Archive for the 'Biographical' Category

Voyageons, voyageons

Posted in Biographical, Journal, La France, Travel at 21:10

In France, companies with 50 employees or more are required to have a comité d’entreprise, CE, works council, which not only serves as an apolitical employee union (in addition to external, non-company-limited unions), but also organizes activities, outings, tours, voyages and such, all at discounted prices since they can negotiate group reductions. My company’s CE organizes national and international trips, most of them to large cities I’ve already visited, but this year they offered a 3-day trip to the Camargue region. I’ve been to the area in the past, but it was 15 years ago, and have often wanted to return. It was all finalized recently, and having bought my TGV tickets, it’s been bringing back a wave of travel memories in France!

Very, very long-time readers (I know of at least one *waves to Chris*) may recall that back in 1995, I started writing web pages about France, the French language, and cross-cultural issues. The web has changed so much since then, veering from backlash against personal pages (I fondly recall receiving emails in the 90s treating me as a madwoman for thinking I had any business writing about France as an individual and mere student of French, the horrors!), to an influx of “blogs” viewed with a mix of incomprehension and mild derision, to what’s now seen as so normal that the phrase “get your own blog” has entered our vocabulary and people enjoy random photos and videos of cats.

La roue tourne ! So it is that as I rememorated my travels in France, my 1995 writings also came to mind, and I realized that in all that turning of the wheel of Internet fortunes, a record of my past travels had fallen into the ether. I would like to do a series of posts while approaching the trip to Camargue, beginning with a look back at my travels in France that have preceded it.

1995
In the fall of 1994, I started my university studies as a double Russian (yes!) and music performance major. I finished a semester of Russian language and literature courses, then decided to focus on music performance. At the same time, I continued to be intrigued by the Internet: I had first gotten online several years earlier, as a mere pre-teen, via Prodigy and a local Freenet dialup that offered UNIX accounts. Those where the days of wheezing, beeping modems, BBS, and gopher. I had a thing for gopher, because you could connect to library collections across the world, in foreign languages – utterly fascinating for an up-and-coming language and literature nerd. In my forays into foreign libraries, I met people I got along with well enough to get into IRC.

Thus my first trip to France was born. I met students at a top telecoms engineering school (university level) in Brittany, got the wild teenage idea that I could up and go with cashiering money I’d earned, and so I did, in the summer of 1995. To make a very long story short, I landed in Paris, never really saw the inside of the city, and boarded a train for Lannion. Later I took trains to the opposite side of the country, Mulhouse, through Paris again, but only seeing its métro while moving from one train station to the next. The métro blew my countryside Oregonian mind. I had never even taken a public bus before! Later my hosts in Mulhouse showed me most of Alsace, as far north as Strasbourg, with hikes in the Vosges.

That fateful trip led directly to changing my major to French. I had studied it since the age of 10, stopping only for that first year of university, then fallen definitively in love with the country during my short visit. I changed my music major to a minor, threw myself into French studies, and loved every minute of it. My web presence reflected both: with Chris, the friend I waved at earlier, we ran our university’s web presence for the School of Music and especially our marching band. I also wrote pages on France, curated a list of links (back then this was something many people did), and also wrote personal entries from time to time, before “blogs” were a thing. Thoroughly enjoying my studies helped keep me at the top of my class, and so it was that I earned a scholarship and a spot as a direct exchange student for the final year of my BA.

1997-1998
Once again, I arrived in Paris but saw only the inside of a hotel in the middle of the night, waking up before dawn to catch a TGV to Lyon. I had met a French student there, whose family lived in the Ain, and with whom I got along very well. We all loved the outdoors, hiking, travelling, literature and language – it was a wonderful time. They drove me to Chamonix, Annecy, Bourg-en-Bresse, Gex, Ambérieu, Chambéry, Grenoble, Valence, and innumerable other villages, most of them in the Rhône valley. We went on hikes in the foothills of the Alps, and the mountains themselves. I’ll always remember taking the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi, near Mont Blanc, and seeing the glacier. We would return some years in the future, and the glacier’s rapid disappearance was easily visible. My mother-not-quite-in-law also invited me on a week-long hike through all the peaks of the Swiss and French Jura mountains, where I took some of my favorite photos… with my old Nikon 35mm!

Our university also organized outings, my favorite being to the châteaux de la Loire. Not long afterwards, my adoptive host family drove me to southern France, passing through Marseille and Arles, and on to Nîmes. It was sensory overload – I had never seen so many incredible Roman ruins and stone castles in my life, and the countryside was simply stunning. To top it all off, my father-not-quite-in-law and I both enjoyed the same types of wines: strong reds and hefty whites, so he took us to dozens upon dozens of vineyards and filled the trunk of the family Volvo with 5-liter casks.

I saw Paris for the first time in the summer of 1998! Where Lyon was a lovely concentrate of fabric arts, cinema, and literature, Paris was everything.

