Les chateaux de la loire; or, my other cribs

One of the best, if not the best, things about the UPS Dijon study abroad program are the vacations, organized by the program, specifically the wonderful Nathalie, to other cities in France.  For free.

Okay, actually, they’re paid for by the tuition we spent to get here, but I’m not shelling out euros for every bistro and degustation (there should be an accent on the e, but I’m not feeling the struggle to edit that) de vin and tour of a chateau, so I am calling it free.

This past weekend, we went to the Loire valley.  The Loire is a river (un fleuve) in the west of France where multiple kings built what were essentially summer homes (chateaux) to live in when they weren’t feeling la Louvre (originally the main palace of the kings, until Louis XIV built Versailles).

The Loire Valley is two train rides away from Dijon, equally a total of about six hours gazing at the peaceful French countryside.  Once we were there, though, we went to town on the chateaux.

The first chateau we visited was the Chateau de Blois, which is smack-dab in the middle of the town of Blois, where we stayed.  The Chateau de Blois was the most used by the French royal court; throughout the centuries, French kings built additions to the original fortress (making it fancier each time, naturally).

One side of the chateau; note the dope staircase built by Francois I.

One side of the chateau; note the dope staircase built by Francois I.

Also, the Chateau de Blois played an integral role in the Wars of Religion in France; it is where Henri III had the Duc de Guise straight up murdered.

That afternoon, we visited Chambord.  Chambord is the second largest chateau in France, after Versailles; unlike Versailles, it is not decked out.  From what I understand, Francois I built the chateau and then stayed there for about a grand total of 15 days.  It is basically just too big: impossible to heat in the winter, attacked with mosquitos in the summer (not that that is related to it’s size), and not the favorite landing spot of any king, ever.  The outside, however, is very beautiful.  It was built to be perfectly symmetrical.

I don’t have a picture that encapsulates how big and grand Chambord is; google it.

The next day, in the morning, we visited Chaumont-sur-Loire.  It’s a little chateau on a hill overlooking the Loire River.  The outside is appropriately medieval/Renaissance, but the inside is a little bit jarring; it was pretty much lived in up until the early 1900s, by a handful of royal people and then various rich people, so the inside decor reflects more of the Gilded Age aesthetic (I actually don’t know if the Gilded Age happened in France concurrently with America, but it’s more of a look than historical accuracy).

Ignore the aesthetically displeasing "Slippery When Wet" sign.

Ignore the aesthetically displeasing “Slippery When Wet” sign.

Our final chateau was Chenonceau, which is absolutely perfect and #lifegoals.  Chenonceau is small and romantic and built in the middle of a river.  Additionally, it was owned at times by two of the most badass woman in France: Diane de Portiers, who had Henry II wrapped around her toe, basically, and Catherine de Medicis, who I’m pretty sure single-handedly ruled France while her whiny sons kept dying (and was married to Henry II, which is admittedly a little awkward).  Anyway, they both connived to make Chenonceau the prettiest chateau in the Loire Valley, and they succeeded.

Someday, I am going to convince a king to be madly in love with me for his entire life and give me castles.

Someday, I am going to convince a king to be madly in love with me for his entire life and give me castles.

Have I mentioned that this weekend was included in the price of the program? The chateaux, the delicious meals, the hotel with a pool: I personally did not spend any of my own euro for this weekend.

Dijon: Welcome to My Crib

I have currently been living in Dijon, France, for a little over a month; long enough to get moderately well established in this city, to work out my favorite boulangeries, bars, and so on, and figure out how late I can sleep before I miss my tram and therefore class.

But I am mostly here today to talk about the city.  Dijon, of course, is mostly known stateside for mustard (in fact, my host family eats it literally every night with dinner, much like salt or pepper.  It’s much hotter mustard than normal, actually, and it reminds me quite a lot of the fresh-ground horseradish that my grandmother makes).  However, Dijon does boast some attractions other than condiments.

Wine, for example.

I would like the record to reflect that a) no one drank these because they are much too valuable and only worth collecting dust and b) I am 21 and a half.

I would like the record to reflect that a) no one drank these because they are much too valuable and only worth collecting dust and b) I am 21 and a half.

