Voyage à Cognac

Yay for my first post from France! (Also, just an FYI – this post is not about Poitiers; I’m getting to that).

This weekend was my first real weekend in France and the five of us on the Middlebury program here in Poitiers spent it with our “parrain” Arnaud at his family’s home in the super tiny village of Le Maine Aux Bretagnes (between Cognac and Angoulême). Arnaud is like our big brother here in Poitiers. He’s a master’s student who works in the Office of International Relations and is basically in charge of introducing us to Poitiers. He’s incredibly nice and has helped all of us so much this first week. He lives here in Poitiers but was going home for the weekend and invited us all along.

When I say that Le Maine Aux Bretagnes is a tiny village, I mean very tiny. I think there are about five houses, which all belong to Arnaud’s various family members. Around the village are acres and acres of vineyards, which his family owns and uses for the production of cognac and wine. Cognac is both a drink and town about 30 minutes away from Le Maine Aux Bretagnes. It’s liquor made from fermented then distilled grapes and although it gets its name from the town of Cognac, it is produced in the surrounding region. In the past, the town of Cognac was the main commercial center for the liquor, as it is located on the Charentes River, which flows directly to the Atlantic Sea. The top brands of cognac, still have there headquarters in the town of Cognac. Arnaud’s family harvests the grapes from their vineyards and then produces the “eaux de vie” that is then sold to such brands as Hennessy and Rémy-Martin to be distilled in barrels for years before it becomes the cognac we drink today. The fall is the harvest season for the grapes that will go on to become cognac, lasting about 3 weeks in total. This year the harvest was the earliest it has ever been due to France’s record-hot summer, so the harvest started last week and will go to around the end of the month. Arnaud wanted us to visit this weekend in order to see the whole operation.

We headed to Chez Boujut (Arnaud’s family’s house) Friday afternoon and got in right around sunset. With rolling hills and rows and rows of vineyards, it was so beautiful. And I kid you not when I say that as soon as I stepped out of the car, it smelled like wine. This is mainly due to the fact that Arnaud’s uncle was finishing up working for the day in the building right next to his house. It takes about 3 hours total to clean all of the equipment used during their workday, as they have to take precautions to the bacteria that can build up from the grapes. We then ate a very late but delicious meal (when I say late, I mean that I don’t think we sat down to eat until 11:30) and called it a day.

Saturday we drove about 30 minutes to see the town of Cognac. We went on a nice little river cruise on a boat that is a reconstruction of the original merchant boats that used to carry cognac. After a nice lunch we went on a tour of the Hennessy property. Our guide explained where Hennessy gets its grapes from and then the whole process of how it becomes cognac. We then had a cognac tasting and got to see all of the different types of cognac they sell (the most expensive bottle being 6,000 euros…they didn’t let us taste that one). Cognac can have a very different taste and smell depending on how old it is. And I found it was really good served on the rocks with some ginger ale. We then went back to Arnaud’s house and went for a swim. The weather was beautiful this weekend and it was nice to cool off for a bit. We taught Arnaud how to play Marco Polo, which apparently they don’t play in France. I suggested possibly a more French name for the game such as “Charles…de Gaulle”, but it didn’t really catch on. We then drank some more cognac as an aperitif before dinner. Actually, we had Pineau which is a white wine made with cognac. When the cognac is added to the wine it stops the fermentation process, which makes for a very sweet, sugary wine. Apparently, Pineau is hard to find outside of the Poitou-Charentes region and practically impossible to find abroad. So I’ll have to enjoy it while I’m here. Then another delicious dinner followed by some time in the Boujut’s new hot tub. The family’s house was first built in 1770 and is currently being renovated. It’s a huge house and is going to be awesome when it’s finished.

We spent Sunday morning watching Arnaud’s family at work harvesting the grapes from the vineyard. They use a tractor that rides over each row of the vineyard and shakes the grapes from their stems. We got to take turns riding it and Arnaud’s uncle explained to us how he operates the gigantic machine. Then we went on a tour of their facilities and really got to see each part of the production in action. We tasted some eaux de vie (unaged cognac that is like 140 proof) which is what the family sells to the major producers of cognac. The family does barrel and keep some of their own cognac though, and we saw those storage spaces as well. The rest of the day was just spent relaxing and playing with Arnaud’s brother’s kitten (which even though I don’t like cats was one the cutest things I’ve ever seen). Then after a short dinner we headed back to Poitiers.

