.

The rest of the museum was also wonderful, a collection of impressionist and other paintings by Matisse, Renoir, some early Gaugins that showed the beginnings of his primitive style, Picasso, Modigliani, and some others with whom I wasn't familiar. In the bookstore I bought a postcard of a Picasso and a Matisse, thought about getting some of the waterlilies but decided against it. There were a number of books about Paris, and I noticed one about restaurants in gardens. There, I found my very own restaurant in the hotel, that I can see from my bedroom window,where I had the gazpacho and ginger and rum punch and molten chocolate cake the other night, where I am going to have my dinner shortly, as soon as I can pry myself away from writing. I was excited, and told the hotel manager, Anna, when I got back. She apparently wasn't familiar with the book, but was pleased. I also told her how much I liked the hotel. She was glad, especially since she is the one who designed the rooms. They are all different, and funky. Definitely my kind of place. And this is a budget hotel. The price for my single is 60 euros, which translates into about $85. Not bad for Paris. Not bad at all.

I am tired and hungry, and also still have to finish packing. I am going to end this entry here. But I am going to continue and recount one more episode, not here but on the train from Karlsruhe back to here, which has been on my mind and which I want to make certain to recount before my trip ends. There are other incidents, too, mostly from my visits in Germany with Christian and Dorthe, and with Mari and Falk. There are also some episodes and incidents from here in Paris that I hope I will be able to describe. But those, I think, will need to wait, probably until I am back home.
This trip, I have spent very little time at our near famous monuments, aside from the Louvre and other museums. I have seen the Eiffel Tower from afar from the Place de la Concorde, same for the Champs Elysees and l'Etoile. But, as it was the last day and I was so close by, I decided to walk from the Museum partly up the Champs, even though I knew I would find it overly commercial and even tacky. And it was. I did see a couple of limos and their drivers, though, and wondered who their clients were and which international chain store they were in. Probably not Parisians.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Aujourd'hi, le Jeu de Paume, Les Tuileries, and more

I slept late and almost missed breakfast at the hotel, which is in what is the bar at night. They apologized and said they had no more bread. Breakfast is usually orange juice, coffee, croissants, bread, butter, and jam. I asked if they had any croissants. No problem, and they brought me a basket of croissants and little tiny pains au chocolat. Later, the woman came over with the remaining two pains au chocolat. I could only manage one; truly. I went first to a "new", for me, flea market that I'd never before heard of. I woman I stopped to ask for directions told me there was a market, but no flea market, there. She was wrong. It was 1 pm, and vendors were already starting to pack up. But I found some fantastic advertising posters that I wound up carting around with me for the rest of the day, attracting a bit of attention in the Jeu de Paume, the museum I went to this afternoon.

I'm actually going to stop here, because it's 10pm, I'm suddenly very hungry, and I want to take the time to describe the incredible museum exhibit when I am not feeling rushed, which will hopefully be tomorrow, but, if not, after I return home.

One more day of adventures...

Liss means smooth in French

I already knew that Liss meant smooth, from previous trips. Actually, from shampoo and conditioner bottles. Yesterday I saw one that said Easy Liss, and almost bought it, even though I don't need any shampoo. At home, in the dispensers in the showers at the Y, it says GoJo, and I have to say that every time I take a shower there I feel a slight nudge of encouragement. I even gave this blog, originally, the adress GoJo, with an 08 at the end for the year. But then I felt I had to change it with the change of year.

The Liss thing makes me wonder if French speaking people notice when they hear my name, and think anything of it. And that somehow reminds me of the French woman named Prune in our project. Did I already mention her here? It's so hard to remember what I have actually written about, and what I have merely thought about.

Prune, in French, means plum, not prune! So it is actually quite a nice name, although an unusual one, as Prune told me. In the same vein, raison means grape, and raison sec means raison.

At this rate I will never get to relating any of my wonderful experiences here in the last couple of days, much less the ones in Germany I haven't told you about. So let me move on.

For a nice transition, let me talk about figs for a minute. Which I thought were called figues in French, but which everyone here seems to call figs. They are one of my favorite foods; the fresh ones, that is, not usually that available, and expensive when they are, in my neck of the woods. Every day I have been buying a half kilo, about a pound, and then gorging myself as I walk around the city. What could be better than walking the streets of Paris, you name the neighborhood, eating fresh figs?

Yesterday was my museum free day in Paris. I thought all the museums were closed on Tuesdays. I later realized I was wrong, but that was okay. I probably needed a museum break; I had been visiting one, sometimes two, a day all the days I was in Germany, not to mention the several museum visits during my previous three weeks here.

So, I set off for Clignacourt, the area where my previous chantier, four years ago, had taken place. Some of you might recall that I had worked on designing a garden space in an apartment develôpment. We had philosophized and made models, but did not actually execute the design; that had been planned for the future. In the four ensuing years, I have never found out if the garden actually was created. I had been in periodic contact with Seyhmous, the husband of Naima who runs the organization Compagnie Resonances, with whom we had worked. He worked with us part of the time, especially working with words, as he is a poet. The concept of the garden was to reflect human rights. And my part of the concept was to have mosaic steppingstones in the garden, using tiles we had retrieved from the Paris Mosque, when we visited and they were redecorating and throwing the old blue, white, and gold tiles away.

