18 February 2009

A couple of truths I think

I am finally starting my UNESCO internship today. I don't know what to expect really, but I have a good idea of what to expect from the three classes I'm taking and should be able to juggle things alright this semester. Hopefully I didn't speak too soon!

There aren't many truths in life. Or maybe there are, and you discover and forget them continually. Well I just wanted to record one or two that I've had in the back of my head lately.

One is that there are always bad consequences when you live your day-to-day thinking you deserve something. Whether it is the belief that you deserve more than someone else because you worked harder or simply that you deserve anything, it seems to me like it only leads to bad things. You can argue that work has value and that you should be paid what you are worth, but I say we should drop the whole idea and consider things from a different perspective.

That other, better approach would be that we are only grateful for whatever we receive for what we do or who we are. This seems to always lead to good things--a positive outlook on the future, fewer regrets about the past, more meaningful moments at the present.

I saw a 50-55 year old white (probably French) woman begging in the metro yesterday. She was crying and asked repeatedly for a sandwich or something to eat. It was the first time I had seen a beggar actually crying. It is also rare to see white women of that age begging. I didn't have time to react, but if I had been a little more bold I could have caught her before she got out of the metro. I regret it.

Which leads me to a second truth of which I am still trying to convince myself is that you don't need to invent problems for yourself if you don't have any. I think a lot of the mental/social conditions that are prevalent in the rich, developed countries among ordinary citizens are the result of this act. It's just hard to reconcile your contentedness when you're constantly exposed to troubles in other parts of the world.

Well anyway, I am grateful for not having too many troubles. And I wish others had fewer. I hope I didn't speak too soon!

09 February 2009

When it rains in the winter...

....at least you have something else to complain about besides the cold!

It's 5pm here in Paris on likely the nastiest day I've seen in a while. It's rainy and cold. I went to a class earlier that I won't likely take, but I wanted to check it out nevertheless. It is entitled "Current Issues in International Relations" and it is taught by Steve McGriffen, a British historian with Socialist political leanings. I took a liking to him right away, because he asked us critical questions, pushed us to back up our thoughts, unapologetically stated his opinions and exhorted us to disagree with him. Out of all the professors at my school, I think he may be the best suited to be my thesis advisor but I'm not sure. I asked him if he'd be up for it, explaining that I might want to take a feminist approach to analyze female migration from poor to rich countries, and whether they have improved education and literacy after they left their home country. "That sounds absolutely fascinating," he said, and continued with a grin: "you know I happen to be an enthusiastic feminist."

My before dinner plans are to organize and put away last semester's notes, prepare my new binders, and dance around, stretch and do yoga for an hour or so. I can't stand being cooped up, but after my accidental more than an hour walk after work yesterday in the freezing cold, I really have no desire to go for a walk......

03 February 2009

It smells like curry in here

So I spent last week in Granville, a small coastal town in Normandy, with Germain at the 10-bedroom, three story, century-old house that belongs to his family and is currently only resided in by his great aunt (who is second cousins with Christian Dior!) What I find so charming about the town is that every time we've been there since two and half years ago, the same server who reminds me of Mrs. Teapot from Beauty and the Beast is working at our favorite restaurant, the same crazy guy with the very Frenchy mustache is getting us drunk on free samples of Apple Brandy (Calvados), pommeau (apple-based sweet apéritif) and cider at 9:30 am at the Saturday open air market...Germain and I still die of dust allergies while staying at the house, we can still bring back with us the best Normandy cheeses, Camembert, Pont L'Eveque and Livarot - and one of France's penultimate creamy rich desserts 'Teurgoule' (rice pudding with crème made with whole milk).

As much as I enjoy a change of scenery and get bored with routine, I can certainly appreciate the consistency of my visits to this charming, old-fashioned French town.

I am off of school for another week (classes start up Feb 9). I haven't been back to my dorm room in...two weeks? But I think it's about time, because Germain is starting to get annoyed with all my clothes drawn out everywhere. However, I have found a way to prolong my hanging around his place. While in the old house in Granville, I was looking at all the old books on the bookshelves and surprisingly came across Julia Child's famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I was almost done reading her biography when I came across it, and Germain let me 'borrow' it from the house. I think he's secretly just as excited to taste my attempts at her recipes as I am to cook!!

That must be why it smells like curry in here. I feel pretty overwhelmed by most of her recipes, so last night I decided to start simple and attempt a Curry sauce recipe. Next time, I won't salt it and will serve it with different vegetables (the tomatoes were far too acidic). Nevertheless, it tasted great with chicken! Not very French, but hey, I'm working on it!

I start my internship at UNESCO on Feb 16. I'm really excited about it and am looking forward to having a busy schedule again. I just hope I'll have time to cook...

