Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Island in the Sun.

Hip. Hip.

SB98. I was ten years old, and that spring break was the best of my life. I spent the week in Miami and Key West with my family and some family friends where we ate big, sloppy nacho plates and played card games by the pool. Not only that, but the Friday before we left my mom picked me up after school to go to any 5th grade girl's utopia... my very first *NSYNC concert. I wore baby blue (oh it's tots Justin Randall Timberlake's fave color, duh) and screamed the words, "Never thought that love could feel like THISSS. When you change my world with JUST ONE KISS!!"

JC totally smiled at me, too.

I've had great spring vacays since then, but that week-long heaven has been hard to top.

Well, I'd say my past 18 days fall at at least a close second.

So what now? I could blog away about the best friends visited on two different continents and the Dragoon damage and the Zeinubs, Muhammads and Esmas and the Vaticans and the strawberry juices and mint teas and the gelatto-enhanced views of Florence and the leather purchased at the Medina and the cross-Italy train rides and the Roman ruins picnics and the Sufi Saint Shrines and the Duomos and the Turkish baths and the statues of David and, of course, the freshly grilled lamb chops under neon-lighting.

But then this post will sound
a) like a list that no one will process
or b) as if I'm trying to.. show off?
or even c) like it was written by a fat kid since half of the aforementioned highlights are absolutely food-related.

So instead I present to you two stories: The Tale of Berlusconi and Jenna and Deel's Great Soccer Adventure.

The Tale of Berlusconi
A wise man once said that short people got no reason to live. Our new Italian friend would agree, at least in reference to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"We don't like him. He short guy like Napoleon. And Mussolini." Ouch. Minus one for us.

We were in Rome on our way to a leather store (What? It's part of the cultural experience..) when a small crowd and some giant professional video cameras caught our attention. Considering the important looking men standing outside the important looking building, we knew some "poop" was about to hit the fan. Stopping to investigate, we asked some people in the crowd what was going on, and they actually had no idea. Like us, they saw news cameras and stopped in their tracks waiting for something good.

Well ignorance may be bliss but knowledge is power so we made our move. Our friend went straight to the biggest bodyguard for more information. (Seriously, this guy was enormous. You could see the six-pack abs through his suit jacket. And each knuckle was the size of my FACE, but it doesn't even matter because he could probably kill a man with those piercing blue eyes.)

So the Big Event was this: The Italian Prime Minister was going to exit his Roman residence and enter a black SUV.

Oh, yes. It is that exciting.

Since we had some great front row spots, we stuck around and watched the crowd grow in number and confusion. People started turning to us for information, so we just started relaying back what we knew in English, French, and fake Italian (faux-talian?) It was like a bad game of telephone when we eventually heard murmurs of the president's name ripple through the crowd.

Really the only people who wanted to stick around were us foreigners. I said, "Berlusconi," to an Italian woman and the way she walked away I might as well have said, "A fat, bald man dressed as a gladiator selling pictures for 10 euro."

After all that waiting, the man finally emerged. Somehow we got pushed completely out of the way (by the crowd that we were half responsible for!) and I lost my friends in the madness. I ran to the other side of the sidewalk for a better view. Even though I stood on my tippiest tippy toes, the most I could see was Berlusconi's hand waving in the air. My 5'7"+ friends high-fived, right over my head, for being able to catch a glimpse of him.

Ahh, defeated by height, once again. Whatever though, if I did see Berlusconi I'd probably have to pick him up just to say hello.

Jenna and Deel's Great Soccer Adventure
People can really change when they go abroad. Some gain a new perspective on life's hardships and others find in themselves a newfound independence and bravery. Well, the transformation I observed in Miss Dana was way more drastic. I knew things had changed forever when she insisted we go to a professional sporting event.

For the first time this girl has a brother, a very witty and smart little brother, and his Esperance dedication had rubbed off on her. So after asking multiple cab drivers, passersby and even a Tunisian suitor or two, we found our way to the ticket office where we were amazed to find two available tickets to this competitive match.

