I was very home sick last year, I had just gotten my appendix out and I was learning how to make new friends while living and working with them at the same time. This year is different. Hurricane Sandy threw me for a doozy but as things have settled down so has my homesickness. I’m a bit behind on US stuff- Most of the time I can’t even check anything besides my email. Social Networks and skype are blocked at school due to a shortage of bandwidth and the internet may be out at home or not strong enough to use skype or twitter. I’m ok with it, but I wonder if others that feel they need the updates can understand.
I’m excited for a peppermint mocha at Starbucks, long distance calls without my phone shutting off because I won’t be using a pay-as-you go phone, sitting on the couch watching ridiculous mind numbing cable to the light of our christmas tree, take out chinese food, checking my email in 2 minutes because it loads in a millisecond, movie theaters, riding my bicycle, going through a drive through, taking public transportation into the city, a new seasonal change, knowing the water will be on at anytime of the day any day of the week, predictability of drivers, some Sandy relief help and all that normal christmasy family stuff…. all things I don’t have in Cameroon.
All things I like but don’t always miss when I’m abroad. What’s cool though is the appreciation I get to feel. I felt it last year, but this year I don’t feel the need for all this stuff as much and it seems to bring out whats most important to me. Relaxing!… oh yeah family is up there too..
Yay Christmas, Yay planes, Yay USA vacation!
When I was growing up I had a really wonderful grandfather. I spent a lot of my time at my grandparents house and most of my memories from childhood are of him. He made a lot of time for me. I remember playing, learning, and hearing stories about growing up in Jersey City. Technically Albanian his family lived in Italy for generations before migrating to the states. He always said he was Italian and we never thought to disagree.
He passed away when I was seven, so all I remember is how fantastic he was. Its like my brain squeezed out all other unnecessary memories so I could save those.
As I went through childhood, we followed Italian traditions like La Vigilia or Festa dei sette pesci The Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas eve. I remember my mother telling me the story of her big trip with poppi back to Italy. I can picture her as a young adult guilting her 6ft 4 father to get into a gondola he was scared of. I remember knowing that I needed to go and see this place, maybe it would help me feel more connected to him.
During my sophomore year of high school I got an opportunity to join a exchange program at my school following a student failing and getting kicked off the trip. I consider this fate taking action. I got to live with a family in Lucca for a week and take day trips with my school. I went to Florence, Rome, and Venice. I saw art and culture mix in a natural way that seemed like it was part of the peoples identity. I think it made me feel very comfortable in my own awkward teenage head. I could identify and appreciate it. I loved paintings and so did they. Soon after that trip I felt a pull to go back, I knew it was a place I needed more time with.
My college offered a study abroad program my third year, and I knew where I wanted to go before I knew there were any options to go there. My Parsons teachers didn’t really approve of these programs, because of the party like reputations they had. I was not interested in hearing negativity and set up plans full steam ahead.
After landing in Florence I got into a taxi by myself and set off to find the office that had a key to my new home. I didn’t know anyone, I was alone and scared shitless. It sounds odd , especially after living in NYC, but you never feel totally alone in the US. Everyone knows your language and its relatively easy to talk to people. When I went to Italy I had never been on a plane alone, and didn’t know any Italian.
After I got my key and arrived at my new studio apartment; I looked out my window, down at the leather market below, and breathed a sigh of relief. I decided to go for a walk, because I was scared to.
I think this was an ‘a ha’ moment. Being able to get over something by getting through it has helped me accomplish a lot. When I got out side I made a left, walked about half a block, and stepped into a bakery. I saw a young girl behind the counter and asked if she spoke english. After asking how to order the correct way in the language, I got huge smile and an enthusiastic short Italian lesson. This was a wonderful introduction to the hospitality that is Italy and how the rest of my time there would be.
Through out the seven month period I traveled all over Europe. I learned how to bargain confidently, see a major city in 2 days, sleep in a hostel with 10 strangers, I learned how to get lost and not freak out, I learned how to enjoy a quiet walk, and among many other things I learned how to oil paint for myself not for a project critique. I spent a lot of my free time in the many Florentine galleries sketching, and started feeling a big connection with the way renaissance and pre-renaissance painters used colors and movement. I was studying illustration at Parsons before I left, and when I came back to the states just wanted to paint. I think a few of my teachers thought I went a bit batty.
