Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkin Risotto

I have to do something to celebrate Halloween...

2 tbsp. Olive Oil
150 g Aborio Rice
150 g Pumpkin Purée
dash nutmeg
2 dashes cinnamon
dash garlic
sea salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add salt and add rice. Let cook in oil for 2-3 minutes. Add water just to cover rice, let simmer until water is nearly gone, add more water. As rice simmers, add spices and pumpkin. Continue to add water bit by bit until rice is cooked, stirring continually (about 2 cups of water, over 20-30 minutes).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Les livres

One of the strangest things that I have found about France is that it has driven me to once again become the voracious reader that I was in elementary and middle school. Perhaps this is because I have more time. In general, I am only taking four classes. And more specifically, I find myself on the metro for at least an hour daily to get to those classes, so therefore reading is a practical way to pass the time.

Reading is also something that I like to do when I am not stressed out. Here, I don't feel the constant pressure to get on my bike for 30 miles, do reporting, write an article, write an essay, and do the 100ish pages of academic reading (NOT the kind of reading that I'm talking about here) that needs to be done in order for me to continue existing at Columbia.

While this is all true, I think that I've also found myself reading more because it's comfortable. In a world where know relatively few people, and like even less of them, reading allows me an escape into whatever culture and experience in which the plot happens to be set. It's not that I don't like it here, I love it. It seems that every time I walk outside something happens to me worth talking about. I've been storing them up for when I decide to write the next Great American (expariate) Novel. Even so, it's still uncomfortable to be in a foreign country with few friends. So I delve into Anglo-literature.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my Stylistic class really lost. There was just something about the text that we were reading that I simply couldn't connect with. I understood the meanings of each sentence, after working with it for a while, but I still didn't get the point of the article. It was like I saw five different points, but I didn't see how they connected to become a star.

In the middle of class, my professor began circling to hand back essays from the week before. When he handed me mine, and leaned in to begin discussing, my mind just went blank. And then I felt myself trying to fight back tears. All I could see were the marks on my paper, and the grade. The worst part of being in France is the grading of my French. For some reason Columbia will not allow a person to take any language class for a pass/fail grade. Not matter if you have fulfilled the language requirement, if you have no interest in the major, if you are just trying to learn for your own cultural interest. It is impossible for me just to want to learn French. I have to excel at French. Ca m'enerve.

So, when it gets too much for me, I read.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Mannekin Pis, among other things

While much of Brussels is rather ugly, there are brief points of architectural glory. The residential parts of the city remind me a little of San Francisco. There are long, narrow, and individualistic houses (that all kind of go together), and plenty of pointiness to the roofs.

This is a globe made out of old shells, a really interesting commentary on global violence.

How can you not think that these little Belgian kids are cute? We noticed early in the day that there were a bunch of sout-looking kids running around, and then, in front of the pissing boy fountain (see below), a group of them asked us for a picture--for us to take a picture of them. We figured out that they were on a scavenger hunt (we think). Otherwise, we are just creeper-cougers.

The Mannekin Pis (Dutch for Pissing Boy). Well, obviously many replicas of the actual mannekin pis, but I like him better in color. See here for history, as I don't have time to go into it.

Every once in a while they dress up the Mannekin Pis, and then when they are done they put a copy in a small corner room of the city museum. Photos are prohibited.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excerpts from my letters home

Hey, so I feel like you asked me how France was a long time ago and I never replied. It's been a little crazy here. Not so much crazy as just exhausting. I'm tired all the time, even though I don't really do much, and I think it's just being exposed to different culture and a different language all the time. And when people ask me how I am I don't really know how to reply. The first things that come to mind are the complaints: things that are different, things that I wish were better, but I tend to skip over all of the really awesome things that I am beginning to take for granted, like casually walking by architecture every day that is older than the United States, and feeling like I improve every day with my French, even as I am getting more frustrated by my lack of fluency. So...Paris is an emotional roller coaster. But I am doing my best to deal with it proactively. I write as much as possible (though a lot of times I skip writing to watch American television). But now I'm doing this journalism project in French, so I am being forced to write, to think about journalism and my writing, and to try to build a bridge between this weird new place the life that I know that I love...

Le week-end dernier, j’ai dormi beaucoup pour que je puisse me rattraper les heures de dormi perdu le week-end avant. Mais la dernière semaine, j’ai aussi commencé les cours actuels. Les premières trois semaines (après de l’orientation) étaient plein d’un cours intensif de la grammaire. C’était horrible, mais c’était la même chose tous les jours. Quand les cours actuels ont commencé, tout est devenu un peu plus difficile parce que maintenant mon horaire est différent chaque jour, j’ai les lectures, les devoirs plus compliqués, et l’anxiété de trouver un cours à l’université, ce qui est un procès fou et désorganisé. Nous pouvons choisir un cours d’une de trois universités différents dans le système universitaire de Paris, et toutes la trois commencent les semaines différentes. Et le cours que je pense que je voudrais m’inscrire ne commence pas jusqu’à qu’après le jour à fixer l’inscription de tous les cours pour Reid Hall/Columbia. C’est fou.

So, how's life? Life here is a little crazy. It's basically the complete opposite of life in New York. I live in a house, and we have TWO whole bathrooms (and a washing machine!), and school kind of sucks so I don't really pay too much attention to it. There are a lot of grammar nazi's running around. But the wine is good, and so is the cheese. I went to a wine tasting class the other night, and learned how to talk about wine in French, which is just about the most pretentious thing one could ever know how to do, so of course I will be doing it often.

How is your life? Any good classes this semester? Have you eaten anywhere interesting lately? I miss knowing the restaurant scene. I also miss variety. Salad, beef, and chocolate mousse/creme brulee is getting old. As are sandwiches for lunch. But I really can't complain...