26
Mar 14

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09
Feb 14

Adfrenchures Pt. 2: Chapitre 2

Adfrenchures Pt. II, Chapitre 2
Joie de vivre // Joy of living

Azaleas on the streets in front of a Parisian florist's.

Azaleas on the streets in front of a Parisian florist’s.

Last weekend, I was invited to a wedding in Paris as a “plus one.” My (French) boyfriend’s younger sister got married– mostly for administrative purposes– in the town hall of the 11ième arrondissement.

We blew bubbles as they walked down the steps, had a sucré-salé buffet at a nearby restaurant appropriately named The Artist, went on a treasure hunt through the streets of Paris, and wound up at a bar called Café Chéri(e) where the lights and walls inside were all red, and if you brought a black permanent marker (which they did), you could draw and write on the walls.

(Someone in the bar threw rice for the married couple, and let me tell you– I prefer the cute soap bubbles, because rice hurts.)

Of course, I blew bubbles indoors during the buffet.

Of course, I blew bubbles indoors during the buffet.

French wedding traditions aren’t much more different from American ones. In fact, what I saw was mostly a bunch of twenty-somethings and 4 parents celebrating the happiness, friendship, and love of the couple. All of this was set to the backdrop of Paris, which inevitably made it more romantic, despite the fact that they live and work there every single day.

Paris is imbued with a romantic ambiance that is almost impossible to escape. Take, for example, Le Pont des Arts, more commonly known as “Le Pont des Amoureux,” or even “The Lover’s Bridge.” People from all around the world come to the bridge in order to attach a padlock to the bridge as a testament to their love. The tradition started in the 80s, but there are now so many locks that the weight is too large and they will soon be removing them all for safety reasons.

It's a long bridge and it's entirely covered. This is just a small section.

It’s a long bridge and it’s entirely covered. This is just a small section.

Say goodbye, little locks. You're compromising the integrity of a Parisian bridge. I wonder what happens to the couples' loves when they're removed by the authorities?

Say goodbye, little locks. You’re compromising the integrity of a Parisian bridge. I wonder what happens to the couples’ loves when they’re removed by the authorities?

The bridge was so full that this guy jumped up to put their padlock on the lamppost.

The bridge was so full that this guy jumped up to put their padlock on the lamppost.

In fact, Paris is so bursting with couples and tourists (let’s be real here– mostly tourists) wanting to transform their Home Depot security purchases into metaphorical statements of eternal affection that even a small side bridge on the opposite side of the Notre Dame cathedral has been turned into a mini-pont-amoureux.

Complete with retro-gamer graffiti.

Complete with retro-gamer graffiti.

Speaking of Notre Dame, I saw that.

I'm in the middle of saying, in French, "It looks bigger in the Disney movie." Which is true. Also, notably fewer talking gargoyles. I was disappointed.

I’m in the middle of saying, in French, “It looks bigger in the Disney movie.” Which is true. Also, notably fewer talking gargoyles. I was disappointed.

I’ve begun giving private tutoring lessons in English, with adults, in order to help them improve their English. It’s been very rewarding so far, as one of my clients is hard of hearing but has already improved after one session.

Now, I’m back in Montpellier, trying to tough it out until the two weeks of vacation in March (and my 21st birthday!) come along. When I’m at home, I mostly pass the time alternatively being harrassed by and then playing with my little host sister, Mila. Here she is through the door of my balcony, running off to make mischief.

Hope this finds you well, readers, wherever you are, in your mind and in the world. Au revoir!

Nothing like a 3 year old to teach you about joie de vivre.

 


18
Jan 14

Adfrenchures: Part Deux!

Adfrenchures Pt. II:
Guess who’s back!

As of Thursday, I am officially back in France. I made a tough choice last semester and decided to extend my stay from one semester to the full academic year– and boy, am I glad I put in all that extra work! After a plane to Miami, then a plane to Paris, then a train to Montpellier, I was completely exhausted. Anysia, my host mom, picked me up from the train station. She got all emotional when she saw me on the quai, and I teared up a bit, too. It was good to be back.

Anysia and Mathieu, my usual host family, have their best friends living in what was my room last semester. They moved to Argentina last year, which is the mom’s native homeland (the dad is French), and they are my host family’s oldest friends. So, while they visit for two weeks, I’m in a temporary host family right across the street. They have a 5 year old daughter who is best friends with my host sister, Mila, and a newborn baby who is only two and a half months old. I ate dinner with them last night and got to hold the baby for an hour. She’s chubby and has her mom’s pretty Argentinian green eyes. Her little pink socks kept falling off her feet. Mila and I counted to three in English for her– Mila was eager to show off to me that she had learned how to count in my language.

I’m staying with Colette, my temporary host mom, for two weeks, and then I move back “chez moi.” There is a second student living here, Rachel, and we’ve gotten along well. It’s nice having a second student around because it takes off some of the pressure to talk all of the time!

I begin classes this coming Monday. Because of my visa, I’m already two weeks late, so I have some catching up to do. I’m taking Phonology, Civilisation of the South, France Mosaique (which examines the different populations that make up France), a literature course on the “fruits of passion,” a basic linguistic course, and an applied linguistics course on communication and interculturality. I have no classes on Wednesdays or Fridays, but a very full plate on Thursdays! I’m very excited to get working as soon as possible. Having nothing to do during break was pleasant, but I’m ready to get down to business!

A bientôt!

– Marie


21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 6

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 6
Un reve et une greve // A dream and a strike

 

 
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There are some stereotypes about French people that I have found to be completely false. For example, they’re not rude; they don’t hate Americans; women do shave and no one smells bad (except for that drunk dude on the tram). However, there are some stereotypes that exist for a reason.

