Salon du Chocolat

This weekend I went to the one and only Salon du Chocolat, which is the biggest chocolate festival IN THE WORLD.  As my mother would say, I was in hog heaven!

Basically the ticket to the salon just got us in, but fortunately almost all of the vendors gave free samples.  There were all kinds of chocolate products and some non-chocolate ones too.

Chocolate hedgehogs, obviously
 Things I loved included*:
  • Lime infused chocolate from Cacao Sampaka
  • Chestnuts - they were candied or something
  • Everything filled with salted-butter caramel
  • Bailey's and dessert wines (not together)
  • Mesoamerican themed chocolate scultpures
  • Truffles, every single truffle
  • A fig and chocolate spread to accompany foie gras (!)
  • Chocolates filled with melon au porto flavored cream
Coup de Coeur
There was chocolate fashion.  (What does that mean? I don't know.)

There were also performances, talks and demonstrations.  We, for example, saw a great time of a Brazilian dance exposition hosted by a flamboyant, be-sequined gentleman named Roberto.

A chocoholic,

*In fact, I loved everything except cacao beans.  It was pretty disappointing - like trying to drink vanilla extract.


Unexpected Destinations

Before I left for Jordan, I posted a quotation about journeys having destinations of which even the traveler is unaware. 

I realized that this was true of my trip to Jordan:

I have never been further from what is familiar to me than I was in Jordan, but being with my friends from Georgetown made me feel more at home than I have since I left America.

Maybe they’re my home.  Maybe home is the part of myself that I find again with them.

A little nostalgic,


The Lowest Point on Earth

The road to the Dead Sea is winding and hilly; sometimes the road opens up onto sweeping vistas of dusty brown hills carved with folds and creases.  There was something very Biblical about that drive.

I ended up taking a taxi round-trip because organized transportation in Jordan, while existent, isn’t really that organized.  My cab driver was very nice to me – he bought me a Pepsi on the way there and a snack on the way back and talked with me almost the entire way there, even though my Arabic is only so-so. 

I’ll pass along the helpful tips one of my friends gave me for doing the Dead Sea right.

Nick’s Guide to البحر الميت (Al-Bahr Al-Mayyit) :
  • Do not try to swim normally.  It will not work.  Keep your feet under you.
  • Do not go underwater or get water in your eyes.
  • Don’t try to swim to the other side.  You’d end up on the West Bank.
  • Do cover yourself in mud.  It’s part of the experience.
The water is blue green in the shallows and turns turquoise once the bottom drops away.  The water is completely clear.  As you walk out, you will see pockets of white salt on the floor of the sea, following the ridges of the sand.

Between years of swim team practice in the pool and hours of reading in the bathtub, I’ve spent a lot of time in the water, and I know what it feels like.  That sounds silly, doesn’t it?  It’s not silly if you’ve been in the Dead Sea, though, because the water feels like nothing I’ve ever felt before. 

The salt in the water almost makes it feel slimy or alive, as though when you touch the water, it touches you back.  As I swam through the shallows, the sun hit the salt that was curling through the water and cast its shadow against my skin like swirling smoke.  As I swam further out, it was as though I was still standing on the seafloor, and I floated without any effort at all.  It was such a bizarre feeling that I couldn’t help laughing for my first four or so minutes in the water.  

I did happen to get a drop of water in my eye.  For a hot second, I thought I was probably going to need a patch or a monocle.  Fortunately, I blinked it out.  Out of curiosity, I also gave my finger a little lick to taste the salt. Horrible idea.


I say "tomato," You say "bindoora" (بندورة)

Cultural Differences and Surprising Tidbits about Jordan:

If a truck is driving slowly through the neighborhood and playing infernally annoying music, in the United States it’s the ice-cream truck, but in Amman it’s the gas truck.

In Jordan, toilet paper is not flushed.  That was a surprise.

I’m going to make a generalization and say that most of the women in Amman were wearing some form of the veil.  There are lots of different ways to wear it.  Some girls wore heels, a cute but highly modest outfit, and a colorful scarf over an ENORMOUS pile of hair. (It could not have all been real.  Is there a Middle Eastern Bump-It?)  At the University of Jordan a lot of girls sported this full-length trench coat dress type thing over their other clothes in addition to a hijab.  Other women wore the niqab, either not covering or covering their eyes and sometimes with gloves and stockings so they were completely covered.