Following my study abroad experience I went back a couple times with friends and still couldn’t shake the connection. Each time coming home with feeling that I couldn’t get back soon enough. A few years later, after I decided teaching would be a great way for me to give back to the world, I found out about teaching abroad.
I thought it would be a great route for me to possibly live in Europe and have the opportunity to go to my favorite place more frequently. But after going to the job fairs I soon learned that this was everyone elses idea too and Europe would not be so easy to get to. I took the job in Cameroon on great faith that I needed to experience living abroad. Maybe that was what I was really craving, a new culture. After being here a year I think that might be the case in a lot of the ways because I’m very happy and having a great time. During my time in Yaounde I’ve gotten to think about who and what I find important, and have made big choices, felt the consequences, failed and succeeded. I’ve learned more about myself and what I am able to deal with. But I still feel that original pull towards Europe, how annoying.
In the last two months I’ve been back to Italy twice. The first time a vacation to Florence the second Turin, both ended up having a purpose. I got to visit two international schools and meet the people who run them. The concept of actually reaching my goal is a bit overwhelming and maybe to good to be true. Apparently it is very difficult to get an American an Italian visa so they will be looking more to see IF they can find an equivalent or better candidate from the EU. I won’t know for a few months from now if this is a real possibility, but I am content with any outcome. I feel like what ever happens I am closing a huge chapter and opening a new one. I have tried my best and taken risks. I have never been this close to realizing this ‘dream’. Its all very wishy washy in my mind and I think of my grandpa. Its like he’s taking me on this adventure indirectly. He implanted this seed in my brain as a kid that has helped me find opportunities now.
Ah Bella Italia..
Tags: Albania, Albanian, Art, Cameroon, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Florence, Grandfather, Grandpa, Italy, Jersey City, Michelangelo, Mother, New Jersey, painting, Rome, School, teaching abroad, tradition, Travel, Turin, Venice, YAOUNDE
It’s Thanksgiving time once again, and this year I will be on a job interview at the same time the turkey will becoming out of the oven. How bizarre. I need to take every opportunity that I get, but when it comes down to it I miss being an active part of my family.
Living in another country has provided me with new way of seeing life. There is unconventional beauty everywhere because things are interesting. Life here is exciting because it is out the ‘norm’. Sandy has helped me reflect, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘norm’ is necessary and I hope for that again.
I am from the Jersey shore. Life there is nothing like that horrible MTV program ‘The Jersey Shore’. I find assumptions that it is, ignorant and insulting. I did not tan in a box everyday nor do I fully understand what a GTL is, I am a local. They aren’t. I grew up riding my bike to the beach, and walking around my town barefoot to visit my neighbors on their porches.
I am the definition of a beach kid, born and bred and so was every friend I had up until I graduated high school. I learned how to swim in the ocean when I was one, ride waves on a boogie board when I was three, and swim against rip tides and body surf soon after. I am a scuba diver, my friends are divers, my parents are divers. I grew up watching guys leave school with their surf boards sticking out of their trunks to ‘hit the waves’ in mid January.
I spent my youth at the beach club where I spent all day with my friends swimming and having epic barbeques with my family till midnight. It has a dream like quality in my mind, I know its real but it was a bit too perfect.
Serious sandcastle contests, and swim meets with other beach club teams were the height of importance. Toe stubbing on the pool deck made Carebear Band-Aids fashionable, I don’t actually remember wearing shoes in the heat. Searching for shells and for hours keeping track of who found the most sea glass, building forts out of lounge chair cushions, water fights in the cabana while doing the dishes. I grew up there. We kept the same friends, discussed colleges on the beach talked about boys under the empty lifeguard stand after the beach closed. Made failed efforts to sneak into the nightclub next door, the bouncer was my school gym teacher… he grew up in the cabana next to us. Winter months are a vague memory, everything was a rush till the weather warmed up and we could jump back into the pool.
The beach club was demolished when I was 17 to build large unattractive luxury homes for the tourists from the North to stay in during the summer. Things can’t always stay the same.
