Les Mots du Jour

My Junior Year Abroad

Bretagne (again)

Before beginning for real I think I should tell you all where I am writing. Well it’s still Paris but I am on an adorable road near my house, Rue DaGuerre, which I have neglected up until this point this year. It runs by my house and turns into a pedestrian only road further down lined with colorful shops and cafés. Recently I found that a friend of a friend lives on my block and ever since then we have been swapping insider tips. She mentioned a bagel shop on this street and, since I have not had a bagel since last July, I decided to indulge. It was worth it. I walked into the cute shop and was dumbstruck by the options available to me. My mouth instantly started watering as I started at the three varieties of cheesecake. Resisting even the cookies I settled on just a BLT bagel. It was glorious. I forget sometimes that my staples were not always baguette and galettes but rather bagels and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think it is going to be a shock to my system adjusting back. I’ve been thinking more and more about the transition back even having nightmares about getting lost on the Middlebury campus or not being able to speak English. My time here is coming to a close quickly. I only have one week of classes left! Thankfully I am staying a month extra to do research for my thesis or I would really be freaking out. The semester, well and the year, just went so fast. I still feel like I am discovering new roads, like this one, and the correct genders for all the nouns.

My two semesters here were so different. My first semester I felt was more of the typical study abroad experience. I spoke way more English than I should have, I traveled absurd amounts, and I went out dancing with my American friends. This semester has been completely different for me. I have stayed here in Paris, only taking a few trips, my American friends all left, and I focused much more on school. That is not to say it has been worse. It has been quieter, and I like that. It is the settling in phase. The new exchange students arrived and I was able to see their silly mistakes that I had made a few short months before. I heard their complaints about the bureaucracy, the metro, the prices. And I smiled to myself, knowing it only gets worse with time. I feel much more at home here now than I once did. A few glorious times people thought I was French in conversations until my accent popped out or I misconjugated a verb. My savings account started to dwindle so I have begun doing more free activities like sitting in parks in the sun and strolling through museums.

 This past weekend, as I’m sure you all know, was Easter weekend. That being the case we had Monday off school. My boyfriend (pause, yes, I have a boyfriend, he is Quebecois and we speak exactly half in French and half in English) and I had been wanting to travel somewhere cheap for awhile now, our only problem was lack of foresight. We only realized we had the Monday off of school about a week before. And as you can imagine the weekend of Easter is a popular one to travel on. So, of course, by the time we started to look everything was too expensive or sold out. We looked at all options: overnight busses, rideshares, everything. Nothing seemed to work out. Then one night Olivia was over for dinner and asked what my plans for the weekend were. She was going to Normandy with Stéphane and wanted to know if I too was going out of town. Once I explained to her my situation she offered her car. Her car! I was thrilled! It was a sign from God. I had not even thought to ask such a huge favor but she had offered. The next day PierreYves and I spread out a map of France and started to plan. We both missed the ocean so the beach was a must. Within the scope of a weekend trip that left Normandy or Brittany. Remembering how ugly small towns tend to be on the Norman coast from the last trip with my dad, I advocated Brittany. PierreYves, being from Quebec (the founder of Quebec, Jacques Quartier was from St. Malo), was also drawn to the region. So Brittany it was. After a failed (and totally last minute) attempt to contact the family, we decided on a rough plan of towns and cities we wanted to visit. We would leave Saturday morning early and return Tuesday so as to avoid the normal Friday-Monday traffic. We planned this all on Tuesday.

 On Friday Olivia dropped off her car and gave us the instructions. The car had a few quirks to say the least. The biggest of which was the lack of locks. That is right: the car does not lock! She has been driving it in Paris for years now leaving it perfectly open. Once she said she even left the key IN THE CAR by mistake and someone just took it out and set it on the dashboard for her. Her trick is just to leave nothing in it. It also does not go above 120 km/hr and smells like anti-freeze if you try to turn on the heat. Good. So with the car under control (kind of) we packed out things and fell asleep with dreams of moules frites filling our heads.

 Saturday morning started early and rudely. We went down to the street where Olivia had left the car to find an old man standing next to it. “You are blocking my driveway.” He was right, kind of.  Where Olivia had left it the bumped stuck out a little but nothing serious. “Oh, sorry.” We mumbled as we set our bags in the open car. “I could’nt get out last night.” It was clear he was not happy. Not realizing the extent of the situation we apologized and PierreYves said he would pull the car around if I ran to the store down the block to grab car snacks. By the time I got back the situation had significantly worsened. The man’s wife had returned in her car and PierreYves had realized that the car was VERY difficult to get into reverse. The man was yelling and screaming about calling the police and began to kick the car with all his might. I was almost in tears as I tried to explain in broken French that it was not our car and we couldn’t get it into reverse. Finally PierreYves told me to try so I jumped into the drivers seat, popped it into neutral and told him to push. Dear Dad, thank you for forcing me to drive a stick for all those years. I really appreciate it. The man was stilling shouting threats (“if you ever leave your car here again, don’t expect to find much of it when you get back!”) as PierreYves jumped into the moving car and we screeched away. I never thought I would drive in downtown Paris. Merde! Tabernac! (There are some French and Quebecois swear words for you. Interesting fun fact: Tabernac means tabernacle, ever since the Tranquil Revolution in Quebec almost any religious word can be used as a swear word. The society went from being highly religious and conservative to highly secular and open.) I especially never thought I would drive in Paris after receiving threats from a Parisian to destroy my car. My hands were shaking as I reminded myself to shift into second, then third. Soon enough we found a place to pull over and switch seats.

 With a rough start to our journey we were finally off. Fast forward to lunch. We arrived in Rennes with no problems. With a start like that it can only get better. And Rennes was wonderful. We walked around in the sun admiring the cute medieval buildings and got lunch in the square next to the market. We even stopped into a CD store because after three hours of French radio we had the foresight to know we would want at least one CD. We spent quite a while in the shop debating the merits of whole albums and prices. We didn’t want to spend too much but we needed a quality album that we could listen to for four days without wanting to kill ourselves. That left any contemporary pop album out. In the end it was between the Best of the Kinks and The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds. Settling things with our traditional coin toss, we left the shop proudly carrying Pet Sounds.  It became the soundtrack of the trip.

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Our first night was spent in Dinan, an adorable town not far from the coast and St.Malo. We spent the early afternoon wandering the streets, admiring the castle, and picking out a restaurant for dinner. The streets were all stone and tiny, they wound down around the big stone city walls to an adorable little port. I think this was my favorite village we visited.

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Our second morning did not start very well either as the car was broken into. Thankfully we had left almost nothing in the car, the only casualties were some sunglasses. I almost felt like gloating to our robber. Still it was shocking in such a small town to have theft!

First thing in the morning, we went to Dinard, a port town nearby where we saw the giant beach mansions where the rich of the nineteenth century spent their summers. Just across the harbor we saw St. Malo, which was impressive. St. Malo was quite a bit bigger and completely made of stone. Maybe it was the half overcast weather but it seemed dark, looming, like all the people that live there must be gloomy. It was beautiful at the same time. The beach around the city stretched out for miles. We had a sausage crêpe for lunch before hitting the road again.

 Our next stop was definitely a highlight as well. We went to Cap Fréhl, which is not even a village but just a lighthouse with cliffs jutting down all around. We walked around on the small dirt paths taking in the views and taking photos. PierreYves has a film camera so his photos will surely capture it better than mine. But anyway here is a taste.

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That night we arrived in Perros Guirec. We took an hour-long detour (my bad. Who put me in charge of navigating? ), but the bright side is we have now seen Corlay. Our hotel was right on the beach and we were able to walk to a cute restaurant nearby where we are delicious seafood. PierreYves had the best scallops I think I have ever tasted, fresh that day. The next morning we explored the famous beaches with their giant rocks.

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It was a bit of a shame because we found out too late that there are puffins in the area, but you need to take a boat out to the islands to see them. If only we had known we could have taken the time to see them! But as it was I wanted to stop in Loquirec for lunch of moules frites so we scooted along. And it did not disappoint. We stopped in the same Brasserie de la Plage. It was funny being there in that context, the first time I have ever gone without the family but to a place so filled with memories and stories of family. PY thought it was funny because he would never think in a million years that he would end up in Loquirec, this random little village, but it holds such an importance for me.

 Not quite on purpose we ended up in Morlaix and figured we might as well stop for a coffee so that was nice too. We ended up in a café next door to the crêperie I had been to in October with my dad and Monique. Kind of a shame knowing family was so close. I felt bad not visiting but they were busy so I knew I couldn’t intrude.  Up next we headed to Brest, not so much for the city, which we had heard from everyone was ugly (it was) but so that PY could say he had been there (he is a big Tin Tin fan and one of the books takes place there, go figure). Once reaching the city limits, however, we realized just how ugly the city was and didn’t even stop. We headed right on through to the Parc Régional d’Amorique, which was supposed to be spectacular. We went to the Crozon peninsula, which is just South of Breast planning on making our way along the coast. We arrived in the village of Landévennec in the pouring rain. The town was tiny and the coast lines compared to Cap Fréhl were underwhelming. We found an abandoned hotel, which I found creepy. It was eerie this little town. And it didn’t help that I could hear the horror movie trailer rolling in my head… “a young couple on a trip to the coast. They thought they had founding a charming town but they had no idea what lay in wait in the old town hotel….” Anyway I got over it and we found a small crêperie playing Crosby Stills and Nash to split an apple crêpe and take shelter from the rain. As night fell we found our way to Le Conquet, a small fishing village on the Western tip of Britanny (next to Brest).

