Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rusticating, Part II

As I posted a few weeks ago, this has been a summer full of "rustic" activities: gardening, picking fresh local fruit, visiting the Charlottesville City Market, canning, etc.  Two weekends ago, I decided to try my hand at yet another activity that has me thinking that maybe I was actually raised on a farm and just don't remember: cheese making.  For whatever reason, I suddenly just had a burning desire to make cheese with my own two little hands.  Yes, I know, I am a freak of nature.  So, I did some digging around on the internet and found instructions/recipes for both ricotta cheese and mozzarella that seemed relatively straightforward.

I started with the ricotta cheese, which seemed fairly foolproof, even for a cheese-making novice like me.  Basically, you throw milk (which I buy in glass bottles, 1950's style, from a local dairy that supplies Charlottesville Krogers), vinegar and some yogurt into a pot and heat it until it curdles, then you dump the whole thing into a strainer lined with cheese cloth and about half an hour later, ta-da, you have ricotta cheese! 
Ricotta cheese starting to form curds (in my very poorly lit kitchen)

Ricotta cheese straining in cheesecloth-lined collander
Finished ricotta in a container!
Making ricotta was so easy that I felt motivated to try making mozzarella, which requires some slightly more exotic ingredients and a little bit more time and effort.   You need a good candy thermometer (or something else that reads temps under 100 degrees F well), twice as much milk, rennet, citric acid, and salt.  I have never in my life had to purchase rennet before, but fortunately Rebecca's Natural Foods in the Barracks Road Shopping Center carries rennet, citric acid, and cheesecloth.   There are varying "recipes" on the internet, but basically, you heat the milk to around 88 degrees, add the rennet (dissolved in some water), add the citric acid, heat to around 105 degrees, and then scoop out balls of cheese curds and squeeze the whey from them with your hands.  You then place the balls of cheese into the microwave (this is the faster way...if you are particularly industrious, you can dip them back into the whey until they soften) for a few seconds, remove them, squeeze out the whey, knead, and repeat until the mozzarella reaches the texture you want.  You add salt at the second kneading (I am kind of anti-salt, especially since I'm working for a company focused on hypertension and salt sensitivity this summer, but you can't make mozzarella without salt.  Seriously.).   I think I over-kneaded a bit....probably one too many rounds of kneading, because once I had refrigerated the cheese, it came out more like mozzarella that you could grate and put on a pizza than soft "fresh" mozzarella that you would turn into mozzarella caprese.  But that didn't stop me from making a nice caprese with some local tomatoes (only my cherry and grape tomatoes are ripe) and home-grown basil!

Essential ingredients - vegetable rennet and citric acid
Just getting started....

Some nice preliminary curdling action around 88-90 degrees F
The first ball o' cheese

Mozzarella balls, pre-microwaving and pre-kneading

Finished mozzarella balls, ready to go into the fridge

A nice fresh caprese salad platter!
After my cheesemaking, I decided to make some braided Italian herb bread (I like to pack a lot into one day, OK?), and then I packed up the whole lot to take over to Brianne's, where she was cooking up some very tasty pasta with veggies.  We enjoyed the food and then topped off the evening for a trip to Splendora's for gelato.  Tasty, local/homemade, Italian food - what more can a girl want?

That is a good-looking homemade bread if I say so myself
I took a few days off after The Great Cheesemaking of 2010, and then my parents came into town for the weekend.  On Saturday, we grabbed breakfast at Albemarle Baking Company, picked up sandwiches to go at Bellair Market, hit up three wineries (Barboursville, Prince Michel, and Sweely Estate), and topped off the day with dinner at The Bavarian Chef (totally worth the drive, but don't go on the hottest day of the year - their poor little A/C just couldn't keep up!).  Sunday, we did breakfast at a little place down the street from my apartment and then went peach-picking at Chiles Peach Orchard and blackberry-picking at Hill Top Berry Farm (they also have a winery/mead-ery) before the parents hit the road and left me to my own devices.  Naturally, once they left, the hot water canner came out again and I started canning up a storm.  In two evenings, I made peach salsa, peach pie filling, peach melba jam, blackberries in framboise, blackberry syrup, blackberry apple chutney, blackberries preserved in water (for use in baking recipes later in the year...blackberry cobbler in February?  Yes, please!), and maple walnut syrup (because I could...). 

Mmmmm....tasty canned goods!

This is what my coat closet looks like now...anyone need some canned goods?

And that, in a nutshell, is Rustication, Part II. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Best of luck to all the Bar exam-takers!

Today is the first day of the bar exam in many jurisdictions, and since I know I have a couple loyal readers who are taking their exams this week, I just wanted to give them and everyone else suffering through the process a shout-out.  You've all studied hard, and you'll do just fine - you only need to pass!  If that doesn't make you feel better, just remember that I'll be in your shoes in just three years, and by that point, I'll be suffering and miserable and you'll be a fairly well-compensated third-year associate.  See?  It's all about perspective. 

For those of you (possibly MBA students?) who think the bar exam is no big deal.....go away, and I never want to speak to you again. 

For anyone who's looking for something entertaining, check out this hypothetical bar exam-type question from Above The Law.  It's funny whether or not you have any idea how you'd answer the questions. 

