Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Normandy D-Day Invasion Week 4

On Saturday June 11th we were in Caen and the purpose was to visit the different Normandy beaches of D-Day invasion. The first beach we visited was Point Du Hoc, and since I got there I could feel something special about that place. The big memorial made for all the soldiers that fought in that place showed the tactical importance of that place on how the rest of Normandy invasion would turn out. It also was very special for us because of the importance of Col. James Earl Rudder who was a student at Texas A&M, and later a president of A&M.

After that we head to Omaha Beach, where most of the US casualties occurred and was the main point of attack. It was a very hard place to do an attack because of the long distance between the water and the cliffs. This made very hard for US troops to start gaining territory.

Following Omaha Beach we went to the cemetery where most of the troops that died fighting for freedom were buried. It felt so special that I don’t know if out of respect because I was just so amazed of how many people that had served were buried but I didn’t spoke a word since I got there to no one, until after three hours being there. I wish I had some pictures of how the cemetery looked, but I felt it would be wrong picturing other people’s graves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Final Week

 Like many of my friends have already stated you do not go to France without visiting Paris. Paris was amazing needless to say, but after a while I really started to miss Toulouse. Prior to going to Paris though, we went to Normandy and visited the beach where Earl Rudder led a group of brave men to climb the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and regain control over Normandy. It was astounding to see exactly how steep the cliffs were and the craters in the ground where heavy artillery had once been fired. On our way into Paris we stopped by Monet's garden and walked through his house to admire the scenery and some of his paintings. After Monet's garden we continued on into the city of Paris.  Now like most I have heard a lot about Paris and how amazing it is; in my opinion it is way over hyped. My first scene of Paris was on the outskirts of the city in probably not the best part of town, the streets were dirty and it was sad to see refugees and beggars all across the city asking for money. You just couldn't help but feel sorry for them. After unloading the van at the hotel a few of us went to return the van with Julien and see a little more of the city. All I can say is wow! There are definitely different parts of Paris. We wound up going down the Main Street and it was lined with all the Name Brand stores(ex. Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton(flagship store), Armani) and who could possibly forget the Ferraris and Lamborghinis' that were parked out front.  It kind of made me think you needed a lot of money to enjoy Paris. After purchasing our museum passes the tours of Paris began.  Our first visit was to the Lourve which was home to the Mona Lisa which is a nice piece of work and I know there is apparently a lost of mystery to its life but I did not find it as impressive as it is said to be. I found myself drawn more to the impression artist like Monet and Van Gogh which we got to see at the Museum de Orsay. My favorite visit in Paris was by far Versaille. The palace was very grand and fancy, but for me the most beautiful part was the garden. Thanks to Julien we met with the head gardener Joules and his right hand Nicholas and got a private tour of the grounds, including getting access to all the small gardens that were locked to the public. We started out going to the ballroom garden and took refuge in the orangerie when it started to rain cats and dogs on us. After the rain let up we finished seeing the rest of the garden and their greenhouse. We learned a few of their secrets to planting for year round blooms and the compost they use for their orange trees. Every time I think back to that week I can not help but laugh, smile, and just shake my head occasionally at the memories we created. I can not thank Julien and Cecilia enough for an amazing trip and translating so much for all of us. I also was blessed with an amazing group of people who turned into good friends to travel and see France with. Until the next time, Au Revoir.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Final Stretch of Tour de France

At last we arrived in Paris for our final week. I had high expectations for the city of love, however, I was in for a rude awakening. My first taste of the city was on the outskirts when we stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. Surrounded by subsidized housing it was not the best of neighborhoods. As we drove further into the city it reminded me of one place- New Orleans. The amount of homeless on the streets along with trash thrown everywhere was alarming. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of middle eastern refugees begging on the streets. It was not a pleasant site to see. I believe Paris is well overhyped. After dropping the van off we walked to the Arc de Triumph and down the main drag- Champ de Elysees. It was a different story here, clean streets with little to no beggars. Ferraris and Lamborghinis roamed the grand street. I quickly realized that the Paris everyone expects requires some serious cash. It is not the place for a budget. The following day we visited the magnificent Louvre. It was truly astounding the amount of art and ancient artifacts contained in the palace. It would take one a week to view everything inside and about after four hours it becomes hard to appreciate each work of art. Seeing the Mona Lisa was on the bucket list, however, it was a little disappointing. I understand the technique and mystery behind it is what makes it great but it was much smaller than I expected. When I view art I look for the emotion that it brings to me and the Mona Lisa simply didn't do much. 
Starry Night over the Rhone