In the fall of 1998, I joined my French partner, who had found a job earlier in the year in Helsinki, Finland. I did love Finland, but am focusing on France in this entry, so we’ll skip two years ahead!

April 2000
I had a job interview as a web designer for a startup in Sophia Antipolis. I flew from Helsinki to Nice, and still recall my first sensation on exiting the plane: “Wow, it smells wonderful here…!” I took the bus to Sophia, the very same bus I still commute in to this day. The interview went fine, but the position wasn’t very well-defined and all the interviewers were young and terrifically ambitious, so I politely declined. Like so many web startups of the early oughts, it skyrocketed for a year or two, then floundered into nothingness.

June 2000
I returned to Nice, working as a freelance translator and interpreter. I’ve visited innumerable villages in this southeastern corner of France, as well as in Provence. My favorites are the fortified hill cities so typical of this part of the world, and our sparse yet fragrant forests. When the spring and summer sun comes out after rainfall, you can smell what I now know is a lovely mixture of pine needles, wild lavender, thyme, and rosemary.

September 2002
Corsica requires a mention of its own! Like the Rhône region, the island reminded me of my home state as soon as I set foot in Ile-Rousse. Wild, rocky, mountainous and wooded, with wild boar and goats roaming the countryside, it felt like seeing what the French Riviera must have looked like before its wild coastline was tamed into an immense, unbroken city. (Travelling from Nice to Cannes, there is not much separation between towns.) It was also the site of a rocambolesque horseback ride in which I started out on a horse who had wanted to go to stable for the evening. He made his displeasure at the change in schedule known by flipping his ears back at the prospect of carrying me. After much nipping of other horses’ rear ends, going straight down steep hillsides rather than using switchbacks, and stopping to nibble Corsican greenery, his final mischief was to piss off a couple of red long-haired cows. The irritated bovines took their own revenge-nips at my horse’s behind, he reared, I grabbed on for dear life, his neck couldn’t hold me, and so he managed to set me down gently, feet in the air and helmeted head on the ground, my back against an ancient stone shepherd’s lean-to while the other riders gasped and laughed.

The digital age
I forget exactly when I got my first digital camera, but starting around 2004, most of my other travels have been photographed and put online, with a few older film photos scanned as well.

Growing up, it seemed wild just to imagine visiting European capitals, much less the joyful peregrinations I’ve had the good fortune to experience in reality. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming Camargue trip since it has been so long since I’ve been elsewhere in France, other than this southeast corner and Paris. The southwest is one part of l’Hexagone that I still haven’t seen much of.

Tout va bien

Posted in Biographical, Education at 20:26

It’s been a long while since my last post. Thanks to all of you who patiently return to my site! As you can imagine, I’ve been busy working, whether at my job or on my Masters thesis.

I finished the bulk of my thesis a few days ago, and am now wrapping up translations of cites that were in English originally. Not an easy thing to do, since French is not my native language. I didn’t start learning it early enough to gain as much fluency as in English, beginning only at age 11. Just soon enough to have a good spoken accent, but not quite young enough to soak in an instinct for French phrasing. I really notice it in my French writing. Where in English I barely have to think twice, or when I do, it comes relatively easily and I know how and why, in French it’s a bit like pulling teeth. The demoralizing bit is that I can see that it doesn’t “read French”, but I don’t exactly know how to tidy it up.

My thesis defense will be sometime this month, in any case before the 30th since that’s the final deadline. Having picked a subject that I love, and having thoroughly enjoyed the research and writing, even when it gave me headaches, I’m actually looking forward to it. Oral presentations were my bugbear in youth, but having lived in three countries and fumbled around in several languages has served to wash away most of my embarrassment when speaking. Why worry about a subject I enjoy and discuss happily, when I can remember shopping in Finland on arrival and the only words I knew were “kiitos, kiitti, anteeksi”? (“Thank you, thanks, excuse me” respectively.) Why worry about mutual comprehension in a language I’ve spoken for decades when I can recall talking like a 2-year-old and entirely enjoying “discussions” I had in basic Mandarin Chinese with taxi drivers and artisans? Years of traveling have taught me the golden rule: try to speak their language, listen, and recognize that all humans know what it is to feel silly. Trust that they’ll relate, and the vast majority of the time, they will. Those who don’t, or who make you feel uncomfortable, are giving you valuable information – namely, to find someone else to speak with.

Life aside from my studies has been going very well too. I’m finally in a place where I’ve been able to start relaxing and enjoying the fruits of years of hardship and sacrifice. Where I can just sit in my adorable apartment with my adorable cat and enjoy life.