If this whole JD/MBA thing doesn't work out, I could always become a scullery maid

From medieval times until the early twentieth century, the scullery maid was basically the lowest of the lowely household/kitchen servants, responsible for washing pots and everyday dishes, scrubbing floors, boiling water, and performing other such unsavory tasks as plucking chickens.  The position is one that has (fortunately, I think) generally gone the way of the horse and buggy, but somehow I recently managed to find work as a scullery maid.
The Scullery Maid (L'Ecureuse)
Jean-Simèon Chardin (French, 1699 -1779)
Yes, that's right - a Brown University diploma, a year of the MBA program at Darden, and impending matriculation into a Top 10 law school has landed me a position as a scullery maid.  Well, technically, the position is "Assistant."  And it's actually kind of fun.  A few months ago, the Wine & Cuisine Club (WACC....B-school humor at its finest - hahaha!  ) at Darden took a cooking class through the Charlottesville Cooking School, which also hires folks to fulfill the scullery maid function in exchange for either pay or free classes.  So for a couple nights in the past month, I've donned an apron and some gloves for 4+ hours after putting in my time at the internship.  While there is a LOT of dishwashing (particularly for the sauteeing class), I also get to listen to most of the class, and the assistant/scullery maid always gets fed part of the meal that the class cooks, too.  All in all, it's been a pretty neat experience (for dishwashing), since I learned some new knife techniques and recipes, and I'm looking forward to signing up to take some classes myself - I earned them, after all!

Now, I signed up for the scullery maid job at CCS, so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.  What I didn't expect was that my summer internship would also necessitate serving as combination sous chef/scullery maid last week!  The local biotech start-up that I'm working for this summer hosted its first Advisory Board meeting last week, which was kicked off by a dinner at the CEO (who is technically my client/boss)'s house.  His wife was out of town until right before the dinner, and he needed some help pulling everything off, so I showed up a couple hours in advance to chop and dice and make crabcakes, and I ended up serving as combination cater waiter/scullery maid in addition to "guest" and "company representative" during the dinner. I'm guessing a good number of MBA students would have been displeased with that arrangement, but I enjoy cooking, and my mission this summer was to be as helpful as possible, and that's what the company needed at the I did it, and my help was appreciated.  Like I said....if this JD/MBA thing doesn't work out, I'm going to buy a nicer apron and hire myself out.  Anyone else need a scullery maid?  Will work for food...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LO and recruiting...from a legal perspective

Apparently, today is the day of posting links rather than posting real posts.  But I stumbled across this article on emotional intelligence and legal recruiting and thought it was worth a read whether you're a law student, a business student, or both.  Dontcha just love it when LO* sneaks its way into law school?

*For the uninitiated, LO stands for "Leading Organizations," or a core course in the First Year at Darden - it's basically all about interacting with and/or managing people within an enterprise.**

**Dear LO faculty, please don't hate me for that super-condensed description of LO.

Who gets a JD/MBA anyway?

I recently stumbled across a Wikipedia list of "famous" (I use the term somewhat loosely) JD/MBAs from a variety of top schools.  Sadly, UVa is not listed, but if anyone is looking for some information about JD/MBA career paths, check it out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The countdown to the first day of my second first year

Today marks the “one month from the start of law school orientation” point. Eeek! I honestly probably should have been more freaked out about starting Darden last year than I am now about starting law school, but oddly I wasn’t. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Darden does a MUCH better job communicating with matriculating students and letting you know what you need to get done before school starts (I can say this objectively.  I've lived here in Charlottesville for almost a year now and have done all the "Charlottesville things" one needs to do when one gets here.  I've even done most of the "UVa things."  But I'm generally clueless about most of the "law things" I need to or should be doing.  I don't think I'm alone on this.  At Darden, we got a checklist in May, and even though it stressed me out, at least I knew what I needed to be doing.) Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that the incoming Darden students started moving to Charlottesville earlier and organized social events so that we’d know each other before classes start. Or maybe it was because even though Darden is the bootcamp of business schools, law school in general still has a much nastier reputation than b-school. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t played softball since the days of The College Firm’s lawyer-league play. Who really knows why, but I’m apprehensive in a way (a “nervous gym tummy” kind of way) that I wasn’t last year.

I suppose that it isn’t really the nature of the work or the workload that makes me nervous. I’ve worked in political and legal environments since I was 16, and frankly, the parts of my summer job that I’ve enjoyed the most this year have been the corporate governance and legal-ish parts (though I’ve been very clear with everyone that I CANNOT provide legal advice under any circumstances). So it’s not the work or the reading of legal cases that is making me apprehensive; I periodically still track down pleadings for random cases to read them for fun. Nor is the issue the workload. I’ll be taking fewer classes, spending less time in class, and taking fewer exams over a longer period of time. I’ll also be able to do my studying on my own time, rather than on Darden-dictated time (which means the return of AFTERNOON NAPS!!!! So exciting.). I know it will be challenging, but that’s exciting to me, not nerve-racking.

I frankly think that part of my apprehension has to do with - *gasp* - the people (I know, I know…. I am SURE that I will be lambasted or burnt in effigy or something for saying this, but I’m trying to be honest.). When I visited Darden when I was applying to schools (18 months ago at this point), I loved the Darden people I met. They were friendly, they were welcoming, and I just seemed to “click” with the people I met. That whole “fit” thing they talk about in admissions was completely on the mark for me. I just “fit” better at Darden than I did anywhere else I had applied or been accepted, and a huge part of that “fit” was the people (the other part was that Darden was - of all the b-schools to which I was accepted -  the place where I felt I could do my "best work" in the words of Dean Bruner).  Last year, as I was preparing to start at Darden, I wasn’t at all worried about the “people” component of the experience (the finance component, yes…the people component, no). Now, I am by no means the world’s most outgoing person, and there are certainly people at Darden with whom I don’t hang out regularly, but I can honestly say that by and large, I really like my Darden classmates. The vast majority of Darden students are intelligent, motivated, and fun to be around. I’ll bet this is true at UVa Law, too, but I frankly didn’t get the same vibe and perfect “fit” feel from the law school either when I visited several years ago or when I went to the Admitted Student Weekends this year. Oh, I liked it and the people well enough, and I definitely didn’t get any stronger “fit” vibes from any other law school, but it just doesn’t feel the same. And if I have to put my finger on it, I would say that part of the issue is really age.

