17 December, 2009


Since my last entry I have:

  • written a 4th french paper bringing my 2 week total to 21 pages of FRENCH
  • had 4 exams
  • had a wonderful, love-filled dinner with all the friends at Horace's house
  • visited the Musee Dobree
  • visited the crypts and treasury of the cathedral
  • had one failed attempt trying to play music for change on a street corner with Forrest
  • had food poisoning 2 times
  • walked around the exterior of the Jules Verne museum (which is supposed to be the best part, anyway)
  • had hot chocolate at La Cigale with Hanna and Elisa
  • gone to the IES farewell party and taken lots of pictures with people I'll miss
  • done lots and lots of Christmas shopping
I have been busy! And I'm not through!

Tomorrow I will:
  • buy 2 more presents, while attempting to spend 0 money
  • walk around
  • have one last dinner at a creprie in the Buffay
  • likely cry
Saturday I will be traveling all day non-stop.

One of my favorite teachers of the semester, M. Kersaudy, with Elisa:

Inside La Cigale:
Crypts of the Cathedral:

06 December, 2009

Winding down... !!!!!!!

Shortly after Thanksgiving, I grew panicked at the thought of leaving. As a result, I've been trying to go non-stop, which is inevitably just making me tired. I think I'm actually accomplishing and adventuring less as a result of trying to do more. Regardless, these are the things I've been up to:
1. I went to a French soccer game. Nantes v. Chateauroux. It ended in overtime and eventually a tie. I loved going; I typically love watching live sports - almost as much as I dislike watching televised sports - and found the energy at the soccer game to be a bit wilder than I'd anticipated. Approaching the stadium at night, you could hear the chants and the drums from miles away. Inside, people were waving banners that looked more befitting a middle ages jousting tournament than a 21st century "football" game. It felt every bit like I was attending the Quidditch World Cup.2. On the way home from said football game, Hanna, Horace and I had a 30 minute long conversation with four or five 10 year-old French boys. One in particular was absolutely brilliant; he already spoke English very well (and by that I mean had a very good English accent but knew very few phrases). I was very impressed with him and we talked non-stop all the way to our stop. He asked me in French: "How old are you? Do you live with your mom and dad? Do they miss you? Do you miss them? Do you have your own house? Are you in college yet? Are you an American? Do you have a brother? Bigger or smaller? Are you married? Do you have a love? Where does your love live? France? America? Spain!? Do you have a baby? Does she (Hanna) have a lover?" He also informed me he wanted to be a surgeon when he grew up; I have no doubt he'll be able to succeed. He was the cutest child I think I've ever met and kept calling me Madame. It was just too sweet. His dad was there with him and was decidedly beaming at how intelligent he was when he spoke English.

One of the other children was decidedly less bright and far less polite; he asked me if I liked Obama, if I voted for Obama (I said, Yes, very enthusiastically as a response to each) and then promptly informed me, "Well Sarkozy DOESN'T like Obama!"

3. I finally visited the museum inside the Nantes Chateau. I went by myself and really took my time. Nantes has a fascinating history; it used to be considered the Venice of France it had so many islands and and rivers and bridges. It was called the Mermaid City because it was said to belong to both man and fish. Around 1900 the rivers were channelized and filled in; I suppose in hind sight it might have been a smart move (Venice as we all know is in the process of sinking). All the same, I cannot imagine how much more magical Nantes would be now if it had remained the same. I kept thinking about all the transitions it had undergone: Roman city, chateau of the dukes, later captured by the crown, becoming one of the King's favorite vacation castles, a city of the Revolution, executions taking place in the Place du Bouffay, where all the trendy bars are now, and then WWII, when it was bombed to pieces, and the reconstruction with lots of shanties lining the streets until houses could be rebuilt (thanks to the Marshall Plan). And now the Isle of Machines and all the eccentrics, hobos and beautiful French families that live here now.

It is impossible for me to wrap my head around how the history of Nantes (or I suppose, of the world)is a progression. It is hard to envision that the town of bold and disobedient Brittany dukes would became the town of such unimaginable destitution at the end of the war, or that that destitute town became the expensive, chic, clean city of Nantes today. It seems rather that they're all separate cities, full of separate people. And yet its entirely possible that Nantes has had some of its same inhabitants for millenia. I cannot fathom how many people have paced the worn stones in the old cathedral, or walked the winding streets of the Bouffay. I can't even fathom how many families, how many dramas, how many secrets our old apartment, built circa 1800, has known. I certainly cannot fathom how small and insignificant that makes the day to day trials of my own life.

