Thursday, December 30, 2010


It's so interesting explaining something you know so well to someone that it is completely foreign to. Helping them make connections to things they are familiar with. Putting the pieces together. It really puts a perspective on the things you actually do know. Sometimes, it's so easy to see the areas where you are weak and where you can improve, but when you get a glimpse of the basis of what it is you do know, you begin to appreciate yourself even more. Yes, yes you can always learn and know more, but do you ever look back and appreciate what it is you already know?

This realization may have come from a combination of events that occurred recently, including watching "Inception" for the first time, but I felt inclined to share.

This is going to be my last blog before 2011, thought I would complete this year with some excitement of what could be.

royal fireworks

Friday, December 24, 2010


On my walk on the Vieux Port in search of Pad Thai (I have had a hankering for 3 months), and still with no avail. Where art thou, Where art thou, O'Pad Thai. In the midst, I was drawn to blue lights and sound. A camel walked by. "What is going on," I think out loud. I see men dressed in costumes with their faces painted blue, Oh the "Blue Man Group!" ... not.  I look up and there is someone crawling down the building head first like he was a spider. What IS this?

Alright, what could this possibly be? I feel strange, a weird sense of hysteria. People are standing around, for what I can't quite place, they are waiting for something. Then I see a man in blue sitting at a table going through what seems to be an appointment book. I think it was the opening of a restaurant or an art show. A man in blue approached me passing me a book and asked, "sais-tu comment lire?" Baffled and repeating in my head, "did he just ask me if I can read?!"

So I reply, "bien sur!" Then he says in french "Would you give a lesson to the crowd?" Very strange, it tickled my curiosity. That was my cue to leave.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas in France

statue, tree, ornament

dressed like santons
provencal costumes
one of my favorites, she spun around to smile for me. 



chic woman in fake fur (I hope)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crèche de Noël

Commonly known as the nativity scene in english, la crèche de noël is the most common symbol in france for christmas. In Provence, artisans make beautiful figurines of all sorts of people, they make them doll size and smaller. They also fabricate scenes and in the center of town, they set up rows and rows of wooden shelters to set up their beautiful creations to sell during Christmas time in the market. You can expect to pay 30€ (~ $45) for a figurine. My mom has a few in the states she brought all the way from France since before I was born. The ideas are all the same, but I went in search for one that most resembled hers. It seems today they may use different material, but I can't be positive about that. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Vacation

Just a couple more days until Christmas vacation begins! I'm surprised they call it "Vacances de Noël" in public schools here in France. In the states in order avoid discrimination against the other holidays that occur in December, they call this period of vacation "Winter Break."

My teacher's lounge was decked out with a Christmas tree, lights, garland, you name it. Today even Père Noël (Father Christmas or Santa Claus) came around delivering chocolate candies. He saw me twice so he gave me candy the second time acknowledging that he already gave me one.

Christmas time in France is similar and different in a lot of ways. The foods they eat and the traditions are a little different than in the states. I don't believe they eat a ham at Christmas, they eat sea food. I'll let you know for sure once I celebrate it with my family. Oh and in France, they get together with family on Christmas Eve (la veille de Noël) and they eat then. In the states, people join on Christmas Day in the evening. I'm accustom to opening presents on Christmas Eve anyway since I grew up in a french household. That must be why I was always lucky to celebrate twice, once with my family and Christmas Day with a friend's families.

Check back soon for pictures of some sights in France during noël.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Alaska Map "Painting"

Some of you may already know this, but I make maps. I took the opportunity to make a custom map for my dear friend who spent some time doing mountaineering school in Alaska. I figured, I have the knowledge, power and skill to pull this off. So I set out to create a topographic map of the area he spent time in. Here it is, and I'll explain my methodologies as well if you are interested.

