April Flowers and Easter Showers

I find it rather fitting that my month of spring weather and subsequent freakouts culminated in a rainy Easter. Easter for me symbolizes spring, new beginnings and a fresh start. What better way to get a clean slate than to have all the old detritus literally washed away?

Luckily (and shockingly) all this week except Easter Sunday was gorgeous and made me long for lazy summer days. Alas, I have to wait at least five more days until I can take full advantage of the sun’s now recurring appearance. To help tide me over until break, the Easter weekend provided a relaxing and much needed pause after what was a rather charged week.

Thabor is a magical fairyland

Thabor is a magical fairyland



Eager to put grades in the grade book, this week my classmates and I faced the deadlines of a long line of projects. First up was my 45 Art History presentation on Joan Miro. To be honest, at first I thought my teacher was crazy giving us an entire period to present on one artist entirely in French. But as after researching and putting together my PowerPoint, the task seemed much less daunting. I’m amazed at how that class has made me able to produce a credible commentary on most paintings and certain types of architecture.

The second big presentation took place on Tuesday afternoon. After grabbing lunch at a cute organic café in town, my friends and I met up with our entire school at Rennes 1 (one of two general universities in Rennes that function sort of like state schools do back in America). There, alongside four other high schools, 14 of my classmates and I talked about the American involvement in WWI, as part of an national educational project to commemorate what the French call “La Grande Guerre.” My History class had been working on this project for a good two months, collecting photos from the French and American National Archives, writing and rewriting our texts to get everything said in under 25 minutes. Finally presenting was a bit surreal: squashed next to two of my friends because there were only ten chairs on stage, having to stand on my tiptoes cuz the mike was too tall, forgetting not to clap for ourselves when it was all over.

Daisy Chains and WWI presentation rehearsal

Daisy Chains and WWI presentation rehearsal

The project in all of its glory

The project in all of its glory

La Centenaire

La Centenaire



To make up for the afternoon classes we missed because of the history presentation, Wednesday’s schedule was completely altered. I lucked out with only one class, which I used as an opportunity to get in an early morning run before school started. I’m pretty sure I spent the rest of the day attempting to read Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in French for my literature class. I don’t know what it is with French lit teachers and theater of the absurd but even my host family agrees that I’ve ended up having to read way to much of this same genre (which for me was only interesting the first time). Despite the choice of book, I was quite content to lie around soaking up the sun well into the evening when I accompanied my host family to the movies. We saw “Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu,” which was like a more comedic, Catholic version of Fiddler on the Roof. Despite a rather racist sounding premise, it was really funny and all the couples ended up with their happily ever after.

Benefitting from some early morning sun

Benefitting from some early morning sun

Have I mentioned how much I love Spring??

Have I mentioned how much I love Spring??



The sun seemed here to stay so around Thursday, the school broke out the Ping-pong table. I hadn’t really played in so long (unless you count rallying against my youngest host sister) and I managed to beat a couple of the boys. For some reason, I was one of the only girls who wanted to play a match / had played-played before… Regardless, it was so nice to outside and with friends, whether I was hitting a backhand in the garden or weaving daisy chains on the front steps.

 

Enjoying the sun with L.A

Enjoying the sun with L.A

It was a daisy kind of day (w/ S.B)

It was a daisy kind of day (w/ S.B)



On Friday, to celebrate the week being finally over and to kick off the long weekend, my host sister (G) and I attended a showing of “How to Eat Like a Child” by students in the international track at St. Vincent (one of the local middle and high schools), directed by my friends A.N and M.B. They’d been working all semester and the kids pulled through; G was even amazed by their level of English and I thought the little sketches were funny and cute. Not a bad way to end the week and start the weekend.

The Easterness officially commenced Saturday afternoon. Two of my host sisters and I baked Ferrero Rocher Cake Pops. The recipe was nothing like anything I’d ever made before, calling for us to bake a cake, then blend it into crumbs to re-combine with another batch of what seemed like liquid cake ingredients (aka a lot of Nutella). When the round balls finally came out of their fancy cake pop mold, we dipped them in chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, set them aside to serve as dessert the next day and got ourselves bundled up for mass.