Now, before somebody starts accusing me of being hypocritically ageist, hear me out. The average incoming age of Darden students is 27-28. I was on the very young side of my class at 23 (I turned 24 a month later, and I will reiterate again, I worked full-time every summer and winter through college at the same law firm, and I worked at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named for a full 30 months after graduating). But I’ve always been younger than my classmates (even in grade school – a September birthday will get you!), and because I graduated early and spent a lot of time at the office, most of my friends are at least a couple years older than me. Given my work experiences and the friends that I have, I often feel older than 24. The vast majority of Darden students have had careers of some sort prior to returning to school. This means that they have (usually) lived independently, travelled for business, bemoaned the lack of summer vacation in the “real world,” tracked their 401-K performance, and balanced the demands of work and the “rest of life.” There’s a perspective that comes from having been out in the working world for a while, and I think there’s also a perspective that comes from having survived the first year at Darden, frankly.

The average incoming age at UVa Law is 24 (at least for the class of 2012, the most recent class for which data is easily available). Yes, that’s the average and I’m right at it (though I’ll be 25 shortly after starting). That means that the average UVa Law student at graduation is still younger than the average incoming Darden student. It also means that 50% of my class is younger than me. This is a first for me. It means that the peer advisors assigned to my class – who are 2Ls and 3Ls – are younger than me. It means that many people (about 40% of the class of 2012) have gone straight through from undergrad and haven’t worked or lived on their own. It means that, amazing though I am sure these future classmates will be, right now I very much feel like we are different points in our lives. And I feel like a grandma. This grandma-like feelings started at the Admitted Student Days this spring, when I hosted several admitted students (I have a guest room that might as well get some use) and attended the standard barbecue and other scheduled programming and found myself talking to people who were barely 21 and still seniors in college.  I felt truly ancient. Fortunately, the second student I hosted is coming to UVa and will be joining me in the “grandma club.” Also, I suppose that many of the "older" people joining the class of 2013 may have been stuck at work and didn't make it to the Admitted Student weekends.  So I know I will have elderly brethren....but I haven't found many of them yet.

It’s also comforting to know, as I get more apprehensive as the start of school draws nearer, that all my Darden friends are just a (very) short walk away from the law school. And they have the added attraction of being in a building with free coffee. And of having no idea whatsoever what the Blue Book is. You all better be prepared to drag me out of the law library, ply me with grown-up cocktails, and make fun of me for being a young’un next year!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'm going to end up living in a cardboard box

Yesterday, as I was electronically signing yet another master promissory note (Um...hi...doesn't "master" mean that I should only have to sign one?  I signed four last year.) for student loans and petitioning to have my student budget adjusted so that I can pay for all my healthcare costs (I have diabetes.  I take care of myself, but doing so is darn expensive....bye-bye savings!), I thought to myself, "Wow, my 1L classmates and I are getting ready to take on nearly $70,000 of loans for a 9-month period."  Holy moly.  And that doesn't include paying for things like car insurance.  Or travel.  Or anything fun. 

Tuition alone at UVa Law is $47,500 for incoming out-of-state students (don't even get me started on the fact that I have lived in VA and exclusively in VA for a year, filed a tax return here, pay personal property taxes here, have a VA license and car registration, and certainly don't even pretend to reside anywhere else).  Yes, it's even more at Darden ($49,500).    That means that I'm basically paying more for tuition each year than the total cost of yearly attendance at my undergrad college, Brown University (and it was cheaper when I was there, obviously).   Yes, ostensibly (and hopefully) I'll have a nice, lucrative job when I graduate, but if you look at the costs of a JD/MBA, the base debt load amounts to $280,000 (not including capitalized interest or a discount rate or any of that other financial ridiculousness from which I'm taking a break this year).  Just an MBA will set you back $140,000, and a getting a JD alone can easily generate up $210,000 in student debt.  Eeeek!  You could buy a decent-sized house around here for that.  I am dreading - absolutely dreading - the day that the Powers That Be tell me what my monthly student loan payment will be.  Let's just say that most people have cheaper mortgage payments each month.  I'm going to start planning the interior decorating scheme for my cardboard box.  And to think that I tease my sister about her future of living in a tent (she's applying to Ph.D. programs in archaeology).  Tents are far more spacious than boxes, and somebody will basically PAY HER to go to grad school.  Sigh. 

Clearly, I'm not the only one who has been thinking about the high costs of professional education.  For more on the subject of law school tuition, check out Above the Law and this recent US News & World Report article.  My advice to potential professional school applicants:  Think long and hard about whether or not you think the costs of going back to school - and of attending top schools - is really going to be worth it to you before you spend time and money applying.  I do think it will be worth it for me in the long run...but that doesn't mean I can't grumble about the costs.  After all, I wouldn't be an MBA student if I didn't worry about dollar signs followed by big numbers...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Let me be clear: I am not typically an overly outdoorsy, tree-hugging sort of person (I did hug a tree once, but I went to Brown, so it was basically required before they let you graduate).  When and if I ever own a house, I plan to hire someone to take care of the yard, because yard work really isn't my thing (and my neighbors would end up stoning me because the place would become an eyesore very quickly).  I think the local food movement is great, but I also like to eat raspberries in January.  However, all those disclaimers aside, I have spent much of the last couple months going all "crunchy granola" and becoming domestically inclined in a thoroughly "old school" sort of way.  Maybe it's just the relative abundance of free time that the summer has afforded me, or maybe it's a result of living in the "country" (or maybe it's both...), but I've been rusticating to an extent that has started to frighten even me. 