Matanuska Glacier and Powell Glacier
(original size= 24"x36") sorry if it's too small the see here
First, I visited the USGS website and selected the seamless server NED (National Elevation Data) download page. I zoomed into the area that I needed and selected the area with the download cursor. The 1" NED data wasn't available for that region and neither was the 1/3" or the 1/9" so I was forced to settle with the 2" NED Data. Instead of giving me a seamless raster, it brought back 4 tiles for my selected region. I downloaded the tiles (4) and extracted them all to my project folder.

Then I added all 4 rasters to my ArcMap document and projected the entire data frame as "State Plane 83 Feet Alaska FIPS 3" It projected the data quite nicely. I then went into the toolbox to merge the 4 tiles to make them seamless. This is called mosaicing, it "stiches" the images together making them one. It seemed that I had to make a raster in as the output, so I just went into ArcCatalog, copied one of the raster folders that I extracted and gave it a new name, "Output." Then I went back into my ArcMap document and hit the "Mosaic" tool in the ArcToolbox. I navigated to my newly created raster as my output and added the four rasters to the list of desired tiles. I gave it a name "merge" and hit ok. After a couple minutes it was done mosaicing (praise the programming gods) and the image was complete. The 4 tiles were now one raster. I saved the .mxd (Esri map document) as chugach.mxd as this is the area of interest. I will begin beautification.

Creating the hillshade was fun and ridiculous at the same time. I tried 15 different combinations of azimuth and altitude before I settled on one that I liked. I found that, at least in this case, staying close to the default was the best choice. The purple color represents the highest elevations which melt into brown, yellow, green and then finally blue being the glaciers.

The contour lines were a whole separate ballpark. I created them using Spatial Analyst (pretty solid ArcGIS tool). I took the DEM (Digital Elevation Model) and, since I had merged 4 tiles together, had to adjust the range values. Excuse me if I'm being brief/vague with my methodology. This isn't meant to be a tutorial. Then I created the contour lines, I had to convert my values from meters to feet, which was also a series of trial and error, but I finally got it. I am displaying only the contour lines with easily readable values (2000, 3000 etc.) at intervals of 20 feet. I then labeled only the primary contour lines and gave them a more prominent line weight/color. The secondary contour lines are displayed but not labeled, but since they are at every 20 feet, you can deduce what the value of that line actually is.

I also set out to make it so sweet, but unfortunately there wasn't too much available data for what I was looking for. I found some really excellent sources of data that seemed to be good leads until I downloaded them and tried using them. For example, I wasn't able to find a complete point dataset with the peaks and their common names of the area. It would be really cool if someone who is really familiar with the area created a dataset like that. I found some great glacier data that I also used in the map. Anyway, since my resources were limited to internet database searches, I decided to make it look more like a painting than an actual "navigational" map. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Je ne sais pas

There is this facial expression that is clearly french. When talking to a person and they don't know how to reply or they don't know the answer to something, they make this facial expression. It's like a closing of the lips followed by a pursing of the lips, then a bulging of the eyes with expressive eyebrows and the added forward head bob. I think it's equivalent to the shoulder shrug.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Market Photos

I took only these photos while at the market. Enjoy!


I can't believe there is a stigma about cooking for oneself. The preposterous idea "I don't want to cook if only for me." I actually find pleasure in it. At least you can cook for yourself and not have to worry if the other people like it or not. I've been making all sorts of soups for myself since it has been cold and because they are just so darn easy to make! When I was living in L'Estaque, I sometimes took the 36 bus home from le métro station Bougainville. The bus drives through some shady looking neighborhoods complete with trash, run down buildings, street vendors selling stuff that they probably picked up from the tops of their dressers and inside their closets. This neighborhood may not be a place you would want to visit with your grandmother. The bus would pass by and I would be thinking "No siree bob, I will not be getting off at this stop-ever."

Well, I met a wonderful fellow assistant who told me "There's this great market! Want to join!?" I, being very excited about shopping and in desperate need of some produce, agreed. So where might you guess do we end up? Yes, in this shady neighborhood I vowed never to visit. I may sound disappointed, but ladies and gentlemen, no no no, I was tickled fancy! Ok, yes all the undesirable traits were present, but the market was magical! Us three ladies walked through the market, marveling at what the vendors had to offer. We were definitely the minority of the bunch, I could feel eyes from all directions.

