One month later…

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my one-month anniversary of living in Aix than getting lost in the middle of a rain storm without a rain jacket or umbrella.

Actually, I could probably think of a few but it did remind me of my first visit to Aix five years ago with my french teacher when then too I got lost in a rain storm…some things never change.

This morning started out just lovely and a friend and I went to the market for some retail therapy. My first purchase was a chocolate croissant (surprise surprise) followed by a cafe while I waited for my friend (what can I say, I know what I like). After my friend Nicole arrived we walked around the market looking for some good deals on cute clothes. I found a lace skirt that is super cute and I can’t wait to wear once it stops raining. I also found a scarf for 5 euro! I am going to give it as a gift to someone, but I couldn’t pass up a 5 euro scarf. I may or may not have also gone to H&M for more shopping….BUT let me just say that H&M here is way better/crazier than the US. First, I’m pretty sure the styles are at least a little different, and there’s also an H&M children’s section, athletic clothes, and a huge men’s section. It was overwhelming, but I managed to find a few items. And then it started to rain…

I can’t complain to much because I actually love the rain, not just because it reminds me of Seattle, but just because I’ve always loved the rain. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got home, but I did manage to catch a bus home, otherwise I would probably contract pneumonia, which might be a problem.

Regardless of the weather, it’s hard to believe I’ve been here for a month. I feel like I’ve been here forever. Except not because sometimes I still have no idea what’s going on. But at the end of the day when I reflect back on all the little “successes” of the day, I know that I’m making progress and enjoying my time here. For example, every time that I can give someone directions or have a real meaningful conversation reminds me that maybe I am doing something right after all. Yesterday morning my alarm went off, and I was first shocked because I was in the middle of a dream, and then I was annoyed because my dream had been in french and I was about to use the plus que parfait. The plus que parfait is a verb tense that uses two different past tense conjugations and is something that I have to pause and think about before using, but when you do you feel really smart (at least I do). So being the french minor nerd that I am becoming, I was disappointed that I did not get to conjugate a verb in my dream…(unfortunately, I’ve done weirder things)

My host mom and I are starting to get really close (I think anyways). We both had a challenging day thursday because I woke up to an email from my bank that there had been strange charges on my credit card- yes it would be strange for me to be buying plane and train tickets in Europe if I hadn’t already told them I would be living in France for three months and making exactly those types of purchases- but they don’t listen, so they called my house/mother saying I had been frauded, blah blah blah. That all happened while I was still in bed. So I got out of bed, and while I got ready I told my host mom the early-morning drama  and we discussed the matter because her two kids have had issues with their flights getting cancelled when they’ve studied abroad. Bonding moment #1 of the day. After school I got home and my host mom was very upset. Her cell phone had stopped working because her cell phone company had changed the number on her cell phone.  I didn’t know that was possible, but they had literally changed her number. And she was furious because that’s how she gets work and no one could reach her and she had already talked to 10 people and gotten nowhere. Clearly France and the US are more similar than you might think- customer service/ technology is terribly frustrating. Bonding moment #2. There’s the little moments too over dinner when we watch the news and she tells me which politicians she doesn’t like, and then they show some American news and I can tell her which politicians I don’t like. I just love the feeling after all the little moments can add up to something so great.

I think the same can be said for all my experiences in France. Big picture I can’t believe I’m actually in France (for 3 months!) but when there’s all the little things-talking to the sassy little old ladies on the bus, purchasing something at the market, meeting new french people, taking an extra moment to appreciate the old buildings- those are the things that add up to realizing where you are and remind you to slow down and take advantage, cause in the grand scheme of life, three months really isn’t that long. And one month has already passed.

I definitely can’t wait to be home because I miss my cat and my chipotle (and an infinite number more), but I have so much to do before I can leave. Including a trip to London to see my old roommate, and a trip to Copenhagen to see my best friend from high school. And a weekend in Nice to celebrate mine and at least 3 other november birthdays. Until then it’s time to get some studying done- this is a “study” abroad after all…

Bises!

Kath

my spoils from the day..

Typical lunch #1

Typical lunch #2 (with warmed goat cheese-le meilleure!!)

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“Nothing worth doing is ever easy”

This certainly isn’t an easy journey. But every time I start to think about giving up, right away I know I can’t and that I don’t want to. All of this work will pay off ten times over. Okay maybe not all  of it, but hopefully at least 90%. And because I find it easier to motivate others than myself, here is the whole quotation for your consideration: “Nothing worth doing is ever easy. The tastiest ice cream is the hardest to scoop.”