I came to the organization office, on the ground floor of the building where the garden was supposed to be built, peered through the window, saw no one. I walked to the end of the block, returned to the office door, and was about to sit down to write them a note, when, like an apparition, I saw Naima, Seyhmous, and a third person inside. They had been there all the time, just in an inner part of the offices. I was elated, and even more so when they took me to see the garden. It was planted with all kinds of fruit trees, strawberries, rasberries, lavender, and more. Best, though, were the mosaic steppingstones under a tree. Not from the mosque, but I didn't care ( although I did hope they had saved those tiles, but didn't want to ask.) I had always thought the garden had never been realized, but I was wrong.

Seyhmous showed me what else they had been doing in the community, and explained their further plans. I asked if they had thought of doing any additional international workshops. They had, but had been so busy with other projects that they hadn't had time to pursue it. Naima asked if I'd come if they did another one. I told them about my recent project and gave them Giselle's contact information. Wouldn't it be amazing if I helped connect the people from both of my projects for another community art project? Anything is possible.

Naima was busy with a staff meeting, and apologetic that she didn't have more time to spend with me, but I was ecstatic about having met up with them, and especially seeing the steppingstones, and assured her I was so happy already that it didn't matter. So we shared a few of the French-American red white and blue covered almonds that I had brought for them, from Marshall's of all places, even though none of us is very patriotic, French or American. And Seyhmous and I went to a café nearby (notice I am finally getting around to using some of the accents!) to talk a bit more. He asked me if I was still writing, and I said I was keeping a blog. He told me he had read some of it. I'm very honored, Seyhmous, that a prize winning poet is reading my blog, just like I was honored when you read my poem at the community dinner at the end of our project!

Seyhmous asked me where I was heading next. I told him the métro, but I wasn't sure after that. He made some comment about the life of freedom, which I guess is true for the moment.

I chose to go, again, to the Marais. It keeps calling me back, partly because of the Jewish history and the plaque I saw there four years ago about the children taken away from a school to Auschwitz. But partly, too, because of its artiness. And the contrast between the orthodox Jews, the young North African Jews, and the probably not Jewish trendy shoppers and restaurant goers. I walked around for an hour or more, peering into store windows looking for something to spend my mother's Mother's Day gift on. "Spend it on something you would't buy for yourself" she always says, and I always try. She also usually suggests that clothes or jewelry would be nice. And I usually try to spend it on something special and let her know what it is. And what better place than Paris to do so!

I entered a store that looked interesting and had a sale sign on the window. A large number of the items were 70% off, they were designed by the store owner, and made on the premises. I eventually chose a dress, skirt, and jacket, for a total of 90 euros. The saleswoman was delightful, friendly but not pushy (although she kept saying 70% off, can you believe it?!) and not the least bit hauty, despite the neighborhood. I hope you approve of my choices, Mom!

Last night, to cap off an already perfect day, I ate at the restaurant at the hotel. I would not even have known about its beautiful garden if I couldn't see it from my window. I have not been eating whole meals, usually breakfast, then a crepe or other snack, and then a large salad or soup and dessert, as I did last night. The soup was gazpacho, excellent with a lot of lemon flavor. There was a drink called ginger punch, which I asked about. She said it was strong, not sweet, just rum and fresh ginger. It was strong, and good. To round off my nearly all liquid meal, I had a dessert that was called mi-cuit chocolate, in other words, half cooked chocolate cake. As I had imagined, it was a chocolate cake with a molten center. Tres riche, tres bon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Paris again, pleasures, problems, puzzles

This is the last leg of my trip; four days in Paris, at the Hotel Eldorado in the 17th. I had made the reservation by phone, in English, several days before, while staying in Karlsruhe with Mari and Falk. Only thing, when I arrived here last night, they had no record of the reservation. I was tired and looking forward to relaxing in the last bed of my sojourn. Luckily, the hotel did have a room, or rather two rooms, for two nights each. But the mystery of my reservation, which I am guessing I somehow made somewhere else, remains.

Last night, I took a one hour or so walk thru the quartier, which was previously unfamiliar to me, and which I like very much. all kinds of interesting people, restaurants and bars, and shops, most of which, fortunately or unfortunately, are on their summer vacation, usually the month of August. There were hairdressers and laundramats, this internet cafe right across from the hotel, several second hand shops and designer workshops, as well as the usual tabac, fruit and veggie stand, and the 8 to 8, which was closing up when I walked by at 10pm. Lots of restaurants filled to the brim. I finally settled on a quiet corner place with a few that looked like locals, a couple of older men with small grocery bags (one kept perusing a jar of what looked like mustard, turnng it over and over in his hands) and a couple with a small boy and a dog.

