Things to see when sitting in a car in Brooklyn

I’m back from a monthlong stay in Brooklyn during what was probably the worst month of the year in terms of weather, just my luck! But I nonetheless had a great time, and visited and saw many sights (and worked a lot too…that is after all what I was there for). Sometimes I saw things from the warmth of my car, because it was the only way to get from point A to point B without turning into an icicle. To my great surprise, and despite the warnings, Brooklyn is surprisingly car friendly. Mind you, we did get two tickets and were towed –and I swear we did not deserve it!– but despite that, driving was sometimes the best option to have a look around. I discovered that Brooklyn boasts some great vantage points for viewing Manhattan.

NYC from Green-Wood Cemetery

On a day so cold I thought I was in Canada again, I visited the Green-Wood Cemetery, in the Greenwood Heights neighborhood. It is a hilly burial ground with an intriguing range of gravestones and funerary monuments, and some impressive views of Manhattan. To be fair, I got out of the car for all of the shots shared here, but the views were excellent either way. I almost sacrificed my hand for the sake of this specific shot because you can’t wear mittens and still press the correct button. The cold wind felt like bathing in liquid nitrogen.

Another great place in Brooklyn if you want to see the city from afar is Sunset Park, and I was actually there at the beginning of sunset. You can even see the Statue of Liberty from here (though not in this shot), and that is the one and only time I ever gazed upon that big, green lady, because I sure as hell was not going on a boat ride in February.

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NYC from Sunset Park

Finally, Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood also has some great views of Manhattan, especially in the small and poorly named WNYC Transmitter Park. Between rundown warehouse buildings that all seem to house stinky passenger buses, you can find this little gem if you bother to look. In this case, you need to get out of the car and walk to it, but wait until it gets warmer; I almost died twice while penguin walking over a 2 inch layer of ice.

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NYC from Greenpoint

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Bermuda underground, literally (Bermuda Part 1)

Over the past few years I have spent a total of 4 weeks in Bermuda, which is plenty of time to explore the tiny archipelago isolated in the Atlantic. The fact is –and no one seems willing to admit it– Bermuda beaches are very small and often crowded because of the large amount of tourists who disembark from floating hotels. Luckily, there is a surprising amount of off the beaten track sites and activities for those eager for an experience that does not include endless sweaty strangers.

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A favorite of mine is cave exploring. The most famous cave network on the island is Crystal Cave, an official tourist attraction, which is beautiful, but not nearly as fun as the many caves and subterranean grottos found in Blue Hole Park.

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Part of the much larger Walsingham Nature Reserve located in Hamilton parish, Blue Hole is a lovely combination of dense vegetation, tide pools, caves, and mangroves. Causeway Cave, Castle Grotto, Blue Grotto, Walsingham, Subway, Deep Blue, Vine, Fern Sink are some caves that come to mind, many of which are accessible and filled with water, creating a unique opportunity to view fish, turtles, and birds within a microenvironment.

And while you may encounter other hikers, more often than not you will feel like you have the park, and the caves, to yourself.  Take a swim in the dark, and if you get hungry, the park has an endless supply of sour surinam cherries.

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Breaking Backs, Breaking Stereotypes at the Loyola Plantation (French Guiana Part 2)

It’s often important for archaeologists to point out that movies like the Indiana Jones franchise provide very poor examples of our  craft. Frankly, I can’t imagine why anyone thinks being shot at by Nazis, chased by giant boulders, or having your face melted off by a supernatural artifact sounds like a good day at work*. But a very different archaeology stereotype has us digging with toothpicks and toothbrushes, barely removing an inch of dust for our efforts. Your face has time to melt from boredom! Luckily, real life archaeology is more stimulating than the latter, but safer than the former.

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I spent a week in the oven to the right

In 2006, I participated in a project in French Guiana, an overseas French territory in South America. We dug on the site of a colonial plantation established in 1668 by Jesuit Priests. The Jesuits were major land owners in French Guiana, and took full advantage of the slave trade. Over 1000 slaves worked on their five plantations, many of whom were of African descent, but others were natives of South America, and some were even convicts from France. The combination of inhumane treatment, hard labor in equatorial heat, and tropical diseases made this an undoubtedly terrible place. By about 1740, the Loyola plantation produced more sugar, coffee, and cocoa on its 1000 or so hectares of land than the rest of the colony put together.

