Obligatory post . . .

I don’t feel that I have much to say . . . but feel the urge to post something anyway – just b/c it’s been awhile.

So, er, um . . . yeah.  Things have been bustling since getting back from France.  I started a new rotation at the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents in Baltimore.  What can I say about RICA?  Wow.  Let’s just leave it at: I have a new, profound respect for teachers . . . especially inner-city teachers.  It’s had me thinking a lot about power, and how to negotiate power with those who are perceived as younger, but yet have egos the size of Texas!  It’s really, really difficult.  I don’t know how teachers do it day in and day out.  Its constant performance and being judged and . . . it makes me tired just thinking about it.

I’ve got a lot to do b/w now and the end of this residency – not the least of which is finding a job and moving out of my apartment!  My fellow residents are amazed at how calm I am about the fact that I haven’t even BEGUN to look for a job yet – some of them have already signed contracts!  But I remember this time 2 years ago, after graduating pharm school, and getting all nervous about everything falling in place.  And you know what?  It worked out.  I’m not sure how much of that was just sheer fortune – I tend to believe in God’s providence.  But either way, I’m really not stressed yet.  I’m more worried about getting this damn research project done!

Last week was a week from hell   I was super sick last weekend, which made it VERY difficult to prepare 50 slides for my lecture on primary headache disorders (which I had to give to the 3rd year pharm students on Friday).  Then lots of emo thoughts and feelings as I try to navigate relationships and having a life while being a resident . . . it was all very draining.  Yet still I rise!!

Had a very chill weekend.  Slept on Friday night.  I was feeling quite antisocial – and just couldn’t stand to be around people.  Saturday, I got the wonderful opportunity to chat it up w/ Jonathan, go to the gym, and then spend the evening w/ Christy   We got some yummy food at Pei-Wei, and then saw Tyler Perry’s new film “Daddy’s Little Girls”.  It was cute.  Gabrielle Union was hot, hot, HOT (as usual)!  Too bad such hotness is wasted on me. LOL.  Admittedly, not one of Perry’s best pieces of work, though.

Sunday was particularly refreshing.  Upon arrival at Cedar Ridge, I was greeted by none other than JaneYang!  I haven’t seen her at CR in soooo long!  She was a sight for sore eyes.  And then my buddy Tom showed up as well.  As if that weren’t enough, I see Brian McLaren!  I had totally forgotten he’d been scheduled to speak!  He gave a rather stirring message – as usual. 

Christy and I went to the Mango Grove (a vegetarian, Indian restaurant in Columbia), then I did some much needed shopping!  I got a couple pairs of work slacks and some other biz casual stuff.  I spent the evening talking to some good friend (Burke and Jo(h)n Holm!) and watching the most EXCELLENT film “Stranger than Fiction”.  Emma Thompson is my new favorite hero

OK, enough rambling.  Time to get outta here!  It’s been a long day . . .

Peace!

Vive La France! (Pt. 2)

We last left our non-French-speaking, American traveler in Dieppe, preparing for a trip to Troyes, France.

Fortunately, my nocturnal fears (and silly dreams) did not come to fruition.  The train ride back to Paris (with some subsequent Metro stops), and then to Troyes, went off without a hitch.  I stepped off the train to see Jonathan – at this point, a sight for sore eyes.  I haven’t seen him since he spent a couple days with me last summer.  I’ve missed the shit outta this guy – in a serious way.  There’s really nothing like embracing a good friend after a long absence.

We walked around town a bit, attempting to make reservations at (what I’ve been told is) the best Italian restaurant in town.  But they were mysteriously on vacation (something that I found French retailers do often . . . I seriously don’t understand this).  So we just headed back to his place, where I met one of his roomates and her parents (who were visiting from Argentina?).  His other roomates (also teaching assistants) were already on vacation.

Jon and I headed back into the city to grab a really great dinner.  It was a posh restaurant that he and his friends dine in often.  I got the most amazing salad (with potatoes, and cheese, and fried egg, and a yummy dressing) that I’ve ever had the pleasure of introducing to my palate, followed by Jon’s suggestion of andouillette – which is basically pig intestines warmed over.  It was a mistake   (Fear not, Jon, I still love you, and how could you have any idea how much I absolutely detest chitlins?!!  Uh, that would be chitterlings, for you Caucasian southerners . . . and for you non-southern Caucasions, just never mind . . . I don’t have enough space to explain )  Oh, did I mention there was more Kir (peach this time), and a split bottle of absolutely amazing wine?