Wow, that’s a lot. You can check out more pictures from the weekend by clicking on my Flickr feed on the right. I promise to get back in the habit of blogging once I’m more settled in here in Poitiers. Classes start this week (and next for some) and we’re in Bordeaux this weekend for the TCF (test de connaissance de Français). But after that there will be a post on Poitiers with pictures, bien sûr!

From Poitiers with love,


Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Packing

My dog - Doesn't he look so heartbroken that I'm leaving him?

Between those three things, who said home isn’t exciting? I am currently sitting on my front porch writing this entry as my house still does not have power from Hurricane Irene, and the front porch is the best place to mooch off my neighbor’s wifi.

I’ve been home from New York for a little over three weeks now and other than the various natural disasters, it’s been pretty chill. I think I’ve gotten things in order (for the most part) to take with me to France. I started packing today (small victory) and am praying I can fit everything I need/want to bring into two suitcases. I have my visa ready and am pretty much all set to leave Thursday night from Philadelphia.

After talking to some friends, I’ve decided to make a list of the things to do while abroad (a bucket list of sorts). I think it’s incredibly important to spend your life fitting in as many different experiences as you can, so let me know if you have any things to add to my list! This is what I have so far:

Things to do abroad:

- Go on a hot air balloon ride.

- Go to Istanbul.

- Go to Chartres (and ideally every other place I’ve studied through medieval art).

- Learn how to cook some specific dish (or a whole meal?).

- Try weird foods (Have a “culinary experience”).

- Go to a winery. Stomp grapes (in bare feet)?

- Ride a gondola.

- Be seduced by a European man.

- Pretend to be rich and snobby in a designer boutique.

My next post will probably be from Poitiers! Till then…

From Perryville with love,


So I Should Update This…

Excuse me for the lack of updating. New York can be an incredibly busy place. Between the day camp tours, working on my gallery talk, visiting with friends, working on my gallery talk, taking a weekend trip up to Middlebury, and oh yeah working on my gallery talk, I’ve been super busy/just too lazy to want to write a post.

So the main update: my gallery talk is next week! My talk is entitled “Going Forth: Medieval Processions” and it is what I have been researching all summer. It’s all written out now and all I have to do is memorize it! (I mean it’s only like 15 pages…nbd). I’m thinking that sometime this weekend I might put together a nifty audio slideshow of the talk to post on here. Partially so everyone who can’t make it can enjoy the fun that was medieval processions and their depictions as seen at The Cloisters, and also so I can practice talking about the objects/hear what I actually sound like when I describe these things.

All in all some good fun. I’ll be working on the talk most of the weekend but hopefully I can take some time to do some other quintessentially NYC things before I leave next weekend! (I can’t believe I’m almost done with the internship)

In case you’ve really been missing my updates on life at the Cloisters, check out our twitter feed. It has some nice quotes from the campers from the last few weeks.

From New York with love,


Art Lessons

This week at work has really tested my art skills (or lack thereof).

Wednesday we had a manuscript workshop where we prepared a small piece of parchment, created a design, learned how to guild with gold leaf, prepared paints, and then illuminated our design. Wow, gold leaf is tricky. I grabbed the piece of paper and instantly had gold flakes all over my hands. It was a lot of working with very small details and definitely helped me foster an even higher level of appreciation for medieval manuscripts (as if I didn’t think they were already the shit).

This only took me 3 hours.

Then yesterday, we took a fresco painting workshop at the Educational Alliance near Chinatown. Also very cool. Up until then, I had always thought the application of the plaster on the wall (as opposed to the painting that comes afterwards) was the easy part. Wrong. You have to make sure it has just the right amount of moisture. Not too wet, not too dry. Then actually painting on it is much different than using a typical oil paint. However, I’m pretty proud of what we were able to come up with:


I’ve literally done more art in the last week than I have in the last 6 years. One more reason why Medieval Art Day Camp, err… my internship, rocks.

For more pics, check out the Flickr  —>

“Monks are people who teach karate.”