The outdoor vendors didn't have much that held our interest, bins of shampoo, umbrellas, italian coffee makers, but then we entered the indoor market. Inside this large warehouse were booths and rooms with an assortment of vendors. It was awesome. If I were to summarize, it was a busy, north african type market. There was "street food," there were spice shops, rugs, live chickens, kitchen supplies, you name it, but most and best of all, there was produce. Yes my friends, tons of it. I picked up some eggplant (reminds me of my mom) carrots, lemons, and some clementines. I had no idea what I was going to make with it, but they were just so delightful looking. When I paid at the check stand (yes there was a little non-operating conveyor belt next to the cashier) you know how much all that goodness cost? 1€85 (about $3). I also picked up spices. Piment fort (spicy pepper) and some cumin. It was legen- what for it... dary.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I finally have internet at my house. Even though I am very grateful for the free wifi 24/7 at MacDo, I am so happy I don't need to go there anymore! No more weird stares, or conversations with strange people, old people, or children. No more couples sitting near me making out. No more being asked to take my foot off the chair (yes, it really happened at McDonalds).  No more smelling the gross food and then being tempted to buy some fries. Now I can get some blog entries in order!

Monday, November 29, 2010


I had a dream about my Blackberry. Yes, I miss it. The simple days when I could check my email, catch up with what people are up to on Facebook and update my status, I could tweet to my  heart's desires, check into foursquare and collect new badges like my "playa playa badge" and "swarm badge." I could bbm with my peeps, sms, mms, take photos upload them wherever needed, navigate with the awesomeness of google maps and call my destinations right from the map, look up restaurants on Yelp, manage my life so perfectly with that little life saving machine, oh yeah and make phone calls of course. The dream was so clear with the perfect little keyboard with the buttons that clicked so nicely, such a source of comfort. Is that why they call it the "crackberry?" Yes, yes, that must be why. I'm about to get a forfait (cell contract) my prepaid is too expensive and so inconvenient. Smart phone here I come!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

France time

So I thought that I may be affected by jet lag when I got here, after all it is nine hours ahead of what I'm used to. Well luckily after traveling for about 24hrs from LAX to MRS, it was about 40 hrs since the last time I slept. When I finally arrived, I slept for 14 hours straight, and voila I adjusted to the time difference in one day! Normally, I would think "victory!" but unfortunately, this isn't the case. I may have adjusted to the time difference, but I haven't yet adjusted to the schedule difference.

In France, people, offices, shops, and businesses actually take lunch breaks. What a concept. They literally, close up shop, lock the doors and you won't be able to use their services until after lunch- around 14h00. When I'm used to not getting my day started until 11h00 and running errands during lunch time, I'm finding I really need to adjust my habits and get things done in the morning, boooo. So today when I felt like going grocery shopping (faire les courses), it was 14h00, they were closed. Ok. I looked at the hours, it opened again at 16h00, so I went back later. This is just one example, time after time I've showed up to an office that was closed. Now that I thoroughly understand that meal time (un repas) is very important, I must change my American ways.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I just heard news that the last map poster I created at my job before moving to France won first prize at the Municipal Information Systems Association of California (MISAC). I'm beaming with pride. I talked about it in an earlier blog post. It involved remote sensing and an oak tree ordinance. Totally interesting to some of you I'm sure ;-)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Je parle français comme une vache epagnole

Yes the day has come. I speak french like a spanish cow. Apparently, this term is very funny to french people. It's not nice, but it's not mean either. I'll take it, I own the fact. I take pride because one day, people won't be able to say that about me. :-)