Next we headed off to a pub (Le Tricasse), and had some amazingly deep conversations over a bit more alcohol.  I think Jon is the only guy I know that I can be so deep with while being inebriated.  I mean, seriously, how can I explain my friendship w/ this guy?  We’re such kindred spirits – we have so much in common.  I often don’t even bother explaining myself, b/c he catches my ambiguous drift, and spits it back to me before I can . . . even when toasted! LOL.

So yeah, we walk back home – a good half hour walk or so from the bar.  A fantastic time though – filled with more deep conversations (and an outdoor piss, but I’m not naming names )

The next morning, Jon fixes us a great breakfast – something he got in the habit of doing, despite my efforts to explain that I simply don’t eat 3 times a day.  He – for some odd reason – decided to fatten me up this week regardless.  (Though, I think I may have paradoxically lost a couple of pounds.  Go figure.  I dunno how the French eat so much and stay so skinny!)  The highlight of each morning was us sharing a cup of our favorite tea: Earl Grey, hot.

The next day we spent out on the town.  We had a nice leisure shopping trip.  I had seen this store in Dieppe where there was a jacket I absolutely HAD to buy . . . but it was closed every time Ranjana and I walked by.  Imagine my surprise when Jon tells me that one of his favorite stores is called Devred (the same store I saw in Dieppe)!  Personally, I think he’s evil for taking me to that place!  We spent over an hour there, and I think I dropped about $200 on just a couple items!  Ridiculous!  And then I dropped $100 more in another shop across the way!!  Eesh.  Keep me away from clothes in France!  I can’t afford it!!

Afterwards, we headed to a great little museum at the Hôtel de Vauluisant, that chronicled some of the more notable history of Troyes (known for its clothing factories – in fact, Lacoste got it’s start there).

 
 
 
 
 
Finally, we headed over to one of those really super-cool-but-really-old churches (St. Madeleine), and saw some of the awe-inspiring stained-glass windows.  All of the internal artistry put into this church was crafted with such a level of precision and care, that it literally left me breathless.  Truly magnificent.  Photos hardly do it justice . . .
 

 
 
 
We wrapped up the evening by walking around town a bit more and absorbing some of the decor (including that distinct Tudor influence), procuring some fabulous wine for the following evening’s dinner, taking a few snapshots.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but I’m pretty sure Jon cooked it, and I’m pretty sure we shared an amazing bottle of champagne with it . . . followed by some night caps of coke/rum and coke/whiskey . . . and yeah, tipsy again   Not that we needed it to have a good time, b/c we had the HILARIOUS comedy of Eddie Izzard to entertain us the rest of the evening!
 
On Wednesday morning, we did some more touring of Troyes, starting with the some much-needed time at the local cafe for some internet action, then off to the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul.  Again, absolutely magnificent.  Words cannot describe . . . the beauty . . .
 
                         
 
  
 
 
On our way back home, we got groceries for the evening’s dinner with friends, and stopped by a local chapel where Jon retreats for prayer to find respite for his soul.  I could see why.  The presence of God is overwhelming the moment you step foot in there.  It’s this hidden corner of Heaven in the midst of a people who hardly know God exists. 
 
It’s not as if my brain had stopped functioning during this trip, or my heart had stopped wrestling.  Even in this place, with amazing friends – I still found heaviness in my gut, and questions for God.  In that chapel, I poured myself out to Him, and after walking out, Jon grabs my attention as he points to the sky above.  I’m not sure if this was any answer from God for my questions, but I certainly do wonder:
 

 
We then headed back home for an evening spent with Jon’s pastor and his wife, and a couple of the other English-speaking young adults from the church.  He cooked us up an AWESOME meal!  We had baguette with 3 different spreads (a tuna spread; an avocado, lemon juice, and tobasco spread; and a yogurt spread with cucumber, tomato, and spices).  It was followed by a pasta dish, a salad course, then a cheese course, and finally,  a fruit course.  Seriously, the kid outdid himself!  Oh, and did I mention we had Riesling, some sort of red wine, and champagne to go with these various courses? Yeah, a little toasty, yet again . . .
 
