January 25, 2011

“A Hillary in Paris” IMDb (2011)… Pt. 2

I woke up the next morning fully rested and eager to see more of Paris. I ran to the window to see if the Eiffel Tower was still there or if I was just dreaming. To my delight it still stood strong, all 980 feet (300.51 meters) of it. I showered, dressed, and put my aching feet back in my big, black, heeled boots.

Breakfast was free at my hotel and consisted of bread, cheese, a croissant, jam, yogurt, coffee, and orange juice. Très français. Très délicieux. The bread even cracked the way Colette says the best bread is supposed to in Ratatouille. I took out my tourist map and decided I'd walk to the Musée D'Orsay. The receptionist told me it was over an hour walk, but I was feeling ambitious and rested (plus my feet were not about to hinder me from experiencing Paris the way I wanted to).

About a block away from my hotel I ran into a couple taking individual pictures of each other against a scenic background. Before planning my trip, I had briefly thought how sad it might be going to ‘The City of Romance’ alone. I wondered whether I'd be able to conquer it without feeling something was missing. I asked the couple if they wanted me to take a picture of them together, and not entirely to my surprise, felt grateful I was alone. I guess “We'll always have Paris” worked just fine for Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, but for me "I'll always have Paris” seemed more than perfect. I got to discover the city the way I wanted to and at my leisure. Paris will never be tainted with the thought of someone else. For this girl at least, Paris will always be mine.
Hôtel des Invalides chapel dome

I walked to the L’Hôtel national des Invalides, an enormous building complex built in request by Louis XIV in 1676, which housed over 4000 disabled French soldiers. The gold on the top of the chapel dome glittered and demanded my attention for a good half an hour. I read the signs, looking around the garden, noticed the everyday joggers running their routes (lucky them to see buildings like these everyday!), and then made my way towards the Musée D'Orsay walking along the Seine River. 

Hôtel des Invalides cannons & the Eiffel Tower
Once I arrived, I saw there were metal detectors and people searching bags right inside the museum. I momentarily panicked and wondered if maybe I hadn't thought Bertha entirely through! Knowing I was carrying all of my aforementioned belongings with me, I prepared myself to be judged. I thought for sure my rice cakes wrapped in tin foil or my aluminum water bottle filled with water would be goners for sure. Lucky for me, the security guards were preoccupied and didn't check my bag or stop me from entering after I'd set off the metal detectors twice in a row (I honestly have no idea what was on me that was making it do that; also I questioned the safety of the museum).

The Musée D'Orsay was, in a word: inspiring. I kept thinking about what an amazing job my elementary art teacher did; I remembered vividly Mr. Harlan bringing out his print of Seurat’s “La Cirque” and explaining impressionism to my class, then letting each of us try to create a picture using little dots. Although I once drew an incredibly recognizable pinecone that encompassed three dimensions on a two-dimensional piece of paper, I couldn’t help but wonder when Cézanne, Manet, Van Gough, or Monet decided a piece of art was finished? Was it one specific stroke that made Van Gough’s self portrait a masterpiece, or an extra orange in Cézanne’s “Apples and Oranges?” What if Van Gough hadn’t used the curved strokes or if Cézanne preferred bananas and mangos? Then I reflected on my own life: which strokes or dots of my life are making me complete? If I omitted any singular part would I fall short of who I am? I also couldn’t help but think how fascinating it is how people figure out their talents. I stood stunned as I looked at Edouard Manet’s use of pastels, and wondered if I had seriously studied art, could I have ever used pastels like he did? I then thought that if Edouard Manet ever came to one of my basketball games he might have questioned if he could dribble or shoot a basketball like me. I guess for better or worse a basketball and a hoop is my version of pastels on paper.  

Seine River
While I was walking around the various rooms of Musée D’Orsay and stopping to look at each piece of art, I couldn't help but notice that my feet were starting to feel like they were going to fall off. I sat down on one of the benches and admired the different sculptures around me. I realized I had three hours left until I needed to make my way back to the Gare de Lyon to catch my train. I felt I could physically no longer stand (sitting down was not the right decision however; I couldn’t stay there forever after all), I was hungry, and still hadn’t seen the Louvre or Arc de Triomphe. Shockingly, I told myself it was time to move on, enjoy a lunch along the Seine, hit up the Louvre, and if I didn’t make it to the Arc de Triomphe, I would live (we’ll officially mark this moment in time as when I veered away from my ‘stick to the schedule’ personality and became flexible). 