Monet Painting of his garden
The next day we visited the Orsay, which contains many Van Gogh and various impressionist paintings. I enjoy this museum far more because it appealed to my taste in art. I could stare off into starry night for hours if it wasn't for time constraints.There had been various protests around France due to the new labor laws and on our way to the catacombs we got to experience a full on protest/riot. The police barricaded one street that the protest moved down but things quickly escalated with protesters throwing rocks and police retaliating with tear gas and flash bangs. It got my adrenaline pumping with flash bangs going off right next to me and clouds of tear gas blowing though. After a while we had seen and felt enough so we decided to head back. On our day off we explored the city, roaming from one tourist attraction to another.  By then I was starting to become tired of Paris, it wasn't as relaxed as Toulouse and I can only take in and appreciate so much. 
Protest/Riot in Paris
Our last day of the program actually turned into one of my favorites. We caught a train to Versailles and toured the extravagant palace and garden. I always will enjoy nature more than anything and receiving a tour from the head gardener was spectacular. We had a VIP pass to all the areas off limits to the public, however, our visit was cut short by rain. Manuel and I had a European Championship game to catch that evening so we quickly made our way back to the city. The game was between Germany and Poland, vying for the top spot in their group. Historic rivals as well, it was a hard fought draw. Poland had the better opportunities but couldn't capitalize. Great ending to my time in France. The people I met and relationship I developed will last a long time and I hope to one day return to this great county. Thank you, Julien and Cecilia for the trip of a life time. I will take much back with me and will implement it in my own career of vegetable production.
European Championship: Germany vs. Poland

Third week of the Tour

The following week was by far my favorite thus far of the trip. We visited 14,000 year old cave drawings, a Gaillac winery, Armagnac distillery and finally what I have been looking forward to for most of my life- Normandy. The cave drawings were absolutely unreal. Hard articulate such artifacts still exist after all this time. I was impressed by the detail of the animals. I never knew buffalo existed in Europe until them. Possibly the reason for the drawings was to commemorate the great animal after being hunted to extinction.
A vineyard overlooking Collioure
The following day we travelled to the Gaillac wine region. There we met with the owner of Domaine Rotier. He gave us a full tour of his farm and facility, answering everything I could throw at him. I was intriuged by the fact that it was all organic. I thought to myself that it must be very difficult to maintain such high quality under organic circumstances. However, he explained their IMP (Integrated Pest Management) and plant nutrition system thoroughly, making it seem so simple. I was impressed to say the least and would one day like to own a vineyard of such quality. Families as such have been growing grapes for hundreds even thousands of years. They have everything defined without fault.

Syrah Grapes at Domaine Rotier
That Friday we left for Normandy. I had been waiting my whole life to visit and pay my respects to the men that made the ultimate sacrifice liberating Europe. I grew up watching the History channel and was very fascinated with the invasion of Normandy. My interest grew looking at the relics of the war my grandfather brought back. When I finally arrived I didn't know how exactly I would react. It was surreal to finally be there especially so close to the anniversary. I was humbled to see for myself the extreme adversity the soldiers under the command of Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder over came to capture Point Du Hoc. Frankly put, I was speechless. Imagining the battle and the men that were my age or younger losing their brothers. Visiting the cemetery after was tough. Unsuspectingly I was choked up. Seeing all those young men buried there, some not known. I took a walk through the tombstones with a feeling that I was looking for something but I didn't know what. I was proud to be an American and thankful for the sacrifice they made. More people began to fill in and it disgruntled me to see them smiling posing next to the memorial. This isn't a tourist attraction or a place to take your next Facebook profile picture. To me it was there to pay respects and to honor those that had fallen. For that I say thank you.
One of the 155 mm Cannon bunkers at Pointe Du Hoc
Entrance to a bunker at Pointe Du Hoc