The call to prayer is broadcast over loudspeakers from every mosque in the city five times a day.  Each mosque’s call is different from the others.  I’m a pretty deep sleeper, but after the call to prayer on my first morning I was fully awake.

There are police everywhere in Amman.  Some wear the old-fashioned helmets with little spikes on top and yellow and black striped vests.  They look like bees.

I look like an Arab.  This is widely confirmed by 1) people speaking to me in Arabic, 2) people giving me confused looks and asking where I’m from after hearing me speak Arabic, 3) a gentleman in a car asking me for directions as I walked through the neighborhood,  4) Arabs telling me I really do look like an Arab when they find out I am, in fact, not.

One of my good guy friends is with a host-family in Amman.  When he mentioned I was coming a few weeks ago, they said he should bring me to dinner.  My girl friend told me not to get my hopes up about it really happening because the family would probably be uncomfortable hosting me for dinner since I’m a non-relative female and not engaged to my guy friend.  She was right – the invitation was not renewed. 

No one in Amman knows street names.  When you get in a taxi, you give the driver a general area or landmark and direct him from there.

According to my girl friend, sometimes simple monetary exchanges, like in a cab or in the grocery store, can be awkward because there is still so much tension around physical contact between men and women.
A stranger in a strange land,

A Wonder of the World

Gillian, Nick and I went to Petra on my first day in Jordan.  The entire city is carved out of these gorgeous cliffs that are burnt-orange ribboned with red and rose.  The structures, which date back to the 6th century B.C., look born rather than built, as if some accident of nature shaped columns and carved out caves.  

Petra is Jordan's most visited tourist attraction, which means that it is covered with Bedouins selling jewelry, drinks, and rides on camels/donkeys and tourists from all over the world.  It feels like a strange combination of theme park and pilgrimage site.

A really cool thing about Petra is that very little is closed off.  You have almost complete liberty to explore the ruins and caves.  Someone official looking did motion for us to get down from a kind of high cliff we climbed, but that only happened once

The bookends of Petra are the remarkably beautiful buildings of the Treasury and the Monastery.  The climb up to the Monastery was my cardio for the trip, but man was it worth it.  We saw a view called "The End of the World," and looking out over the mountains I almost felt like I was at the edge of the Earth.

Why would they call it "Petra" when the "p" sound doesn't exist in Arabic?


A thousand words are worth a picture

I felt like I was looking at the world through the lens of Yann Arthus-Bertrand as I traveled to the Middle East. Since I didn't take pictures, here's a verbal account of what I saw.

The Pyrenees: capped with snow and dotted with lakes whose coldness I could almost taste, even from  40,000 feet.  Greek isles, Cyprus, my first look at the Mediterranean.  I've never seen water so blue, like lapis lazuli made liquid.  The coast of Lebanon appeared suddenly.

To me, Beirut looked like the Hollywood of the Middle East, couched in green hills.  Maybe it's because my friend told me it was the best place she's visited in her life; maybe it's because I've never been to Hollywood.  The city looked both ancient and post-apocalyptic, the ecru buildings exploding in a geometric design, like a blossoming gemstone.  

Amman.  In the desert now.  Flat sand and spindly trees.  The sun set as we landed in a glow of pink in the hazy dust-filled sky which made it impossible to know the exact moment the sun disappeared.  The moon was already in the sky, a pale shadow of what it was about to become.  As the night darkened, the sky turned navy and the full moon let off so much moonshine that the sky turned almost green around it, an unearthly halo.  In the distance, bright orange glows nestled against the horizon like the blazes of an enormous fire: street lights lining the highway. 

I listened to music on the flight into Amman, but I realized that I don't have the soundtrack for this place, just as I do not have the vocabulary to capture everything I see.

A desert rose for now,


Vacances de Toussaint

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” 
Martin Buber

I leave for Jordan in the morning.  I may not write until I'm back.
Off to find new eyes,

Faisons la grève!

Here it is, the post you've all been waiting for: Strikes, French-style.

If you've been reading the news lately, you may have noticed a few little articles on the strikes going on in France.  The government is upping the retirement age from 60 to 62.  The news, especially the American press, makes it seem like it is practically impossible to step out of your door without running into a mob of angry French people.

However, while it's hard to miss the demonstrations entirely, they don't necessarily play a big role in your day : sometimes the metro runs only one out of two trains; once in a while you run into marches of your fellow students or what have you; you will regularly read signs posted around your school emblazoned with messages like "Even your grandma is going on strike"; one time, you may find yourself surrounded by music-making chanters in the metro; your teacher may be forty-five minutes late to class, or, if you're really (un)lucky, you may not have class at all.