Going down to the Point Pleasant boardwalk to play ski ball while my grandma played electronic poker, made me a pro at the game. By time I was 8 years old I had my own style of throwing the ball to win epic points. I’d win tickets worth enough to buy that cool neon eraser in the shape of a teddy bear for the tip my pencil.
I have a clear memory of being seven years old; walking back to our car, I see my fingers sticking together with sugary pink residue from cotton candy Grandma let me have. I remember sitting with gram and mom on the beach on metal and fabric chairs watching the town orchestra put on its weekly summer concerts. I loved sitting on my grandmas lap and falling asleep. The orchestra left just last year, no more concerts, only memories.
When I got older and moved to New York, I still got my summers in Jersey and would visit the beach some weekends in the winter to see the grey color of the ocean. Still taking my bike out in the cold wind to feel the sinus cleansing salty air, I would watch seagulls make tracks in the light snow. The people who work at the deli around the corner know my family and ask how everyone is doing when I stop in to grab a sub. Some things don’t change, but they probably will eventually.
We grew up with Hurricanes. My mom used to say they would open the back and front doors of Tradewinds to let the water run through. We used to make a game of racing the waves that flew over the seawall on our way home where we would tape X’s on our windows and prepare to clear out water that would inevitably flood our basement.
Last month the east was hit with Sandy, an ironic dainty name for a massive coastal super storm. Beach clubs were ripped from their pilings; boardwalks flew up like a bed sheets, local dives gutted by massive flooding and wind. My childhood hometown was ok with some damage and power down for over a week, but compared to everyone else, we were extremely lucky. People have died because evacuation was never something taken very seriously before. ‘Riding the storm out’ was a normal phrase people will use less now. Homes have been lifted and dragged out to sea. A friend of our family is currently borrowing my car because the three they owned floated away. Boats were sprinkled like confetti around and through split open homes. Towns were shut down because they were deemed unsafe due to open gas lines. Fires started, a roller coaster fell off a pier into the ocean, and many displaced now live in shelters. The stories I’ve been hearing are nightmarish, the pictures even more heart wrenching. We’ve never had one as extreme as Sandy and I’m expecting things to look different when I visit next month.
It is disturbing to watching events play out from so far away, and not being able to do anything is even more troubling. I am now a paying subscriber to the NY Times online site to heal this disconnection slightly. I get to see how the rest of the world is seeing my community; emotional, strong, hardworking, and loving. New Jerseyians take care of each other and we are proud of what we have. I call home as often as possible to see how friends are doing, getting their homes fixed and lives back together. All I’ve heard is how nice people are being, and I feel really proud of everyone.
I wish I were home to help out. I will be home in exactly a month, I promise to do my part and give as much energy as I can muster to ‘Restore the Shore’. Restore the possibility of making new memories similar to what I am privileged to have.
So to friends, family, and neighbors- in the spirit of Thanksgiving I am thankful for you, the memories that I share with you, and for the faith in knowing more will be made because we are a determined crowd. I’ll see you in December with bells on and possibly work gloves.
Last spring I went on Safari. It was utterly breath taking and I recommend Tanzania to everyone that asks. I realize I have not written anything about my amazing trip, I think the only explanation is that its was so wonderful and so much happened that it has been difficult to sit down and consolidate my thoughts. I saw every animal I can think of. Highlights being Black rhino, tree climbing leopards, Cheetah talking to each other about 5 feet from our vehicle, elephants, giraffes and elephants running and grazing with their heards, every type of bird and antelope, we even saw a lion pride kill a buffalo, and not to mention being in the middle of the wildebeest migration.
But I could not introduce this painting with out a full recollection of the people I met. I visited different tribes to get an idea of what the country was really like past all the safari tourist groups. After my safari I stayed in Karatu and first visited the Imbulu tribe which had a basic skit set up for visitors.
“This how we plant, and this is how we make that weird drink we’re known for….”, “Come sit by me I will tell you your life..” I had my stones read, and she told me that I worked with many people.. I guess when you think about Americans, you are always working with many people. Anyway, after that I took time to walk through the village market with a swahili translator.
I bought tire shoes, met the translator’s suppliers of meat and vegitables (he was a chef during his regular job) people said “jamaba”, and told me how pretty my hair was, and I got to see the play ground installed by some American program. It was great.
