Friday, February 26, 2016

The Francophile is moving to

Now that international education work is my main job, I've decided to consolidate my travel blog onto my main professional website and have imported the entries from "here" to "there." "There" being I won't remove this blog right away, if ever, but future adventures will be chronicled on my main site. Thanks for reading!

Travel tips #2: the return flight from Europe

[written on board DL0029 LHR --> ATL, 18 Feb. 2016]

The best and worst thing about the flight back from Europe is that it takes place in a permanent afternoon. You take off in the afternoon and somehow (i.e., flying west) it is still afternoon when you land. And yet, the return flight takes at least an hour longer because it goes against the jet stream. So the length of the flight is tiresome: I can't deny it. It's also not as neatly timed as the "overnight" flight to Europe that proceeds through departure, dinner, bedtime, and breakfast. Today I left Heathrow at 12:30 p.m. and will land in Atlanta at about 5:30 p.m. having flown for about 9 hours.  If you think that's weird, on some Asian routes that cross the date line, it's possible to arrive before you left!

I don't have such a good system for managing the return flight but here are my best tips so far:
-- Some people will tell you to try not to sleep at all. I'd say don't sleep through the whole flight, but don't worry about passing the time by taking a couple of naps, especially at the beginning of the flight when it's early morning at your destination. I'm planning to stay awake through the last couple hours of this flight and the shuttle ride home, then go to bed at my usual time.
-- 9 hours is 4 movies plus your naps, or 2 movies, naps, and a book. Bring a book. (I'm an English professor; did you think I wasn't going to say "Bring a book"?) Get a non-U.S. newspaper from your departure point or from the flight attendant. It also makes a good souvenir.
-- Don't drink alcohol; do drink water. Some airlines offer it around regularly. Drink all they give you. Some will leave the water & soft drinks out for passengers to help themselves. Help yourself. I also drink a lot of coffee on these flights. The dry air gives me a slight headache but water, coffee, and Tylenol keep it at bay. 
-- Eastbound beauty tips continue to apply. Moisturizer & lip balm till about an hour before landing, then clean face & do makeup. Brush your teeth whenever they start to feel unsavory. It's refreshing and gives you something to do.
-- Been thinking about this one since I wrote my last post, and I've decided: on long flights in general, wear comfortable shoes and then don't take them off. Your feet will swell so it's good to have shoes you can loosen, but I have had it happen that I've taken off my shoes & barely gotten them back on! 

All in all, the return flight is a tougher flying experience but an easier arrival experience. You're coming home to a familiar environment and hopefully you can ease back into your regular life rather than hitting the ground running as we do on trips. 

Finally, to all you Fitbit wearers out there, sorry. You're not getting your 10,000 steps today.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Francophile Turns Anglophile: Rage, Rage Against the Transatlantic Flight

The Francophile writes today from the opposite side of the Channel: Northampton University in the UK. I am here in my capacity as Director of International Programs to start the process of building study abroad, student exchange, and faculty exchange opportunities between NU students and MGA students. After leaving Atlanta at 8:00 EST last night, I arrived at Heathrow at 9:00 GMT this morning. Obviously I'm a little jet-lagged but trying to follow my own best advice: coffee up, power through, no naps! This trip is special for me as it's the first time I've traveled on university business rather than leading students or going to a conference. I'm on my own--which is fine, solo travel doesn't bother me*--and since I didn't know exactly what awaited me at the destination, I wanted to arrive looking and feeling a little better than I sometimes do after crossing the Atlantic. During the last hour of the flight (which seems to last a week) I started thinking about making a list of tips & tricks for flying to Europe and avoiding the sensation of having crawled there on one's face. Students sometimes ask me about the flight--how to avoid being scared/nervous/crippled by jet lag--so here are my best ideas based on very recent experience (i.e., I got off the plane only about 5 hours ago).