It started innocently enough, I suppose.  When my parents and sister came down to visit for Easter (yep, I cooked Easter dinner this year), my father brought with him some tiny little mint plantings for me.  Mojitos are one of my favorie summer time drinks, and I maintain that you shouldn't be permitted to live in Virginia if you don't have all the makings of a mint julep on hand at any time, so this seemed like a good idea.  Plus, I already knew that I'd be spending my summer in the Charlottesville area rather than abandoning my apartment for the summer like many of my classmates with exciting jobs in exotic locales, so that meant I'd be around to water plants and all that stuff.  Well, the mint seemed to start me down a slippery slope.  I decided that if I had mint, I might as well have basil (for homemade pesto, another my summer favorites) and other herbs, too.  And while I was making the trip to Lowe's for window boxes and potting mix and seedlings, I might as well buy one of those nifty little upside down tomato growing pot thingamajigs, too, right?  Right.

Three months later, I have realized that there is either some sort of plant equivalent of steroids in the water here, or I actually may have a wee little bit of a green thumb.  Who knew?  The herbs are out of control, I've had to repot the tomatoes because they over-grew their original hanging pots and became slightly suicidal (one of the two pots spontaneously plunged two stories to its almost-demise), and I decided to diversify into peppers, too. 
Yep, I'm basically running a garden/mini-farm off of my little apartment porch.   My tomatoes have been very tasty...

...and I've been trying very hard to be patient while this guy ripens (but I am not naturally a patient person):

I've really been enjoying having fresh herbs for the aforementioned summer cocktails and pesto and other tasty treats, and I also bought an ice cream maker and made fresh homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream (and strawberry frozen yogurt with fresh-picked strawberries).   I brought the tasty frozen products to a BBQ a friend hosted, and they got rave reviews.  Yay!

In addition to my sudden urge to become a gentlewoman farmer (inspired by our man Thomas Jefferson, but minus the whole land-owning part) and purveyor of frozen delights, I developed an almost unhealthy obsession with the ancient art of canning.  By canning, I mean preserving various tasty foods in glass jars, of course!  I don't exactly know what inspired my desire to take up this new hobby, but it *may* have been related to my childhood love of going to pick fresh fruit.  Picking (and eating) locally grown fruit with my own two grubby little hands has always been a summer-time ritual in my family.  Now that I live alone in a climate and location that again permits me to partake in said activity (Rhode Island and Massachusetts were great for apple picking, but not much else), I needed a way to ensure that the fruits of my labors (literally and figuratively) didn't go to waste.  Because really, in my mind it's not worth it to drive out to the middle of nowhere to spend time picking fruit if you're only going to pick what you can eat in the next day or two.  Plus, homemade jams and jellies are both tastier and healthier than the ones you can buy at the store.  And I like to cook and bake, so canning seemed the next logical step in my own personal domestic diva development project. 

So I invested in a boiling water canner ($20 at the local Wal-Mart) and all the little necessary gadgets like jar lifters and lid lifters and canning funnels.  Oh, and the jars (which a friend of mine had to special order in Massachusetts but which are sold in grocery stores and WalMart here in more sizes and shapes than you might imagine).  I purchased so many jars at Wal-Mart that the cashier closest to the door by the housewares section and I were on a first-name basis.  For my first attempt, I chose strawberry jam.  It went so well (and tasted so good), that naturally I had to go cherry picking and make things with the cherries, so I made preserved cherries in almond syrup (delicious spooned over homemade vanilla bean ice cream) and cherry raspberry compote.  And then, because I was feeling pretty good about my mad canning skillz at this point, I made bread and butter pickles.  Yes, I did this all within the first week of owning a canner.  I may or may not be slightly obsessive about new hobbies (and again, I don't have homework, so what's stopping me?)

The results of my first week of canning: jam, compote, preserves, and pickles

Week 2 of my new addiction - er, hobby - conveniently coincided with the start of peach season and raspberry season, and Week 3 marked my first trip to the Charlottesville City Market (the big Saturday farmer's market downtown).  During these weeks, my canning repertoire expanded to include dill pickle slices, Oktoberfest beer mustard (no seasonal ingredients involved, but who cares?), golden relish, raspberry jam, chocolate raspberry sauce, peach salsa, berry wine jelly, and blueberry chutney.  Brianne even came over for a canning "lesson" (I use the term very loosely) when I made the chutney. 

From left to right: (front "row") Oktoberfest beer mustard, berry wine jelly, golden relish, blueberry chutney, peach salsa; (back "row") chocolate raspberry sauce, raspberry jam

Once I had made all of these tasty treats, I had to figure out where to store them.  I already keep a fairly well-stocked pantry (no real surprise there), and since most people don't have a root cellar these days (you should store glass jars of fruits and vegetables in cool, dark places so that the light doesn't lead to discoloration), I had to clean out the shelf in my coat closet in order to hold lots and lots of jars.  I also put together a gigantic basket of homemade treats as a gift for Father's Day (my mother hates sugary sweet things like jams and jellies, so she got a jar of bread and butter pickles and Dad got everything else).  Everyone else should be forewarned that I will be gifting canned goods from now and until eternity...

