Greetings from Marseille

Marseille is a very nice multicultural port town with the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen (so far).

But just one thing before I leave France — something I’ve noticed. I have discovered that I can read and understand French quite well, thank you very much, which comes from my years of learning it in school. But when it comes to speaking or listening, I’m a goner. I know that most of my classmates are the same. Why is that? After all, usually when someone moves to a foreign land, they learn to speak first and then maybe to read/write. Children are the same. It seems speaking is more natural than reading or writing. So what gives? One reason, I think, is that Ontario school system (and likely others) emphasizes testing, not learning per se, and since reading and writing are easy to test, that is what we learned. A very similar thing happens in math classes. We need to stop worrying about marks!

Greetings from Aix-en-Provence

Aix is a very nice, small French city. Fountains everywhere, lovely gardens. Overall just visually pleasant.

I met with up some friends that live here, which was nice after weeks of traveling alone. I also ate some of the best pizza I’ve ever had.

 

Greetings from Arles

I had a friend once who loved Vincent van Gogh. She used to share with me marvellous things about Van Gogh, his paintings, his inspirations. She was even kind enough to give me some Sunflowers of my own (a very Sina flower, as she recognized). I absolutely love art, you see, but when it comes to art, I need someone to hold my hand and walk me through it — sorta like the way some people are with math. Well anyway, as a result of her hand-holding, I fell in love with Van Gogh as well. The thing I love about Van Gogh is that you can feel his feelings, almost, somehow — which is exactly my kind of thing.

I decided to make a quick stop in Arles, the place Van Gogh made famous. I just couldn’t miss an opportunity to see exactly the things he saw. And what can I say? It was magical.

I saw the draw bridge.


The hospital garden.


Arles - Garden of the Hospital in Arles.small

The yellow cafe.

The view of Arles over the Rhone.


I would never have been able to picture these scenes by myself the way Vincent did, and I could never convey what I myself saw and felt with such ease as he did. He really was amazing. If only he knew it.

Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.

-Vincent van Gogh

Greeting from Avignon

Avignon is a rather dull, boring place. Nothing much to report.

Instead, I’ll share a story.

I’ve been writing a paper and there’s been this mathematical thing that has been confusing me and that I haven’t really been able to figure out. Well, I was passing by Université d’Avignon in the city centre and I thought that if I just had a chalkboard, and a little bit of time, I could figure out the problem. So I went into the university, found an empty room with a chalkboard, closed the door, set my bag down and went to work. And I figured it out!

I opened the classroom door to leave, and the hallway was dark — no lights. Apparently the building had been shut down while I was working away. When I stepped out of the classroom, motion sensors went off or something, because the alarm started sounding. I made my way to the front door of the building and tried to leave, but it was locked. Then I went to try the back door — it was locked. Now other alarms were sounding from attempting to open locked doors. I thought: why on earth in a public building would you lock the doors from the inside so that people can’t leave?! Then I saw the old, expensive paintings on the wall and it sorta made sense. It really did feel like I had broken into a museum. I saw the security office, so I went, knocked a few times — no one was there. I was locked inside this building.

I figured that since the alarms were sounding, eventually someone would have to come and then I could get out of this damn place. So I sat down, waited. Waited a while. Alarms still sounding. Waited a little bit more.

Then I decided that I should figure a way out on my own. I went to the front door again. There were two sets of doors. The first was a pair of modern glass doors, the other pair (which I could see through the glass) was big, wooden, heavy and looked 500 years old. I figured that the wooden doors couldn’t be locked from the inside because it was just too old for that, and so all I had to do was get passed the modern glass doors. The lock looked very strange, nothing I’d seen before — a lever of some sort. I lifted the lever, like when I first tried, and confirmed that it was locked. Okay. But I pushed hard this time as I lifted to see if I could force the door open — and indeed, it wasn’t a strong lock on the door, so if you pushed hard enough a little gap would appear and you could imagine breaking the door open if you really wanted to. Of course I was in enough trouble so I didn’t want to break anything. So I gradually pushed harder and harder, but only ever so slightly, to see if I could force open the door without breaking the lock. And it worked! The door opened, lock unbroken.