Most tourists choose to see Maasai in a popular Boma at the entrance to the Ngorogoro, I was determined to see the warriors without 20 other tourists behind me, so I chose to pay to get back into reserve. I had a different swahili translator with me this time. He could say OK, Yes and No in english. That was it. After 4 hours of driving we achieved some sort of ridiculous sign language that only he and I could understand. My entrance into the Boma was interesting. They first did a welcome dance for me, this consisted of the men jumping as high as they could and then the woman. They sang and moved their head up with their chests making those cool necklaces bob around. Then it was my turn and I did not want to do this. One of the Maasai had my camera and was SUPER excited to photograph me jumping. I would made a very bad 1st impression if I didn’t, so i jumped and looked silly. But it was fun and the woman thought I was great and the men laughed. We were on the crater rim and I was alone with my new Maasai escorts. I was completely alone but felt well taken care of, my sign language buddy pushed me along and waved goodbye for the hour. My new tour guide, an 18 year old Maasai warrior who spoke excellent English, showed me where he lived with his mother and where all of his brothers and sisters lived with their mothers. The are a ‘plural’ marriage community. After the man turns 18 they look for their 1st wife and build their 1st home. They start to have kids, look for another wife, build another home and the Boma grows. The homes are made of bark and dung and constructed in a nautilus shape. He led me in to his small round 8ft by 8ft home, through the narrow winding entrance. The room was completely pitch black with an exception of one small head size ‘hole’ or ‘window’. After my eyes adjusted enough to the light and could see his silhouetted figure I asked questions about this lifestyle. He explained his home was built this way to confuse lions and keep them out of their homes. Woah. Apparently Maasai are called warriors because they can ward off and kill lions. The red cloth they wear is supposed to fend off lions because its mimics the color of fire, every wool cloth pattern has meaning.
After visiting the school where children filed in to greet me with their ABC’s in swahili and english I asked if I could wander around the village by myself. I was givien permission with slight trepidation on the part of my warrior guide. I watched woman with their children, taking the afternoon to make those round beautiful beaded necklaces, chatting etc. My short stroll around the Boma ended in the center where all of the gorgeous beaded jewelry hung around the packed cow ‘paddock’. The cows are essential to Maasai life, they spend all day allowing them to graze and while the warriors protect them from the predatory lions. The people live off the milk, meat and blood. Traditionally the blood is known to give strength. I really respect the Maasai value of tradition and their contentment in what they have. I asked my 18 year old guide if he would ever leave this type of life and move to a different type of community. He said that some do, they have one wife and life in the modern community and that os ok for them, they are always allowed to come back and visit. But he loves his traditions and is planning to keep them, he wants to find his 1st wife and start his Boma in the next year or two.
The Chaga tribe was the last group I made an effort to meet. First of all, I had no idea what I was going to see. There was no brochure and nothing online really. My safari, Fay Safaris, organized everything for me, and told me it was worth it. So I went. They live on Mount Kilimanjaro and are they don’t get many visitors. Although they aren’t as visually exciting as the Maasai, the Chaga were my favorite. I had to bring a Swahili and Chaga translator, we did not climb (I didn’t have enough time) so we drove and then walked up a separate route to introduce me to the mountain. We walked up a gravel path that turned into dirt, walked over a bridge with missing planks that took us to the bottom of a hill that we walked up to reach the tribe. It was beautiful, green everywhere except for huge white flowers on the edge of the path.
The Chaga woman in the painting.
After arriving in the village I met a woman who had to be in her mid 80’s, she was worn down but had a big smile on her face. Later I learned she was in her mid 50’s. You could tell they didn’t get many ‘muzungus’ in their home, and they were happy to see me. I was given a seat while the translators helped them tell me about their land and what they do during a regular day. While they were talking with me her daughter who is in the painting, was doing regular chores with her little boy who wore purple rain boots. The litte boy was picking up weeds and putting them in a pile for their cow to eat, but he would only carry one at a time. The daughter thought this was entertaining and had a HUGE smile on her face.