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Final Chapter in France

It has been a week since I spent my last week in France. It has been a wild ride and I would like to thank everyone who made this trip what it was. I would like to thank Ben, Ryan, Manuel, Emily, Alanise, and Lauren for being the best group abroad I have ever had. I believe these friendships will last long after this trip is a distant memory. Each person was unique and brought me many laughs and experiences. I'd like to thank Julien and Cecilia for their input on the trip. The entire experience went fluently due to their amazing planning and they handled the responsibility of our group like it was nothing. Everyone got along so well and the trip definitely was made a million times better by the closeness of the group.

My fourth week in France was crazy! As an American, the sites of World War II are important in our and the world's history. The thought of conquering a beach at Normandy is unbelievable after you see the cliffs and how open the range is, and the American cemetery can't be described by words. It gave me chills down my spine as I walked down the rows of headstones. As a Texas A&M student, seeing a commemoration to James Earl Rudder made me proud to attend such a prestigious school. 

Le Louvre literally was a walking piece of art. I have never seen such a large and diverse collection of art. Ranging from Egyptian artifacts and Italian sculptures to the Mona Lisa and a collection of Napoleon's rooms.

The next visit was the Garden of Versailles. HOLY SMOKE!!! The Palace of Versailles was incredible but the garden really took the show for me. The garden's size was impressive by itself! Thanks to Julien's connections, we got an exclusive tour of the entire garden and its private gardens. Unluckily, it got cut short by an intense rainstorm. Almost got to experience Noah's Ark while we were there. 

If you go to France, you almost have to visit the Eiffel Tower which boasts one of the most impressive architectural designs I have ever seen in person. It even features three levels and a restaurant but I'll have to experience that another time. Here is also where I got to experience a scam firsthand. It was pretty entertaining and gave us a good laugh. It cost them 60 euros but it taught me a good lesson: if you want to prove a point, an example is a great way to get your point across. Spending a late night by the Eiffel Tower, we got to experience the celebrations by the fan zones after France won 2-0. Probably one of my favorite experiences in France. It showed despite the cultural differences and all the turmoil, futbol (soccer) unites us all. 

It gives me the feels that these good times are over, but this really was something that will stay with me forever. I would definitely recommend pursuing an experience abroad if you are interested or questioning it. It will change your life in a good way!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Week 4 in France

The Palace of Versailles is beautifully surrounded by many gardens and statues. Walking through the former home of French royals was very breathtaking. The massive painting of royals, battle scenes and the gardens covered filled each room. Outside of the palace the site of green and vibrant plants were beautifully manicured into variety abstract designs. As a class were able to take a private tour with one of the gardeners. Versailles’ garden is very large and requires a large quantity of workers to care for the garden. The upkeep method used by the gardeners has been used for many years. There is not a handbook to teach them the method, but the seasoned gardeners teach the new gardeners. This system is similar to the method used by small family farmers. In small family farm agriculture the older generations teach the younger generations their farming techniques. Passing down the gardening techniques, and knowledge from experienced gardeners to new gardeners keeps Versailles gardens beautiful and long lasting for future generations to visit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Au Revoir France

