Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rabat, at last. Eid Mubarak!

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I am proud to say that I have arrived in Rabat safe and sound, and officially commenced my scholarship. It’s always a bit stressful to make a move to an unfamiliar place, but so far, so good (except for the cold I brought with me from France). I’m already enchanted by the warm hospitality of my host family and the welcoming spirit of the people here. I have thus far also been impressed with the quality of my Arabic language school: Qalam wa Lawh (http://www.qalamcenter.com/).

At the same time, I’m having to learn quickly to adapt to some of the inconveniences of living in a developing country and different culture. I’m glad I finally have an internet modem, if not of the best quality. And though I’ve gotten lost already a couple times, I’ve made some friends along the way who helped me out, and I’ve discovered that in certain areas, it’s better to ask people if they know who your family is and where they live than to ask where the (unlabeled) street name is.

At first I was amused by how people here sometimes mix Arabic and French, mostly using Arabic, but occasionally shifting into French. But then I’ve already found myself doing the same, though the other way around: more French. Maybe that will change during the year as I progress in my studies. As they say here: Insha’llah! In the meantime, “Frerabic” is working rather well 🙂

I also arrived at a particularly apt time. I got to experience the last couple days of Ramadan (month of fasting) and will soon be celebrating tomorrow’s holiday (Eid), marking the end of the month. I did blunder a bit today when the heat muddled my thinking and I quaffed a juice while walking down the street… An hour later I made sense of the disapproving glances and verbal admonition that I had failed to comprehend. Anyways, I’m excited to experience my first Eid with the host family tomorrow!

Tile picture

One of many such patterned tiles on the walls of my host family's house.

colorful skylight

Skylight / chandelier at my host family's house

 


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“Midnight in Paris” in Paris

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The past weekend was my last full one on this trip to Paris.  The vacation ends Sunday when I’m off to Morocco to start my Arabic studies.  To say my final farewell to the city, this weekend was about experiencing it in different ways: by boat, by bike, and — at the movies.

“Midnight in Paris” is a fine film indeed. Watching it in Paris is even better. The audience broke out in several “aww”s during the opening scene,  which flashed pictures of the city–both the iconic monuments and your everyday, quaint boulangerie. We rush pass these all the time, but forget how lucky we are to be here. The picture that drew the biggest “aww” (and a few chuckles) was one of the very movie theater we were in!!!

Unfortunately, my feeling of elation walking out of the theater and into the city center was dampened somewhat when the first scene we came across was all too common here, but not captured in the movie: a guy, fly unzipped, taking a whizz in the corner. Nor did the movie capture any of the city’s thousands and thousands of panhandlers. And I suppose it was impossible for it to capture the smells.

But then again, how can I possibly complain? The next eve I sailed down the Seine on a disco boat cruise. And the day after that, I took a leisurely bike ride through the Bois de Boulogne and along the streets of the 15th and 16th. What can I say? Paris, je t’aime.

(On a side note, I used a Paris “velib” rental bike, the kind you see at parking stations dotted throughout the city – They even made the movie. I recommend them 🙂 See http://en.velib.paris.fr/ for more info.)

The Beauty and the Beastliness of Paris

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Since Monday marks a French national holiday (one of the about dozen  jours feriés), much of the city has emptied out to take advantage of the opportunity to travel that a three-day weekend provides. Well, we thought about taking off on a vacation, but if you don’t book more than a couple weeks in advance this time of year, the prices to even nearby cities get jacked-up. And then it occurred to us:  why leave? We’re in Paris! True, I’ve already been here a couple weeks and will be a couple weeks more. But in the daily routine of French classes, chores, and gym, I actually haven’t had as much time as I would have hoped to explore what the city and its surroundings has to offer.

So we decided on a plan for today: morning at the Chateau de Versailles.

But then there was a problem: bed bugs.

Well, bed bugs had always been an issue here, but we were in a bit of denial. And–given that we occasionally spotted mosquitos in the apartment, it was easy enough to dismiss the itchy, red welts on my body as having another source. But once you look under the mattress cover and actually see the bugs, you have no choice but to toss everything aside and deal with them.

I went to the supermarket armed with the google translation of “bed bugs” and “insecticide” (actually the same in French), but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. Sifting through the insecticide isle at the Monoprix supermarket, I quickly had to learn some new vocabulary: cockroaches, ants, flies, bees, spiders, mosquitos. Hmm… the insecticides for which of these creatures would be most likely to kill bed bugs too?

Well, we tried a combination. But with noxious gasses filling up the apartment, we needed to get out. So it was off to Versailles after all!

It wasn’t far at all on the train from where we live, and when I first arrived at the castle, I thought I was entering the gates of heaven. It helped too that I could get in free as a young (under 26) EU resident (I have a Paris student ID). But once you wait almost an hour in a line to get inside and find out that you are packed in it with other tourists like sardines, the majesty fades quite a bit. All said and done, I’d say the palace is highly overrated compared to other castles I’ve seen. The gardens are said to be magnificent, but we hardly got to see much of them. We thought they were going to close at 6:30, but they actually closed at 5:30 today.

In the end, stopping at a nice restaurant for sangria, tapas, and ice-cream, made the trip well worth it. And when we got back to Paris, we went out to the movies to a very classy theater in the chic 16th for a good laugh at “Bridesmaids.” Though, the French in the theater weren’t laughing quite as much, I would surmise due to poor translation in the subtitles. I mean, the very title of the film is poorly translated as “My best friends.”

On the walk back home from the theater, we crossed a bridge over the Seine, while looking on at the Eiffel Tour, lit up for the night. I guess, when you see such a splendid site on such a lovely evening, you remember that despite the bed bugs–and the rats and the need to watch where you step so as to avoid stepping in dog poop–Paris still has a certain charm.

Paris charm

Le Charme de Paris

Dinner with Madame Hayoun, Moroccan host mom in Paris

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Last week I had a wonderful dinner with my former host mom from when I studied in Paris a few years ago — Madame Hayoun (pictured below). She is Moroccan, having grown up in the city of Agadir, and has been helpful in trying to connect me to her contacts for my upcoming year in her country of origin, as well as further wetting my appetite to arrive there.

Retour à Genève

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Last weekend, I took a trip down memory road to my old stomping grounds, Geneva, where I previously lived and worked for a year.

Outdoor movie

At the "Cine Transat," Geneva's outdoor summer movie theater. We had a lovely picnic, but the rain started to pour at the beginning of the movie, so we had to leave without seeing much of it.

Moroccan food

In preparation for Morocco: A wonderful meal of lamb tagine and couscous at the Moroccan restaurant Mamounia. Recommended!

view of Geneva

View of Geneva: Lake, mountains, jet d'eau, and ferris wheel set up for the upcoming festival

band at fete de Geneve

Live music at the (pre) fete de Geneve (Geneva festival).

Kids at the skate park by the flea market in Plainpalais, Geneva