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The wind was hailing and our clothes we soaked as we lugged our suitcases into the adorable “Hôtel au Bout du Monde” (Hotel at the End of the World). We found an equally cute restaurant where we had galettes for our last dinner. The next morning we stopped at the friendly farmers market to pick up some cider and poulet rôti for our picnic lunch and began our journey back to Paris. And a journey it was, it took us eight hours. It should have taken six but the traffic getting back into the city was horrific.

 All in all it was a great trip. Not at all like any of the trips I took with my friends this year. I felt like it was a real grown up trip, eating in restaurants and seeing natural beauty and small villages. We got to know Pet Sounds really really really well and we survived Parisian traffic (and Parisians). We discovered that Bretons are much nicer than Parisians and that we like each other enough to spend eight hours in a car together!

 Merde. It has started to rain. My idea to come work in a café seems less charming with the prospect now of walking home. Wish me luck! 

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Printemps

Word of the day: Printemps

Meaning: Spring!

Spring has arrived in Paris. In the past two weeks it has gone from winter coat weather to no-coat-at-all weather! When the sun comes out in Paris that means one thing for most Parisians: head to the parks. Now here there is a choice. Recently I have finished my very last exposé (very strictly structured oral presentation, also the main mode of evaluation at Sciences Po) for the semester. Which means in this last month of school I am much more free to explore the many parks Paris has to offer. In the past weekend alone I visited three for picnics and sun naps. It’s just too hard to go to the library when the weather is this perfect (I think this was part of the reason I avoided going to school in California). In any event I thought it might be fun to talk a little about the many parks Paris has to offer for when the sun decides to come out: 

The Luxembourg Gardens:

In my mind this is the classic Parisian park, but maybe that’s only because it’s near both my house and my school so it’s the one I frequent. With the beautifully crafted gardens and many shady paths to take, it’s a hard one to dislike. Though I have heard several French people say it’s too… “French.” Go figure. Here you will find bourgeois children dressed in Chloé and Ralph Lauren pushing boats in the small pond with sticks next to the grass filled with students pretending to do their reading.

Bois de Boulogne:

I went here last weekend for a picnic and was pleasantly surprised. It is located out by the periphery so walking in past the screeching car horns and sketchy vans with their skimpily dressed owners standing by we didn’t know what to expect. But once we passed that less than charming part of the park, we stumbled upon a lake surrounded by big areas of grass. Rowboats were for rent on the lake and children ran around with dogs and soccer balls. It was quite the idyllic scene! We sat and ate baguette with cheese and drank cold rosé until the sun started going down (at which point we grudgingly headed back into the city). It’s funny how this park didn’t even feel like it was in Paris.

Canal St. Martin :

The Canal is located near the Marais and is one of my favorite (those least frequented) places in Paris. Along the canal there is a strip of grass on either side where people lay and soak up the warm rays. Across the street on both sides you can find cute cafés, bookstores and restaurants. Charming pedestrian bridges cross the canal intermittently and trees provide the perfect amount of shade. 

 Marché des Enfants Rouges and Park

I believe I have already mentioned this market but it is really on of my favorites here in Paris (besides the Raspail bio market where I have successfully become a regular!). This market is great for lunch. Though I have tried Lebanese, French and Japanese here, this past Friday I went for a crêpe place I had been eyeing though was too afraid to try because the man working there can be a bit harsh. However this time I got a free waffle and a compliment on my eyes! Win!  I got the crêpe “fraicher” which had lettuce, parmesan, prosciutto, tomatoes, and tons of other vegetables that I cannot remember at this time. Madison and I took our massive crêpes and went to the sunny park next to the market where we devoured them. Unfortunately we shared a bench with a woman who kept clearing her throat sooo loudly that either she should see a doctor immediately or we were annoying the hell out of her with our insolence in daring to speak English in France (a real crime here).

 Ok I need to head out to go to class (inside unfortunately). But hopefully I will continue to explore more parks this spring and the weather will stay as wonderful as it has been recently! 

The Storming of the Bastille

Dear loyal readers,

I would first like to apologize for the lack of posts this semester. It was one of my goals to write more often and instead I have fallen on the face of the blogosphere. But I am here now with many things to write about as this semester has been absolutely packed with new and interesting experiences. I will write a more detailed post later about coming back second semester in Paris and at Sciences Po as well as some of the more educational challenges I have had here. But the real motivation for this post is an experience I had yesterday. I can confidently say that it is one of the most interesting things I have seen since arriving in France. One of my classes this semester is on the elections that are beginning to really heat up here this spring. In that class we were all assigned to a group to report on a political party or candidate each class. Being more interested in the extreme groups than the central ones I decided that I should probably choose to either follow LePen (extreme right wing, anti-immigrant etc) or Mélenchon (extreme left, calling for a 6th Republic). In the end I went with the left wing.  Communist events, in my mind, would be a much more exciting and idealistic experience (even if I do not agree with all the proposed changes) than xenophobic rallies calling for the expulsion of North African communities. And right I was. As part of our reporting to the class we are highly encouraged to attend debates, events and meetings of the candidates. At Sciences Po we are very lucky because many of these events take place on campus.

Yesterday was the “march to take the Bastille” for Mélenchon. So around 2 o’clock I went with a few friends to Nation expecting a few hammers and sickles as we marched for la 6ème République. What we found went beyond anything I was expecting. The place de Nation was packed with people dressed in red, communist flags and copies of the Communist Manifesto. It was a fascinating and foreign sight to behold. We walked around picking up free stickers, signs and flags preparing for the march on the Bastille. The rain even cleared for a little and the sun came out. Really what more can you ask from a Sunday afternoon than a little music, communism and sunshine?

 

By three o’clock we still had not begun marching and we were confused as to what was taking so long. Once we starting walking we realized it was the sheer number of people. The wide boulevards of Paris were not big enough to contain the 120,000 people that had come (they were expecting about 30,000) to support a new constitution for the extreme left. At several points we walked along the side and as we passed up ahead you could see the political issues represented by the different interest groups singing and hoisting their banners into that not-quite-yet-spring air. First we would pass the feminists proudly sporting red face paint, then the education groups chanting for immigrant rights, then the environmentalists before arriving at the theater commune of Paris. Quite the mix of idealists and dreamers. All down the street, leftist banners and stickers plastered the metro stops and lampposts.

After about an hour of marching we arrived at the Bastille. I am pretty sure I will remember the sight for the rest of my life. The place de la Bastille was overflowing. It was nearly impossible to move through the air filled with chanting and energy. I think campaigns are my favorite part of the political process because everyone is still so sure of their cause, untainted by game to stay in office, and so optimistic about the future (even a candidate like Mélenchon who has no chance of actually winning). I don’t think you would find this sort of energy with any other candidate here in France either. The left is bound to be more idealistic than the extreme right (which is mostly made up with the frustrated and nationalistic working class) and more energetic than the moderate middle.

In the center of the place the giant monument was covered in people who had climbed up in order to get a better view. Naturally, this is where we headed. There was a giant spiked fence to climb but everyone was helping everyone else to get over (gotta love that communal spirit) so it was not too hard. We decided against climbing up on the actual monument as it is super high and scary (people would raise their hands above their head and people monument would pull them up to safety…in other words if it was in the US it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen and cops would be all over the place. Being in France I did not see one police officer the whole day). We climbed onto the fence to watch Mélenchon speak. As far as we could see “Front de Gauche” and crowds spread out. People lit flares and chanted “Rés-is-tance!”

 

 

Mélenchon was excellent. He is a wonderful orator and I am shocked to say I agreed with almost everything he said. I am not sure about the economic policies but socially I think he is absolutely on point. The one thing that shocked me is the call for a new constitution and the 6th Republic. I think this is because in the US we hold our constitution on a pedestal. Despite the founding fathers intention of this document to be a living, changing policy to adapt with the times, we hold it in such a sacred position that if it would be absolutely unthinkable for a presidential hopeful to call for a new one. So I think I agree with the idea of a more flexible system that changes as there is a need for it (as there clearly is in Europe at the moment). However, I am not sure I agree with the proposed protectionist changes Mélenchon advocates. In any event his ideals are beautiful and his oration style equally so. As the Marseillase broke out at the end with French flags waving around me I felt truly touched by this strange and impassioned political system.

All in all, really an amazing experience that I will never forget. I was part of a revolutionary movement at the Bastille! Vive la France! Vive la 6ème Republique! (And there is your word of the day!)

A bientôt! Bisous,

Zoe

C’est la vie!

This week was my week to be in Paris sans homework, sans stress. And it was wonderful. I spent most of my time visiting museums, meeting friends for coffee, going to the market and hanging out at home.