It is completely true that the French national passtimes are cheese, wine, and, above all, strikes.
Earlier in the semester, I experienced a transportation strike that meant all of the trams were only working at minimum service. Two weeks ago, there was a strike against a new proposed eco-tax where Montpellier was flooded with horses in protest, blocking traffic and the tram. Tuesday, my tram to my internship teaching English at the IUT was delayed by twenty minutes because in the center of town, midwives were striking and preventing the movement of the trams.
But, above all, the most impact the French “droit de greve” has had on our study abroad experience is the student strike at Paul Valery that has been going on for nearly a month. In the above picture, you can see the blockades set up at the entrances to every class building, preventing students and professors from holding class. There is a student strike websiteTwitter, and multiple student strike Facebook groups. Once a week, there are “General Assemblies,” where anywhere from 300 to 1500 students attend and vote whether or not to continue the strike, the blockade, and other relevant problems. (Sorry, all sources are obviously in French– but they provide visuals and photos of the strike so far.)
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The students are striking against the proposed austerity measures for University of Montpellier 3, Paul Valery. The University of Montpellier is split into three different “facs,” by subject– science and math, business, and finally, Paul Va, which is the humanities. Paul Va is experiencing a serious budget deficit and students are not pleased with the proposed changes to remedy it, as it essentially dissolves/restructures Paul Va into the two other U of M institutions.
Additionally, the French university system is based upon the idea that higher education is “ouvert a tous” — “open for everybody.” If you have your baccalaureate, which is a diploma received after high school, then you are able to attend Paul Valery. To cut down on the number of students in the University, which creates part of the budget problem on the level of resources, there is a proposed reform for “acception via lottery.” Each year, a student can submit his or her name into a random lottery for selection to attend the university. This means a straight A student could not be accepted into the university simply by chance; the selection process completely ignores merit and, what’s more, alters one of the fundamental priniciples upon which the French university system is founded.
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The blockades have left a lot of uncertainy for our integrated classes. The General Assemblies are almost always on Wednesdays, and classes are always blockaded then, so I have missed a ton of classes. On Wednesdays, they almost always vote to continue the blockade until Thursday, when I have my only other integrated course.
On Tuesday, 50 students blockaded the administration inside the administration building for hours, demanding the disbursement of scholarships for first year students and the payment of adjunct professors more consistently than once every six months.
Yesterday, the strike was voted to continue today (so I’m missing one of my integrated courses), and the blockade will restart next Wednesday. It seems likely that I will be writing extremely long papers on my integrated course subjects in order to still receive my course credits.
The idea of students striking is foreign and almost incomprehensible for American students in particular. We pay so much for our education that to refuse to attend class means not only would we fail all of our courses and delay our degree, but we would be losing thousands of dollars in tuition fees and loans. However, students at Paul Va pay anywhere from nothing to 100 euros per year in order to attend the university. At the (private, selective) Institute where I teach English, students on scholarship only pay 5 euros in tuition to 400 euros maximum, and they don’t have to pay for any textbooks. One of the reasons students are able to strike is because all it costs them is time– American students don’t really have that luxury.
This past weekend, I left Montpellier for a long four-day weekend and got back late Monday night. I took a train to Toulouse, also known as the Pink City because of all the beautiful buildings in brick. Because it was scheduled to rain in Toulouse all weekend, we went about an hour out into the French countryside to a bed and breakfast and visited small, beautiful medieval french villages in the mountains.
I did, however, get a picture of the Toulouse captial building lit up at night, in the rain.
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I visited Cordes-Sur-Ciel first. “Sur ciel” means “in the sky,” and the town is thus named because it is on the side of a hill overlooking a valley. In the morning, when the morning fog rolls in over the valley, it’s as if the city is floating on the clouds. Since it’s the off-season for tourism, the medieval town was almost abandoned, but I got lots of opportunities for beautiful pictures of the French countryside.
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The next day, I went to Albi, which is the most beautiful French town I’ve ever been to. It was much, much larger than Cordes-Sur-Ciel– and there were Christmas decorations everywhere!We managed to get there early enough to see the Saturday morning market. There was fresh local produce, vegetables, fresh bread, etc. There was less fish and seafood at this market than at Montpellier, because Albi is much further from the sea. I managed to find the book stalls in the market and spent about 45 minutes just searching through all of the beautiful used French books. I managed to restrain myself and only bought one (I already have over 7 books from here). Then I visited the inside of the cathedral at Albi, which was absolutely gorgeous.
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Overall, a very successful weekend and a week full of the French cultural experience of striking!

 