Our project involved the unearthing of what remained of the sugar mill. Delicate techniques were not appropriate for removing the massive amounts of mud, dirt, and rocks covering the stone foundations. The extreme heat and humidity meant the mud at the surface was full of putrid wood, squirming insects, and rotting god knows what else. But since the shovels got stuck in that thick biomess, the job began with us removing it with our bare hands.

026It didn’t take me too long to realize that this project wasn’t going to involve much complex thinking…maybe later, when we had found what we were looking for. Occasionally, archaeology is more action than intellect, and it seemed that with all the strength of my impressive 5”2 100lb frame, I had been hired for grunt work. There was once a three-day stretch when the only tools I used were a pick-axe and wheel-barrel.

I thought I had managed to escape the stereotype of the weak and small, overly feminine blonde woman that had pursued me my whole life. Yet I had to push myself harder than ever, because that stereotype was never far behind. I stopped counting how many times I was referred to as “the blonde.” Any act of kindness towards me was because I was “blonde,”  not because I was a pleasant person who perhaps deserved to be treated nicely. Did they not see my dark roots? I stopped being a true blonde as a teenager, but I guess my choice of hair-dye must have affected the fundamental nature of my personality. Oh wait…hair color never affects the fundamental nature of one’s personality. Apparently, being among scientists –you know, those people who claim to adhere to fact and logic?– does not save you from unfair judgment.

In an oven for a week

In an oven for a week

Nor does science always mean precise data and high-tech instrumentation. And sometimes, as a petite archaeologist, you spend a week wedged inside of an ancient oven digging out rocks, because you are the only person who fits in that space.  And yet you still get called a princess because you dared to wear mascara after washing off the dirt from the hard day’s work. Maybe sometimes archaeology is like Indiana Jones, exciting and kind of sexist.

*Indiana Jones movies may portray poor archaeology, but that doesn’t stop me from loving them as movies!

Frozen in New England

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The cold has finally come to New England, but without any of the charm usually associated with it. No snow, no frosty landscapes, no blinding sun against stark white. At this time last year, a storm hit the coast, leaving in its wake a visually arresting mixture of beauty and destruction. It seemed that a spell was cast that encased the town in ice and threw the ocean into a frothy fury. Winter.

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Paris Future Perfect

The beauty of Paris’ grandiose architecture, the madness of its meandering streets, and the charm and particularities of its history and people are unparalleled. A few months ago I mused that if I could choose any city in the world to live in for an extended period, I would without hesitation select Paris. Not a surprise, since as a French Canadian, French culture shares many similarities with my own, and yet it is different enough to remain exciting and enticing.

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Thanks to a strange and unlikely series of events, Paris appears to have chosen me as well. As the new year starts, so does a new chapter in my adventures; next week I will be starting a job which will give me the opportunity to travel to Paris every year. And not just for brief visits. I may remain there for a few months at a time, which means this blog will soon reflect that change in lifestyle.

clock at Musée d'OrsayIf I write about the typical sites and attractions, I will bring a different angle, my own. Paris has so much more to offer than the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa. Steeped in history, art, and literature, the City of Light can be explored from different perspectives, and my stays will permit me to get a feel for the “real” Paris.

From place to place, time has its own texture, and I look forward to experiencing it in the small things: the chances encounters, the coffee consumed at soon-to-be discovered favorites cafés, even in the metro rides from here to there. Furthermore, my great-grandfather was from Paris, and I relish the chance to make this city a part of my own personal history.

Paris has many off-the-beaten track archaeology sites, museums, shops, and parks, but I also want to find little pieces of daily life worth writing about. What are you dying to know about Paris and French culture? Do you have any recommendations? I suspect I will have many ideas (and thankfully French is my primary language), but I would love to hear yours as well!

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A Québec City Moment

Québec City, view of the Château Frontenac

Québec City, view of the Château Frontenac

There are places in Québec City where you can briefly forget the 21st century. Views, buildings, streets that feel of old in ways that are hard to come by in North America. At some level, history is a sense not unlike our senses of smell and sight. It may be more subtle, but sometimes you can feel history in and around your whole body, and you can wade through its thick and mysterious complexities.

At twilight in Québec, in the dim, warm light, you begin to travel backwards. And if you wait a little longer, until dark, the sound of tourists die down, and the cars and artificial lighting are absorbed by the ancient stones. Finally, the city is yours and the present is gone, but the river is still there like it always has been.