Call to prayer from our roof

In case you wanted to hear and see all I saw during the call to prayer one afternoon, click the link here!

E N J O Y !

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Morocco in May

It’s May and my year abroad is soon coming to a close. The reality is hitting me, but I’m still soaking up all I can before I leave in early June. My list of “to-do’s” is made and all I need to do is cross it all off.

One part of that list was my trip to Morocco, a trip I had planned back in January to ensure cheap prices. I needed something more different than some country in Europe. Something dépaysant, as the French say (exotic, worldly, foreign, etc). The notorious Arab ethnic enclaves I had witnessed in Nancy, Paris and Marseille sparked my curiosity to witness this diverse set of cultures in their place of origin: Northern Africa. I enjoyed the Quartier Arabe in Nancy for it’s cheap prices on honey-covered pastries, it’s corner convenience stores open at all hours, and its bustling streets on Sundays (while the rest of France is either still sleeping or at Church).

My best friend, Sabrina, was on her way to France to study in Paris when I contacted her in January about joining me. “YES” is all she said. She sat at her sketchy hotel’s computer during an extended layover in Reykjavik, booking her plane tickets with me using Facebook to chat about the flight details and hostel reservations.

Last week, the time finally came for us to go on our May Moroccan adventure. Two and a half hours of airline travel later, we arrived in Fez. It’s hard to believe things can change so much within such a short distance. As an American, I guess it’s hard to perceive the potential change in culture at such distances since a two hour flight doesn’t mean much besides a different climate. In the US, the language is the same, the road signs are similar, and the daily behavior of people is not shockingly different region to region.  But boy, was Morocco different, and that’s exactly what my friend and I were looking for.

I can’t decide what was most bothersome the first day of the trip. Either it was the constant bickering of taxi drivers trying to get us into their taxis when all we wanted to do is take the cheap bus into town, or perhaps it was the fact that I was so incredibly fatigued from lack of sleep (our flight was at 6 am, requiring us to wake up at 3 am). In any case, we survived the quick trip from the airport, through the New Town (Ville Nouvelle) of Fez, and all the way to the ryad (also spelled riyadh or riad) we had rented for five nights on AirBnB (basically an entire traditional Moroccan home for dirt cheap– 6 bedrooms, two living rooms, a courtyard, a kitchen, a hammam, and awesome roof access). Take a look:

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Founded in AD 859, Fez’s medina (pictured above) is a UNESCO world heritage sight, renowned as one of the world’s oldest cities still functioning today. Unlike other medieval cities that have fallen to ruin or experienced considerable modernization, the Fez old town (Ville Vieille or Fez al Bali) has maintained a lifestyle that has existed for centuries. Small streets, accessible only on foot or by donkey, wind through a labyrinth of highways and offshoots where one can find all types of hidden gems. Small fountains with tiled mosaics, courtyards with large trees, ,market streets, and rooftop terraces are among the exciting things you’ll find when “getting lost” in the city. Five times per day (depending on factors I could not decipher) beginning at around 4:00 am, the Adhan (Call to Prayer) sounds from every mosque’ s tower of the city. It begins with a long, siren-sounding call from the speaker in each mosque (beginning low and ending high). The chant is almost sung as the prayers are carried out. The first words are Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest). Sabrina and I made it our priority to run to the roof every time we heard the call to prayer sounding at the mosques nearby. The valley where Fez al Bali is situated allows each mosque’s individual call to prayer to echo back and fourth in a beautiful set of dissonant tones that sometimes create unintentional harmonies. Although the prayers are not exactly sung, the tones and pitches of the speakers can sometimes seem melodic.

We took advantage of the cheap shopping and bought ourselves some interesting souvenirs that interested us. We enjoyed the shopping, mainly because it involves a close experience with the vendor during the transaction , who is incredibly motivated to sell the wares of the small shops. He (usually a man) tries his best to find the product and the price you want within reason. In one case, when we realized we hadn’t enough money, a vendor let us return to pay the rest of the cost we owed the following day. Throughout the rest of the trip, we would wave to him when passing his shop. Maybe he was just so nice since we bought something off of him, but he seemed so genuine and his bright smile made us feel welcome. It’s what one might call marketing in it’s most personal form! Moroccan leather was a specialty in Fez, which quickly became one of our priorities. Sabrina went all out by purchasing three Djellabas, a dagger, a leather bag, jewelry, and a lantern. I bought two lanterns for a set and a leather bag as well. The souks (markets) were by far the most interesting part of Fez in my mind because the Medina’s streets (out of Disney’s Aladin it seemed at times) were filled with people bartering, buying, eating, transporting goods on donkeys, and much more. The smells of mint, herbs, dried cat pee, rotten meat, and tanned goat hides were among the odors we were forced to become accustomed to very quickly.