21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 5

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 5
Le Moitié // Halfway
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Sorry I’ve been unable to update for so long! Unfortunately, my laptop broke since my last entry, and with class, homework, excursions, and a week of vacation, getting on the Internet for something other than homework has been nearly impossible.
Since my last entry, I’ve been to Carcassonne with the program, Prades in the Pyrénée mountains with my host family; I’ve celebrated Halloween and my two-month “anniversary” in France. We’re at the halfway point. I’m trying not to think about leaving (or all the stuff I’m going to have to try to fit into one suitcase).
Carcassonne is sometimes called the prettiest Southern French village and houses a medieval fortress and castle. We took a tour of the castle and learned about the different defensive strategies built into medieval towns. We were lucky that the day we had chosen to visit, there was a medieval faire going on– like the Renaissance Fair! There were people dressed up as knights, medieval peasants, ladies-in-waiting… It added a lot of character and ambiance to the city as we toured it! We also ended the tour with a brief visit to a small Museum of Torture displaying instruments from the Inquisition.
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One of the stained glass mosaic windows in the chapel of Carcassonne. The rose frequently symbolizes time as a circle. Here, Time is stopped by two smaller circles, symbolizing Eternity.
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Pillories were used to punish people who, for example, spoke poorly of their neighbors. Contrary to popular belief, neither tomatoes nor rotten stones where thrown. It tended to be garbage or stones. Ouch.
For the week-long Toussaint vacation, all of the American students were scattered to the four winds. I, however, didn’t go to Greece or Norway– I had the FRENCHEST vacation ever had by any American. I’m 99% sure.
I went with my host family to their vacation house in Prades near Perpignan, about a two hour drive to the oriental face of the Pyrénée mountains, where Anysia’s father, Jacques, has a French villa. The villa is nicknamed the “chateau” by people in the village because it is so large, on the side of the river, and was the very first building built in the small town of Prades. It is largely furnished in the style of its era– it’s over 100 years old and has been a “family house,” owned by their family, for 4 generations. It belonged first to Jacques’ grandfather.
We ate lunch every day on a huge stone terrace outside at a large table. Lunch was a huge production, bigger than dinner, and frequently the cousins who own the neighboring villa came to join us. I learned of the French tradition of “l’apero,” which is short for “l’aperitif.” L’aperitif is when you drink liquor and talk before the meal, and it can sometimes last longer than the meal itself, anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half. Since we were in the Catalan region, there were lots of Spanish olives, Spanish whiskey, Spanish wine.
For lunch, we ate two whole roast chickens with vegetables; one day, we ate a leg of lamb that was the best thing I have ever eaten in my entire life; the third day, we had roast guinea-fowl cooked with oranges and fresh-picked figs from a nearby tree; and finally, our last day, Anysia’s mother (both of her parents come from Strasbourg, the border of France and Germany) made Alsacien food– sauerkraut, sausages, roasts, potatoes, and Alsacien white wine. On the edge of the terrace was a persimmon tree and once, for dessert, we plucked fresh persimmons from the tree and ate them. Don’t even ask me about the cheese; I tried so many different kinds, Spanish and French, that I can’t even recall them all. It was AMAZING.
Finally, at the end of the week vacation, we celebrated a cute little Halloween in our house. Mila dressed up as a little witch. Anysia made her a witch hat out of black construction paper and she made a paper magic wand with golden ribbons and a star on the end. They even carved and lit a pumpkin for me. Then, last night, with friends over for dinner, we broke out the champagne to celebrate my “halfway anniversary,” as yesterday officially marked two months in my host family.
Before dinner, I talked with Anysia in order to have a little “debriefing” on my stay so far. I confirmed that I was not an insufferable bore, unknowingly impolite (“No, you haven’t made any grand faux pas,” she told me in French), or otherwise a burden to live with. I also asked her what she thought about my language skills so far. She said I was already at such a good level when I arrived that the only things that had changed are an increased vocabulary and that now, speaking French was less tiring for me. It’s true that when I first arrived, speaking was a little bit exhausting for me. Now, I can hold extended conversation in French with ease and– this is new– a great deal of confidence. In fact, I successfully mingled at the debut of her father’s art expo in a restaurant, talking about literature and France with complete strangers. I’ve been told that my accent is distinguishable as anglo-saxon but not definitively American. And, at every turn, I meet people who express surprise at my level of French. Last night, a friend of the family’s who was over for dinner told me that it was incredibly impressive that I understand everything everyone says. So, to debrief, I am more confident, more at ease, and at an advanced level in listening. I’d say I’m still at an intermediate level in reading, and am fast approaching an advanced level in speaking. All I’m missing is vocab.
So, now you’re all debriefed, too. I’m going to come back and add pictures of the Prades house, the castles and cave I saw while I was there, the delicious food, and our Halloween hijinks. Au revoir!

21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 4

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 4
Gra(c/th)ias // Bar(c/th)elona

IMG_8594.JPGThis past weekend, the entire program took a (partially subsidized) trip to Barcelona, Spain. I’d change the title to Adspainchures, but it doesn’t have quite the same charm. We left Friday afternoon and returned Sunday evening. All said and done, I only got 6 hours of sleep for the whole weekend. (Worth it.)

On the bus ride, we were all chipping in our meager bits of Spanish. I realized I could say “Where is…?” but couldn’t remember the word for “bathroom.” The only Spanish nouns I had in my arsenal were “queso” and “azul.” Verbs were impossible and limited to Dora the Explorer episodes: “Vamenos!” I knew please, thank you, and you’re welcome (staple vocabulary in any language). Someone taught me how to say “sorry,” since I’m not graceful and constantly bump into people, but I never wound up using it because before “lo siento” could pass my lips, I had already said “Désolée!”

I was a little nervous about not knowing any Spanish; as it turns out, Barcelona is so flooded with tourists that the English was plentiful. All I really needed to know was the address of our hostel for the cab driver at 4 in the morning. (Of course, I was the only one who had bothered to learn it. I am always the mom of the group. You’re welcome.) 33 Passeig del Gracia, for anyone wondering. There was a constant refrain among our group of people saying “Grathias,” mimicking the way “c”s are pronounced. It sounds very different from any of the other Spanish I’ve heard. Many of the signs were also translated into Catalan, which has enough French in it that I could understand without having to read the English signs.

In fact, being in Spain made me realize how much I have begun to think in French. It took exposure to a third, different language for me to notice that, 90% of the time, my brain is functioning in French. While realizing this made me happy at the vast improvement of my language skills, it was also incredibly frustrating because, yeah, hi, not in France anymore, Marie– no one’s going to understand you.

