September 13, 2009

Wedding in Les Sables d'Olonne

Marie and I had decided before I left for Amman this summer that we would get married in September; the paperwork and arrangements were our concern and we didn't know if we would have time to complete the process when I returned to France in mid August. I had to visit the US Embassy in Paris, complete an interview at the city hall, get documents translated, and make legal arrangements. Not a terribly lengthy process, but it did require me to miss the first week of class in NY.

It was a beautiful, short, sweet civil ceremony yesterday followed by a walk on the beach front, an apéritif in her parents garden, a tour of a salt marsh and second apéritif, and a great dinner; all activities that I wish my U.S. family and friends could have seen, but hoping that they can catch up on when we have a more grandiose church ceremony at the local Cathédrale Notre Dame next June and after which, Marie and I can give the boot to our current long distance predicament.

I've just returned to NYC approaching midnight and long to get on a return flight to Paris tomorrow. Long distance relationships are terribly difficult (al-Hamdullah for Skype) and further compounded in New York by the romance you see at restaurants, on the street, and indiscriminate locations throughout the city at all hours, but particularly on weekend nights as you're walking home from the gym or library. Hopefully, divine intervention will step into make time pass quickly, extend breaks and holidays, and lower international airline prices. We can all hope. Tu me manques, mon amour.

Quote of the Week


"The life of our city is rich in poetic and marvelous subjects. We are enveloped and steeped as though in an atmosphere of the marvelous; but we do not notice it."
-19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire

September 9, 2009

Mont Saint-Michel

(Mont Saint Michel at dusk.)
(Marie and a statue of Saint Michel.)

In addition to Omaha Beach, Marie and I spent several hours at Mont Saint Michel. Regarded as one of the top tourist destinations in France, it did not disappoint. A beautiful, island-of-sorts with an old monastery and a now well developed tourist industry. More soon... Marie and I are both relaxing on the beach in Les Sables and running around, completing errands.

Omaha Beach and the D-Day Museum

September 4, 2009

Quote of the Week

(Marie on the beach in Morocco 2007.)

"Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy."
-Louis Bogen

September 2, 2009

From the Apartment Window: Villers Sur Mer

(Looking out on the L'ile aux Oiseaux. Note the small boat).

Marie's new home on the English Channel (in French: la manche, "the sleeve") is a beautiful place. Just 200 km from England, the water here is colder, calmer, but seems no more saltier than the Atlantic. I tried to put up a brief fight when I first arrived that this is really part of the Atlantic, but was properly quieted.

With a summer population of more than 30,000, activities and masses have abruptly ended following last weekends last weekend of the season. Info on Villers and Marie's office of Tourism can be found here.

August 31, 2009

International Stories in Contemporary Morsels

Here's Marc Lynch on 10 recent notable stories at his foreign policy blog. Now in France, I'm really having to take in news in brief from aggregate, condensed sources. Overall, like everyone (ok..maybe most), the older I get with more responsibilities (work, education, etc), a serious relationship, and all of life's other extras, the less time I have for domestic and international news. I'm having to increasingly rely on Google reader and two to three blogs for my information. Come back to me oh so sweet time...

Haut Monde, Harrison Ford, and the 35th American Film Festival in Deauville

(The famous wrapped umbrellas of Deauville).

Marie and I visited Deauville and Trouville. Blasé in name-only, these small communities are the hot spot for Parisians who want a seaside getaway only 2.5 hours away. Deauville is the top tier, Rodeo Drive like location for the wealthy, while Trouville is its working class neighbor. Marie and I enjoyed walking the streets of both and could only stare at the bling in Deauville.

On Friday, Deauville celebrates the 35th annual American Film Festival. The Guest of honor this year includes Harrison Ford. Other notables include Andy Garcia, Robin Wright Penn, the Zucker directors, and several prominent french directors. Too bad we'll miss it; we'll be on our way to the famous D-Day beaches and southwest to Les Sables d'Olonne beginning Friday.

Quote of the Week

“In my hotel room that night, I thought - as I still do - of the moral principles she instilled in me: never to harm a living creature; throughout my life, to place the poor, the humble, the meek of this world above all others; never to forget those who were slighted or neglected or who had suffered injustice, because it was they who, above all others, deserved our love and respect, in Iceland or anywhere in the world. I spent my entire childhood in an environment in which the mighty of the earth had no place outside story books and dreams. Love of, and respect for, the humble routine of everyday life and its creatures was the only moral commandment which carried conviction when I was a child.”

-Halldór Laxness, Nobel Lecture 1955

August 29, 2009

Les Sables to Villers Sur Mer

After arriving in France a week ago, missing my north-bound train in Paris, spending the night drinking with Marie's brother, catching a morning train, heading with Marie two days later back to Paris, the Les Sables d'Olonne for 3 days, then back across country 5 hours to Villers- we're understandably tired.

Marie's new residence in the North, Villers Sur Mer, seems like a pleasant little tourist community. I look forward to being here the next week. With our visit to Les Sables, it was great to see her family: parents, sister returned from Germany, brother and girlfriend captaining a yacht in the Caribbean, and 7 year old nephew visiting said father from Seychelles. We drank, we drank coffee, ate well, and spent limited time on the beach.

Below is an earlier photo in Les Sables of a community band serenading someone in the city center. Above is from an adjacent street to Marie's house, where a straight shot of 100 yards will have you firmly on the beach and in close proximity to the Bar des Fleurs.

August 27, 2009

A We Society: A Favorite Aspect of Arab Culture

One of my favorite parts of Jordan, Morocco, and elsewhere and a culture strength of the MENA region is the Arab cultural and lingustic emphasis on "we,” whereas in the US and Europe people more often refer to things in terms of “I.”