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The donkeys and mules were one of my favorite parts of street life. It’s important to keep your eyes and ears open as walking through the busy streets in case of a donkey’s approach from the front or from the rear, led by a worker transporting his goods. Avoiding them isn’t hard, but sometimes it required you to hop up onto a nearby stoop or ledge. They’re darn cute, but they don’t always slow down for you. My friend and I had a few close encounters.

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Although it often required an open mind to be able to stomach, the food was delicious and surprisingly creative. Goat-face sandwiches were not really our thing, so we stuck to tagines, bread, and sheep spleen sandwiches. The pastries were obviously our favorite part. For a few days, we made it our afternoon activity of having mint tea with a collection of pastries, the majority of which involved some amount of honey or dates. The markets of Fez are something to see! In France, the old covered markets are slowly dying due to their high prices and lack of convenience, but in Fez’s old town, the market streets are the main source of food where locals buy their meat, fish, bread, snails, vegetables, fruits, and herbs. In America, it is well known that most people are ignorant of what actually happens in the slaughterhouses. Most people don’t often see on their daily commute a disembodied cow head or a dead goat hanging from the rafters of the local butchery. In Europe, this could be a more likely sight. However, in Fez, the market place is the slaughterhouse for many animals. We witnessed a great number of chickens slaughtered during our daily adventure through the markets. The butcher simply tears the head right off! Squawks of the chicken’s last calls quickly turn to gurgles as the blood fills its lungs and the animal soon falls limp for preparation. Yes, it’s gruesome, but still something to witness when visiting Fez.

Snails!

Snails!

Mint tea

Mint tea

Watermelon cart

Watermelon cart

Apetizer

Apetizer

Tagine, bread, lentils, and an olive appetizer, all for under 5 euros!

Tagine, bread, lentils, and an olive appetizer, all for under 5 euros!

pastry shop

pastry shop

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Another Tagine!

Another Tagine!

Marketplace

Marketplace

herb vendors

Herb vendors

The tanneries are a huge attraction of the old medina of Fez. It’s found by the river where water is plentiful. Following your nose, the stench of the hides will lead you right into the part of town where one can find leather shops offering rooftop terraces overlooking the dying pools. The vendors offered mint leaves to give some relief from the stench. We held them close to our noses the whole time, but eventually got used to the smell.

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When the weather improved, we had the chance to see a courtyard within the grounds of an old mosque before going on a little hike through the beautiful hills surrounding the medina. The northern part of the country is quite fertile! I’ve included a plethora of images on what we saw during our days:

The North Tower

The North Tower

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Kitten!

Kitten!

Before the afternoon call to prayer (total of 5 in a day)

Before the afternoon call to prayer (total of 5 in a day)

Arabic stop sign

Arabic stop sign

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Near our ryad in the square. This is "our" mosque

Near our ryad in the square. This is “our” mosque

A cheap way to get around the new town

A cheap way to get around the new town

Afterwards, we visited Tangiers in the North. We traveled by train five hours and made it to the northern coast where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. What a sight to see! Across the straight, you can spot Portugal, Spain, and Gibraltar! We even got to see Yves Saint Laurent’s house!

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And of course, we enjoyed the people.🙂

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April Wine Adventures

So, as you may know, I’ll be working in Portland this summer on biodynamic wine research. In previous posts, I explained what biodynamic actually means and why it’s important to understand in working towards sustainable methods in agriculture for the future of humanity and the environment. I’ve gone on two wine adventures this month, the first of which was with a biodynamic vintner and the second of which was with a conventional vintner. Although the former offered an experience unlike any other, it is important to maintain a certain level of discretion concerning the research I’ve done, for I am working under a professor who will later reveal our findings in a professional work later on. However, the second wine adventure was spent riding bikes through the Alsatian wine country, led by my host-grandfather and my host brother. Despite the unwanted rainfall that slowly waned as the day progressed, I was able to enjoy myself and experience a lovely time traveling through small villages. At the end of the day, we got the chance to stop by a vintner that my host-grandfather knew for over twenty years, with whom I conducted a small interview for my “Village Project” for the end of the semester. I got to see the whole process of winemaking in action and I even scored a free “grand cru” (high quality) Riesling (2008).  The vintner, a proprietor of Hunckler et Fils winery, established in the village of Ammerschwihr, Alsace, was a talkative man who kindly offered the tour of his machinery and the winery caves. A small degustation of wines included a Riesling, a Muscat, and a Gewurztraminer (all characteristic of the Alsatian appellation*).