The art highlight of the week was Gustave Moreau. I have absolutely fallen in love with his paintings. Stéphane recommended it because it is the art museum where Olivier’s mother was born. Literally, she was born inside the museum because her father was the curator. Never having seen Moreau’s work before I was also curious. All I knew was what Stéphane had told me: that he was a professor at Beaux Arts and had taught countless later famous artists like Matisse. So one day this week my friend Madison and I went up to the 9th to check it out. It was incredible. The entire downstairs is his apartment where he grew up which was cool to see. You could read about his early life and see the bedrooms. But my favorite part by far was the upstairs. His studio was where the bulk of his paintings and a few sculptures were displayed. The room was massive with high ceilings and practically empty of tourists (a real rarity in Paris). The paintings were huge and interesting. The giant canvasses covered the walls. It is hard to describe the paintings so I will just show you a few. I was mesmerized. In the middle of the studio there was a giant wooden spiral staircase that led upstairs. All along the sides art students sat sketching.

After we spent a fair amount of time wandering from painting to painting, and room to room, we left for a café. It was my first time in the 9th and I really enjoyed the small streets. We found a corner café off Notre Dame des Lorettes to have a noisette and watch the world go by. Madison had to leave to go somewhere but I decided that as long as I was in the area I might as well go to the “la vie romantique” museum. It was a bit depressing going in by myself (“vous êtes toute seule mademoiselle?”) but oh well. I’m going to try to make it a habit to go to the Louvre as much as possible this semester. It’s free and I have one of the museums the most famous for its art literally steps away from where I go to school. Anyway I did not care for this museum at all. Even the subjects of the paintings themselves looked bored to be there. I think it was much less exciting compared to the more colorful and lively works of Moreau.

The two other museums I hit this week were D’Orsay and a Sempé exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville. The Impressionists at Orsay were impressive of course. Who doesn’t love a bit of Van Gogh before lunch? (Sorry for sounding so pretentious, it just kind of rubs off on you here). And I love the view of Montmartre through the giant clock. Gotta love this city.

And Sempé was cute. Le Petit Nicholas being one the first books I ever read in French it was cool to see his other work and how many covers of the New Yorker he has graced. Both made for fun cultural outings. After Sempé we went to the Swedish cultural center for lunch (I never thought of Sweden of being known for it’s food but my apple tart was delicious!).

Another highlight was a bit of a dream of mine. I got to ride on the back of a French boy’s scooter. So it may have been Alice’s boyfriend and it may just have been a few blocks to a lunch place where we met Alice but even so I felt like a real French girl for those glorious few blocks. Alice says I just need heels and a cigarette and then I will be legit. But for now I still hate high heels and am fond of my lungs so I will remain ½ French. It’s will have to suffice.

One way in which I am attempting to up my French points is by doing more shopping at farmers markets and less at the super markets. After visiting the market on Boulevard Raspail when dad was visiting I’ve been back only once. So this semester I am going to try every Sunday to go by vegetables, fruit and cheese there every Sunday (it’s bio!). So far it has been successful. I bought a bag of English muffins from the American stand for breakfast along with tons of clementines and a few cheeses. I also got the makings for a mean niçoise salad, which I made several times this past week. This morning I went to the Marché des Enfants Rouges (Market of the Red Children) with Olivia, Arnaud and Stéphane, which was very fun. I bought some fruits and vegetables for the week while Olivia and Arnaud (Olivias gay best friend) complained about how their market had gotten a little “Bo-bo” which means Bourgeois-Bohemian (equivalent of a hipster essentially). After we had lunch at a great Thai place where we sat for hours having many espressos and discussing travel and theatre. Arnaud and Olivia are going to take me to a play soon which I am very excited for! I got in trouble at lunch though because I had a soup as a main course instead of as a starter, I didn’t have a desert and I only had one espresso afterwards (not the Parisian way on all counts). Minus some French points there.

Last night with this same group we had a galette de rois which is for the epiphany. We are a bit late but these cakes are still all over in the bakeries. And the one we had was absolutely delicious! The outside is flakey and buttery while the inside is filled with a almond paste (way better than it sounds). Anyway inside there is traditionally a bean (nowadays it’s usually a little figurine) and whoever finds it is the king. I have a strange tendency of finding the fêve and it happened again this year. The fêve was a little golden turtle.

The final activity that has taken up the bulk of this week was going out for drinks with friends. I will note two occasions in particular that were memorable. The first bar I went to was with a few friends from school. We went to a bar called Chez Georges. It is near school and I hear it is where Sciences Po students hang out. I had been there once before but it was late in the night and we didn’t stay long. Chez Georges is the kind of place you could be a regular at. It is the kind of place that has a friendly bartender upstairs (Hugo) with a small restaurant and downstairs there is a cave where Edith Piaf plays late into the night. It is the kind of place you drink wine and dance with French boys and discuss politics with retired professors at the bar and the bartender likes you so much he starts giving you and your friends free glasses of wine. It’s the kind of place I’m going to be going back to.

The next night I went out with my ‘buddy’ that Sciences Po set me up with in the beginning of the year. He offered to take me out with his friends, which I thought would be a good opportunity to speak French and integrate more with the French students at my school. Plus speaking French is always easier after a glass of wine or two. So I went and spoke loads of French and drank quite a bit of wine (but only to improve my French). So much so that when it was time to head home and I realized the metro was long closed I was actually able to be convinced that velib’ing was a good idea. Velibs are the bike system here in Paris. For 1 euro 70 you can rent a bike and ride it wherever you want as long as you drop it at another station. Now people have been trying to convince me to try this since I arrived in Paris. It’s often faster than the metro, you get to actually see Paris and it’s fun. Or that’s what I was told. I have avoided it for so long because I am afraid of being hit by the insane drivers that inhabit this city as well as my tendencies to wear skirts here. But this night I was wearing pants and it was such an obscene hour of the night that the streets were quite literally empty. So I was convinced (who wants to pay for a cab?). I forgot about those things called hills. Those suck on a bike. Also, I do not advise anyone to bike after wine. Not that I was drunk (never happens), I was just a little tired. Anyway the curb got in my way several times and I did not look nearly as graceful as the other French girls who seem to pull off the bike thing with such grace and ease. But I have now velib’ed. It was probably the only time I will ever velib but it was an experience worth having (especially being surrounded by French boys singing at the top of their lungs a very nearly incomprehensible song).

One final note about that night was that I learned some French slang. Which brings us, ladies and gentlemen, to the word of the day: meuf. It means girl but in the “verlin” language the young people use. It was invented in the banlieues with heavy political implications but now is  seldom used. The basic concept is you flip the sounds of the word. Meuf is femme switched around and verlin is linvers (inverse). I understand practically none of it. Classes start on Monday! I would say I was excited for my new classes but I had such a great time living in this city without classes this week I kind of wish I could remain like this. Visiting museums by day and dancing by night. C’est la vie. Bisous.

Marrakech Express

Word of the Day : شكرا  (Shokran) / Sahit

Meaning : Thank you

Language : Arabic / Berber

After a brief séjour back to the US of A I returned to Paris for two small jet lagged days before to returning the place I seem to frequent more than any place I really call home, the airport. The destination: Fes, Morocco. The time: too early for anyone but students on a budget with a bad case of the travel bug. My travel companion: a friendly Canadian girl named Madison.

Everyone told us we were crazy to go alone as two girls to a country as “dangerous” as Morocco but on my flight back to Paris I had sat next to a woman from Seattle who had lived in Rabbat for the past ten years. She said she feels more unsafe in the US because of the culture of violence and guns which does not exist in Morocco. I found this ironic. So many Americans would disagree with her I think at first glance but honestly she has a point. Even in my short visit to the states there was a violent and senseless gun crime against a park ranger and mother of two. The United States is in many ways one of the most developed countries in the world. And in other basic ways we are archaic and have values that I fail to understand.

After a whirlwind security check and the discovery that they won’t actually notice if you don’t take out your liquids (win!), we arrived at our gate. It was 6am. I was too drowsy to notice. The flight was not bad, just about two hours. It’s incredible to me that in the same time it would take a Seattleite to fly to California, a European can be on another continent. And another continent it was. Being my first time in Africa I expected to be overwhelmed with new sites and sounds. And we were. Our hostel picked us up at the airport so we had our noses glued to the car windows as we passed piles of trash lining the road in front of beautiful landscapes of snow capped mountains and palm trees.

We had breakfast at our hostel but our rooms were not ready so we decided to take the hostel’s walking tour of the Medina, or old town. This was a wise decision on our part. We met a South African couple and we hung out with the rest of our time in Fes. They were the outdoorsy, well-educated travel type that one-day I hope to be. Our tour guide was friendly and began telling us about the history of the city as we slipped into the labyrinth of the Medina. It is hard for me to describe the old city as it was unlike anything I have ever seen before. The roads were covered and narrow, probably wide enough for two people across and curved in every direction, more often than not finding you in a dead end. If that was not chaotic enough there were people selling everything lining the streets and waves of people coming towards us and pushing us from behind. The shops were organized by product so we would walk through the fabric section, then watches, then figs and dates. It was dizzying. Every once in a while a donkey would come lumbering down the narrow paths at speeds normally reserved for Olympic runners or perhaps small rocket ships. There was so much to look at and take in. But our guide took us through this with an expert grace. He dodged oncoming donkeys and pointed out different products and monuments. We were not allowed in the mosques as non-Muslims but what we could see from the outside was breathtaking. The ornate tile and plaster designs were truly awe-inspiring.

