So Nice

18 September 2011 § Leave a comment

18 septembre 2011

Yesterday, we went to Nice.  I tired myself out reading thirty pages of French (La Gloire de mon père, a memoire-novel by a provençal) and writing two letters (more about that later) during the two-hour ride there, but after we started our tour at the Chagall museum, all of my energy came back, because the paintings amazed me.  I did not realise that 1) Chagall used such colour and 2) Chagall used the Bible so much.  In the exhibit that we saw, every painting was about something from the Bible, and our guide explained the paintings well.  Here are some (I spy heaps of Biblical imagery, especially in the second):

My favourite one from the exhibit

Here is the artist himself:

Marc Chagall

Then, I spent my entire semester food budget on lunch

Sara and Caroline

(Nice is not-so-nicely expensive), and a group of us hiked up to a large waterfall on the same hill that used to house a dungeon for prisoners.  At least living next to the waterfall would have been nice (everyone kept making Nice jokes inadvertently all day).

I forgot to take a photograph of the waterfall, but here is the Nice coast

Then, we wandered around in the old part of town—I bought a few books at a book market, because I was left unsupervised for a few minutes.


We bought some ice cream, meeting a few American basketball players in the meantime (where was Mason?), and then found a pleasant bower under which to rest until it was time to return.  Sara, Maggie, and I collapsed on the kitchen counter for a dinner of mostly bread and fruit and then went out for dessert with Ellen and Alex.  In France, life is very much centered around food, and people linger over meals and take several hours to spend time with each other.  So we shared a delicious chocolate cake and chatted for a few hours.

Maggie with the cake

About the letters: at the post office, it is always lunch time, apparently, because it is always closed when I go.  Maggie and I go there almost every day, and we even found one in Nice (that was closed).  When it is finally open, however, I can mail the stack of letters and post cards (eight, actually) I have to send.  In the meantime, I fully expect to receive letters from everyone who is reading this.

This morning, it actually rained—one of the rare sixty-five days a year during which this happens.  Since I love running in the rain, that was a pleasant time (also, the rain scares the aixois people, I think, so they hibernated inside), especially because I found some figs and met a French student.  Then, we tried to find a church, but we could not figure out the door system, so we eventually wandered away a bit depressed and bought peaches at the market (the one that has happened every day except Christmases since some year in the fourteenth century—!).  We kept seeing old/odd cars:

This is also evidence that it rained

Sara is actually still in Kenya

Also, Sara and one of our Vanderbilt roommates cleaned the kitchen to a ridiculous degree, meaning that we can now venture there without fear.  In the afternoon, Maggie and I went to the natural history museum to look at some dinosaur-y things and a small, strange exhibit about Australia.

Note its weird foot claw

Natural history museum

Then, Sara’s sister, Jenn, arrived for a visit!  The coming week should be full of new experiences and exploration and . . . school work.


Lucky pot

18 September 2011 § Leave a comment

17 septembre 2011

On Friday, after our failed trip to Avignon, I went to the museum on the main street (cours Mirabeau) to see an exhibition about artists journeying to Rome.

Last night, we had a potluck at another auberge, as I mentioned in another post.  A lot of us (Ellen, Laura, Caroline, Heather, Courtney, Alex, Luke, Stephanie, Maggie, Sara, me, and Luana, the colocataire at Ellen and Alex’s auberge) showed up, and we had ratatouille, salad with salmon, quiche, risotto, nachos (made by Luke), bread with olive oil, and peach cobbler.  We had a wonderful time talking and telling stories, one of which was about Renaud earlier in the day:

Renaud:  What’s this?

Me:  It’s peach cobbler for our dinner party—it’s called a potluck.


Renaud:  Are you ready for the lucky pot?

(conversation translated into English for your reading pleasure)

Heather and Sara

On the way home

Maggie turns twenty-one and I get lost

16 September 2011 § Leave a comment

16 septembre 2011

The last few days have been quite busy, and many things have happened, including the PJDC (premier jour de cours, first day of classes, which was more fun than FDOC at Duke, mostly because of being in France).  Another thing that happened was that I failed at meeting with my dinner group.  After walking around the traffic circle for twenty minutes, I ambled home.  The boy in my group spent all ten euros of his telephone credit trying frantically to find out where I was, and eventually the program director was calling people, which I found out after my roommates returned.  I felt really guilty about the boy worrying.  The good parts are that 1) the program director wasn’t mad at all and was only worried a bit, and her main concern was that I needed to be reimbursed for the dinner, 2) now everyone knows right away about my absent-mindedness, and 3) no one died.  So it was a success, actually.