We knew we had to be at the game by 3:30, but of course about a million and one events and half as many meals were planned for that morning. We were doing surprisingly well on time, but when we came home for a quick pit stop before catching the train to the stadium her host brother answered the door in disbelief.
"You're not at the game!? I've been watching for almost an hour!" We looked at the TV and sure enough those shin-guarded studs were running through the field. After a quick debate on whether or not we should even attempt to go, we changed in a panic, grabbed extra dinars for an emergency cab ride and bolted out the door.

Once at the stadium we ran up a random spiral staircase into our section. We made it in time to catch the first goal, high-five some Tunisians and avoid getting hit by some strange flames being thrown onto the field in celebration. We were amazed that it was somehow only slightly before halftime. We were more amazed by how easily we managed to blend in even though we stood out like... two American girls at a North African soccer game. We cheered along all the way until the Esperance victory before catching a cab home for dinner with the lovely Debabbis.

During our 80% Arabic, 20% French speaking dinner with the family we relayed back our day beaming with Esperance pride. With a huger than huge smirk on his face, that clever little brother asked us how upset we were to have missed the whole game. After giving him some wait-a-minute looks, he burst out laughing saying, "I fooled you! I fooled you!" (In English, just to kick us while we were down with his trilingual powers.)

Turns out he's a better actor than we ever could have imagined and had merely been watching the warm-up when we came home. I guess we're not the overnight soccer experts I thought since the lack of spectators and only one team on the field didn't strike us as peculiar.

Hats off, little bro. Now pass me more Harissa.

Voilà! This post was way longer than anticipated and still doesn't even begin to capture my fabulous spring break. If you've stuck it through 'til here, I'm flattered but know it's only because finals are approaching in real-people world.

Check back soon for a revised version with plennnnty of pictures.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


As many of you already know, I love birthdays. (All of them, not just my own, very special, birthday week.)

Actually, if that is new information to you, then I have absolutely no idea how you even found this blog because apparently, you don't know me at all.
October 27th. Mark it, stranger.

And you know what, it's not even just birthdays either. Holidays are when I really shine. I handed out Sweetheart boxes to all the Herald editors on Valentine's Day (Voelkel! I'm sorry..) and wore a full-fledged cow costume on Halloween in Madison. Don't even get me started on Thanksgiving.

Since I was raised a Muslim our family fasted for Ramadan, enduring everyone's favorite Arabic mini-series, and ate all those delicious sunset feasts with a Christmas tree chillin' in our foyer. Then in college it became the norm to consume about a million Latkes for Hanukkah.

My point is this: I am holiday greedy and refuse to let religious barriers stop me.

I usually still let Easter slip by unnoticed, but this year I went all out. I threw myself right out of my comfort zone and right into an Easter morning Catholic Mass at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Snap.

I've seen my fair share of churches/cathedrals in Paris, as is expected, but it still feels very different when you're doing more than just strolling through and snapping pictures. Although I had some trouble following along (I struggle with French and hardly speak Catholic) it was definitely an experience worth a Paris Je T'aime! scrapbook page. Everyone sang in beautiful unison, so I guess along with an inherent sense of style, French people are born with perfect pitch and harmony.

Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris and houses one massive organ (wiki fact!) that played for us as we entered and exited.

I skipped the bread and wine part (let's not push it here) but I did bless my neighbors and even almost fell asleep at one point. I hear those are both pretty standard church-going activities, so I'm going to go ahead and check this one off the list.

Joyeux Pâques!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Postcard To Nina.

I mean.. my half birthday is coming up.

89, Rue de Faubourg Saint-Antoine
Paris, France 75011

(Please don't murder me Mr. Blogger-Creeper.)

I suppose this is where I tell you to message me your addresses for postcards, but I've already got them.

Monday, April 6, 2009

When It's Good.

Good poker players will be familiar with the rookie keep-betting-even-though-my-hand-will-probably-lose-but-I've-already-bet-so-much mistake.

