Bici Caño – Dia 4

Today, we left Farjardo around 8 to arrive at Bici Caño around 9. Bici Caño is a non-profit that offers bike tours of the 8 barrios that surround the Caño Martín Peña to raise money for and awareness of the communities present. Once there, we selected our bikes and started off on our two-hour ride.

We traveled around the “monja” neighborhood, stopping every 10 or so minutes to discuss different attributes of the barrio, both current and historical. I think it is safe to say that the bike ride was particularly eye-opening for us Westtown students.

After we finished our ride, we ate a quick lunch before heading out to the beach, where we spent the remainder of the day.

picture: Maren Hapeman

We have a full day of service tomorrow, so look out for that post! See you all then.


El Yunque – Dia 3

We started our day relatively early today so we could arrive at El Yunque Tropical Rainforest (a National Park) to begin our volunteer work. We worked in two sites, Baño Grande and Baño Oro, doing both maintenance and hurricane clean up.

My group worked on the Baño Grande site first, scrubbing the stone surrounding the natural bath extensively.

Kavya and Zakiyah with their scrub brushes.

After we finished at our first site, we ate a quick lunch with an incredible view:

After lunch, my group headed to the Baño Oro site to remove some of the dirt and clay stuck that filled the natural bath there. It was fairly challenging work, but extremely rewarding.

To reward us for our hard work, we traveled to a gorgeous swimming hole along one of the rivers. We cooled off and washed our muddy clothes before returning to the guagua to head back to the hotel.

See you all tomorrow!


Distilling Grasse to an Essence – A Study of Culture and Perfume

03/06/19 – Grasse, FR – Day 5

The Seminar I was in was a total of 3 days, (the three days that were in-between now and my last post), and each day I was able to do something different. My mornings are very peaceful, and in the past three days, I’ve developed a routine. Get up, get ready, eat breakfast on the terrace, and finally cab to the studios. The ride to the studios are brief, and the drivers are so incredibly sweet. Because Grasse is such a small town, I’ve already had some drivers more than once. All of them incredibly patient with my “learning” French, and willing to help me learn as much as I can about the area, the language, and the culture. Upon arriving at Galimard on the first day, I was a bit overwhelmed. I was a bit early and thus the first to arrive; therefore I was paranoid about whether or not I was at the right place and if I had enough euros in my bag to get to where I needed to go. Eventually, when people started showing up, and the classes started, I realized that the workshop that the rest of the people who came was different than mine, so I was the only person in my Seminar which mean that the entire Seminar was set and based on what I wanted to learn and accomplish.

A sheet for the absolute tests

The first day was the basic introduction. I learned about what goes into fragrance production, both the business and the chemical side, and about scent recognition. For a long time, I tested maybe over 70 scents, and my instructor (who was the principal perfumer at Galimard) told me to connect each and every scent to a memory or event in my life to help me remember which smell was what. She taught me how the absolute (the “soul of the flower”) is extracted. How essential oils are obtained, and how and why people confuse them when they are very different products. And finally I learned how a parfum (also an Eau de toilette, an Eau de parfum and cologne, but I worked only with parfum) is made, and how if I were to start my own company, the extensive tests and forms I would have to fill out and pass. After six long hours, with a lunch break at my hotel, it was time for me to leave. I went and had dinner in town, and promptly fell asleep.

How I determined to include a scent in my parfum or not

The second day, we focused on parfum composition, the three main parts (head [the scent you smell only within the first 2 hours], heart [what you smell for up to 4 hours] and body [ the smell that can stay up to and maybe more than 24 hours]), and which types of scents (floral, citrus, “oriental,” aromatics, woody, and spicy) go into those categories, and trying to figure out the category that I enjoyed, or which mix of these I enjoyed. After a blind test to test what I liked, which was powdery floral, I made my first scent, a feminine one. The whole time the perfumer was looking over me and making sure that the decisions I made for my scent didn’t clash, and that the final product was indeed feminine. While I was making my final decisions, she said that my tastes were extremely elegant and refined and that she didn’t expect such “expertise” from someone my age. I was so It took a little over than half a day, and by the time I finished, packaged and labeled my new scent the day was over.

A bit of the mixing process from my feminine scent

Today, the final day, I did a lot. I got to the studio about 45 minutes early and began to prep my station because I knew this morning I would be making two new scents, a masculine and a unisex, by myself. After about 4.5 hours, I went on a guided tour of the factory where I saw both the old and the new distilling process, and also the “scent room.” I learned the history of the company and also of the town.