As I felt my toes start to break and skin start to tear off my feet (I know this is a disturbing image and I apologize), I crawled my way to a restaurant across the Seine from the Louvre. I ate a Salade Champonarde and housed the basket of fresh bread (I unzipped my boots underneath the table and let my babies breathe too ;)). Refreshed and rejuvenated I headed into the Jardin de Tuileries and towards the pyramid that led to the entrance of the museum. The Louvre architecture, like every other building in Paris, is amazing…the different wings stretch out across the park and command admiration. 

I’ll be honest; my feet really prevented me from loving the Louvre, as did my time limitation. I had enough time to check out the Denon wing, where I saw Divinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “Virgin of the Rocks” along with a few other paintings that I personally wanted to focus on. The Louvre was very different from Musée D’Orsay (which since I talked about so much I’m guessing you realize was my favorite part of the trip and that I’m slightly in love with it). People were taking pictures and knocking into each other to see the Mona Lisa, none of which was permitted in Musée D’Orsay. I wanted to yell,“HELLOOO THESE PAINTINGS ARE OLDER THAN AMERICA, HAVE SOME RESPECT,” but nobody working there seemed to care (I’ll also admit that once I read the rules of the museum and saw that photography (without flash) was allowed, I snapped a couple pictures myself). I took one last moment and tried to soak in all the beauty and talent surrounding me and then made my way to the Metro station. 

At the metro station, a younger guy asked me if I had two minutes and wanted to go to the bar with him (all of this he said in French and I actually understood - sooner or later I'm not going to be able to use the 'I don't speak French' excuse anymore). Needless to say I declined his offer. Sitting on the train heading back to Switzerland I looked through my pictures and thought about my favorite parts of the trip. The first sight of Notre Dame, successfully utilizing the metro station, jumping around my room, falling in love with Musée D’Orsay, admiring the details of the buildings and statues, trying new foods, speaking French, and surviving my boots all made my trip worthwhile. Just like in Anastasia, Paris really did hold the key to this girl’s heart.

January 23, 2011

"A Hillary in Paris" IMDb (2011)....Pt. 1

After our game on Wednesday night where we fell to Fribourg (by quite a bit), we found out we would have off from basketball for four days. I decided I needed to get away from Nyon for a little while. So, in the spur of the moment I decided to take a leap and discover a place I loved in movies and plays but had never been to: Paris.

Wednesday night I mentioned my excursion to my friends back home, most of whom exclaimed “You should really do it!” and one who said, “You’re SO Eat, Pray, Love.” That night I booked my train ticket, booked my hotel, started studying a map of Paris’s historical landmarks and subway systems, while trying to figure out what I most wanted to see on my two-day trip.

I didn’t sleep much Thursday night; I was far too excited. I picked out two outfits I thought would do me justice among the Parisians with Anastasia’s “Paris Holds the Key” song singing in the background of my apartment. I finished packing ‘Big Bertha’ (also known as my big red bag) and went over my plan of attack one more time: I was going to start out at Notre Dame, then make my way to the Eiffel Tower on Friday; Saturday I was set to see Musée D’Orsay and then head over to the Louvre, maybe even hit up the Arc de Triomphe if I had enough time. I set my alarm for 7:30am (the earliest I’ve gotten up since coming back to Switzerland after Christmas), put on Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and tried to sleep.

The next morning I just made it to the train on time, only to find out that we were delayed and I would miss my connection into Paris. Flustered and frustrated I went into the train station where my ticket was altered for the next available connection…three hours later. My two-day trip turned into an even shorter one-and-a-half and I questioned whether it was worth going at all. Straightening up and trying to relax, I ate lunch at my usual restaurant and restructured my plan of attack in my head. I wanted terribly to see Notre Dame’s stain glass rose windows at sunset; a goal that I saw slipping out of my reach.