Thursday was my final day to get to tour Troyes.  We walked around town a bit, admiring once again some of the small pockets of architecture that are mere shadows of this town’s ancient glory.  We spent a little time in a quaint bookstore.  Plus, Jon had done some translating for the Museum of Modern Art, so that bought us a free entrance into the place to enjoy some really amazing pieces of art.
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
We had leftovers for dinner – but split 2 bottles of wine.  Yeah, it was a lot, and of COURSE, we got a little toasty . . . but good LORD, that wine was AMAZING!  A bottle of Pinot Noir, and some other red wine that was a bit sweeter, but just as fantastic on the taste buds.  And did I mention how CHEAP all this wine is in France?  Seriously ridiculous. 
 
We arose early on Friday morning to catch our train to the town of Reims (the map is deceptive, however, as the train takes you to Reims by way of Paris first):
 
 
 
 
 
map
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
There we spent the day touring a very different kind of town.  Whereas Dieppe is a small, laid back coastal town where everyone knows everyone; Troyes is a larger, more bustling city with just the right mix of old and new.  Reims is ostensibly younger and more vibrant, but with nooks of old European charm splattered about the town.
 
Our first tourist stop was to the Cathedral – by far the most astonishing church I’ve seen in all of Europe.  (Not that I’ve seen all of Europe . . . yet).  An edifice worthy of its fair share of praise. 
 
 
 
  
  
  
 
Jon then had the fabulous idea to do a champagne tour of the world-renowned Piper-Heidsieck company.  After touring their caves and seeing the process, we sat down for a bit of a taste, and yeah, you guessed it – we left with a rather nice buzz
 
 
   
 
 

We then marched over to the St. Remi Basilica, which was closed unfortunately.  We both imgained what kinds of stained glass find their rest there.  Fortunately, the attached St. Remi musuem was open.  Somehow, Jon managed to finagle us free entrance into this museum as well . . . I think it was just b/c we were so hot, and the poor woman just couldn’t compose herself enough to collect any money from us.  She let us in as “students”
 

 

 
Afterwards, we went to a little restaurant and had some pizza, and yet another great bottle of red wine (which was yet again, a veritable parade in my mouth).  We spent a good couple of hours in there, having those kinds of deep, stirring conversations that people have when they’re soul-tied, and have their final evening together.
 
We headed back to our room at the local hostel, checked email for one last time, and laid our weary bodies to rest.  Early the next morning, Jon was kind enough to accompany me to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris before heading back to Troyes.  It was a bittersweet goodbye, punctuated with a long, warm embrace. 
 
This was certainly one of the more memorable and moving experiences of my life – from start to finish.  I do miss my friends.  Ranjana is a rock in my life – someone who keeps me sane, if only by her sheer lunacy.  And Jon is a friend and brother who has become one of the more significant players in my life this last year – simply because of who he is.
 
Thanks so much guys for being great hosts.  You’ll never know how much it’s meant to me.
 
Au revoir!

Vive La France! (Pt. 1)

OK, I’m not sure I care how long France lives, to be honest.  But I will admit it’s a very beautiful country.  VERY beautiful.  There’s just something about all of that antiquity, juxtaposed with accents of modernity – at least in the cities that I had the good fortune to visit.

So yeah, all that to say that I’ve finally arrived home from France.  I’m not making an understatement when I say that it was absolutely magical.  Every single moment.  It was such an amazing experience.

I left BWI on Friday evening, and arrived in Paris on Saturday morning.  I spent a better part of an hour reacquiring my luggage and then wandering around Charles de Gaulle airport.  I must say that the civil engineers hired in its desing deserve to be tarred and feathered!  It’s a nightmare!  Stupendously irrational in every aspect. 

I finally realized how fruitless it was to continue working myself into a circle, trying to make sense of the many symbols and arrows telling me how to get to the train – and just headed to the info booth.  The affable young man behind the counter suggested I take the bus to the Opera bus stop, then assured me it would be a quick walk to Gare St. Lazare (the train station).  What he did not suggest (much to my chagrin, as I would realize later) was that I get a map to show me where this station was.