(On a side note. People in Cameroon smile, but this particular relaxed expression stood out to me)
Next the woman I thought was 80 took me into the original home her father built. It was made of straw mud and dung and in the form of a round hill. Like the boma it was pitch black inside I was asked to sit on one of two benches that used to be a beds, she explained to me how her father slept on one and mother on the other but now they use the room for cooking. All of a sudden I felt something push against me followed but a crunching sound. I jumped and screamed (like a freak) and after everyone started laughing at me, saw the culprit, a goat in the corner . After she lit a small gas lamp I also found that a giant cow was behind him chomping on some of that greenery the boy in the purple boots had collected. After I calmed down the translators helped me ask the woman questions about her life and children. She said her father taught her everything about planting and raising animals. She showed me the cooking tools he showed her how to carve. Now she is teaching her grandchildren the trades because ‘its too late for my daughter’. She was married when she was 19 and has two grandchildren that she helps her daughter raise. All the families live next to one another in houses on a flat patch of dirt surrounded by their farm of fruit trees. She wanted to know why I was traveling alone and asked me if I was married, when I said ‘no’ she responded “good for you” with a big smile. She wanted to know what I did for money. She thought it was wonderful that I could take care of myself and told me she liked a lot of the foreigners she met. Some from Australia and England. She told me she wished she could have done some traveling but is happy with her life. After our talk she took a picture with me, and asked me to come back and visit someday when I had a family. As a parting gift she offered me a fruit that looked like an orange tomato. She waited for me to eat it in front of her and then offered me another before we headed back down the hill to explore the rest of the mountain.
Tags: Africa, animals, Arusha, black rhino, Cameroon, Chaga tribe, elephants, expat, Fay Safaris, Imbulu tribe, Karatu, learning, lion kill, Maasai warriors, safari, Tanzania, teaching abroad, wildebeest migration
My friend emailed me this illustration today. I leave for Florence in a couple weeks. We have a week off this month and I decided to give myself an early birthday gift. I studied abroad in Florence during college and a lot of my paintings are inspired from those experiences, its like a home away from home. Oh art, oh walking around alone safely at night… I’ve missed you. Not to mention those Cappuccinos and caldo panini. Woo hoo, I’m getting excited!
Last year my high school students created two large scale murals on the school walls. One in the hallway between the music and art room and one outside on the walkway to the canteen. When I first started painting murals I sort of had to teach myself the correct way. I was not taught the right way to measure or grid. Didn’t even know how to grid until the job at the NJ Devils stadium. So its pretty amazing to me that I can teach it properly now. Watching them take initiative and act as a successful group inspired me to create a new Service Learning group The Meaningful Mural Project. Service Learning happens every other Friday at ASOY (the American School of Yaounde, where I teach). Our school reserves half the day for students to come together into groups to find ways to help or impact the community. Last year I was in charge of 8th grade, and their Sanitation Project. We focused on boiling water. A lot of villagers won’t boil their water because they consider it a waste of fire wood. Unfortunately well water can carry cholera and other diseases.
We learned how to make ‘improved cook stoves’ out of mud and went into a village to educate the villagers about how to build them. During this experience we also learned how cooking by an open fire can cause cancer and blindess, there for making the the continuation of the project important to try and perfect the process as well as educate more of the community
This project is still continuing with other teachers, while I have chosen to teach my students something more personal to me that maybe other art teachers in the future may not be able to. The Meaningful Mural project is stemmed from the mural arts program in Philadelphia, USA. There are over 3,000 murals in Philly. Each placed in neighborhood’s that will benefit from their presence. You can learn more about this at www.Muralarts.org.
A mural can affect a community positively, while teaching the local children a craft that will afford them a skill for their future. So this week my 10 students, that have chosen this project, will be visiting the Cameroon Catholic orphanage Foyer de l’Esperance, where they will have a chance to see the environment they’ll be working in. They will meet the kids they’ll be working with, and interview them to provide information for research.
Students will use this information to choose appropriate imagery that the children will identify with in a positive way. At the end of this project the orphanage will be left with a piece of art that will hopefully help those students feel important on a daily basis as well as many generations to come.
Last week I gave a slide show and used podcasts about the ‘mural mile’ self tour in Philly to teach the students about how subjects are chosen and why they affect those specific types of neighborhoods. We talked about the economics of the people, what their families might be like, and why they would be affected by this picture. We discussed the way the image was laid out in ‘composition’, why that was important, and how the colors made them feel. If you want to go through the power point and see what the students learned about click on this link:
Service learning Murals PowerPoint presentation.