Yesterday was Maggie’s twenty-first birthday!  We went to a café called Splendid where, after we ordered our drinks (i.e., peppermint tea for three euros) and then discovered that they don’t really serve breakfast . . . it turned out to be less than splendid, but we had a great time together.  Then right before conversation class in the afternoon, Mme Monchal (the director) surprised us all with tarte tatin for Maggie’s birthday.  After our family dinners (or, after I missed it and had figs for dinner), we celebrated with strawberries and champagne and chocolate and then went out for a glass of white wine.  We also had champagne and wine tonight at our potluck (the subject of the next post) at one of the auberges, which means I’ve had champagne for three nights in a row (we also had it at our party to meet the professors).  Someday I’ll be able to drink more than three sips in one sitting.

Today, Maggie and I tried to go to Avignon, but while I was paying for my ticket on the navette, the driver told me that we couldn’t get a student prices without some special carte de jeunesse, so maybe next week we’ll go to Avignon for less than 50 euros.

Our colocataire, Renaud, is definitely growing on us.  I made peach cobbler for the potluck, which drew him into the kitchen, and then I made cinnamon cookies for this afternoon, which made him stick around for a bit, and the four of us had a good-ish chat.  He expressed strong opinions about how he thinks girls should cook.

Classes are glorious (really), and buying books for class was of course exciting, as always, but other interesting details quotidiens must wait, because we leave early tomorrow morning for Nice!

Exploring aix mero motu

13 September 2011 § Leave a comment

13 septembre 2011

Through the window I can hear the singing of children in the school on our street.  The sun slows everything and casts the trees and the people and the store fronts in a veil of yellow.  I have just been wandering around town, and Aix is a good place for losing oneself in the winding streets.  Almost as though they are alive, the streets change in direction and name and deposit the wanderer now and then in a square with a fountain laden with people perching on its fringes and enjoying their lunches.  Sometimes they surprise with a sudden veer into a deserted narrowness that gives thoughts time and space for settling and assembling.

One may take pleasure in description alone, yet I often wonder whether it can stand alone and retain and give meaning.  Perhaps stream of consciousness novels displease me so much because they seem to consist merely of description unless the reader can create progress out of the material that the author gives, whether a progression of character or a progression of events that have significance when taken all together.  This becomes significant when reflecting upon walking in town, which is also a process of reflection.  Are all of those sensory experiences meaningless unless they fit, some way, into the narrative of my life?  This wondering should end here, however, since no one can know his own life story whilst in the middle of it.  Although merely knowing one’s trajectory (or direction, if a person having a trajectory seems odd) could make possible the assimilation tiny experiences and sensations into one’s mental . . . continuum?  This is starting to turn into nonsense, or philosophy.  Anyway, I plucked some purple flowers from a butterfly bush (the same one in our garden at home!) and am presently enjoying them, so whatever sensory details I absorbed today are, on the whole, doing some good.

We chose courses with Mme Monchal today, and here are mine, most likely:

Texts and Contexts: From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (literature and culture)

Texts and Contexts: From the Revolution to the Present (literature and culture)

Conversational French

Nineteenth-century European Art and Literature (literary texts, painting, graphic arts)

La Provence (geography, history, politics, architecture . . . )

I’ll also probably be doing an internship and, I hope, volunteering at an elementary school teaching English for a few hours a week.

This morning, Sara and I also planned the first Thursday morning Bible study!  There is another girl in the program who is also a Christian, and I am so excited for the four of us to have time together every week.  And we had a tour des saveurs provençales in the market closest to our auberge and tasted many things.  It made me want to stop school and become an apprentice with the cheese maker, the baker, the pâtissier (basically a pastry chef), the grape growers/wine makers, and a few other farmers, all at the same time.

Someone came to clean the kitchen today, which made me smile.  Our living situation now involves a clean sink and kitchen counter!  Refer to the other blog if you want a few more details about our colocataire who lives on the other side of our door that doesn’t close, lives among giant puffs of dust, cooks unbelievable amounts of pasta every night, and does motocross.

The day began around half past five, when sleep deserted and left me to go on a sunrise run.  I found a pear tree and two pomegrante trees!