I ordered a salad, one called a Norvigienne. It had lettuce, tomato, eggs, avocado, tiny shrimp, and layered over the tip, smoked salmon. It was absolutely delicious. It was served in a white ceramic bowl that was set assymetrically, kind of like those plastic chairs from, I think, the 70s, that you now see displayed in design museums. I withheld my desire to ask if I could buy a bowl from them, as well as the glass my citron pressé came in. I already have two great beer glasses from dinner at a brewery house in Cologne, that Dorthe had asked for me if I could buy, and which they had given me.

I wondered if my French-Norwegian salad was any closer to Norwegian food than le bagel Mexicain at a neighboring place, with avocado, cheese, and salsa, was to anything Mexican or Jewish! On that bagel list, they had several varieties, but none with smoked salmon or anything approximating something one would eat on a bagel at home. I'd already been pondering the origin of bagels, which I am guessing is German, while enjoying a wonderful breakfast with Mari and Falk in Karlsruhe several days earlier. They described how pretzels were usually sliced and served sandwich style, with cheese, etc. Since there was also smoked salmon on the table (lachs) I asked how that was traditionally served, and learned that it was with horseradish and sliced hardboiled egg, I've forgotten, though, on what kind of bread.

And, continuing on the ever important food theme, in Colmar, which is just over the border with Germany, and has a strong German influence, pretzels are called bretzels (!) and there are sweet ones as well as the salty ones; I didn't especially like the sweet ones, which tasted like sugar cookies, but did enjoy the various maccaroons (pistachio, chocolate banana, etc), that I of course also had to try.

At the café, while enjoying my salad and then fromage blanc with a mixed red berry sauce (essentially a large bowl of sour cream) I watched the two older men through a window (we were all outside but on two sides of a corner with a window separating us. Perhaps they were watching and wondering about me, too, although the one anyway seemed quite absorbed in his jar of mustard or whatever it was. Then in came a woman with a loud laugh; clearly inebriated. She appeared to me as a drunk, French, Whoopi Goldberg. She was close to out of control, swaying and asking for another drink and also for cigarettes. The bartender said she would sell the woman cigarettes but not another drink. The woman sashayed over to the men's table, had a short conversation I couldn't hear, and then came over to me. We chatted briefly, I told her to go home and get some sleep, and the bartender told her the same thing. She crossed the street to a bus stop, but just waited there briefly and then walked off. I hope she made it home. I asked the bartender if the woman came in regularly, and she said, from time to time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

From Colmar in Alsace

I am writing from the absolutely delightful Maison Martin Jund, in the middle of medieval Colmar. I have been here for the last couple of days, after leaving Germany. It is not really a hotel, more a winery/ b and b. Really charming place, oozing ambiance, on a quiet little mostly untouristed street called Rue des Anges (angels). If I can bear the idea of carrying more weight I will bring a bottle of their wine home. Did I recount how I have wound up carting all my stuff around since leaving Paris because I couldn't find the little street in the Latin Quarter where the office of Freres des Hommes is? If not, I will try to at a later point.

Speaking of points why on earth does the French keyboard have the period as upper case?

I owe my stay here to travel guide writer Rick Steves, although I am not usually one to read celebrity travel guides or much less, give them a plug. But I was reading my old guidebook before leaving home, looking for a destination between Germany and Paris to explore for a few days, and Colmar jumped out. First, a medieval city spared the damages of the war, second, a museum he described as one of the best in Europe, third, the delightful sounding Maison Martin Jund, from which I am writing. My room here is delightful, I'm pretty sure all the ancient looking beams are authentic, and, I am writing from a communal computer that is just outside my room. The best of old and new.

The Underlinten Museum, in an old church, has been a museum since the late 1800s. Its highlight is a complex piece called the Isenheim Alterpiecedone in the 16th century. It is a series of painted panels by Grunewald that all fold in doubly upon one another, and at the center is the an immense carved piece featuring Saint Anthony and some other folks. I gather that the piece was intended to help people suffering from St. Anthony's Fire, a terrible disease now called rye ergotism. The entire piece has been dissassembled so that all the panels and the centerpiece can be displayed. It is no doubt impressive, but I must confess I preferred another series of panels in the same space, by Shongauer. The details in those 12 panels are exquisite. I was especially taken by details in the faces and clothing of the men taunting Jesus.

From a balcony above, you can gaze down on both works as well as all the people with their audio guides held to their ears, as if in a modern version of worship.

The museum houses an impressive and varied collection of items ranging from armor to impressionism, and there was a temporary exhibit of painting by someone called Charles Lapicque, who the exhibit titled the "derangeur." (the disturber?) He painted from the 30s to the 80s, very bright paintings depicting all kinds of things, from the demonstrations of May 1968 to women's faces. One was called Hommage to Van Dyke, and was a group of recognizably Van Dykesque men, but painted in the ultra bright colors of Lapicque's other work.