Our first stop was at a carpet factory. The place was massive. There were rooms upon rooms of carpets. They were rolled up in corners, stacked on the floor and hanging from every possible surface. We were given mint tea (thé à la menthe), which was delicious, and the process of rug making was described. They then began lying out rug after rug in a giant stack in the middle of the room for us to admire. We told them thank you but we were students who were poor and had no need for giant ornate rugs. But of course, buy six or seven and sell them, you can make a fortune! We were told. But transport. We ship! But we don’t know how to sell rugs. Ebay! They had all the answers but we were not buying. Eventually Madison and I were led into another room to be talked into smaller rugs (only 300 euro!) while they worked on the South African couple downstairs. I felt like we were being separated in order to weaken our will power not to buy. We were shown the sunny roof with the whole of Fes below us and the women working in the back rooms. Before long, dizzied by the sugar rush from the tea and the onslaught of coaxing words, I was questioning if I did in fact want a 12,000-dollar rug. But then I remembered that I am not a homeowner nor do I have 12,000 dollars. So we left.

The same process was repeated more or less at the tannery, the oldest one in the entire world! It was cool to see (the leather was dyed in stone pools in the back) and the leather bags were impressive but they were too expensive and we were sure we could find cheaper stuff on the street (when our guide was not getting commission).

For lunch we went to a funny family place. To order we were led into the kitchen where a young girl spooned four types of meats into our mouths (using the same spoon….) and we were told to choose. I had a spiced chicken dish with the flat bread that we came to both love and hate after having it with every meal.

That evening we decided to go up to the hotel above the city for a drink with the South African couple. We knew we needed to go north so we started into the maze of the city working our way up but eventually met a man who was going the same way and let us there. As white people when you walk without a guide people automatically ask if you are lost, and you probably are, whether you know it yet or not. The hotel was palatial. Really beautiful. And the view was incredible (I grabbed you a card Patti in case you want to go to Fes, you should stay here). We had a beer and watched the sun set behind the city just as the prayer calls began. It really is a sound unlike any other, kind of haunting.

The way home was another adventure. We had planned on grabbing a cab but we could not find one that was available or that would take all four of us. Eventually we broke down and decided to pay a group of 8 year olds to lead us through the maze of the old city back to our hostel. I was a little nervous as we ducked through dark alleyways because the group kept breaking up to visit people they knew. But they always came back, chattering away in French with the occasional “let’s go, this way!” in English. It was cute how they would point out the sites, so clearly proud of their city. They left us right before the main square because if you get caught guiding tourists without being an official guide there is a heavy fine.

The next day the morning highlight was finding a café that had been recommended to us called Café Clock. We sat in the sun on the terrace and had a long relaxing lunch surrounded by Moroccan students doing the same. It was fun and the sun felt so good after the cloudy weather in Seattle and Paris. After lunch we stopped by the market to stock up on almonds, dates and oranges for the lunch the next day on the train. In the afternoon we took another tour with the hostel to the viewpoints around the city along with a pottery factory and the palace. We had accidentally run into other students from our school at the hostel so it was fun to hang out and catch up with them on the tour.

When we returned at night we were starving so we went into town to grab some sandwiches off the street that a friend recommended. It was really the first time we had gone into the old city by ourselves. And we noticed the difference right away. People yelled at us a bunch on the street, which was something totally absent when with the guide. One guy followed us for so long and despite my assurances that we did not want company nor need assistance, he would not leave. Finally I said our boyfriends would not like us hanging out with other guys, anything to get him to which he exploded. Turns out all we American girls want is sex and that’s why we wouldn’t get dinner with him. Who knew? At least our sandwiches were delicious (though it did make me nervous how the man making them touched our money, the raw meat, and then the finished product…).

The next day we took the train to Marrakech. Our quick stopover in Casablanca made it clear that we made the right decision in not spending more time there than we did: just enough to grab a quick mint tea and say “we’ll always have Paris” before jumping back on the train to Marrakech. We arrived at night and had dinner at the market in the main square. You pick your food and they cook it for you as you wait at picnic tables set up next to the market (we had cous cous, fish and eggplant). Our first impression in Marrakech was a bit scrambled. We had crossed into this main square looking for a certain café where the instructions to our hostel that I had printed out began. Immediately people began offering to lead us to wherever we were going (white people, with backpacks = easy targets). Knowing they would charge an arm and a leg we tried to shake them off and find it ourselves. But these people were more used to tourists than in Fes and they were insistent. Even a man with a monkey came up. I was so flustered as the monkey began touching my arm, it only added to the chaos. But eventually we found our hostel (by ourselves!) hidden through another labyrinth of small residential side roads hidden somehow in the middle of the Medina.

Wwe rose early to start our three-day trek into the Sahara the next morning. We had signed up through our hostel because we needed a minimum of four people to have a private tour. This means we were put with the strangest traveling group ever known to man or, I’m sure, to the camels we later road. We were with an Australian woman (the only other native English speaker), two Norwegian girls, a Brazilian couple, a Moroccan woman, a Spanish couple, an Italian couple, a Dutch couple, a Pole, a Spaniard and a German. Group conversations were compliced to the point of comical. The Moroccan woman would often talk to the guides in Arabic who would then tell us in French and we would relay the message in English, which was then translated into all the other languages. One such example is at dinner one night we had a dish with turkey in it. You may remember the vocabulary word “dinde” from an earlier post. Unfortunately I do not know how to say turkey in Italian or Spanish, although that would have greatly diminished my fun because about half of dinner was spent trying to explain it. “Bigger than a chicken but still a bird….what American’s eat for thanksgiving….” At this point the Italian man (our favorite by far for his crazy antics) jumped up and started doing an impression of what we later learned was a peacock. Do they eat peacocks in Italy?? Side note: turkeys do not say gobble gobble in every language.

The next three days we spent large amounts of time in a van together snaking up the small mountain roads and then down the other side into the desert, almost falling off the edge of the road at times. (Hamilton family: think Guatemala driving and roads). The first two days were spent mostly in the Atlas Mountains, which were beautiful and bright red in pigment. We stopped at viewpoints to take photos as well as several villages to be told we should buy more rugs. We even got a tour of the village where Laurence of Arabia and The Gladiator were filmed. The first night was spent in a very cold hotel where our group first bonded against the common enemy of the hotel staff who refused to give us heating in our rooms. At this point we were wonderfully ignorant to the cold that was to come.

Our second day was the most exciting day in my mind because we got to ride the camels. We drove out of the mountains and into the sandy nothingness that is the Sahara desert. We stopped at the last town to buy water (as you can imagine the water is quite expensive in the desert). There we found many children begging so finally the Brazilian couple decided to buy a bunch of chips for them. However, when the man came out of the shop carrying an armload of bags of chips, he was promptly attacked and we watched the children chase each other down in the field next to the shop as we drove away…

We arrived about half an hour before sunset at the edge of the desert. I was shocked at the abruptness of my introduction to my camel. I walked out behind the house and was introduced to my camel (Jimi Hendrix!) and then before I knew it I was being hoisted into the air far above my normal five foot two inches. I was the caboose. Once everyone else was loaded we began our journey into the never-ending dunes. Now they say that camel riding in uncomfortable. To this I said, “no way, I’m so excited. I looove riding horses.” Mind you, I am not often wrong. But wrong I may have been. After ten minutes of ‘oh-this-isn’t-so-bad’ing I was ready to throw in the towel. Unfortunately for my butt the ride was two hours to reach our campsite for the night. My only consolation was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. As the sun set the dunes turned bright orange. And they went on foreverrrrrrrr. It was really crazy to see after seeing it in history textbooks and as a stock picture for Dell desktop backgrounds for so long.

After the sun set it grew progressively colder. We were happy to reach our tents expecting to warm up inside of them. But inside was just as cold as out. Thankfully our guides made us some mint tea and after a hot meal we were all feeling a little better. After dinner we went outside to a sky so full of stars that I am almost willing to bet another two-hour ride on a camel it is one of the starriest locations in the world. It has to be; the sky was almost white there were so many. To stay warm we sat around a fire our guides had built, to stay entertained they played us songs. After they played for a while they turned to us and started asking people to play song from their countries. This might be a good time to add that the entire trip I had been claiming to be from Canada. The first day when I said I was from the US I got funny and even unfriendly looks. So while I am all for saying I’m from the US in order to battle the bad stereotypes we have, I decided I should hold off on that battle for a bit and save it for a time when I was not alone in a country where this could potentially have unsafe consequences. But being a horrible liar (with a bad memory) I didn’t want to confuse my story so I just told everyone I was Canadian from then onwards. It was confusing to many people though why I knew so much about American politics and yet so little about my hometown of Toronto. So when the guides handed me the drums and asked for a Canadian beat, I was at a total loss. The only Canadian song I could even think of was “Oh Canada.” Lucky for me the Spanish couple broke in and started playing the only song we all knew: the Macarina. It was a magical multicultural moment.

