Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Quatre Mois Plus Tard

As I was shuffling through the crap on my shelf that I have accumulated over my past 8 months, I found the CD of pictures that Romain made for me for Valentine's Day, and then the memories leashed out. I want to share some pictures that are on the CD. The pictures are from our trip to Paris, Disneyland Paris and a couple other moments, so that dates them to about 4-5 months ago. Mind you, these are pictures taken from an iPhone, so the quality is far from fabulous, but it's the memories that are important to me.

Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland Paris is much more spectacular than the castle in Anaheim. It is much taller and looks more royal. Although, I must say that Disneyland Paris lacks the magic that is at Anaheim's Disneyland. We still had a blast, though. That just means I must take Romain to Disneyland back home =)

During the Lyon "Fête des Lumières" in December, the city's huge Parc Tête d'Or had an installation of fire. It was beautiful, magical and mysterious. In the pitch dark, you could see the firey gardens from a distance and you weren't sure what you were about to see. There were large rings of fire floating on the lake, firey lamps that lit up the paths, firey lamps hanging from the trees and other cool little gadgets that were all energized by the heat of fire. In this picture I am sitting in an iron-made chair that is warmed naturally by the oil lamps that you can see hanging on the right.

Not much explanation needed for the Eiffle Tower, but there it is, just on the other side of the Seine.

The sailboat pond just in front of the Louvre. It was cute to watch all the little kids using sticks to push the sailboats around so that they would catch the wind.

I look silly here, but I was really excited because this carousel was really pretty. It is pretty small, but I was fascinated by the lights. If you don't know, France LOVES carousels. They are everywhere.

The Notre Dame tried to get in our picture.

There are not many pictures, which is dommage (a bummer), but I am still glad that I have these memories to share. Something that I really should have invested in this year is a camera, but oh well, next time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Last night I had a dream that I was already back home. In the dream I had just arrived and I was meeting up with friends and family that I hadn't seen in a while. However, it felt like I had been home the whole time and I couldn't even remember France. I could not conjure one imagine of France. It was like it never happened.

In the dream I was extremely sad. Here I have been, talking about how excited I am to go home, when I know when I return home, I am going to miss France more than ever. When I woke up in my bed, still in the tiny Groupe Scolaire apartment where I live in Lyon, it was such a relief. I know that my next 6 weeks that remain here are going to fly by. I must soak in every positive charge of Lyon. France has given me so much. It has given me love. It has given me friendship. It has given me confidence. It has given me a second home.

I will not take France for granted. I hope that there will never arrive a time in my life when I can no longer imagine France. This place has become too important to me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Tree of Life

How does writing my opinion on a movie relate to my experience in France? Well, one of the perks about being in France during the Cannes Film Festival is that movies that premiere at the festival come out in theater before those in America. For this reason, Terrance Malik's new film, The Tree of Life, came out in theaters today and I got to see it. I don't believe it comes out until the 27th in the states.

So, I would like to write a few words about The Tree of Life. I am no film critic, but I just got back from seeing this movie about one hour ago and I can't stop thinking about it. I won't lie, at the end of the film I wasn't sure if I loved it or hated it. In fact, there were many at the Cannes Film Festival who booed it at the end. Do not let the "booing" alarm you, however, the film did end up winning the Palme d'Or. If you decide to see it, I warn you to prepare yourself for a long and complex, yet beautiful and emotional film.

It always irritates me when I walk out of a movie and think, "I just don't get it. I mean, I am a college-educated adult, I should understand," and this is what happened to me at the end of The Tree of Life. What you must understand though is that you cannot walk into the theater expecting a story that you will easily be able to summarize in the end because this was my mistake. This is not just a fictional story of comedy, romance or drama, this is simply a story of life. Many reviews I read called it an "impression," which I very much agree with; an impression of life in which every human being will be able to relate to. It is this relation that really affected me emotionally and what I believe made the movie such a success. We all have experienced love, struggle, hatred, camaraderie, curiosity and even moments in life when must make the choice between good and evil, and these emotions or experiences are exactly what the movie reminds us about. Besides pondering upon themes or the purpose of the story, this movie is just beautifully created. The cinematography, the photography, editing and music will easily please the eyes and ears.

I only wanted to add a few words of thought about the film, but if you would like an in depth review of The Tree of Life, watch that of Richard Roeper. He gives an excellent explanation of the film.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


A week ago my friend Devan and I took a weekend trip to the city of Avignon. If this name rings a bell, you might know it from the title of one of the most famous Picasso works, "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon."

Although Avignon did not carry any characteristic of brothels or prostitution, like in Picasso's painting, it was a cute city with an interesting history. It was not too large, and it was a nice quiet getaway in comparison to Lyon, but it still had its considerable amount of tourists.

In the 13th and 14th century Avignon had great importance for it's presence of Popes during the Catholic Schism. They lived in the "Palais des Popes" which is one of the city's main touristic attractions. Connected to the Palais is the famous bridge "Le Point d'Avignon." It is famous because it is actually only half of a bridge. It once connected to the island of Villeneuve-les-Avignon, which lies just on the other side of the Rhone (the same Rhone river that passes through Lyon), but apparently after several floods in the 1600's, it could not stand.