The rest of the modern section of the museum included works by Renoir, Monet, Bonnard, Leger, and a particularly appealing self portrait of Picasso in mostly blues, plus others by people I'd never heard of which I liked equally as well.

There are at least two other museums here, and I will head out shortly to visit one and perhaps both of them. One is the house of Bartholdi, who is from Colmar, and who designed the Statue of Liberty. I love places that have been people's houses, and especially those that still have the original belongings. The other is a toy museum, which I will visit if I have the time. I have to see where the day takes me.

There is one more Colmar experience I have to relate. The first night I arrived here, I went to an outdoor restaurant, as most here are. I was exhausted after the trip from Karlsruhe, which I will relate at a future point, along with the rest of my adventures in Karlsruhe and Koln.

I sat down at a table for two, which was pushed next to another small table. Almost immediately, another woman came over, and asked if it would bother me (ca vous deranger?) if she sat at the adjoining table. Of course not, I indicated. She clearly knew the waiter, who over the course of the next half hour kept pressing her to let him bring her some paté. She kept indicating that she wasn't hungry, that she had already eaten. Meanwhile, I ordered my salad, she asked if I would like to share a bottle of wine because it wasn't worth it to just order a couple of glasses, and eventually, after asking, moved over to my table, freeing up the other for others. Over the next hour we chatted about a variety of things, ranging from her work as a teacher of classics and languages (she said she couldn't speak much English and regretted that she had focussed on dead languages) to her divorce and her 6 year old son, whom her ex-homme had for the weekend. Before long, several men had joined us at the table. They were all acqaintences, if not friends. One was a man who told me it was his dream to go to the US and ride his motorcyle across Route 66. I never figured out if the woman and the waiter were a couple, or if he but not she wanted to be, or what. He did bring the paté, and she spent the next hour or so trying to eat it slowly, joking about how she was going to offer some to people walking by, after she had already tried to offer some to each of us around the table. I think there were 5 of us by that point.

It was just a wonderful unexpected encounter, and I was very pleased that I understood nearly all of what was said. In the end, we exchanged emails, and I gave the biker guy my blog info.
It was only then that I got any of their names. The woman was Sabine. The waiter was the only one whose name I previously knew, because Sabine kept referring to him. He was Philippe. I hope they get together. I really liked them both.

Time to stop now and visit some more museums.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I become part of a tv police show

I stayed for two nights at the Hotel Floridor at Denfort Rocherau metro. The hotel was recommended to me by the Freres des Hommes folks, it's where their out of town people stay. The place is fine but nothing special. The area is where the Catacombs are located, the entrance is right outside the metro stop. If you are going to Paris and want a taste of the macabre, or even just a cool place on a hot day, check it out. It is the burial ground for thousands whose graves needed to be moved for lack of room in the center of the city, back a couple of centuries or so ago. Walk through its meandering cold corridors and you will see rows upon rows of skulls, other body parts, and entire skeletons, arranged in various patterns. It goes on and on, and when you exit you are in an entirely different place from where you entered. I did not go this time, I have been there twice before, once by myself, once with the kids. What I do not understand is whose tradition it was to do this. I have been to a similar place, many years ago, in Rome, much smaller but the same concept. That one, as I remember, was still owned by the Church. I also remember that they sold little skeleton key rings and the like.

Anyway, if you are in Paris, check out the catacombs!

Well, to return to the Floridor. The rate was $53 Euros (about $75) and another $5 Euros if wanted breakfast. I took breakfast for the first day, said I wasn't sure about the second. Breakfast was fine, a drink, a croissant, and a roll. I decided to do breakfast the following day too, not realizing that I needed to have reserved it in advance. So, when I arrived and they said they had bread but no more croissants, I decided to have breakfast at the nearby cafe, just a couple of doors down. The Cafe Rendevous.

As soon as came out the door, I saw film equipment and realized there was some kind of shoot going on. I seem to have a knack for stumbling upon this kind of thing. Several years ago, I entered a small town in Transylvania ( I kid you not) which had been described in my guidebook as a quiet, picturesque medieval town. First thing I saw was a camera crew from London doing a fashion shoot. The next morning, I walked out of my rented room in a tiny pink house to find the same crew and model shooting right in front of my house.
And then, there was the time on a remote beach in Mexico when a crew arrived to a fashion segment with a model then known for her liaisons with Mick Jagger and others. Her name was Carla Bruni. We had to move to another hotel down the beach because the crew took over our hoteL But we continued to watch Ms. Bruni modelling for the next few days.

Back to the Rendezvous Cafe in Paris. I walked past the equipment and sat at one of the outdoor tables. It wasn't clear where they were going to shoot, and people were sitting at the surrounding tables. I didn't realize until later that they were extras and part of the shoot.

A crew member came and very nicely asked me to move a few tables down. I ordered a coffee and a pain au chocolate, and became a front row spectator to the action. For a while one man ran through the scene with several others. I thought he was the director, but he later became part of the action. Then they started filming, basically a man wrestled another to the ground, also knocking over several people sitting at the tables next to where I'd origally been seated. I kept shooting my own photos. Strangely, without my doing anything intentionally, my camera had switched to black and white, something I didn't realize it could do, but which seemed appropriate enough to the action.