Ice cream always is a good motivator.

In other news, yesterday was very exciting. September 25th 2012. The new Mumford and Sons album Babel was released. It is amazing. I listened to it walking to school. At school while I did my homework. After I went swimming and waited for the bus (and then walked home because the bus didn’t show up, more on that later). And today was pretty much the same. It is an incredible album. If you haven’t heard of Mumford and Sons, you should consider climbing out from under the rock you live in and take a listen. I can almost guarantee your life will be altered. I recommend you listen to the whole album, and their first album Sigh No More, but if you have time for only a few songs, these are my favorites. From Sigh No More: After the Storm, The Cave, and Roll Away Your Stone. From Babel, Lover of the Light, The Boxer, and I Will Wait.

 

Anyways, here in Aix, today I had my second day of community service! Our program requires us to do 2 hours a week, and my volunteering is at a nursing home with some volunteers from the Red Cross. Today there was a little party for all the september birthdays, there was one man that I met who is 93! There was cake and some music and the birthday boys and girls each got a little present. I sat with a group of four ladies, plus the 93 year old birthday boy and played “Questions pour un Champion” which is basically like Trivial Pursuit, and apparently used to be a french tv show. I tried to read some of the questions, but first, I’m not very good at reading out loud in english, second, I’m not very good at reading out loud in french, third, they couldn’t understand my American accent/ poor pronunciation. Regardless they were all super nice and encouraging, and smart! A lot of the questions led to some large discussions so that was fun. And the old ladies are just funny. I sat next to Suzanne, who I also met last week, and she told me about three times about how she likes dancing and how there is a “grand salon” in Aix to go dance at Sundays. And then a fiesty woman called “Mamie” because she doesn’t like here given name Rène (I’m not sure on the spelling but its pronounced like the french word for queen, reine- like red but with an “n”). Anyways, we all told her that that was a beautiful name, but she just scoffed at us. She’s a little sassy, I like it. I think I will enjoy getting to know them over the next two months, and hopefully I will be able to speak better with them each week.

So about the buses. My first few weeks in Aix I was really impressed by the buses. They seemed easy enough to use, timely, etc. Nawt. More than once (such as yesterday), I have waited for 2o or 30 minutes (enough time for at least 3 buses to have come and gone) for a bus that never arrives. And then when it does it’s full. I wish I had a picture of my bus, because it’s actually a short bus. Ironic? Maybe a little. The streets are too small for a full sized bus, so I take one that holds about 15 people, 25 if you want to be uncomfortable. I have gotten pretty good at using the buses and finding new routes to go different places. (Yes I carry the schedule around with me like a nerd, but it has come in handy many a time for many a person). I also need to get a picture of what the buses say when they aren’t in service, literally: “I’m sorry, but I’m not in service”- much more pleasant than TO TERMINAL the Seattle Metro buses drive around with.

Now, for some pictures!

The back of the main building of the American Center + some garden

The second building with the rest of the classrooms. The first floor has the cafe and kitchen, second floor classrooms, and the third floor is the residence for the program director Lili

Coy pond!

Part of the courtyard where we eat lunch and get attacked by bees, mosquitos, and lizards

The cafe with hopefully a functioning wood fireplace!

 

 

Bed time for me! Ciao!

Ch 1: D’oenologie

I’ve been a little neglectful- my apologies.

The big things that have happened recently are as follows:

Tuesday we had our first wine tasting and education class. I am one more step closer to becoming a wine snob. Except not really because I didn’t really like them all that much. My palate is more accustomed to the least expensive wines Aix can provide- not the fancy expensive wines from Provence that we tasted. We did however learn all about la robe (appearance), le nez (smell), and la saveur (taste) while sampling two red wines and two white wines native to Provence. I also now know the three things you should look at first when choosing a wine:

#1 the year it was produced- 2009 and 2010 were “excellent” years in france for wine production apparently

#2 Appellation d’orgine controlée (AOC)= the name of the chateau, the region, and the village it is produced in

#3 Appellation: what kind of wine it is

Three of the four Provencal wines we taste

There are also at least three “phases” a wine goes through when you taste it. Because at first you don’t drink it, you have to hold it in your mouth for about a minute to experience the attack, the evolution, and the finale (all while breathing in little pockets of air to help the wine “breathe”). And then the really good wines have a fourth stage called persistence. Needless to say, I prefer to sip my wine, otherwise I risk choking on it and spitting it all over myself…like I said, I am not yet refined when it comes to this whole wine business…

D’accord, Wednesday was my first day of community service! I chose to work at a retirement center for two hours wednesday afternoon that is on my way home from school. Basically I just hang out with a group of about 6 old ladies and the host mom of my friend Alex (she runs the program) and play games. I didn’t really do much Wednesday because I didn’t know what to expect, but hopefully this week I can be more involved and really talk to the ladies- they seem really nice, but the French are slow to trust you and let you be friends, so hopefully they will like me…

Thursday: I did homework. And drank a few espressos. Nothing big.

