the last breakfast

my last breakfast, my last espresso, my last pain au chocolat.
yesterday i was lucky enough to spend the day in paris (thanks mom & dad!) i met up with some friends from pitt who are interning in paris this summer and spent a solid 5 hours at the musée d’orsay taking in all of the art that i studied in my art history class.  it was awesome.

but now, i am sitting in the charles de gaulle airport with my 15 minutes of free internet. here’s to say that my breakfast cost 7.50€ which is exactly how many euros i had left. yessssss. i am euro free!

just an 8 hour flight, 3 hour layover, and another hour and a half flight and i’ll be in…



post-france abbey

well my friends, my blog readers, my mom,

tomorrow is my last day in france.
tonight is my last night in nantes.
now that i’m done with my classes, the city has become even more beautiful. i’m definitely going to miss it.  i went on my last run tonight with my friend claire, which is where this photo is from. i have declared that spot my favorite spot in all of nantes. it is a bench looking over the river Erdre, and it is the turn around point on my run, so i often go and sit there for a little break (oops) from my run.

before i left, my roommate dominique (who i can’t wait to hug!!) referred to me as “pre-france abbey”.

well, now, i am very close to being “post-france abbey” and geez! it’s always strange to gauge personal growth, but i will continue to try as i have some time to reflect.

since i started college, i have occasionally felt the need to go. somewhere. anywhere. i find school to be overwhelming at times (especially last semester), and it is such a privilege to be able to take a retreat from it. last summer it was san diego, this summer it is france.

both this summer and last i experienced two very different worlds from the one i live in pittsburgh, so different i sometimes swear i could/can feel my spirit-mind-soul-heart expanding.

all these experiences i’ve been tacking on to my life (or crossing off my bucket list) have been in some ways very different, but in the important ways exactly the same.  because the big life lessons for me have always been simply a reminder of something i’ve known for a while now:

1. people are just people
2. God is still God

no matter where you go.

i have been me
God has been God

the significance of these two things is incredibly far-reaching, because it encompasses, in my opinion, the entirety of human experience. all of my hopes, fears, joys, sadness, stress, rest are involved in me being me, and how that experience interacts with the existence of God.

the “post-france abbey” has just been more deeply reminded of that; better educated on those two subjects. obviously there are a lot of details that go along with that, details that i’m not going to share with the internet. but feel free to ask me upon my return and you can get the full story of france, if you’d like, photos included. maybe i’ll make you some crêpes.


wrapping up

i have just three days left in france! i should be studying for my two exams tomorrow, so i’m blogging instead. typical.

maybe you’ve heard this story:
“i just got back from [insert foreign country] and america is the WORST”
a sort of reverse culture shock.
i really thought this was going to be me, because i knew i was going to love france, and i do, but i don’t think this will be my reaction.

let me explain to you a little of why.

today, in my art history class, we discussed the french painter Gauguin. here is one of his paintings for reference:

my professor told us that Gauguin had an intense dislike of french culture, so he spent his time painting other cultures (like tahiti, which he left after a few years because he felt it was becoming too “french”) i asked her if there was a specific reason why he disliked french culture (est-ce qu’il y a un raison particulier pourquoi il n’aimait pas la culture française?), and she took 10 minutes to explain to me some of the issues with french culture during the 19th century, and today.

to preface, she is the most stereotypical french person that i’ve met here. she wears berets and speaks very little english (she asked me what the word for football was in english – soccer – and she said she thought that was chausettes – socks – too precious.)
she told us that, often, the french were/are perceived as pretentious and prideful and that, during the 19th century, they were very into “keeping up appearances.” for example, prostitution in france during this time period was incredibly prevalent and popular, but was never discussed or mentioned.  this is what Gauguin disliked, the false pride.

right, i get that.
i’m not sure how that thought and the following go together, but…
she continued on to discuss modern french culture and the love/hate of america in france.  she said there is a sort of adoration for america that exists in france, and many other countries in the world, but that many french people find america to be too materialistic.  which is interesting, because many americans might find french people a little materialistic, because they are very focused on looks; the look of cities, of themselves, of buildings, of flowers.  which is probably why it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world. even within this, i would agree that they aren’t as materialistic as the united states. how?

is “materialism” acceptable for the sake of art?
because if it is, i think they’re just fine. that’s what i’ve perceived french materialism as.
the one thing i’ve loved about france is that when i am outside, in the city, in cafés, les chateaûx, anywhere, i feel like i am in a piece of art.
(there’s actually a tourism poster for the loire valley in my school where the slogan is “ici, vivre est un art” – here, to live is an art)
america’s materialism, to me, has no sense of beauty, and no real sense of purpose. while the french (this is generally speaking) prize high quality things, americans prize high quantity.