4. Christmas is here!!! The streets are decorated, and what's more, there are Christmas villages set up in Place Royal and Place du Commerce full of little artisan chops and street vendors. Vin Chaud (which is very much like mulled wine) is everywhere, very cheap and very delicious. I also tried some chi-chi, which is like Spanish chorro and very similar to American funnel cake. But better. I've been trying to attack Christmas shopping and so far accomplished very little.
Nantes is absolutely magical looking with all of its holiday decorations, still it is hard to connect it with the any nostalgic memories of Christmases past because it is just very different, very European. They have very few French Christmas songs, Christmas movies, and seem to have borrowed the majority of their Christmas decorations, which mostly read "Merry Christmas!" rather than "Joyeux Noel." Still it was one of my favorite days ever walking around the Christmas villages with Hayley, Elisa and Hanna.5. In keeping, last Thursday, the 3rd, Hanna and I went with her host parents, Stephane and Laure, to see a Concert de Noel at their church, Notre Dame de Bon Port. I cried all the way through it because it was so beautiful. The ensemble was called Stradivaria and is a baroque ensemble out of Nantes. Their visiting Tenor, though, was named Jeffry Thompson and comes from the Cincinatti conservatory. His voice was absolutely beautiful; on the high notes it seemed to rise up to heaven. I've never heard anything so beautiful before. And he seemed to be singing with his whole body, as if he became a breathing instrument. It was terribly moving, being in the old church; thinking of all the ways people have honored God - the construction of beautiful buildings (Bon Port has a dome ceiling with painted stars on a blue heaven) - and the composition of beautiful airs and concertos. My favorite was an extract from Back's BWV 19 cantata, or possibly the encore, which was "Minuit Chretiens," an old French Christmas hymn that was later translated into the English "Oh, Holy Night!" It was simply beautiful.

6. I've been going out a lot to celebrate various things, in particular the night that concluded the hell week of writing three papers in French (totaling around 17 or 18 total typed French pages=way too much for one weekend, especially considering that meant having to completely switch gears 3 times during the weekend. I could have handled easily writing one 17 page paper in French, but switching topics and having to research and plan in three different subjects was a nightmare). All that to say, going out is a great way to meet French people and practice speaking.

Most drunk French people have complimented me on how well I speak, probably because they're drunk. Still, all in all, I have been pleased with how easily I could converse with them more or less. Either that, or I thought I was doing better than I really was as a result of being a bit tipsy myself.

One such night I was with a group of six or seven IES students when three French guys came and started chatting with us. They were fairly amusing, but at some point we realized that one of them had been sneaking behind the bar and stealing beers and then hiding them under his shirt. The bar tender came once and patted down Seth, and IES student who is a bar tender back in the states and was most definitely not stealing. It was funny but a little unnerving.

One other such night an Algerian girl who was really high , on crack, became obsessed with us and kept saying she was going to come stay with us in America. She also tried to kiss Seth and kept talking about how sexy Americans are. She gave me her number so that I can call her when I get back to America and make plans for her to come visit. This will most decidedly not be happening.

One other such night a very sweet bar tender bought a round of shots for our entire table, which was very sweet of him.

And I finally went to Lieu Unique, which is inside the old Lu cookie factory. I had a ridiculously fun time there, the music was very bizarre techno but it was still super fun to dance to.

7. I love the friends I've made here. I'm very glad that two of the friends I've made here, namely Forrest and Hayley, are Sewanee students I just didn't know before, meaning that I get to keep them as friends in the Spring! But the others, like Maddie and Horace and Seth, to name a few, I know I'm going to miss badly...

8. Yesterday we baked cookies with Hanna's host sister Clemence, who is 8 years old, absolutely adorable and decidedly crazy. I loved it!

To conclude, before leaving (in less than 2 weeks) I have five exams, one paper, and one recitation to do. It is going to be ridiculous.

The next blog entry I write, most likely, will be entitled Le Cheminement, which will explain the title of my blog and sum up this experience a bit.

I am so excited about everything right now: excited about the next 13 days here, excited about my whole life ahead of me and how much I know this experience has impacted it. I'm excited to see my family and MY DOG who I have missed a ridiculous amount. I am also so excited to see Jonathan; we have now spent a grand total of around 6 months apart this year, and I'm ready to be in the same country with him for a change!

03 December, 2009

And in reality, Thanksgiving was....