I’m really excited, and want my students to feel the impact they will have on these kids lives. Its hard to project this ‘affect’ to students by just telling them. This week should be interesting, I will get to SEE my students be leaders (hopefully) and interact with kids using knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom through bilingual interviews (the orphanage is francophone). Wish us luck!
Tags: Africa, African orphanage, american school, Art, Art education, Cameroon, improved cook stoves, living abroad, mural arts, murals, orphanage, painting, philadelphia, philadelphia murals, service learning, teaching abroad
So I haven’t written anything since I left for Europe last year, I want to catch you up. Alot has happend! Traveling, my amazing family, and friends took up my life for 2 months of bliss. Provence was amazing, after flying from Cameroon I took a train from Brussels to Avignon and rented a car, GPS and bought a guidebook to start my trip off right. I am so happy I rented a car, I would never recommend trying to huff it on public transportation in this part of France. Half the fun was getting sent on incorrect routes by my GPS. At one point, straight into a private cherry farm/dead end (I ate some cherries off a tree and proceeded to back my car 1/4 mile down the grassy hill I drove up). It was a freeing experience to feel completely independent with no right or wrong itinerary to follow. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous to travel alone, because that would be ridiculous. I love traveling with people and sharing the experiences and making memories, but at this point in my life I feel like if I have the opportunity to do something, I need to grab the bull by the horns and get the courage to face it. What if I don’t get another chance? During this week I went to 9 different villages met many people, smelled real lavender, saw beautiful sites and ate amazing food before meeting up with friends and heading to the Riviera and up to Paris for a week. Before I let this get too far behind I’ll start with Provence…
1. Les Baux:
Les Baux was the 1st stop on my adventure. You cannot really stay in the village of Les Baux. There are only 2 hotels there, and they both fill quickly. So, I stayed right outside the city. I was exhausted from traveling, and decided to ‘eat in’ at the hotel restaurant the 1st night. This was my first experience with amazing French cooking; my little inexpensive simple hotel served the most amazing duck and goat cheese salad. Heaven. Next day I woke up at 9am.. no one in France wakes up that early so I had a solid two hours to stroll around the village virtually alone. A medieval city that once ruled over 900 villages Les Baux is a fortress with remnants of medieval architecture set inside cave-like stone slabs. I was able to tour Upper Les Baux where I learned about the fortress and how it functioned as a city containing many types of buildings and homes. I then went down to the lower part of the city for lunch. I honestly feel like the food in France made this trip. Yes it was gorgeous and amazing, but man their food and wine even beats Italy (and that’s a BIG statement if you know me and my Italy obsession.) While looking over the valley and sketching, I ate steak, fries, salad with a ‘petit’ bottle of wine..there was no wine by the glass. What is a solo traveler to do? Build up her alcohol tolerance. Afterwards I walked a.k.a. hobbled around the shops, I was able to use my French to talk with the store clerks (French is much easier to speak in France comparatively to Cameroon). I bought an artisan necklace, a bouquet of lavender, and a silk scarf, went to the Museum of Satons where clay figurines are made look like specific types of people (famous to this part of southern France). Afterwards stopping for a scoop of lavender gelato before heading to the ‘Carrières de Lumières’ set in a former bauxite quarry. Here images of french paintings are projected on 40 foot walls in complete darkness. A Pretty amazing start to my trip.
Rousillon is a small village in the Vaucluse known for its location above the Ochre cliffs. At one time, it served as a quarry for dye (the ochre color). At first I thought of using this as my base town but thankfully decided not too for more than 2 nights. The town itself is oh so small and oh so high with next to no parking and a very windy road to get there. Yet, it is quite beautiful and quaint with a spectacular view of the cliffs and valley. The Church of St. Michel is the highlight on the tour of things to see, with winding streets with many buildings tinted orange or pink. It was a nice place to relax, my ro0m at ‘le Clos de la Glycine’ had a a cute sitting area with fantastic view of the cliffs.
