Clubs and the Coming Semester

Mawrtyrs, how are you? It surprises me to think there are so few weeks before the semester is over. Between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester are a mere three weeks. With that in mind, I advise you to go now and talk to your professors and advisers about papers, and outlines, and projects, and exams, because the hectic whirlwind of work and student activities at Bryn Mawr will only gather momentum as the holidays approach . . .

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Croissants and Concerts

Hello Mawrtyrs!

What an eventful week it has been. For every dose of stress I have been drinking two doses of espresso. I recommend Delice et Chocolat—a recently opened French patisserie in Ardmore. On a peaceful morning over steaming lattes, bitter espressos, and croissants with a crust that dimpled and flaked when pressed, my friends and I discussed our French classes and the past whirlwind week. There is always something happening on campus.

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Autumn’s Literary Travels

To me, fall is wading through perfectly crisp leaves that crunch underfoot. Fall is pressing the hot cup of apple cider against my cold cheeks and sneezing from the spice of freshly grated cinnamon. Fall is feeding wood to a glowing fireplace and cooking with as much pumpkin and apple and nutmeg and cloves and ginger as possible. And so, I returned to the Berkshires, in far western Massachusetts, for the fall vacation.

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360 Lectures at the Mawr

Two Ways of Thinking about the Family: Chinese and Aztec

On Thursday afternoon, September 27, Bryn Mawr hosted three simultaneous lectures on a bevy of topics: Modeling the Hand Gesture in the Age of the Silk Roads; The Medieval Now: White Nationalism, Medieval Studies, and Race; and the one I ultimately attended: Two Ways of Thinking about the Family: Chinese and Aztec.

Codex Mendoza [Codex]. (1541-1542). Bodleian Library, Oxford.

In a fascinating lecture on family and its role in society, Professor Ann Waltner from the University of Minnesota presented, compared, and dissected two pieces of art: The Codex Mendoza, a sixteenth-century Aztec codex* commissioned by a viceroy of New Spain for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Portrait of Wang Shimin, a seventeenth-century painting by Gu Jianlong.

The section of the Codex Mendoza in question illustrated the separate trajectories and child-rearing techniques for a boy and girl up to marriage age. Waltner first helped us read the images. How to interpret the little painted circles above the boy and the girl in the codex? Each circle signified a year of their life. At fourteen circles, the boy had learned how to navigate a canoe on Lake Texcoco, where there could have been two hundred thousand canoes at the same time! The girl, under the guidance of her mother, had learned how to weave at a loom and cook. Yet while each had clearly defined gender roles, neither the mother nor the father was depicted as more important in raising the young. The codex suggested that responsibilities fell equally for making the children into adults. We also explored the role of family in the Portrait of Wang Shimin. The prominent painter Wang Shimin and members of his family were painted by Gu in their home, surrounded by a lush array of flowers and trees. Waltner remarked that family portraits were not typical of this period in China, yet what is even more curious is the woman (her role in the family is unknown) who regards the viewer with an unflinching gaze. Another woman is veiled behind a screen, her face obscured from the viewer.

Gu, J. (17th Century). Portrait of Wang Shimin [Painting]. Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minneapolis.

After a study of the two paintings, Waltner questioned the way in which private family behavior might influence state politics. How could a woman’s sexuality relate to politics? What did the child-rearing techniques and traditions of the Aztecs suggest about their culture and gender roles in society? And in the world of both works, where did gender and empire meet? The lecture within the 360 program mirrored what the program itself seeks to foster: an inquisitive exploration of similar themes throughout different disciplines taught at Bryn Mawr.

-PC: Professor Yonglin Jiang

The 360 program is an interdisciplinary semester-long experience. There are a few 360s each semester, each comprising three courses from different departments yet whose juxtaposition allows for a study of each topic from a different perspective. The 360 cluster that invited Professor Waltner is called “Empires” and includes Introduction of Health Studies; Language and Empire in Mesoamerica; and Chinese Empires: Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties. Check out some of the past 360 course clusters here.

*A codex is a book of handwritten text. 

Back from Abroad, on to Senior Year 

This year I moved off campus to a nearby apartment with Sabrina, a kind friend, ambitious chemist, and fellow Korean-drama watcher. In our apartment we are close enough to campus to glimpse the clock tower of Taylor Hall through the trees. While being off campus may have some disadvantages, we do enjoy cooking in our apartment, and there is nothing homier than the inviting array of aromas rising from the pots on the stove!