I boarded the 1:09 train, settled down and started thinking. I thought of my favorite movies, Ratatouille and Moulin Rouge, and wondered if Paris would be anything like the Paris depicted in movies. Then I thought of my favorite play, Les Misérables, and hoped that it wouldn’t be. I thought of how interesting it was that a lot of my ‘favorites’ took place in Paris and how fitting it was that I should venture there on my own.

As our train pulled into “Gare de Lyon,” I took one more deep breath and prepared myself for the hustle and bustle of the city. As soon as my foot touched hard ground I was off…a race against the sunset, which was already lowering in the sky. I somehow managed to find my way to the right subway line, boarded the RER A, switched to the RER B at Châtelet, and headed towards St. Michel Notre Dame. I didn’t make it in time to see the sunset against the rose windows, but it didn’t matter. As soon as I climbed the steps from the metro, my first view of Paris was breathtaking. I found myself standing there with my eyes fixed upon the two towers of Notre Dame. 

Notre Dame
The construction of Notre Dame started in 1163, that fact alone bewildered me. I looked at the architecture of the building, the three portals (Le Portail de la Vierge, Le Portail du Jugement, and Le Portail Sainte-Anne), and thought about how much time and talent it must have taken to construct the amazing statues and scenes I was still gazing my eyes upon in 2011. Inside the cathedral there were rooms where priests were waiting through glass doors for confessions (there were signs outside stating which languages the priests spoke), beautiful images along the side of the altar showing the different sightings of Christ, statues of the Saints with places to light candles underneath, thirty-seven different representations of the Virgin Mary, and mass being recited in Latin.

After visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral I decided to walk along the Seine River towards my hotel. I guess I should mention that although I took two pictures of google maps on my phone and had a pretty good idea of the area, I did not have an actual road map, and I had no idea how to get to the next metro station. After an hour of walking along the Seine and seeing the Hotel de Ville sparkle (literally sparkle- there is a light show), the cold wind started depleting my body of its warmth and I decided I needed to find my hotel. I walked back to the Notre Dame metro I’d come from and figured out which line to take to get to Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel stop. While buying my ticket to board the subway, a man came up to me; first he told me I was beautiful (this part’s okay – I’ll take it), but then he touched my hair. Now I don’t know when this became acceptable, and I’m not sure in what culture touching a stranger's hair is okay, but it’s not okay in my culture and it’s definitely not okay with me. I quickly fired back with a “Don’t touch me,” to which he got the hint and ran away. One good thing about Paris is that there are hundreds of people around you, especially at the metro. I quickly gathered myself and headed onwards towards the Eiffel Tower.

I think it’s pretty amazing that I was able to find my way to my hotel without a map. I get lost for hours trying to figure out Nyon, Switzerland, but somehow mastered the Paris metro like I’d lived there all my life. Throughout the course of my trip I did not get off one stop early even once, nor head in the wrong direction. Up until two days before my trip I had no idea of the layout of Paris and by the end I was giving other tourists directions (and correct ones at that)!

Walking from the metro I got to see the École Militaire (this was a tell-tale sign that I was close to my hotel as it advertised it’s location as across the street from the École Militaire station). Looking at the building, I couldn’t help but think back to seventh grade when I had a project on Greek columns; my Dad spent the day driving me all around town trying to find examples of each… who knew all he had to do was fly me to Paris and I would have found all three within ten minutes? I remembered the three styles (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) and mentally noted each as I passed them.

I got to my hotel a little before 9pm and asked the manager what time checkout was the next morning and if he could recommend a good place for me to eat. He gave me my very own tourist map and a few business cards of local restaurants and showed me how to get to them. When he took me to the one-person elevator he told me checkout was at noon but that I could leave my luggage until my departure, then looked at me quizzically. I smiled, said my best “Merci” and headed up to my room to ‘unpack.’ You might be wondering two things: how big IS Bertha and what could I possibly have fit in there? I’ll tell you! Bertha is big enough to fit: a change of clothes (a pair of jeans and a sweater), toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, makeup, chapstick, hairbrush, water bottle, eight rice cakes, wallet, camera, Flip camcorder, two cell phones (one European, one American), cell phone charger, outlet adapter, sunglasses, socks, Kindle, gloves, and an Ipod. I fit all of that stuff in there proudly!