A man then approached the two men seated at my other side, who it turned out were also part of the scene. He gave them bright police vests to wear. The scene expanded to have the "police" join the action. Then two police cars pulled up to the curb and the men were thrown into the cars by my cafe mates. Between takes one of the police actors came over to me with his camera and asked me to take his picture! I found that amusing, that he was going to be on TV but wanted a photo of himself in his police costume.

Some people on the street were stopping to watch the filming. Others, it was clear, thought there was a real fight and arrest going on, especially each time the police cars pulled up.

I was having so much fun I ordered another coffee and pain au chocolate. I did eventually have to leave, though. I was leaving later that day for Germany. When I left the hotel, they were still filming at the cafe.

I had carefully packed all the things I wouldn't need in order to leave them at the offices of Freres des Hommes near Blvd. St. Michel. I had everything with me, because my plan was to go directly from the office to the train station. I had been there once before, with Laurent, the day we met with the staff to discuss what we could contribute to their website.

The area is a warren of old cobbled streets, these days mobbed with tourists. I had the address, had a vague memory of how to get to the street, but couldn't find it. I probably spent 45 minutes going up and down streets. At least at that time of day, the tourists hadn't yet arrived. The area was relatively quiet, restaurants starting to set up, people washing and sweeping out the streets, the mailman and the gas man making their rounds. I asked them both, neither was familiar with the street. I then asked a pair of cops, (real ones this time) who said the street was definitely not in the 5th arrondissement, and suggested I head over to the 4th. Eventually, I had to give up, and haul all 4 of my bags(one was my daypack, one had just my sleeping bag and pillow, light but which I hadn't plan to lug around, my suitcase lightened by the removal all the things I'd meant to leave behind, some clothes, shoes, books, etc. and my small but now heavy carry on bag which I'd also not intended to take with me. All of which I am now, unfortunately hauling and feeling emcumbered by for the next couple of steps of my journey. And I am still absolutely mystified by what happened to the rue du Savoie!!

Wrapping up Paris

I wish I could wrap it up and take it with me, like the workers wrapping up the Winged Victory and sliding her down the marble steps. But I don't have to say goodbye, yet. I'll be back for another three or four days at the end.

Let me recap the culmination of our project, the last day and presentation of the finished mosaic to the community.

After our barbeque on Friday, we went briefly back to the apartment, not for enough time, though, for any kind of a rest. We were shortly due over to the devopment to set up for our presentation: It was in the same spot where we had begun, the first day, uncomfortablly accosting the residents about their dreams for their living environment.

When I arrived, others in the group had already set up a tent and tables with refreshments, posters of our project and the process, and, in their full glory, the seven panels of our mosaic. I felt an enormous amount of pride. Lots of people stopped by, for refreshments and also to admire the mosaic and hear more about the conception and design, and where it would be mounted. This time I had no hesitation about approaching people and talking to them in French about the project. As always, it was an amazing mix of backgrounds, a young religious Jewish couple pushing their twin infants in a double stroller, teenage Muslim girls in bright colored headscarves, African women draped in beautiful batiked robes. Three white women of about my age, who said they'd lived in the development for over 20 years, were pessimistic. While they found the mosaic beautiful, they were abolutely certain it would be destroyed within a couple of weeks. I sent Giselle over to talk to them, not knowing what her response would be. Giselle said the plan was to put a plexiglas sheild over it, something I hadn't thought or heard about before. This seemed to assuage the women. But I felt disappointed and also worry that the plexi will soon become scratched and obscure the mosaic. I guess that remains to be seen.

There is no doubt that the experience has been a wonderful one for the volunteer group. Now I just hope that it truly does contribute something to the community.

Interviews with the volunteers

Below are the interviews I conducted with all the volunteers in our group. They will be, perhaps even already have been, posted on the website of Frere des Hommes, one of the sponsoring organizations of our project. It was extremely interesting to interview everyone. Even though I had known them for about two weeks at that point, I learned different things. Also, I "translated" their English, or French, into readable English, but also not wanting to overtranslate or lose the sense of their own th0ughts. And now, Benedicte or Azalee will tranlate it all into French! (So, in some cases, from French to English and then back to French.) There will also be photos of all of us and the process of making the mosaic. Benedicte and Azalee already assembled displays which we used at our final presentation to the community last Friday., which I will describe next.

i yoon Yeo , Seoul , Korea
23, student,French

I chose this program because I wanted to go to Paris. I am interested in art. I knew the program was about mosaics, but I didn’t know it was in a neighborhood
( cité.) I think the project is really wonderful, and I am glad to be here.

