Monday, July 21, 2014

Villa & Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild

In June Meredith had a grad party. They watched the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It takes place on the French Riviera and she called and asked me if I had visited the town of "Beaumont-sur-Mer" last year while I was here. With a bit of Googling we realized that Beaumont-sur-Mer is a fictitious town created for the movie but that yes, I have either been to or passed through many of the places where the filming took place.

When I arrived in France and actually had time, I watched the movie myself. I recognized a few of the locations and made a mental note to try and check out some of the other places. A few days later the family I work for announced they were going sightseeing and asked if I wanted to go with them. I took them up on the offer at the last minute and we headed towards Cap-Ferrat which I thought sounded vaguely familiar. I didn't know where we were going but since I was just along for the ride I didn't think very much of it. I figured it would be good to see the area and then maybe when I had a day off I could go explore the area on my own.

 Well it turns out our destination was the Villa and Gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild which was one of the specific filming locations for the movie!!! It's not the main house (that's a private villa according to Wikipedia) but it was still used in the movie. How cool.

The villa is gorgeous. Aside from the fascinating history and the dancing fountains that do a choreographed water show every twenty minutes, the gardens are gorgeous. It was a super hot day but we had fun exploring this beautiful spot together. I definitely understand why they used it in the movie.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

#28 Visit Great Britain

Number 28 on My List is "Visit Great Britain." I realize that, like with many of the things on this list, it's pretty vague and unspecific. Therefore, even though "Great Britain" has a lot more to explore than just London, I'm officially crossing it off my list. It's like learning French. It will be a life long pursuit. But, even though this was only my first visit to London, I managed to see quite a bit. I took a number of walking tours so I feel relatively familiar with the downtown area. I visited the Parliament, Westminster Abbey, The Monument,
and the National and Portrait Galleries. In general I liked the city. There's tons to see and you'd never be bored. However, I also found it extremely expensive and rather overwhelming. Plus I was annoyed with having to use the pound. I do want to go back and explore some more. Maybe it will be better next time when I know better what to expect.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Divided Identities: Reflections on D-Day

Juno Beach, Normandy, France
A year ago today I was on the beaches of Normandy. Like many others before me I made the pilgrimage to site of the D-Day landings to see the area where so many soldiers lost their lives. For the Allies that was a day of victory. The day Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was breached and the push inland began. My friends and I were staying in Paris so we rented a car and drove to the coast. We had to be up before 5am in order to make it to the airport to pick up our rental car and make it out to Courseulles-sur-Mer, also known as Juno Beach, where the Canadian memorial ceremonies were taking place.

Eric, Heidi, Heather, Caitlin and Brendan.
We had spent the previous two weeks touring other First and Second World War battle sites, cemeteries and war memorials in the Netherlands, Belgium and the North of France. Flanders, Ypres, Passchendaele, Theipval, Beaumont-Hamel, Vimy Ridge, Dieppe, the Scheldt Estuary, we had seen literally thousands of grave markers and hundreds of thousands of names engraved in monuments. We had even toured two German Cemeteries to give us the contrast of how the “other side” remembered.

Throughout this time I was reminded of why I am proud to be Canadian. Why I wear a maple leaf and can proudly sing “God Save the Queen.” The Canadian contributions to these wars are undeniable even if my professors at Georgia Southern University had omitted any mention of it during my recent exchange. But under it all I was unsettled. Being Canadian, and being on this tour, meant embracing my British roots. It meant focusing on the “ready aye ready” aspect of my country’s response to the declarations of war and being ready to serve for God and King. It meant presenting a paper on the experience and sacrifice of my great-great-great uncle Edward Shannon Grant who was killed during the infamous last 100 Days of the Great War. It meant suppressing the other half of me. The German/Eastern European side that didn’t quite fit with the Allied view of how the events of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 had played out and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that so I just ignored it.

