Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mar 24 Bal de l'X... I'm done with the semester!

I officially finished the academic semester two days ago, with the passing of my final exam (I think I will end up passing the physics classes I was worrying about... spiral learning does work I guess!).

But first, a word on attending a fancy ball in France.

The 120th Bal de L’X

The Bal de L’X is one of the oldest and well known traditions at X. This is well evidenced by its snazzy website.
According to my program booklet, it was organized in 1876 as a charity ball to raise money for Polytechnique alumni in financial trouble. Since 1924, the BdX has taken place at the Opera Garnier (a tourist attraction in and of itself).
The program for the night included:
  • waltzing accompanied by a live orchestra
  • a live jazz band
  • watching a traditional dance called “le Quadrille” (sorry for the link, I don’t want to publish other people’s copyrighted photos)
  • a room for “le rock” dance (see my first blog post in France), with live band
  • an entire level for “le disco”
  • lots of fancy dinners
  • lots of red dresses and uniforms

I went with my fellow exchange student friends.

L to R: Alex (Portugal), Dom + Tobias (Germany), Raul (Portugal), Ilya (U.S., but he doesn’t speak English); in front of the Opera Garnier

“Sir, you don’t have a tie”

I was a little silly and thought not wearing a tie with my suit would be more “modern-looking”. So after an hour of public transit, I got stopped at the entrance of the Opera Garnier because I didn’t have a tie! Oops! A little smiling and SVP did the trick.

What I did

In no particular order, here are some of the things I did:
  • Walk around and admire all the fine architecture and finely dressed people
  • Danced (limited success; why do pair dancing always have to be led by guys?) rock several times with random people
  • Got back to Polytechnique at 8am (it was easier to wait 2 hours and take the metro at 5:30am than to try to navigate the night buses!)

Walking around the ball was very interesting, because I really got the sense Polytechneciens (and non-Polytechniciens) from all walks of life were present (something we don’t have yet at Olin!).

For example, I...
  • Met a French-American who decided to do her master's here to gain a different perspective. Her grandfather went to Polytechnique. He invented a screw that made refridgeration in submarines possible.
  • A Parisien law student (we tried dancing, but given that I was not a very good lead, we decided to talk instead). We talked for several hours on American, French, culture, politics, iPhones, and lots of other things.
  • Saw some tables where all the men (of different generations) were wearing the same uniform.

On the other hand, other interactions were quite ordinary. I
  • Met a guy in one of my classes who I’d never talked to before. Now I finally know his name
  • met many of my friends, but this time with their friends/family.

Dinner with a French family

Last weekend, a very kind French family from Palaiseau invited me to dinner at their house. it was 5 hours of very good conversation (the mother works at the France National Nuclear Waste Agency... so of course there were some interesting conversations there), some wine tasting (I admit I don’t know enough to know the difference), and delicious food.

Me, the mother, father, daughter, and another Polytechnique student. In front was apple tart.

Me, the mother, father, daughter, and another Polytechnique student. In front was apple tart

Food observations

I’ve learned here to take a lot more time for meals. Most days, I spend an hour at lunch, and an hour at dinner.

For one, it makes digestion more effective. For example, in the dinner above, I was surprised at how full I was based on my portion sized. This observation is corroborated by my friend Guillaume. One time I rushed him thru lunch to work on our project (a regular occurence at Olin of course), and he said something like “not having an hour to eat makes me feel bad”.

Also, I’ve had several dinner experiences where the hosts change utensils/plates between courses. You don’t want cheese to ruin the taste of strawberries.

A man who traveled for 13 years

At church, I met a man who traveled the Americas for 13 years. Ok, he rested in places for many of those years, but he did travel travel for 5 years total.
His plan was simple:
  1. motorcycle to a small town in America
  2. Find a big house with big yard
  3. Knock on door, and ask if he could pitch his tent in the garden.
  4. Houseowner usually said yes, would start talking so much that they would just invite them to eat + sleep in the house anyways.
  5. He sometimes returned to the house and cooked French food as an appreciation.

I asked him if he knew the U.S. well after that many years: “No, I just know my experience  of the U.S. very well”. Hm... different way to look at traveling, eh?

Ecole Polytechnique’s influence on the American engineering school.

If you’re interested in education, you should read this article about how E.P. influenced American Engineering Education:

Germans + beer

I have to post this photo; since contains my German friends and beer :)

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