14 January 2009

Just (finally) fulfilling that old New Year's Resolution...

Well I guess I haven't fulfilled that one New Year's Resolution about figuring out how to upload photos to my blog, but at least I figured out how to change the font of my entries.

Oh darn, that was supposed to appear in Webdings. Ya, hah! Thanks, I know I'm clever. Almost. Just gotta work on delivery next time.

It's 11:50pm and I'm trying various tactics to "wind down" for bedtime. So far, I've tried watching a random video on youtube about Hugo Chavez and democracy in Venezuela, but that didn't seem to do the trick.

Then I tried to really take things into hand by kindly asking the 5 girls in the hallways talking loud and giggling to maybe find a commons room to continue their conversation. They were nice enough and eventually wandered their way down the hall to some other place for chatting. (I could tell, because the shrieking and giggling had that fading-volume effect you see at the end of movies, right before the credits).

Well, since none of the above, entirely illogical anyway, tactics have seemed to work, I decided to try breaking one of my New Year's Resolutions by writing a really long and boring blog entry! Which will probably have the same reverse effect as my dad's strategy to get us to fall asleep when we were babies--holding us while yawning continuously. He says he always ended up falling asleep first. Is that snoring I hear from the other side of my screen???

In any case, I'm still awake and kickin' it. I'm really pumped actually, because I met with Martina Simeti at UNESCO today about doing an internship in the Education Sector. It looks like everything will work out, she just has to organize the work she wants me to do enough to be well prepared for my either mid- or late-February arrival. I'll be doing really cool stuff like researching, writing and editing articles about Literacy and Citizenship. It's the perfect fit with my thesis topic, which is.......what is it again? Oh yeah, I'm not entirely sure yet but it's got a similar ring to it. Heh just kidding, I don't feel like going into it quite yet, especially since that would really screw up that one New Year's Resolution.

Maybe I could just write a lot of short paragraphs instead?

So finals are next week and I'm almost done with the papers that will be due Monday and Wednesday. I have all day tomorrow (Thurs) and every day til Sunday to whip up the rest. Class was sufficiently packed with stressed classmates today~we all strangely lacked in our usual witty response mechanism during class discussion and instead threw frequent glances to our watches for when the time would finally come to jet...

Alright alright that's too long already, I'm off now to attempt other sleep-inducing tactics. Any suggestions??

05 January 2009

Back in Paris

Happy New Year! Or as the direct French translation puts it, Good Year!

My New Year's Resolution is not only to write in my blog more frequently, but to also make them short and sweet. This one will probably not be short and sweet, so I've already kind of broken that resolution. But I have a lot to say, ok???

I resolve to put pictures in my entries too--I just gotta figure out how to do that. I also resolve not to ask my brother how to do everything technical because I could probably figure stuff out if I just tried :o)

I had a wonnnnddderful trip back to Magnolia and Mandeville/NO. I saw tons of people, some more expected than others, ie Robert Wheeler randomly crossing my path on New Year's. I had just said "Goodbye Callie!" when he walked in between us, so I continued without missing a beat "...and hello Robert Wheeler???"

So, I slept from 6pm to 11pm yesterday (the day I got back) then again from midnight to 9am. It is really disorienting to go to sleep at 6pm, it being dark, then waking up entirely refreshed as if I had slept a whole 8 hours but it was actually just 7pm. That sensation repeated itself but kind of inversely this morning when I woke up in disbelief that my phone said 9am and not 5am, like I was expecting....

And not to mention that when I opened my curtains, BAM! A whole white-covered outdoors slapped me in the face with snow everywhere, and tons of it. It's the first time I've really seen a good snow in Paris!

So now all of you, your New Year's resolution should be to read my blog more often! It's a deal.

22 November 2008

Braindump!!! (or la fuite des cerveaux?)

I'm having a hard time starting this entry because there's been an influx of information, images and ideas in my brain in the last two weeks. I'm still digesting it all. It didn't help to have mid-terms in that time frame; I had to process coherent thoughts about what I've been exposed to since the beginning of the semester. And I'm finding it harder and harder to organize my thoughts. I just want to read and absorb. I don't think I've ever spent as many hours absorbing information, opinions, accounts, reflections, reports, footage, maps, and images as I have in the past weeks.

Two weeks ago I was at Germain's apartment reading my favorite weekly the Courrier International when a thought-provoking subject presented itself to me and, within 10 mins of being exposed to I felt entirely hooked. There was a section devoted to refugee movements, featuring articles not only on the recent displacement of hundreds of thousands of Congolese but also on international migration more generally. I don't think I could explain to someone else a single idea from this one article by Raymond Depardon (photographer/director), but it was a total success because it sparked off a million little traces of thought through my brain. And none of them crossed paths somehow-no closure whatsoever! It's a neat experience to read something that leaves you speechless. This has been happening a lot to me lately. No closure necessary.

