Episode 25: ANNA DANS UNE VOITURE FRANÇAISE OMG

OMG I DROVE A CAR. I only know of two automatic cars in this country and considering one of them is a new BWM, I am definitely not going to weasel my way into driving that one.  But I weaseled my way into driving another one! And this one was more authentically French! A little mini baby Citroen that is just as cute as a button! Jérémy helped me fill the 8 month long void that I have felt by letting me drive myself home! Warning for anyone driving in France (or maybe anywhere besides the US for that matter…?): THE LINE THAT SEPARATES THE TWO LANES IS NOT YELLOW. IT IS WHITE. DO NOT GET CONFUSED. 

En tous cas, I managed to make it home alive, and I didn’t kill any French people either! 

P.s. we made more cannelés and they were completely perfect this time! Yay for French Cuisine! 

Episode 24: Cannelés!

YUMMMMMMMYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Jérémy gave me my birthday present last week — des moules pour les cannéles!! I went over to his apartment to do some cooking and he helped me make this classic French delight with my very own moules which I get to keep for life! (I WILL make room in my suitcase for them.) 

We made the rapide version of the recipe because normally the batter has to cool for an hour, but we didn’t have enough time for that! I was the one who prepared the batter and unfortunately, the cannéles didn’t turn out as beautifully as they usually do, but they tasted SOOO GOOOOOOOOOD anyway! Jérémy was upset because he had made them perfectly just a week before, so I tried to convince him that it must have been me, but he wasn’t having that! 

The trick to the recipe is to cook them for five minutes at a very high temperature to let them caramelize on the outside, then to lower the heat and let them continue cooking for an hour. That’s why they’re always so expensive…they take forever to make! The process was long, and they weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as usual, but DAMN were they tasty! 

My host family and I finished them within a few…..hours. I didn’t care at all what they looked like, they were the best tasting things I have ever made in my life. 

And now I get to keep the moules forever and continue making French pastries wherever I go! It was a great idea for a present and they will definitely bring back memories for years (my whole life) to come! (Also I don’t think you can buy these puppies in the US so….even better!) 

This was the prettiest one! 

Merci Jérémy

Episode 23: Bruxelles!

First semester, we took a weekend trip around Normandy…but since Madame never likes to do the same thing twice, this semester we went to Brussels! 

Living in Rouen has definitely made me appreciate and notice architecture much more than I ever did before in life, so I must say that I was particularly observant of the architecture in Brussels…and I wasn’t that impressed.  The little streets were very cute, but nothing beats the charm of the half-timbered buildings all over Rouen! Except however the Grand Place.  I didn’t know much about Brussels before visiting (and I can’t say that I know a lot a lot about it now but…) but when I Googled “Brussels” the only thing that came up was the Grand Place.  So when we first arrived and I was given a map, that was the first thing I tried to find.  We trekked through the Muslim neighborhood, happened upon the Manneken Pis, and then just fell into the Grand Place! And it sure was beautiful!

We did a couple touristy things but we did have a lot of free time. Our hotel was [REALLY REALLY REALLY NICE] next to the train station, which was kindof far away, so the trek had to be worth it! 

We visited the Comic book museum (Tin-Tin is Belgian!) (So are the Smurfs!) and went to a classy string quartet recital. We also went to Musée Magritte (I was confused the whole time) and had brunch on the top floor of the Museum of Musical Instruments! 

Oh please let me talk about the food. 

There was a buffet breakfast at the hotel.  The first day, I gave myself around 30 minutes to eat, but upon arrival, I knew that I would need to set aside at least an hour the next day. THERE WAS SO MUCH FOOD. Eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, bread on bread on bread, pastries, fruit, vegetables, fries, yogurt, fresh fruit juice (fruits rouges, mango…), and a machine that juiced oranges right before your eyes! It was marvelous. We also ate some pretty nice dinners.  The first one was at a restaurant located on the little street that’s chock-full of restaurants and men trying to convince you to eat at their “special” restaurant.