"We" talk fills up a room and I rarely have felt lonely during my 2+ years in Morocco and during my current stay in Jordan. I can't say the same for life in New York. I love the city (or at least often) for its incessant action, energy, and crowds, but the issue lies in that so much of people's activities are done alone. Other people are your natural environment much like flora, fauna, and the landscape and if not attune, you begin to tune them out as such. Some of the side effects of urban density/suburban sprawl/US transitory living patterns are outlined in books like "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," but I'm more interested how the linguistic emphasis on "we" historically in tribes in North Africa, the Levant, and the larger East affects current behavior.

Of note, if I had backed out of the above photo, you would notice that outside of this large gathering of men, few other people were swimming along the Beirut coast (setting aside the fact that there's few attractive public places to swim). In western culture, we look for isolated places where a small group of friends/family can find privacy. Just as with my experience along the coast in Morocco, Arab beach-goers congregate towards each other. This quality and its expansion into all areas of interaction is something for which I admire... epitomized by the two friends lying back, arm-in-arm in the water.

August 25, 2009

Quote of the Week

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”

-Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

Border Crossings: 400 km in 10 hours

(At the Syrian border, heading to Jordan. President Bashar al-Assad and his father, former president Hafez al-Assad wish you safe travels).

What excess! Beirut to Amman in a GMC suburban taxi with leather interior. No, I don't mean the transit, but the travel. 3 border crossings. 2 exit fees and 1 entrance. 10 hours for a journey that would take 4 hours without borders. It doesn't help that I'm traveling back in high season and at the worst time. I should have traveled in the middle of the night, finally shedding myself of old Peace Corps security restrictions.

August 19, 2009

At the Microphone Bar

To close off my sojourn in Beirut, Eli and I finished my last night at a local dive bar, name forgotten. It was fantastic. It was last call. With local flavor and an elder bartender, Eli showed me the aluminum microphones on the ceiling and said the Syrian's were still listening. In truth, the bar was around the corner from a former Syrian surveillance/intelligence center and the owner and co. had added them as a local touch.

Ice Cream and Fisticuffs


In the midst of the renowned Souk al-Hamidieh in the old city of Damascus is the equally acclaimed Bakdash ice cream parlour. Hearing about it on the 1st Syria go-around, it prefaced my return trip and Ashleigh and I were not disappointed with good ice cream and genteel service.

Most interesting was the staff's interest, as shown above, on the pictured tv and an earlier backroom fistfight between two employees. They played this continuously with no sound while we elbowed for ice cream; 2 co-workers yelling, then one throwing a hook, the other putting the first in a headlock, and both falling to the floor. Rewind. Replay. It was not the most interesting clip, but with such interest by the staff, it was one of those things you study more intensely out of the belief you missed something.

The Best Souk in Town

Souk al-Hamidieh in the old district of Damascus is physically one of the best bazaars I've walked through in my short travels in the MENA region. It's expansive- 15 meters wide, 2 stories high, and extends for some distance. It's old- first built in 1780. Best of all- natural lighting leaks through high off windows to light the walkway just enough. The shops are nice, but are mostly the same as globalization has made Indian, Chinese, Taiwanese, Brazilian, Malaysian, Egyptian, Canadian, Korean, American, Colombian, Pakistani, Ghanaian, Australian, Japanese, Germany, Italian, Russian, Mexican, Saudia Arabian, etc products ubiquitous.

Quote of the Week

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."
-Milan Kundera

Wedding Bells in Damascus

(Looking upon a Friday night wedding).
(A large, impressive church complete with Christmas dressings).

With little exposure to the Christian population in Jordan, I was surprised to walk upon so many churches in Damascus. 10% of the population in Syria, 6% in Jordan, and 35% in Lebanon. These churches were prominently laid out in the city center and at the one pictured above, Ashleigh and I witnessed the proceedings for back-to-back weddings.

August 18, 2009

5 Days in Syria and Lebanon

(Souk al-Hamidieh in Damascus)
(On the seaside in Saida, Lebanon)
(Ashleigh, Daniella, and Walid in the darkness of a Saida medina)

August 5, 2009

Quote for the Week

(Houman at Cap de Trois Fourches, Morocco 2008).

"We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we got."
-Andre Debus

Syria, Round I: Damascus, Allepo, and the Sea

(Everyone's favorite water man/flower supplier
outside the Aleppo citadel).

July 19, 2009

Traffic and Intersections

I witnessed my 3rd car accident in front of my apartment today. Ok, I wasn’t on the street, but in the living room when as twice before, I heard the boom crunch crack outside our 4th floor window. Both vehicles damaged. Both drivers limping.

Prematurely, I was impressed with local driving when I first arrived in Amman. But after daily NY-style traffic jams and two close calls, I now conclude that auto safety is terrible. The conditions are worse than the driving, but I still pass 2-3 accidents daily while carpooling to-and-fro on a 15 minute ride.

On traffic conditions, in mid June the Jordan to Saudi/Gulf vehicle ratio was probably 4/1. Two weeks ago, probably 3/1 and it’s only going to increase in the weeks before Ramadan. Friends complain and proclaim they need to run off to Aqaba or Sharm El Sheikh for the summer.

July 16, 2009

Arab Leaders and Obama's speech

Marc Lynch has written a nice piece here about what Arab leaders should expect in the coming months and years from the Obama administration.

July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day

And a belated Happy 4th of July too. Here’s too all my French and American friends. Et mon amour, je t'aime. Tu me manques.

July 13, 2009