  • A 7- to 8-hour transatlantic flight has a rhythm to it almost like the flight attendants are following a script. You'll be more comfortable if you know what's coming:
    1. Boarding: take your seat, stow your carry-on(s), get out things you're going to use so that you're not constantly rooting around in your bag. If your flight isn't full, claim two or three seats (if you can) to stretch out and sleep or at least avoid "manspreading" by your seatmates.**
    2. Snacks & drinks: as soon as the flight crosses the 10,000 foot threshhold, the flight attendants will give everybody hot towels to wipe their hands with (even though these are paper towels, not real ones, it's pleasant), then serve a drink and a snack such as pretzels or peanuts. Alcoholic drinks are usually free of charge on international flights but I hew to the wisdom of avoiding alcohol when flying. It's too dehydrating and the altitude may cause the alcohol to affect you differently.
    3. Meal service: This item is part 3 of the script but it actually requires you to take action before the day of your flight. Here goes: Order a specialty meal. I became a vegetarian in October so I ordered a vegetarian meal. The conventional wisdom seems to be true: the specialized meals are better than the standard ones. Equally important, they distribute the specialized meals first, so you never have to be the last person waiting to be served dinner as the meal cart starts waaaaaay at the other end of the plane. (If you've changed seats per #1 above, just make sure the flight attendant can find you to give you your meal.)
    4. Sleepy time: After dinner is cleared away, the flight attendants will turn down the cabin lights and everyone will (hopefully) settle in for a few hours' sleep. Resist the urge to watch 3 movies in a row. If you can manage to sleep from the moment the lights go down to the moment they're turned back on again for the morning snack, you'll get 4-5 hours of rest and feel, frankly, a LOT sharper than I do right now. (I slept about 2.5 hours and I feel pleasant but not very smart.)
    5. Morning snack: About 90 minutes before landing, the lights come on and the attendants serve a snack/light breakfast along with coffee/tea/juice. You're almost there!
  • To make the most of the experience outlined above:
    • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you're awake, you should be drinking some water. 8 ounces per hour is a good guideline that I've heard.
    • Use the earplugs and eye mask the airline (hopefully) provides, or bring your own. The sensory deprivation aids sleep.
    • Women and other wearers of cosmetics, watch some YouTube videos of "in-flight beauty routines" and create your own system. On this flight I took my make-up off once the plane was in the air, put on moisturizer, kept reapplying lip balm & hand cream, and then did fresh makeup before landing. (Michelle Phan does about 15 more steps than that.) The passport control staff can't possibly care but it at least makes me feel better to know I'm not entering a foreign country looking like a smudgy greaseball.
    • Forget what time it is at home. No need to think about that unless you're calling home. Reset your watch or phone to the time at your destination.
    • Corollary to the above: when the lights come on near the end of the flight, it's morning whether you like it or not. Get ready to tough it out and...
    • NO NAPS. This rule is my most powerful anti-jet-lag trick. I didn't sleep in the cab on the way here from Heathrow; I'm definitely not going to lie down this afternoon. If I go to bed around 8:00 tonight I will sleep like a rock and wake up on UK time tomorrow with very little trouble. 
So those are my best transatlantic flight survival tips. Tune in next time to learn more about Northampton U., my new friends/colleagues here, and maybe some Ways to Tell You're In England.

*Except that I miss Daniel!
**If you are a man and you don't know what "manspreading" is, hie thee to the nearest Google. Women will thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Georgia on our minds

Monday night when we got home, I sat down and wrote out the day's itinerary. I keep staring at it and wondering how these times can possibly be accurate and correct. On the left is Paris time; on the right is Georgia time:

04:00 on August 3 / 22:00 on August 2: Buses roll out from Cité Universitaire after a brisk hour spent collecting room keys, banging on the doors of some really sound sleepers, and in one case seeing a student just returning to his dorm room from the night out, 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave.

06:20 / 00:20: Flight leaves CDG for Frankfurt with all students and faculty on board, even that guy. We enjoy a Nutella-filled croissant and some coffee and try not to think about leaving Paris behind.

10:00 / 04:00: Flight leaves Frankfurt for ATL. Settle in for some sleep, watching lots of movies, or a combination of both. Daniel and I slept through our turn for the lunch service and had to ask for food after we woke up. Props to Lufthansa as always for very efficient and thorough service; God bless the flight attendant who was constantly circulating with cups of water and juice during the second half of the flight.

