Saturday, February 26, 2011

I Love History

When I tell people I’m majoring in history, I get one of a four reactions.

(a) So you’re going to be a teacher?

(b) So you’re going to be a lawyer?

(c) That’s so interesting! I love history!

(d) Ugh, history is so boring.

The first two most common responses aren’t bad. Both teachers and lawyers have respectable careers. I do tend to bristle when people predict my future, though, and tell me I can only go down one of two paths. The third response can be a lot of fun, since it can spark a conversation about what periods of history we both like to study, what parts of the world, cool historical figures, etc.

The last always bothers me. I mean, I wouldn’t major in ecology, but I can recognize that other people think it’s fascinating. More to the point, it doesn’t matter if I think ecology is interesting as long as whoever is studying it enjoys it. So to those people who assure me that they hated history in high school: that's great – I didn’t.

I once had a woman explain to me how her deadbeat ex-boyfriend was going to go back to college to get a degree in history, and she made fun of him for wasting his time on something that was both pointless and wouldn’t get him a job. I wasn’t really sure how to react, aside from to say, “Yeah… I’m not sure what I’ll do. We’ll see when I graduate.” Clearly it was both a helpful and inspirational conversation.

So why study history? Often, I find people get put off because they think the subject is just about memorizing dates. While this is important for context, history is ultimately about people. What motivates people? Is there a difference between what they said and how they acted? What sparked certain movements? How does culture reflect the politics of the time? I find people fascinating and my classes have given me a wonderful way to study them. It’s also necessary to understand history – without the context that it provides, it is difficult to gain a thorough understanding of modern problems.

Also, history courses in college can be fantastic. I've had some great professors, and I love learning new information. In addition to learning about significant events, figures, and changes, I get to learn random historical facts. For instance, here is the most recent cool thing I learned: During the Vietnam War, President Nixon used a “Madman Strategy”to try to get North Vietnam to stop fighting. This strategy essentially consisted of trying to convince the North

Vietnamese leaders that Nixon was crazy, uncontrollable, and had his finger on the button to drop an atomic bomb on them at any moment. He thought if they believed him to be psychotic enough and nuclear war to be a real enough threat, they’d back down and he could win the war. It was unsuccessful, but no less interesting. I mean, seriously, who thinks of that? Maybe you don’t find that as interesting as I do, but hopefully you will at least refrain from making fun of my nerdiness.

This past Wednesday I visited the New York Historical Society and had the opportunity to see some incredible documents they have. Among them was a letter from Alabama Governor George Wallace to a woman in Michigan about segregation in the south, or rather, explaining why segregation was not a problem in the south. Another was a draft of Abraham Lincoln's "A House Divided" speech. I love looking at these documents, imagining the creators, and thinking about what they meant to people at the time. The Clements Library at the University of Michigan has an amazing collection as well. (It's also a beautiful building.) My freshman year, I wrote a paper about the 1840 presidential election and got to examine campaign pamphlets from the time. Isn't that cool? Somebody from 1840 read and took seriously the papers that were in front of me in that library. Amazing.

I might still be unclear on my ultimate career path, but no matter what I am happy with my decision to study American history. History majors do a lot of different things, not all directly related to their studies, so I’m not too worried yet. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Do you love history? Do you have favorite random historical facts? Or maybe you'd prefer to explain why another subject is more interesting - let me know!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dreaming Big

In order to work on my storytelling skills, figure out my goals for life, and entertain you, I will also have an occasional series exploring my dream futures – dream jobs, dream houses, dream lifestyles. Please keep in mind that I’m trying to work on fiction skills.

Restaurant Owner in France

I may or may not be basing this entire fantasy future on the films Ratatouille and Julie & Julia (but only the parts with Meryl Streep). I love cooking (and eating), though unfortunately I have yet to develop the instincts or skills to get more creative than just following recipes. Even more unfortunately, I’m pretty sure I can’t start a restaurant with a menu based entirely on my mom’s specialties, the Real Simple cookbook I got for Christmas, and Nevertheless! One of my ideal futures is to own a small restaurant on a quiet street in France.

Last summer, I lived in Nantes, a city two hours west of Paris. They had a wonderful restaurant district, here dozens of little cafés opened onto a pedestrian street. Each café also seemed to have a clever, very French name: Pour Ce Qui Savent…, Les Enfants Terribles, Le Petit Bacchus. I would love to run one of those cafés, serving light meals – let’s be serious, I’m talking about France, so it will probably be crêpes– with fancy drinks. It will be decorated simply, in black, white, red and light blue, and the patio will have small square tables with black iron chairs that have swirls on their backs. After meals, my restaurant will turn into a classy bar, where patrons order drinks of various colors in snazzy glasses and sit around laughing and discussing French literature or politics or Tin Tin. It will be a place to gather with friends, sip interesting cocktails, and gaze out at the people passing on the street as the stars glitter overhead.