obviously, this is not why i love america. i love america because one can be free to be casual. when you are focused on creating something so particular and making sure it’s beautiful, it requires a lot of focus. not everything has to be perfect or have an idyllic beauty. everything can be whatever it wants, kind of mish-mashed together which is an idea that america was founded on. and there is a certain sense of beauty in that. it is the sense of casualness about american culture that i love. making friends is easy, you can smile at people in the street, you can wear whatever you want. there are social rules here that make those things difficult.

anyways, my professor went on to say that we can reinvent america into whatever we want, to remove the more negative aspects. while i don’t really like the materialism that exists in america, it’s my home, the place where i have the most influence, and where i contribute to the culture in my own small way.  the negative things i perceive in america emanate from me too, because it is mine – more than my place of residence, but where i’m fully invested. i am both a product and a creator of my culture. i feel like i’m walking away from my experience in france with a fuller concept of american culture, both the good and the bad.

also, this is a photo of the café where we sat and talked about art for an hour or two, and that is my professor on the right. i would, please, like to be her when i grow up. the café is called La Cigale (the cicada) named after a story by Fontaine about La Cigale et Le Fourmi (the cicada and the ant) where the ant worked hard all day, while the cicada just sat around and sang. it was built in 1895 and is directly across from the opera hall, in reflection of the singing of the cicada. it is absolutely gorgeous. i had breakfast here today, and then the most incredible hot chocolate i’ve ever had in my whole life this afternoon with my art history class. needless to say, today was a good day.

taking the bus

oh public transit! if you’ve spent a decent amount of time on a bus or subway, you understand. 

france definitely has one of the best public transit systems i’ve encountered. paris, particularly. here in nantes i take a 15-25 minute bus ride to and from school everyday. in some ways it’s similar to my experience taking the bus to work in san diego last summer, as it is actually my form of transportation. i typically enjoy it but there’s always some funny/awkward occurrences which i will recount for you now.

1) children frequent public transit in nantes, all by themselves, and in their classes for fieldtrips.  i once got on a bus with three different classes of 6 or 7 years old (probably about 40 kids!) it’s absolutely outrageous. and something about children speaking french is unbearably cute! but it is not uncommon to see an 8 or 9 year old on the bus by themselves.

2) i got on the bus one morning, normal, walked to the back, but noticed that everyone on the bus was looking around strangely. not normal. whatever. i took my place, standing, near the middle accordion (i always stand in the accordion – it’s SO FUN) then, an old woman picks up a weird metal thing that was on the floor, takes it up the driver. then everyone gets up and walks off the bus. no one said anything, and i have no idea what happened. anyways, i walked to school. weird.

3) there’s a funny thing about french people is that they are very cold in public places or walking on streets or on the bus. they don’t smile or greet you or generally say anything. probably why they have a reputation of being mean. anyways, because of this, it’s very strange when you smile at someone or talk to them. when i got on the bus today, there was a mildly mentally handicapped man who was greeting everyone who got on the bus, and he told me “tu es belle” – you’re beautiful. a little uncomfortable, but it’s the warmest french personality i’ve encountered so far. he repeated the compliment later and asked how i was doing. 

too funny. pittsburgh public transit is a little more… rough around the edges? i’ll go with that. not looking forward to returning to good ol’ PAT but i am looking forward to being home in pittsburgh in a little more than a week! can’t believe how fast the last 5 weeks have gone!!! 

french women. french men.

there are a few questions i have/a few things i don’t understand about french women:

1. how is it that they take their evening jog in scarves and giant hoop earrings?
2. how is it that they run in either full out spandex suits, or full out track suits? do running shorts not exist here?
3. when did high-heel sneakers come into style?
4.  the P.D.A… it’s ridiculous

there are a few questions i have/a few things i don’t understand about french men:

1. has cat-calling ever gotten you a date?
2. how is smoking a pipe on your walk to work convenient?
3. why do they wear running shorts and the women don’t?
4. again, the P.D.A… it’s ridiculous

these are all questions i asked myself today. no answers.

why i don’t like facebook (or, why i delete my facebook when i’m sad) [or, on hearing God in the small things]; an essay

to preface, there’s probably nothing inherently wrong with facebook. but i do know a few things about myself and about my feelings and about facebook, so that’s all i have to offer you behind my reasoning for the long novel that follows:

people have asked me many a time why i deleted my facebook (when it’s gone) or why i don’t like facebook (when i have it).  it’s complicated, and the casual questioner probably doesn’t want to hear all of this, but if you’re interested, feel free to read on! and maybe consider taking some time off, so i’m not the only one, standing in a group of people who are discussing something and you go “sorry, what?” and they say “didn’t you get the facebook invite?”