Raymond Depardon just produced a documentary on French rural life called La Vie Moderne. After reading his article, Germain and I decided the very next day to go see it. I had a very mixed reaction to it, because his article had excited all kinds of thoughts in my head about research topics I could have about trends in international human mobility. But his film contained calm, picturesque footage of the French countryside and very banal (but revealing) interviews with farmers--with emphasis on their attachment to their land. Their immobility. It was a total tease! And a real pleasure to watch. I'm not complaining at all. Like his article, it simply left me wanting to know more. Good thing there's an exposition on migrations that he and an essayist/urbanise named Paul Virilio just opened here in Paris.

A couple of days ago, Germain bought me a special report of Le Monde (a French daily) on international migrations, and I've already almost gulped down all 180 pages of articles, maps and graphs. It was stated in one of the articles on natural disaster refugees that Katrina displaced 780,000 'from New Orleans to Texas,' but this number sounds almost too large to be true. Maybe they meant from the region affected to Texas? In any case, I also learned that the Kurdish Cultural Center that Germain lives down the street from was the first center of its kind in the world. Speaking of the Kurds, one of the languages this people speaks is called zaza!

This is probably a long and boring entry but I felt like writing all this. So I'm still trying to narrow down a topic for my thesis, and I need to do it pretty soon because it's strategic to do so sooner than later, then adapt your class papers to fit into the theme. I'm flirting with ideas involving different factors related to (obviously) international displacements of people, international education, the concept of 'la fuite des cerveaux' or the phenomenon involving the departure of a poor country's brightest young people to go study/work in a rich country, exploring the main categories of international student mobility: 1)those travels undertaken voluntarily by students from rich, developed nations to other rich, developed nations, 2)those taken voluntarily by students from rich, developed nations to poor, developing nations), and 3)those taken necessarily by the richest or the brightest students from poor, developing nations to rich, developed nations because they deemed it their only chance for success.

There's an unusually high concentration of African students in France (46% of their foreign students in 2007 were from the African continent and not just the Maghreb). This isn't surprising considering colonial history. But is the phenomenon of 'la fuite des cerveaux' perpetuating the conditions of underdevelopment in these African countries? Do the African students return after their studies or do they stay? Do the North American and European students return after their studies or do they stay? I think a case study of France in whatever I'll write about would be interesting for many reasons. The French government invented the concept of 'diplomatie culturelle' or 'cultural diplomacy' which is part of their foreign policy that tries to improve French foreign relations through educational and cultural exchanges. How do 'core' nations perceive such an aggressive policy versus those nations in the 'periphery'?

Time to head to bed. I think I just needed to clear my head. It'd also help to turn off BBC because my head is swimming!

07 November 2008

Strasbourg, and my top 3 reactions to the US election

Hello all, it's been a 'moment' since I last updated but better late than never. I was off of school last week for All Saint's Day and spent a couple of days in Strasbourg with Germain. Strasbourg is a small city in the Alsace-Lorraine region, right along the French-German border. We spent our days walking the city with little guide or information, in goal of discovering its various neighborhoods on happenstance, with no tourist-book inspired expectations, and always on an empty stomach. Speaking of which, some of the excellent regional specialties are choucroute (sauerkraut, sausages and pork~there's also a version with fish instead), tarte flambées (or in German, 'flammekueches', very thin, crispy pizza-like pies with just creme fraiche, onions, and bacon), big soft pretzels...in other words, when we got back to Paris, we tried our best to catch up on eating green vegetables and fruit! Not to mention all the excellent, cheap, local-brewed beers...

I was surprised to finally see French girls drinking pints! I felt almost more at home in that respect...

Let's move on to other things~I suppose I should comment on the US presidential election. We've all heard the propagated reactions (first black president, etc), so I thought I'd just highlight my top three international reactions to Obama's election:

The 'Most Sobering Reaction' prize goes to Russian President Medvedev's speech in a massive, white glittery room before all the important personalities of his country. I appreciate his realistic comments treating all the work that is cut out for Obama, especially his threat to launch Russian missiles if the new president goes through with Bush's plan to build an anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe. BAM!

The 'Most Expressive Reaction' prize goes to the Kenyan women shown dancing around and singing upon the announcement that Obama won. Honestly, who DIDN'T do a little Obama victory jig??

And finally, the 'Most Inconclusive yet Humorous Reaction' prize goes to Berlusconi who is quoted as saying that the new American president's best attributes include youth, good looks and a "suntan." The Italian Prime Minister didn't stop there; he also insisted that Obama was so good looking that he might introduce him to his wife. Leave it to the Italians to...be creepy??

Voilà! Time to move on now, I miss everyone!