Helen Keller said, "the best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen nor touched-they must be felt with the heart". I learned that many of American icons were inspired by French architecture, such as the beloved Mixky Mouse. Disney visited Versailles Gardens and saw how beautiful it was and how the structure resembled a mouse. They then proceeded to take the idea back to the states creating an empire of off the French inspired piece. This is one of many examples of how France was felt in the heart of individuals. Throughout my trip, France touched my heart in ways I never imagined and in ways Texas could not. Climbing mountains, visiting castles, communicating with non English speakers are experiences I wouldn't trade for the world and are experiences that I will miss dearly. My last week in France consisted of me opening my heart to view people's struggle and pain through artwork. Visiting the Louvre was touching for many reasons. It was like no other museum in Texas,  not only because of its size but also because of its content. The Louvre contained some of the most world renowned pieces, such as, the Mona Lisa  and Aphrodite. Unlike in Texas, there are many security procedures before entering and it will take many days to see everything. We were told the Louvre was so big it takes at least 4 whole days to see it all. This fact amazed me because most museums in Texas can be seen within one day. This fact also saddened me because I only had one day to immerse myself in its beauty and history.  I will truly miss being in France. Au Revoir.

Week 3, Gallac Wine Production

On Tuesday June 7th we visited a Gallac wine production. The visit was made by one of the two farm owners. He was in charge of growing the vines and producing the grapes but we also had a tour of where the grape is converted to wine. The owner was very thorough explaining all the pesticides, fertilizers, crops planted between the rows, pheromones that were needed to add. What most got my attention was that he explained how they could adapt the vines to any location by grafting the type of root and the type of grape wanted to be produced.

This will definitely help back home, since my father and I have always wanted to have about one acre of vines to produce our own wine, and since we had very calcareous soils and hot temperature we thought that the vines wouldn’t be able to adapt, but after what the farmer from the visit told us, I am confident that in the future we will be able to do this project.

Week two, Trip to Sevens Mountains

On Thursday June 2nd we started our visit to the Sevens Mountains, to visit local productions of cheese, sheep meat, and cow meat. As we met with this producers of what is in France a “large scale production” of sheep meat. This people wouldn't allow visitors to their farm, since they are considered cruel because they have “so many animals” (400 sheep) and the space they are in winter is not big enough. We also visited a cow meat producer who had also about 400 cows and considered a very large production. And they had the same problem with letting people in, even though that family has done that since several generations.
Both of this types of farms are currently are having restrictions because of new legislation, caused by increasing environmentalist strikes on “large production farms” where animals are feed in a cage. Environmentalists argue that they are altering the normal way an animal grows and that the ecosystem is modified when the feed lots are made. This results in the amounts of cows grown being limited, even though they have more than enough space for more cows.
The current “solution” France farmers are finding to the cows not allowed in feed lots is to feed the cows in pastures making them as fat as they can, and then selling them to feed lots in Italy. Italy will increase their weight in feed lots and sell the meat back to France keeping most of the revenue.

I find this wrong because the government knows this is a problem; that Italy is making all the money in the process and that they can’t do anything about it because they are too afraid of a small minority doing strikes. As the governing unit they should allow feed lots and other agricultural expansions to occur, having in mind the whole country's economy and small farmers business, not only for the few environmentalists that oppose all changes that want to be made.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Week 3 France

This week we visited multiple different places but three stood out the most to me.  The trip to the Gaillac Winery, the Armagnac, and the Horticulture Boffo freres. These three places all had one thing in common that I saw and that was everything they worked on was given extreme attention. Like at the Gaillac where they tended to the soil and pest control with precision. While we were there I saw each barrel being cleaned and prepared for the upcoming harvest of wine.  At the winery they not only filled, corked and sealed the bottles, but also labeled them as well. To me it was impressive to see all the work that was being done with only a few people, and they were not just simple tasks. All the while at the Armagnac facility we saw where they kept the armagnac in barrels and vats until it was perfect right down to the color and then taken to another room and like Gaillac were hand sealed and labeled right there at the facility. At boffo fereres everything was done by hand from the planting, maintaining, to the picking of the flowers by only a handful of workers. It was neat to see how so much work, planning, and patience went in to producing their products. I definitely think this is a lesson we can all learn from in that quality does not come from quantity.   To produce good quality it takes time and hard work. One example that came to mind is peaches. When growing you have to pick a few off the branches so you get nice size peaches and the branch doesn't break with all the weight. When they final start to turn color from ripening you have to worry about bugs and birds coming and eating holes in them while you wait for them to ripen on the vine. All this may not sound all that bad, but it takes a lot of time and patience. That is why most peaches people get in the market have been picked early and put in cold storage and ripened using ethylene gas.  So obviously the two are not the same quality which is something I have noticed in France, that they will take quality over quantity any day. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