  1. Very French. I've never had a more French meal in my life. The entree was a toasted half of a baguette, on top of which was an olive spread, two large broiled? belle peppers and a sun-dried tomato. It was very bizarre and had to eat but very delicious; all of the French people thought it was an American dish and all of the Americans assumed it was French. The turkey was covered in cranberries and mushrooms. The "stuffing" was actually some sort of meat pâtée. The desert was "pumpkin pie" WITH LOADS OF CURRY - which I was in no mood to eat having just recovered from curry food poisoning two days previously.
  2. A terribly comforting and wonderful experience. I had some revelations. Well, Hanna had some revelations that I ended up benefiting from. Despite the fact that the food at Thanksgiving was decidedly sub-par, it is absolutely the best thing in the world that I miss home and my own Thanksgiving so much. Having a French Thanksgiving made me so grateful for all of the wonderful holidays I've gotten to share with my own family. It is such a wonderful thing to miss you family, and I do and I am grateful that I love them so much because they are so wonderful.
  3. Additionally, I was so grateful on Thanksgiving because I got to share it with so many wonderful friends. I LOVE the people I've met here, and I love that I do feel like I'm part of a community here. I will miss everyone so much when it is over, but I am so grateful to have gotten to meet them and spend this time with them.
  4. Performing with Forrest was one of my highlights from being in France. We did two songs, "Don't Think Twice" by Bob Dylan followed by "La Vie en Rose" by Edith Piaf. I was terribly nervous, as usual, going up there in front of 200 people, half of whom were French, but it was just such a wonderful experience. We got encored after our first song and followed it with La Vie en Rose; all of the French couples started singing along, and I seriously teared up a bit because I felt such a part of a French community in that moment and it made me so glad. After we finished, we got encored again but didn't have anything else to perform. So. The experience just made me so happy. Additionally, I love that Forrest and I kept getting introduced as The Tennesseans, because we're both from Sewanee (although Forrest is actually from Texas, of course.)
  5. Having a beer at the Graslin afterward with Hanna, Forrest and Horace. I had a 3 euro Banana Beer, which was only pretend alcohol at around 3%but extremely delicious.

25 November, 2009

Thoughts on Thanksgiving...

There is something so strange to me about missing Thanksgiving tomorrow, my first major holiday spent apart from my parents and brother.

I have always loved Thanksgiving, perhaps even more than I love Christmas, because it is less commercial, because it is more genuine. It is a holiday created to give thanks, something I firmly believe in - it is a time when families cross our country to reunite, to break bread, to share their trials and triumphs of the year.

And perhaps I always loved it so much because I have always been such a loved, spoiled individual. Every year, Thanksgiving as a child meant being surrounded by people whom I loved and who I knew loved me. It was about my mother dressing me up in pretty clothes I loved and putting my hair back in huge barrettes and my father making me change out of my tights and into jeans before I ran out to play with all my male cousins.

It is strange to me that these are the things about Thanksgiving that I miss - I pretend that if I were in America this would be the reality of the Holiday. But I know that's not the case. That I am not seven years old anymore, not a little girl, that I would not be romping around in the backyard with my cousins, that my father would not demand I change clothes to do so, that fewer family members would likely make it this year, because as the years have passed our families have evolved. Priorities change. Nuclear families begin to form and grow and disperse. Grandparents grow older and traditions have to change accordingly.

And I cannot help but be saddened by the passage of time, even as I know I am young and it will only get worse as I grow older.

The thing that makes me saddest yet though is that families seem to be under attack in America, and no where is that made more obvious than in how our country treats Thanksgiving.

Take this article in the Times: Food, Kin and Tension. Two cousins have made Thanksgiving Insult BINGO cards, with negativesayings like "That outfit is interesting," that they fill out throughout the meal.

Or this movie, cited as being one of the best to watch on the topic of Thanksgiving: Home for the Holidays in which the characters seem to absolutely despise being together for the majority of the film.

I don't understand how families grow so far apart that Holidays become something that they have to suffer through.

And such attitudes are so completely at odds with the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Perhaps Americans have become too ready to reject blood ties in favor of forming friendships. To say, I don't need my sister's companionship, I can make my own friends and form my own family amongst them.

But as Mary Schmich wrote in her famed 1997 Chicago Tribune article (one of my favorites!):
Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

And I believe that. Friends are wonderful and amazing and I plan on keeping them as long and as best I can. But they aren't family.

All that to say, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for the following:

  • That God is the same everywhere - that He followed me to France.
  • For my wonderful, wonderful family. For my amazing parents and my kick-ass brother. For Jonathan. For Nana and Grandma and Grandpa. For Baba. For Donnie. For Rodney and Tim. For Paul. For Bob. For Barb. For their spouses. For all my other crazy cousins and great-aunts and first-cousins-once removed. I feel so grateful.
  • For my lovely, beautiful life-long friends.
  • For the experience to get to be in France.
  • For Sewanee - the amazing University my parents let me go to that I get to return to soon.
  • For being 20 years old and having so much life behind but mostly ahead of me.
  • For so many other things that I cannot even begin to name all of them, among them woods, music, coffee, the air, gardening, Christmas decorations, hymns, my chickens that I get to meet in a month and how blissfully happy everything makes me on a fairly regular basis.