Saturday: We had our first excursion!! We visited three villages to the north of Aix in an area called le Lubéron: Lourmarin, Bonnieux, and Roussillon. This is another one of those things where I think the pictures explain better than I can…so my advanced apologies for the plethora of photos.

the view from the chateau at Lourmarin

Lourmarin

Escargot!!

view from the cathedral at Bonnieux

my new home

the Pont Julien

me climbing the pont-

le sentir des ocres in Roussillon (nature park/hike)

I have a presentation to prepare for my European Union class tomorrow, but soon I hope to share pictures I have of my school and my neighborhood!

Bises! Bonne soire!

Life is Better at the Beach

Example A

This is Cassis. And the Mediterranean. Not too shabby.

About an hour away from Aix by a combination of bus and train, that I and three friends (in the right foreground) ventured to on Saturday. Cassis is a super cute typical french town with lots of tourists and lots of french people. We all wanted to stay forever but, apparently that is frowned upon.

Regardless we arrived around lunch time and ate outside at a restaurant right near the port and then proceeded to find ourselves a lovely spot on the beach. Of course I had to go in the water even though my host mom told me it was colder in Cassis than other places. And it was pretty cold. But in comparison to the Oregon Coast, it was almost warm. We spent the day playing cards, talking, people watching, running in and out of the water, and having in general a very pleasant time. As I said, we didn’t want to leave. But we’re going back. No doubt.

Mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs, and warmed goat cheese on toasted baguette…amazing

Because pictures are worth a thousand words…

Other than spending an amazing day at the beach, I had my first full week of actual classes! It’s all a little bit of a blur because it was kind of a blend of syllabus week and actual work week, and having all my classes in french did not get much easier. We have two required classes, French Cultural Patterns (which examines the root causes of different societal behaviors of the french people. For example, the stereotype that the French are arrogant is around not because the French are actually arrogant but grew out of their pride following the revolution and their desires not to be looked down upon. I’m not sure if that made sense, maybe I will be able to explain it better later) and Linguistic Strategies, which looks at practical everyday french and provides tools for using the language properly. I have three other classes that I got to choose: French grammar, French society, and my first PolySci class about the European Union. It’s going to be a lot of reading (which takes me about 4 times longer than in French than English), but all of my professors are very nice with names like Jean-Michel, and Jean-Domanique (we call him Jean-Do, he is super duper French) and I think I am going to learn an exorbitant amount of things.

I think I say this pretty much everyday, but I’m getting used to living in France and being French and loving it! Last tuesday morning before school I bought some fresh produce at the market, and then thursday before school I bought myself a new bag at a different market (because french university students don’t use backpacks, so if I want to try to be cool I needed to ditch the backpack…so this is what I found…

It has so many pockets and is one of the most practical things I’ve bought spontaneously. Needless to say I was pretty pleased.

THE SKY WAS SO BLUE. This is the park I walk through to and from school, and run through sometimes after school. It was super windy for a day or so so there wasn’t a cloud in the sky anywhere

Macarons make an excellent study companion.

Bonne nuit! A demain!

 

 

A Grown-Up Game of Make-Believe

That is what I’ve decided living in France has been like. All day everyday I’m pretending to be French, and apparently convincingly so. Today at least three people talked to me about the bus or asked for directions thinking I was French, so apparently I’m doing something right. At least until I open my mouth and they hear my American accent…looks can be deceiving.

I’m starting to get a hang on this whole eating French thing. And quite enjoying it. Yesterday for lunch I splurged on a delicious, delicious ham and cheese quiche and chocolate eclair. And for dinner our first course was thinly sliced ham (French proscuttio basically) with cantelope. Our second course was a delicious white fish cooked with herbs and olive oil and some long grain rice with carrots and other vegetables. Then came the bread and cheese (starting to become one of my favorite parts of meal time). Every night I have a choice of bleu cheese, goat cheese, and camembert, but the goat cheese and bleu cheese are different than in the United States, and so scrumptious. Following the cheese course is the fruit course, and I ate a super delicious fresh peach. Produce here is just so good, I don’t think I’ve had anything that was bad.