As we were a group of 17, we had our own special room! (Mostly because we are very loud) The place specialized in seafood and I got some shrimp thingys that looked like mozzarella sticks (my fave) for my entrée and the duck for my plat principal.  Look at me go! My dessert was the classic chocolate cake with crème anglaise because I can never say no to that when it’s offered. (Mostly it’s because I need to test as many crème anglaises as possible to see if Arnaud’s [FLVM] is the best…..it hasn’t lost yet…and I know the recipe [I’ve made it twice!]). 

The next night we went to a Moroccan restaurant where we ate a sort of tagine thing.  We were each given a bowl of couscous and a giant cauldron of soup with vegetables and then a platter of straight MEAT. I filled my couscous with so much stuff that I actually couldn’t finish it. I was at the point where if I ate any more, I wouldn’t have been able to stand up straight….isn’t that just the best feeling!!? Truthfully, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t finish it all because I have a reputation to uphold….and I let everyone down! How shameful! However what I did manage to eat was delicious! 

(lanterns all over the ceiling of the restaurant!)

But even with all of the delicious food, I must say that my favorite thing about Brussels was the BEER. I don’t know very much about beer at all, but I know that Belgian beer is good, so when I found out we were going to Belgium, I was veeeery excited. I asked for some recommendations from a couple people who had already visited to find out which beers they thought were the best.  Then all I had to do was find them!….NOT HARD. 

I’m not a very big clubbing girl, but I do rather enjoy bars.  Not necessarily super classy bars, just bars with a personality. And Delirium DEFINITELY has a personality. Delirium is an incredibly well known bar that has over 2400 beers to offer…it’s incredible. We have one in Rouen which doesn’t have nearly as many options as that, and though I haven’t visited it very often, I still like it a lot. (We went the first night we arrived here in Rouen, and I only went for the second time just last week).  We went to Delirium both nights we were in Brussels and I was in LOVE.  The place was buzzing with happy vibes (I don’t usually talk about vibes, but I was getting what I think would be considered good vibes while I was there) and there were people everywhere.  I loved the decor all over the inside of the bar and I just didn’t want to leave! There were a million people packed into the little street where it’s located, and normally I don’t like crowds that much, but I was so happy!! I tried the Delirium Red beer (fruity…not my favorite), and Tripel Karmeliet (suggestion from a friend) but I mostly enjoyed the beer atmosphere more than I enjoyed the actual beer. Take a look! 

Generally people out and having a good time! I love the beer trays…

Here are some other views of the city! 

Although the trip was a little short, it was still a grand ole time.  And aside from the beer, I found something else that I really enjoyed about Brussels — it’s so international! French, English, Arabic…and a bunch of tourists from all over! Mostly what I liked was that when I tried to speak French to people, they didn’t automatically reply to me in English, they actually spoke to me in French and didn’t question my nationality! It was incroyable! Loved it! 

p.s. the chocolate was DELICIOUS. 

Bye! Jetting off to Senegal tomorrow! 

Here is Dancin’ in the Street played by Evan Christopher at the Duc des Lombards! My apologies for any background talking, the phone was right infront of me and I was trying to be sneaky! 

PS Evan Christopher is the one playing the clarinet…another man is singing

Episode 22: Pays de Galles

As many of you probably know, I work at Camp Billings most summers (except when I decide to get knee surgery as a nineteen year-old) and one of the greatest parts of working at camp is the other counselors.  Obviously I love the kids too! But it’s so cool to meet international staff members and creating last relationships with them.  This summer, I established with a bunch of Europeans (UKers…) that I would meet up with them during my stay in France. And it happened! Well first semester, I visited a friend in Dublin and another just outside of London…I can’t remember if I told you guys about that or not…..sorry…..But this semester we had a full blown reunion in Wales! 