Juno Beach Centre, Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, France
June 6, 2013 was a cool clear day. Being the 69th anniversary there were a respectable number of visitors at the Juno Beach Centre. Veterans and dignitaries, tourists and locals, we all gathered together to remember. We arrived with plenty of time to secure a decent seat and seek out our Professor who was also there with another tour group. After the ceremony which was similar to the familiar November 11th Remembrance Day ceremonies back home, we toured the museum and then made our way down to the beach. We joined in the reception and visited a bit before heading out.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Our next stop was Omaha Beach where the American ceremony was just ending. The contrast between the two sites and the approach was striking. The American Cemetery is perched high on a cliff above the beach where as the Canadian centre is just steps away from the sand. The American Cemetery reminded me a lot of Washington, DC and even had a mini reflecting pool. The guide we talked to explained that for many French and other Europeans, this cemetery is the closest they will come to the United States and the goal of the design of the area was to give them both a feel for the American style of memorialization and to be a tribute to all of the fallen. A little bit of American on French soil for the soldiers that are buried there and for those that visit.
Me on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

On the beach we took off our shoes (or in my case boots) and waded in the water. I imagined the waves lapping stained with the blood of the fallen and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be there on that day in 1944. A bit further down the beach were a couple of German soldiers also with their boots off enjoying the sand and surf. I joked with them that their boots were going to get wet and we started chatting. They were university students in Hamburg and had signed up for a tour where they would go and lay commemorative wreathes at a series of cemeteries in Northern France. We chatted a bit about travelling and the sites they were visiting. I wanted to ask them so much more. What was it like to be representing the “losing side.” Is that how they saw it? What did they feel about their countries involvement in these wars? How did it feel to come to these places and know that young men their age were buried there. Of course I couldn’t. It wasn’t the time or the place but I still wonder.
La Cambe German War Cemetery

They had mentioned that there was a large German War Cemetery close by so after we finished at Omaha Beach, we headed out into the countryside to find it. After a few wrong turns and a stop at a small museum for directions, we finally found La Cambe. It was massive. Over 20,000 graves all in flat black stone with a large mound of earth in the centre. We each split off and wandered the site lost in our own reflection. I recorded in my diary that the idea of “sacrifice for God and country” that was so prevalent in the Commonwealth cemeteries was missing there and instead there is just an intense feeling of sadness.
The memorial in the center of the La Cambe cemetery
In the visitors centre we looked at pictures of German War cemeteries all around the world. France, Belgium, Egypt, Italy, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada…wait KITCHENER??? There’s a German War Cemetery in our hometown? Wow. We made it back to Paris that night and I received news that my sister-in-law was in labour. A day of remembering the dead and a new life was about to make its appearance. Cue the Lion King.

German War Graves at Woodland Cemetery, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
A year later here I am finally sitting in that cemetery in Kitchener. The orderly row of stubby stone crosses spread out before me in a similar style to the ones all over Western Europe. In that weeks following my visit to Normandy I was able to visit Germany. I went to Bremen and then to Bremerhaven (the port of Bremen) where in 1953 my maternal grandparents had boarded the Beaverbrae to leave war torn Europe and make a new life in Canada. I visited Gockenholz and Beeden-Bostel. The tiny settlements (I hesitate to even call them towns considering how small they are) where they had lived and farmed in the years following Germany’s defeat and the church where they had been married. I spent almost a week in Berlin exploring and soaking in answers to the questions I had wanted to ask those soldiers on Omaha Beach about how Germany remembers. How they remember, acknowledge, and move on. How they talk about the events of their history but don’t dwell on them instead looking to a better tomorrow. And I found a way to reconcile the two sides of me. To acknowledge that without these massive conflicts Europe wouldn’t have been torn apart and my Great Grandparents wouldn’t have been forced to flee Estonia and then Poland. That Grandpa Bergner may never have left his little town in the south of Germany and found himself working for a farmer in the north where he met a tall handsome woman named Elsa. And they wouldn’t have needed to come to Canada, sponsored by the Lutheran church as refugees, repaying their passage by working on a sugar beet farm in Alberta. And ultimately moving to Edmonton where my parents were able to meet and have me.

So I sit and I look at these stones and I am thankful that even though I had family on both sides of the conflict, they were protected and now I can sit in a town that used to be called Berlin, and is now named after a British Army officer, in a country I am proud to call my own, and embrace my divided identity: the British side and the German side and all the other parts in between. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

New Theory

As I get closer to my university graduation the big question on everyone's minds seems to be where I am going to live when I'm finished. They all want to know where I'm going to end up. I admit it's been frustrating me a lot. I don't KNOW. I have some ideas of the type of job I want to have but I'm lost as to where I should be. I like Ontario a lot but I don't feel like it's my forever home. BC will always be where I'm "from" and I know I would be welcomed back there any time with open arms but I don't really feel like it's where I need to be in the near future. I'm not sure where that leaves me and the idea of picking somewhere else to live hasn't been all that appealing lately either.

