Rebecca in France Spain

Rebecca is a President’s Scholar and a triple major in art history in Meadows School of the Arts and Spanish and French in Dedman College. In Summer 2009, she will begin her travels in the sunny South of France on the Cote d’Azur before continuing to Barcelona. There, she will pursue a Richter research project, studying the relationship between nationalized Catholicism, the Franco regime and parish church architecture in the Catalunya region of northeastern Spain. After Barcelona, Rebecca will continue to the Burgundy region of France, where she will volunteer as a guest worker on an organic vegetable farm before settling down for Fall 2009 in Madrid.

Vibrant week in Barcelona

DSC_0048.png The Cannes train station was packed on Saturday morning as I made my way with a souvenir-stuffed suitcase and a veritable library on my back toward the train that would take me to Montpellier and on to Barcelona for my Richter Research Project. In Barcelona, my research examines the relationship between nationalized Catholicism, Catalan nationalism, and parish church architecture in the 1950s and early 1960s. Research, however, was far from my mind as the heat of the gare and my anti-pickpocket guard were both stifling my physical and mental agility.

Taking a seat on a bench, I exchanged an all at once miffed and yet unbelievably excited look with Drew, a friend and fellow train-traveller who was headed to Spain for a pilgrimage trip down the Camino de Santiago. It was then that a very elegant and indeed friendly elderly French dame, accompanied by her husband in his fauteil, begged my pardon so that she might sit down, insisting that we share the small seat rather than having me stand.

Although my mind was not yet reeling in the world of 1950’s Spain, my new French companion brought me back on track when she discovered that our destination was Barcelona. Madame proceeded to tell me of her own visit to Barcelone when she was but 20 years old. Without the slightest prompting, she told of her distaste for the Franco regime and the oppressiveness of nationalized Catholicism, remarking that when she had arrived in Spain many decades ago wearing capri pants she was made aware of her grave offense with a thrash on the ankles by an elderly Spaniard. What a perfect segue to my research project!

After passing twelve hours of Saturday traveling and most of Sunday starving (the supermercado is closed on the Sabbath), I headed out bright and early on Monday morning to the Biblioteca de Catalunya to begin my preliminary quest.

After presenting my passport and proof of research, I was granted my very own library card that allows me five years of access to the very well-guarded collections at the BC. All of which would have been perfect if I only knew what to do next.

There are a few things one learns when using a research library for the first time. Indeed, the only survival tool is that of imitation; that is, follow the other researchers and copy their movements and, when in doubt, seek out the most sympathetic-looking member of the staff and discreetly ask for help.

After two days of trial and error (don’t ever mark pages with sticky notes!), I had as good of control of the collections as any of the other grim-faced researchers and left the library Tuesday afternoon with a plan of action for Wednesday’s research. Little did I know that Spain had other plans in mind.

For those unfamiliar with Spanish culture, every year the Summer Solstice is celebrated with the Festival of San Juan, which is, for lack of a better description, a night of mayhem and superstition that culminates with thousands flocking to the beaches for merrymaking and experimental research the likes of which the Biblioteca de Catalunya has never seen. All of Barcelona can be found on the streets and beaches setting off fireworks, drinking to excess, and avoiding pick-pockets with full knowledge that the following day is a national holiday, perhaps the Spanish government’s way of easing those post-Sangria headaches experienced by locals and tourists alike.

In any event, even the librarians enjoy a good party now and then, so my third research day in Spain was spent away from the BC. Although I was discouraged at first, an impromptu metro trip to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia placated any lingering disappointment over the lost day. With Barcelona all around me, I admit I wasn’t too heartbroken to be out in the sunshine that afternoon.

DSC_0076.jpg With this entry stretching longer and longer and the smells from the street below becoming more and more enticing to my growing appetite, I leave this tale of bibliotecas and Barcelona to be finished another day. I leave you with a photo that provides an amusing taste of the ever-palatable Catalan nationalist movement for those who are interested!

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Past and present in St. Raphael

DSC_0132.png One of my final and favorite memories from the South of France took place last Sunday with the Quilicis, a local family who graciously shared their home and hospitality with me and another SMU student as our trip came to a close. The Quilicis took us by car down the winding coast to St. Raphael for a day of relaxation, bazaar shopping, and delicious ice cream. But more important than relaxation was the opportunity to see the beaches of Dramont where the U.S. 36th Infantry Division landed on August 15 of 1944.