Gordes is a hilltop town, and once again I woke up early arriving before every other tourist. I took a look at its pretty view above the valley and proceeded to try my hand at boutique browsing. Linen is very famous here. I went on market day and bought a hand woven straw bag locals typically use when food shopping. After walking around a bit I found a seat at a small cafe with a view of the central square where the market was set up. I sketched and drank Café au laits, the second just to give me more time to observe the people. I left with my basket of goodies and proceeded on to the most interesting part of my visit, the Abbey Senanque, a small very modest functioning monastery below the town. There is a tour of the monastery but I skipped it because of a timing conflict. I walked around the grounds and got to sit in on part of a Catholic mass the monks were giving. The church inside is grey stone and plain but the echoing voices on the cool walls gives you an otherworldly feeling and calmness. Afterwards I walked through the lavender fields they grow and found a shady bench to eat the lunch I bought at the Market of fresh multigrain bread, green olive pate, lavender cookies, and strawberries!
Ah Lourmarin, what a wonderful village to call home for 5 days. I used this town as my ‘base’ while traveling to other places and rented a room in a house where an artist lives. My room, was extremely relaxing, and had huge wooden doors that opened to a view of the Chateau de Lourmarin. It was surrounded by a garden and gated in with a communal balcony for breakfast. Lourmarin is sort of an in between size compared to the other villages I visited. Not as famous as Les baux but more restaurants, shops, and parking then Rousillon. Lourmarin is known for its friday market, taking up the whole town selling everything from frozen fish to handwoven panama hats. I was able to come back after a long day of traveling to get lost in the winding streets and order a beer at a local cafe where everyone is french, no American to be seen for miles. The last night I was there I ventured out to a pizza place that was highly recommended by the people I was staying with. To get there, I went the quick back way and had to crouch through small hidden tunnels next to local homes and gardens to end up in a small square already packed with dining locals. Afterwards I walked home following the lit up Chateau. Such a peaceful experience.
5. St. Remy
St Remy is large and very popular with tourists. Lucky for me I was there in early June, which is actually off season for Americans. I was surrounded by older french tourists whole like me enjoy sitting and observing. When I got there, not early enough this time, parking was a nightmare. After an hour of driving around I found a spot, this ended up being great because by time I got out of the car I knew a lot of the street names and locations. I hit up the market first. This market unlike any other it is so popular they have 2 a week. One for Antiques only, and the other for… everything else. It took over the majority of the streets this small city. I was on a mission to… of course find lunch, but an olive wood cooking spoon for my mom. SO many choices, there were at least 4 stands for every one type of item. I found the spoon and beautiful olives and cheese for lunch. But before trying to see the sites on the map, I sat with my older french comrades and drank coffee and watched people. The cafe I chose was fantastic, my favorite memory of the trip actually. I had a full view of the market, and street. I was sitting up high on a bar stool and shared a table with an older gentlemen who thought my sketchbook was fabulous, I was drawing people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I couldn’t understand him, but he kept giving me the thumbs up. A woman was singing old french tunes in front of the cafe and every one was singing with her. Songs you’d hear in romantic comedies (which is sort of my impression of france, one big setting for the perfect movie). I actually sat there for 2 hours nursing the same 2 cups of coffee and eventually caving for an orange juice. After deciding I needed to try and see something on the map, I pried myself away from the cafe and headed to a cultural museum where I learned about their history of making linen and proceeded on a route to Glanum a ‘grand’ celtic ruin on the edge of town. I only headed back to my car when I felt like I might collapse from walking. I stopped to buy fruit off the side of the road to take home for dinner, I swear I could taste lavender in the apricots and cherries.
A city best known as Van Gogh’s inspiration was a stop I had to make. When I was in high school Vincent Van Gogh was my favorite artist. Here, I got to walk the streets and see what he saw on a regular day. Arles is large enough to get lost in and I needed to follow a map. I walked to most of the spots he observed while painting, my favorite being the Starry Starry Night by the river. Along the way I shopped, stopped at their big cathedral in the center piazza and paid entrance to walk through the tunnels of their small coliseum where they still have bullfights. After a perfect Parisian lunch on a side street off the main sites I started to walk back towards the car and decided to take a breather before the hour drive back to Lourmarin. I took a short cut through a park and sat on an empty bench and decided to draw some flowers and a tree stump. On my way out I noticed a plaque with a Van Gogh painting. Turns out Van Gogh stopped there often to paint too.