I have some inspiration for this:

Top: Colored liquors at a bar in Athens, Greece

Bottom: Pour Ce Qui Savent..., Nantes

The drinks are two kirs (white wine and creme de cassis)

and a demi-peche (peach-flavored beer)

When I’m done playing hostess each night, have closed my kitchen, sent my maitre d’ Gaspard off into the night and packed up my leftover cream puffs (oh yes, there will be pastries), I will walk home to my well-decorated apartment, where my boyfriend and our adorable puppies will be waiting for me. I’ll make a warm cup of cocoa, lure my boyfriend to our balcony with the cream puffs, and then relax and gaze out over our street. If by this point I’ve turned semi-nocturnal, I’ll watch the people along the street as they begin their day, opening windows, heading off to work, walking down to the boulangerie for a morning croissant or baguette. After falling asleep in a bed full of pillows (and puppies!) I will wake up to spend my late morning dealing with the business side of the restaurant and coming up with new and amazing recipes.

So that you don’t find this total indulgence…

1. Nantes is not a huge city, but it is worth a visit if you’re in the Pays-de-la-Loire/Bretagne area. I love the Bouffay, their chateau is very pretty, and it’s just a beautiful place overall.

2. French food doesn’t have to be really hard to make. This recipe for Quiche Lorraine crepes has turned out well for me in the past. Okay, fine, it’s from the Food Network and not France, but they measure things in grams over there! You’d be annoyed if I posted a real French recipe!

3. Yes, Ratatouille is a Disney/Pixar film that involves a rat cooking. It’s still worth watching if you consider yourself an adult, and yes, it will make you crave delicious food.

Feel free to send me suggestions for your favorite French restaurants, creme puff recipes, your dream jobs, places you would like to live, or anything else!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Places in Ann Arbor I Will Miss When I Leave

This will be the first in an occasional series. In addition to fueling my pre-nostalgia, I’ll be providing a guide to places to visit if you’re ever in Ann Arbor! I’ll admit, I didn’t explore enough in my first two years here, so this won’t exactly be an insider’s guide, but I love this city and hope to share that with you!

The Law Quad

This is hands-down the most beautiful place on campus. Walking through the arches leads to a place that is gorgeous in any season, at any time of day.

Even in half-melted February weather!

In the fall and spring, I enjoy sitting out in the grass to read. I do have to admit, I’m still too intimidated to study in the Law Library itself, with its rules about silence and cork floors to muffle the sound of footsteps. (I would have uploaded a picture of their reading room, but I'm also too intimidated to run in for the two minutes it would take for a photo.) However, even walking around the Law Quad inspires me to study harder, read more, and just overall work to learn as much as I can. On more than one occasion, I have considered applying to Michigan Law just so I can go to class there. (Don’t worry – I have no plans to be a lawyer. That would likely end in tears.) The Law Quad is also one of my favorite places partially because of the associations I have with it. For one, some of my favorite people attended Michigan Law. On a different note, it is right across the street from Dominick’s.


Oh, Dominick’s. I wish I’d turned 21 even earlier. Last spring after Dominick’s opened (somehow it’s profitable enough to only be open from March to October) I spent wonderful afternoons with friends sitting in the sun on the back patio drinking sangria or Constant Buzz (or the two mixed together – delicious!). Their nachos are also quite good, but damn, that sangria! I look forward to taking my family there at some point, and I wish I could spend the summer in Ann Arbor to have more slow afternoons sitting by their fountain and sipping on something fruity and delicious.

Where are your favorite places in Ann Arbor? Where should I explore in my last couple months? I love hearing suggestions!

I have decided to start a blog.

Why? For several reasons, some serious and some frivolous.

1. I want to write

From the moment I realized I was not going to be a ballerina (age six – I quit when I realized they were prepping us to do splits, and yes, I do regret that decision) I wanted to be an author-illustrator, which then morphed into being an author, which then developed into being a historian, and now I’m back to wanting to write stories. The best way to improve is to practice frequently, right? So here I am.

2. I am realizing more and more that I shouldn’t delay

Recently, one of my former professors passed away suddenly at a young age, and one of the girls from my high school graduating class died of a long-term disease. I was surprised and saddened by each, and neither has yet to fully sink in. As a young college kid, it’s often easiest to think I’m invincible or at least that I have eighty more years to go, but it’s impossible to know. When I was in eighth grade, one of my favorite teachers recommended Ernest Hemingway’s The First Forty-Nine Stories. I know I didn’t get through all forty-nine, but one that stuck in my head was about a climber injured on a mountainside waiting for help. As he lay there dying, he thought about all the stories he had wanted to write but wouldn’t be able to. I want to be sure I've tried.

3. I’m trying to be more positive

Maybe this will get easier if I write about positive experiences. For instance, a few weeks ago, a perfect stranger at the airport helped me change the tire on my friend’s car. He didn’t even hesitate to get out in the freezing cold and show me what to do. When reading the newspaper often makes me want to curl up in my bed and hide, he reminded me that a lot of good people still exist, and hopefully I will be lucky enough to meet many of them.

4. I have no idea what I’m doing after April

I am graduating college in two and a half months and am having trouble looking for a job because I can’t exactly define what I want to do. I think I need to narrow it down from “helping people” and “making enough money that I can travel internationally.” By writing a blog, maybe I will feel like I’m proactively doing something for my future that isn’t just sending out cover letters.

5. I have some good inspiration

People I know:

People I wish I knew:

6. “I’m writing” sounds so much better than “I’m catching up on the last four seasons of 30 Rock”

Half the fun of procrastination is trying to pretend you’re doing something worthwhile.

So yes! Those are my reasons. I have yet to come up with a unifying theme for this, but I think that will be okay. I will try to be entertaining and (hopefully) thought provoking, and I will keep my language clean so my mother can read this. Wish me luck!