My last domestic rustication effort of the summer (so far) has included making all sorts of side dishes and tasty morsels for barbecues and picnics and whatnot in town.  One of my friends threw a surprise b-day barbecue for his girlfriend, and I offered to make the cake (this same friend once challenged me to a bake-off...after two months of talking smack, he finally forfeited after the aforementioned b-day barbecue).  Since I was feeling particularly ambitious, I actually decided to make a round layer cake AND to hand write the birthday wishes; I usually cop out and make a sheet cake, frost it in the pan, and buy "Happy Birthday" candles.  My focus is taste, not appearance.  But I think that this one looked pretty good (and certainly tasted good - red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting....mmmmmm), if I may say so myself:

I've been taking some time off from rusticating due to travel plans for the last three weekends, and I've been spending several of my evenings doing fun exciting things like organizing my case materials, ironing, and all that other stuff that you can do inside in the air conditioning (it was one of the hottest Junes on record in Charlottesville).  Since I'm in town again this weekend for the first time in a while, and I hear that it's blackberry season, I'm thinking I might need to bust out the canning materials again...

Friday, July 9, 2010

My inner neat freak

Since school ended two months ago, I've basically been ignoring the gigantic stack of cases and tech notes and review decks and exams and various other school-related junk that has been cluttering up my bookshelf.  Yesterday, I decided that unless I did something about said junk, I was going to have to go buy another bookshelf to hold my law school stuff this year....and Ikea ain't close.  So, it was time to clean. 

Here's the starting point:

I had been pretty good about taking everything out of the binders and reusing the binders each quarter up until Q4.  But I'd also been just throwing exams and review decks and goodness knows what into a big pile. Plus, seriously, that's like 3 feet (OK, OK, maybe only 2 feet) of rubber-banded paper just flopping all over the place!  It was becoming seriously offensive to my Type-A over-organized everything-has-its-place-darnit personality.  Now, I know I could have just opted for electronic cases in the first place, but I will probably never be able to build an accurate spreadsheet using case data while I'm flipping back and forth between two windows on my laptop.  And I'm not going to lie - hard copy cases are a great crutch when you get cold-called.  Nothing says "I'm super prepared" more than flipping like a maniac through a case and muttering "I know I saw that in here somewhere....uh......"

I decided that I really only needed to keep technical notes and review decks from this year.  The cases were interesting, but I don't necessarily see myself sitting somewhere thinking, "Hmmm...I thought there was some really interesting information in that George's Tshirts case about predicting the likelihood of rain at rock concerts.  I wish I still had that case!"  I do see myself (possibly) thinking, "I wish I had that tech note on calculating inventory re-order points."

So two hours, four francy schmancy binders, and a couple packs of dividers later, I had this much "trash" to be hauled to Darden and recycled:

...and a bookshelf that looks like this (bottom shelf is all empty binders and notebooks to be used next year in law school): much better!

Yup, I know I'm a freak.  But that's Ms. Neat Freak to you. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Riviera

or those of you who know me, you know that a I drive what is officially an "old man" car - a 1995 Buick Riviera that was, in fact, previously owned by an old man (my grandfather).   I refer to it the same way Pop always referred to it, as "The Riviera" (not to be confused with the Pop-dubbed "The Park Avenue" or "The Lucerne," his other recent Buick models; my old Subaru Legacy aka "The Subaru;" or my mom's minivan, which my grandparents still call "The Truck").   Since I'm so used to driving The Riviera, it was odd for me to start talking about how I was going to visit The Real Riviera: the French Riviera.  

During my trip to Cannes (see the post here for details of GBE Cannes 2010), several of my friends and I took day trips to explore other Rivieria attractions beyond the annual Film Festival.  Those trips included taking a ferry to the Ile St. Honorat, which is one of two (along with Ile Ste. Marguerite) cute little islands about a 20-minute board ride from Cannes.  We took the bus from Cannes la Bocca, walked down the pier, bought our tickets, and voila!  We were ready to sail! 

After a 20 minute ferry ride on which we saw "pirate ships"...
...and fancy carbon-masted racing sail boats... 

...we made it to St. Honorat, which is the site of the Abbey des Lerins, an actual abbey inhabited by monks.  You're supposed to be quiet on the island, so we took a lovely peaceful walk around the place.  We saw their fancy vineyards (they do make their own wines and liquors, available for sale in the abbey gift shop)... 
 ....and we saw some cute little chapels on the shoreline....

...we found a little pirate cove...

...and a big fort that looked straight out of Robin Hood...

...and then we visited the actual abbey before grabbing lunch and heading home....

It was a lovely day!

The next day, the same group of lovely ladies decided to take the train from Cannes to Monaco.  We did our own tour of basically the whole principality, starting with the beautiful church outside the train station...

...then we walked up the hill to the royal palace....

...saw the royal guard....

...and some other beautiful scenery and gorgeous parks in Monaco Ville. 

Then we trekked down the mountain, hopped on a bus, and went to see the Montecarlo casino before heading back to Cannes.

And thus ended my trip to the Riviera.  Now all I have is some photos...and the Buick. 

Cannes GBE, or what should have been the greatest-ever course credit coup

View of Cannes from the fort at the top of the hill

At the beginning of May, two days after exams ended and one day after I jaunted up to Hartford for my cousin's wedding (lovely, lovely but completely gratuitous-to-this-post pic below - it was a beautiful and very fun wedding!), I hopped on a plane to Nice, France to attend the 63rd Festival de Cannes (i.e., the Cannes Film Festival).  For two weeks, I was supposed to hob-nob with entertainment insiders and walk the red carpet...all while earning the equivalent credit for a one-quarter Darden class.  This sounds like the best plan ever (a veritable academic coup, if you will), right?