What I found fascinating about the city was that the medieval fortress walls, which once protected the city, were still in tact and beautifully preserved around the entire city center.

Devan and I arrived on the most perfect day : La Nuit des Musées - the night of museums. All museums in the city were free! =) Chez Le Musée Angladon, there was an exhibition on the photographs of Bonnard, Degas and Vuillard . This show was really interesting because these three artists are hardly known for photography, but known rather for their paintings during the post-impressionist period. I remember when studying the works of Degas that he was very much interested in photography and therefore painted in such a way that a camera would capture the scene that he was recreating, but I never imagined seeing an exhibition completely dedicated to his photographs. It was a wonderful idea for an exhibition and it showed the artistic and amicable relations among these three artists.

One of my favorite memories of Avignon was the wonderful smell and taste of lavender everywhere. Yes, I say taste because since the Provencal area in France (including Avignon) is known for their lavender fields, there were so many delicious treats of this aroma - lavender ice cream, lavender cookies, lavender candy, lavender pastis, lavender liqueur, lavender honey, lavender oil, etc... there were also your variety of lavender soaps, perfumes, lotions and cosmetics - I was quiet obsessed.

I was really pleased that I took this trip to Avignon. Because I don't have the largest salary, I hesitate to travel around France in fear of spending too much money, but I find it really important to take advantage of my French residency and visit as many cities as possible while I am here. I see France as a second home to me, who knows, someday I might have duel citizenship ;) and I must know more about the country outside from the knowledge gained from only visiting one or two cities.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Amsterdam: My Long Lost Home

This past week I visited Amsterdam. It had been a travel long waiting to happen and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to go. My original desire to go was sparked by the fact that my paternal ancestors migrated from the Netherlands to America back in the late 1800s and I wanted to visit their homeland. Now, my name "Venema" actually comes from the Northern Netherlands in Friesland, but why not visit Amsterdam, the capital that is full of culture, history and and awesome art scene. It turns out I love the place, and want to move there someday.

I honestly did not have any vision or idea of Amsterdam before arrival, so my first impression, set by the amazing "crooked" houses and beautiful canals, was off to a good start. The people were so nice, charming and genuine. We rented bikes in order to get around the city. It was really the best choice of transportation. It allowed us to really see the city, it's nooks and crannies. Of course we visited the central part of the city where you find downside of the city's reputation: sex shops/museums, red light district, coffeshops aka: weed zones and loads and loads of tourists, but to be honest, it was a good laugh, but not that impressive. We found this quarter in Jordaan called "9 straatjes," which we soon adopted as our area. There were adorable little boutiques everywhere, cool vintage stores, awesome art galleries, delicious real coffee shops and calm streets - a nice getaway from the touristy chaos in the center.

The Anne Frank House was so powerful and a must-see if you visit Amsterdam. If you are not familiar with the Anne Frank story, she was a young Jewish girl who was in hiding with her family in a house in Amsterdam for 2 years during the Holocaust. She kept a diary about her feelings, emotions and everyday life while in hiding, which was found after her death, and then published. I wasn't sure what to expect from the Anne Frank House, but the curators did an excellent job. The simplicity in design and the quotes from her diary throughout the house made the important story very easy for all ages to understand as well as very powerful. It was as if Anne was there, narrating her story and you just couldn't imagine how scary it was for her and her family during this war. At the end of the tour through the house, they have incorporated an installation on contemporary discrimination, which is an excellent ending that ties what has happened in the past to current events of today. There is a quote from Anne's father, Otto Frank, that I really like and find very important.

"To build up your future, you must know your past." - Otto Frank

The Van Gogh museum was something very special as well. I don't think I have ever seen a museum dedicated to one artist like this before, and I was impressed. The curators did a fabulous job explaining their goal to place Van Gogh's works in context and then following through. They have grouped his art in chronological order to show how he developed as an artist, but what I loved was that they included so many other artists and their works that inspired Van Gogh and that really helped him shape himself as an artist. To see a Jean-François Millet or a Japanese woodblock print right next to a piece of Van Gogh's by which he was inspired just made him so real to me. It might sound silly to say that, but I have studied all these artists in writing and in printed pictures, and it is like they are entertainment celebrities of today, but even more important. Though I will never see Van Gogh for obvious reasons, it was like I really got to know him throughout this exhibition, and that is direct evidence as to why I believe that the curators did an excellent job.

Okay, enough talky. Here are some not-so-excellent pictures and links to things I liked.

Great coffee: http://www.coffeecompany.nl/
Adorable girly boutique + cupcakes: http://www.thedarling.nl/
Good vintage shop: http://www.episode-online.eu/
Another good vintage shop: http://www.zipperstore.nl/
Great art gallery, which had a beautiful solo exhibition of the artist Ryan Mcginley: http://www.gabrielrolt.com/
Amazing Thai food: http://www.thai-bird.nl/