Ive included some pictures of the journey and the winery visit.

E N J O Y !

*An appellation (marked on the bottles of quality French wines with “AOC name of the terroir contrôlée”) denotes the officially controlled quality of wines in any given region. The appellation is a standard that is defined by standards in the winemaking process that can be traced through characteristic tastes in the wine. Other French specialties are also controlled by AOC/AOP appellations such as cheese, as found in my previous post.

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Fête des Jonquilles: Spring has come!

La Fête des Jonquilles (the Festival of Daffodils) is one well-known attraction in Lorraine that few have attended. No matter where you live, most people can tell you about the beauty of the rolling hills and mountainsides of the Vosges Mountains covered with daffodils that make the department famous (in Lorraine, there are four departments, similar to counties). I was invited by a friend to visit his family’s home in Saint Dié, near where the festival was going to be held in Gérardmer. The weekend marked the first good-weather days of spring, which made the experience all the more pleasing. The sun was much welcomed, although many of those who attended the events turned red by 1 pm in their attempts to get a tan.

The floats were decorated in all shapes and themes, all covered with daffodils. I’ve included a few photos of the time I spent in the Vosges Mountains during the festival.

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Traveling in Marseille

I apologize for not keeping up with my weekly posts. It’s been a gloomy winter here in Nancy to say the least. The first semester began with little excitement and I found little motivation to go to school, but of course I did anyway. I feel like the French college students, who often express the same sentiment. The only class I enjoy this semester is a course on Ancient Egypt, which is absolutely fascinating. Right now, we’re learning about how historians decoded the complex ancient egyptian language. Consisting of hieroglyphs , each represents an idea, but can also represent individual sounds (phonemes), which makes reading them more complicated than one might think. Absolutely riveting!

I have also been using the time to continue studying biodyamic wine (see previous post last November) as well as working on my thesis, studying Catholic culture in France and the changing notion of ‘family’ with the soon-to-be-passed law allowing for gay marriage, adoption, and MAP. Concerning the wine, my professor sent me a book called Voodoo Vintners by Katherine Cole, an excellent ethnography published in 2011 on Oregon’s biodynamic (BD) wine. The book goes into details of the BD practice, the spirituality associated with biodynamics, and describes the movement’s historical manifestation in the region where I am currently living (the border territory between Alsace/Lorraine, Germany, and Switzerland, all of which share a border along the Rhine River). There is a distinct culture of the wine here that cannot be found elsewhere.

Biodynamic viticulture, a type of organic agriculture that integrates wholesome farming practices and the esoteric philosophy of anthroposophical figures such as founding father Rudolf Steiner, has given this region a particular air about it and the wine it produces, giving it a unique ‘taste of place’. This is what I am studying with my professor. Steiner’s influence has only grown since he founded the anthroposophical movement in the late 1920’s when he designed and built the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, which is the world center for the anthroposophical movement and was named after German writer and politician, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was Rudolf Steiner himself who designed the building with concert spaces, galleries, and libraries to facilitate the manifestation of anthroposophical art and intellect. This is all of what I will be studying in Oregon come this summer if my professors’ research proposal is approved. I’ll be working in a team of four, two students and two professors, and hopefully have the opportunity to visit the vineyards in the Willamette Valley on which I’ve been reading all this time.