Natalya Kalmykova, Moscow, Russia
32, professional designer

I came because it was a mosaic project. I knew from the description that it was in a ghetto area. I thought the project would be good for the local people. I have visited Paris before and done a lot of sightseeing , so that wasn’t my real interest. I wanted to share my professional experience with people in the community and with other volunteers. I have been the director, for five years , of the Russian agency that is the counterpart to organizations like the sponsoring agencies here in France. I think that Giselle (the professional mosaicist working with the group) is great. She is really committed and helpful. We communicate really well even though I don’t speak any French and she doesn’t speak any Russian or English.

Laurent Calligrafi
25, Amiens, France, community organizer

I was trained as an engineer, but decided that I wanted to do community organizing . I was trained as a group leader a few months before this project. This is my second project as a volunteer leader. Freres des Hommes suggested I lead this group because I was familiar with the two main organizations sponsoring the project. I am very interested in learning about group dynamics. I think the group relations have to be positive in order for the project to go well. When we have had problems in our group people have been very honest about expressing their feelings. We have discussed things like who is responsible for what, and if the leaders should have more responsibility than the other volunteers.

Pablo Fernandez
20, Zaragoza, Spain, student, law and economics

This is my second volunteer project. Last summer I worked in Spain excavating a Roman village. Most of the volunteers were Spanish, and the others were French. I chose this project because I want to learn some French and wanted to visit Paris. I visited here once before, but when I was only five years old. This project caught my attention because even though I am a student of law and economics, I am interested in art. And I wanted to meet people from other places. I think things are going well. Some people are really very motivated, and they help me to feel motivated. Everyone is sharing everything, which is really impressive.

Irene Villarroya
20, Zaragoza, Spain, nursing student
Pablo and I came together. For me, Paris was the main attraction . The idea of the mosaic work also appealed to me, and the learning process involved. I also wanted a chance to practice my French. The project is different than I expected. Though the work is quite tiring, it’s also really interesting. But I wish we were more involved in the community.

Jihye Lee
20, Kyungi, Korea

I wanted to join an international group and learn about different cultures. I found out about these programs on the internet. I wanted to do something with arts or with kids, because I really like children. I have been travelling through several countries and will go home after being in Paris. I wanted to do a camp in London, but it didn’t work out. I also really wanted to come here to Paris. In the past I have been so impressed by beautiful things like the stained glass in cathedrals. Now I have had the chance to learn similar things and realize that I have the ability to do artistic things too. The project has been really meaningful and interesting. I may not have a chance to do something like this again, so I feel really lucky.

Miryam Achthoven
21, Amsterdam, Netherlands, History student

All my friends had plans to travel this summer, so I needed to think of something to do on my own. I wanted to participate in some kind of group. A friend had told me about her experience volunteering.for a work project. She had had a wonderful time. My first choice was this project, but it was already full. So I signed up to volunteer at a festival in Spain. Three days before I was supposed to leave home, I found out that the festival had been cancelled. Luckily, the volunteer organization let me into this project after all. I guess maybe it was just meant to be ! The mosaic work is even better than I expected. I thought we would just be repairing old mosaics. I really like that we have been involved in the whole process, from collecting the thoughts of the residents through creating the design. I like working with Giselle and the people in the group. The work has been very satisfying. Sometimes is very tiring working with so many people and never having any time alone, but in general it has been really great.

Joanna Liss
58, Beverly, Massachusetts, US, teacher and international exchange coordinator

I have been interested in international travel since I was a teenager, and have continued to travel as often as I can. This is my sixth volunteer project, and my second one in Paris. I have volunteered in Thailand, Romania, Peru, and Ukraine as well as here. Volunteering is a wonderful way to learn about a community from a different perspective than that of a tourist. And though I am usually quite a bit older than the other volunteers, I really enjoy their energy and committment, and feel I have a lot to learn from them.
I started looking at the project listings the day they came out in March, and as soon as I saw this one I knew it was the right one ! The combination of an arts project and Paris was something I couldn’t say no to. I was excited to learn something about mosaic techniques, and I loved the idea of doing so in a community setting. Working with the group has been great, we have a wonderful combination of backgrounds and talents. I am also really taken with the parallels between doing the mosaic as a collaborative process, and living together as a group. Laurent, for instance, is our group peacemaker, always trying to bridge the gaps and help people respect and understand each other. On the mural he makes sure the panels fit together in terms of color and design, while the rest of us work elbow to elbow on parts of the picture, fitting our separate pieces into the section.
Giselle is a pleasure to work with. She gives us guidance and also knows how to encourage our own creativity. Each day we rotate places on the mural, so that it is truly a collaborative effort. I hope that we are able to involve people from the community in the process of assembling the mural, perhaps by working outside for a day or more, so that it is something that they have contributed to rather than just something we have made for them. But it any case, I think it is going to be beautiful !

Nune Mnoyan , 18, Art student, Yenevan, Armenia

I am an art student, and so I wanted to do an art project. I also liked the idea of living with and getting to know people from all over the world. And, I wanted to go to France. I was familiar wih volunteer camps from my sister, who had heard about the idea from friends. When I saw the listing for this project, I knew i twas the right one for me. I have never worked with mosaics before and am really enjoying learning how to do it. I am also glad we are two groups living together, because I am getting to knoz many different people, and even though it is crowded at our apt. it is also really fun.