And other more classic French attractions: like most French cities, the centre-ville of Dijon is the oldest part of town, made of layers of buildings dating from the Gallo-Roman era, the early medieval periods, and the Renaissance.

The little tower in the middle of the photo is from the Romans: literally thousands of years old.  It is in my courtyard.

The little tower in the middle of the photo is from the Romans: literally thousands of years old. It is in my courtyard.

This is either a tiny(er) Arc de Triomphe or one of the last remains of the medieval wall that surrounded Dijon; it is possible that I misunderstood the tour guide.

This is either one of the last remains of the medieval wall that surrounded Dijon or a tiny Arc de Triomphe; it is possible that I misunderstood the tour guide.

In ye oldene times, Dijon was the capital of the Duchy of Bourgogne (Burgundy); now, Dijon is still the capital of Burgundy, but the government is socialist instead of monarchist.

The palace of the Dukes of Burgundy aka my backyard.

The palace of the Dukes of Burgundy aka my backyard.

The further you go out from the centre-ville, the most similar to blocks of concrete the buildings look.

I live smack dab in the centre-ville, on a road that runs a block parallel to the main shopping and walking road of Dijon.  This is highly convenient for my ability to access shops and restaurants and so on; this is much less convenient for my wallet.  (Everyone in France looks so stylish all the time, which is a far cry from UPS’s brand of hipster grunge.  And they always wear little booties, regardless of the rain or snow levels.)

I’m gonna sign off now, otherwise I’ll continue talking about how the French are just too stylish and beautiful.  Join me next time for more unorganized talks about my days.


How I Ended Up in France For a Semester

It’s actually a pretty wild story.

At the University of Puget Sound, it is required to submit application to study abroad by January 31 of the year preceding the one that you desire to study abroad. What this means, of course, is that if you want to spend Spring 2016 in a far off country, you better know by the January of 2015. And, if you are anything like me, asking questions about the future up to and including “What are you wearing today for your class in an hour,” “What time do you want to meet up for today,” and “Do you want to go out tonight” result in mostly in blank silences and mild panic.

So, although, I did want to study abroad, in theory, when January 31, 2015 rolled around my head was filled with such problems such as:

  • I don’t even know where I want to go.
  • Do I still want to continue studying French?
  • Do I have to go to France to study French?
  • It’s kinda expensive to study abroad.
  • Shouldn’t I get a job instead?
  • My parents studied abroad and met while studying abroad what if this is a gigantic plot to find my One True Love.
  • Also I can’t do anything they ever did, right???
  • I’m pretty sure my friends will die without me.
  • I still don’t know where I want to go
  • Whoops, there goes the deadline.
  • Nevermind then.

I thought this was the end of the tale.

Obviously, it was not.

The French department at UPS runs a program to study abroad in Dijon each spring. (Most study abroad programs run through some outside body, like SIT or some other ones that I def cannot remember anymore.) It is the French professors who review the applications and decide who gets to go, and it is also the French professors who pull strings to get people who maybe have not done any official paperwork into the program.

I received an email on the last day of school of Spring 2015 from one of the French professors (Salut, Diane) who asked me if I wanted to study abroad in Dijon. After about three seconds of hemming and hawing, I said yes.

What followed was a whirlwind of subverting a lot of school bureaucracy (Merci, Michel)—and then dealing with a lot of French bureaucracy. Honestly, it would take about four blog posts and a lot of censorship to document just how much the process to getting a French visa sucks—and yes, you do need one, for which we may thank George W. Bush.

Anyway, this was just the set-up. In the following weeks, I’ll be covering some of my school-approved (and school-funded) adventures in France.

Because yes, I am now in Dijon.

How to Write 2+ Essays in One Weekend, More or Less



To begin, this is a liberal arts college. There are many many many essays. I am in the politics department (international relations), and in the next three weeks I have to write six essays, ranging in word count from 800 to 6500. Do not despair! for I know how to write these essays, and I can save you.


To begin:

I know it says a weekend, but before the weekend hits, you will need to talk to the professors for whom you must write these papers. Not for anything like moving due dates (although if you have Accommodations, you can adjust the due dates), but for discussing your paper topics. It doesn’t have to been an in-depth discussion, it just needs to be a “Hey, this is kinda what I am thinking, what think?”