After dinner Cathy and I watched our favorite TV show  Plus Belle la Ville. And when I say we I mean we. It was always Cathy’s favorite so I watched it with her, and now that I’ve started to understand it I like it also. It’s basically a French drama/ soap opera that takes place in Marseille (only 20 minutes away!) and has family drama, work drama, school drama, love drama, all sorts of good things. The big difference between French and American TV is the French channels show all the commercials in between shows, so there are literally no commercial breaks during the episode and even during movies. Kind of nice but also kind of difficult because there’s no breaks to do something else.

Today was market day and since I didn’t have class until 11 I decided to be adventurous and explore the markets and get lost for like half an hour (I didn’t plan on getting lost but I still got to school early enough to buy a chocolate croissant and coffee at the cafe). I had some goat cheese left over from my picnic this weekend so I bought some lettuce, tomatoes, a peach, and some plums at the market for lunch the next few days. And a baguette from the bakery of course. Because for less than 1 euro you can’t really pass up a fresh baguette.

As part of this whole pretending to be french thing, I started thinking about what similarities I actually do share with the French, and my differences. The biggest similarity I’ve found is my tendency to just cross the street without looking for cars assuming they will stop. Because in France they do. People everywhere just put their hands out to stop the cars and then walk. It wasn’t too hard for me to pick up, and will probably mean I will almost get run over when I go back home, but I’ll worry about that in three months.

As far as differences, there are two big things that I miss about home. One is that the French don’t use sarcasm. Like ever. Not that they are super serious, but they don’t joke around a whole lot. Which is hard for someone like me who speaks sarcasm and sass more fluent than English…I am actually a little afraid that when I come home I will be so used to talking seriously all the time that I won’t understand jokes and sarcasm…and then I will forget who I really am and it will be some giant identity crisis (okay a little exaggerated maybe, but still a viable threat to my livelihood). The second is being able to take my coffee with me. I love sitting down and having a delicious espresso at the cafe, but I also love being able to walk around (or work) in the afternoon with my iced coffee, or even just be able to grab a coffee to walk home with. France requires more scheduling of coffee time, which is probably good for my consumption level and my wallet, but every once in a while you just gotta take your coffee somewhere…and apparently that somewhere is Seattle.

Because you can never take the 5 year old out of me…My new friend Amanda and I before dinner Saturday night

Waiting for the bus I looked up and saw the cathedral poking up above the buildings

 

My room! The photos are not mine because I forget them at home…but it’s still lovely

 

The living room and dining room.

Bon appétit!

Bonjour!

First regarding the title. I’m a little (okay a lot) embarrassed to admit this, but I think all my life I had thought that bon appétit was Italian and my mind was blown last night at dinner when I learned it was french. Super awkward and embarrassing…but I’m not sure I knew that! Anyways…

It’s been a whirlwind the past few days! We finished our week of orientation with a petit soiree (little party) to meet our french language partners and have some before dinner drinks and snacks. My partner is a 19 year old law student named Arno and he is very nice although a little shy. He already had plans to have dinner at home with his family so he did not join me and our group of about 7 American students and their language partners for dinner in the city center. Regardless, we all had a lovely italian dinner and I met several other language partners (two from Senegal!) who were very nice and we were able to have some really good conversations in English and French. It was very fun and rewarding to be able to relax with so many new friends and enjoy conversation after a long week.

My first dinner at a restaurant in Aix!
Aix’s signature red wine and a 3 cheese and ham mini calzone

This morning Cathy and I went to what is basically a giant fair in Aix for all of the different sports and activities that are available. It is a requirement of the AUCP to join basically and “after school activity” and I was surprised by just how many options there were. There were tons of French people there with their kids looking at everything. I got some information on yoga, rock climbing, swimming, and tennis but there was also dance studios, martial arts, squash, and pretty much everything you could imagine.

This afternoon I met some classmates for a picnic in the park. Except we didn’t realize the park we wanted to go to wasn’t really a park, and was really just some trees and dirt surrounding the Grand Rotund. We still had fun and shared bread and cheese and cookies and a bottle of wine. I bought a baguette, a goat cheese, and a carton of cherry tomatoes (which were probably the best I’ve ever eaten) and also tried a fig for the first time.