Dinner with Mme Marchetto and a Cassis holiday

12 September 2011 § Leave a comment

12 septembre 2011

This evening we had our first dinners with our host families.  We are split up into several groups of varying numbers of students, and four nights each week we eat dinner with one or two families.  On Mondays and Thursdays, two other students and I eat with Mme Marchetto, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays we eat with M and Mme Zarb.  Mme Marchetto was very kind and served what she called her “repas d’Espagne”, starting with cold tomato soup.  Considering my newfound love of tomato soup, thanks to consuming ridiculous amounts of tomatoes at the farm this summer, and my love of soup in general, it was a good beginning, especially because Mme Marchetto speaks clearly, and I understood everything she said.  She next served a yellow rice-vegetable-shrimp-other things mélange, which was also good.

We discussed various and sundry things, consisting mostly of whatever questions happened to pop into the minds of me and Chloe, the other girl.  (The boy with us did not speak much.)  At one point, she asked me what foods she should avoid preparing, and I had to be honest and tell her that le fromage n’est pas ma chose favorie.  She was a bit shocked, but recovered, and then came our cheese course!  Luckily I had said that I wanted to try everything, so it was all right, and then for dessert came dark chocolate mousse-y pudding-y concoction.  At the last moment I discovered that she likes War and Peace, so that might occupy much of our next dinner conversation.  The entire dinner-with-French-people situation will be valuable for improving speaking skills and developing friendships with people who are in quite a different place in life.

Earlier in the day, we had a few different orientation sessions and several walks around town.  I finally found an open post office (one is undergoing renovations and the others seem perpetually closed for lunch) and mailed letters (see the new link on the side—send letters!) and had the second macaron of my entire life!  It was cassis (blackcurrant) flavoured and delicious.  Maggie and I also keep buying calissons, which are roughly almond-shaped candies made of crystallised melon and a white sugar glaze on the top and a barely discernible wafer on the bottom.  They don’t really taste like melon, or like anything in particular, but they are quite yummy.  They are a specialty of Provence, but I think recently it became legal to sell them in other parts of France.

The really exciting part about today was learning more about the courses and internship and volunteer things.  If only there were a thousand hours in every day…

Since this post is already in backwards chronological order, I may as well mention our visit to Cassis yesterday.  It’s about forty-five minutes from Aix by bus, and it was blue and sunny and bright.  We took a boat along the coastline and saw magnificent cliffs . . .

Apparently, Cassis has the highest cliff in Europe. This isn't it, though.

. . . and then we bumbled around the town a bit and went to the beach.  The best part of the day was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.  It felt delicious.  In the morning (still going backwards), I went running for an hour and found a quiet country road and even ran by a small vineyard.

Also, yesterday, when Maggie, Sara, and I were eating lunch in a brasserie, we talked some about 9/11.  It still seems so strange, especially considering that I was ten years old when it happened.  Perhaps this merits a long discussion and less of my words and more of others’s, but my thoughts now are not so very different from my ten-year-old thoughts: there is a spark of purity in the horror and speechlessness one feels in the face of terrorism.  I do not mean that in the sense of having a vague warm emotion in considering a certain group of people above the evils of terrorism, but that there is a wordless truth in the state of being appalled by the uncontrolled spiral of the same evil we can see within ourselves.

Three German boys . . .

9 September 2011 § Leave a comment

9 septembre 2011

. . . laugh at a tired girl’s mismatched socks in the airport.  I think they thought I couldn’t understand them.

In other news, here I am at 26 cours de la Trinité in Aix.  Sara arrived a few hours after I did, and we’re still waiting for Maggie, who took the train from Paris.  There is a small garden in the back, and many of the houses around us have yellow walls and red clay pot roofs (I don’t know what they’re called, and that is probably the most descriptive).

It’s time to dash off to meet the tuteurs (French students who will help us heaps) for dinner.

une rue aixoise

Several days of news

8 September 2011 § Leave a comment

8 septembre 2011

I have not written lately because there has been so much going on.  The blogger’s dilemma?  Or the writer’s dilemma in general.  There must be a golden balance between living, really living, experiencing every sound and flavour and moment, and escaping to write.  Perhaps the writer’s every experience is subject to exploitation for material or at least under Victorian observation—one is one’s only complete encounter with the entirety of human nature (I stole that from C S Lewis).  I like the film Bright Star, and at one point, Keats says that a poet is the most unpoetic thing, for he hardly exists, he simply channels the world through his pen—he records events, movements, musings, yet he himself is not what he writes.  Or he should not be, if he is a good writer.  Did Keats actually write this thing about the poet being unpoetic, or was it just in the film?  Clearly one must not mix films about and biographies of the same person.  (Do watch the film—especially the scene with the butterflies.)