In addition to being avoidable to a certain degree, I have been gently commanded to steer clear of the strikes.  As a representative of Good Old Georgetown, I'm not really allowed to be involved in all the hoopla, as evidenced by the following excerpt from an email from the Office of International Programs:

"While these are typically peaceful, the events of the past few days have shown that violence may erupt unexpectedly. It is for this reason that the Georgetown Conditions of Participation prohibit active participation in any political activities while you are abroad. We can appreciate that you may want to experience this unique element of French culture firsthand, but when emotions run high, there is strong a possibility that some people (protesters and police alike) may get out of hand. So, please limit any involvement to passive observation from afar."

Passively observing from afar.  That face is all bravado.
That's okay though. The French got it under control; they don't need my help.  Whatever you think of the wisdom or lack thereof of this strike, you've got to admire the French ability to organize and mobilize.
Damn the Man,


La Grande Mosquée de Paris

La Grande Mosquée de Paris is the biggest mosque in France.  It was also the first mosque built in France (1922-1926, to commemorate the French Muslims who died in WWI).  It contains a prayer-room, a school, a library, a bathhouse, a tea room and a restaurant.  It is also about two blocks from la fac (the university).

Today I went for lunch with a friend, and we felt like we had stepped into a different world.  I had a delicious tagine with chicken, onions, almonds, and plums.

There were birds flying around the ceiling that swooped down to pick at crumbs after people left.  It was charming.

This may or may not be a total tourist attraction; I'm not sure.  For me, it was just a convenient lunch spot.  Go have a mint tea there if you have the chance.

مع سلام,



If you don't know about macarons, this is your lucky day.  The macaron is an elusive thing, not truly translatable and hardly ever found in the United States.  The name would make you think that this delicious dessert is merely a macaroon (the coconut thing, here a congolais), in the American sense, when it is in fact a sort of airy puff-pastry sandwich with filling in the middle.  That description does not do justice to their scrumptousness. 

Today, I made this French delicacy with my host sister, Sybille.  She may have done most of the prep work, but I glued a lot of these things together.  Brown = chocolate. Yellow = lemon.

Sugar and spice,


Ballet Preljocaj

Last night at Théâtre National de Chaillot, I saw a really interesting ballet danced by members of the Ballet Preljocaj and the Bolshoi Ballet.  Angelin Preljocaj based "Suivront mille ans de calme" on the Apocalypse.  Now, I don't know a ton about the Apocalypse, and I know even less about modern dance, but I know what I saw last night was a revelation to me.

The music was sometimes classical, sometimes techno, sometimes was made by the sound of the dancers dragging chains on the ground, and sometimes was the sound of 1250 audience members holding their breath.


It was bizarre, beautiful, violent, sexy, striking, dynamic.  At one point, all the women on stage were wrapped in plastic; at another, everyone had a book in each hand and mouth; at the end, flags of country of the world we dunked in water, spread out on the stage to dry and two lambs were let loose to wander among them.

Standing and clapping,

P.S. Here's a video excerpt of the ballet, and words from the choreographer if you want to practice your French.


My homegirl

Forgot to add this picture from Avignon.  Enormous gold statue of Mary.

Oh hey, Mater.  What up, girlfriend?

Aren't we all golden goddesses?


Is this part of the tour?