I’ll save you any further foreshadowing, and just state the obvious: I ran around the city for another 20 minutes trying to find Gare St. Lazare.  Fortunately, I found a nice doorman who knew just enough English to lead me to the station.  I found the wrong station with those directions though, but it was there that they gave me better directions to St. Lazare

Unfortunately, by the time I got there, and stood in line at the info booth to purchase a ticket to Dieppe, and subsequently told that I was in line for Metro tickets and needed to head upstairs to where the SNCF (French national railway services) trains were, and told there that I was again in the line for local trains and needed to be in line for the intercity trains, I missed the early train to Dieppe

So I get my ticket, wait another hour to board the train, and finally find my sweet little spot next to a young man who did not seem very happy to share a seat with me.  Not my problem though.  It was either next to him, or next to the really old, ugly guy at the opposite end of the car (and frankly, he just looked like the kinda guy who would fart a lot on a train ride and pretend it wasn’t him).  So I took my chances with the aloof guy.

I tried my best to stay awake, so that I wouldn’t have any further (mis)adventures in traveling for the day – but I couldn’t help it.  Sleeping on a plane is NOT comfortable, so I was really exhausted.  I slumbered, despite myself, only to wake up in a panic, wondering why I didn’t recognize the station we were stopped at and why my clock said that it was already 4pm (when I was supposed to arrive at my station at 3:50pm)!  I was beginning to wonder if I had slept through my stop, but then realized that my clock was an hour ahead, and I still had plenty of time . . . or at least that’s what I thought.  Turned out, I was right, and I pulled into Dieppe, where Ranjana and her Scottish friend Jen met me with open arms and huge smiles.  Jen’s smile is particularly angelic.

We headed through the small, coastal town for a bit, and Ranjana let me drop my things off at her apartment and check email.  The 3 of us then headed to a great patisserie and got some yummy pastries, which we packed up and ate at a local bar/cafe (Cafe des Tribunaux) – where I had my first taste of Kir (a cocktail of white wine, mixed with creme de cassis (blackcurrant liquor)).  Wow.  AMAZING!  This was – coincidentally – to be the first of many, many, MANY drinks I’d have in France!

                
 
 

Ranjana and I then headed around the harbor and to the shore for a bit, before meeting her other friends (other assistants teaching English to the local secondary ed kids).  We had a marvelous Indian dinner, and then headed to a pub (The Camden) – owned and operated by a wonderful gay couple.  Here I was, with my Indian-born American friend Ranjana, and her entourage (complete with another American guy, a Scottish girl, a German girl, and 2 Brit boys) – sharing our lives and our experiences, over some reeeeeally good cocktails.  It was so great!  And yeah, I got tipsy

The next day Ranjana and I basically spent lounging around.  We went to the most AMAZING creperie, and spend the whole afternoon there.  That wasn’t our original plan, but her friend Ann joined us, and Ann was a bit of a talker (and the French are prone to talking during lunch!  They eat so slow, and take hour and a half lunches!  Methinks Americans could take a tip from them, but we’d probably go nuts, b/c like, the whole town CLOSES during that time – except for most of the restaurants, of course).

 

Lots of rain ruined our plans for more strolling along the shore, so Ranjana and I headed to the local cinema instead and saw “Black Dahlia” . . . it was actually in English, with French subtitles.  (Please, don’t waste your time!  Josh Hartnett was great, notwithstanding the film’s pitiable attempt at being “artsy”, but with far too many loose, tattered strings that never seem to have been pulled together correctly).  We simply did not have our fill of Hartnett for the evening, so we bought a pizza, and rented “Lucky Number Slevin” from a groovy dvd dispensing machine. 

I know, I know, not the most exciting way to spend an evening in France, but it worked for us.  If it makes you feel any better, we had some great conversations about our mutual complex relationships, and discussed all the fine artistic points of both Hartnett movies

An attempt was made at a good night’s sleep, but admittedly, I was a bit worried about leg 2 of my journey . . . off to visit Jonathan in Troyes . . .

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