You don't come to France with out visiting Paris. We spent our fourth and final week touring the city's many historical landmarks, castles, and museums. I have never before been exposed to so much art, history, and culture. The Louvre was amazing, if not over crowded. I honeslty never expected to come face to face with such world renowned original masterpieces like the Mona Lisa.

Mona Lisa

After the Louvre we visited Notre Dame, last I checked Notre Dame was a University in the U.S.. I had no idea it was an incredibly impressive gothic cathedral that took close to 200 years to build.

We also spent a substantial amount of time at the Musee D' Orsay. I don't know much about art and paintings but I do know that I enjoy impressionism above all else. Yet again we enjoyed the opportunity to view original masterpieces by world renowned imprssionists like Vincent Vangogh and Claude Monet.
Vangogh's "Stary Night"
Vangogh's self portrait.
Monet's Garden
Monet's Anne of Green Gabels
Dr. Levy gave us all a free day Wednesday. I spent the day walking around the city, making it a point to see the Eiffel Tower. As I stated previously; you don't come to France without visiting Paris, and you don't go to Paris with out viewing the Eiffle Tower. The intracacy of the design is breath taking. Much like landscapes in the Pyrennes, pictures just don't do it justice. Yet such landscapes and structures are highly photogynic, making it seem like I actually know how to take a proper photo.

All-in-all, this has been a great experience. Thanks Dr. Levy for putting this together for us.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We kicked off week 3 with a trip to a vineyard in a region of France known as Gaillac, home of a winery by the name of Domaine Rotier. There they grow a wide variety of grapes, all of which are used to produce premium organic wines. Although some may have been lost in translation, it was clear that this family owned and operated business took pride in the quality of their sulfite free inventory of wines. Although wine containing sulfites isn't much of a concern to the majority of consumers, I can appreciate a nice bottle of wine with a fresh, robust bouquet, and no preservatives; but once the cork is pulled, it's best to go ahead and finish the bottle. (Insert smiley.) The most common pest the vineyard deals with is a specific kind of moth that ruins ripening grapes. In keeping with organic production and principals of IPM; the vineyard interestingly enough employs female moth pheromones which are dispersed throughout the field in order to jam the pheromone receptors of male moths, subsequently preventing further breeding due to sensory overload. Such practices effectively work as signal jammers, making it near impossible for male moths to physically locate a suitable female partner with which to breed. I personally find this to be fascinating.

Gaillic vineyard.

The tool used to disperse female moth pheromones. 
I unfortunately failed to record the name of an awesome green house we visited on the 9th that produced a wide variety of specialty flowers. I got side tracked once I saw the wide range of orchids they produced. I may be an old man and combat vet, but I will never deny my love for flower production, especially large scale orchid production. I lost count of the many different verities they produced. Absolutely beautiful to say the least!

Not an insect, but a variety of orchid I never knew existed.
Pointe du Hoc Normandy. An added bonus that speaks for itself.

Monument dedicated to Col. Rudder and his Rangers. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Blog Number 3

