Wednesday, December 30, 2009

St. Malo and Mont Saint-Michel

For the weekend, all four of us rented a car to drive from Paris to Normandy, and then to St. Malo. Here we are approaching the great Étoile (star) surrounding the Arc de Triumph, which is an incredibly insane experience. Lucky for us, our GPS diverted us underneath the death trap.

For lunch, we stopped off in Bayeux. We didn't know much about this village, but soon learned that it was the first town in France to be liberated during WW2. Above we see the cathedral of Bayuex (consecrated in 1077!). Now that we are home and looking up what we saw on our trip, we know this cathedral is the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry, wove sometime before 1077 to celebrate the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy). I think we should have stopped to see that tapestry. It was at this place that William "forced" the future King of England, Henry II, to swear on holy relics to support William's claim to the throne to England. This will come into play a little later when we visit Mont St. Michel.

After lunch, we continued on to Normandy Beach, the location of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Unlike the Bayeux tapestry, we have many first-hand accounts and photographs of this event that has forever changed the course of the first world. Standing up on the bluffs where the German forces were positioned, I have a more profound impression (read pit in my stomach) of the photograph taken from inside an amphibious landing vehicle (below).

After walking about Omaha Beach for a while, we drove to the American Cemetery for an even more sobering experience. This is a beautiful and well-kept place overlooking Omaha Beach, holding the remains of 9,387 dead American soldiers, many dead from D-day, and many soldiers unknown.

We continued on to St. Malo, which Carla and I visited in April (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and were so excited to return. This time, however, we got to stay in the Hotel France et Chateaubriand -- which is the birthplace of the birther of French romanticism, François-René de Chateaubriand. Above is how it looked at that time in the 17th century.

To quench our thirst, we went to a funky bar inside the walls of St. Malo called, "Le Café du coin d'en bas de la rue du bout de la ville d'en face du port," which translates to, "The café on the corner on the side of the street opposite of the city in front of the port." Every square inch of each wall and ceiling is covered with dolls, parts of dolls, pictures of dolls, and strange curiosities.

Then we had a wonderful seafood dinner. We were extremely amused at some of the offerings in English. Since Carla and I know French now, we were able to decipher "nitwits" (pickles) and "worn cheese" (grated cheese).

On our way back to Paris, we stopped by the stunning Mont Saint-Michel. Depending on the time of day, this rock will either be in the middle of the sea, or on a flat and wet sandy beach. Apparently, in the 8th century, an "archangel" (St. Michel) appeared to a bishop and said, "Please build me a church on this piece of rock." The bishop was skeptical and did nothing. Then the archangel came back after some time and said, "I said, build me a church on this rock, please." The bishop remained skeptical and did nothing. The third time, the archangel poked a hole in the bishop's skull to show him business was meant the first two times. And thus the church was built. It is also featured in the Bayuex tapestry we discussed above. An interesting tidbit here is that around the sandy flats, one can quickly get into trouble as there is quick sand. Future King of England, Henry II, is said to have saved two of his men from the quick sand here in the 11th century. He would soon die at the Battle of Hastings against his former ally, William the Conqueror.

This goes to show me: avoid quick sand; and do not promise things to people named "so-and-so conqueror."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Paris

On Christmas day, Carla and I got to open all the presents sent to us by family. (Thank you everyone!) Carla's mom hand delivered to Paris a huge suitcase-full of presents. Our kitchen in Copenhagen will be extremely happening -- and heavy -- with Le Creuset pots and pot holders. Now we have a bouillabaisse pot and a stock pot to go with our dutch oven!

Carla also got a set of USC pajamas, and from Carla's dad a USC sweatshirt! She almost has the entire collection!

From our BFFs (Best French Friends), Katie and Olivier, I got a stylish pair of cuff links, and Carla got a hand mixer for making me cookies.

I got Olivier a game for his Wii, which I proceeded to win as he patiently waited for his turn.

And Carla and I got Katie a mixer/mixer combo! Above she does not believe it is a mixer/mixer combo! Yay! More cookies for me.

Do you see what I mean about the cookies?

Actually, ever since Katie and Olivier bought their oven, Katie has had to ask Carla things like, "Is it ok with you if can I use my oven from 4:30 to 6:00 tonight?"

After the presents, Katie and Olivier had us all over for Christmas dinner! I played the accordion a bit to set the mood.

Their crazy cat Shinobu did some interpretive dance.

And Joseph got a baguette in the face. We had a wonderful dinner, with foie gras topped with figue jam and clementine, and then some oven roasted turkey and excellent gravy. All washed down with plenty of sparkling glasses of Moët rose champagne.
The next day we headed to the Musée d'Orsay, and the Champs Élysées to see the Christmas market.