Apparently, having Easter Eve mass is common here and as I’d never attended a bonafide Easter Service nor visited a church at night, I tagged along. The service started with an outdoor bonfire accompanied by a few hymns. Then we grabbed candles and proceeded indoors, placing our candles on the altar. Having the whole church lit up only by candle light was a tad freaky looking but also quite beautiful. Despite living minutes away from the church all year, I’d never been inside it before, thus it was kind of exciting to examine its interior. I had more than enough time to admire the intricate wood-carved ceilings and chuckle inwardly at the week’s quote (a tweet from the Pope) during the two as half hour mass, made longer than a usual Easter device by the seven baptisms I witnessed. I can’t tell you how many times my dry throat cried “alleluia” but I really meant it by the end. As much fun as it was to witness this longstanding Christian tradition, I was worn out by the end and I was not alone in that regard. However, La Veille Pascale did put me in the perfect mood for the following day.

A modern Easter greeting

A modern Easter greeting

L'Eglise Jeanne D'Arc at night

L’Eglise Jeanne D’Arc at night


I’ve always associated Easter with family and the family friends we’ve spent it with ever since I can remember. Though it felt weird to not be traipsing throughout their magnificent garden for the golden egg and the numerous other eggs I’d have helped dye the night before, it was fun to experience a French Easter. Because it was raining out, my youngest host sister conducted her Easter egg hunt inside, searching eagerly and adeptly for the chocolate goodies hidden by her older sisters. Pizza crackers and that chocolate were our appetizers, followed by a green bean salad and a traditional lamb entrée served with baked potatoes and onion confit. I stuffed myself so much on potatoes, the cake pops and chocolate (trying every flavor/shape is a must) that getting any work done was highly unlikely. Instead, after a dinner that solidified my food coma, G and I channel surfed, caught the end of the new Snow White and decided to watch Pretty Woman. Ah Julia Roberts why are you so cool? Vegged out in front of the tv, talking about opera and guiltily grabbing more chocolate with Richard Gere laughing in the background, was the perfect end to a long week (and helped me forget that I have SAT subject tests in two weeks and APs in four…).

Hoppy Easter ! (the top-hat was a makeshift Easter basket)

Hoppy Easter ! (the top-hat was a makeshift Easter basket)

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With that lovely weekend respite, it’s back to the books for the last week before break. Time is just speeding by!

The Role of Print in Our Technological World

(Cross posted from the Huffington Post)

In our hyper-connected world, people have grown accustomed to getting answers immediately. My generation has grown up with the mindset that if you have a question, just ask Google. We tend to take the wealth of information online for granted. At least, I used to.

I pride myself on being rather tech-savvy, having co-founded a nonprofit solely through the combination of email, Skype, Google hangouts and Twitter. I get all my news in my Feedly reader (and when I say all I mean if I don’t check it until lunch — I have over 100 headlines to digest) and am a devoted iPhone note-taker. All of this to say that when people complained that print newspapers were dying, I wasn’t the least surprised. After all, news on the go was more convenient, especially if it fit in your pocket. Why would anyone want a bulky weekly review that was probably outdated by the time it reached your doorstep?

One trip to the offices of the most widely read daily French paper, Ouest France, was enough to make me rethink my position. Taking notes on the new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s first speech alongside a team of journalists, I told myself that if there was something I didn’t catch, I could always find the transcript online later. The irony was, I was surrounded by some of the very people who would be responsible for putting that article out there. I’d gotten so used to having information at my fingertips that I’d stopped thinking about how it got there. And here I was, witnessing news being made; not in the conventional sense of witnessing a historical event but in that I was literally seeing the flesh and bones “news” being pieced together. It was impressive, to say the least, hearing reputed professionals asking each other whether this adjective needed to be accorded, or if a certain piece was ready to run in the evening edition or simply planning stories and constructing sections for tomorrow’s paper.

Surrounded by all this newspaper magic made me feel like I was back in a time where print was the only way people got their news, and frankly, it was nice. So when one of the journalists asked me if I would subscribe to a weekly paper were I an adult, my response startled even myself: I said yes. Talking about how simply consuming headlines deprived me of the gripping prose of some of the big-name papers and how I liked the feel of real paper reminded me of how reading on a screen doesn’t feel like I’m truly reading and internalizing the content. In that way, I guess I like an honest to goodness paper for some of the same reasons I could never give up real books. As much as I love my Kindle and online PDFs for increased consumption, I often feel like I’m not properly savoring the book.