After sitting around the fire our guide suggested we climb the dune looming over our camp. The moon had come out and he said there would be a great view of the desert from there. If you know me (or have traveled with me) you will know that when ever there is an opportunity like this to do something interesting and unique I usually take it without thinking about the consequences (think the “once-in-a-lifetime-beach we almost lost mom on the hike down to that one time near Spain). So we started up the dune, running at first to stay warm, blissfully unaware of the climb I had gotten myself into. We had to climb up the side as the front was too steep and you would not be able to make it up without sliding back down the sandy slopes. We laughed and tried to capture the beauty of the desert by night unsuccessfully on our cameras. After about twenty minutes of this I began to tire. Each footstep into the deep sand was a laborious feat. Madison, being an avid runner/health freak quickened her pace. I sunk into the sand, defeated before the half way point. “I need a break,” I gasped. “Well as least you have a good view!” I heard Madison say as she trudged ahead, excited by the challenge as crazy athletes often are. Soon enough a guide came up behind me and offered me his hand. With his help I continued on my long journey to the elusive peak that seemed to be taunting me in the distance. He held on to my hand and helped me as he explained that he is used to the sand because he was born here. The children grow up playing and running in it. I was grateful for the company and the encouragement.

As we walked I asked questions about his life, fascinated by someone so different from myself. He was born in the nearby village but lived in the desert through tourist season. He spoke close to ten languages (when he learned I spoke French we quickly switched because he was better in French than English) and had traveled all around Morocco but never outside of the country. He was only 25! Before I knew it we had reached the top. Madison had already grown cold by the time we got there so she decided to head back to the warmth of the campfire. I chose to stay and enjoy the view with my new friend before returning to camp. And what a view! The whole of the desert was laid out before us: blue dunes with dark puddles of shadow littered the earth as far as the eye could see. We sat against the cold sand and talked about languages and travel and the desert. How strange to meet someone so close to my age who lived in such a different world than me (cheesy I know but it’s really quite hard to describe the sensation). When I got cold we ran down the front of the dune, my shoes filling with sand, laughing and tripping and jumping. We stopped half way down and lit a fire on some small brush to warm our hands before continuing back to camp where he went back to the fire and I joined Madison in our tent for bed. I didn’t even see him the next morning but it was a very cool conversation that really made me want to learn more languages. It’s crazy how everyone there speaks so many languages. I think as native English speakers we have both the advantage and the disadvantage of everyone speaking our language. Advantage because we can go almost anywhere and people will understand us, disadvantage because we don’t have to learn another language so we often don’t. Children in Morocco speak Arabic, some speak Berber, most speak French and many speak at least some English! How cool is that?

Anyway, the night was spent freezing my butt off. I have literally never been so cold in my life. I watched the moon pass over our tent as the hours passed in sleepless misery. My only consolation was that nobody else had gotten any sleep either and they were all just as grumpy as me the next morning as we loaded onto our camels at 6am for our journey back to the van.

That day was spent in the van back to Marrakech. We did have one interesting stop. On a coffee stop while Madison was in the bathroom I wandered into a little roadside store where I met a man named Mustafa. We spoke in French for a while and he misheard my name thinking it was the Berber word for beauty or something (Zoeran maybe?). He decided I had Berber eyes and a good heart and therefore had to take a gift from his shop. He gave me a bracelet with the hand of Fatima for protection and made me promise that next time I was in Morocco I would find him so that I could have cous cous with his family. We took a picture to ensure that I could find him again.

Our last day in Marrakech (and Morocco) was spent sightseeing. We went to the palace, the tombs, and the spice market in the Jewish quarter. I finally gave in a bought a leather purse I had been eyeing.

My big mistake, however, was made at lunch. Not wanting to spend much on our last day we picked a cheap lunch place where you could get a Panini and fries for about a euro fifty. I picked tuna. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I had a death wish and was secretly dreading second semester. After our return to the hostel we sat in the sun on the terrace a bit before grabbing our bags and hailing a cab to take us to the airport. Before we got the airport I knew I had made a mistake. Thankfully Madison had a plastic bag for me to get sick in before entering the airport. And I was able to make it through security (but not take off). All things considered planes are probably the best form of transportation to get sick on. How many others come equipped with barf bags?

Back in Paris I was happy to see food that wasn’t flat bread, cous cous or chicken tajine. I was greeted by my little French family (Stéphane, Olivier, Olivia and Julie) sitting in the studio drinking champagne. A debate ensued about whether or not champagne would be good for food poisoning. Oh to be back in France…And I learned a new word of the day: “vomir.”

Semester 1 : A lesson in Franglais etc.

As my first semester draws to a close I feel a mix of emotions. I feel sad because almost all of my close American friends are leaving for the states without returning. I feel proud that I survived and learned the streets of this city a little. And I feel a combination of excitement and anxiousness about the coming semester. Though I know that staying another semester is the right thing for me personally and academically it is hard seeing many of my friends getting excited to return to Middlebury together to swap abroad stories and live together in a house (I’m being generous here, it’s really more of a trailer but it’s cuter to think of them cozy in a house so let’s keep that image). This semester was not at all easy. I had super frustrating moments and some lonely times being in a foreign country by myself for the first time. But I think above all I learned a lot about myself this semester as cheesy as it sounds. It was the closest I’ve ever been to living in the real world (not a high school where most people come from similar backgrounds to myself or a college I chose because it fit me so well in terms of values and interests). For the first time I lived in a city where seeing my friends took effort and where finding those friends was a very different experience for me because everyone around me was so radically unlike than anyone I had ever met before. So many different kinds of people love Paris that it attracts a much wider range of people than somewhere like Middlebury, Vermont would attract.

So for the last blog post I thought I would review some of my accomplishments and lessons from this semester as well as what I hope to achieve next semester and some general observations I have made about France so far. Get ready for a long post.

Accomplishments :

2 French friends:

Making French friends proved harder than I anticipated. As stupid as it sounds I thought I would mostly be hanging out with French people and didn’t really think about the temptation of the really fun American, British, Canadian and Australian people that I have met here. I came to accept the fact that most French students stayed separate from the international students and that it is important for me to be able to have friends who want to travel, go get American food and even speak English every once in a while. But I am proud to say that I made not one but two close French friends this semester. Both have been mentioned in this blog: Marie (from Reunion, introduced me to the best crepes in Paris) and Alice (celebrated a very symbolic thanksgiving with me). Both are amazing people who I feel I can actually talk to when I have a bad day and whom I look forward to hanging out with more next semester.

Knowing the names of all the cats:

The first day in the house Stéphane introduced me to all four of her cats that reside in our apartment. I think they are the cherry on top that makes how I describe our apartment perfect. Usually when people ask I say “I live with an older artist in the 14th, her husband’s studio is connected to it and her boyfriend lives with us on the weekends. OH and we have 4 cats.” Now at first I only knew “Mr. Gris” as he is the most sociable who sits in my lap the most often. He has a huge personality and is always in the kitchen where I hang out so we get on quite well. He is a popular favorite with my friends as well. I immediately forgot the names of the other three but slowly but surely have mastered them all through the course of this semester. Katsu is the moody one that lives exclusively in Stéphane’s painting studio, Sondre is the surprising sweet one and Moishia Pi-Pik is the one with the Hitler mustache who always steals my chair at the table. Done! Yes!

French:

I am not fluent in French. Not even close. But I do believe I made progress this semester. I spoke French every single day and learned a fair bit of vocabulary. My friends basically all speak in franglais now. When it is easier to explain a concept or quote in French, we do. I think it’s kind of cool. Sometimes a different language captures what you want to say better and it is awesome to be able to switch between the two with a group that understands perfectly what you mean. So I am definitely fluent in franglais!

Other notable accomplishments:

– I can lock and unlock my front door every time!

– I submitted my first ever paper for publication! (chances are slim to none it will get published, I was just pleased to have the opportunity)

– I bought (and very much enjoyed) laudurée macarons !

– I fed myself all semester! My diet consisted pretty much exclusively of crepes, quiches, salads, soups and sandwiches… I will need to get myself a few new recipes next semester…

– I traveled to some amazing places with some amazing people and laughed until my sides hurt

– I got to know my French family over here a lot better!

Lessons Learned for Next Semester:

1. Avoid French bureaucracy wherever possible. It doesn’t make sense and it will ALWAYS take longer than it’s worth.

2. Don’t take classes from 7-9pm (I had 3 per week this semester). It is both hard to stay awake and prime dinner time.

3. Don’t take your first ever law class in another language about another system of law. What was I thinking?

4. Be more outgoing with French people, if your accent is half decent they will forgive grammar mistakes as cute. Half the time they don’t know the rule either. I have witnessed more than one grammar debate between French people based on a mistake I made.

5. It’s all about portion control. French people seem to eat whatever they want but the quantity is always small. So it is, in fact, both quality and quantity, the quantity just happens to be small.