Um...wrong!  While there were certainly parts of the trip that I enjoyed, I spent much of the two week period completely frustrated and counting the days until I got to fly home.  Now, before you stop reading here and write this off as a crazy rant by a grumpy person, let me say this: what follows below is a fairly "fair and balanced" (no, not in the Fox News kind of a truly "fair and balanced" kind of way) summary of the trip.  I'll cover the good, the bad, and the ugly in the spirit of being entirely honest.  What follows is my opinion, yes, so you can feel free to wholly disregard it, but there's also a lot that I'll say below that I really, really wish someone had told me before I signed up for this trip.  Some of my Cannes-mates may have different views (Sierra's more up-beat accounts are here and here and here), but the following is mine (and you'll note that I've taken six weeks to write this post, in part because I was so irritated before that I didn't think I could provide any sort of objective report on the whole thing until now.  I've mellowed with time.  Honest.). the style of my Barcelona GBE post, here goes...

1.) Course name: The Business of Film at the Cannes Film Festival
2.) Professor: Yael Grushka-Cockayne, a member of the Decision Analysis faculty (she did not attend the Festival with us but will be reading our papers, viewing our presentations, and giving us grades)
3.) Credits: 1.5 credits that count toward the Second Year elective requirement (or equal to a one-quarter long regular class)
4.) Academic requirements/work load: Working a 6+ hour daily internship shift with a company doing business at the Festival for about 10 days; attending screenings at the Festival (mostly for fun); writing a 5-6 page marketing and distribution plan for a film screened at the Festival (either in competition, out of competition, or screened to buyers) (70% of grade, due July 1); putting together and delivering a 10-15 minute presentation about one of the films and our marketing/distribution plan in a group of 3-4 students (30% of grade, will be done in September when school resumes).
5.) Done in affiliation with: The American Pavilion, a communications and hospitality center at the festival, which matches students with companies for internships and ostensibly provides a variety of other services and perks to student participants (more on this below)
6.) Cost: Around $5000, including the program fee ($3000), airfare ($800-900), and food/beverage/sundry purchases for the two weeks. Darden approved loans for up to $4500, which was not really quite enough to cover everything (food is ridiculously expensive during the Festival....I think they just prey on tourists, which is probably a genius business strategy). 

The plan was for everyone to depart on May 8 and arrive in Cannes on May 9.  I was planning to go late (arrive very early on the morning of May 10) due to the aforementioned wedding.  However, thanks to the Icelandic ash cloud, I ended up arriving about 10 hours after I was supposed to and before about 30% of the program participants (and before about 50% of people's luggage). 

Days 1-2:
May 9 was supposed to be a "get over your jet lag" kind of day for everyone in the program.  For future reference, there were about 150 or so students participating in the American Pavilion's program, the vast majority of whom were undergrads.  There were 16 or so Darden students and one girl from NYU-Stern.  Since the ash cloud was wreaking havoc on travel plans, May 10, which was supposed to be a day for getting the lay of the land and attending panels, ended up being a "get over your jet lag and hunt down your luggage" kind of day for most people.  My classmates who attended the actual scheduled programming of the day unanimously said that I didn't miss anything by not being there.

Day 3:
This was the day when we got our internship assignments.  There were also several panel discussions and a tour of the Palais de Festivals, or the main building where the festival screenings and the Marche du Film (film market) are held.
Outside the Palais, with the official festival picture of Juliette Binoche
I was actually pretty excited about my internship assignment - 5 other Darden students, one NYU undergrad, and I were assigned to work for a pretty major American studio (in my ongoing spirit of protecting the innocent, let's just call it "The Studio That Shall Not Be Named").  What I wasn't excited about during this day was the constant "hurry up and wait" routine (we literally spent over an hour just sitting on the steps of the Palais waiting for someone to fetch our festival accreditation badges), the panelists who spoke interminably on random topics that had nothing to do with their advertised theme (we got some guy's random musings on life during the talk entitled "Navigating the Cannes Film Festival" and absolutely no useful information about the Festival), and the relatively patronizing tone of the American Pavilion staff members.  Yes, I know wrangling 150+ students is difficult.  Yes, I know students often act obnoxious and entitled.  But hello, you're maybe five years older than me (which makes you younger than many of my classmates), so please don't talk to me like I'm a child.  And definitely don't just yell at all of us.  Grrrrr.....

Days 4-12:
From May 12-20, we were basically on our own to do as we pleased, so long as we showed up to our assigned internship shifts.  I ended up on the afternoon shift, which meant that from about 2 pm -8 pm I occupied the penthouse offices of The Studio That Shall Not Be Named and made myself available for whatever they needed me to do.  This included straightening up the office, organizing RSVPs and guest lists for parties, and running errands. We had been told in advance that we would be doing menial things like running errands, so I really didn't have a problem with that, at least in theory. I was more than OK with fetching office supplies and snacks and was when I got sent out to buy (and then return) a French MacBook (european outlet plug, French keyboard) for somebody who spoke no French and lived in Hong Kong or to track down Tampax and Midol for the executive's personal assistant or to go get the heel fixed on the Studio's VP of Corporate Affairs' shoe that I got a little frustrated.  It was like living in "The Devil Wears Prada," but I didn't get to meet Meryl Streep.  I also wish that we had had a little more opportunity to actually learn  about the film business, but we were basically under orders to stay out of the way of the executive (who apparently doesn't love interns), and there frankly wasn't enough to keep us all busy, so we spent a lot of time watching trailers and reading scripts (there are some really cool films coming out towards the end of this year, just FYI).  Several of the more senior Studio employees did periodically take the time to talk to us and answer any questions we had about the business, but it would have been cool to see a distribution negotiation or something like that. Still, all that aside, the internship wasn't too bad.  I have some suggestions for how it could be improved, but we'll get to that later.