20:00 / 14:00: Arrive in ATL. Selected for a "random survey" by a customs officer to verify that we were not carrying any agricultural products. Fully a day later I'd realize we brought home 2 pounds of coffee that I forgot to declare on the form or mention to the officer. He did not see them in my suitcase, so I didn't have to be hauled off to immigration jail or anything.

We got to our house around 6 p.m. (midnight Paris time, but by then, who's counting?) and I managed to stay up till 8:30 and sleep till about 6 the next morning. My sleep cycle is not too messed up (I've been treating it with large quantities of espresso) but I can tell I'm jet-lagged because the mornings seem dark and the days seem long. That will pass and at least I don't feel as tired and foggy as I sometimes have after an overseas trip.

But I do miss Paris an awful lot.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Last day in Paris for 2015

After a hectic final week that sadly included my having to miss this on Saturday evening, it was suddenly Sunday morning: the free day before departure that marks the end of the program. I realized I hadn't been to Sacre-Coeur, my favorite place in Paris, the whole 5 weeks, so that was my destination. There's no quick way to get to Montmartre from the 14th but I enjoyed the métro ride knowing it would be one of the last ones of the year. I walked up from Abbesses station and rode the funicular up the Butte since it wasn't too crowded yet--when there are a lot of people in the funicular I tend to avoid it because it's like a gerbil cage for pickpockets. One of the backhanded advantages of having some experience in Paris is learning what to avoid. Sacre-Coeur is full of street vendors and street scammers; I've never actually seen pickpockets in action but I'm sure they are there as well.

On Sunday there were people soliciting petition signatures, whom I walked past while practicing my Parisian Murder Face(TM). The string-bracelet guys were out in such force that I hesitated to walk up the curved path that leads to the side of the church because they were almost elbow-to-elbow across the walkway. But as I dove behind a large man with a backpack for cover, the string-bracelet crew took flight, running down the sidewalks and vanishing behind the bushes. In seconds there was no trace of them, just as two police officers came walking down from the opposite side. It was so creepy it was almost impressive. Later in the day I saw the same thing happen with some ball-and-cup players down the street: one minute they're drawing a crowd, the next minute they're invisible, and the minute after that the foot patrol turns up. Some people think travelers get too paranoid about pickpockets and street scammers; it's definitely possible to make yourself crazy worrying about it but it's also a real concern--and not too hard or inconvenient to avoid by being smart.

I was rewarded for my vigilance by not being pickpocketed, string-braceleted, or fleeced by the ball-and-cup guys, AND by getting to see the "8eme Traversée de Paris Estivale" (8th Summer Crossing of Paris) put on by a car club called "Vincennes en Anciennes." I found out from one of the members (white Mercedes convertible) that during this event, they drive through Paris from Vincennes to Meudon. Normally they don't make any stops, he said, but everyone decided they wanted to stop for pictures. So I obligingly took pictures. (Hee.) Click through!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Last field trip of 2015: Musée du Quai Branly

For our final field trip of 2015 I took my class to the Musée du Quai Branly, "where cultures dialogue." After a month of Renaissance art, Gothic architecture, white marble statues, and Le Nôtre gardens, it is good to be reminded that the rest of the world makes art too. We had a great discussion about this museum in class today; my students are getting really smart about noticing curatorial choices and how objects are presented. The Quai Branly does a good job contextualizing objects that are bound to be unfamiliar to most of its visitors. Along the way it also shows how universal certain objects and practices are. It's a great museum.

A "soul boat" from a coming-of-age ritual practiced in Indonesia

Masks are everywhere in the Quai Branly.

This shield is from Papua New Guinea but looks like Beowulf could have carried it.

One of the figures in the "soul boat"

Wolf-headed figures representing an Aztec god

Aztec goddesses

Mexican folk art

An ancestral pole from British Columbia

Some of the figures on the pole

A protective statue from Gabon

The Quai Branly's holdings that are not formally on display are shelved behind glass in the middle of the museum.

My standard joke is that these are my students--actually they are slit gongs from somewhere in Africa (I don't remember which country).

These are actually my students. I'm going to miss them.