Monday, November 8, 2010


Thursday was my first day back at work from the vacation, Toussaints (All Saints). They gave us 10 days off, I love France. It was a little difficult getting a move on, I got on the bus and riding along, some of my students mounted the bus and gave me a big smile and a "Allo!" So I, relishing in the next 20 minutes of freedom, continued to day dream. I got off the bus, there was an overly smelly person sitting near me, so I escaped to the tram. Once on the tram, I had maybe 6 minutes until I had to get off. My student came and sat next to me with a big smile. We were chatting about the vacation when I heard something coming from the back of the tram. Right away I knew the sound. It was an accordion. Yes! I am in France! I asked my student, "is someone playing the accordion?" She said, "yes," in a somewhat annoyed fashion. I looked back in excitement trying to get a glimpse of the musician. Instead I saw only un-enthused mugs, so I decided to tone down the excitement a tad. I waited as the music made its way closer to me. A little boy maybe 10 years old had a white plastic cup at hand, shaking it in front of people asking for money. After him came an adult man playing the accordion (quite beautifully), probably the boy's father. Following him was a woman, probably the boys mother, playing a one-stringed guitar (she was the rhythm I'm guessing?). They appeared to be gypsies. With my luck, we got off at the same stop, and I got to hear the boy give his father a praise like "we sounded great!" That seriously made my day.

Carving a pumpkin in France

You know you are in France when you need to use a corkscrew to pull out the hat of a jack-o-lantern.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mon boulot (boo-low) My job

Today I met yet another class, I thought I was finished meeting students but turns out, no. I meet with 16 different groups of students, and that was the last one- I hope. Anyway, it was great, a little brutal, but great! huhuhuhuh. The entire class was girls. I was like wow you are all girls! And the teacher said, oh there's an absence- guess there is one boy in that class- lucky kid. I think that is my second class that is all girls- bizarre. Anyway. The way I introduce my self is, "alright you don't know me, have at it, ask me questions." I don't tell them my name or anything. The whole reason I'm here is to help them speak because they read and write English quite well, but the speaking part is more difficult. Anyway, after that class I met with another class I've met before, but this time the prof and I split the class. I took a group of 9 into my own classroom and the other half stayed with her. I prepared a few things but decided for this group we would read Edgar Allen Poe "The Tell-Tale Heart," it was kind of in honor of Halloween. That story is just so spooky and I just love it. A girl in the class from Estonia really dug the story- most enthusiastic of the bunch- next to the the girl who has a British father. I loved explaining to them the meaning of certain phrases and words. EAP was such a descriptive writer, it was really fun.  When I got to the part " has welled up from my own bosom..." I decided to draw them a well to explain the phrase "welled up." After I drew them a beautiful well, with a wooden thingy holding a bucket and some water at the bottom of the well, I heard laughter in the back. I realized that my picture was quite beautiful and teenagers have such great horn-dog imaginations. Me, flushed with embarrassment erase my beautiful drawing toutes de suite. Then a wonderful student asked me "what's a bosom?" great.... Overall, it went well and today was the first day I felt most relaxed. This is proving to be a rewarding experience and I am very happy.

By the way, I got the keys to my new pad, moving in this weekend!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

What does October 31st mean to you?

The french just don't understand Halloween the way it is meant to be. It isn't their fault, I just feel a little bad for them. The ambiance of Halloween is just so exciting and spooky and nothing was spooky here in France. On the bright side, the party was fun and our pumpkin patch was adorable! I didn't get any group photos, but I really hope someone did. Our costumes turned out awesome!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The clouds rolled by faster than my day.