To Do’s for Next Semester:

1. Spend more time exploring Paris. Because I knew I was here next semester I did not take advantage of all Paris has to offer this semester. I need to spend a fair amount of time exploring the Louvre next semester along with the catacombs, Musée d’Orsay and the Sunday market on Boulevard Raspail.

2. See a new continent: I’m heading to Morocco in January!

3. Focus more on my French. Though I have reached fluency in franglais I would like to be able to leave France feeling good about my French as well. I am going to read Le Monde, watch more French movies and hang out with my French friends more.

10 Observations/ Things French People Like:

1. Presentation. Even if food doesn’t taste good (which it usually does) it will ALWAYS look good. The same applies to people. Even if they are not very nice they will always look nice. I have not once this year worn sweats outside of the house. Even to run to the franprix down the block. When I see sweatpants on the street (maybe 4 or 5 times since August) I actually cringe a little.

a. Say: “Ooo c’est class”

b. Meaning: “Ooo, that’s classy” Always strive for this comment. I have only received it once speaking about how my grandmother was French.

2. Giving questionable rules that one must follow. For example, specifically in the kitchen, I have learned that you can under no circumstance use just butter in a frying pan, it must always be mixed with oil otherwise it will burn. (Pretty sure this is not true). When stressed one can never eat a cold meal. It will stress you out more. This is also true of pasta. You can never eat pasta cold because it is bad for your stomach. Pasta also needs to be cooked in excessive amounts of water and after straining some water should be left in.

3. Gasps. French people gasp dramatically when talking about something that was “[sharp breath in then slower breath out while shaking your hand as if you burned your fingers] vraiment incroyable.”

4. Not citing things in papers. It’s pretty much a free for all until it is something you are actually going to publish, in which case you may lay off Wikipedia a little bit.

5. Grèves: French people love striking. The metro or the trains are frequently striking, meaning irregular and unreliable service.

6. Acting aloof in the service industry. People must be convinced to help you in stores unless you walk in with confidence and pick up the most expensive item (in which case they are more likely to take an interest in you).

7. Never saying thank you when receiving a compliment. It means you agree. You must fervently deny whatever nicety was paid to any feature whether it be a new item of clothing or your teeth. Deny deny deny.

8. Art and philosophy. Stéphane has explained to me that when she was young in France the liberal arts were valued in France. People who studied art, history and philosophy were praised while those who studied the hard sciences were looked down upon. It explains a lot about the current state of France, she says: everything is beautiful but nothing works.

9. Fashion. Clothes are hard not to envy here. Elbow pads, artsy glasses and buckles on coats are just a few of the trends that I’ve been drooling over recently.

10. Being in a relationship. All of everyone is in a relationship here. Hell my host mom is in two and she is close to 65 years old! When I tell French people that I am not currently in a relationship I get looks of worry immediately followed by a list of potential bachelors who I might be interested in.

So that is it. I head back to Seattle on Tuesday laden with gifts from this crazy city. I look forward to almost two weeks of seeing my family and friends, turning 21 in a place where that matters and eating a dicks deluxe. Bisous et joyeux noel tout le monde!

The Cold War Continues/ Thanksgiving Symbolique

Word of the Day (per request): Dinde

Meaning: Turkey

So I only have time to write a quick post because this next week is essentially my finals week but I wanted to write about a few things including my most memorable Thanksgiving to date. But first: my adventures with the Russians. So I know it is a bit of a stereotype as an American to dislike Russians and honestly I had nothing against the country or her citizens before this past week. But let me tell you (on a personal level): the cold war continues. I have met three Russians since arriving in Paris. And I dislike all three. The first two are in my french class. They are two beautiful girls who I have been kind of been fascinated by all semester. Mostly because when they speak I cannot pick out even a single word. Piroshki anyone? Anyway last class we had our final exam which was unnecessarily hard in my opinion. The professor played a rapid fire radio clip and we had to write a summary of what it was about. Would have been simple enough if the professor hadn’t talked over the first bit and if it was about a subject I knew the word for (beekeeping. really? who knows the word for beekeeper?) Anyway I was frustrated with the test and grew distraught as I started to hear the two girls talking. Bad. Who does that in a final exam? Certainly nobody at Middlebury (where there is a very strong honor code that almost all students respect). But then to my growing horror I see they are looking up the clip on both their iphones and ipads. Reaching a pinnacle of outrage I realized nothing was going to happen. My spacey french professor was at the front of the room humming to himself and not even noticing! I may have “dropped” my pen a bit harder than usual in a vain attempt to get his attention but to no avail. The professor was off in switzerland (no offense) or some other neutral land completely oblivious to my plight. I guess I was just shocked by the total lack of academic integrity that I am normally surrounded by at places like Middlebury.

Ok the third Russian. For a group final paper I was paired with a french girl named Héléna (score) and we had chosen pretty early on to do the same subject as my thesis next year– a comparison of french and american laws about racist speech (double score). All was going well until one day about a month ago Héléna asked if the quite Russian guy in our class, Victor, could join our group. No problem! Less work right? Wrong. So naturally as students in this day and age we started a facebook thread to discuss the planning of our paper. Héléna and I had already come up with an outline so we were clarifying that, [no input from Victor] and eventually I offered to take part one and Héléna part two [no word from Victor]. Finally Victor chimed in and offered to take middle sections of both parts. Naturally we said no, that wouldn’t make sense for the research or the flow so he should take the introduction and conclusion. Héléna and I continue to write back and forth about the upcoming due date of the outline with no word from Victor. the day arrives and I see Victor on the way to class. “What outline?” Seriously? Like actually. So he didn’t do it. Even though two days before he said he would. Then what’s worse: this week the paper was due and HE STILL DIDN’T DO IT. I just don’t understand that. Héléna and I each wrote seven pages single spaced, he was supposed to write two. We talked to the professor and we will all be graded separately but I still have a total lack of understanding. In conclusion I have been having a miniature academic cold war with the old east. Wish me luck in avoiding nuclear bombs as I got fairly close this week at throwing a pen at all parties involved.

On to happier subjects: Thanksgiving!!

After a wonderful tri-continental skype with the fam (Nick in Korea, Hamilton family plus Gran and Grandad plus Heidi and Jim) and with dreams of turkey and stuffing I went to a Thanksgiving dinner at my school put on by the American club. It was pretty hilarious. As my American friends explained to the Australian friends what the holiday “was on about” (“you mean there are no presents? where is the fun in that” …no wait, materialism comes the next day on black friday) we waited in an enormous line for turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans. It was certainly not my mom’s cooking. But it was funny. We ate off paper plates that were about to collapse and sat on the floor. The food wasn’t great but we were thankful to have american food on our proud holiday.

Thanksgiving number 2 was a bit more symbolic if you will. So as I may have mentioned I have two close french friends. One is named Marie (see Breton Bliss) and the other is my friend Alice. Alice lived in DC for six years when she was in middle school so her english is flawless, no accent at all. She is in my law class and I absolutely laugh until my stomach hurts when we are together. Earlier this week we were discussing our mutual love of turkey so we decided to have our own thanksgiving on Friday (tonight). She went to a concert with friends (who we ate with) after but I came home to study (I seriously have so much work it’s not even funny). We met to go to an American specialty store appropriately called Thanksgiving to see what they had. We found instant stuffing mix (3.50 euro, a little steep but for a taste of america it was worth it). That was about all we wanted to spend at the ridiculously over priced store so we went around the corner to the supermarket for the rest. There we got a little creative. We deemed it “symbolique.” There was also the added challenge of the fact that Alice had 40 minutes before she needed to leave for the concert.

Our feast!

So we rushed into the store to pick up: sliced  turkey, instant mashed potatoes, cranberry juice (just like sauce but liquid right?) and lemon tarts (we called them pumpkin pie). We rushed over to her friends apartment where we cooked everything in record time. True classy french girls that we are we heated the turkey slices up on a plate in the microwave. She made the instant potatoes while I made the gravy (figured it should be in my blood since Grandad and Mom do it so well). We laughed the whole time. And thankfully the two other guests had both experienced true thanksgivings in america so we didn’t ruin the holiday for them.

And here is the best part: it wasn’t that bad! I might go so far as to say it was better than the night before’s! Alice made us all go around and say what we were thankful for (almost like having you there Dad!) and I could honestly say I am soooo thankful for all the wonderful and hilarious people in my life both here in Paris and back home in Seattle (and all the way in the the land of ramen-noodles-for-dinner-on-thanksgiving). Though I did miss my mom’s stuffing and being around my real family in person and not just through a computer screen, the holiday was actually very fun to share with the wonderful new people in my life. Hope you enjoyed your Dinde days with loved ones!

Brittany 2011: Family and Food

Mot du Jour: Yec’hed mat (pronounce as though you are speaking Arabic)

Meaning: Cheers

Language: Breton

Last week I learned this word while traveling in Brittany (or Bretagne) with my dad. It is difficult to say and (in my opinion) not at all as pretty as French. But the whole weekend my dad and I used it in honor of our family history, which was the goal of the whole trip, to visit the family and, not to be cheesy, relocate our roots a little bit. After the death of my grandmother a year and a half ago a big connection to France was lost in our family. And with cousins across the ocean it is hard sometimes to keep in contact.  So who better to reaffirm the connection (the last time I was there I was six) than the two biggest sentimentalists (read: saps) in the family?