Aside from that, I have been traveling! I did a small voyage into the region of Alsace next-door with my program. It’s been quite cold and gloomy, so for the February break, a friend and I decided to go down to the south of France to visit Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and Cassis to see some sun. It was a great experience and we stayed with three different hosts that we found through a reputable site called AirBnB. We took an overnight train there to save on costs and got absolutely NO sleep. It was gross, noisy, long and the train stopped in the middle of the night for a couple hours, so there was no sense of progress. Regardless, it was the cheapest option, and that was our goal. That way, we had more money for the delicious regional tapenades (39€/kilo)  and afternoon coffees at cafés in the sun. Marseille Narrow Southern Streets Street Art Drying the laundry Street Art Tea Shop Trees Restauration Tea Break The apartment The apartment The apartment Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Marseille Cassis Cassis Cassis Cassis Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Les Calanques Spring in the South View from Apt Aix-en-Provence Mont Saint Victoire

The first home stay was in the apartment of an ex-restaurant owner/chef and prepared a wonderful meal for us with local vegetables. The second was a great little apartment shared with a working, 27-year-old woman who let us use the kitchen to save on costs. She is a graphic designer and her apartment was proof– such a unique design (although not incredibly homey). Last, we stayed with a family with one child, which ended up being somewhat awkward since the family had us sleeping in their living room. Regardless, we had a great time, got to see some sun, and took advantage of the warmer weather to go hiking along the coast on the famous Calanques of Marseille.

I’ve included some photos.

E n j o y !

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Happy 2013! (Catching Up)

Hello everyone and welcome to 2013! I have spent my vacation doing a ton of exciting things. I stayed in France to keep expenses down (heh, or at least I tried…) and got to spend Christmas in Nancy, Boxing Day in Strasbourg, New Years in Paris, and then I returned to Nancy. Just two days ago on January 13th, I attended (but did not take part in, if that makes sense) the enormous (~ 800,000 people) demonstrations against Gay Marriage and Adoption in Paris with my host family to acquire qualitative data for my thesis. What a break it’s been, although I never made it back to the States so I greatly miss my family, friends, and home. Finally I’ve had the chance to write a bit on it during my final week of break.

Christmas was spent at my friend Hugo’s house where his family welcomed a friend and I into their family’s holiday celebration. Let me just say that it is a good thing their entire family was staying at the house for the four days around the 25th because WOW, do they drink a lot of champagne and wine. It’s simply part of the Christmas holiday and serves discussion point for the whole family. Hugo’s parents went so far as to visit many of the wineries themselves to pick up the wines. On Christmas Eve, we stayed up until 4:00 am after opening presents at midnight. People talked, watched movies, and enjoyed people’s company. His family is very warm, inviting, and like no family I’ve ever met before! Hugo’s mother made a gracious effort to make the holiday special for the two visiting American “ambassadors,” making us translate (in French) what Hugo announced in English to present the dinner menu. Nevertheless, I missed my family greatly and look forward to seeing them hopefully this spring.

Foie Gras for a Christmas Appetizer At a nearby church that we went to at the end of Xmas Day Mackenzie and I, Midnight on Xmas Eve Creative Xmas Tree My Plate Table, complete with representative American Flag Snacks

After Christmas, I dashed off to stay in Hugo’s apartment in Strasbourg with Mackenzie. This was a great time of recuperation away from Hugo’s lovely (as well as warmly exhausting) family. The famous Strasbourg Christmas markets were still in fill swing and we took part in the festivities by walking the city and seeing parts we had missed on our previous visits. The Cathedral is the third largest church in the world, and extremely impressive. I consider it more interesting than Notre Dame de Paris, even, because of the dark facade that shows its old age.

Strasbourg Xmas Markets Strasbourg Xmas Markets Strasbourg Xmas Markets Strasbourg Xmas Markets and the astonishing Notre Dame de Strasbourg Strasbourg Xmas Markets IMG_6599

From Strasbourg, Mackenzie and I continued on to Paris where we met Hugo in the train station (Gare de l’Est). We took a taxi to a his sister’s beautiful Montmartre apartment, situated near metro stop Guy Moquet. There, we spent a few days touring Paris before Mackenzie left for NYC to visit her boyfriend for the remainder of the break. Meanwhile, Hugo and our friend Jean-Félix enjoyed the neighborhood, went to eat Japanese food in the 1er Arrondissement, and got to experience midnight on the 31st in the Metro system! The Parisians went wild as the clock struck midnight. They poured glasses of wine for one another and clinked together their bottles. Soon after we had finished discovering the Parisian New Year, we returned home.

New Year's dinner, complete with my make-shift American tradition of Guacamole and Shrimp Cocktail! Off the balcony Forever Studious Parisian kitchen Parisian kitchen Couldn't resist Starbucks! It was the first time we'd seen it in months! Meeting Dalida (I love her music!)

