Friday, October 31, 2014

Famous Haunts: A Walk in Père Lachaise


I’m not obsessed with cemeteries. In fact they creep me out. But stepping into the Père Lachaise cemetery is different. It’s like walking into some marvelous wonderland where someone decided that humans should be buried. It’s like if there were a graveyard put in Disneyland – it’s out of place, but you couldn’t blame anyone for wanting to rest everlastingly there.

Père Lachaise has the same thing going on. It’s gorgeous, peaceful, and full of celebrities. So what if they happen to be dead?

I like to walk through it in the autumn, preferably with a pair of boots to crunch on the leaves falling from the orange and crimson tinged trees. I’ve got some friends there that I visit, like Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. I mean, sure, tons of people head to their graves, but I know they’re waiting for my visit each fall. It’s like trick-or-treating for me, even though I really do love Reese’s Cups.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Art and Chocolate: Keeping Things Interesting in Paris

It's all about chocolate, right?
The takeaway message from this weekend is that Paris can still surprise me. That’s the happy part of this story. The other part is that it took chocolate butt plugs to get to that point.

I should probably explain…

Paul McCarthy, the American artist who made headlines by inflating a giant butt plug-shaped “Tree” in Paris’s Place Vendôme, has an exhibit at the Monnaie de Paris. This gallery, the historic mint for French money, reopened this past weekend, October 25th, as a home to contemporary art exhibits. The first show – McCarthy’s deliciously titled “Chocolate Factory.”

Since the exhibit was free this weekend, of course I went, and I absolutely loved it. I am not ashamed.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Chicago in 26.2 Miles


One minute and forty-two seconds more and the tears wouldn’t have been falling across a smile. Who knew such a small chunk of time could be so significant.

It was a sunny early autumn day in Chicago. The air was crisp, the gloves were on, but my red racing shorts were making their American debut. It was marathon day, the Chicago Marathon, in case that wasn't clear, and after a trans-Atlantic flight from Paris, waking up at 4:30AM was a cinch.

The task at hand was one I had already met 6 times: run 26.2 miles. Simple enough. But this time, the training, sobriety, and healthy eating that I had endured left me hell-bent on finishing the marathon in less than 4 hours, something that I almost did in Paris. This time, finishing over four hours wasn’t an option if I wanted the trip to be worth my while. Would it be lucky number seven?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Camargue: France's Natural Narnia

The fabled white horses of the Camargue...

You don’t need to travel far from Paris to feel like you “got away.” After a long weekend in Marseille this summer, I rediscovered a place I had passed through several years ago that isn’t on every tourist’s radar: the Camargue.

The area, in southern France near the town of Arles, where Van Gogh spent his final days, is something of a French freak show, in the best way possible. It’s a mix of surprisingly beautiful flora and fauna, with certain livestock guarded by genuine French cowboys – no joke.

Pass down south, heading west along the Mediterranean, and you can experience it. We had to drive, the only way to do it besides biking, and before entering the nature reserve, we waited at a stoplight for what seemed like half an hour. The bridge, well, actually a car ferry, allowed us to pack in with other local drivers before making the crossing. Let the adventure begin.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Marseille: On Soup, Soap, and Snorkeling

Oh hey Marseille...

“Oh I hear it’s really dirty down there,” people tell me every time I discuss summer vacation. I guess it’s tough to shake some labels. But seriously, Marseille is far from the cesspool people think it is. Or at least that's the case since 2013 when it was the European Capital of Culture, forcing it to scrub up a bit.

My friend Lindsey, who loves Marseille, has written about it quite a few times, so I know I’m not exaggerating. The city, the third largest in France, is also the biggest port along the Mediterranean and the town that has now stolen my heart twice.

It was the starting point for a road trip from Provence to Paris, and it started with a taxi ride from the train station that could rival the zigzaginess of any Parisian driver. Safe and sound in the Panier, one of the oldest parts of town, we slipped easily into vacation mode. There's just something about the south, ya know?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Marathon du Médoc 2014: A Masquerade


This was well before any notion of fatigue set in...

Third Time’s a Charm

Two Americans, an Aussie, and a Singaporean walk into a marathon…

It was just another Saturday in the Médoc region of France when 10,000 runners and wine lovers descended upon the sleepy town of Pauillac, north of Bordeaux. Dressed in their Carnival finest, we were ready to run the world’s longest marathon.

Fireworks burst overhead at 9:30AM as we set off on a 42 kilometer trek unlike any other in the world. Musicians lined the streets as locals joined runners from around the world, cheered on by an equally international crowd. Water was plentiful, but played second fiddle at this marathon.

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll say it again. It bears repeating. There's a reason I've come back for a third time. We drink wine – hearty red wine – at multiple chateaux along the route, racing towards the last few kilometers where oysters (with white wine), steak, and ice cream await the willing.

And we were all willing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School in Paris: One More Time

All ready for my first day of class!

It was the last time I’d ever receive this type of letter. After grammar school, there was the excitement of high school. Then letters arrived about college. Then an acceptance letter to a master’s program arrived. Then came the notification that I had been adopted by the Sorbonne as a PhD candidate.

Yesterday I received my last set of “certificate de scolarité,” renewing my enrollment for the 2014-2015 year – my final year – at the University of the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris 3. This officially marked the end of my higher education in France, and probably in the world. There will be no more first days of school for me as a student after this October. My lunchbox would be retired, forever.

Well, at least that’s the most likely scenario. But this being France, who knows what hiccups I may encounter…