Flying à la Gershwin

Most of you know that I stick to the oneworld alliance (American Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, etc.) when it comes time to fly.  But I’ll admit that United airlines has done a fantastic job of reminding us of the magic of flying through their “It’s time to fly” television ad campaign since emerging from bankruptcy in February, 2006.

Watch the ad above (embedded) and then head to United’s YouTube page to watch a documentary on the making of this ad.  Featured are legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, and rising classical piano star Lang Lang from China.  They do such justice to the masterpiece that is George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Oh right, Americans

So I’m sitting with a bunch of Americans right now, and I’m not talking about expats. I mean the real deal – Americans in the middle of Paris thinking how charming the city is but how happy they are to be going back to the States soon.

You know, the ones who wear pajamas in public, passport holders around their necks, and drink cheap alcohol. They carry too much in their hands, talk loudly, and think English is more universal than it is.

They are the type of people that the French loathe, but they’re familiar folk and I’m smiling just the same.

The Brown Card

Well, in the name of consistency, I have to give Australian airport security a thumbs up.

The last time I flew into and within the merry ol’ land of Oz, I was stopped twice for “randomly selected” pat downs and bag swipes, while my (much whiter) friends never happened to get so lucky.

Well, I was in luck again this time around! I got to read an Australian Government blurb about my rights as an air passenger and consent to additional random screening. Such fun it was.

It’s funny to me that profiling techniques can only work against someone in the realm of “increasing international security.” I mean, I was wearing new business casual Lacoste and carrying a pair of nice bags, but clearly I scored no points against having recently darkened skin, black hair, and traveling alone.

But my time in Australia has always been a gem, so perhaps I should just resign myself to the luck of the draw as a consequence of visiting a good land and a good people. Off to Hong Kong today; highlights to come.

Working the system at the baggage counter

So as I am already an honorary Breton, I rarely ask French people to speak English with me, and generally I think they appreciate my effort despite being only a few months into this whole French-language-learning adventure.

My suspicions were confirmed today at the airport when I gave the ticketing agent a bag that was over the limit by 2 kg. Of course, I offered to rearrange some things or pay the £25, as I had seen this guy be a stickler to two other people who went to his weigh station.

However, I was in luck because the guy responded that he only makes people speaking English (and all Brits no matter if they speak French) pay the fee. Since I was an American speaking French, I saved myself about €27/$36.

Okay, off to Oz!

Je suis en France

I made it here in one piece, and so did my luggage luckily.

So I’m in France now and mulling over what the next few years of my life are going to look like. As you can tell, I’ve been quite busy with my preparations – so much so that I haven’t written a blog post in about 6 weeks. Trying to learn French, save up some money, and reduce my life down to two suitcases is hard work, trust me.

My trip here was pretty good, starting out on a leg from Washington National to Miami where I was lucky enough to get bumped up to First. Some wine helped my jitters and the salmon salad sufficed for my midday snack/meal (you know how I eat).

Three hours in Miami went by quickly with last-minute calls and texts to family and then I was off to Madrid. A crying two-year-old in the aisle ahead of me didn’t help to get me to bed immediately, but the flight attendant recognized my trouble and offered me some more wine on the house despite being in coach on that leg (that was the Kyle discount – Joe, Dad, you know about that).

After three pleasant hours of speaking Spanish at Barajas, I boarded my last flight to Rennes and met a lovely French lady who was quite quiet until I tried out my “peu de français” and did alright for myself. She wished me “bon voyage” at our parting and was a nice, welcoming face for my new homeland.

Finally, I got myself to Vannes, met my advisor at the train station and went off to the lab to get an idea of where I would be working and with whom. I have to say that the people there at the lab were less than celebratory at my arrival, though I don’t mean to say I expected a party or anything; however, an offer to show me around would have been appreciated if nothing else. Nonetheless, my lab-mates seem to be smiley young people with varying degrees of English knowledge that I hope I can take advantage of (working my way across the gradient as I improve in my own knowledge of French).

For now, I leave all my friends with a far-off “hello” saying that I already miss you all. Please keep me in your prayers that the Lord may bless the friendships that I am about to make, and that He will mature them to that which I enjoy with all of you. I’m guessing that I’ll be updating this often over the next little while, so stay tuned for pictures and more stories.

Blessings to you all. Allez, bon week-end! (my first colloquial French)

Yeah, Paris

So Paris was interesting. I didn’t get to do much, given the short time I was there, and the fact that I had to worry about a lost bag. However, BA’s donation of €150 to my clothing fund was well-received, even if I have yet to see my bag.

Thursday I headed to Cafe Signes, a deaf cafe on the South side of Paris. Unfortunately, they don’t serve dinner, but I met an American couple there and we grabbed some dinner at a cafe down the street. I’ll meet up with them later in Madrid.