At the foot of the palace of Marquis de Sade, home to the author of erotic novels, Lacoste echoes very very quietly. Going here was a last minute decision. Savannah College of Art and design owns most of the town using it as a study abroad extension, but it was off season. Off season is my new favorite term for what’s great about Europe. I walked through the empty winding streets, brown cobblestone making up every wall, and saw my reflection in the empty windows. I spent time taking photographs of the sculptures that filled the empty corridors, and of the views you could see peaking through the buildings that stood looking out to the perfect view of the valley. I didn’t go into the palace although it was interesting with grass covering the now ceiling-less walls. They wanted 7 euros to enter, A bit ridiculous, so I continued to wander. My walk ended at a cafe on the cliff side of town where I had my very first goat cheese omelet while overlooking my next village ‘Bonnieux’.
I was first told about Bonnieux through a Fodor’s blog. I was looking for a base town and one of the woman swore this was the best place to stay when traveling. I chose not to stay there based on an article I found later describing it as interesting but ‘a large uphill town with few restaurants.’ Saying this town is uphill is an understatement. Every street you turn is a ‘switchback’. When walking you need to use stairs to get to the next street over. I parked at the top and walked down through the residential area, got lost in the beauty of this fairytale like atmosphere only to realize I had to walk the 10 minutes back at a steep twisting incline. It is a town made up of ancient stone structures uniform in style only unique in shutter color and flower pot choice. There are few restaurants but many galleries I went into at least 5 on the two ‘business’ street blocks. The art wasn’t very exciting but there was a great impressionist influence, many tributes to Cezzanne. Before heading back to Lourmarin, I stopped and bought lavender honey to bring home as a souvenir and an Orangina to cool off. I sat and watched the sunset before finding my way up to my car with which I drove the wrong direction home… This was the town that sent my gps on a tangent insisting the way home was through the cherry orchard. So, I still feel like I made the best decision by choosing a day visit.
9. Aix en Provence
Aix is definitely not a small town. Even a little over whelming after being in such small villages for 5 days. But its beautiful, and I got over that feeling quickly. When I first started planning this trip I wanted to come here for 5 days. The pictures looked so romantic and the streets like a ‘miniature’ paris. I love ‘strolling’, window shopping, and sketching. Here, it was much easier to blend in and feel like I belonged. One of the days I sat in a a cafe killing time for 2 hours drinking rose` and painting in my sketchbook. Later that afternoon I walked out past the boarder of the center of town to a residential area known for Cezanne’s Art studio. Every 1/4 mile or so I’d see a sign letting me know I was headed in the right direction until I reached a line of people in sneakers and fanny packs. The grounds were small. A wall kept a small chunk of forest attached to the modest two story home. Below you paid the fee to walk up the stairs, to a one room studio with 9 foot ceilings and 5 foot windows. A lot of the people I came in with said ‘this is it for 4 euro?’, ‘no museum or library?’, ‘you can’t even buy a soda’. Of course I can understand why people like to have ‘extra’s’, I mean I enjoy the MOMA in NY and they have 2 different restaurants. But this felt like a tomb, preserved from the moment he left. It was so great to try and imagine what it would have been like to work in that room with those items around me and with a view of those trees. My friend Elizabeth was meeting me the next day but after being alone for a week I was getting a little desperate for something to distract me and headed to a movie theater. After being in Cameroon where there aren’t any movie theaters this was exciting. I saw ‘Prometheus‘ in 3D and English, I got out around 12 and was met by a festival in the street celebrating the history of Aix. Talk about sensory overload. I went from a plot about the future and aliens to a whole village of real people dressed in period clothing. They Danced circles around each other while a band lead by 18 yr old fluters was bizarre. In the states it wouldn’t be considered cool to go dance with my friends and grandparents at a local renaissance festival. But here it seemed like an honored tradition that everyone enjoyed. I watched for about an hour took videos and clapped along.
To be continued… look for France Part 2: The Riviera and Paris
Tags: Africa, Aix en Provence, Arles, Art, art teacher, artist, Bonnieux, Cameroon, France, Gordes, Lacoste, Les Baux de Provence, Lourmarin, painter, Paul Cezanne, Provence, Rousillon, solo traveler, St. Remy, teaching abroad