This will save you. You will look like you care and that you are putting a lot of time into your writing. You also will come away with feedback: it might be how to make your paper more significant, or giving deeper analysis, or it might change to framework of your entire paper. It even lets you go completely off-book: after talking with one professor, I am now encouraged writing a comparative analysis of international organizations in the Middle East, instead of the original assignment (which was to analyze how well a particular international organization handled a particular issue; being the Middle East, the answer was “Not well.”).

After this step, you may get to the weekend. Here:

  • On Friday night, outline both papers. Some people do really in-depth outlines, which is fine. I just structurally organize paper using section headings, notes on the most important information per heading, and rough word count needed for each section.
  • The word count per section really helps. Use it as goals to aim at.
  • I am a very goal-oriented type of person.
  • Pick whichever essay will be harder/longer. This is the essay to start on Saturday.
  • (If you are a nerd, start writing on Friday.)
  • Just write. If you can’t remember a certain detail, make a note that says “CERTAIN DETAIL HERE” and come back to it.
  • I don’t stop to cite. Ever.
  • I hate citing with a fiery passion.
  • A proper system of citation would be to just say, “It is known,” for every single fact.
  • Write to your word count goals.
  • Reward yourself with chocolate/exercise/a new t-shirt/three hours of Parks and Recreation. It is Saturday. You still have time.
  • You have less time on Sunday.
  • Write the other paper today. It is easier and/or shorter.
  • Lock yourself into a room at the library. Or equivalent
  • Turn off your phone. Allow no distractions. It is best to carry snacks.
  • Remember what your professors told you: make the analysis deeper. Talk about why your essay is important. Try to sound intelligent.
  • I use a lot of adverbs. In general, I would recommend editing those out.
  • Finish your other paper. Stay in the zone.
  • You can take short breaks if necessary. Really short though. Basically only bathroom breaks + one game of Candy Crush.
  • Okay, cite now.
  • If you don’t cite, you will get failing marks on your paper and, at minimum, you will be mercilessly mocked. Cite your paper.
  • I hate Chicago style, but it’s the only one with class.
  • You may be really bad about editing your paper at this point, but it’s okay. The words are probably starting to blur together. It happens.
  • Just call it good.
  • Go eat a snack and go to bed.

Please note that these steps are not necessarily in strict order. You can write more on Saturday, or on Friday night (if you are a nerd/somehow not exhausted from the week). I also didn’t include time stamps: hopefully, you’ll be done before midnight. But if you’re not: just keep writing.


(Or, more accurately: my thoughts following Thanksgiving break)

I went home again this year.

I always go home, because my family lives in Portland, OR, and because my family is very close, and because, in my family, we take food very seriously.

We had six pies this year, for 12 people. This may seems excessive, but understand that Thanksgiving in my family starts Wednesday evening and ends when the last piece of turkey has been eaten (a process which takes days, because we cook a turkey specifically for leftovers). In other words, we go hard.

It is always difficult, though, to switch back into family mode. I have compiled a brief list of Things To Remember when returning home (although I am moderately bad at remembering any of them):

  1. Although my immediate family may have taught me how to swear, they did not teach me how to swear That Much. I have taken to using Certain Words as punctuation, but I have learned that it is perhaps best to tone it down for my family. As it happened, at least four different relatives told me to watch my language.
  1. Many, many people asked me why I was not dating anyone. Someone also talked about certain things their psychiatrist friend and hypothesize about me accordingly (Hi, Mom). It so happens that the simpler, truer answers of “I don’t want to date anyone” or “I’m focusing on my studies” or “Did you know that the majority of terrorism in this country is committed by white men aged 18-45?” are not good enough in this case: it is best to respond by immediately diverting everyone’s attention to someone else. In this case, I turned to my cousin, female, age 19, at University of Montana, and said loudly, “You’re dating a Republican??!!!???” I have no shame about throwing other family members under the bus to save myself.
  1. There was an argument, actually multiple, about politics. I study politics. Many people wanted me to get involved; however, they only wanted me to get involved to blindly back them up or tell everyone else that they were wrong. The best response is to either point out analytical and logical inconsistencies on both sides—“That’s not how government works,” was one of my most used statements, along with my statistic about terrorism, seen above—or say, blandly, “I don’t study American politics.”
  1. Pet the cats.
  1. It so happened that this year my computer’s hard drive failed completely the day before Thanksgiving break. In a weird, twisted way, this brings me to my last point. I have a ton of work to do between now and finals. I have so many very very long essays. But, honestly, work is not for Thanksgiving break. Thanksgiving break is to relax (although Thanksgiving is not a particularly relaxing holiday). It’s to eat food. It’s to spend time with family and high school friends (okay, all 2 of them. The rest of the high school acquaintances are Avoided At All Costs). It’s to be grateful for the small pause—the breath before the rest of school.