One stall was selling chocolate covered peppers!

Another stall sold dried fruit and had this extremely hilarious poster about their "Déshydrated" fruits. What sold me was "in 4 hours of the children," and "in the young breakfast."

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's that time again!

Woohoo! Paris is due for temperatures in the high single digits (Celsius). We don't need to wear our scarves and snow caps when we go to bed now. Here is a little carol for you to sing along with! Since I cannot sing and play at the same time, especially with _that_ sweater on, you will have to sing along at home.

Friday, December 18, 2009

White Wonderland

There is snow in Paris! Yesterday we received the first snowfall of winter. We woke up to discover everything covered in white. With the temperature at 25 degrees Fahrenheit (or -4 degrees Celcius), we carefully made our way around Paris. By 3 pm, the temperature started to rise, hovering in the high 30s. By 9 pm, most of the had melted, leaving the city quite wet. However, we woke up today to discover another layer of snow! Here are some photos of the Eiffel Tower, the view from our window, and the view from Bobby's lab's window.

This cold weather has allowed us to use some of our Christmas presents (don't worry, we were told to open them early). My Dad gave me the awesome, super warm, goose down filled winter jacket, and my Mom gave me the rubber soled boots. I wore them both yesterday and stayed both warm and dry. Thanks, Mom and Dad! We also used the camera Dad gave to Bobby as a Christmas present to take some of these photos. Sadly, our camera broke after our Rome trip. Dad was getting bored with our photo-less blog posts, so he bought us a fantastic Canon, 12.1 mega pixel, digital camera. Thanks, Dad! Here is a photo of the rest of our Christmas presents, which we are waiting to open for Christmas day.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Badge Award!

This week has been special for Carla and I. The temperatures in Paris have gone below freezing, which means that our chambre de bain, our small 29 square meter appartement, our wind tunnel on the 6th floor, has also experienced temperatures that are in the low single digits, Celsius-wise. It is so cold that our fridge rarely turns on, and when it does it is to keep food warm. We have three comforters on our bed too, which can make it hard to breath. I think we have earned ourselves a Polar Bear merit badge.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two big events done, several more to go

On Monday, Bobby and I both had big big events. Bobby gave a talk at the lab he has been working in since March, the Équipe Lutheries, Acoustique, Musique at the Institut de Mecanique Jean le Rond d'Alembert at the Universié Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris 6. His talk was both well attended and well received. He even had some people from outside of the lab attend! Bobby was excited to sum up the work he's done over the past 9 months and to share it with his fellow lab mates. And he challenged himself to create an entire presentation without using a single equation. Bob once had a professor who said: The moment a student puts up an equation where a picture would suffice says to me that student does not understand what he is talking about. So this time he made his entire presentation text, pictures, and sounds so that no one could say, "You don't know what he you are talking about."

Then, I had a lesson with the great French flutist Pierre-Yves Artaud. Professor Artaud is a professor at both the Paris Conservatory of Music and at the Ecole Normale de Musique. He was kind enough to allow me to sit in on his lessons at the Paris Conservatory before my own lesson. I sat through 5 hours of lessons (all of which were in French) and then after a coffee I had an hour lesson. He is one of the best flute educators I have ever observed. His knowledge of the repertoire is incredible; he knows every note of the pieces his students were playing without looking as the music. He is also incredibly knowledgeable in music history. Though the 5 hours were long, my attention and excitement never left. My own lesson went fairly well. I played the first two movement of the Reinecke Sonata and the first movement of the Bach Partita, both of which I am preparing for my upcoming audition for post-graduate studies at the Danish Royal Academy of Music.

After our exciting events, Bobby and I met at Place de Clichy. Bobby surprised me by taking me out to a lovely dinner to celebrate. The restaurant he had originally intended to take me to was closed, but after some wondering around we found the Moulin de la Galette.

We shared this lovely starter. It was a terrine of young wild boar, foie gras, stewed quince, and salad.

I had the Boeuf Bourguignon à l'Ancienne, or Burgundy-style beef stew, with fresh tagliatelle noodles. It was delicious!

Bobby had this wonderful salmon, which was accompanied by steamed mussels, root vegetables, and two different vegetable purees, artichoke heart and sweet potato. The salmon was covered with a light tarragon cream sauce. Yummy!

To finish the meal, we shared this wonderful dessert, called Opera Cake. It alternated layers of almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup, ganache, and coffee-flavored buttercream, capped with a chocolate glaze. As if the cake wasn't decadent enough, the dessert included a scoop of vanilla bean sorbet and fresh berries. What a perfect way to crap off an exciting day!