And as these words were coming out of my mouth, I realized, technology has disconnected us almost as much as it has brought us closer together. Now, as I’m studying abroad, physically estranged from practically everyone I know, I’m no stranger to what technology can do. I’m reminded how amazing it is when I see my family every week on Skype, participate in a conference taking place miles away thanks to Twitter, bounce article ideas off of the community of HuffPost Teen writers that has sprung up on GroupMe or help my friends back home choose a prom dress via Facebook. But although the worldwide web has succeeded in shrinking the world, so to speak, it has also created a culture of individuals stuck in their own electronic universes. Many of my peers are even scared of using their phones to actually call someone, preferring to hide behind their screens in what passes as communication. The constant stream of information has captivated our attention to the point that we are slaves to or devices, checking them constantly, becoming more and more incapable of carrying on a real conversation, so engrossed are we in what’s going on elsewhere.

The demise of print publications has been touted again and again as the beginning of the technological revolution, and as a harbinger of an even more connected word that awaits us in the not-so-distant future. But the world it is a-changing and I’m a big believer that we need to change with it. Desperately clinging to a slim hope that paper will have a massive comeback is, in my opinion, a tad delusional. As history has shown us, old technology will always be followed by newer innovations, but it’s up to the medium to stay alive. When TV came along, everyone thought that was the end of radio, but they adapted and emerged diminished yet not eliminated. So it must be with print publications: though the focus may continue to shift online, news corporations and the newspapers through which they spread the word are still relevant; they simply need to find a way to stay profitable in tandem with their online counterparts. Perhaps, like the New York Times does, a limited amount of content available to free users or a premium of information unlocked by a paid subscription. Whatever the answer, I believe at least a small part of our world still needs the comfortable familiarity and reliable trustworthiness that print publications provide.

 