Thanksgiving break is also to fix my computer

Mt. Rainier

On the third floor of Wyatt Hall, if you stand right next to the windows, and if it is a clear day, you can see, straight ahead, Mt. Rainier. Mt. Rainier is, of course, the largest mountain in the lower 48 and one of the most topographically huge mountains in the entire word—it dominates the skyline.

This is from Wyatt 304, at maybe 5:45pm.

This is from Wyatt 304, at maybe 5:45pm.

You can merely admire the view; I myself did that for a very long time. But you can also make the drive out and actually see (or, at least, theoretically see—this is highly weather dependant) the mountain up close and in person.

The day we decided to go for a hike on Mt. Rainier was, quite frankly, the wettest day of the school year thus far. I woke up in the morning to the sound of rain pounding on my window and on the pathways outside my room—and, like a proper Northwestern citizen, I said, “This isn’t that bad,” and then packed an extra raincoat and a towel.

We had chosen to hike up to Crystal Lake; to get there, you drive four miles past the Mt. Rainier National Park sign, and then slam on the breaks because there isn’t really a proper trailhead or anything else that would suggest that your destination is upon you.

The trail itself starts just off the road, and then winds up the mountainside. You hike through forests upon forests; forests that bear the marks of fires, with pines only at the top of the trees and the trunks themselves sooty and bleak; forests with trees covered in moss and ferns, green on green on green. And eventually, you cross the timberline, where the trees downsize and the wind constantly roars.

We continued hiking up, towards the lake. We just crested the hill and there it was.

Pictured: the wind chill.  Not pictured: me drowning in the wind and rain.

Pictured: the wind chill. Not pictured: me drowning in the wind and rain.

On any other day, I would have sat down on a convenient rock, maybe found an appropriate place to wade into the water, felt the lake (ice melt, from one of the 28 glaciers on Mt. Rainier) with my bare toes, probably had a snack. I would have definitely hiked the circumference of the lake, admiring its pale blue color and the icy mountain views from all angles.

On this day, however, we crested the hill and the first thing we registered was not the lake, but the wind and the rain. The forests below had protected us from the weather; here, the rain crashed into us with the force of a power hose. It was almost all I could do to stand up straight, and then break for cover to take some photos.

We headed back down the mountain instead, rain dripping from our hair and hoods (as proper Northwestern people, we had worn our rain coats; we just hadn’t actually put the hoods up). Every step was damp and, for lack of a better word, squelchy.

I have some advice for aspiring hikers, if they’re interested:

  • Just go hiking. Who cares about the weather?
  • The only excuse you are allowed to have is mountains (hahah…) of homework.
  • Pack extra socks and extra shirts and maybe a change of shoes and a towel. Leave all of this in the car, to stay nice and dry.
  • Bring food. Snacks, sandwiches, whatever.
  • Bring about twice as much water as you think you will need.
  • Also, bring a swiss army knife. At some point, you will need it. This is basically guaranteed.

Mt. Rainier is an active volcano, and on the Decade Volcano List, which I believe means it would suck for everyone if it erupted (as far as I can tell, it does not mean that the mountain will erupt within the decade). Point being, you should go up to the mountain, and experience before it turns into an ash pile.

It’s well worth it.

The very pale squiggle down the hill is a stream/river that runs along side the road.

The very pale squiggle down the hill is a stream/river that runs along side the road.