Every day was different. However, one thing stayed consistent. These scents are so incredibly strong that after smelling about 5-7, you are recommended to go outside and take a minute break for fresh air. Even after doing that, in a couple of hours, everything starts to smell the same, and your nose starts to burn. In addition to a red nose, the amount of smells that your brain has to process makes you incredibly sleepy.

Tomorrow is my last day here. I’m despondent to leave, it is such a beautiful town rich with history and amazing scents, and I look forward to returning in the future.

My First Few Adventures! (And then some)

I did not expect to experience so many ‘adventures’ in only the first few days of my trip; so far this has been a great experience of travel and exploring the area!

The first ‘adventures’ were definitely the challenges it took to travel across the country. Originally, I had two flights booked leaving Saturday afternoon, and arriving Saturday night in Arcata. However, my first flight was delayed by 4 hours, and I missed my connecting flight at LAX. I was about to sleep in the airport until these nice strangers offered me their extra hotel room. I proceeded with caution, of course, but the offer turned out to be genuine, (and a kind one at that).

Outside my hotel room (3/2/19)

I stayed in a beautiful hotel room that night and then got on more flights the next day. Each of those were delayed by some time as well, so I ended up landing in Arcata almost 24 hours later than planned!

Landing in the Eureka/Arcata Airport (3/3/19)

I spent that night catching up with my family friends (who I am staying with) and getting some rest. The next day, I slept in, took a walk, and went to orientation at Food For People! Orientation was filled with important information about volunteers, where they are needed, the impact they have on the community, and so on. I was able to create a schedule with the director there, where I will be volunteering 3 out of 5 days in the week. Each day I will volunteer around 7 hours, mostly in the pantry and warehouse, (I will explain the work I do in later blog posts).

The Arcata/Eureka area is extremely interesting, where the population is a mix of hippies, southerners and indigenous people. There are many active Native American tribes in this area, and they also have many family owned businesses in the area! There is also a nearby playhouse and college town that I have discovered! I also found it interesting how the mix of the beach, the forest, the mountains and the palm trees all in one town makes for an odd yet picturesque place.

Taking a walk by the river (3/4/19)
An interesting mix of flora and fauna (3/4/19)
Driving around Eureka, where the food bank is. (3/4/19)

My second night, I had the pleasure of attending an event at the local Arcata playhouse. The playhouse is currently in a series of events for National Women’s History Month (!!!) and that night they were playing Roma, a new (and absolutely wonderful) Oscar nominated movie about home workers in Mexico during the political 1970s. Beforehand however, there was a discussion held where the playhouse brought in real house workers who were members of the community, and they shared their powerful stories. I felt very lucky and humbled for these strong women to share their stories with me.

Discussion before Roma at the Arcata Playhouse (3/4/19)
Female-Based artwork displayed at the playhouse (3/4/19)
More art (3/4/19)

Today, (3/5/19), I spent the day working on some writing in the lovely home I’m staying in since the rain and fog was coming down pretty hard. After relaxing for the day, I went to a spoken-word poetry cafe a few minutes away. If you know me, you know I love poetry. So much. I was lucky enough to get a seat in the crowded cafe, and I was also lucky enough that there was an open mic. After listening to many college students speaking, I really couldn’t help myself from participating as well. It gives me great joy to write and then perform it, and by the end of the night I felt extremely happy and accomplished! I did not get a video of my performance, as I was there on my own, but hopefully I will go next week with the new friends I made who go to Humboldt State College who will take a video for me!

A shot of a performer and my hot chocolate! (3/5/18)
The cafe’s SUPER cool bathroom (3/5/19)
A nervous Bess performing her spoken word poetry (3/5/19)
A happy Bess post last-minute poetry performance (3/5/19)

Tomorrow, I will start my volunteering at the food bank! I’m looking forward to the experiences I’ll have there in the coming days. I will make sure to keep you all updated on every adventure that crosses my path. Thanks for reading!