Welcome back! The week was more touring various cities than focusing on agriculture. It was nice to take a break and just observe the beauty of the cities. But getting back on track... Over the past few days, I spent a couple of days with a French friend. Over the course of the day, we explored Rouen which in my opinion was one of the most historical cities I've visited in France. We visited the famous site where Joan D'Arc was burned and we saw this amazing Cathedral. Next, I visited their hometown and gained quite an insight on the views of a local grower with a backyard garden. The garden consisted of tomatoes, lettuce, parsley, groseille which is like a special French grape, and zucchini. The tomatoes and zucchini don't do well in the rainy climate of Dieppe and the others seem to do very well except snails and slugs, diseases and pests are still a problem. the smaller gardens make use of companion planting to prevent and repel the problems listed above. From this, I saw some of the French views against nonorganic produce and of France in general. The French despise Monsanto for ruining farmers who use the seeds. They see the seeds as part of what the farmers buy. The Americans seem to support Monsanto since copyrights and all the trademarking is a huge part of our commerce. The seeds are seen as a trademarked item that is violated if it's "resold" in the form of new produce. The interpretations of the other country's people is quite inaccurate. The reputation of the French being rude and every American being cocky seem to have stuck the majority with the qualities of the few. The French actually are very generous and I don't believe Americans are always full of themselves. Very few of the French I've encountered have been rude. Overall, the trip was good in showing the city and giving me a little insight into smaller gardens that aren't commercial. Speaking of commercial... Until next time, I'll catch you later.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Week 3 in France

Omaha beach is very significant to American and world history. It is one of the D-day beaches where American forces landed to liberate Europe from German control in WWII. This week I was able to visit the cemetery, and the beach landing sites. At the cemetery there were  short films being played along with  displays of military gear, and weapons. Walking through the displays was very eye opening, it gave me an idea of what the soilders endurered during the war. They had to be strong, carry alot of supplies and be strategic in their planning for combat. It was amazing to see, and hear the stories of the young American soilders who were willing to leave their friends, and family behind to fight for their country. They were aware of the possibility that they may not return home but with their drive, courage, and bravery the soldiers enlisted. That same drive is also seen in American soldiers today.

Life and Comradery

Visiting the D Day Memorial allowed me to see the true definition of comradery. Living in America, I have always known that we stepped in when our allied countries were in need of assistance if we had the means to do so. It never dawned on me how much assistance we gave and how much it meant to others. Going to the D Day Memorial near Omaha beach showed me that the Unites States stepped in, supplied weapons, guns, soldiers, and most importantly lives to protect our allies. Women left widowed. Children left fatherless. Mother's and father's left childless. All this sacrifice for another country who still to this day pays respect to it. In Texas we have many memorials and historical places, such as the Alamo, but in my opinion nothing that I have seen in my 20 years of living could compare to the selflessness of all the soldiers who volunteered to protect a country that wasn't their own. Nothing can compare to seeing all of those white crosses in the ground covering there bodies. Nothing could compare to seeing relatives of the deceased still to this day mourning over their loved ones. This eye opening class taught me a valuable lesson that I almost forgot, help others no matter the price. Helping others no matter the cost, that is real definition of comradery. The D day memorial on Omaha Beach is comroadary

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Week deux was full of firsts for me. We took a trip to the Pyrenees to tour the countryside, visit local farms, make nice with the locals, and eat some cheese. Thinking back, it all went by in a flash, but I'll never forget the warm welcome received, particularly in Arrigas. After meeting with our tour guide Stefan -a local land owner and socialite- we began by touring a very prestigious cheese factory. Societe; located in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, is home to the famous French brand of blue cheese "Roquefort." If I'm honest, I knew going in that blue cheese isn't for me and yet I also knew that I had to try it. As a matter of fact, after touring the facilities and learning the history of Roquefort, I came out wanting to try it. I still don't like blue cheese but it was a great experience.

And forget about the Pyrennes. Pictures just don't do it...

In addition to taking in the beautiful countryside, other highlights include touring both goat and beef farms; all of which are independently owned and family operated, enjoying french cuisine prepared by a professionally trained yet humble chef/restaurateur named Sam -owner of Le Causse, and just following Stefan as he showed us his own herd of goats and plot of land nestled in a shallow valley. There I drank truly fresh water for the first time, right out of the earth. Slightly metallic downstream a bit due to a few metal plates arranged to channel water flow yet it was crisp, clear, and cold right from the source. I remember wishing I had a bottle so I could take some with me. Even if it was already full, I would have emptied it just to take some of Stefan's spring water with me.

Thanks Sam!

"The hills are alive." 

Whats fresher than fresh?