Today is the fourth day of Passover—and seeing as we are halfway through, I wanted to do a little writing about why this is the best holiday ever.

My family is extraordinarily secular: although I am Jewish, I have never even set foot in a synagogue. I once attended Hebrew school, which lasted until my sister and I were politely asked to leave and never come back following events that were definitely not my fault. My experience with religion has always been fraught with doubt and suspicion and a distinct lack of involvement.

That said, Judaism is not just a religion. I have heard the Jewish people referred to as an ethno-religious group (in anthropologic terms), and I like that because it insists upon what we all know: the Jewish people are multitudinous and varied and they don’t all look like that one bar mitzvah boy (huge pet peeve and you totally know what I am talking about) and the religion part, while important, is not the sum total.

My family always, always, celebrated Passover. It was my single greatest connection to the Jewish religion and the Jewish culture: sure, we celebrated other holidays, but none of them ever had the same meaning as Passover.

Passover is culture building. I do not say this in an exclusionary way: in fact, we are taught that when the Israelites left Egypt a “mixed multitude” left with them. But on Passover, everyone repeats the same story, everyone remembers what our ancestors suffered through, everyone celebrates.

Passover celebrates, in essence, liberation from operation. During Passover, we rejoice in the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery at the hands of the Egyptian. However, Passover also acknowledges the many kinds of oppression that still exist today, and most importantly, it teaches that no one can ever be truly liberated until everyone is liberated.

Here at Puget Sound, Hillel holds a Seder the first night of Passover. On Friday, anyone who was willing to cough up seven dollars to cover the amount of Manischewitz settled down to a slightly rowdy ceremony. The food was decent, although the horseradish was not hot enough (my grandmother always makes fresh horseradish and it makes your eyes bleed), the singing was enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was on point.

During the Seder, one of the leaders of Hillel brought up an article they read about counterintuitive lessons from the Passover story: it reminds us that we are both oppressed and oppressor, it teaches us that we need to act instead of waiting for divine intervention, and that instead of being liberated from we are being liberated to. You can read the article here, and note that these are not the only lessons from Passover, but they are the ones most often forgotten.

Chag Sameach!

Waves (Spring) Breakin’

Over spring break, I went to Newport, Oregon, with my family.  I know, technically speaking, that Newport, which is a coastal town, is not really within the commonly traveled radius of people in Tacoma. But the coasts in the Pacific Northwest are glorious, and I had the best time ever.

Normally I write a lot of words, but today I am just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Actual surfers feat. not me.

The water is super cold at this time of year, but that doesn’t stop some people.  It stops me, but not some people.

I am kinda obsessed with the panorama feature on my phone, but this one looks so good.

I am kinda obsessed with the panorama feature on my phone, but this one looks so good.

The world famous cobbled beach at Yaquina Head.  It might look like it is going to rain soon, but it didn't.

The world famous cobbled beach at Yaquina Head. It might look like it is going to rain soon, but it didn’t.

The resident sea lions aka the noisiest, cutest animals in Newport.  My sister described them as giant black jelly beans that don't shut up.  Look at them cuddling each other.  Look at them.

The resident sea lions aka the noisiest, cutest animals in Newport. My sister described them as giant black jelly beans that don’t shut up. Look at them cuddling each other. Look at them.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance.  We climbed to the top of it, where we then engaged in a furious trivia battle to win buttons.  My family is wild.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in the distance. We climbed to the top of it, where we then engaged in a furious trivia battle to win buttons. My family is wild.

The sun was shining at the Oregon coast.  The seafood was so fresh – well, it had been alive that morning.  We went to sleep with the sound of the waves in our heads.  Everyone was in a good mood.

Poetry Out Loud

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a judge at the regional and state competitions of Poetry Out Loud. Poetry Out Loud is a national competition dedicated to get high school students into poetry and recitation, which does other cool stuff like teach people how to declaim and overcome fears of public speaking and understand poetry and so on.

So imagine: there I was, over winter break, re-watching Game of Thrones to prepare for season five’s return on April 12, when I got an email from the Poetry Out Loud coordinator asking if I would be interested in judging for them. It was a surprise: I had no connection with Poetry Out Loud (besides a brief recitation in high school that I do not speak of), or even the greater government organizer for the event, ArtsWA.   But I did the sensible thing, and immediately agreed.