Today marked our first two tours of the Cloisters for day camps! Woohoo! The title of this post was one of my favorite quotes from a little boy. He also thought that Thom, who was giving the tour, lived and spent the night at the museum. There have been some other good quotes too as we’ve started to interact more with kids; we’re going to have to start writing them down. But moving on to a recap of my week, starting with Sunday:

Rainbow balloons!

Sunday I went to watch the Pride Parade with some other MiddKids. Wow. It was interesting to say the least. I guess it was mainly what I had expected, a lot of guys in speedo, rainbow flags everywhere, big floats, and a lot of fun. What was really great about the parade was the fact that it was being held two days after the NY senate passed an act to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. This definitely added an emotional undertone to the whole parade. Tons of people with signs saying “Thank you Governor Cuomo!” and “Promise Kept!” It was really moving. I can’t imagine not having the right to marry the person you love, so I’m certainly happy and proud that New York, especially being a large state, has taken this big step towards equality for all people. Now for Maryland to get their act together…

Monday = Met day. We were down at the main building again all day meeting with all kinds of people who work in different departments of the Met. We also had almost two hours of free time which provided a great opportunity to go check out the Guitar Heroes exhibit (which I had yet to check out) and Richard Serra’s drawing exhibit. Both were great, and it’s so amazing to be able to explore the museum with no one else there :)

After work the interns headed downtown to grab a bite to eat and then go to a show. Thom’s brother, a recent Yale graduate, wrote a play called “The Private Sector” for his senior work that is now being produced at the Theater for the New City in the East Village. A dark comedy about the competitive and vicious side of hedge fund businesses, the play was amazing! We were all so impressed and kept quoting it all day Tuesday. Hanging out with the interns is always such a blast.

Then yesterday after work I went to see Jim Gaffigan (who happens to be my favorite comedian), for free, as part of Central Park SummerStage. It was fantastic! The two openers were pretty good, but Jim Gaffigan was just really great. My dad and I love listening/watching him, so I really wish he could have been there too. The main stage in Central Park was also just a really great venue and last night was so beautiful; I don’t think the weather could have been more perfect.

As I said in the beginning of the post, today we had our first tours. I didn’t actually lead one (there were only two), but the two interns who did lead them did an awesome job! We were really excited to get through the inaugural ones! Then this afternoon we went on the most awesome behind-the-scenes tour of the Cloisters. We got to see where they keep all of the art that’s not currently on view, go through the crawl space above the tapestry rooms and just learn about the underbelly of the museum. It was so neat to think that we were seeing parts of the building that most people will never see.

So in short, that’s been my week! Tomorrow we’re headed down to the Rubins Museum to see what should be an awesome exhibit on pilgrimages. Then I’m headed down to DC for the 4th of July weekend! Woohoo! I’ll surely have lots of adventures to report on from there!

From New York with love,


From yesterday…

Carving stone like a boss.

Field Trips

It’s been another pretty busy couple of days in New York but I’ll try to recount all my adventures! Starting with Cape Cod:

Wow. Cape Cod is gorgeous. It’s like someone decided to wrap Vermont, the Shore, and the Bay (coincidentally three of my favorite places in the world) into one place! In all honesty, there’s not really much for me to say about my trip to Cape Cod. Not because it was boring in the least, we just didn’t do much. Which is PERFECT. It’s exactly what you’re suppose to do in Cape Cod (from what I gather). Nothing. Just a whole lot of staring at the beautiful scenery around you and breathing in the fresh air. We did exert some energy and get out of the hammock to go mini golfing, play around with the Barzilai’s new boat, drive to get ice cream, and go get pedicures (#rough). But in all honesty it was a wonderful weekend and I was so thankful to the Barzilai family for being so hospitable! (You can see all of our tweets from the weekend by searching the hashtag #dingdongcapecod)

Monday saw a complete change in pace from the Cape as the interns spent the morning downtown at the Met and then the afternoon at the Morgan Library. We started with a tour of Watson Library, as we will be spending some days doing research there in the main building. Then we met with senior exhibition designer Dan Kershaw and he was amazing! I would say I want his job but my only training in the design field comes from watching copious amounts of the tv show “Trading Spaces” as a little girl. He talked to us about one of the temporary exhibits he designed and then three of the more permanent galleries that he has worked on. His job requires an enormous amount of flexibility, compromise, cooperation, and dedication. I felt that we learned so many fun facts about the museum. It was like a behind the scenes tour. For example, I can now tell you that the Met opens more exhibitions than any other museum in the world and that there used to be a reflecting pool in the main Oceanic gallery. Most people visit the Met and just focus on the art they see, never thinking of the time and energy that went into to arranging that art. Definitely an under-appreciated position.