It's a tricky decision during Texas Hold 'Em type games where you lose more confidence in your hand with each revelation of new cards, but you continue to keep calling bets because you feel in too deep to back out and fold your hand. (Lame man's terms: I thought I was going to win so I threw in a lot of money, but now I don't think I'm going to win but I'll keep pretending like I could win and I might as well keep throwing in money.) In poker this is a no-no.

Well today, even though my hustlin' self knows better, I applied this rookie mistake at a fancy, hidden restaurant in Paris' Montmartre.

The first Sunday of every month, the 5-tabled and cozy La Famille offers a fixed menu of an appetizer, main course and dessert for only ten Euro. (Think Free Burrito Day at Chipotle. Yeah. It's that good.) Initially we were afraid we wouldn't be able to find the restaurant since it rests on one of the small, windy streets under Sacre Coeur, but once we saw the line leading out of the not-yet-opened bistro we realized exactly what kind of deal this dinner actually was. We were actually the closest thing to tourists on that street. (And we're not even touring. We're studying, damn it.)

We waited in line for a half hour. And then another half hour. And then we were standing in the doorway being pushed by impatient and hungry French people for another half hour.

At each of these half hour intervals the four of us debated whether or not we had invested enough time to not be able to back out and go home to our pasta and canned tuna. Someone always ended the discussion with a "but we already waited this long" and that was that. We just kept throwing our chips in the pot.

Maybe the poker experts have it all wrong because that dinner was goo-ood.
The food came hot and each bite held more flavor than anything I've eaten in a long time. Sitting there being served some carroty, crab meaty salad and a lasagna that brought me right back to my childhood just like that scary critic in Ratatouille and a mascarpone aux framboises dessert, we scraped clean our plates and prided ourselves in our Paris Bobo-esque determination.

Sure I love the impressionist art, and yes it's nice to be surrounded by more history than you can imagine. But let's be honest.

This is why I came to Paris.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Sound of Silence.

I'm not quite sure why it happens, but being abroad will send you on some crazy mood swings. One day I literally feel like skipping in glee to the Metro and others I get teary-eyed when I see Obama on a magazine cover (as if he's a close friend just waiting for me at 416.)

I'd imagine it's a lot like pregnancy (see also: insatiable appetites and strange cravings.)  But being Baby Child Jenna, all I know about pregnancy is what I see on TV, so let's move on...

After a series of pretty unfortunate events (a hijacked debit card may have something to do with it) I felt myself begin to slip into a rut and needed to cure it, fast.  

That fast cure came in the form of a faster train ride to Fontainebleau.  

After dragging my grumpy self from a LOST recap column to our designated meeting point, the day only got better.  We pranced around the courtyards of a stunning chateau, we admired the beautiful, likely evil, white swans in the faux-pond and we wandered through a forest.  

Yes, a forest.  A French forest.  A French forest where the only other person we ran into was a man singing at the top of his lungs.  Maybe he was a renowned opera singer we ignorant Americans wouldn't recognize who had no other place to perfect his tune.  Maybe he was just straight-up crazy.  Either way, we support his cause.

I figured studying abroad in Paris would mean I'd have to travel outside of the borders if I wanted to climb giant rock structures for amazing tree-top views, but I was very mistaken and am very happy about it.  It was a literal change of scenery that was humbling and just so perfectly refreshing.  

I'm sure a lot of you have much more adventurous treks through Africa and South America and The Moon and Hogwart's Forbidden Forest and wherever else, but let's remember whose blog this is and share in her satisfaction.

Oh, and that isn't another Photoshopping masterpiece of mine, it's Renoir's painting of "Jules Le Coeur in the Forest of Fontainebleau."  But it's fine, people get us mixed up all the time.

Tomorrow I'm going to Versailles, but my heart will be in Madison celebrating some very special birthdays.  Joyeux Anniversaire mes petites mignons!  

Wait. One more thing.
To the Frenchie that took my card... I hope that you decide to climb up to Sacre Coeur to show off your new outfit and trip over your new, expensive shoes on those stone steps, crack a few teeth and have to pay a good $600 on hospital bills.  Okay, whew, now I am officially over it.