My paternal grandfather was around my age when he was drafted into the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor in 1941. A Chicago native, he was ironically placed in the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division after a year of training stateside. After fighting for a year in Italy in some of the worst battles of the war, his unit landed in Southern France to continue the liberation campaign in the European Theatre, eventually being awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

The beach was sunny and fresh at mid-day on that Saturday, alive with picnickers, sunbathers, and vibrant musicians. Nevertheless, it was quieting to see the beaches and the monuments knowing that my grandfather had arrived in the same place almost 65 years ago with a very different objective. Whereas my goals in France included study, relaxation, and cultural interaction, his top priority was staying alive.

The parking lot above the beaches has several monuments and one of the U.S. boats used in the debarquement. According to locals, a celebration is held every year on the 15th of August to commemorate the town’s liberation.

DSC_0151.jpg The monument, in English and French, reads:

Over this defended beach the men of the 36th U.S. Infantry Division stormed ashore 15 August 1944. Together with their French allies they began here the drive that took them across France, through Germany and into Austria, to the final destruction of the German armies and the Nazi regime.

C’est sur cette plage opiniatrement defendue que, le 15 aout 1944, debarquerent en force les hommes de la 36e Division d’infanterie americaine. C’est d’ici qu’avec leurs allies francais ils commencerent la poussee qui les mena a travers la France, l’Allemagne et l’Autriche, achevant la destruction complete de l’armde allemande et du regime Nazi.

As my time in the South of France came to a close, it was both humbling and fitting to experience such a moment. What else to do but smile and bid France adieu for now!

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A very graceful Saturday

This Saturday I was pleased beyond words to visit Monaco, the second smallest sovereign nation in the world occupying just over one square mile of precious space on the Cote d’Azur, the principality that happened to be home to my favorite actress, princess, and long-time paragon Grace Kelly.

DSC_0324.jpgIt is difficult to express how much I enjoyed my trip to Monaco. We arrived by bus early Saturday morning, all the glory and glamour of Monaco tumbling down the side of the hill our colorful bus climbed. Have I forgotten to mention our bus? It is shockingly turquoise, adorned with airbrushed space-odyssey scenes, a Venetian canal complete with gondolier, and a gap-toothed Farrah Fawcett look-alike. Only in France, the land of contradictions, would this gauche bus be captained by a delicate and cultivated woman named Francoise. I digress only because Francoise has been our driver, ambassador, historian, and friend on each and every expedition we have taken on this trip, accepting even the most unpleasant of French pronunciation with a generous smile.

Monaco was most certainly the crown jewel of the Cote d’Azur, as ironic as it may be. The inhabitants were delightful–I was even permitted to use the bathroom in a cafe without first buying something, an achievement unheard of in a corner of the world where D’abord il faut consommer! follows every request to use the facilities. I visited the Prince’s Palace, the gardens, the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium, and Monte Carlo and, sick of salade nicoise, feasted on aigneau and chocolat ad nauseum.

DSC_0040.jpgIt was wonderful to follow the steps of Princesse Grace, especially to glimpse the interior of the Cathedral in which she was married in April of 1956. So popular was this Cathedral that I witnessed no fewer than three brides emerging from the church as I passed it throughout the day!

A further highlight was the principality’s aquarium which housed a wide array of both tropical and Mediterranean fish, although some of the creatures exhibited in the tanks tempted me to regret all those times I took a dip in the sea this trip.


Before saying goodbye to Monaco (for now at least), I closed the day lounging in the principality’s official chocolaterie, musing over princesses, palaces, and, of course, dark chocolate.

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Weekend in Aix

An excerpt from Rebecca’s blog:

DSC_0055.pngThis weekend I discovered my new favorite city – Aix-en-Provence, a charming town/city full of contradictions. For example, for being one of the most fountainous cities in all of France, it was certainly very difficult to find well-priced water to abet the oppressive Provencal heat.

Dancing in the streets, attending mass at the Cathedral (complete with the baptism of a local child named Luigi), and soaking up the city that served as muse to Cezanne just begin the long list of my favorite memories from this weekend.

Because there was so much to see and do, I will highlight my favorite moments from the weekend in a very organized list – hopefully the photos will speak for themselves.

1. FAVORITE NEW WORD: un coquelicot (kokuhleeko, meaning wild red poppy)

2. NEW ACQUISITIONS: a linen romper, a blister, another sunburn, two art history books, and a book of shorts by Maupassant.

