Wednesday Postcard: The Exploratorium in San Francisco

©️1983 The Exploratorium

Hello! This week’s postcard features “Words and Colors” from the Illusions and Other Surprises Postcard Exhibit at The Exploratorium, San Francisco’s Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception.


“Read this card aloud — but rather than reading the words, say the color of ink that was used to write each word. It’s not easy; the written words have a surprisingly strong influence over the actual color. The Exploratorium’s Language exhibits let you explore some of the patterns of meaning you make with words, sounds, and symbols.”

San Francisco (2017)

I enjoy visiting museums and I’m glad to see many of them gradually reopening after being closed since the pandemic began.

From 1969 to 2012, the Exploratorium was located at the Palace of Fine Arts. In April 2013, it opened its doors at its new location: Fisherman’s Wharf at Piers 15 and 17.

The Exploratorium is a popular school field trip destination, too! I went as an elementary school student, and in recent years, my daughters have gone there with their classes. I was even a chaperone for one of their field trips to the interactive museum.

There are hundreds of educational, entertaining, and hands-on exhibits at the Exploratorium. My favorites include:

  • Sip of Conflict (video)

Over the years, I have accumulated hundreds of postcards from around the world, which I’ve either purchased from my local antique shops or received from thoughtful jet-setting family and friends who know I collect them. When I travel, I also like to send myself a carte postale just for fun!

I hope these postcards will make you want to revisit a favorite vacation spot or to embark on a journey to the destination of your dreams (when it’s safe to do so, of course!)

And if you’ve been to the destination featured, tell me about your experience there – I’d love to hear from you.

Until the next Wednesday Postcard, stay well!

A Francophile is Born

Bonjour! This is my 30th post!

To celebrate reaching this mini-goal that I’d set for myself when I started this blog about eight months ago (January 2018), I thought it’d be a good idea to go to the very beginning and share my story about how I became a fan of all things French!

my constant companion in college

The year was 1985. I was at SFO waiting for a relative’s flight to arrive. To pass the time, I went to one of the many airport shops with the sole intent to buy some Flicks, those chocolate candy disks sold in cardboard tubes.

Photo: All About the 1970s (at) blogspot

While in the store, I flipped through some magazines and perused the paperbacks. Then a French-English phrasebook caught my eye. I looked through it and I was entranced.

  • It seemed like many of the letters were not pronounced; lots of silent h’s and t’s
  • Some words had interesting accent marks, like hats over vowels (ô) or a squiggle under the letter c (ç)
  • Many words had the letters q, x, and z in them, which is rare in English
  • And did I mention those fascinating accent marks?

I was hooked. This new language was like a puzzle I wanted to put together. It was a code I wanted to crack.

Around the same time, I discovered the music of Corey Hart, one of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters. Although his hits like, Sunglasses At Night and Never Surrender are in English, he was quoted in a teen magazine saying that he was bilingual in English and French since he’s from Montréal, a city in the French-speaking region of Québec, Canada.

Soon after that, I started watching a new program on PBS, called French In Action. In each episode of the instructional series, characters named Mireille, Marie-Laure, and Robert would act out the grammar lessons in the Capretz Method. It was fun to see all the Parisian sights featured in the episodes, too.

Photos from IMDb

It seemed to me that all of these signs were leading me somewhere…I wanted to know more. A Francophile is born! But it wasn’t enough. I decided I wanted to learn how to speak French, too!

I took my first French class as a freshman in high school. Madame P. had each of us pick a French name, which would be our name while in French class. I picked Catherine (pronounced kat-treen!)

Several years later, on my first trip to France, imagine my delight as I met my seat neighbor and learned her name was Catherine! She had been working as an au pair and she was returning to Bordeaux. We became fast friends and talked during the entire flight.

Back to Mme P. … I absolutely adored her: she was an energetic, patient, and kind teacher. As I was preparing to graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French (double-major), I sent Mme P. a note (in English) to thank her for inspiring me to continue my French studies. A few days later, I could not contain my tears when I received a note back from her written entirely in French!

These days, I continue my study of French in less formal ways. For instance, I listen to French pop music, watch French movies with English subtitles, and read French novels and magazines.

In addition, I have visited a few Francophone places, where I continue to learn stuff they don’t teach you in school. In Montréal, Québec, for example, they use religious symbols as curse words! Who knew a communion wafer could be a profanity! I didn’t know that. Not at all. (Pas du tout. Or should I say, Pantoute!)

I also feel my Francophilia is spreading to a new generation! When my older daughter was younger, we would have French Fridays and I would teach her basic words and phrases. Today, she is taking advanced French classes in high school and she’s teaching me new vocabulary!

