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In late February 2011, I learned that C, a friend I had barely seen since high school, was roving around Europe and was looking to see some South of France. Always eager to be the guide, I began to plan a train itinerary through the history and landscape of Provence, taking us through Arles, Avignon, and Montpellier, where we would get to soak in some Roman ruins and typical French student nightlife.

Well, you know, ‘the best laid plans’ and stuff, because obviously none of that happened. What did in fact happen may have been cliche in all of the ways I’d been trying to avoid, but perhaps it ended up being just what I needed.

Over the next few days, I’m going to share a bit about the places we visited on what ended up being an epic 24-hour road trip across the French Riviera and back.

Continue Reading »

In Defense of Marseille

Gangs of Marseille??

So it has recently come to my attention that there is a significant portion of the American tourism handbook industry that is actively telling people not to come to Marseille. The section on Marseille in France for Dummies (actually entitled “Marseille: Crime and Bouillabaisse”) includes such gems as “don’t take your car [to Marseille] as it will almost certainly get broken into or stolen” and “make a quick tour of Marseille…a major transportation hub in the South.” Transportation hub?? Also, they suggest that everybody that comes to Marseille pretty much only does so for prostitutes and/or drugs. I even read one online source that (legitimately?) warns travelers who are not up to date on their vaccinations of the potential risk of hepatitis A.

Well consider this post a rebuttal to “Crime and Bouillabaisse” from someone who has not only never been robbed/attacked in Marseille (I mean, knock on wood I guess) but is also a vegetarian and has never had a 60 euro bowl of fish stew. Furthermore, I did not come here in search of prostitutes and drugs. Ok maybe a few prostitutes, but listen, Marseille is great, and I’ll tell you why: Continue Reading »

Upon leaving Paris, my erstwhile home, I set out on an eastward course, landing in a place where I not only didn’t know the city at all, but where I couldn’t even speak the language. (I always feel guilty when this happens, when I don’t even really understand the structure of the language enough to string together the few words I do know. At least in Italian and Spanish, if I’ve got some nouns and verbs, I can make myself understood because I can figure out what order to put them in. German? Lost cause. Incidentally, I did get really good at saying Einschuldigung…but I digress.) Continue Reading »

Design Fetish

French premium cable channel Canal+ has this FANTASTIC ad campaign for its big television movie premiere events. The posters manage to be on-trend with the whole clean, minimalist design that you people seem to love so much, while making some truly superb references, way too witty to be pasted on the wall of a bus shelter. SO HERE I GO BRINGING THEM TO THE INTERWEBZ. Thought I’d share…because, well, they’re awesome. Translations provided with the disclaimer that, like most things, I think it sounds better in French. Continue Reading »

I hate tourists. After a solid summer of pushing my way through Times Square at rush hour, everyone with a fanny pack and a huge camera is the enemy. When you live in a city, you outgrow its tourist tendencies, and if you’ve lived in a big city, any big city, really, the tourists, wherever you go, start to annoy you. Continue Reading »

Lo mein

I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit, blog-wise, so, as a stepping stone to my eventual recovery and future regaling posts, I’d like to share something with you that literally just happened, so that you can be as up to date as humanly possible. This sequence of events was so cartoonishly representative of my life in Marseille that it, perhaps more than anything I’ve posted yet, deserves a place on this blog. Continue Reading »

When I arrived in the South of France in late September, people repeatedly told me I was coming in the worst time of the year: that despite the olive trees and Mediterranean Sea being right there, it was going to get cold. I…did not believe them. I thought that I, who have lived through winters in New York and Maryland and Cleveland for heaven’s sake, could handle whatever Mediterranean “winter” they could throw at me.

Well, allow me to be the first to admit that I’m freezing. This is entirely my fault. I neglected to consider the 20-minute walk I have to do to get to and from school, so that even though it’s a balmy 30-40ish degrees Fahrenheit, I spend much more time outdoors than I do at similar times in New York. I also neglected to take into account the indisputable fact that my current “winter wardrobe” is woefully insufficient for anything remotely resembling actual below-freezing temperatures, and as hard as it is to find warm vegan boots in the States…well…you know the rest.

The evident upside of the cold snap is that it reminds me inevitably of Christmas. In New York, the first dip below 30 degrees heralds the end of fall and the beginning of the frost-bitten, well-illuminated, clothing-layering, tourist-avoiding, spiked-hot-chocolate-drinking, ice-skating, window-shopping holiday season. Cue music. Preferably “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” but the Chipmunk song will also do. Continue Reading »

You Knew This Already

BONUS!

An on-topic treat for my French-speaking readers: this choice article, published in today’s Monde.

 

The literati of France’s newspaper of record examine American Christmas traditions in a way that is both hilarious and slightly inaccurate (They misspell several of the reindeers’ names and COMPLETELY OMIT Rudolph, which is frankly egregious). I did, however, learn several things, like how Coca Cola gave Santa a red suit in the early 1900s, and how Clement Clarke Moore thought of his flying sleigh in 1823.

There is also this brilliant, if super French literary comparison:

A côté du Noël de Tchaïkovski, il y a Dickens. Dans le premier, on s’arrache les cadeaux les plus chers. Dans le second, on se précipite à minuit pour acheter du lait pour biberon : c’est l’heure à laquelle les chèques d’allocation chômage arrivent sur les comptes.

I think it’s interesting, though, that they accuse Americans of an obsession with Christmas. I think it’s true that we do it in a very uniquely “American” way (inflatable Santas, anyone?), and it’s got to strike foreigners as extravagant, BUT AS I WILL LATER ARGUE, the spirit and the energy and the magic is more or less the same.

 

With a holiday as cherished and globally recognizable as Christmas, it’s easy to think that our own rituals and lore represent the entirety of the day’s traditions.

However, when a holiday is as widely celebrated, globalized and commercialized as Christmas is, it’s pretty easy to learn that this is not at all the case. The following may shock and/or/not awe you. Continue Reading »

Misappropriation

In a continuing series about French linguistic quirks, in which I try desperately to keep you, my readership, interested by getting all deep about second person pronouns, today’s topic of discussion is actually English. Or, more precisely, English words that have been commandeered by the French language and removed from their original meaning  in a vaguely comical way. Continue Reading »