There were only four of us that ended up being there, but it was absolutely perfect! Gaz (Welsh), Lydia (English), Simon (Kiwi [New Zealand], dating Lydia and currently living in London) and I met up in…well we actually met up in Bristol, England for the first night, but we drove over to Cardiff the next day.  But before I get to that, I must tell you that I was in transit from 9PM on Thursday until 12:30 PM Friday………………I took a bus……………well technically I took a train, two metros, a bus, and then another bus…. But yeah it took forever. I arrived and looked absolutely horrible. But that didn’t matter!  I snuck into the Cardiff Castle and wandered around aimlessly waiting for Gaz to come pick me up….then we went to a bar that used to be a pornographic movie theater! Cool!

After that first bar, we drove over to Bristol and took about an hour and a half to find a place to park the car, and then took another twenty minutes to find our hostel on foot.  The hostel was prreeeeeeeetty sketchy and kinda weird but super cheap… so it was definitely worth it! We got some more beers at a bar that we, after twenty minutes and some close observation, determined was quite possibly a gay bar. But some lady brought a dog inside so I was happy! Then Lydia and Simon arrived (they had taken a bus from London to Bristol because it was easier/cheaper) and we headed out to the big street with all of the clubs.  We went to this big classy bar that made me feel like I was at a party at Jay Gatsby’s house and we got strawberry daiquiris! Then we went to Wetherspoon’s which was less classy but still cool. They kicked us out very early which was a bummer but we decided to head next door to some weird sports bar called Riley’s. We had to sign up for the free membership which was kindof sad because there were literally 6 other people in the whole place….but I learned how to play pool for the first time and although I was absolutely horrible, it was a lot of fun! After our pool time was up (they turn off the light over your table), we headed back to the hostel because I was about ready to fall over or fall asleep standing up.  Our hostel room actually had 12 beds in it (WEIRD) and my bed creaked a lot which was super unfortunate.  I took a shower in the morning and wanted to vomit because it was so gross, but I was not about to walk around Cardiff all day without showering after having been on a bus for a million hours! I was trying to find a Welsh boyfriend DUH! The shower turned out fine eventually but when I went to get dressed, I delightfully discovered that my makeup remover had spilled almost its entire contents all over my clothes! YAY! But it was actually fine. Don’t you worry! OKAY I’ll get on with it.

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(Banksy’s Well Hung Lover in Bristol— my more direct pictures were “too big” to upload…) 

We drove back to Wales (singing loudly in the car, Billings Style) and arrived in Cardiff for the big day. It was the 6 Nations Rugby Finals!! Cardiff was packed full of Welsh and Scottish rugby supporters because the big game between them was taking place at the stadium in Cardiff! It was England vs. Italy (in Italy), Wales vs. Scotland (in Cardiff! 400 meters from the bar we were in!), and France vs. Ireland. The bar we decided to stay in was packed full of huge men in kilts and a lot of beer.  I was just handed beer after beer after beer….not complaining!  The atmosphere was amazing and I discovered three things: (1) anyone with an accent from the UK walking by you and saying “‘scuse me honey” is not creepy at all, (2) Rugby is the greatest sport ever and if I were allowed to play cutting sports I would be SO GOOD AT IT, and (3) I need to marry a rugby player.  So many beautiful men. So muscular. AHHHHH. After the Wales game, we got something to eat : a sandwich with bacon and sausage.  NOW, I love French food obviously, but I have never been so happy to see a bacon sandwich in my life. It was greasy and delicious and I wanted another one but the pound vs. the euro vs. the US dollar is just pathetic and painful so I couldn’t. 