I returned from Paris to Nancy where I spent the next week preparing for school, staying active in the park (it was in the 40’s and 50’s, so I could go on runs and such) and visiting with French friends who were slowly returning from their breaks. I got a little bored during these few weeks, so I did the following things to stay productive:

1) I got creative and painted 4 paintings, including one of feet. I included the pre-sketch below!

2) Went to the library to read a book my professor sent me from my University on biodynamic wine in Oregon. I’m now in the process of indexing the book in a way she can easily use it when writing her papers. Even if she never uses it (she never asked me to do this), I will simply have a better understanding of the book by the end! It’s called Voodoo Vintners.

3) I decided what I would write my thesis on (still quite generalized at the moment): Catholic family culture in Nancy in reference to its disapproval of the “Marriage for all” law that will undoubtedly be passed in the French Congress this spring.

4) To begin my study (well, I already began it when I moved to my Catholic host family’s home in September, but now it’s official), I have already done two interviews, one of which was with a priest this morning that my host family knows. I went to the presbytery in the snow this morning to do the interview. It was great to experience and see where a priest lives. It’s a quaint little house that smells of old, musty wood (much like a barn). This interview proved to be one that will be invaluable to have collected for the sake of diverse qualitative data for my thesis next fall.

Lastly, since it dumped snow today, I took advantage and took some pictures. You may recognize many of the spots like the canal, the park, and the cathedral, so look carefully! Enjoy the photos, and above all, good health to you all this New Year (or as the French say, Bonne Année! Et Bonne Santé, Surtout!).

Feet Sketch A Snow Walk Winter Ducks The Old Factory "River Crossing Prohibited" (Note the bike) Swan in Nancy! Sur le chemin d'hiver Untitled Untitled The Park by the Quay It's night, but you'd never know! (Out my friend's back window) Table in snow The Canal 1 The Canal 2 Moon over the snowy bridge Untitled Untitled Le parc Le parc Le parc Le parc Untitled Untitled Bent out of shape... and cold

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A week of Saint Nicolas events

Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of Lorraine and became so through his service to children in the region during past centuries when he was passing through on travels. The beginning of December marks the beginning of the “Fêtes,” which include all the holidays we find in America as well as Saint Nicolas, which is December 6th. Since this day fell in the middle of the week this year, two weekends were filled with many events honoring this beloved saint.

The story goes like this: three children were playing during the summer and got lost in the woods. As it was getting dark, they searched for shelter and finally found a house where a butcher lived. They asked to stay the night and the butcher let the unknowing children inside his home. As soon as the door was shut, he sliced all three into bits and conserved them in a barrel, where they lay for three years despite the search efforts of their families (yes, this is what they tell the youngsters!). One day, Saint Nicolas happened to be riding through the forest on his beloved donkey, and he comes across the house. He realized that a horrific event happened there with his divine  sixth sense, which lead him to ask the butcher if he can stay the night. He then used his magic saint powers to chase off the butcher and send him running off while he revived the three children, put them to their intact state, and returned them to their much-surprised families, unscathed.

Now, every year on the 6th during dinnertime, families put warm milk out in front of their front door accompanied by a carrot for Saint Nicolas’ donkey. These treats invite his spirit into the home, and by after dinner, there are gifts left magically for each child to enjoy. The carrot is disappears and the milk is drunk.

There is a massive medieval Cathedral (Saint Nicolas de Port) just twenty minutes south of Nancy, which was built to honor the man for his deeds. The week after the 6th, my host brothers all went there with their Scouts of Europe troops to join in the experience of circling the cathedral for hours, singing happy chants, written on candlesticks that they hold. The weekend before, there was a firework show that told the story of the three children in Stanislas Square and we all decided to go. There were 25,000 people crammed into the square to watch. We thankfully got there early before they cut off the inflow of the crowd. What a spectacular event! Maybe even better than most 4th of July’s I’ve been to! The next day featured a parade where the butcher and Saint Nicolas made an appearance on floats pulled by tractors through the town.

Of course, to keep warm, we couldn’t help but partake in the hot spiced wine for sale all through the city. In the pictures, I’ve included the lights of the town as well as some features of the week-long spectacle!

I also included some pictures to illustrate the differences between “bien fait” brie (well-aged) and young brie. The former has holes and is squishier than the other while the latter is firmer. Take a look! We don’t necessarily have these differences in the US since there is a huge stigma around raw cheese, as you can read in my previous post.

Bonnes Fêtes!

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