January 1, 2012

Carnaval de Quebec

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:57 pm by emucoleman

As a student (not to mention admirer) of the French language, I’m especially interested in traveling anywhere the people speak French. So what better subject for a blog post than Quebec, Canada?

But no need to save your travel plans for warmer weather–Quebec’s biggest event of the year, the Carnaval de Quebec, is coming up this month!

The roots of the Carnival began with a traditional celebration from late January to the end of February, before Lent–a long Mardi Gras. The Carnival has since become more structured and family-friendly, and now attracts visitors from just about everywhere as the world’s biggest winter carnival.

Since the 1890s, the Carnival has been narrowing down the activities it offers. Over the years, the Carnival has introduced and eventually retired traditions such as chess tournaments, children’s snow sculpture contests, and my personal favorite, barrel-jumping. (Wait, who decided to get rid of that?)

One of the more interesting traditions that continued for years was the coronation of the Queen of the Carnival. Anyone who wanted a chance at Queen of the Carnival had to first become a “duchess.” The process of becoming a duchess took months, involving writing a letter, attending fittings, radio shows, classes, and the completion of who knows how many other requirements before the duchesses were appointed just before the holidays. But that wasn’t the end. Duchesses then competed for the title of Queen of the Carnival by imploring their duchies, or areas of the city, to sell as many candles as possible. Then the Queen was elected randomly. But in 1997, the duchies, duchesses, and queen disappeared and the long-standing tradition was lost. Nowadays, the only person close to royalty to be seen at the Carnival is the infamous Bonhomme. (Perhaps it wasn’t such a loss, after all…)

But enough of the old traditions. What can visitors see at the Carnival these days?

The Arrow Sash: A common sight is the traditional belt, a symbol of the Quebecois, sported by the Bonhomme himself.

First ever effigy of 1955

Effigy: No one will be burning this one. You can’t leave the Carnival without your very own collectible figurine of the Bonhomme! (Disrespect the effigy in 1955, and you could have ended up in the dungeon of the Ice Palace…)

Canoe Races: The traditional canoe race has been at the Carnival for years and it isn’t going anywhere. Groups of fearless canoers (if it’s not a word, it should be) brave the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River. From the photos of past canoe races, I can only conclude that only the bravest and hardiest of canoers compete in this race. (You’d think they’d save their canoe races for sometime when they wouldn’t be required to drag their canoe through a snowstorm, but maybe that’s just all part of the fun…?)

Snow Sculpture Contest: If traditional clothing, collectible figurines, and boat races

My cup of tea...no pun intended...

aren’t your cup of tea (which, in my case, I admit they aren’t), you might be more interested in the prestigious International Snow Sculpture Competition. The Carnival is home to numerous snow sculptures from practiced artists across the world each year.

Night Parades: What celebration is complete without a parade? And the Carnival has two. Enough said.

The Ice Palace: Perhaps the Carnival’s biggest attraction (literally) is the Ice Palace, a castle built as a home for the Bonhomme. This tradition started in 1955, was lost for a few years, and was thankfully reinstated in 1993. Take a look at some of the pictures:

The Bohomme: In case you hadn’t heard, the star of the Carnival is the Bonhomme, the giant snowman wearing the traditional red cap and arrow sash. He shows up at all the most important Carnival activities. I may get put in the dungeon of the ice palace for saying this, but as far as I can tell, the Bonhomme is kind of like the football mascot of the Carnival.

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll be in Quebec from January 27th to February 12th this year! If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be there in 2017…or 2018…here’s hoping!

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December 16, 2011

Haworth, England

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:42 am by emucoleman

As any secret romantic, I love the Bronte novels–Jane Eyre by Charlotte and Wuthering Heights by Emily. (And as soon as I can wade through my miles-long to-read list, I’ll read Agnes Grey by Anne…) What better destination for a Bronte lover than the place where all the magic happened: Haworth, England?

Mr. Bronte, the sisters’ father, was a parson in the small town of Haworth. The children were raised to play creatively, writing stories together. The children were fairly well-educated by their father, who taught them at home after one of the children died after falling ill at a boarding school. Mr. Bronte is a Imagecontroversial figure, but I can imagine that their close-knit family may have been something like my own. They thought slightly differently than everyone else. They had their own language and their own understanding of each other. They saw the world through different lenses.

The Bronte sisters worked as governesses in their early adult years, but they all wanted to write, so after a while they tried to publish a book of poems together, under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell so they wouldn’t be rejected for being women. The poems didn’t do very well, but the sisters didn’t give up on writing. The three wrote their famous novels, and Jane Eyre in particular took off immediately, the new fad sweeping the nation. (19th-century England’s fad was Jane Eyre. Our generation’s fad is Twilight. Oh, how times change.)

But, as anyone who knows anything about the Brontes knows, the Brontes were followed by tragedy. As the years passed, the Bronte children fell ill and died one by one. Anne was sickly and died earlier than her sisters, at 29. Emily was the next to go, and Charlotte was left without any family left. She died soon later at the age of 38.

ImageI love pictures of Haworth, where Mr. Bronte’s parsonage was. The house, not very big by the standards of the time, is still there. The village is still small and sort of inconsequential. I’ve only been to one small town in England–Canterbury–but I just loved the feeling of it. Winding streets, old brick buildings, tiny shops, great views…definitely different from London. It feels like nothing has changed in two hundred years.