my first break from facebook was in october of last year when i did a month long media fast (no twitter, facebook, movies, tv, music videos, pinterest). i didn’t delete it, it stayed online, i just used my will-power and commitment to not log on.

after that, i got back on facebook, which was a sigh of relief. i had missed it. it was an nbd, whatevs, good to be back kind of feeling.

but then, whenever i was sad (about the state of the world, my life, my friends’ lives, whatever, normal things you occasionally feel sad about) i felt like facebook was some huge burden that i didn’t want at all. i felt tied down to it. weird, i know.

i told myself these things:

“i can’t delete my facebook! how will i keep in touch with my friends??? i would miss SO MANY events!!!!!! how will i know what’s going on with everyone i know?!!?”

also, more reasonably:

“it’s a great way to show people my interest in their lives, to catch up with people, to love people, to foster friendships, etc.”

that thought of “i can’t live without facebook” made me very uncomfortable, so, for a few months, i went back and forth on whether or not i wanted it and whether or not it was an issue that i did want it.

january came, and i was, again, just sad (you know, life! nothing super particular. i was probably reading the news or something.) i got the urge, that tiny voice inside that tells me – “delete your facebook!”

i remember wondering if it was the voice of God, or if it was just an urge

so i wrote it on my to-do list for the day (i was at school at the time)

            “delete your facebook”

for proof, here it is. 5 up from the bottom of this lovely photo from un journée dans ma vie – my planner; this particular monday hosted 18 “to-dos”
even has a ? after it, just to show my uncertainty

well, by the time i got home from school, the mood had passed (i think i bought a lollipop on my way home from school, always puts me in a good mood!) so i didn’t delete my facebook.

there are times in my life when i’m pretty sure i hear God. they happen when:

            1) i ask God where He is and then
2) He tells me, and i (typically) ignore it for a while until He tells me again and again and again.

that was this day – i knew what i was supposed to do (delete my facebook) but i was in a better mood, so i said “psshhhh NO, i neeeeed my facebook”

then, i got a text message from the guy i was dating, telling me that he had deleted his facebook, “just so you know”

well i had told him nothing of what i was thinking on the subject, so it was too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, you know?

so, i said “ok, God, i’m getting the picture”

and deleted my facebook

obviously, i’ve been back on facebook for a while now. and i will, no doubt, go back on again. since i’ve been in a foreign country, it is definitely convenient for communication. but, still, even here, i deleted it for a day (then realized it was actually quite impractical as my friend was trying to send me info about train tickets and i was being unreasonably hard to contact)

why is facebook so burdensome, you may wonder? maybe for you it isn’t, maybe for you it’s cherries and apple pie, or maybe to you it’s nothing.

i’ve reflected on this quite a lot, and here is why i don’t like facebook, or why i delete it when i’m sad:

            1) i love my friends. i love sharing things with them and talking to them about their lives, and i don’t like that they read/see my adventures from photos i’m tagged in without me being able to personally share those things with them. and vice versa. i don’t want to hear about new relationships, breakups, life happenings through facebook. i want to hear about it from my friend if they want to tell me.

            2) facebook feeds my vanity. now, i wouldn’t typically describe myself as a vain person, but facebook occasionally turns me into one. “which profile picture looks best?” “ew untagging myself from that picture” etc. etc.

            3) facebook is a very superficial story of my life. someone can look back through almost 5 years of my life and get some sort of impression of the occurences, but it would all be simply a façade of what actually happened. they wouldn’t really know or understand anything about my life, but they might think that they do, and that makes me uncomfortable. i want to give off an impression of me as i am, not as my facebook says i am.  it is a constant reminder of the “old” abbey which is the abbey that i am in a constant pursuit to better.  people are capable of change, and i feel that facebook holds on to this old, outdated image of who i am, who quietly tells me i can’t change and that i haven’t changed.

still, i brought it back and probably will bring it back because it is incredibly convenient and i like having so many pictures in one place, as it is a nice documentation of my life from my perspective, because i own all the narration. and having it isn’t bad – the bad i saw was in the fact that i felt like i needed it.

i don’t.

i want to have friendships that work through other means besides the superficial format of facebook

i want to write letters and e-mails, directed to individuals who i care about

i want to share my photos and my stories at the same time.

i don’t want my facebook to be me… because it’s a poor representation.

maybe i’ve thought about this too much (probably) and maybe i’ve taken something small and turned it into something big (again, probably) but it’s not entirely logical – it’s more emotional than anything else. i feel freedom in knowing that i don’t have to have my facebook, and i feel free when i get to delete it.

i’m still not entirely sure what God is teaching me and has taught me through taking breaks from this aspect of my social life, but i do know that i’m trying to follow him as best as i can and that he has been faithful to me, even when i have been unfaithful.

john 10:27 – “my sheep hear my voice, and i know them, and they follow me.”