From the museum we walked to Rue Cler, which is a well-known market street that also contains several cafés and restaurants. Our original plan was to pick up food for a picnic and take it to the Eiffel Tower, but yesterday was chilly and windy and the museum was oddly cold. So we opted to eat indoors instead and wound up in a casual but well-decorated Italian restaurant where everyone inhaled large quantities of pizza and pasta. It was just the right thing after a long-ish walk on a windy day.

I walked back to the métro the long way after lunch: from Ecole Militaire métro stop where I dropped off my students, back past the Eiffel Tower, all the way to Alma-Marceau métro stop. It was a roundabout route but I got a few good photos out of it:

We finished up the day with a very convivial faculty dinner. After running out of wine at our last dinner, we may have overcompensated slightly & ended up with about 4 unopened bottles. But I merely wanted to make sure my colleagues drank my bottle of Vouvray Petillant, which they did very cheerfully. Success! It's great to work with people that you actually want to have dinner with.

5 more sleeps till home. Some students have asked me if I'm eager to get back and I say I'm 50% eager, 50% sad to leave.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mini blog: Weekend "de garde"

In the category of useful French vocabulary is the phrase "de garde" which means "on call." So the pharmacie de garde is the one that's open 24 hours. The maison medicale de garde is the after-hours clinic. And this weekend I am the assistant director de garde. I am free to flâner (that's "roam around without a plan") in Paris but I am checking messages and responding to student emergencies. Here's what I've been up to this weekend other than work:

On Friday morning I came back over to Les Halles to pick up tickets for the Louvre for that night.
The crowded-Metro struggle is real.

At the Les Halles observation deck where you can see the construction project.

I checked out the Louvre courtyard to see where we'd need to enter with our prepaid tickets, because Vicki and Robert and the kids were coming and I didn't want to make them wait and wander around aimlessly. From the courtyard I walked down through the Tuileries with, apparently, every tourist in Paris:

Someone told me once that when it's hot in Paris, you go to a park and put your feet in a basin. I didn't see anyone with their feet actually in the water, but many did have their shoes off.

Looking back toward the Louvre

The green chairs in parks are one of the things I get nostalgic for when I'm not here.

Sometimes it really does seem like translation is unnecessary. 
"Gee, Mildred, what do you think salade de fruits could possibly be?" 
"I dunno, Harold, we'd better skip it. It could be snails or something!"

At the Louvre with Daniel and Vicki's clan I decided not to take pictures but just walk around and look. I did take one pic of the newly restored Winged Victory:
I love the placement of this statue at the top of the staircase so you can see it from far away. It's an arresting focal point. A+ curatorial work, Musée du Louvre.

Daniel took a pic of us in front of the Mona Lisa, but if you want to see it, you'll have to read his blog.

Oh, wait . . . 

The major weekend highlight was seeing the Alvin Ailey dance company at Théatre du Châtelet. They were incredible and the French audience LOVED them. Also, the theatre is gorgeous:

I had this hilarious folding seat on the end of a row. It was pretty comfortable but every time I stood up/sat down I had to do origami.

I am not Alice Jane Knight, obviously. She is my colleague who sold me her ticket.

Anna Pavlova appeared for the first time in Paris at Théatre du Châtelet in 1909. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes also premiered there.

This morning (late) we went to the OTHER Breakfast in America (original/Left Bank version) for brunch and ended up next to a French couple with whom we (Daniel) struck up a conversation. I had to laugh because he grew up in Madagascar and she is Polish and yet like everyone in Paris they grumbled about the problems caused by immigration. In any case it was fun to meet some new people and have a traditional French arm-waving exchange about social issues. Americans are routinely taught not to discuss politics, religion, etc. with foreigners but we (Daniel) have jumped right in on many occasions and never been badly received. Honestly, it's pleasant when compared to the placid "Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Nice weather we're having" of American-style small talk!

This afternoon, the final stage of the Tour de France rides into Paris, so I am going with Vicki's fam and possibly some students. Our heat wave from a few weeks ago has been replaced by fall-like weather: chilly and persistent drizzle. It should be an interesting afternoon--gotta admit it is nice to be wearing long sleeves and socks at the end of July.