Day 3 & 4 – Last Days in Sicily

As we are currently docking in Naples, we are think about our last two days in Sicily. On day 3, we spent hours in Ortygia marveling at Greek temples in the Valley of Temples. The best preserved Greek temple in the world, The Temple of Concordia, was absolutely amazing! And the size of the temple to Zeus was mind blowing! Although in ruins, the statues that made up less than half the height of the building made us all look like ants. We learned lots of interesting things too, such as archeologists think that Greek temples are designed to replicate how they would have been made out of wood and even the woodland shrines they may have made before temples. That night, we stayed in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and spent day 4 exploring the city. We saw the cathedral in Palermo which was absolutely beautiful and was allowed on the roof to one of the most incredible views we have seen yet! We also explored a Norman/Bourbon/Carthaginian palace (depending on who ruled at the time) which was beautifully decorated with different types of marble, paintings, sculptures, and geometric designs! Afterwards, we had a chance to sit in the garden and read both a passage from the Iliad and a poem by Robert Service which connected with us about how sad we were to leave Sicily despite the great adventures ahead. The last stanza is but a glimpse of this poem, yet I will leave you with it so you may understand our sadness at leaving. “His honour scrolls shall feed the flame / They mean no more to me / His ashes I with bitter blame / Will take to Sicily / And there I’ll weep with heart bereft / By groves and sunny rills / And wishing my laughing boy I’d left / A shepherd on the hills.”

-JD ’19

Santurce – Dia 2

Our second full day in Puerto Rico began with a quick breakfast at 7:30 before departing for Santurce in the “guagua” (Puerto Rican term for bus). Once we arrived, we exited the bus to search for street art, which wasn’t particularly hard to find: it’s everywhere!

After we had our fill of street art (if that’s even possible), we headed to La Placita, a farmers’ market packed wall-to-wall with monstrously large produce.

Lena selects a mango.

We hopped back on the bus to travel to Lote 23, a lunch spot filled with about 10 food trucks of varying cuisines.

After almuerzo, we took el Tren Urbano to la Universidad de Puerto Rico to visit their Museum of History, Art and Anthropology.

While we were there, we learned about the anthropologic history of the Tainos, the Native Americans that lived and thrived in Puerto Rico before Christopher Columbus arrived. We also had the privilege of view the world-famous painting “El Velorio” by Francisco Oller (in no way does my picture do it justice), as well as many other works.

We drove back to the inn after we finished in the gallery to rest for a day full of service tomorrow. Looking forward to it!


Fabric Finding Adventure

The first step of any sewing project is to find material. To find something fun and suitable for my graduation dress, I decided to take the train and head down to Philly’s version of the garment district, Fabric Row.

Two different fabrics: Linen and cotton (possibilities)

Fabric row is a couple of blocks of 4th street where (around) seven fabric stores reside. Most of them are family owned and operated. I found that where ever I went, the employees of the store were incredibly helpful and friendly. At Fleishman’s Fabric and Supplies, Nick pulled out ten different fabrics to choose from and was able to give awesome recommendations. I found beautiful linen at Fleishman’s. That being said, we were a yard short of what I needed. I also went to Jack B’s and found really pretty eyelet cotton, but again, there was not enough fabric. Despite all the help I was given, I could not find fabric suitable for this project.

Nick (from Fleishman’s) showing me some linen

After four more stores, I had given up on finding material on Fabric Row. I got a pretty good sandwich at Reading Terminal Market and had a nice cup of tea, but my trip to Philly had been rather unsuccessful. This did not end of my fabric finding journey!

I took the train back to Wayne and made my way to my friendly neighborhood JoAnn’s. When I first walked into the store, I was immediately able to find some embroidered cotton.

This is the outer fabric I chose from JoAnn’s (the lining fabric is cotton broadcloth)

For my project, I needed four and a half yards of fabric, two to three yards of lining fabric, one yard of interfacing (to keep things in place), a zipper, and a pair of rings and sliders. All of this I found at JoAnn’s, thus concluding my fabric finding adventure.

The next step is to start cutting out the pattern and sew it together.

Day 1 & 2 – The First Glimpses of Sicily

We are finally here! All of us, after exhausting sleepless flights, are in Sicily and enjoying ourselves so much!This picture is from the Greek theater in Taormina, one of the best preserved ancient theaters in the world! Taormina is where we spent our first day and night, the first place we tried genuine Italian pizza and gelato, and the first place we were amazed by the beginning of many stunning views.