Le Forum Libé: The World in 2030

Each year the newspaper La Libération hosts a forum in Rennes, inviting experts to speak on a variety of topics centering around a main theme. This year’s theme was “The World in 2030″ and I attended a debate (all in French, I might add) discussing the foreign landscape and the possibilities of war in the future entitled “Les Guerres de 2030.”  The panel consisted of Dominique David (Executive Director of IFRI- L’Institut français des rélations internationales), Vincent Desportes (former director of the French School of War) and Percy Kemp (geo-strategy consultant and spy-novel author).
Marc Sémo, a writer for the Libération, opened the discussion with some predictions for how foreign relations and the world will look like in 2030. Based on our current situation and wars in the past, Sémo believes that in the future, there will be many wars, with different actors fought on a variety of levels. First, he brought up the idea of la guerre asymétrique, which is basically a war between a formal military and a less equipped, smaller often internal force, and includes guerilla warfare, insurgency and terrorism. Incidentally, the next war Sémo brought up was the war against terror that started in a big way with the 9/11 attacks and has become a major focus not only for the US but also for other major world players.  Recently, the threat of a cyber-war has also become much more realistic, especially in the wake of the NSA scandal and the discovery of the Heartbleed virus, which have shed a light on the large holes in global internet security. I asked the panel how they would rank the threat of a “cyber-war” and Dominique David said that in his mind, in the future, cyber warfare will be used first to attack the big powers via these new open “side-doors”, the only spot where countries like the U.S are majorly vulnerable. The final form of war Sémo mentioned was the technological war, fought remotely via drones and other progressive technologies. The panelists noted that drone warfare eliminates a large component of the emotional attachment associated with traditional fighting but as it is still in the developing stages, they’re uncertain as to how big a role drones will play in future wars.
According to Vincent Desportes, the wars of the future will manifest themselves rather differently than they have in the past. For him, there’s no question as to whether or not there will be another “big” war in the future. Citing the Fruedian notion that “we can’t purify war,” Desportes maintained that as long as there is man, there will be war.  However, it is very difficult to predict exactly the forms war will assume in the future, because strategically, we are always looking to adapt to what our enemies throw at us. As Percy Kemp said, “it’s the menace that defines the enemy,” and as the menace of the future is as of yet undefined, so to are the war tactics.  As the world evolves, foreign relations are more spacio-political than they are purely geopolitical, leading conflicts to become a quest to dominate and neutralise the opponent instead of to conquer and dominate like in the past.  Nevertheless, war remains the domain of friction, chance and incertitude. Chaos will inevitably reign.
Desportes proposed that the wars in 2030 won’t escalate to become the big wars like those that have happened in the past. War will no longer be a greek tragedy with a defined place and time-span. World forces will be engaged for long periods of time with diverse operations on multiple terrains; war will be multi-spacial and multi-dimensional. On a spacio-political level, the world is monopolistic but on a geopolitical level, the major players operate multipolarly; is multipolar. It’s like how in soccer, the good players don’t track individuals or blindly follow the ball, rather, they control what happens within their zone or “sphere of influence.” The goal will be for each major local player to control their space, which means that military action will probably be confined to nearby territories. As a result, the perception of a country’s power will be stem from their importance within their zones of influence and power.
Once the panelists had speculated upon where these wars of the future would be happening and who would be engaged in them, the conversation turned towards how these wars would play out. Desportes was of the opinon that the wars of tomorrow will not be robot wars or completely remote (though they may start out like that), but he believes that those who imagine a non-human war are confusing the war with its tools. Technology influences the warfare, not the war. As a result, it won’t change the broader art of war (which is based on long-standing strategies circa Sun Tzu), it will profoundly modify the art of the battle. The appropriate weapons of choice for a specific battle are determined by the social, political and strategic context surrounding each war, thus it makes sense that as the enemy has become faceless and obscure, the arms (like drones and nukes) are remotely deployed and in a sense, dehumanized too. But technology can only go so far, and all the panelists agreed with Desportes that though in the future many wars may contain battles fought remotely and with new-fangled weapons (maybe even robots),”human force hasn’t finished playing its role in the hard international competitions.”
All in all, thought the premise may seem rather pessimistic, the session was highly informative and raised some important, probing questions about how much our socio-political landscape has changed. The discussion got me thinking about the huge advancements that have happened already within my lifetime which made me dubiously curious about what’s to come. Rest assured, I’ll be keeping one eye on the murky waters of international relations and another trained to the constant barrage of news, watching out for any signs of a robot war or further cyber attacks. As Professor Moody (from the Harry Potter series) would say, “Constant Vigilance!”

Profitez Au Fond!

Given that there’s sadly so little time left of my stay in Rennes, this has become my motto. Profitez-en is like the French version of Carpe Diem. With that in mind, I viewed this week a little differently. Back in the beginning, I noted proudly every unique “French” experience I had out of a combo of shock and delight at the life I was living. Now, I’m looking at my days with a similar lens but for a very different reason- I want to remember everything, soak it all up and imprint it in my soul for all eternity. When people say that this is a once in a lifetime experience, they really mean it. 

The French have this concept of stages that work sort of like apprenticeships/internships but during certain weeks of the year set aside for this purpose. A while back, I decided to take advantage of this culturally-ingrained acceptance towards paid/unpaid shadows in various enterprises and jobs so I reached out to the host dad of one of my classmates who is a writer at Ouest France, the most purchased daily paper in France. He showed me around their main office and I even got to sit in on a layout meeting. It was so cool to see news being “created” in real time and I had a little jolt of excitement seeing in the next day’s morning paper the layout and articles whose creation I’d been present for.
This week on Wednesday I had the double good luck of having both one class and a school excursion on what is already one of the best days of the French school week. After 45 minutes well spent discussing the French immigration system and a quick burrito lunch in Thabor, my 65 classmates and a mélange of our teachers piled into the familiar giant buses and headed for Dinard. Unlike my previous leisurely visits with my host family to this small and beautiful coastal town, we were in Dinard on a mission. The host mom of another one of my classmate’s teaches a professional high school there and had invited us for an afternoon full of experiencing hotel school. At this lycée hotelier and other lycées professionels, students take class in their chosen profession instead of the standard bac route. After 2-5 years (depending on the diploma) these students go straight from school to work in hotels, bakeries, couturiers and manual businesses all over the world. In Dinard, half of is joined the budding cooks in preparing a Brittany-inspired three course meal, complete with non-alcoholic cocktails concocted by the sommeliers-in-training (decked out in super flattering hairnets, shoe covers and long plastic coats) while the others helped the mini maître-d’s set up the dining room (breaking the occasional wine glass or two along the way :P). It made for a long day (we didn’t get back til 9:30pm ish) but with good friends (both new and old, French and American) and good food, what more do you need?
The stylish cooking get up o.O