Reading and writing

Posted in Biographical, Cats at 20:26

09/07/2011

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy, working both at the office, and at home and at the university library on my Masters thesis. Above is a photo of the pile of books currently at the foot of my sofa – several others I’m also using are sprinkled judiciously throughout my apartment. This pile actually has 15 books in it, and there are another three around the corner, not quite in the picture. The fall semester of my Masters degree had three courses, two of which I’ve received grades for, and I’m happy to say it went very well, with grades (“notes” in French) of 16/20 and 17/20. In the humanities, it’s practically unheard of to get 20/20; a grade of 19/20 is extremely rare, 18/20 is quite rare, and 17/20 is, well, very good! When I was in the fourth year of my bachelor’s degree as an exchange student in Lyon, I had an average of 14/20, which was already very respectable for a non-French student, and good for a French student too. I honestly didn’t expect I’d do better than that in this Masters program, so it’s a very pleasant surprise, and has definitely motivated me to work even more carefully on my thesis.

Kanoko checks in on me from time to time, poking his head in the open French doors to remind me that there’s a life outside, and by the way, if I could refill his treat bowl with tuna, that would be mighty fine. Recently I decided to stop giving him pre-made wet cat food as treats, and instead buy canned fish, which is healthier. (He already eats good “carnivore” dry food, mainly Orijen and Acana.) As a result, I bought one can of every type of plain, non-seasoned fish at the supermarket and did a week-long taste test, one at a time. He disliked mackerel, found sardines only mildly acceptable, liked salmon, and, naturally, adored tuna. So now he gets tuna and salmon during the week, for his evening treat. (For info, cats shouldn’t be fed a tuna-only diet since it lacks taurine, which is essential to feline health. Kanoko’s dry food gives him everything he needs, and the fish is a perk.) It’s fun to watch him eat it because he’s very methodical: first he licks the fish dry, without eating any of the meat, then he saunters outside to enjoy some fresh air and watch birds. An hour or so later, he comes back inside to eat half the fish. Another hour later, he comes in to finish it off, and has a sip of water. Just a few days ago, he then began crouching over his empty treat bowl to meow at me weakly and sorrowfully, as if to say that without a refill of fish, he might faint. I call him a silly cat, he looks at me, nonplussed, and returns outside, his weakness suddenly gone.

Je suis Française

Posted in Biographical, Journal, La France at 16:53

Today I received a letter from the Ministère de l’intérieur, de l’outre-mer, des collectivités territoriales et de l’immigration that begins with: “J’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 13/12/2010.” Translated: “I am pleased to let you know that as of 13 December 2010, you are French.”

Nice Christmas present, eh!

I can now vote in French national elections, as well as European Union elections, and will no longer have to worry about ever-changing immigration laws for non-EU citizens (which I was, until the 13th of December). I have kept my US citizenship, mainly to continue voting and participating there as well, so I have dual nationality.

700 years of ancestry mapped

Posted in Biographical at 23:05

Inspired by a great modern Swedish/Finnish folk music group (Hedningarna) while fiddling with online maps, I had the idea to map the Norwegian side of my ancestry. The result is great! I gave each point its town/city name, and in some cases listed people from certain locations. The two points in Latvia are odd ones out, corresponding to just two people. All the others form a very clear line into Norway, namely the Lofoten Islands and Lenvik, in Troms. All towns/cities without a stated country are in Norway, while the others have a country name tagged on. Holding your mouse over a point in the left-hand list will also highlight it on the map.

The family tree is here, and records go back to 1308, with the deaths of Eindrid Hvit and his wife Birgit Bårdsdatter. It was fascinating to map these: their history came to life in a way. One of the main lines descended from a Swedish knight named Karl Pedersson Schanke, born in 1360, whose family largely remained in Häckås, part of Jämtland County, which was then part of Norway (now in Sweden). Then there are several people from the Rist family, who seem to have moved around Germany a lot. They and others who weren’t already in Lenvik or Flakstad eventually congregated in Trondheim, for the most part. The family from Flakstad seem to have been rather active in Flakstad church, and ancestors on my great-grandfather’s side included a few priests, in Denmark (St. Petri, a German church in Copenhagen) and Norway (Astafjord). In addition to working the land (which many owned) and sailing the seas, others included two sheriffs, a watchmaker, a legal scribe, and a diocese scribe. I suppose that makes me an internet scribe, these 700 years and 23 generations after Eindrid and Birgit passed away.

I made the map using VirtualEarth — I had to create an MSN account, but then I could create a “Collection” and save points to it along with notes for them.

Cateye and heterochromia

Posted in Biographical at 14:47

Reflection

This is my eye. My left eye with a reflection through my balcony French doors, to be precise, and bloodshot because this morning my cat pulled a stunt somewhat like this cartoon. Instead of a baseball bat, it was one of his hind legs that punched me. I’m thankful to still have my eye; he came very close to hitting it directly.

My eyes have a coloring that’s known as central heterochromia, meaning my iris has a circle of a different color around the pupil. In addition to having heterochromial eyes, I also have hair with sectoral heterochromia (I was born with a blonde streak, the rest is dark brown):
   Age 4
I have the Internet to thank for finally being able to put a name to my blonde streak and eyes.