Dad and Me in the Luxembourg Gardens

So with a few fabulous meals in our stomachs and a shopping trip (finally got a nice winter coat) in Paris we took the train to Rennes from the Gare Montparnasse. As I may have mentioned before I live in the Montparnasse area, which is the Breton neighborhood of Paris because the train station goes to Brittany. So naturally for a quick snack we grabbed crêpes before boarding our train, the perfect snack to get us in the mood for our arrival. At the train station we met Henri (my dad’s cousin) and went home to meet his wife (Françoise) and his son (Irwan).  For dinner Henri had prepared a delicious salmon avocado salad followed by a confit de canard. Of course we had a bottle or two of champagne before dinner (in our family it being a Tuesday is enough of an occasion to break out some champagne) and for dinner Henri pulled out another bottle. He covered the label and offered my dad a taste, who affirmed that it was quite good. Only then Henri showed him the label on which he had marked the date that my dad had given it to him! I think that’s a really great system because then you get to enjoy the wine with the person who gave it to you.

The highlight of the visit with Henri came the next day when they brought us to a food and wine exposition. For a good part of the late morning and early afternoon we wandered around in a giant auditorium with different stands of wine, champagne fois gras, cheese, sausages, and crêpes trying things and critiquing them. For lunch we had fois gras sandwiches. It was great because I think we were the only tourists there. It was a real French activity and right up our alley.

We explored Rennes a little in the afternoon before having yet another great meal of Scallops. For dinner Henri and Françoise made Far Breton which is like a custard with prunes in it. It was my first trying it but my grandma used to make it so dad was really excited to have it again. Henri also pulled out a book on the history of Morlaix in which there are a few pages about (or featuring) our family for their role in the Resistance. For a bit of background my grandmother’s father and two brothers were all in the French Resistance in Morlaix. Shortly after D-Day (before Brittany was liberated) they were captured and tortured. Her father was let go because he was an officer in the First World War. There are different stories on how the younger brother, André, escaped (French friend who was working with the germans vs. german soldier who took pity on him) but her older brother Henri was killed and his body was never recovered.  It was incredible because in the book there were photos of inside the prison where they were held and you can see a drawing that Henri drew before he was killed along with the writing of my great grandfather listing the prisoners from their small town that were being held there and Andrés name. Nobody knew about this until the book came out because nobody was allowed in as it is now a private apartment building.

The next day we took the train to Morlaix where we picked up the car and drove out to Locireque, a small coastal town right outside of Morlaix where my grandma used to spend her summers as a kid.  My family has gone back to visit it ever since (I think this was my second or third time there). It is really the cutest windswept seaside town you ever did see. It reminds me of a French version of cape cod with the nautical culture and great seafood. We were staying in the “Hotel des Bains” which is probably the prettiest hotel I have ever stayed in. It is a huge old building on the water with a beautiful dining room, outside tables, and lounge area with a big fireplace. It is one of those places that you can just picture in the 1920s filled with beautiful people on vacation who get dressed up to go out to dinner in the dining room and take walks on the beach to discuss poetry or cricket or something. You know?

Hotel des Bains

For lunch we had a fabulous meal of moules frites (mine à la crème, dad’s moules marnières) before going to see Tante Alice, the last remaining family of that generation. She was the wife of André, my grandma’s brother. Visiting her made me really sad because she is just so lonely. She was really fond of my when I was a kid so when she opened the door she said “oh there’s my girl.” Her body is really going, she has trouble moving around, but her head is all still there. She remembers everything and everyone.  She spoke very fondly of Kurt and Del (my uncle and grandfather) but every once in a while would throw my grandma under the bus, they didn’t get along super well. We had brought her champagne but I laughed (and got a little sad) when I put it in the fridge for her and saw that all she had in there was some yogurt, milk, and three bottles of champagne. Yec’hed mat Alice.

After our visit (“you will come back and visit me my girl won’t you?”) we went to the end of the block to see her daughter Monique (dad’s cousin). The contrast could not have big more shocking. Monique and her husband (Hérve?) have retired but she was practically bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm as she showed us their new kitchen they are in the process of remodeling and photos of her grandchild, Elliot. They, it turns out, are the real historians of the family. Practically the whole rest of the day was spent recounting stories as we visited cemeteries, Plourin (my grandmother’s town), downtown Morlaix, and the prison. They have been going through records all the way back to the revolution. So a couple stories:

I asked in all of her research who was her favorite character she found she said Grandfather Chatal. That would be my grandmother’s grandfather (great great). He was raised by paper makers who were both illiterate. He was sent to school where the schoolmaster took him under his wing and taught him to read and write. Chatal then helped his parents quite a bit as they were very very poor. He was the assistant teacher but eventually was able to write to the academy to ask to be promoted to a teacher, which he was! He married a woman who was of quite a bit higher status than himself (she came from a family of doctors and lawyers which were very well regarded in the area at the time). But his whole life he was a very generous man. When my great grandfather was a POW in Germany during the First World War Grandfather Chatal moved in with the family to help support them.

We also learned that André and Henri Sr. (my great grandfather) were involved in several post war trials for the death of André in Rennes and Brussels. She is in the process of trying to get a copy of the testimony.

It was very cool visiting all of the places where there is just so much family history. I had been to most of these places before but I was too young (6) to really appreciate what I was seeing. For example the house where my grandma grew up and the schoolhouse below it or the war memorial where Henri’s name is written. Or the grave sits for my great great great grandparents. As I mentioned we also visited the prison. Maybe it’s because it was night and raining and there is a large tower (where they were held) but the whole place had a sinister air in my opinion.

For dinner we got crêpes in Morlaix and talked about family the entire time. It was really interesting hearing all they had learned in their research.

Monique with her galette

We woke up to a lovely morning at the Hotel de Bains but then had to get back into the car drive to Normandy to see the last cousin of this branch of the family: Michelle. Michelle is blind and the champion of, get this, blind archery for France… 3 years running. Crazy. And also kind of obscure. Even after watching a video about it and having it explained several times I’m not quite sure I totally understand. From what I gather there is a post that you can align your hand on and then you concentrate so that you align the arrow and shoot in the right direction.

For dinner with Michelle and her husband we went into Rouen where they live and ate at a very cool old Norman restaurant. All around us there were old dark exposed beams. The house was from the 1600s. It was interesting because everyone we visited (with the exception of Henri) kind of badmouthed the other members of the family for one reason or another. I guess there is that thing about family that even if you don’t like everyone (or they are not necessarily the people you would chose as your friends) you are stuck with them and bonded in a really strong way because of a shared history or tradition. Or at least that’s what I’m gathering.

We had one more day to kill before heading back to Paris so we decided to go along the Norman seaside and see what we could find. We started in Honfleur on a recommendation from Michelle and it did not disappoint. It was adorable! Tons of impossibly skinny buildings and cobble stone streets carved out along the coast. We had a fabulous seafood lunch before setting off. The plan was to drive up along the coastline in order to see the Norman coast and the small towns lining it.

Honfleur

We were hoping to stumble upon a cute town to spend the night and explore. However most of the small towns we found were too small: there would be a few houses and a church and that would be it. So we continued along enjoying the countryside but not really finding anything of particular interest. As night fell we decided to go into Saint Valery. It was a curious town because half of it was pretty and old and half was new and ugly. We found out later that half had been destroyed after D-Day by battles between French forces who had fallen back and fought the Germans who had been stationed there. In Saint Valery we had a little trouble finding a place to stay and ended up at a hotel that had character to say the least. The owner said he would put us in the ‘chalet’ rooms, which appeared to have been added onto the house later as an afterthought. The rooms were less reminiscent of a chalet, in my opinion, and more so of a cabin. Including the smell! My shower was in a corner of the bathroom with walls on either side of the tub coming to a point in front creating an impossible claustrophobic effect. The owner also was a chatterbox and would have talked to us for hours if we had let him.

For dinner we had seafood again and we left the next morning. I can’t say we saw much of Saint Valery other than our hotel and the walk to and from the restaurant but then again, I can’t say there was much to be seen in Saint Valery.

It was funny returning back to Paris after being away because I felt like I was coming home. It was the longest I had been away from Paris since arriving and I felt that sigh of relief when getting back to the familiar. Dad and I spent our last two nights in Paris eating well. We visited one last cousin, Phillipe, in Paris before my dad flew home. It was fun seeing them again (I was there two weeks ago by myself) and we had a very nice lunch. Food played a large role in this trip. It was a major activity and way to connect with the family. Most of our reunions took place over a meal or coffee or champagne. So Yec’hed Mat to family and good food. A bientôt.

Un Octobre Occupé

Mots du jour: Plein de choses à faire

Meaning: Tons of things to do (full of things to do)

Sorry it has been so long since I have written. Il y a plein de choses à faire so I’ve been very busy. I have always been a big fan of this expression (“être plein de”) and it is exactly how I have been feeling recently. But in the best way possible. Two weekends ago I went to Italy with some friends and this past weekend two of my best friends from Middlebury (also studying in Europe, one in London and the other in Ferrara Italy) came to visit. Which means I put off my homework until during the week. But I’m so happy because I’m filling my time with things and people that I love.

