Archive for 2012

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Spring Break in the Corsair City: Arrr!

The walled-in City of Saint-Malo sits on the northern coast of Brittany, overlooking dozens of rocky islands which sit stoicly on the horizon, unmoved by the English Channel rushing around them.  The air of the city is mixed with the waters that crash endlessly on these rocks.  These same waters, which now hang in the […]

The Unity of France II: One Nation

Every American knows the phrase “One nation under God,” yet few people realize that our country is not a nation in the strictest sense.  While nation, country, and state are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.  A nation is a people.  They have a culture, a language, a history.  They might have a state.  For example, Jewish Americans are perfectly […]

The Unity of France I: One State

Last week, I attended a political rally for incumbent presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy.  Looking out on a sea of French flags waved by nearly everyone in the crowd, he pronounced his vision and goals for his second term in office.  For the most part his comments were not surprising, nor were they starkly different from the […]

The Rhythm of Time

“That’s not good for your health,” my host father said, as I approached the breakfast table with my French exercise book in hand.  At first, I thought he was joking, as he often does.  However, he explained that “in France, doctors say that you either eat or you work, but not both at the same […]

Of War and Normandy

If you listen, you can hear the sea anywhere in the cemetery.  From Omaha Beach, a few dozen meters away, the water’s deep rushing breath is the undertone of the American Military Cemetery in Normandy, France.  Here lie the graves of almost 10,000 Americans who died during our entrance into World War II on D-Day. […]


I used to think the best way to disrupt France was to yell “strike” in a crowd.  Within hours, the entire country would be shut down, before anyone bothered asking what the strike was about.  It turns out, you can also just throw snow at them. (Ok, to be fair, it takes a lot more […]

Français? English? Oh, Catalan. Right.

According to the great cartographer of the modern era, Google, France and Spain are neighbors.  However, I became skeptical of this fact during my trip to Barcelona, when I found that almost no one spoke French and it also wasn’t on any signs. Besides the lack of French, I was also surprised to find that […]

Dining, Not Eating

According to the great philosopher Douglas Huff, where there are two words, there are two meanings.  Early in this French excursion, I encountered two words that clearly had two entirely different meanings for the French, but whose subtleties quite deftly escaped my baffled American brain. During one of our first French classes, one other student […]

Springtime in Alcalá

It’s springtime (Spanish: primavera) in Alcalá de Henares and the weather has finally warmed up (in case you didn’t know, Europe basically froze over in February). That means that people are spending a lot more time outside and the town has become a lot more beautiful because there are flowers everywhere. On Calle Mayor these trees have […]

Street Life

For anyone who got overly excited by this title, sorry, but I have not become a hip French street thug.  Instead, I am referring to the taste of walking around a city, the look of its citizens, and the thrum of its culture.  To get to know a place, you have to walk in the […]