Eiffel Tower
After taking what I could out of Bertha and thawing a little, I looked out my window to see what view I had. To my amazement I poked my head out and saw the Eiffel Tower, standing in all its glory less than a mile away. Sabrina’s father is right when he says, “You know, it’s not every girl that’s lucky enough to go to Paris.” I briefly reflected about how if my agent hadn’t found me, or I hadn’t said yes to Switzerland, or if I’d given up after my first month in Europe and gone home, I might have never made it here. Being able to open my hotel window and see the Eiffel Tower standing there literally made me giggle and jump around in my hotel room. I ventured back out, had a delicious dinner (minced meat with raw egg and a Bordeaux wine AND actually spoke French with the waiter!), and headed towards the Eiffel Tower.

View from Hotel (light show)
I understand now why Parisians didn’t like the Eiffel Tower when it first went up; it doesn’t actually scream, “I fit in with the rest of Paris.” It’s tall, and iron, and I didn’t see any gargoyles or statues built into or around it. Plus, every hour on the hour at night it lights up…like REALLY brightly. I understand that today it’s considered a beacon for "La Ville-Lumière" (the City of Light), but if I was living in Paris in 1889 and saw this thing going up I don’t know how I’d feel about it. However, in the year 2011, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I originally wanted to climb it, but to be honest my feet were killing me (I picked the wrong shoes to walk around Paris in) and I was freezing. So, I rode up to the second level in the elevator (it was really windy out and the top wasn’t open), and looked out at Paris. I spotted the École Militaire, Parc du Champ de Mars, la Seine, and a soccer stadium (hey, the French love their soccer). The moon was two days past full, the sky clear, and the stars bright, but I was cold. I savored the moment as best as I could, but was ready to head back to my hotel. I stayed up to watch the light show one more time from my hotel window and fell soundly asleep by midnight. 

January 16, 2011


We won our second game of 2011, our second win! We played Geneva’s team, Bernex, a team we knew we might be able to beat if we played well. The other team was down their starting post player and is the only other team in the conference with fewer than two foreigners (they actually have none). It felt really weird to be the team actually picked to win a game, a feeling I haven’t had since back when I played at TCNJ. I’ll admit, it can make you a little nervous if you’re not used to that pressure of knowing “We should win.” I don’t think it helped that before our game there was a handball game going on in the gym and we had to wait in the locker room for half an hour until it was over.

I think most athletes are a little superstitious, or at least used to their routine. For example, I always wear the same pair of spandex underneath my game shorts, listen to the same playlist (or at least a few usual songs) before games, and I always take off my watch and then my Claddagh ring right before leaving the locker room and picking up my first basketball of the day. Regardless, our routine before this game was a little off, and with the extra nerves our warm-up seemed sub par. I kept trying to talk to my teammates and telling them it was going to be okay, we didn’t have anything to lose and should just play hard and have fun.  I’m not sure how much better they felt, but talking always takes the edge off for me. :)

We went up 10-2 (maybe) early in the game before the other team rallied and I noticed the score was 14-10. I wish I could tell you more specifics, but we were winning by 9 at halftime, things seemed a little crazy in the third quarter but we were still up by 9 at the end of that, and we ended up winning the game by 9! 57-48!

A couple things are happening to my game that I think are really cool, so I’ll share. First of all I’m getting used to shooting outside more (I took another 3 in the game which was in-and-out but led to an offensive board by a teammate and a put-back!). I’ve been getting more familiar with finishing in weird positions around the basket (I’m really liking that reverse layup for instance). I had two wrap-around steals, one that led to my point guard grabbing the ball and dishing it back to me for a fast-break layup. The game is so different over here, and I’m getting to do different things, which really is a lot of fun for me.

During the game in the fourth quarter I had some cramping issues. My feet, shins, calves, hips, hamstrings, and quads ALL seemed to cramp at the same time. I’ve had my fair share of Charlie horses, but never all those different areas all cramping at once. It was so bad that when I took a free throw, my whole right leg cramped up, and when I jumped to try and block a shot pain shot through my calf. Cramping is seriously no joke. I never want to cramp like that again; I wonder if you can over-hydrate…

On a side note: I officially think bubble baths are heaven-sent!

January 9, 2011

There's no fat lady singing, don't light that cigar...