Literally rolling out the red carpet...

Days 13-15:
Here's a key festival secret: most of the actual "business" is done the first week during the major market session. Then all the important Hollywood-types fly home, leaving the, I mean to jaunt off on day trips (read all about those here).

Day 16:
Most of us flew home on May 24, though a couple of my very lucky classmates had planned other European excursions before their internships started.

So, that's the trip in a nut-shell.  As described above, it probably doesn't sound too shabby, right?  Well, here are my other thoughts on the trip that I really think anyone considering going should know (and don't worry, I have some constructive suggestions for improvement, too, not just complaints).  These probably don't sound like major issues, but they could get awfully, awfully annoying when they were all happening at once.


My issue: space concerns and roommate matching
The situation:  We were housed in "European efficiency apartments." This didn't sound too bad at the beginning. I have friends who have lived abroad for a protracted period of time in accomodations that are billed exactly the same way, and they were perfectly fine. However, when you cram four people into an apartment that is smaller than my master suite in Charlottesville (which, trust me, is not palatial), you will have problems.  There literally was nowhere to lay down our suitcases, and there was not a single drawer (and only limited closet space).  I was in a bunk bed with a mattress that was flimsier than my sofa cushions at home.  The bathtub had a flexible shower head but no curtain.  We didn't get keys to the apartments; instead, there was a lockbox with a combination hooked to the bars over the window outside, and you had to open the lock-box, get out the key, unlock the door, replace the key in the lockbox, enter the apartment, and use the second key inside to lock the door again each and every time anyone entered the apartment.  If you were unfortunate enough to be sleeping in the bunkbeds in the front alcove, this meant that any time anyone came or went, you knew about it.  However, this all would probably have been bearable if I hadn't had The Roommate From Hell.  There were four of us in this apartment - me, my friend Amy, a cool undergrad from Bentley, and The Roommate From Hell.  Our first day there, before Amy's luggage and the cool undergrad had even shown up, TRFH comes up to us and asks if she can have friends who are in town for the festival sleep on our floor.  Ummmm....hi, there isn't enough room for four people, let alone their luggage, in this apartment.  We certainly aren't adding any more. AND, we paid for this, your friends didn't, and the AmPav rules prohibit rommates.  Amy and I articulated our concerns to her pretty nicely, though, which earned us a grumpy "Fine, I was just asking your opinion."  We thought that issue was over.  Wrong.  Instead, we ended up with a "squatter" who TRFH periodically snuck into the apartment while Amy and I weren't looking.  Super, super annoying.  TRFH also regularly flooded the bathroom while showering, and she was also in the annoying habit of handwashing her stockings and undergarments and hanging them in the bathroom each day to dry.  Oh, yeah, and she CONSTANTLY turned on the heat to the maximum temperature.  It was 70+ degrees outside and there weren't any windows to open.  Now, I am not usually a passive agressive person; if you've really ticked me off, I will usually go straight to blatantly aggressive.  But something about this girl really drove me up the wall.  Maybe it was that she pretended to be unable to speak English and refused to communicate with me and Amy.  Maybe it was that she kept trying to stealthily sneak her friend into our apartment.  Maybe I just didn't like her.  Either way, I started passive aggressively turning off the heat every time I walked into the apartment.  I started ignoring her the same way she ignored me.  I avoided the apartment basically at all costs.  Childish, yes.  But I know I wasn't the only one annoyed by her (the remaining roommates really enjoyed commiserating).  Oh...and I should also mention that we paid $3000 for the privilege of coming to Cannes, and the weekly rate for each apartment was 400 euro.  So that means that per person housing costs were 200 euro for the week.  Just keep that in mind for later...
My proposed solution/recommendations for the future:  Don't cram four people into those apartments.  2 or 3 MAX would be much better and the cost really shouldn't be a huge issue.  Also, don't have undergrads rooming with grad students.  We are at different stages in our lives and have different priorities (in other words, I am a grandma and would like to go to bed before 3 am at least sometimes).  If I'm going to be crammed into a room with 3 other people, I'd be much happier if they were Darden people. 

OK, at least the view from our apartment wasn't too bad...