So I got through the first set of doors. I wanted to leave everything as it was, so I tried to close the glass doors behind me, but I couldn’t because the door was still locked, you see, so it wouldn’t close properly. Oh well, I thought. Alarms are still sounding, by the way. The second set of doors — the big wooden ones — were easy to open, just as I thought.

So I exited the building and outside it was completely deserted. Except, of course, for the security jeep that was about to leave and lock the gate to the university campus. (If I had come out a few minutes later I would have had to figure a way out of the locked gate!) The jeep was about to leave (I have no idea why the alarm didn’t notify them) when I guess the guard saw me, because they immediately reversed the car to where I was, rolled down the window, irritatingly asked me something in French, to which I said “do you speak English?”, to which they frustratingly said “aller!” So I went.

It was a lot of fun.

Greetings from Montpellier

Montpellier is what a Mediterranean town should be. It is what Barcelona should have been.

I’ve been staying with a local resident — I think she is French Turkish. She’s a photographer, artsy, bohemian, etc. Her apartment is wonderful, decorated with what you would expect from an artsy French photographer. Every night she puts out candles in the hallway and living room. Just wonderful.

Greetings from Carcassonne

“It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls.”

When we were young, my cousin, brother and I used to play a computer game (CIV II) where one key element of military strategy was to build city walls. I know it sounds lame and weird, but this computer game had a (positive) lasting influence on my life — and I’m actually pretty sure my cousin and brother would say the same thing.

So when I heard there was a small French town completely surround by fortified city walls, I just had to stop for a visit.

None of the pictures I’ve taken would sum this place up more than one aerial shot that I found on the internet.

One evening it rained quite heavily, and I thought it was fantastic because there was something just absolutely medieval about the rain hitting the stone streets and walls.

 
Now, if you told me that there was a store that only sold white clothes and then you asked me which country that store was in, I would have guessed France. I would have been right.

It reminded me of a single plum floating in perfume served in a man’s hat.

plum.perfume.hat

Greetings from Figueres

I don’t know much about Salvador Dali, but seeing the museum he designed for himself, I can tell he was quite a prankster.

Yes, those are eggs, bread, baguettes and other foods all over the building.
 

Greetings from Barcelona

I’ve been in Barcelona for five days now with a few more to go.

I promised people I’d post photos along this trip, so I’ll try my hardest to do so.
 

· When I first saw this building (Casa Batllo), it was so beautiful that I almost cried. Almost.

· I couldn’t get any nice pictures of it, and there are none on the internet. It’s actually kinda sad.

· My other favourite place is the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. I know you might think it’s just a fountain, but…it’s just — what can I say? — majestic.

· and then I got to see one of the things I wanted to see most: a real, live Spanish protest against the banks!

· I’ve also been writing my final research paper, and the cafes provide a conducive atmosphere

· I cannot describe to you how difficult it is to travel and be vegetarian.

· the only lowlight so far: seeing a Barcelona street fight, with whips and everything. not fun to watch, especially when you can’t do anything.

· there are so many other places and things, but I can’t post everything!

 
UPDATED (May 17, 2013):

· Barcelona is like a confused teenager that can’t decide whether it wants to grow up and be modern or stay an undeveloped child.

· My first touch of the Mediterranean

· la boqueria, where apparently seafood is a big deal

La.Boqueria.small

· la Sagrada Familia, at night when it is deserted

My mother is pretty great

And she doesn’t know it, so I’m writing this post so that it will be on the internet FOREVER. (Let that sink in, mom.)

Here are some things about my mother:

– she was born in 1956
– she has 4 kids
– her favourite colour is yellow
– she is a great cook
– she and my dad risked everything to bring their family to Canada
– and started over with nothing
– she loves nature
– her best friend is her sister
– she has at least 1 pretty amazing kid
– it’s pretty amazing what she can handle
– she doesn’t get the appreciation she deserves

I sent this post to her for mother’s day.

Now, I’m 98% sure she didn’t even know I have a blog. Mom, you can go ahead and read it through it, but try not to go crazy.