Saturday, February 28, 2009

Preparing for Travel

On March 12, I leave for France with a group from the University--several faculty members, a board member, and four honors students. Over Spring Break week, we'll spend three days in Paris, three in Normandy, and then two more in Paris. While in the north, we'll visit The University of Normandy in Caen, where we have an exchange program. We'll also rent two cars and drive to Mont St. Michel, which I've wanted to see since my high school French teacher Mrs. Otis recommended it--and raved about the traditional omelets sold on the tiny island.

Besides brushing up on my French, I've been studying French food in the perhaps futile hope that I'll actually be able to read and interpret a menu. Although there are more words in English than in French, the French gastronomic vocabulary is vast. For bread alone, the French have more words than Eskimos have for snow: baguette, ficelle, flute, batard, pain boulot, pain polka, couronne, pain rond, fougasse, pain campagne, jockey pavot, pistolet, Napoleon, pave de campagne, miche blanche, pain lemaire, epi, souswek, and so on. I hope to sample as many of them as possible in a couple weeks.

On March 21, while the rest of the group returns to the U.S., I'll fly to Berlin to spend ten days in Germany: Berlin, Dresden, Nuremburg, Munich, perhaps Salzburg, Austria. Home on March 31.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Writer's Blog

A couple weeks ago, my colleague Ted told me that my blog was badly out of date. This surprised me; I hadn't realized anyone ever noticed. I told him I'd been suffering from writer's blog. Poet William Stafford said there's no such thing as writer's block. All you have to do is lower your standards. Good advice for any writer--or blogger.
I was in Iowa City last week for several days. The weather was warmer than it often is in February, with temps reaching a balmy 38 degrees one day. The most severe weather-related problem that university town faced over the past year came when the Iowa River flooded in June. A number of university buildings along the river were affected; some are still unusable. Apparently, the university has rented out buildings elsewhere in the area to accomodate art and music programs. The university's wonderful art collection was saved, but for insurance reasons, it will have to be housed elsewhere in the future. The art museum building (located right on the river) will be renovated and used for something else. The huge performing arts center is out of commission and may have to be replaced. My Iowa City friend Cile told me about an essay on the flood written by her friend Joe Blair and published in the New York Times.

The nights were busy in Iowa City. Wednesday I heard the Burlington Street Bluegrass Band play at The Mill Restaurant. The next night, I attended Stephen Lovely's reading from his novel, Irreplaceable, at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Friday evening in Wild Bill's used bookstore on the south side of town, I heard Dave Morice read from his quirky The Great American Fortune Cookie Novel, a book consisting only of Chinese fortunes from cookies. Finally, Saturday night took me to the restored Englert Theatre downtown to hear the national Hindi A Cappella Championship. Hindi groups from 6 universities around the country competed. The UC-Berkeley group won. Beautiful music start to finish. Most groups dressed in traditional Indian garb.