Tickets to screenings
My issue: handled inefficiently, inequitably, and unprofessionally by AmPav
The situation:  When we weren't at work, we were free to do whatever we wanted, including attend screenings.  Now, here is the secret to the Festival: if you have a festival badge and an inside ticket connection, you can go see some really cool stuff that is being screened as part of the film market (the Cannes market is one of the biggest film markets each year, which basically means that it is where studios and filmmakers and distributors all get together to buy and sell films and distribution rights, so there are tons and tons and tons of market screenings for buyers, to which you can frequently get invitations or tickets if you know or can figure out whom to ask).  Unfortunately, I think it took some of us a really long time to realize that you could go to tons of screenings for cool US films this way.  Nobody really told us, and unlike every other Festival-goer with a badge, the American Pavilion kids didn't each get our own book of market screenings.  I don't know why this is, but I really wish I'd had it.  That being said, the American Pavilion did *try* to get us red carpet tickets to the films in competition and to some of the market films (but again, you had to specifically know which films where showing and where and when in order to even ask them to try).  They kept a book where you could sign up for the films you were interested in seeing.  While I did get to see a good number of competition films, there were a variety of very frustrating things about this ticket system:
1.) You could sign up at breakfast each morning, and you had three "stars" that you could put down next to the screenings that you *really* wanted to see.    Doesn't sound bad, right?  Well, the problem with this was that you could theoretically sign up for everything, so there were some people who did this...and then went back through and changed their minds and hemmed and hawed every morning, so it was often a slow, tedious process to wait and sign up.  Also, some people had variable work schedules, so you weren't always sure whether or not you should sign up for something because you didn't know if your work schedule would conflict.  Aaaaannnnddd.... what we didn't realize at the time was that you were basically rewarded for signing up first, because there were a limited number of tickets for each screening (if the AmPav even got tickets), and while there was a "raffle," that basically meant that if there were five tickets available, the first five people who had written down their names got the tickets.  Also, if you "used" one of your stars for a screening for which the AmPav couldn't get tickets, you didn't get that star "back" to use again, you just lost it. 
2.) Halfway through the festival, when we'd all wised up about the stupidity of the system and realized that the key was to just sign up for everything really far in advance and then swap a work shift with someone if you had to, they....LOST THE BOOK.  And didn't tell anyone.  Um, yeah, that was really super and really professional.  We all started wondering why we weren't getting tickets to anything any more.  Yeah. 
3.) They did the daily "raffle" and ticket-awarding at 6 pm.  If you worked an evening shift, too bad for you.  The Darden crew tried to always have a representative who went and tried to pick up tickets for those people who "won" them, but the AmPav staff was sort of snooty about this whole thing.  You needed a signed note authorizing you to pick up someone else's ticket, and half the time, they didn't even do the drawing on time, so somebody had to be willing to go sit around, wait for the drawing, fight to collect tickets, and then hunt you down before the screening.  Again, "systems" like this are infuriating for an MBA student. 
My proposed solution/recommendations for the future: AmPav should really publish (or otherwise communicate) concrete, helpful information about the ticketing process.  They should also provide us all with the copy of the market screening guide that I believe we are entitled to as credentialed attendees.  The AmPav ticketing system should be electronic.  Run a Google spreadsheet or something so it can be accessed continually, can't get lost, and so that you can actually run a "drawing."  Hold the tickets at the actual American Pavilion for pick-up by the recipient (stick a post-it with the person's name on the thing and hold it at the front desk, for crying out loud).  Seriously, put an MBA student on your ticketing "operations" problem for 20 minutes and let them fix the thing for you.  Sheesh. 
One of the billboards for Robin Hood, which most of my Darden classmates got to see.  Why didn't I?  They ran out of tickets and handed out the last one right under my nose. :-(

My issue: We were told not to bring computers but they clearly would have been useful.  We should have been told to get ourselves French phones/phone numbers prior to our arrival in Cannes, because our employers certainly expected us to have them.
The situation: AmPav told us not to bring computers, so I didn't (one less thing to tote through airports...).  However, we needed them at work (thank goodness some of my classmates had brought theirs), they were the best way to get information on the films that were screening (again, because AmPav withheld the standard festival attendee information from us), and I think online ticketing (see above) would solve a lot of problems.  Our employers, who were sending us jaunting around town on copious errands, also expected us to have French phones/phone numbers, or at least some way for them to reach us.  I signed up for a temporary international plan on my blackberry (Yes, I am addicted, but at least that way I could stay in touch with family/friends while I was gone), but I didn't want to pay 99 cents a minute for somebody from my unpaid internship to call me.  Also, without phones, you had no way to track down your Darden classmates to figure out who was going to which screening, where everyone was grabbing drinks, etc. 
My proposed solutions/recommendations for the future: Bring a computer.  A bunch of us also ended up buying rechargeable prepaid French phones.  It would have been much cheaper to do this in the States in advance, and I also learned that I could have signed up for a French number that could have rung on my blackberry.  C'est la vie.  Now I know.  And I have an old-school flip phone with a French number.  Aren't I cool. 

My issue: We paid a crap-ton of money to AmPav and did not receive anything approximating the value of that money in return
The situation:  As I mentioned, we paid a $3000 fee to the AmPav program to participate.  In return, they gave us crappy housing (200 euro), shuttles to and from the Nice airport to our crappy housing in Cannes la Bocca (approximately 50 euro value per person), festival badges (rumor is the full festival badges through a company costs around $300; we had apparently watered down versions that didn't come with the free swag or informational materials), access to the American Pavilion tent (whoop-dee-doo!), [semi-stale] breakfast each day (I'll be generous and say they spent $5 per person per day, or about $70 for the whole trip), limited access to tickets [which we could have acquired ourselves if we'd been given the right information], and access to organized panels and speakers that many of us couldn't attend because they conflicted with our work shifts.  So, they spent MAYBE $800 on each of us.  Even throwing in a generous administrative fee, I still don't understand where at least $1000 of my money paid to AmPav actually went.  Plus, I paid for a French phone, bus passes, lunch and dinner, my plane tickets, etc. on top of that.  Now, I know all GBEs are expensive.  Barcelona wasn't cheap.  But at least in Barcelona, I could see where my money was going (very nice hotel, tour guides, admissions fees to museums, etc.)  Maybe if I had been planning that trip myself, I wouldn't have spent the moeny the same way, but at least I know where it went.  Not so with Cannes....and that is INFURIATING to someone who is living on loans.  I feel totally ripped off.
My suggestions/recommendations for the future:  I think going to Cannes and working at the festival is cool and a valuable experience, but I think Darden could organize a better program itself without AmPav for much less money.  Rent a villa, use the connections we've established with US companies to set up real internships where we actually do useful things, and use those internships to get festival badges.  Done and done. 

Lest you all think that this is just me going on a tirade again without doing anything productive about it, be aware that AmPav did give us review forms to fill out after the trip...and I said on that form much of what I've said here.  Oh, and I warned them that I would be blogging about it....