Marina Philippe,
18, would like to be tile layer apprentice

I go to a bar in Deauville called Seafoam. It’s not a bar where they serve alcohol. They have all kinds of activities, and last year they made a fresco of sea animals that I worked on. They also have a place where people from many different places, like Africa and Asia, come and bring products from their countries. They also have all kinds of activities like cooking classes there. I took a course called laughing yoga .
It is really interesting to be with people from around the world. Also, it’s great to work with glass tiles. I worked with ceramic tiles at Seafoam. Glass is more expensive, but it is more beautiful and easier to work with. It is less thick, and easier to cut.

Greetings from Cologne

It is Wednesday morning. I have awakened rejuvinated and refreshed after a day that I slept through several hours of (although I did manage to tour the impressive cathedral, walk around the city, and have a delightful dinner with Christian and Dorthe, my hosts here in Cologne. (Köln, in German, and I think I even managed to get the accented O right!)

I know Christian from Czernowitz last summer, He and Mimi Taylor were instrumental in getting the cemetery project going. Christian does not have a familial connection to Cz, nor is he Jewish. But he is a student and preserver of history(Christian, if you have a better way to describe your interest in Czernowitz, let me know!) and has become very committed to seeing the project continue and have the cemetery maintained. He is in fact leaving in a few days to return there, and meet up with Mimi and her family, and this year's volunteer group. Returning also to work on the cemetery this year are Shannon, the Peace Corps volunteer and other American from last year, Katya from Germany who has decided to do her thesis on the cemetery (and asked if she could use excerpts from this blog) and also Marina from Cz who joined us last year. I apologize if this is repetitive for anyone reading this. I just don't know who is reading what, and I continue to be amazed by the amount of continued participation in this project.

So here I am, at Christian' and Dorthe's computer, in theirwonderful apartment, while they are both at work. Their apt. Is a mix of styles. The first thing I noticed was a collection of toy cars, which Christian told me were Russian. The ceilings are very high, perhaps 12 or 15 feet. And quite a few of the walls are lined with bookshelves, all the way up to the ceilings. Christian pulled out a ladder in order to climb up to one of the upper shelves where there was a book he wanted to show me.

There are wonderful old details, like the ceilings and beautiful windows, and t the old ceramic tile stove similar to ones I've seen in Romania, the Czech Republic, and Polands. And then very modern appliances and shelves from Ikea and the like. Someone in this apt. clearly likes the color orange! I notice the color everywhere. It puts me in mind of the Christo installation in New York, the Gates, with orange banners lining Central Park, redefining our perceptions.

My one and a half days here so far have been delightful, and have given me a chance to slow down and relax a bit too. It is a beatiful day, as was yesterday. And now, having somewhat caught up in time, although there are still so many things I would like to relate, I will stop writing and go out into the city to enjoy the environment and visit a couple of museums. There are some very interesting sounding ones. Yesterday I visited the very impressive Cathedral, and have spent some time walking around with Christian, who knows his city and its history well.

I hope to write more about my Köln adventures soon, the ones I have already had, and the ones yet to come. I will be here another day and a half, and will leave for Karlsrühe tomorrow night.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The party's over

Well, the project, anyway. And I have gone from being surrounded by a multitude of people, mostly over 30 years my junior, to being alone in a hotel room. It's okay, in fact I am ready for some time alone, but it certainly is a change. Yesterday, Saturday, we said repeated goodbyes to one or two people at a time, tears flowing increasingly with each departure. I was ok until Marina left, and I realized just how much being part of the group had meant to her. Then I started sniffling and wiping my eyes, too. Silja cried the most, uncontrollably, and everyone else was trying to console her. Now she is already back in Finland and has posted photos on Facebook.

Today I went first to the Louvre, then later to the Marche aux Puces. Please excuse my not using the French accents, I have so much trouble just remembering where the periods and other English punctuation is on the French keyboard; why on earth would the period be uppercase? and the a and the m are in different places. Then I have gone back and forth from Gorka's Spanish keyboard, which is closer to but not quite the same as the English. And who knows what I will find in Germany, where I head to tomorrow.

I spent four hours at the Louvre and still didn't see everything I'd wanted to, but I'd reached my limit. On the first Sunday of each month the museums are free. I'd planned to go to the Louvre for a couple of hours, then a second museum. Ha! At the museum I ran into Ji Hey, one of the volunteers from my group. Crazy! We were both looking for the same wing, on the second floor, but got totally lost and I finally gave up. What I enjoy as much at the museum as seeing the art is watching the people seeing the art, and seeing what they take photos of. I can't chastize anyone too much for the quantity of pictures they take, since I take a lot myself; mine are usually of incongruities or reflections or views though windows. One of my favorite things this visit was a large gallery of items being restored, the statues draped with covers, tools lying around, etc.