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Café Culture in France and the Art of Taking One’s Time


I live close to a metro station named François Verdier. It is a section of the city that is particularly lovely, in large part because of its many parks and squares. One thing that has surprised me is the proliferation of public parks and squares in France. Three large parks, the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin Royal, and the Jardin du Grand Rond, sit side by side in my part of the city. Furthermore, the sheer number of cafés that surround each of the parks is impressive. I would say that the number of outdoor public spaces reflects the way people enjoy life in Toulouse.

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Studies during Study Abroad

One of the most important aspects of junior year abroad is the opportunity to experience a system of education different from what you’ll find in the US and to take courses with local students. That is one of the main reasons I recommend study abroad. I’m now enrolled at a public university in Toulouse, France, along with 30,000 other students, and as I have discovered, Mawrtyrs should expect a very different classroom experience from what they are used to.

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Le plateau de fromage; a French Experience

 

The same night I met my hosts, I also was introduced to the ubiquitous plate of cheese. Consequently, the cheese plate stayed on the table for every meal and has become one of the things I love most about France. Easily it was the most cheese I have seen at a single meal, with more than seven kinds crowded on the plate, varying in shape, color, size, and smell. Every couple of days, a new cheese will appear on the plate, and join its companions soon to be savored.

I learned that the cheese is tasted at the end of the meal. The cheese plate is as elegant as a dessert, and one has to be particular with one’s selection, for the number of cheeses on the plate is not equivalent to the number one is expected to eat. Rather, the cheese is the crowning moment, whether eaten with a bit of bitter endive and tart apple, or placed on a slice of crusty bread, or enjoyed just by itself. I watched my hosts carefully choose pieces of cheese, taking care to savor each as it is eaten.

My host told me, “We eat not only to nourish ourselves.” I think that people who love their food, love life. In France, the experience of eating is valued as much as the sustenance it gives. And so, perhaps the enjoyment of eating food can be represented in the way one approaches a plate of cheese in France. The taste, the texture, the smell—everything is savored. The cheese plate brings balance to the meal, so that the harmony and the contrast of flavors dance in the mouth and the eater is left satisfied, having taken pleasure in the experience of the table.

 

Toulouse: Impressions and Snapshots

Hello all and welcome back from winter break. It is odd to be starting a semester without seeing familiar faces. Instead, my study abroad adventure in Toulouse has started and I am meeting new people and seeing new faces everyday.

My host parents Blanche and Michel were at the airport to pick me up. They moved back to Toulouse from Paris about 10 years ago, and live in a modern yet cozy apartment along the Canal du Midi. Their apartment’s walls and shelves display little sculptures, masks, paintings, and other objects that they have acquired over time. Each has its story; a Carnival mask from their honeymoon in Venice, a Japanese brushstroke painting of a relaxed cat, a pair of oxen bookends carved from the wood of a coconut tree and brought back by Michel’s uncle in Madagascar. I was happy to add Bryn Mawr to their collection, and gave them a painted owl ornament, which they hung from the mantel.

Sunday we went to the market that encircles a church to purchase groceries for the week. Whether there is snow, rain, or fog, Sunday is market day. Dozens of stalls surround the Church of Saint-Aubin to the east of the city. Michel and Blanche made a beeline for the apple seller. He was happy to see them. His cold had improved since last week. Unfortunately, his apples had not. The hail, while it had not altered their taste, had left puckered parts that made them look less appetizing. He threw his hands up in the air and sighed. Oh well.

The next stop was the nut seller. Blanche bought a pound of freshly picked almonds from an orchard outside Carcassonne. Hazelnuts would be for next week, said Michel. The vegetable seller provided fresh lettuce, persimmons, bananas, clementines, parsley, and a slice of pumpkin. Behind the church we found fresh eggs, and next to the fresh eggs, live chickens for sale. We passed stalls of meats, handmade salamis, fresh pastas, hand-woven baskets, bouquets of wildflowers, and chickens roasting on a spit while their juices fell onto the golden brown potatoes in the roasting pan beneath.

This afternoon I took a short bike ride around town. Toulouse is a bike-friendly city, and there are bike rental stands in every neighborhood and a multitude of paths along the canal. You take out a bike and can replace it in any of the stands once you have finished the ride. Furthermore, if the ride lasts fewer than thirty minutes, it is free.

The city is a wonderfully warm color because of the pink and orange bricks that make up all the buildings. The light makes the bricks glow, especially during sunrise and sunset. Yet while the buildings are made of brick, the cast-iron balconies and wooden window shutters are usually painted in contrasting colors—turquoise, green, fuchsia, even violet. With its small winding cobblestone streets, cafes with tables clustered in the sunshine, and the aromas of food in the air, it is a city to explore.

My courses will start Monday, just as they do at Bryn Mawr. To all, bon courage!