The hostel was large and welcoming– the second floor was a huge hangout space with TVs, computers, drinks, and foosball. There was also a terrace (and accompanying top floor bar) which had an absolutely beautiful view.

IMG_8776.JPGIMG_8634.JPGWe went to Parc Güell, the Sagrada Familia, and, on the way home, we saw the Salvador Dali museum. The weekend was packed full of beautiful sights, high views of the city, and a survey of Antoni Gaudí’s unique architecture.

Both Parc Güell and the Sagrada Familia were designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who also designed many houses in the city. More than simply buildings, Gaudí’s creations are standing works of art. They are incredibly intricate, featuring hand-done stonework and mosaics, incorporating a variety of mediums. His style is incredibly distinctive– you could identify a Gaudí house from a mile away.

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I think my favorite thing about Parc Güell was the way the architecture and planning flowed with the landscape of the hill. It didn’t fight against the slop; it used it to build a terrace. At the peak, showing Gaudí’s religious side, was a worn dual spiral staircase up to a cross, where you could see almost all of Barcelona and as far as the ocean.

IMG_8571.JPGWe all saw Gaudí’s most famous work, la Sagrada Familia. Corinne, a Frenchwoman and one of the program directors, told me it was like Barcelona’s Eiffel Tower. It has been under construction since 1882 and isn’t expected to be completed until 2026; there are cranes and scaffolding in almost every picture I’ve seen of it. Gaudí died when the project was only one quarter completed, so you can see the distinct styles of all the different architects on each facet of the building. Walking around la Sagrada Familia is like walking around at least four different cathedrals at once.

While the attention to detail was almost absurd in its intricacy and the craftsmanship of the building is impeccable, I didn’t find la Sagrada Familia particularly pretty or aesthetically pleasing in any way. Each of the pieces would be beautiful independently, but thrown all together as if by hazard makes the building look confused, overcrowded, and at points a little tacky.

IMG_8691.JPGHowever, my favorite part about the trip was Barcelona’s nightlife. We coerced Corinne, the director, into going to the clubs with us both nights. As they say in France, “on fait la fête,” (et on l’a fait, en fait!). All of the clubs were right on the beach, so that you entered into the building, went onto the patio, and exited no more than 100 feet from the Mediterranean sea.

Spain has pretty strict dress rules for their clubs, and two of our friends got turned away the first night because of their sandals. At 4 A.M. we watched the waves and soaked our feet in the ocean and wound up tracking back an ungodly amount of sand into our hostel room.

IMG_8640.JPGThanks for an amazing weekend, Barcelona! (And sorry about the sand.)


21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 3

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 3
Pas de Cheval // Horse Step

IMG_8294.JPGSo between travelling to Sète, St. Guilhem le Désert, horseback riding, classes, and a CRAZY head cold that leaves me sniffling/coughing/whining/crying constantly, it has been quite the time since my last blog entry.

Due to my cold, I’ve barely slept at all the past three days, because I just keep coughing and wheezing and waking myself up. No amount of soup or my host mom’s tisanes has assuaged it. I’m 99% sure “having an eternal cold” is one of Dante’s rings of hell. So this entry will be less narrative/reflective and more of a résumé/summary.

Here’s Sète. Sète is a town about a 15 minute train ride from Montpellier. Half of the fun of going there, for me at least, was taking the train. I love trains. They are my favorite form of transportation. There is something that is swift and yet incredibly manual about trains in a way that doesn’t exist in cars and planes– you can feel the ground pass underneath you, you can see scenery fly by. It’s like a mix of driving and flying.

IMG_7570.JPGThe town of Sète is cut through by canals, so to get to many places, you have to locate the nearest bridge. It was quiet and sleepy on the Saturday afternoon that we visited. On our way back to the train station, Rachel and I stopped at a café where the owner was sitting and talking with his friends outside. He was funny as he put up with our struggling French (there was some confusion over “pressed orange juice” and the particular brand he sold, which was not fresh-pressed).

We sat down and finished our beverages and when we went to leave, he seemed disappointed that we were going so quickly. He asked us where we were from, if we enjoyed Sète, what we were studying. Just thinking about his kindness makes me want to go back to Sète and hang out in his café all day.

While the rest of the group hiked the giant hill behind Sète, Rachel and I decided to check out the Regional Center for Contemporary Art in the Languedoc-Roussillon region which was on the other side of a canal. (Languedoc-Rouissillon is the name of our area, which is unfortunately incredibly difficult to pronounce.) We waited 15 minutes for it to open, not knowing what to expect.

We were greeted with the most emotionally striking art exhibition I have ever seen.

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Pierre Adouvin, “Helpless.”

The first half of the exhibit was a meditation on childhood, helplessness, anxiety, nostalgia, fairytales, and dreams. The second half provoked questions about entertainment, pop culture, fanfare/celebrity, and memory. Each room was its own exhibit and was deliberately created to invoke certain emotions and reactions. Surprisingly, you learned more about yourself in there than you did about art.

I think that was the point.

In the room in the photo to the right, entitled Le vide remplit mes yeux, there were feelings of claustrophobia, confusion. The room was a blank white, the ceiling lowered to just above your head, with no “escapes” except for two white holes in the ceiling. At first, the holes merely looked like lights, but when you got underneath them, you could see into a bright white room, nondescript, as if this section of the exhibit was merely under construction.

Rachel said she didn’t like this room until she found out there were exits. I was confused and thought it was just a path to the next exhibit or a place under construction. The artist anticipated both of these reactions– it was so bizarre to cross to the other side of the room and read the little plaque explaining the piece, seeing ourselves mirrored back in it.