I also got a cafe with my friend Amanda and we saw the UGLIEST dog. I tried to get a picture because we decided it should be the winner of the world’s ugliest dog but couldn’t. It was partially hairless, and grayish brown with hair on part of its head and its feet and some of its tail. And I’m pretty sure it was groomed to look like that…it was…interesting…

I think I am starting to settle into the life in Aix pretty well. I still need to use my map to find new places and carry around the bus table with me, but I’ve used to to take a different bus than I normally do and I haven’t gotten lost so to me that is improvement! I don’t think the French sleep though…because people stay out late but they don’t seem to sleep in, and unlike Spain they don’t take naps…so that might be a challenge. I can definitely get used to delicious cups of espresso all the time and fresh bread and cheese and produce. And the wine. My mom has only offered it to me twice at home, but I could definitely get used to being able to order it at dinner, and lunch for that matter.

Mon pique-nique!

Le Rotund!

Yesterday we also went on a two hour walking tour of the old city and I got lots of pictures of the architecture and old buildings. It was tiring and hot, but I liked being able to feel like a tourist and take pictures in a group because taking pictures individually is a little awkward.

Cathedral

The smallest street in Aix. Part of the Medieval construction.

Le Court Mirabeau also known as the Champs-Élysées of the south. Basically the main avenue in Aix with lots of cafes and shops and restaurants.

The other end of the Court Mirabeau with a statue of the first king of Aix

 

Pretty much all the streets look like this in the northern part of Aix. My friends said I was an “artsy Barney” because I had on a green dress and purple purse, so she took a picture. Proof I’m actually here 🙂 My friend Alex is on my left.

 

 

That is all for now. Can’t believe I’ve been here for a whole week. Seems like forever since I left Seattle.

Le tortue maladroit

Translation: awkward turtle. Aka a phrase used frequently to ameliorate awkward tension or describe something awkward that just happened. I’m not sure if the french actually use it, but we use it frequently.

A lot has happened so I will just jump right in.

1. I got my french cell phone! I was hoping to be able to put a new SIM card in my American phone but it didn’t work and that’s probably good cause I wouldn’t want to have my phone stolen. So instead I get a state of the art pay-as-you go phone, and it looks like this…and so do all of them in our program…

can you say upgrade?

2. I also purchased my bus pass that has my picture on it and all I have to do is scan it when I get on the bus. The buses in Aix are pretty nice, the bus I take is a short bus which makes me laugh a little and it gets very crowded in the evenings but it also drops me off right by my apartment so I don’t mind, although I do feel bad when I almost fall on people cause I don’t know how to stand up while it turns yet…

3. One of the harder adjustments I’ve had to make is to not look at people while I’m walking around. I’m used to at least looking people in the eye and normally smiling even when I don’t know them, but in France that doesn’t happen, and if you do it to a guy who looked at you first then basically that means your interested in them and are obliged to talk to them (and then turn them down because they guys love getting rejected here for some reason…)

4. I walked to school for the first time today all by myself! Cathy and I walked there on Saturday and Sunday but I’ve taken the bus since I’ve been afraid of getting lost (which of course I did), but I managed to get there in a relatively timely manner. I’m hoping tomorrow to try again and I have hope that it will be better. The route I want to take goes through a lovely park so hopefully it works out and I can take some pictures.

5. Part of one of our orientation classes has involved practicing pronunciation in the form of French tongue twisters. They make very little sense but are just as challenging as ones in English, but luckily we don’t have to say them as fast as possible. It does require reading out loud which I had conveniently forgotten that I have a terrible time of in English, so it’s been especially hard in French. I have been practicing reading aloud in English (like a 2nd grader) since I tried to read an article to my friends freshmen year of college and failed miserably, and started to get better this summer practicing at work, but it hasn’t helped much for french. Hopefully I improve quickly.

6. I have started to make some great friends here. I went with two of them to the store to buy notebooks and folders and stuff and then we sat at a cafe and people watched. We all immediately thought of the scene in Gilmore Girls where Loralie and Rory are watching people pass by while they are eating at Luke’s and pick out three guys as options for them to marry. As the first one passes they can either pick that guy or reject him, as goes the second. If they reject both they automatically have to “marry” the third, and usually it ends up being an old man. Regardless, the game is always entertaining and it was particularly fun to be able to bond over watching the passing frenchmen (who we concluded all more or less look arrogant).

Overall this week has been full of adventures and challenges, but good. I am enjoying my time in Aix and look forward to all the future adventures (and misadventures) as well as making new friends. Tomorrow we get our french language partner, I’m hoping I find someone who is nice and has nice friends so I can meet some real french students!

 

Time for some chocolate! Bon soir!