We had our first game of the New Year against Riva yesterday. The best way to describe the game would be to say that it was just a really good match. I would like to think that the New Year brought a whole new level of play, and in a way it kind of did, but we still fell a tad short of a victory.

Per usual, I can’t remember exactly what happened during the game, but I do know that I picked up my third foul in the first quarter and spent the second quarter watching the game and cheering on my teammates. We went into the locker room at halftime down 19. In the second half our overall team play seemed fluid; guards hit shots, forwards made moves, I made layups; but more importantly our defense rallied and held the other team to only 12 points in the third quarter, scoring 22 ourselves. With about 5 minutes to go in the fourth quarter we pulled the game to within 2 points.

When your team is down by 19 points you really don’t think about winning, it seems too far out of reach. Instead, I like to focus on each and every play and possession. I think about what has been working, what hasn’t, keeping my hands up, focusing on boxing out, crashing the boards, getting touches etc. Once the game becomes a 6-point game, a 4-point game, and then a 2-point game you start to realize that the game is within reach, you can even start to taste what a win might feel like. And sometimes when you hope a little too much and get a little too excited, you lapse for a split second, which I did when my girl had the ball out on the wing, I had 4 fouls, and heard my coach scream “PRESSURE!” With 1:40 left in the game I picked up my 5th foul and took my respective seat on the bench. We ended up losing by 7, to the #4 team in the league.

I was really impressed by our defensive effort. Although sometimes this season has seemed like an uphill battle, as we only one foreign player (most teams have at least 2), I will say that I think my team has the best Swiss players. My Swiss teammates handle the ball, knock down shots, drive to the basket, and pressure the ball on defense. We are learning how to run an effective press, anticipate passes, and play off of one another. We definitely don’t roll over for anyone.

On another note, since I’ve been back I’ve been super jet lagged and super sleepy. I dealt with a 2-day sickness, which I knew I was going to get once everyone started sneezing on and around me at the airport and on the plane. I spent 33 of 46 hours last week sleeping, and had to convince myself to get up today around 1pm with the argument that I am human (as opposed to a vampire – I’m currently reading Dracula), and need to spend some of my hours awake. I’ll admit, the NFL playoffs are not helping me as I try to get on Swiss time. Last night I napped for two hours before waking up to watch that amazing Jets-Colts game which finished around 5am, Swiss time. Of course now I realize that there’s less than a month of football left, and I’ll have to find something else to occupy my Sunday’s. I’m open for suggestions :).

January 4, 2011

Back to 'work'!

I made it back to Nyon safely! I arrived yesterday morning and had my first practice of the New Year with my team last night. It was really nice seeing all of my Swiss teammates again. 

While I was on the plane I started reminiscing about my time home and something strange started to happen. I could feel the ‘New Jersey Hillary’ in all of her comfort and confidence disappearing over the Atlantic Ocean. What’s even weirder was that as soon as my train stopped and my feet hit Nyon pavement, I felt ‘Swiss Hillary’ in all her independence and passion flood over me. I’ll be perfectly honest; it is HARD TO LEAVE HOME. Each and every time I say goodbye to my friends and family it is hard. The good news is I will get to see them for a whole summer when I come home again in four months.
Me @ a dine-in theater

I had such a blast while I was home. Although I was only there for a couple weeks I packed in at least a whole months worth of activities. I got to take my Mom and sister to see Les Miserables at a local theater, saw two TCNJ basketball games and hung out with some alumni, went to a Nets game with my other 3 wheels, had an amazing Christmas dinner that ended with a fantastic magic show performed by yours truly (and my assistant who specialized in card tricks), saw Harry Potter 7, Tron (at a dine-in theater!), and Black Swan (what a messed up movie), went out in New Brunswick for an old teammate’s birthday, went to MK Sports & Entertainment Group’s meet and greet in NYC at the Lucky Strike (where I unfortunately did not bowl a single strike), practiced with my college team (which was so much fun), hung out with my high school friends, shoveled 18 inches of snow, and last but not least, rang in the new year with my best friends.

I think it’s pretty awesome how once I was home I felt as though I’d never left, and now that I’m back in Nyon I feel at ease here too. I decided that 2010 enabled me to take chances and wipe my slate clean. I’m hopeful that 2011 will bring just as many opportunities.