21 November, 2009

Rainy Night

Sometimes things don't work out the way you planned,

and so this weekend I am in Nantes, not Bilboa, and after getting over my original disappointment, I realized several things:
  1. I only have one month left; time will go by fast enough without passing 20+ hours on a train by myself.
  2. I have a ridiculous amount of work to do between now and leaving.
  3. I have a lot left to see and do in Nantes before leaving.
I bought a notebook and entitled it: Final Month in France = The Final Push.

It is divided up into three sections
-Vocabulary (where I'm writing down all the words I learn and look up)
-Plans and Goals

I've already been using it a lot. I also bought myself two grammar work books, intermediate and advanced, and have started working my way through the exercises. I think it will be really helpful.

Yesterday I somewhat crazily decided to venture out on my own for dinner, toute seule, because I had the hankering for a kabab.

It was raining but the streets seemed flooded by tourists; I heard lots of Arabic and German as I made my way down to the stand next to Place Royale. I bought my kabab, 4 euros, and walked around, trying to find a dry spot out of the Nantaise rain to enjoy it. I finally sat down on the steps of Saint Croix, just as it's deep bells rang the 8 o'clock.

And I felt alone, nearly, pedestrians walking by me, watching me watching them, and wondering if they're thinking I'm homeless. It is a homeless sort of hang out.

Then a few drunks stumbled into the court yard from the main road, and they looked at my stoop in what I perceived to be a territorial way, and so I skiddishly ceded them the stoop and began wandering the twisting streets of the Bouffay.

I found myself outside of the gelatto shop, and went inside and ordered an Inimitable - the best gelatto I've ever had - and found a table by a window and sat and pretended to preoccupy myself with whatever I could find in my purse. I love people watching, but doing so all alone and without any other sort of purpose seemed somehow pathetic to me, and so it was for pretense that I pulled out my journal and started rereading all the entries- all the while trying to take in as much of my surroundings as possible.

To my good fortune, five men walked in: four arabic, one french: one from New York, the others speaking rather hilariously sparse English and decidedly not from America.

They sat down at the table just next to me, and proceeded to talk in such a way that I KNEW they had no clue I could understand them. They were talking louder than anyone else in the shop.

Topics of conversation proceeded as follows:
  • their bowel movements
  • what internet chat sites they'd been on and whether or not they thought they were going to get lucky with a girl anytime soon
  • their bowel movements
  • whether or not the American was depressed about having to get married
  • whether or not people were happier making their own decisions or whether it was best if their decisions were made for them (at this point it becomes clear to me that they are all Engineers. This topic revolved primarily around a description of a TED lecture and was quite interesting)
  • their bowel movements
  • internet chat rooms
And then they left.

It was terribly interesting to listen to, if at times a bit vulgar and raunchy; I kept debating about whether or not I should, at some point, let them know I could understand everything they where saying, but it seemed too late in the conversation to do so, me feeling already quite guilty really for being able to eavesdrop so easily.

I wandered around a bit more. I passed one sad SDF who had nubs for legs and was rocking back and forth and clapping his hands wildly and mumbling some sort of tune for change, and I was too taken aback by his appearance and the whole grotesque display to do anything except increase my pace as I passed him. I passed one friendly bum chatting it up with his potential benefactors as they stood in line at the ATM. I passed an endless amount of cigarette butts, still smoking on the wet sidewalks. I passed a dozen drunks, some singing loudly and out of key, happy despite the rain, others angrily cursing one another as they passed. I passed a million cafes, the clientele looking cheery and warm and completely oblivious to all the madness going on outside.

And then at some point Horace called, so I made my way across town to L'Huberloo, had a quick drink (a pint of Jupiler, pas mal) and then we all headed back to the Bouffay. At some point Hanna called, and we met up with her and her father Tim! who is here for the weekend.

The three of us walked around a bit, we ended up seeing three people fall flat - one a twenty something man who drunkenly ran into a construction barricade, knocking it over and creating a lot of racket, before stumbling three or four feet and falling on his face. His friends came just short of kicking him as he lay there, cursing him and yelling at him to get up before grabbing him and flinging him to his feet. The second was a middle-aged lady wearing high heels on the cobblestoned rode in front of the Passage Pomeray. She seemed to slide a yard or two before coming to a rest; Tim helped her to her feet and she limped off with her two friends. The third was a SDF pandering for change inside a restaurant. He fell down just as he was exiting, and the crowd waited a while as he lay motionless on the ground before two men grabbed him roughly and stood him on his feet before shoving him out of the door. Additionally, a couple on a bicycle rode past us quickly, the boy at the handlebars all the while saying, "No breaks no breaks no breaks," and before he was quite beyond our hearing we heard him yell "NO BREAKS" and then the distinct sound of a crash.

It was, and this is an understatement, a bit of a crazy Nantaise night.