Journal: August 21, 2007
Keegan Fellowship Kick-off
As it has been a month or more since I have seen most of you, many of you are probably wondering where in the world I am. I cannot believe that I have been out almost a month already; time has been flying by as I have been moving quickly through Europe. This email will hopefully bring everyone up to speed, and will kick-off my Fellowship emails and website! My first journal entry for the trip has been posted on my website, www.vanderbilt.edu/travelfellowship/feeney, so please check it out and keep an eye out for future updates!
I flew over at the end of July for my friend Ashley’s wedding in Calabria, Italy, and then travelled around France and Spain a bit before coming up to Germany, where my Keegan Fellowship “officially” begins. The wedding was beautiful and the weather even cooled down a bit for us (from 117 the day before I arrived to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit!) in time for the ceremony. Southern Italy was an interesting cultural and linguistic experience, since many people in the old town of Crosia, where the wedding was held, had never seen Americans and spoke only Italian dialect. Despite these challenges, we were welcomed immediately into the family; meals were seldom less than 15-20 people, and never shorter than an hour and a half (ahhhh, Italy). It was great to see my friend’s parents interacting with their Italian in-laws, making gestures and sketches to compensate for a lack of shared vocabulary. The reception for the wedding was at a 500 year old hillside villa overlooking the coast that had been turned into a restaurant. We had wonderful food and wine, heard some heartfelt compositions from Ashley’s father and brother, and even learned some Italian booty-shakin’ line dancing! Unfortunately, life in Southern Italy can truly be described by domani, domani (tomorrow, tomorrow), so we never did really travel around to see other cities before we left.
From Calabria, I made my way up through Milan to the French Riviera, staying in Montpellier with some friends of my Aunt Merrilee. Catherine and her husband Luc, an architect (how convenient!), made me feel completely at home and gave me a very thorough introduction to lifestyle, history and culture in Southern France. From a very French breakfast each morning and conversations in French (on their end, not mine) over local wine, to Nimes and the Pont du Gard, we had one full weekend. Luc specializes in historic restoration and is the regional master of lime plaster techniques. He took me out on the job with him one day to see the traditional method in action. Unfortunately my six years of textbook French generally did not get me very far with real world comprehension. Je ne parle pas Français. At the end of the day, we went out to an ecological building studio, Cantercel, hoping to get a tour of the facilities and learn how their research was going. While we were allowed to explore a bit, and the two structures we saw were interesting, the whole team was at lunch when we arrived and were not much inclined to give any tours.
In Barcelona, I burned out on playing tourist, and started wondering at what point I do, in fact, morph into a traveler. I saw the Gaudi architecture I had wanted to experience for so long, which enabled me to check that city off of my list of places to see. I was impressed in the one Gaudi building that I did tour, Casa Batllo, by Gaudi’s intelligence as a designer. From the formwork of his details to his methods of natural light and ventilation, he definitely proved to be more than some crazy, eclectic artist. Being on my own and able to set my own agenda was nice. I saw a lot of the city, worked on my sketching, and got in line early enough to be the first person into the Picasso museum one morning. Nonetheless, I was ready to leave Barcelona when the time came.
In Paris, one of the other bridesmaids from the Italian wedding, Magda, and I rented an apartment for one week. This turned out to be the perfect ending to my personal travels and the week of relaxation and sight-seeing made me completely ready to move into Fellowship mode. We arrived to discover that our apartment was two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, near wonderful markets, and directly above a bakery, so we woke up to smells of fresh bread and pastries each morning. Magda and I went to the major museums the first two days, but quickly determined that the best way to do Paris in August was to stroll around the relatively un-crowded streets, go out and meet some locals, and to eat. And we did. We cooked a lot in our apartment, stopped by daily in our bakery, and had one fabulous dinner out at an amazing little restaurant recommended by a Vanderbilt alum. On our last night we had the pleasure of eating with the doctor who did research at Vanderbilt 20 years ago and his wife. It was a wonderful meal and we enjoyed getting to experience how true Parisians live.
Initially, I had aspirations to start some meetings for the Fellowship in Paris, particularly with people involved in sustainable development in developing countries. What I did not fully comprehend until my arrival was the mass exodus from European cities that is the month of August. On top of typical vacations and store closings, we happened to be in Paris the week of the Assumption, a Wednesday when everyone stops life completely in honor of this religious observance. So despite my efforts weeks or even months in advance, my efforts boiled down to one meeting with the Sustainable Development Coordinator for the Paris-based Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD). Candice Stevens was nice enough to meet with me and provide a few pointers and a contact for sustainable development in Thailand, but she reiterated what poor timing it was for me to be in Paris. And the rain! What a pity.
This first month of vacation has been fun, but has also been an important introduction to traveling on my own. I have gotten myself in the habit of never leaving “home” without my sketchbook and camera in tow, and have had some time to do some additional research when internet access permits. This brings me to my current location outside of Munich, Germany, where I will be spending a little over a week immersed in Bavarian culture and studying the local Passivhaus movement. Look for an email next week with more on that…