First, Italy. I have always loved Italy but this trip was especially great because I realized I have not been out of Paris since I arrived in late August. I had not even noticed this until I landed in Pisa and was shocked to hear…nothing. Beautiful peaceful silence. Even in my oasis of my apartment there is a constant drone of cars, horns and sirens in the background. I love the sounds of the city having grown up in Seattle but unlike Seattle, Paris is so big that there is really no escape from the urban setting unless you take the RER clear out of the city (who has time for that?). My friends and I found a great deal to fly into Pisa and we arrived early in the morning. We spent the day enjoying how lazy it felt. Being further south is was much warmer than Paris and we walked around the small city soaking up a little bit of vitamin D. We did the tourist thing, saved the tower, and then found a place for a much-anticipated lunch. We had incredible pizza and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the gardens before catching the train to Loverno where our friend has a house where we were staying (he is half Italian and spends summers there). We arrived just at sunset to a beautiful house right on the water. It was big and has been in his family for a while I think. Bellisimooo!

 

In the next two days we visited the beautiful cities of Lucca and Florence but the real highlight (at least for me) was the food in Loverno. For two of our meals we ate at a little restaurant that my friend recommended in town. The ambiance was nothing special; it was almost cafeteria style under florescent lights and with paper place mats. On the paper place mats was the menu. What we experienced can only be described as reverse sticker shock. After living in Paris we were amazing to see coffee for one euro! So naturally we ordered 8. Plus 3 chickens, 3 lasagnas, 4 orders of potatoes and an eggplant. Our waiter, being sensible, told us we were to have 2 lasagnas and 2 cannoli and that was it.  He did let us go on the coffees though which was necessary because they were a gift from god. Really incredible coffee. And the food as well. Turns out the waiter was right to ignore our pleas for gratuitous amounts of food because it was the perfect amount. We found the food in Italy to be simple, fresh and delicious. Everything we ate from the roast chestnuts on the street in Florence to the gelato in Lucca was a joy.

One note on Lucca: we went on a Sunday so we were afraid that the city would be shut down but it was teaming with life. The traveling market was in Lucca that day so the entire city was taken over. Each little street had vendors lining the sides selling antiques, jewlery and cutlery. I really wished I was decorating my house because there were so many cool things: old antique cutlery, giant mirrors, and dark wood armoires. The city was brimming with (“plein de” if you will) life.

The next morning we flew back to Paris on an early morning flight. So early, in fact, that we had to wake up at 2 “in the morning” to catch the bus to the train to Pisa. I didn’t actually walk in the door in my apartment in Paris until 11am. That was a rough day of classes. The entire week I was recovering while keeping busy with homework.

But before I knew it, it was Friday and my friends from Middlebury were arriving (that’s the best thing about vacationing until Mondays, short weeks!). It was so fun to be able to show around people from home in my new home. Saturday we walked around to some markets and got lunch. I had the most beautiful maracons from a vendor in the market. The colors were so vibrant it was incredible. We also had an amazing seafood dinner on Sunday night with these buttery little clams that were to die for.

During the day on Sunday I took the RER out of the city to visit Phillipe (my dad’s cousin) and his family for lunch. They set out a beautiful 3 course meal presented with the elegance of a restaurant. My favorite part was the dessert of miniature strawberry cheesecake, miniature chocolate moose, a macaron, a cannelle and a little bowl of fruit. It was also so perfectly laid out. It was so nice reconnecting with people I have not seen since I was 6 who were so welcoming. They kept saying if there was anything I ever needed I shouldn’t hesitate to ask. I think that having an amazing support system like I do in Europe (France and Switzerland) makes being abroad so much easier.

The next week was crazy because my friends left Monday morning right as I left to meet my Aunt Denise for lunch at a bistro near Saint Germain de Près. We had a delicious meal in a cozy little bisto off the main square. It turns out that Denise used to live on the same road where some of my best friends live now! I am hanging out in the same places she used to. Of course it was amazing to see Denise and Bruno and it was very fun to show then where I live and introduce them to Stéphane.

This past week was cram packed with work (I have a 15 page philosophy paper due this week, eek!) and fun (there was a French Halloween party on Thursday night). I was running from place to place trying to finish everything before my dad arrived on Saturday. But it is such a good kind of busy, I think travel and seeing people I love has been really good for me. I was getting a little bogged down by the work and the city before my trip to Italy.

On Monday we left for Rennes in Brittany and we have been traveling since visiting the family around Brittany and Normandy. We are currently in a small town called Saint-Valery on the coast of Normandy. I will try to write soon about this trip because it has been super interesting (with some incredible meals). Sorry this post has been a little scattered, as I said: plein de choses.

Breton Bliss

Mot du jour : Crêpe caramel au beurre salé

 

Meaning: Caramel Crêpe with salted butter

 

Pay close attention. This may be the most important lesson yet. For lunch today I had one of my most delicious meals since arriving in Paris hence prompting this post on food. My friend Marie who hails from the beautiful Reunion Island (off the coast of Madagascar) is one of my few real French friends. Don’t tell her she is not really French because she grew up on an island paradise, she won’t like that. Reunion is a French territory and 100% part of France. One thing she does like (nearly as much as me) is good food. And Paris is the place to be for good food. Unfortunately for those of us who have a budget, the best food is often just out of reach and behind an immaculately shining glass plate. I can’t tell you how many times I have drooled at the window of Laudrée looking in at the beautiful (but 2 euro) macaroons. Don’t worry, I will go treat myself to one soon. I’m just waiting for a special occasion (the problem is the longer I wait the bigger the occasion has to be). Anyway this means that my friends and I are constantly on the lookout for good deals and cheap eats.

Two weeks ago we took Marie to get her very first falafel. We went to the Jewish district in the Marias and though we know the “best” falafel in Paris comes from “As de Falafel” (Bon Jovi swears by it) we went next door to Chez Marianne. And, having tried them both, I can absolutely tell you that Chez Marianne has the best falafel in Paris. And only 5 euro! Words of warning though: get it to go. We sat down one night (I wasn’t eating anything that night—I received some dirty looks for this) and the service was beyond awful. The falafel itself is stuffed with spices and roasted eggplant. In my opinion As’ falafel had far too much sauce and not enough yummy roasted vegetables. It was a challenge to eat on the church steps with a small plastic fork but after licking every last bite off the paper napkin I was left satisfied and looking forward to my next visit.

Chez Stéphane I eat a whole lot of Middle Eastern food. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, Stéphane was born in Algeria and lived there until she was 16 and moved to Paris with her parents. Therefore most of her dishes include Lebanese, Syrian or Algerian influences. Spices permeate the air in the kitchen as she puts them in everything. I tried Algerian pizza last week (which was excellent) and hummus with tomatoes on Algerian bread has become a staple for lunch. It’s funny moving here to France and then eating a completely different take on the cuisine than I am used to. Honestly we cook more “French” French food at home. I have only had red meat once since arriving. Stéphane bought me a steak and had me cook it because she does not care for it at all.

Stéphane and I at the photography exhibit

But today I had a very French lunch. Very Breton. The aforementioned Marie had been telling me about a crêperie near us (she lives not far from me in a very strict Catholic dormitory run by nuns) which does 9 euro lunch menus. Included in this menu is a bowl of cider, a salad, a galette (lunch crêpe made of buckwheat) and a dessert crêpe. Not bad. After class today my friends Annie, Elise, Marie and I hopped on the metro to Montparnasse and found “Les Glenan et le Flibustier,” a restaurant with Breton flags waving proudly outside.  Though crêperies line the street (as well as the street next to it, this is where the famous crêperie Josselin is located) Marie says this one is her favorite because the crêpes, unlike those as Josselin, are light. They are paper thin and don’t leave you feeling you have a brick in your stomach when you finish.  We piled inside out of the cold fall day to find the walls covered in Breton flags, pictures and traditional clothing/pottery. For my galette I had chicken with mozzarella and pesto.

Ma galette

It was probably not the most French option but I didn’t want to get the ham, egg and cheese because I make this all the time at home for dinner. And it was amazing. The crêpe was paper thin and crunchy. By the time I finished I was practically licking my plate. But the real highlight of the meal was the dessert (the salad and cider were average and really not worth mentioning). My crêpe caramel au beurre salé was sent straight from heaven. For those of you who know my love of caramel (specifically Fran’s salted caramels) you will know that this was right up my alley. Marie and I both exclaimed the entire meal “vive le caramel” while Elisa enjoyed her lemon sugar crêpe and Annie, of course, got the classic chocolate de maison.

It was a notable meal. More than notable. I might go to far as to say this crêpe has changed my conception of what a dessert should be. It has also added to the excitement of going to Brittany in a few weeks with my dad and French cousins to visit the family. I positively cannot wait to bathe in the caramel au beurre salé sauce. And to see my family of course.

 

Up Next: This weekend I go to Italy to a friend’s house! Update to come after on how we save the leaning tower of Pisa and eat our weight in pasta.