After spending a couple hours at the Bronte house, I think it would be ideal to spend the rest of the day wandering around the village, getting a cup of hot chocolate and people watching.

I never thought I would say this, but I hope when I visit Haworth, it rains. What better weather to remind you of Jane Eyre making her pilgrimage across the moors away from Thornfield, or the ghost of Cathy scratching on the windows of Heathcliff’s old Wuthering Heights?

November 20, 2011

Castle of Dreams

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:13 pm by emucoleman

When I was about thirteen and beginning to be obsessed with medieval history – most specifically, castles – I told myself that if I were royalty and was rich beyond my wildest dreams, I would build myself a dream castle. Hundreds of rooms, pointy spires, and murals across all the walls. I would build it on a mountain far away from the rest of the world, and I would sit in a different room each day and read Shakespeare and Jane Austen on a seat by the window, looking out at the valley.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that King Ludwig II did that very thing.

The Castle rising out of the fog...

Well, I don’t know if he sat in window seats reading Sense and Sensibility, but he certainly built himself a beautiful castle in the middle of nowhere, just because he could.

This is Neuschwanstein Castle, the most magical castle in the world. Walt Disney used it as inspiration for the Disney castle. I was absolutely converted once I found out that Ludwig II dedicated it to his favorite composer, Wagner.

Ludwig II began construction on the castle in 1869, after a rather eventful life. He was always popular with the ladies, but he was extremely introspective and prone to depression. By the time he began building the castle, he seemed to be rather alone in the world. His one engagement had been annulled, and Wagner had left. It seemed that all Ludwig wanted was an escape. A beautiful, luxurious, enchanting escape.

Luwig lived in his imagination. The walls of Neuschwanstein are covered with detailed paintings depicting different

The Study

stories and Greek legends. In the study of the king’s apartments is depicted the Tannhaeuser saga, in which the minstrel Tannhaeuser sings in a royal court praising the goddess Venus and sensual love. Everyone is offended and throws him out. Finally, he repents, and asks the pope for forgiveness, but the pope excommunicates him, saying that there is greater chance for his crozier (I’m not entirely sure what a “crozier” is) to burst into leaf than for him to be forgiven.

However, there is an end to this saga that is not depicted on the wall of the study: A few days after the pope’s rejection, when Tannhaeuser is nearly dead and simply heartbroken, pilgrims bring him the sprouting crozier, proof that the sinner has been forgiven.

Why would Ludwig leave out the forgiveness? Did he believe it impossible?

I wonder if Ludwig ever sat at his writing desk, looked up at those paintings, and tried to find a bit of empty wall space for one last scene.

Neuschwanstein, the ultimate escape, didn’t turn out to be a true escape for Ludwig II, who began making plans for his next castle before it was even finished. He lived there for mere months, and never saw its completion. All too soon after his early and untimely death, the castle was opened to the public, and has been a hot tourist spot ever since that day.

Neuschwanstein, a dream castle, is also a symbol of tragedy. What should have been Ludwig II’s pride and joy became, in his eyes, merely another hundred rooms that seemed to belong to someone else. Neuschwanstein was a sterile heaven where sins could never be forgiven and perfection was expected. Even my dreamy thirteen-year-old self probably wouldn’t have been able to live there.

Although Ludwig II and I have almost nothing in common, I feel like we might be kindred spirits. His castle is the symbol of my childhood – and maybe I need to move on, like he needed to and never could.

Someday, Neuschwanstein, someday. 

November 11, 2011

The Voyager

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:41 am by emucoleman

As a student studying to become a travel writer, a certain problem dawned on me.

Pretty much all English students who want to be writers are not only encouraged, but expected to get started now getting some writing samples together. It’s time to hone in on whatever area you want to go into and get some real writing done. If you want to be a fantasy writer, then obviously you would be expected to write quite a bit of fantasy before you graduated.

(And apparently, aspiring fantasy writers are no small group here; I’ve already met far too many of them. Whenever I meet an English major who confidently declares, “I’m going to be a fantasy writer!” I say under my breath, “Thank goodness – that means I don’t have to be one.”)

But I specifically want to be a travel writer, a career I didn’t realize until recently would fall so far off the beaten path for English majors. I’m happy to be different – it just means my journey from freshman year to career won’t be quite as cut and dried. So I’m trying to do everything possible to ensure that I will get the opportunities that I want in life.

I’ve been considering: How can I start doing the kind of writing I want to do? I can’t do much traveling right now. I’m pretty limited for funds, and my education is keeping me pinned in place. I just can’t travel…

Thus sprang the idea for this blog. Ever since I decided I wanted to be a travel writer (well, even before that), I’ve been creating a mental list of Places to Go. So – I thought – why not turn my childlike list into a way to share my passion for travel, writing, and travel writing with the world?

The title and web address for this blog came straight from my French class: Je veux voyager – I want to travel. The title, “Voyager,” is a linking of my own language and country – “Voyager,” one who voyages – and my French theme – “Voyager,” to travel.

So, what is this blog? It’s my never-ending list of Places to Go, Things to See, and Cultures to Experience. I have a long way to go before I can truly consider myself a world traveler, but through this blog I hope to take my first step into the world of travel writing.

Beautiful France