3. MISSED OUT ON: Cezanne’s Atelier (closed Sundays), climbing Mt St Victoire. Another day.

DSC_0261.jpg4. WILL NEVER FORGET: the Aix-en-Provence rugby team celebrating victory by frolicking in the fountain, waiting at a very sweaty gare for four hours, carrying too much luggage, being tempted to buy Birkenstocks.

5. FAVORITE CHARACTERS: crepe-man from Marseilles smoking a Cuban cigar and complaining about politics, 80-year-old man on the bus who explained his abhorrence for cigarettes and his one experience smoking when the allies liberated France (at age 18 he wanted to look cool in front of the American G.I.s).

6. FAILED SCHEME: attempting to get the woman next to me on the TGV to edit my French homework. Oh well.

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Market day

An excerpt from Rebecca’s blog:

So much for stereotypes! Today was a day full of friendly French people. In fact, we interacted with so many hospitable and warm folk that my friend Drew and I thought we were fated for disaster by the end.

After spending an hour or so perusing the famed Forville market, which was bustling with delightful people and delectable products, we ran errands around town and ended up settling down on rocks near the beach for lunch around one. With a baguette, some chevre cheese, and a couple of peaches, the perfect Provencal picnic was rivaled only by the beauty of the Sea beyond.

DSC_0313.jpgThe afternoon took me to the Ile de St. Honorat, an island that is just fifteen minutes off the coast of France by ferry. Cistercian monks have inhabited the island for the past sixteen centuries praying, producing wine, and apparently educating St. Patrick. Needless to say, the rocky and forested island was the perfect background for contemplation.

After returning from the Island and merrily chatting with a pair of Parisian women on the way, I bought some aloe vera for my sunburnt back and some anti-itch cream for the myriad of mosquito bites that have been driving me crazy for the past three days. Probably not the most interesting of adventures, admittedly, until at the till I looked down only to find that the pharmacie’s floor was glass and showcased an elaborate koi pond below. C’etait incroyable!

The final surprise of the day came when a young woman stopped Drew and me in the street on the way back home and asked us if we spoke French. Answering in the affirmative, we were told that she worked for an online magazine and she took photos of our ensembles because she found them interesting. As my clothes that day had all been purchased at Marshall’s, I was pleasantly surprised that a trendy French woman found them intriguing.

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Ciao from Cannes

I write my first European post to say hello and tell you a little bit about my experience so far on the Cote d’Azur.

Thusfar I have spent a lot of time on the beach (I have the coup de soleil to prove it) which is just a few steps away from the residence where we are staying. I have witnessed a plethora of interesting beach characters, as you can imagine, but nothing too uncomfortable. I have also ventured into downtown Cannes nearly every day, experiencing both good hospitality and a few bad attitudes. Oh well, c’est la France.

Today, I attended mass at the local parish with my friend Drew and had my first experience with public speaking in French. As we were seated in the pews waiting for the mass to begin, an older French woman confidently approached me and asked in a whisper tone if I could do the readings during the mass. A bit taken aback, I explained that I was not French, an excuse she was unwilling to accept. So with my go-with-the-flow resolution in the back of my mind, I took the dive and read a letter from St. Paul and the Responsorial Psalm to the admittedly small and elderly congregation in French. C’etait magnifique!

My experience speaking French has been wonderful so far and, with the exception of a few minor incidents, I have been surprised by my own fluency. It has only been four days, and I have already noted a significant improvement in my spoken French.

Interestingly, I have also had plenty of opportunities to practice my Spanish. Whenever I find myself in an uncomfortable or annoying situation (for example when I come across overly-aggressive French boys in the streets), I turn on my best Spanish and let them know that I don’t understand English or French. It works like a charm.

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Leaving on a jet plane

An excerpt from Rebecca’s blog:

This afternoon I will embark on the longest journey I have ever taken. Born and raised a Dallas girl who can count on two hands the number of places she’s been in her life, I have chosen a rather unusual path to explore over the next seven months. I will be studying, traveling, observing, and living in Spain and France from May until December of 2009, an amount of time that now seems unfathomable but that will surely be all too short after my time in Europe begins to unravel.

While my plans range from glamorous (strolling the beaches of Cannes) to grungy (getting my hands dirty on a vegetable farm in Burgundy), I plan to savor and value every moment and experience I come across on my unusual adventure.

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