I also taught my younger daughter some French phrases. If she asked for something without saying please, for instance, I’d gently ask her what the magic word was and she’d reply « s’il vous plaît »! So cute!

Believe it or not, I am not forcing either of them to learn French. But let’s just say that if they wanted to pursue it, I wouldn’t exactly discourage them either!

In the same manner that food has the ability to gather people together, I believe language opens the door to a deeper understanding of another culture.

There is so much to learn, so I am careful not to generalize or believe stereotypes about French people and culture. I feel fortunate that I’ve had opportunities to visit big cities in France, like Paris and Toulouse, as well as her small villages in the countryside. Those unforgettable experiences have helped reinforce my French studies from all those years ago. Without a doubt, those experiences have also piqued my curiosity and appreciation even more.

I could have studied any other language, but I chose French. Or did it choose me?

Perhaps it is a mutual affinity, who knows! What I know for sure is that it’s an enduring relationship that began more than three decades ago.

Thanks for reading my story. Are you a Francophile? Tell me your story! Who/what inspired you to become a Francophile?

For more information:

  • Corey Hart – Never Surrender (link)
  • Corey Hart – Sunglasses At Night (link) 🕶
  • French In Action series (link)
  • Québécois expressions (link)

Volunteering in Hérisson, France

In the summer of 1995, I participated in an international volunteer project in Hérisson, France through CIEE: Council on International Educational Exchange (who partnered with Concordia in France).

As soon as I got home, I wrote an article about my experience and it was published in the Spring 1997 issue of CIEE’s Student Travels magazine.

My article had to be edited for length for the magazine, but here is my original article:

I spent last summer on a group volunteer project in Hérisson, a tiny medieval village in central France. Our goal was to spruce up the town’s 10th-century castle.

Three weeks is a perfect length of time for a workcamp, the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in. There was no time to be bored. We all made the effort not to waste a single moment we had together.

Our projects included cutting acacia trees lined up along the road that were blocking the view of the castle, pulling weeds, repainting an old rusted gate, erecting a bench, clearing dead branches from the castle’s rose garden, and clearing ivy from the garden walls.

We worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (8h à 13h), with a half-hour break in the middle.

There were ten volunteers (ranging in age from 18 to 31) working on the project from, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, Poland, Spain, and the United States.

There were two group leaders (animateurs): one leader was from Québec, Canada, and the other leader was from Riom, France. She brought along her dog, Mireille, who became our mascot!

Accommodations were simple, but adequate. We slept in sleeping bags on cots or mats on the floor in a school cafeteria, where we also cooked and prepared meals.

We did grocery shopping in nearby Cosne-d’Allier. Each day, two of us took turns cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning the shared living areas.

In our spare time, my new friends and I played cards and sports, like soccer, and a bowling game called pétanque. We taught each other curse words, tongue twisters, and jokes in our respective languages, sang acapella, and frequented pubs.

While we usually spoke English (since we were all at different levels of French), I did try speaking French as much as possible with the two group leaders. My French vocabulary improved significantly.

Weekends were especially great. We visited two other workcamps in Vieure and Néris-les-Bains, went swimming and kayaking in a lake, and attended the annual Bourbonnais gospel concert.

At a festival in nearby Venas, we saw people folk dancing in traditional Bourbonnais costumes! We saw rope-making demonstrations and how they bake brioche in a brick oven.

There were also animals wandering freely among us in the plaza. At another festival, we danced in the streets to live music.

We spent the night inside the Chapelle Saint-Mayeul in Le Brethon after our hike through the Tronçais Forest, which is the largest oak tree forest in Europe!

When we got back to Hérisson, we helped out with a flea market (antiquités brocante) and I helped direct traffic! It was so much fun helping out with the community event.

The local community in Hérisson was warm and welcoming. Residents would greet us and ask how we were and how our work was progressing.

After work each day, some of the residents would give us tours of Hérisson. We visited the town museum, an old mill, and the Eglise Saint-Pierre de Chateloy. We also visited the home of an older woman who made hats and she let us try them on!

Several community members gave us lots of bottles of wine, homemade baked goods, and jam. Their friendliness made me feel more like a neighbor than a tourist.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but everyone at my workcamp shared the same hopes, dreams, and fears! We all wanted to have a better understanding of different people and cultures. It was the common goal that brought us all together.

©1995 by Darlene 🦔 << Hérisson means hedgehog!


Note: It appears that CIEE does not offer the international volunteer project program at this time.
To learn more about other educational exchange programs that they offer, visit their website here. (This post is not sponsored.)