That first night we all crashed early, exhausted from what was nearly 2 days of travel, but we were all up and ready go at 8 am to travel to our next location Siracusa (Syracuse). We started by visiting an amphitheater where they would have held gladiatorial games and another theater. What we found especially interesting about this place was that in the rocks above the theater, there were carved out rooms, similar to a place I have seen in Spain where primitive human beings used to live thousands of years ago. Sadly, we could not find the reason behind the “caves” being there, but they were very amazing. One even had a bit of a waterfall in it! After that we explored the city of Siracusa, all on the attached island of Ortigia. Again we saw some beautiful buildings and scenes, but one thing that stuck out for everybody last night was the food. We ate family style, where our guides ordered what they told us was the best and we all ate a little bit. One thing in particular that stood out for me was an antipasta dish made of oranges, onion, and breadcrumbs. A combination I would have never thought to make, but it was fantastic! We also had a penne in a pistachio creme, garlic bread, assorted meats and cheeses, a spicy spaghetti dish with sausage, and so much more. It was all some of the best food we’ve ever had! It’s breakfast time on our third day now, and as people come downstairs to eat, no one is sleepy or slow, but excited for what is to come!

-JD ’19

“The Moviemaker’s Guide to Running Away” – Post #1

March 3, 2019 – T-Minus 3 Days Until “Project Run Away” Commences

Hello! My name is Alex Mortazavi, and my Senior Project is essentially the making of a “road-trip” movie – but with a few experimental twists on the well-trodden genre. A close friend, Kiki and I will be traveling together from fog shrouded San Francisco to neon drenched Vegas, stopping through the sparkling City of Angels, the jagged Monument Valley, and the sweeping Grand Canyon (among numerous other notable West Coast spots). What makes this trip unique is where we plan to stop in these locations; we will be touching down in as many famous West Coast movie landmarks as we can on the way to our final stop in Vegas.

Kiki and I’s joint passion since 5th grade has been filmmaking, so we plan to document this trip as our latest film. The twist, however, is that this isn’t just any standard documentary we are making, but rather a “mockumentary” if you like – a fake documentary, with a plot line. The mockumentary is about two film-buff teens who are touring the great movie haunts this side of the country, and documenting their journey. They also happen to be running away from home together, chasing naive dreams of a perfect Hollywood life. They soon learn, however, that life isn’t like the movies, and their reckless actions will have lasting consequences.

I am incredibly thrilled to finally begin work on this film, having already spent several months in Pre-Production; it’s almost time for the real thing to begin! I will be posting numerous updates during Production itself, with photographs and clips from filming while it’s in progress. After filming is complete, I will be continuing to post more updates, with trailers, clips, and eventually the film itself (hopefully), appearing on this blog in the near future! The trip is just over two weeks long, and I imagine it’s an adventure I won’t soon forget! I can’t wait to share my amazing journey with you!

Alex Mortazavi ’19

Distilling Grasse to an Essence – A Study of Culture and Perfume

03/03/19 – Grasse, FR – Day 2

The time it took to get here was in total – over 15 hours. From getting to the airport to connecting flights to drama and language barriers, the journey was incredibly stressful and tiring. I flew from PHL to Madrid, Spain. Then a quick trip from Madrid, Spain to Nice, France. Flying from Madrid to Nice was surreal. The airport was only in Spanish, and not knowing Spanish, I mainly had to guess what was going on. The plane we then got on was miniature, one of the smallest I’ve ever been on, but luckily I had a window seat for the quick 3-hour flight. The plane went over many deep bodies of water, over massive mountains, and loads of small villages and big cities, until finally, we reached our destination, a seaside town in France only 40 minutes away from Grasse.

After arriving at the hotel, checking in and getting my bags sorted I fell right asleep and didn’t wake up until the next day. Today is my second day being able to walk around the small Italian-esuqe town of Grasse. Yesterday, I took a walk into town, which was about 40 minutes from my hotel. The city of Grasse is small and is filled with color. There are many parks and public spaces, as well as small pedestrian filled alleyways. The buildings surrounding those allies are mostly a dusty orange, appearing to be a common theme in most of the architecture in the area. I bought some things I forgot to bring, stopped to grab a coffee and walked around enjoying the view, the smell of the flowers, the feel of the old rubble and the sun on my face, and hearing the French all around me it felt incredibly peaceful and exhilarating all at the same time.

Today, I learned that the hotel used to be a park, so many of the grounds are perfectly manicured, covered in olive and orange trees, grande terraces and large balconies. So, after eating a delicious breakfast, I spent almost 3 hours walking around the hotel grounds, looking at the trees and mountains, having conversations with the staff of the hotel in French, and hearing the excited cheers and car horns honking from miles and miles away. It was a beautiful day filled with fantastic sites, delicious food, and exciting sounds.