The stylish cooking get up o.O

The train of new experiences spilled over to the weekend when, after taking the ACT for the second (and hopefully last) time, I attended a debate at Rennes’s annual Forum Libération.  The paper La Libération invites experts to participate in panel discussions  on a variety of topics stemming around a larger theme. This year’s theme is the world in 2030 and the session I attended was about the predicted foreign landscape and potential wars in the future. The panel was diverse and impressive, and I wish I could have attended more debates (alas my schedule deterred me from doing so; I wish I could have pulled a Mark Twain and not let my schooling interfere with my education but no such luck). While deep in discussion, the smell of burning tires permeated the room because of an apparent motorcycle demonstration outside the library- Vive la france?
Forum Libé

Forum Libé

My esteemed panel au Forum Libération

My esteemed panel au Forum Libération

Guess who finally entered les Champ Libres? Better late then never, I guess :P

Guess who finally entered les Champ Libres? Better late then never, I guess :P

Finally in the spirit of mentioning the new and exciting (plus continuing my trend of somehow working spring into every post since the sun showed up) I wore pants as usual this week and was actually hot. So obviously the next day I immediately whipped out a skirt and sunglasses. The rainy Bretagne weather is one think I surely won’t miss when I return, though as you can see, I’m stocking up on memories of the things I will.
I'm not sure where these came from or when they suddenly popped out fully grown mais bon

I’m not sure where these came from or when they suddenly popped out fully grown mais bon

It was so nice out that we had English class in le parc du Thabor

It was so nice out that we had English class in le parc du Thabor

I still can’t believe I have only one month of actual school left ! (If you’re wondering when exactly I get back to the good old USA, my dear friend RM made this scary count down for your viewing pleasure/displeasure).

Scenes of Spring

A matching sailor-themed band playing during a visit to the lively Marché followed by a picnic lunch in the parc du Thabor (have i mentioned that I love France?)

A matching sailor-themed band playing during a visit to the lively Marché followed by a picnic lunch in the parc du Thabor (have i mentioned that I love France?)

Accompagnied my host family to go vote in the second round of municipal elections. Fun fact, at least in local elections, the French still use actual envelopes stuffed with the chosen ballot.

Accompagnied my host family to go vote in the second round of municipal elections. Fun fact, at least in local elections, the French still use actual envelopes stuffed with the chosen ballot.

Despite having seen a large number of churches this year, I was still struck by the simplistic beauty of la Cathédrale de Thabor, which we wandered into one day after working in the parc.

Despite having seen a large number of churches this year, I was still struck by the simplistic beauty of la Cathédrale de Thabor, which we wandered into one day after working in the parc.

Reverse ladybug!

Reverse ladybug!

Springtime and street art. Qu'y a t-il de mieux?

Springtime and street art. Qu’y a t-il de mieux?

Proverbially April showers bring May flowers but I think these guys must have had more than enough rain by now.

Proverbially April showers bring May flowers but I think these guys must have had more than enough rain by now.

Flirting with Spring

And the countdown begins. As of today, exactly two months sit between me and America. There are so many conflicting emotions bouncing around right now that I’m trying my hardest to put the looming end of my junior year out of my head.

It’s crazy that it’s been seven months. There are days where I forget I’m in France. Like a friend of mine said earlier this week, I’ve long since stopped comparing, rather I’ve let the French invade my soul. Thus, seeing things that are decidedly French, like teenagers smoking on church steps, someone scooter-ing to school or my host mom stocking up on baguettes for the next day have become my new normal.

A pig parade and marching band I literally ran into over the weekend. There were kids dressed up as the little pink rascals dancing around a slowly moving giant, fuzzy, pink pig van. It’s been almost a year and I still find new things all the time.