Recently I've realized something. I don't HAVE to decide. I don't have to live in one place. I can continue to be nomadic and live here and there for as long as I want. A few of the jobs I have in mind are shorter term opportunities which would entail moving a lot. I'm very much okay with this. I'm sure a lot of people aren't and won't be but I'm not living their life.

I had lunch today with a friend who is in the process of completing his Phd and starting to look at life after school. All he wants is a secure 9-5 job where he has guaranteed income on a bi-weekly basis. It was interesting to explain to him that I DON'T desire that. I had a secure job and I left it for this adventure. Financially it's probably not been the best decision I've ever made but I know it's been the right one for my mental stability and I honestly can say that I love my life and I'm ready to embrace the next adventure. Whether it makes people comfortable or not.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Lent update: first fail

Gah! I knew Sunday's would be a challenge. Most Sundays after church we have a potluck. It's wonderful to try different types of food but wow is it hard to avoid cheese! I accidentally took some Greek salad that had feta on it. I still ate it because it wasn't really that much but I was still annoyed with myself. I didn't even realize it until I was halfway down the buffet line when I almost took a slice of cheese. I caught myself on that and then realized I couldn't eat any of the lasagna, potato casseroles and a lot of other stuff. Still when I got my plate back to my table I looked at it and realized it was FULL of amazing goodness. Lots of veggies, a cabbage roll, and even meat. Avoiding cheese has to be a conscious decision but I sure don't feel like I was missing out on anything.

Afterwards I texted my friend Steph to admit my "transgression" and she asked if I was "still keeping it up" (meaning Lent). I replied that of course I was. A little slip doesn't mean I am going to quit entirely. It just makes me hyper vigilant for next time.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

This is why Facebook is wonderful

I met someone, in a pub in Quebec, almost three years ago now. We had a brief but interesting chat mostly connecting over the fact that we were both from Waterloo. We friended each other on FB and have had superficial contact ever since. Tonight we actually got together for dinner and it was lovely. He's just as interesting as he was back then (probably more since he's been elected as president of the Student Union at his university) and it was great to catch up. Without FB, as with so many other people that were on the program with us, I'd still be wondering where he was at or would have forgotten about him all together. This way I was able to have a nice meal and share what's been going on in our lives. I know you don't necessarily want to stay connected with everyone you meet in life but sometimes, when they're good people, it's nice to not lose touch.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Lent 2014

So I've never participated in Lent. It's not something that my church observes but I find the practice quite fascinating. I have a lot of friends who observe it and I've decided that this year, I would like to as well. I haven't blogged in awhile so I'm going to share some of the things I'm already doing as lifestyle choices and then I'll share what I'm actually doing, just for the season of Lent. 

Since last April or so I have been reading Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest" daily devotional. In the beginning I was journalling a bit each day which was a great way to really let the truths in that book sink in. Since getting back to Ontario/school, I find I don't have the time to journal so instead I've taken to keeping the book in the bathroom and reading it while I'm brushing my teeth. Probably not particularly spiritual but you know what? I do it every day and it's part of my routine now.

A common Lenten (and New Years) commitment is to exercising and diet. In the past month I've already been exercising fairly regularly (using the treadmill at the gym and participating in an online 30 day fitness challenge via FB) and I will step up my efforts once the weather warms up. I'm consciously cutting down on sugar and flour just as a basic lifestyle choice because I don't NEED them. Protein and veggies are where it's at. Those are long term changes that I don't intend to just observe for forty days though. 

I'd like to actually give something up though. Something that feels like a sacrifice and that can be a reminder for WHY I am doing this. My choice this year is cheese. I love cheese. In fact cheese (all cheese) is my favourite food. France is one of my favourite countries because they have 360 types of cheese there!!! So, for the season of Lent I will not purchase any cheese. This is also a budget decision because I don't actually have any cheese in the fridge right now (really weird for me) and it's crazy expensive so I'm better off not buying it. I'll also make conscious decisions to not have dishes with cheese on them when I'm out (which means no poutine either...that's a good thing too :P) I'm not going off cheese for forever but it will be a good exercise. And when I get an urge to eat cheese I will seek out more information on learning about WHY we observe Lent.

So that's my plan. Wish me luck!