This past Saturday, we went to St. Guilhem le Désert, which is not a real desert, but a “spiritual desert,” as our tour guide explained. It’s a well-preserved medieval town out in the middle of the mountains. It only has one main road. There’s a gorgeous church there which used to be a monastery.

If you lived at the “top” of town, nearest the church (and thus nearer to God), you were more wealthy and had higher social status. Later on, Catholics lived “en haut” (up top) and Protestants “en bas” (down low). The tour guide told us that, even today, if you were to ask some of the elderly people who live in the upper side of the village, they would tell you that, when they were young, their parents instructed them not to play with the children who lived “en bas.”

After touring around the town, we hiked a mountain. Then, we went off the beaten path on the mountain in order to check out some unmarked castle ruins at the tippy top of the mountain. I led the way for most of the journey, picking a path out of the underbrush. It was hilarious and fun as we climbed, slid, and shouted to one another from different peaks.

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Reminder: I did all of this hiking with a huge head cold. Not pictured here is the mountain of tissues I went through.

Yesterday, a small group of us went back to Grau du Roi and went on a two hour ride through the beach and wildflower fields on horseback. It was probably my favorite trip so far. We rode a kind of horse called a Camargue, which is a wild horse native to France– it’s like the French version of our mustangs. They are pure white (although some are dappled), and my horse was named Bosco.

Bosco was the boss. He did not listen to me.

Bosco, turn right, I’d say, nudging him and pulling the reins. No, Marie, Bosco would reply. You have no idea what the hell you’re doing. Bosco was technically right.

“Bosco, let’s go faster, let’s trot,” I’d say. Bosco would snort, almost as if laughing at me, and he’d be like, “I’d really rather not. How about we slow down, actually? That sounds nice.” So Bosco and I would slowly meander around with the rest of the group while I nudged him faster in vain.

“Bosco, let’s go off the path, let’s just go the ittiest bit to the right of the path,” I’d try to say with the reins. “Everyone else is doing it, it’ll be fun. Let’s go.”

I was trying to get Bosco to think out of the box. He was a very conformist horse. Bosco was having none of my shenanigans. At one point, he actually bent his head and pretended as if he was going right, while still staying on the path. I’d have been mad if it weren’t so hilariously clever.

IMG_8363.JPGIn short: Bosco was completely, utterly perfect.

By the end of the trip, I was able to get him into a trot at will, and he wasn’t as obstinately sticking to the path (presumably because I’d finally gotten my sh*t together in terms of learning to ride a horse). While trotting is fun, it’s barely faster than walking, and twice as bouncy.

On a long straight away next to the beach, Bosco and I galloped. Galloping is the most beautiful feeling, like being on a train, a cross between pushing against the earth and flying. Instead of all four feet touching the ground, for a moment you are airborne, leaning forward in the saddle, clutching the reins, the horse’s mane brushing against your hand. You’re moments from losing control, or– in my case– falling off the saddle, because holy crap does horseback riding take some serious thigh strength.

I’d never ridden a horse before, but now I understand why Julia and Emily (who have ridden for years) needed to get their riding fix while abroad. There’s something gorgeously addictive about the whole experience.

1069248_10202268929308825_1615818093_n.jpgWell, now you’re all caught up on my latest escapades, albeit not as eloquently as usual. I’m going to go take some aspirin for my fever, cough up half of my lung, take a nap, think healthy thoughts, and have enough soup and oranges to cure twenty sick people.

A tout à l’heure!


21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 2

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 2
Jeu d’enfant / Child’s Play

IMG_7401.JPGTea lights flickered in their lanterns, hanging from a fig tree in the backyard. A handful of rowdy toddlers switched off playing with binoculars, a plastic truck, and three heavy pétangue balls, quite graciously taking turns with their toys. As I stood guard between the kids and the blazing logs of the barbeque fire, Liam, 4 years old, waddled up to me and gave me a stuffed tiger. It was bigger than him, so that when he carried it, the back legs dragged through the grass.

“This is yours now,” he told me in baby French. I accepted the tiger graciously.

“Thanks, I’ll hang on to him for you,” I said, but then he motioned for me to crouch down.

“The tiger’s sick,” he informed me gravely, “His tail is hurt.”

Understandably, I went into emergency mode.

“We need a doctor! Is anyone a doctor? Doctor Mila! Calling Doctor Mila!” I shouted urgently. My host sister ran over, as this was a game we had played before with her teddy bear. (That poor teddy bear keeps getting sore throats.) She more or less tried to stick the binoculars up the stuffed tiger’s butt, and then declared him miraculously cured. She and Liam wandered off to go sit on the swings.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my host family for this past week. With the start of class at Paul Valèry and all the new things to do here, it’s left me barely enough energy to do my homework, let alone write this blog entry that’s been stewing in my brain for weeks.
I hope to write more consistently as I get settled in to a schedule and manage to actually attend my courses. I promise not all of my blog entries will be this long!

Last Friday, we went to a friend’s BBQ, where everyone was either under 10 or over 30. Many of the parents were like Anysia and Mathieu with children around 3 years old.

No one was able to truly relax and talk until 22h (10pm), when the kids were put to bed upstairs, the BBQ was finished, and about seven empty bottles of wine* littered the table. Liam gave me the stuffed tiger to hang onto again, so it sat underneath my chair while I ate. It was easier to talk to the kids, as when they didn’t understand me, they looked at me like I was a crazy person. Sometimes adults are too polite.