One of the temporary exhbits was of photographs of how they had protected the works before and during the second World War. There were pix of the Winged Victory of Samothrace being wrapped up, then slid down the staircase on a ramp of wooden planks. Nearly 4000 paintings were removed from their frames and taken away from Paris. There was a photo of a gallery of empty frames with the names of the paintings chalked on the wall were the painting would have been. There was a great picture of three men mopping the floor while two others carried in a huge empty frame, which framed the moppers.

The Nazis used several galleries to display the works stolen from Jewish collectors, and Nazi officials could come view and shop.

The museum was only closed from mid 1939 to mid 1940, but after that was open on a limited basis for several years during and after the war, with mostly sculptures, many too large and heavy to move, on display.

After the Louvre, I headed on to the flea market, or, as I commented on Facebook today, from the sublime to the sublime. I probably took as many photos there as at the Louvre, again , mostly of interesting, to me anyway, juxtapositions and incongruities. Went further into the meandering paths of the market than I had on my many other visits; even though last visit, four years ago, my project was only a few blocks from the market. It is such a combination of high end antiques, flea market items, new and vintage clothing, and shoes, shoes, shoes. Many African stalls with leather goods and Moroccan slippers, African pride t shirts, hookahs, incense burning, exotic music playing, etc. In places you could almost believe you were in a market in Africa or the Middle East rather than Paris. I bought two vintage tins from French apothecary products, surprisingly reasonable in price since so much else in the vintage realm is not.

A couple of visits ago, I was surprised by the numerous shirts with a Bronx logo; apparently rip offs of a French brand. This time I saw none.

Just before settling down here at an internet cafe, I had a quick supper at a pizza place which also served a variety of salads. My salad was avocados and shrimp on lettuce with American sauce: (read mayonnaise.) Other than the fact that I could have done with a quarter of the American sauce, it was pretty good. He asked me if I would lke some bread, and then brought out some very hot, almost toasted, pita type bread. It was for me an unusual but interesting combination. The decor in the small, largely take-out place, consisted mostly of photos of James Dean.

Now, back to the last few days of the project. Several days ago Sophie, who is French and who I met on the Ukraine project last summer, finally coordinated and got together. She is from Brittany, but has been working as an intern at the American embassy this summer, which has been a wonderful exprerience: It was so great to see her. She has been in touch with Shannon and Katya, both of whom will be working at the cemetery again a bit later this month. She has also been communicating with Marina from Cernowitz, who is now learning English. Marina is the Ukrainian student who joined us last summer and will again join the group this summer. She is the one who offered at the end of the project last year to maintain my great grandparents' graves. I don't know for sure if she has actually done so, but of course hope so. And now it sounds like she and I might be able to communicate a bit in English. There are also a couple of other CZernowitzers who would be interested in having Marina take care of their family graves. I don't know much of a possibility that would be, but since I will be visiting Christian in Germany tomorrow, and he will be going to Cz next week, it is a possibility.

Well, back to Paris, Sophie, and this year's project. I had hoped to have Sophie see the mosaic. Not only did that happen, but she wound up participating for a bit. Towards the end, we were hustling to get the panels done, and some of us were working into the evening the last few days. So Sophie and I joined Giselle, Laurent, Ji Hoo,and Ji Hey in plastering and scrubbing the panels.

We did finish in time, although it was down to the wire. We did the last of the plastering Thursday night, needing the time to let the grout dry. On Friday morning we completed the scraping of the extra grout from between the tiles, scrubbing the remaining grout from the surface, and washing with a vinegar/water mixture. We set them all against the wall and stood back to admire our work all lined up together. Then we cleaned the altelier, washing brushes, organizing the glass back by color as much as possible, sweeping tiny shards of glass from the floor. Some us chose a few pieces of glass to bring home with us/

A barbeque was planned in the garden of our other group. Paul had set up a grill and was cooking merguez sausages, which we ate in baguette sandwiches. There were chips, celery and carrot salads, and sparkling wine. Giselle, our mosaic specialist, several folks from the sponsoring organizations, the two teenage boys who have hung out with us a lot ( one of whom Gorka kissed on the metro escalator by mistake, thinking it was Mirjam behind him) and a few others joined us.

After the barbeque, we had a little time to rest before our presentation to the community, at 6pm, of the mosaic. This was an absolutely wonderful culmination of our work, and I will describe it next time, because I am very tired and wouldn't do it justice now.

I hope I will also find the time to describe a few more incidents from the group. And, note to myself, I must make sure to relate my encounter with the Lubovitch Jews who live downstairs from our apartment, and who invited me to their house and would liked me to have joined them for Shabbas the following evening. For now, I'll just say that they were friendly and inviting, but also more different from me than any of the 20 something volunteers from nearly as many countries. It also seemed qute odd to me that their native language was French, although irrationally so. I am sure it would have been an interesting experience to spend more time with them, had I had the time.

The next time I write will no doubt be from Germany, as I am heading there tomorrow at noon.