Here are some old French drinking songs I learned this weekend:
  • Chevaliers de la Table Ronde
    "The Knights of the Round Table"
    • Refrain:Chevaliers de la table ronde,
      Goûtons voir si le vin est bon.
      Goûtons voir, oui, oui, oui,
      Goûtons voir, non, non, non,
      Goûtons voir, si le vin est bon.
    • S’il est bon, s’il est agréable, J’en boirai jusqu'à mon plaisir.
    • J'en boirai cinq ou six bouteilles, une femme sur les genoux.
    • Si je meurs, je veux qu’on m’enterre, Dans une cave, ou y’a du bon vin.
    •  Les deux pieds contre la muraille, Et la tête sous le robinet.
    • Sur ma tombe, je veux qu’on écrive, Ici gît le roi des buveurs.
  •  Jeanneton
    • Jeanneton prend sa faucille
      Larirette, larirette,
      Jeanneton prend sa faucille
      Pour aller couper des joncs (bis)
    • En chemin elle rencontre
      Quatre jeunes et beaux garçons (bis)
    • Le premier un peu timide
      Lui caressa le menton (bis)
    • Le second un peu moins sage
      La coucha sur le gazon (bis)
    • Le troisième, un intrépide
      Lui souleva le jupon (bis) 
    • Ce que fit le quatrièmeN'est pas dit dans la chanson (bis)
  • Au trente et un de mois d'août
    "The 31st of the Month of August" (The refrain is the only part I learned...)
    • Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
      A la santé des amoureux,
      Buvons un coup, buvons-en deux
      A la santé des amoureux,
      A la santé du Roi de France
      Et merde pour le Roi d'Angleterre,
      Qui nous a déclaré la guerre!
  • Dites-moi, Gentille Bergère
    "Tell Me, Gentle Shepherdess"
    • Refrain :
      Appelle tes chiens, appelle les miens
      Appelle Fanfan, appelle Taïaut, Taïaut
      Taïaut, Taïaut
    • Ah! Dites-moi gentille bergère
      N'avez-vous pas vu le lapin, le lapin
      Si fait répondit-elle, je l'ai vu ce matin
    • Ah! Dites-moi gentille bergère
      N'avez-vous pas vu le canard, le canard
      Si fait répondit-elle, je l'ai vu dans la mare
    • Ah! Dites-moi gentille bergère
      N'avez-vous pas vu le chamois, le chamois
      Si fait répondit-elle, je l'ai vu dans les bois
    • Ah! Dites-moi gentille bergère
      N'avez-vous pas vu le chasseur, le chasseur
      Si fait répondit-elle, c'est lui qui a pris mon coeur
Don't get too carried away - or do!

P.S. Sorry some of the linked versions are lame... 


Provence Part Deux

The second day of the weekend in Provence was split between les Baux-de-Provence and Avignon.

Les Baux in the distance.  It was windy in those hills!
Les Baux is a very small, old, beautiful village in the Alpilles.  It is also the home of the incredible ruins of le Château des Baux, which was built in the 11th century and was destroyed on Richelieu's orders because it was a practically unassailable bastion of Protestantism.

Avignon has the charming feeling that I've found in some other cities in the provinces, like Tours and Lyon.  It's like a three-course dinner to Paris' seven courses.  We visited the Papal Palace and the famous Pont d'Avignon, which is in fact, only half a pont.

The Avignon Papacy began when Pope Clement V said, "No way, José.  Rome is crazy.  I ain't living there!"*  Benedict XII renovated the Cistercian monastery where Clement had set up camp, creating what is known as le palais vieux.

Clement VI, who was noble by birth, decided be wanted the look of the Palace to be a little less "I have taken a vow of poverty" and a little more "I am the most powerful man in Christendom."  Our guide repeatedly used the words "a castle of the Renaissance" to describe what Clement did.  He was very ahead of his time, ornamenting le palais neuf with painted tile floors and sumptuous frescos at least three centuries before even the kings of France did the same.

Of course, then there was that whole Papal Schism business and the papacy ended up back in Rome.  But Avignon must have been beautiful while it lasted!

Thank you, Wikipedia, for this wonderful picture
My favorite part of the Palais des Papes was the contemporary art exhibit of Miquel Barceló's work. So bizarre. So cool.

And of course, Sur le Pont d'Avignon :

Literally sur le pont.
Le Pont d'Avignon

Amb amor,

* May or may not be correct translation of Pope Clement V quotation. 


Aaaarles be back!

This weekend I went to Provence with my program.  We started in Arles where there are incredible Roman ruins:

When it was built in the first century, this arena had a pulley system that covered its 25,000 spectators with vellum on hot afternoons.  After the Roman Empire crumbled, a town was built in the amphitheater because it was easy to defend.  Now you can go see bull fights there.

We went to a market filled with tables of spices, cheeses, dried sausages, breads and pastries.

A middle-aged, hobbit-sized gentleman tried to sell me candies whose proceeds went to animal rescue.  When I declined he told me that I was charming anyway and that my eyes were full of love.  Don't worry Mom and Dad - I didn't give him my number.

We went to the Pont du Gard, part of an enormous (50k!) aqueduct from the Roman Empire.

Le Pont du Gard was built when God was in the third grade; in comparison, I felt a little bit like a tiny speck on the great continuum of time and space...Actually, I felt a lot like that.

I like Arles.  I would like to go back to see une corrida.

Three kisses (that's how they do it down south),

P.S. More on Provence to come! Also, I stole the non-Pont-du-Gard photos in this post...