Friday I visited Montmartre, Notre Dame, the Pompidou Centre, and went to Disneyland Paris in the afternoon for a slice of home and some English. I had a great time in the park, and gave Nicole a call (to her surprise) to say hi. I’ll have to head down to Orlando before school starts again.

Yesterday I did a bit of shopping for new (clean) clothes and a bag to haul them with, and headed to the airport early to check on the status of my lost bag. The baggage agent at CDG said that the bag had made its way to Paris, but it was not locatable at the time – he agreed to send it on to Madrid to meet me there.

So now I’m waiting to board my flight to Madrid. I hope to see my bags there when I arrive and have a grand time in a city with a familiar language. Stay tuned.

Having Fun in London Town

Okay folks so I’m a bit late on the update. It has been a heck of a couple of days full of good fun; hence I’ve had no time to check in.

London was a great time for sure. I arrived early Saturday morning to Heathrow which was just as much of a mess as everyone says it can be (and I’m used to LAX!). My hostel wasn’t ready to accept me at 10 am but I took a shower and left my things for later, heading out on the town to meet up with Joe’s friends. I stopped into Starbucks for a quick dose of caffeine and got back on the tube with my day pass in hand (at £5.15 it was a great deal compared to the £4 one-way – for those of you playing along at home, £1 roughly converts to $2).

First stop was Buckingham Palace which I thought was a bit like the White House – you stop by and realize there’s nothing to do, then keep walking. Of course, I happened to arrive during the official anniversary celebration of 54 years since the Queen’s coronation, and tons of people were camped out on the surrounding lawns. There was no mention of this, and I chalked it up to wacky Commonwealthers not being able to get enough of watching the Palace for signs of life. Certainly nobody would do that in the States, but there seems to be something in the water across the pond here.

Next was Westminster Abbey with its gaudy tombs and shrines. I guess it was nice to see where such greats as William Wilberforce is buried and it certainly wasn’t something I would have missed, but the £7 price tag brought a sense of disdain for the Sterling, and pride that a city such as Washington is so entirely free.

I met James at the prescribed time of 1 pm and we walked towards the London Eye while munching on our sandwiches. A scoot back across the Thames took us to Trafalgar Square (where something happened a long time ago) and Covent Garden (where rich people go to shop for brands that are cheaper in the States). Through SoHo we trekked, stopping to have some water on the hot and humid day in the city (apparently I brought the warmest of weather with me – so much so that half of the city was shirtless).

I quickly understood why so many say that I’d fit in well here – the look in London is put-together and slim. I’m not sure what I think of some of the fashion choices, but I can appreciate the dares for what they’re worth, and the much more standard fit of clothing than one might see Stateside.

I went home to take a brief nap before heading to dinner and clubbing with James and company. Dinner was great – a vegan place called Maggie’s that had a great choice of dishes – and clubbing was wild – who’dathunk that there’d be great Latin dancers hanging out in London. I climbed aboard a bus to get home and, with the help of two local women, reached the doorstep in good time (4 am).

The next morning was late and I had to hurry to change my room from a booking snafu. I “chucked” my stuff into the new room (according to the Aussie at the front) and grabbed some more Starbucks to perk me up (pun totally intended). It was another beautiful day out and Hyde Park became my oasis in the city on the way to the Tate Modern. Unfortunately, I arrived just a few days too early for an exhibit showing a timeline of photos of the world’s big cities and how they’ve grown (LA being one of the featured), but browsed through the free galleries with a smile on my face. Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, and others were on display in the permanent collections, housed in an incredible old warehouse. The Design Museum down the street was also a stop, but left a bit to be desired – oh well, I had to see it anyway.

A half-hour walk landed me at St. Paul’s, the gem of London (if perhaps only from the inside). The halls are adorned pristinely but I unfortunately missed visiting hours since I was there on a Sunday. I didn’t feel appropriate going to the upcoming service in what I was wearing, so my stay was brief and not photographed.

Back at the hostel, I met my new roommates: a cool kid from Buena Park, CA and Kay, a Johannesburg transplant who was reading The Purpose-Driven Life (which I just picked up to read during my time in Nairobi). We didn’t talk long as I had to get some rest before arising at 6 am the next morning to get on my flight in time. Some more congestion at Heathrow and not hearing my boarding announcement in the BA Terrace Lounge almost got me in trouble, but I managed to get on my flight in time and safely here to Kenya.

This post has become much too long to detail anything that Kenya has shown me, so I’ll save that for tomorrow. Things happen both quickly and slowly around here, so I’m excited for what is to come – I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Until then, Peace.