I would like to thank the professors here, who send on requests and opportunities like this to all their students. It’s amazing how much you can get if you just ask for it—or even, in this case, if you don’t.

It is even more important to jump onboard with whatever opportunity comes your way. I would have never considered volunteering with Poetry Out Loud of my own accord, but accepting their first offer, to be an Accuracy Judge and Prompter at one of the regional competitions, turned out to be a beautiful dandelion that bloomed and turned into a little cotton ball from which the seeds of numerous other engagements sprung.

Each time I went down to work with them, more opportunities came up. I started as a volunteer judge in the Tacoma Library, listening at the regional competition and ready to prompt anyone who forgot their place (this one kid was so close to bailing completely). At the end of the day, the people who ran the program asked me to come back for the state competition—which would, incidentally, be a paid position.

And so I ended up at the Theatre on the Square in downtown Tacoma, watching students much more talented than me recite poetry. At the state level, everyone has their poetry memorized to such an extent that they do not need a Prompter, so mostly I just watched the contest. And I took some pictures.

The theatre.

The theatre.

My official Prompter's binder full of official poetry.  Also, my official seat was dedicated to Bilbo Baggins.  I don't think anyone understands how important that is to me.

My official Prompter’s binder full of official poetry. Also, my official seat was dedicated to Bilbo Baggins. I don’t think anyone understands how important that is to me.

Some of the competitors, getting their official photos taken.

Some of the competitors, getting their official photos taken.

At the end of the day, they asked me if I wanted to return next year.

The Greatest Cookie in the Entire World, Ever

They’re here.  I thought, you know: cookies are so different, there are so many types you’ll never be able to say that one is the best, etcetera, etcetera.  I was wrong.

You guys think that I am kidding. I am not kidding.

At the Metropolitan Market on Proctor Street, the first thing you see when you walk into the store is The Cookie. (The capitalization is important: that’s what it is actually called. The Met knows what it’s about.) The Cookie is—well, how would one describe The Cookie.

I asked:


“It is deliciously gooey in the middle, but the outside has an amazingly satisfying crunch.”

“I heard the recipe is insured for $200,000.”

“One time, Gordon Ramsay ate one, and he thought it was the best cookie in the world.”

“One time, I used my entire paycheck to buy every cookie they had at the Met. It was awesome.”

(These are all 100% accurate things that other people have definitely said.)

On paper, The Cookie can be described as a giant chocolate chip cookie with walnuts. But it is so much more than that.

This is The Cookie in my hand.  For size reference.  That is The Cookie on my flat hand.

This is The Cookie in my hand. For size reference. This is The Cookie on my flat hand.

Each bite begins with a crunch that dissolves into layers of pure melted chocolate wrapped around streaks of cookie dough and thick clumps of walnuts. Chocolate streaks your fingers when you eat it. The smell—which is the purest smell chocolate chip cookie smell in the world—permeates through any room it is placed in. You walk into a room with The Cookie in it, and, like Pavlov’s dog, you immediately start salivating. It is that good.

A couple of my friends and I walked to the Met today. The Met is just close enough to the school to make it easy to get there, but just far enough that going every single day becomes a hassle. We entered—and if there was any question about what we were going to get, the people working there were loading cookies, fresh from the oven, onto the display sheet.

I will take all of them, thank you.

I will take all of them, thank you. 

“Dear god,” my friend said.

“These are the best [CENSORED] [CENSORED] cookies in the world,” my friend said.

We loaded up on cookies (we bought other necessities like face wash and peanut butter across the street at Safeway, where it is mildly cheaper if you have a Safeway card). On the walk back, my friends nibbled on their cookies.

“I’ve already finished mine,” my friend announced, sheepishly.

“This might be my lunch,” my other friend said.

Chocolate smeared around their lips and fingers. We walked under the pale yellow sun. I adjusted my sunglasses and thought of the cookies burning a hole in my bag. The Cookies, I should say. I was going to go back to my room and eat them, and it was going to be the greatest thing ever.