During lunch most of us went upstairs to see the Met’s latest hit exhibit “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”. McQueen was a very famous designer who recently passed away and the Costume Institute of the Met is now putting on this show in his honor. It was truly brilliant. It’s hard to understand fashion sometimes when you think about it as just clothes but this exhibit really put it in its perfect context. The collections he created could be described by a range of adjectives. From beautiful, to grotesque, to futuristic, he was really able to capture it all. We all left speechless. The collection definitely isn’t for everyone though. Although the museum is closed on Mondays to the general public, people can pay to solely see this exhibit (a hefty $50) since it has been such a big hit and is usually incredibly crowded. So there was a woman there with a young girl (probably around the age of 6) who thought the exhibit was too scary and started crying. Yea, I’d definitely rate it at least PG-13.

After lunch we got to meet with another amazing Met employee, the Jaharis Curator of Byzantine Art, Helen Evans. She gave us such a great tour of the Byzantine galleries and was really entertaining. All of us left wanting to study Byzantine art. It’s such an amazing fusion of all kinds of different influences. We learned the interesting back story behind a repaired sarcophagus as well as the funny story behind the acquisition of a large stone cross from Armenia.

As if our day hadn’t been fascinating enough, we headed further downtown by bus to the Morgan Library to get a private tour of the exhibit “Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands” from the curator himself, Roger Wieck. The exhibit is great. Not only does it feature more medieval manuscripts in one room than I have ever seen, they have also created four life-size replicas of some of the outfits in the manuscripts. You can really see the dress evolve over time. Roger was also able to show us a replica “chaperon” or hood and how it was worn at different times in the Middle Ages. Fun linguistics fact: in the later Middle Ages, women adapted the practice of wearing these chaperons (or hoods) and would often wear them while accompanying little girls around the town. The little girls then began to refer to the women (who were essentially their babysitters) as “chaperons” and this is where the modern use of our word “chaperone” derives from. Yay linguistics. Tagging along on our tour was also a woman from Christie’s in London. Yea, nbd. At the end of the day, my feet had never hurt more.

Tuesday was a little more low key, spent at the Cloisters. We met with the director of the gardens who gave us some tips about showing the gardens to children. Then we spent the rest of the day researching, practicing our tours, and preparing the kids crafts (we need to cut out at least 500 cardboard falcons, we have maybe 200).

This brings us to today, which saw yet another field trip! We started the day of at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine with a vertical tour. A vertical tour is exactly what it sounds like. You literally tour the church from the ground up stopping at the triforium, clerestory, flying buttresses, and then eventually the roof. It was amazing to see a cathedral from all of those different angles, and truly something I may never get to do again. St. John’s is really unique in that they have gone to great pains to construct the building in the same way it would have been made in the Middle Ages. This means no cheating and using steel. The cathedral is a weird mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture (due to two different architecture firms working on the building) and it is actually still unfinished. Certainly not the same as the gothic or romanesque churches of Europe, but it’s not bad for Manhattan. And it was great to get a bird’s eye view of the city from the roof. There was also a choir practicing while we were walking around the ground level. Maybe I can get the Mountain Ayres to sing there someday too (I’m already working on us singing at The Cloisters). Then we walked behind the cathedral to a stone mason workshop to watch a demonstration and hear a little bit about stone carving. Chris Pellettieri is an Arthur Ross award-winning stone carver who got his start in the trade by participating in a stone carver’s apprenticeship program at the cathedral when he was a boy. He talked to us a bit about the art behind stone carving and then we got to try it ourselves. Wow, hard. And incredibly time consuming. You earn such a new appreciation for these things once you actually try it. Incredible.

Once again, I apologize for such a long post. I promise to start posting more frequently so I don’t have to play catch-up so often. I also promise to post more pictures!

Till next time from New York (and Cape Cod) with love,



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