Tagged ,

mont saint-michel

yesterday, our group went on an excursion to Mont Saint-Michel which is an abbey (it was a very confusing day) 2 hours north of nantes.

so you can geek out a little, minas tirith as depicted in the third lord of the rings was based off of mont saint-michel. i could see a bit of the resemblance, especially on the interior.

it’s not only an interesting establishment (the history is long and complicated) but it is also really interesting geographically. there is a natural land bridge, but it used to be the case that when the tide came in, it would cover it at a rate of a meter (3.28 feet) a second. people still get caught in sand and stuff and drown

there’s also some interesting farming/animal raising stuff associated with the geography, but i won’t geek out about that here.  ask me if you want 😉

this map is a little deceptive; it’s on this funny little arm that stretches out into the “ocean” which isn’t really ocean at all, but giant plains of collected silt. during the tide it’s more of an ocean, and  there’s a government project to turn it back into more of an island, but when we were there, this was the view into the “ocean”:

crazy, no? when we were being prepped to go and see this, we were told that, no matter how appealing, we were absolutely not allowed to walk on the sand, because there is a legitimate hazard of quick sand.  the tide in this area is all over the place, and the sand is constantly moving.  there are tours that you can take, with a guide who apparently is an expert in sand, across the plains.  you can see the group a little in the photo above, but here’s a close-up:


during the 19th century, the island was used as a prison, but since 1966, it has been re-inhabited by monks, right now they are the “Les Fraternités Monastiques de Jerusalem” who have, according to an online history, been on mont saint-michel “ensuring a spiritual presence since 2001.”

too funny.

while there, i couldn’t help but think of the hymn “my hope is built on nothing less”

i didn’t remember the name of it, but we occasionally sing it at church and there’s a line in it that kept coming to mind. it says:

“on christ, the solid rock i stand.
all other ground is sinking sand.”

la rochelle


today we went to la rochelle, a small city by the sea. it was absolutely gorgeous! tomorrow we’re headed to mt. saint michel – super excited!


so this weekend was the confirmation of my 13 year old host brother, and i was lucky enough to be a part of the celebrations. on saturday, we went to the 2 hour long service where 174 young nantais were confirmed in the catholic church. it was in the biggest cathedral in Nantes, St Pierre and St Paul, which was originally built in 580.  ridiculous.  it was absolutely gorgeous and i was comfortably smushed in a pew between a grandma and an aunt.

before my arrival in france, i had never attended mass, but i’ve gone every week since i’ve gotten here and have enjoyed the experience.  it’s better for my language because the service follows a very consistent pattern and i can read along with most of it, and it gives me a chance to not just see some of the important architecture of the city, but also to experience it.

anyways, it was also super neat because i knew that, across the city, 174 different families were celebrating the exact same thing at the same time, and i got to be a part of one of them.  we had a HUGE lunch; it started with champagne, and then ratatouille (everyone else had rabbit; some days i’m happy to be a vegetarian) with wine that was almost as old as me (1993!) and bread (obviously) followed by a cheese course with the best cheese i’ve ever eaten in my whole life, and then dessert of two different kinds of cake and some butter sugar flour caramel thing that melts in your mouth, and then a nice round of coffee.

i think the fastest way to my heart is through food, because i’m in love.

i’m in love with confirmations, reasons to celebrate, four course meals, french families, and bread.

this same type of lunch was mirrored again today, so, needless to say, i was very very very happy to go on a nice long run (and a littler flâner (leisurely walking)) with my friend claire today.  i’ve been running a decent amount, and my friend michael showed me this trick for your keys. i think it might work better with my keys for school, but it gets the job done. i still think it’s super cool that i get to open my door with this huge key everyday!

the real work

maybe you know this about me, but wendell berry is, if i had to choose, my favorite author. my brother, tim, introduced me to him in highschool and i’ve always found his essays to be incredibly insightful.  i’ve also enjoyed his poetry and some of his fiction, but i’ve been thinking about this poem recently and thought i’d share it.  encourage you to check him out – you are welcome to borrow a book or two from my personal library in pittsburgh when i return, if you’d like.

the real work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.


wendell berry