On to actual events: the morning of 6 septembre (writing the month in French in posts, by the way, is my way of brushing up, it is rather pathetic), we drove back to Salzburg and walked around the city in quite the downpour.  À cause de capillary action, my entire skirt was soon soaked, but that did not matter compared to the fun of walking around the building where most of Judith’s undergraduate classes were, bumbling along a path with Festung Hohensalzburg (the castle, with the satisfying translation of High Salzburg Fortress) in view, finding a tea shop with an intimidating number of teapots, and seeing places I remembered from my last (only other) day in Salzburg.

The wet, did, however, eventually drive us inside for lunch, where I ordered Paradiessuppe (paradise soup—how could I resist?), which turned out to be an enigmatic mix of several orangey-red ingredients with dark green pumpkin seeds and a dollop of some creamish thing on top.  The paradisical part was its warmth, I think.  Soon afterwards, we headed back to Judith’s apartment, where I accidentally took a two-hour nap, and later that night we had, to date, the most impressive of girl times.  Girl time discussion, however, is not relayed—or if it is, not in a blog—so you must settle for exercising your imagination, reader, in order to satisfy your curiosity.

On 7 septembre, we drove to Munich, where we walked around for exactly an hour and a half.  After a quick look in Marienplatz (the main square with the clock tower), we went to see the square with giant stone lions, which I found during my last (…only other) time in Munich, and then hurried to the Englischer Garten so Maggie could see them for five minutes.  We hurried back to Marienplatz so Maggie could see the glockenspiel (the people in the clock dance to celebrate 1) the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V to some girl from Lorraine and 2) Schäfflerstanz, the dance of the coopers, who apparently kept up morale during the alleged plague of 1517.  Perhaps a small bit of religious turmoil sickened some?  Then we ordered lunch and practically ran through street musicians and crowds to return to the car before our ticket expired.  Next followed a rather slow return to Mangoldsall because of a disagreeable tire that went flat; we could drive on it, though slowly, so we ditched the Autobahn in favour of slower, smaller country roads, and six hours later we were back home.  Poor Judith was exhausted and plagued by a headache, but aside from that everyone was in good physical health and relatively sane.

On 8 septembre, Maggie’s impressive communication skills inspired me to answer many emails at once.  That is not a mundane detail, because email and I are not exactly friends.  (Correction: the internet and I are not exactly friends.)  We applied ourselves to creative cogitations in order to decide which designs we wanted our silk scarves to have.  Judith’s parents have a sign-printing business (we walked through it a few days ago—it is a miniature modern-snazzy factory), and other kinds of printing seem to be enjoyable offshoots.  Before making them, however, three things had to happen.

I went running (in the VFFs) through the countryside, on narrow strips of grass between fields and on paths beside rows of apple trees, as the wind swept me along and blew against me by turns.  It was a grey and mournful day, and I passed sheep and horses and some plums that had splatted on the ground.  So purple on the outside, they have rusty orange insides and reminded me of people.  We are quite different from what we appear to be.  Yet I hope that no one has been splatted on the ground lately.  Secondly, we ate lunch—Rouladen, which once upon a time I made in German class.  Thirdly, we went to Künzelsau to buy more supplies and visit a bakery.  We also saw the Anne-Sophie, an elegant-looking restaurant that that Würth man established—apparently one of his granddaughters (Anne-Sophie) died at a young age because of a mental disorder, and so the restaurant employs people with mental and physical handicaps.  The whole idea impresses me.

At home, we had German coffee (…tea) and cake, which people normally take around three o’clock, and then we began the long process of scarf-making.  First we printed the images (from a computer printer) and then pinned them under the silk, which was fastened taut on a wooden frame.  We outlined shapes with outlining silk paint, let that dry, and then filled in the lines with water-based silk paint.  Judith’s pattern was a painting from the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibit that we visited several days ago, Maggie did large ivy leaves of different colours and sizes, and I did small gold butterflies that made a large butterfly and filled the outlines in with blue paint.  Then, I did the background with the palest yellow.  It turned out a bit watercoloury—all of ours turned out really well.

While we were scarf-making, I caught sight of a headline in the newspaper covering the table: Angst ist eine ganze vernunftige Reaktion.  This post is already so long, however, that writing about that shall have to wait until later . . .

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