IMG_7409.JPGOver a huge stack of the most delicious barbeque I’ve ever eaten, I mostly listened as the adults talked about their children: the start of the new school year, Mila’s newfound fear of witches and monsters that made putting her to bed difficult, how to tackle the question when a toddler asks you “What happens after we die?” and isn’t satisfied with the response “No one really knows.” In fact, other than the French food and geographic location, this BBQ could’ve been a group of parents in any country.

Eventually, as is apt to happen, the conversation turned to differences between the United States and France. This is generally when I have to take off my listening cap and try to form coherent sentences in another language, so the pressure is on. We talked about the go-to comparison that everything in France is smaller (or, depending on your perspective, everything in the US is bigger). We talked about tipping waiters, and one dad informed me that he found the servers in the US to be one thousand times nicer than those in France.

“You walk in and they say ‘Hi, how are you? Here’s what we have on our daily menu,’ and they laugh and joke with you. Servers in America want to be your friend,” he explained, “It completely shocked us.”

“That explains why when I smile at servers here and ask for coffee, I’m so confused when they don’t talk to me,” I realized aloud. The icy cold blood of French servers was confirmed by the whole table.

But honestly, when it comes to cultural comparison, there isn’t much difference between America and France when it comes to the everyday / quotidien.

France isn’t like stepping into a different world. It’s like stepping into the same world, only you have to pull the flush button up instead of down and use bread to clear your plate instead of leaving it and say “God thanks (Dieu merci)” instead of “Thank God.”

France is like walking into your room only to find all of your things have been slightly rearranged. Your furniture isn’t in exactly the right place and some small things are missing. Maybe a window seems to have popped up on a different wall. But it’s still fairly recognizable as your room. In fact, you find many of the changes useful and don’t miss a lot of the things that aren’t there.

Ryan, who’s Geoblogging from South Korea, asked me to talk about French people’s habits and how they compare to stereotypes. This sensation of simply being in a shifted room has made it difficult for me to narrow down what’s simply human from what’s more ‘definitively French,’ whatever that means.

For instance, Mila cries every morning because she doesn’t want to go to school. We eat dinner around 6:30 or 7:00 and finish around 8:00 or 8:30 every night, which is a little later than in the US. There is no dryer in the house; they hang their laundry out to dry. On Saturday mornings, we go to the local farmer’s market under Les Arceaux and buy groceries. Then we drink “un coup” with friends at the café La Cigale, because the market is almost more social experience than shopping trip.

IMG_7363.JPGIMG_7388.JPGIt’s been three weeks, and I can count on only one hand the number of times I’ve had a peaceful tram ride. I am constantly being hit on by French men, something that I seem to be experiencing with greater frequency and severity than others on the program. The French have different body language when out in public– they are cold, uninterested, and bustling. It’s difficult for me to reign in my eyes when I want to look at everything, so the program and I think the problem might be that I’m still adapting to French body language. Loud headphones and a book on the tram have not stopped the requests for my phone number or, that one time, from a random guy trying to romantically tuck my hair behind my ear. Uh, pardon, monsieur. I don’t know you and I just told you, “Sorry, leave me alone.”
Small cultural difference: pepper spray is ostensibly illegal in France.

One difference between the France and the US is the university system. In keeping with my room metaphor, the French university system is as if someone came into your room, exchanged your laptop with one from the early 90’s, and then proceeded to throw all your stuff around as if a tornado had passed through the house.

The course registration process is a nightmare, and that’s where the University of Minnesota study abroad team are absolute life savers. They do most of the legwork and we just leisurely select our schedule out of a compiled list of classes. Erasmus students and other programs don’t have this luxury; they need to show up, in person, at the secretary of every department they need to schedule a class in, wait in line, and physically write their name on a piece of paper. Even then, there may or may not be secondary or tertiary steps for them to confirm their inscription.

I have showed up for three classes this week where I was not able to successfully learn. For the first, the professor did not show up. For the second, the class was permanently moved to a different day and time, without informing half the class. For the third, my contemporary dance class, the professor was two hours late and showed up just in time to say, “Hello, see you next week!”

As for smoking, the critically-thinking PLA member in me just can’t figure it out. The stereotype is that everyone smokes in France. A great number do. If you go out on the streets, you will see many more smokers than in the US (probably, I am literally eyeballing this number).

A ton of people here handroll their own cigarettes with papers, filters, and loose tobacco. My artist host dad handrolls his blond tobacco cigarettes after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and while he’s working in his studio; however, I have seen high school students outside of the Lycée Joffre rolling themselves a Marlboro. So the frequency of handrolled cigarettes is another one of those “slightly adjusted furniture” moments.

But is it really that there are more smokers? Or is it that smoking is more socially acceptable in France, so they feel more comfortable smoking out in public, and thus we see them more, providing the illusion of more smokers?

I also can’t figure out if smoking is a class marker in France or not. Generally, in the United States, smoking cigarettes tends to mark someone as of a middle or lower class. (By contrast, smoking cigars is seen as a luxurious, manly interest.) Sometimes, cigarettes serve an aesthetic purpose, going with someone’s “style.”

When it comes to France? Who the hell knows. Definitely not me.

It’s nearly 7pm here and time for dinner. My host sister is sitting next to me, looking at the pictures of a comic book and pretending to read the speech bubbles. Earlier, she put on a “cirque” for me, which consisted of her shouting music-ish-sounding noises and waving around a scarf while occasionally falling onto the ground. She just told me that after dinner, I am reading her a story, so surprise, I have plans! [Later, after dinner (I get to have duck paté with bread tonight!), I'm meeting some friends to check out Montpellier's night life.]