I’ve also grown accustomed to the fact that in Rennes, I can leave my house with the sun shining and when I leave school, it could be hailing. I kid you not. After coaxing the flowers into blooming and teasing everyone with promises of sun and weather closer to 18 degrees Celsius, it looks like my darling city has remembered itself and to keep from getting too carried away, unleashed some flat out gross weather this week. Guess who threw her umbrella back in her bag? Two days without it must have been a new record.

We did have one glorious day of sunshine (aka when I snapped the only pictures I took all week). To celebrate, a couple of friends and I grabbed ice cream because why not? We blissfully ignored the fact that warm temperatures appear to be on strike in protest of the rise of the Front National after the first round of local elections this past Saturday, and shivered contentedly. Like everyone’s been singing lately, I keep trying to convince myself “the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Here comes the sun…

One of four whomping willow clones across the street from the school

 

Place St. Anne in the sun, for a change

 

I feel cold just looking at this picture

 

The Beginning of the End

That title makes me unbearably sad, but it’s time to face the facts. This week marked the start of the fourth and final quarter of my year abroad. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were all exploring le Parc du Thabor for the first time, all gross and nervous after the flight. Life finally feels beyond normal here, with everything running smoothly (although I hesitate to say that for fear of jinxing things). I can barely speak proper English anymore and can’t go more than a few sentences without slipping in a French word/phrase I deem more appropriate/convenient than its English equivalent, mais bon, I’m taking that as a good thing. I feel like I have reached the mountaintop, so to speak, and I have no desire to ever come down…

French News, it's casual

French News, it’s casual

After Spring Break, we all arrived back at Villa Alvarez bursting with stories and babbling in a crazy mix of Franglais at the top of our lungs (we may sound more French, but our volume will always betray our “true” nationality). It was like coming back to school after summer vacation– that’s how good it was to see my SYA France family after a little over a week apart (I can’t bear to imagine what it will be like in just a few short months). I think Rennes missed us as well, welcoming us back with sunny skies and comfortable temperatures that had us all lounging outdoors and flitting off to Thabor during frees. In some ways, it felt like first semester all over again but without that sense of starting anew. Returning to Rennes felt familiar, like I was settling back into a well worn routine (which however did not include my body clock re-coinciding with the bus times just yet).

Happy St. Patrick's Day from SYA!! (feat. me, G.O, and R.R)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from SYA!! (feat. me, G.O, and R.R)

Getting back into my old habits included going to the retirement home, where we did a little bit of arts and crafts to help them decorate for Easter and the arrival of Spring. Somehow I ended up with glitter everywhere and even hours later, I was still finding little bits of sparkle all over…

Coloring with my friend from la Maison de Retraite

Coloring with my friend from la Maison de Retraite

Easter fun with S.C at the retirement home

Easter fun with S.C at the retirement home

I also went for my first run since before break, and chugging up le Boulevard de Sevigné, although not so kind to my lungs, warmed my heart. Pausing mid-run in the middle of Thabor and then again on the side of the street to capture Rennes as it starts to bloom, I realized how much I love this city.

I guess it's good to be back

I guess it’s good to be back?

Place de Parlement looking postcard worthy

Place de Parlement looking postcard worthy

My sleepy and french-ified brain can’t put into words all the emotions I’m feeling over this quarter but suffice to say, I’m all set to profites au fonds from the two months we have left. This includes eating all the food, especially, but not limited to, cheese, baguettes, pastries, chocolate, galettes and things slathered in salted butter, as well as the array of Girl Scout Cookies (aka little nuggets of America) that my parents graciously shipped me. Fun fact, the French (or at least my host family) prefer classic shortbread (aka Trefoils) to a mint-chocolate combo (aka Thin Mints). We’re over half way through the year and I’m still comparing my two cities and the two cultures. Since I’m still discovering new facets and nuances every day, I’d venture to say it’s never gonna stop, which is indicative in my mind of the fact that while life as a quasi-expat will often be spent in semi-limbo, sometimes it’s ok to just let one city overwhelm you and truly immerse yourself in its comforting foreign-ness.

L'Eglise Jeanne D'Arc, my trusty landmark

L’Eglise Jeanne D’Arc, my trusty landmark since the start of the year

How adorable is my host family's house?

How adorable is my host family’s house?