I woke myself up laughing this morning on my friend's couch, a very comfortable couch I might say. My laughing woke up my friends too. What was I dreaming about? Well, it might have been about losing my cell phone at a bar on the Vieux Port... maybe not. Today was a good day and it isn't over yet! I was supposed to go to a football match tonight L'OM and I don't know the other team :-/ Well tickets ended up being sold out. I hope they win! My friend had this great idea to dress up as pumpkins for halloween (we're going to a party tomorrow night) and it turns out we're going to be a pumpkin patch! We busily made the most adorable Ah-lo-ween costumes today, 6 to be exact. Six of us are going as pumpkins! Well, after a meal and costume making, I left to get a new cell phone. I walked in the rain, and my feet got wet thru my Uggs. Anyhoo, I got a new phone using my debit card for the first time and withdrew money from the ATM for the first time! I took the metro as far as it would take me, then I waited for the bus to take me to the end of the line (term-ee-noos) so that I could go home. As I waited, I noticed how fast the clouds were rolling by. I could even see other clouds higher behind them that weren't moving at all. I recorded it. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness, peace out! Till next time! À tout à l'heure!

Friday, October 29, 2010


On Sunday it's Halloween. It's the best holiday of the year! I got a big pumpkin thanks to my wonderful uncle, but let me tell you it's not a proper pumpkin. Tell me, how am I supposed to carve this monster?

I need power tools for this one. Either way, I'm totally stoked! I was blessed with the wonderful gift of my Aunt (Tatie) who is a couturiere (she makes custom bridal dresses, costumes, circus costumes, acrobat clothes, etc.) If someone in my family got married, she probably made their bridal dress and she's helping me and some friends make last minute Ah-lo-ween costumes. We're going as pumpkins :-D There is an Italian girl throwing a party on Sunday night, I'm curious how the Europeans celebrate this holiday- we'll see! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Random photos

La Plage de Corbières

And I thought french people had more style than white sweat socks with dress shoes. :-/

Not the best getaway.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

There's something in the air.

I went for a run, didn't know where I was going. I ran up the steep hill, passed the house with the cute dog, turned corners, dodged cars, switched from sidewalk to street and back again. I knew where I was going all along, I skipped up the steps, I walked thru the 2 way tunnel that is only one car width, got barked at, let tears run down my face letting go of emotions, kept running. Passed my grandparents old house. It's different. It's dead.The new owners have destroyed something that meant so much to me. I'll always have my memories. I continued up the street and stopped. I could hear the pitter patter of rain on the leaves of the trees, but I didn't feel anything. Once the rush of emotional energy started to leave my body, I decided to head home. I ran home in the rain, in the dark. It was beautiful. 

My friends in France showed this to me. I love it!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I'm in the middle of a revolution.

Take a look at what the lovely lycéens have done to the entrance of my school. The students are on strike. That so would have been me at that age. lol. They barricaded the main entrance of the school. What is usually under all that trash is steps. 

 Because of the strike, public workers such as trash collectors haven't picked up the trash in over a week. That's just in front of my school. Believe me there are hundreds of piles like this and worse all over the city.

Vive La France! I'm so psyched to be here! I was unable to go into work today because there was no way for me to get there. Wow. Gas stations are running dry, buses and tramways are blocked by strikes. The worst part is, I can't even get to the manifestation!! The subway is pretty much the only thing in service, and I'm a reallllllly far walk from the nearest station. UGH. Anyway, I plan on hiking and taking a day of repose I guess. Not what I really feel like doing right now, but something good has to come from it. Tonight, I'm going to the Fiesta Des Suds (Fiesta of the South). It's this amazing musical event that happens every year and my uncles are performing! Tomorrow night I hope to return to see more musical events.

In the next few days, I have two appointments to see some flats. Judging by their photos, I'm not really excited. I have two great options that are mine if I want them, but the thing that is the most important to me right now is non-existent at these places. Proximity to the center. Last week I had an appointment to see a flat and my lovely friends offered to come see it with me. It was really close to both of them, check. It was really close to everything, check. It was huge, check. View of the port, check. It was in a sketchy ass neighborhood, check. Ghetto, check. I wouldn't get to meet my flat mates until after- um no thanks. Eerie feeling, check. I had to say no to this unfortunately. But as my friend told me, something perfect will come at the perfect time. Alrighty, I'm off to explore this neighborhood I know so well. A town I've been visiting since I was 6 years old.