Until then, I’ll be diligently saving the lives of stuffed tigers, researching invisibility potions for the tram, and chronicalling my mundane, Western-industrialized everyday adventures. Oh, and probably some pictures from Sète next time– we’re going on an excursion this weekend!

Au revoir!

*Split between 11 people.


21
Nov 13

Adfrenchures: Ch 1

Chapitre 1:
BienvenueMila01.jpg

sonder: (n.) the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own [...]” — The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

“Je vais m’asseoir sur ton lit et je vais te lire une histoire1,” Mila declared, struggling to get on top of the bed with her tiny legs. I lifted her up and handed her the book: Derrière le Tracteur, with little cartoon birds following a tractor as it turns up fresh earth, full of grubs. She can’t read yet, but she made up stories anyway as she turned the pages, and I returned to unpacking my massive suitcase.

Here, I have a linguistic cycle– struggling against the language, loving it. Suffering under French, then liberated by it. It is in turns facile and difficult. In a way, I had packed my French away during the summer, like a winter jacket, and now it’s the correct season for me to bring it out and dust it off. (It is incredibly dusty.)

The first week was half-orientation, half-vacation. If I had a cobblestone for every step I’ve taken during our three different Montpellier tours, I could probably reconstruct half the streets of the city. The Meditteranean Sea lacked the murkiness of the Atlantic and was five times as salty. I have met people at the fountain called Les Trois Graces in the Place de la Comedie more times than I count– it’s the most important part of the city, a wide open space that somehow also seems to carry an incredible amount of weight and density.

1187241_10151900731796810_1360624617_n.jpg1234139_10151900737436810_563488673_n.jpg

It was our first full day in France, walking through the Place de la Comedie as a huge group of jetlagged Americans, when someone said something that struck me: These people spoke French before we showed up and will continue doing so after we leave. While blatantly obvious, I think the very physical and complete comprehension of this sentiment is the beginning of “global citizenship.” Of course, I believe that these people exist when I’m not around (I’m no solipsist), but there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the final, genuine comprehension of what that means and all of its implications.

In a way, this recognition is described by the imaginary word “sonder,” made up by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. In France, I am a foreigner who briefly and poorly asked for coffee; that girl who totally tripped getting on to the tram; the back of a head that exited a classroom; or, to Milla, for instance, I will simply be an idea: “notre invitée who stayed in our apartment when you were 3 years old,” and 13 year old Milla will put on her sunglasses and say, “Oh, I don’t really remember. I was so little then.”

1239805_10151900733851810_2012680579_n.jpg
In terms of intercultural understanding, thinking of oneself as a background character is actually quite liberating. I am unafraid to stop and ask for directions, speak halting French with the Monoprix cashier even though the line extends out the door, and tell the homeless man who tried to touch my face that he was crossing some serious boundaries and, very sternly, Bonne journée, Monsieur. In France, I am a footnote in the lives of others– as the defintion says, “a lit window at dusk.” And others are my lit windows, a kind smile and a finger pointing on my tram map, someone bumping elbows during classtime, my near-death experiences when trying to cross a road. (Seriously, driving in France is borderline suicidal.)

Being a background American also means I get to try every kind of cheese and not be embarrassed about not having had it before. It means I get to ask really, really stupid questions, like “This is embarrassing, but how does the toilet work?” (You have to pull the button upward instead of pressing it.) According to my two new friends Irina and Deborah (Lithuanian and non-descriptly francophone, respecively), being American is also somehow glamorous or cool. It also apparently means that I am constantly honked at, catcalled, hit on, and aggressively stared at by French men. It also means I get to do a few touristy things like go to the final “L’éstivale du Montpellier” wine tasting festival of the season, then dance as if no one’s watching.

1240052_10201774550463729_1906430346_n.jpg1185658_10151897553516810_462507034_n.jpg

Now, our orientation-vacation has ended, and it’s time to get down to business with courses. Even after a week, I can tell how much my French has improved. My goal for next week is to make at least one French friend, since now I have new American, British, Lithuanian, and Francophone pals.

1176270_10151902880671810_1216514174_n.jpgA bientôt!
— Marie


06
Sep 13

Adfrenchures: Chapitre 1

Chapitre 1:
Bienvenue

Mila01.jpg

sonder: (n.) the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own [...]” — The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

“Je vais m’asseoir sur ton lit et je vais te lire une histoire1,” Mila declared, struggling to get on top of the bed with her tiny legs. I lifted her up and handed her the book: Derri�re le Tracteur, with little cartoon birds following a tractor as it turns up fresh earth, full of grubs. She can’t read yet, but she made up stories anyway as she turned the pages, and I returned to unpacking my massive suitcase.

Here, I have a linguistic cycle– struggling against the language, loving it. Suffering under French, then liberated by it. It is in turns facile and difficult. In a way, I had packed my French away during the summer, like a winter jacket, and now it’s the correct season for me to bring it out and dust it off. (It is incredibly dusty.)

The first week was half-orientation, half-vacation. If I had a cobblestone for every step I’ve taken during our three different Montpellier tours, I could probably reconstruct half the streets of the city. The Meditteranean Sea lacked the murkiness of the Atlantic and was five times as salty. I have met people at the fountain called Les Trois Graces in the Place de la Comedie more times than I count– it’s the most important part of the city, a wide open space that somehow also seems to carry an incredible amount of weight and density.

1187241_10151900731796810_1360624617_n.jpg1234139_10151900737436810_563488673_n.jpg

It was our first full day in France, walking through the Place de la Comedie as a huge group of jetlagged Americans, when someone said something that struck me: These people spoke French before we showed up and will continue doing so after we leave. While blatantly obvious, I think the very physical and complete comprehension of this sentiment is the beginning of “global citizenship.” Of course, I believe that these people exist when I’m not around (I’m no solipsist), but there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the final, genuine comprehension of what that means and all of its implications.

In a way, this recognition is described by the imaginary word “sonder,” made up by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. In France, I am a foreigner who briefly and poorly asked for coffee; that girl who totally tripped getting on to the tram; the back of a head that exited a classroom; or, to Milla, for instance, I will simply be an idea: “notre invit�e who stayed in our apartment when you were 3 years old,” and 13 year old Milla will put on her sunglasses and say, “Oh, I don’t really remember. I was so little then.”

1239805_10151900733851810_2012680579_n.jpg
In terms of intercultural understanding, thinking of oneself as a background character is actually quite liberating. I am unafraid to stop and ask for directions, speak halting French with the Monoprix cashier even though the line extends out the door, and tell the homeless man who tried to touch my face that he was crossing some serious boundaries and, very sternly, Bonne journ�e, Monsieur. In France, I am a footnote in the lives of others– as the defintion says, “a lit window at dusk.” And others are my lit windows, a kind smile and a finger pointing on my tram map, someone bumping elbows during classtime, my near-death experiences when trying to cross a road. (Seriously, driving in France is borderline suicidal.)

Being a background American also means I get to try every kind of cheese and not be embarrassed about not having had it before. It means I get to ask really, really stupid questions, like “This is embarrassing, but how does the toilet work?” (You have to pull the button upward instead of pressing it.) According to my two new friends Irina and Deborah (Lithuanian and non-descriptly francophone, respecively), being American is also somehow glamorous or cool. It also apparently means that I am constantly honked at, catcalled, hit on, and aggressively stared at by French men. It also means I get to do a few touristy things like go to the final “L’�stivale du Montpellier” wine tasting festival of the season, then dance as if no one’s watching.

1240052_10201774550463729_1906430346_n.jpg1185658_10151897553516810_462507034_n.jpg

Now, our orientation-vacation has ended, and it’s time to get down to business with courses. Even after a week, I can tell how much my French has improved. My goal for next week is to make at least one French friend, since now I have new American, British, Lithuanian, and Francophone pals.

1176270_10151902880671810_1216514174_n.jpgA bient�t!

– Marie

Chapitre 1:
Bienvenue

Mila01.jpg

sonder: (n.) the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own [...]” — The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

“Je vais m’asseoir sur ton lit et je vais te lire une histoire1,” Mila declared, struggling to get on top of the bed with her tiny legs. I lifted her up and handed her the book: Derri�re le Tracteur, with little cartoon birds following a tractor as it turns up fresh earth, full of grubs. She can’t read yet, but she made up stories anyway as she turned the pages, and I returned to unpacking my massive suitcase.

Here, I have a linguistic cycle– struggling against the language, loving it. Suffering under French, then liberated by it. It is in turns facile and difficult. In a way, I had packed my French away during the summer, like a winter jacket, and now it’s the correct season for me to bring it out and dust it off. (It is incredibly dusty.)

The first week was half-orientation, half-vacation. If I had a cobblestone for every step I’ve taken during our three different Montpellier tours, I could probably reconstruct half the streets of the city. The Meditteranean Sea lacked the murkiness of the Atlantic and was five times as salty. I have met people at the fountain called Les Trois Graces in the Place de la Comedie more times than I count– it’s the most important part of the city, a wide open space that somehow also seems to carry an incredible amount of weight and density.

1187241_10151900731796810_1360624617_n.jpg1234139_10151900737436810_563488673_n.jpg

It was our first full day in France, walking through the Place de la Comedie as a huge group of jetlagged Americans, when someone said something that struck me: These people spoke French before we showed up and will continue doing so after we leave. While blatantly obvious, I think the very physical and complete comprehension of this sentiment is the beginning of “global citizenship.” Of course, I believe that these people exist when I’m not around (I’m no solipsist), but there is a certain je ne sais quoi to the final, genuine comprehension of what that means and all of its implications.

In a way, this recognition is described by the imaginary word “sonder,” made up by The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. In France, I am a foreigner who briefly and poorly asked for coffee; that girl who totally tripped getting on to the tram; the back of a head that exited a classroom; or, to Milla, for instance, I will simply be an idea: “notre invit�e who stayed in our apartment when you were 3 years old,” and 13 year old Milla will put on her sunglasses and say, “Oh, I don’t really remember. I was so little then.”

1239805_10151900733851810_2012680579_n.jpg
In terms of intercultural understanding, thinking of oneself as a background character is actually quite liberating. I am unafraid to stop and ask for directions, speak halting French with the Monoprix cashier even though the line extends out the door, and tell the homeless man who tried to touch my face that he was crossing some serious boundaries, and I already gave him 30 cents, and, very sternly, Bonne journ�e, Monsieur. In France, I am a footnote in the lives of others– as the defintion says, “a lit window at dusk.” And others are my lit windows, a kind smile and a finger pointing on my tram map, my near-death experiences when trying to cross a road. (Seriously, driving in France is borderline suicidal.)

Being a background American means I get to try every kind of cheese and not be embarrassed about not having had it before. It means I get to ask really, really stupid questions, like “This is embarrassing, but how does the toilet work?” (You have to pull the button upward instead of pressing it.) According to my two new friends Irina and Deborah (Lithuanian and non-descriptly francophone, respecively), being American is also somehow glamorous or cool. It also apparently means that I am constantly honked at, catcalled, hit on, and aggressively stared at by French men.