We watched the final France vs. Ireland game and things got a little tense.  Allow me to explain: England had won their game. If France won the last game, England would win the whole thing. But if Ireland won, Ireland would win the whole thing. And apparently everyone hates England because England killed everyone else’s kings at one point or another.  And the New Zealand All Blacks are also super good at rugby but they play the game a little differently and they do not play against these teams in this final.  So Gaz wanted Ireland to win. Lydia wanted France to win so that England would win. I wanted France to win because I love France. And Simon was just comparing everyone back to the All Blacks.  It was a pretty unanimous feeling in the crowd…everyone was rooting for Ireland and the crowd would BOOOOO every time France scored a point.  You could pick out the English in the crowd though! Every once in a while there was a little scream amidst the boos and I knew! 

France came close to winning at the end and I got really excited, but the stupid guy passed the ball FORWARD! NUMBER ONE RULE IDIOT! And Ireland ending up taking the crown.  I didn’t actually care how it ended, I was just very excited to be in such a passionate crowd.  I couldn’t stop going on and on about how much I loved the sport/the players….SO GREAT. And what a classic introduction to the sport! Surrounded by huge men drinking beer, wearing knee high socks and kilts! So great! 

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But the downside of the game being in Cardiff was that literally every place of lodging was booked. Hotels, hostels, B&Bs (if those exist there…I’m just assuming)..no openings.  But Gaz called a friend and managed to work something out for us.  We had to take a taxi to Penarth (just on the other side of the Cardiff Bay) and we arrived at this girl’s house.  It was actually her stepmom’s house I think (?), but she made us feel welcome immediately. She cooked us dinner and set up all of our rooms and we were so cozy!!! And she gave us a hug when we got there!  As you know, I love the bisous, but I’ll take a hug any day! 

In the morning, she cooked us a night English (can I say that?) breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage and beans.  It was SOOOO GOOOOOOOOOD. Then she called her boyfriend up who gave us a motorboat ride around the bay! It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the sun was SHIIIINNNIIIINNNGGGG. (But my hair whipped around so furiously on the boat that it actually took me TWENTY minutes to comb it the next day…horrible.)image

(Gaz and Simon preparing for the boat ride)

After the boat ride, we walked around a little more enjoying the sunshine, but we had to head back into downtown so I could catch my bus home.  I used my Runtastic app on my phone to track how far we walked (5km), but also because I really like my phone to think I’m super cool so I use Runtastic in as many countries as I can…..not that I like the idea of technology watching me, but I want my phone to be proud of me, ya know?

So I reluctantly hopped back on the Megabus for London, preparing myself mentally for the long journey.  The ride to London was pleasant (3 or 4 hours), but I discovered in the second bus (12 hours? I don’t know) that I had left my headphones on the first bus. NOT PLEASANT. I managed to get a whole double seat to myself for the long ride but the stupid kids in front of me would not stop talking (I had to ask them to SHUT IT at around 3 AM) and trying to take pictures of the outside world from the inside of the bus using flash…………………….irritation at it’s finest. 

I finally made it to Paris at around 7:30 AM and then had to wait until 8:50 to take my train back to Rouen. When I finally got all the way home to Rouen, I had to take a quick nap (2 hours….slept like a ROCK), and then head to my Histoire des Idées Politiques class! My internal clock was all messed up for the whole day….but it was totally worth it! 

Episode 21: Paris pour la Deuxième Fois! Quelle Chance!

Our second semester trip to Paris had a different feel than the first one.  We had a lot more free time, and the theme of the events we went to was a little different.  Each trip was equally great, but I must say, second semester we did some pretty snazzy things! 

As with first semester, I will only write about the things that I liked the best, and since it’s been so long since I’ve written (SORRY), I don’t remember much….also I lost my itinerary!! So we will see what I can come up with.

Well the first thing that comes to mind is the presentation that we had on Black Paris. We had a speaker (American who has been living in Paris for quite some time now) come give us a presentation about the presence of Blacks in Paris.  She showed us pictures of certain parks and streets and restaurants that are dedicated to or reminiscent of the Négritude movement that we have been studying in one of my second semester classes.  The presentation was interesting as it showed me things that I didn’t know existed in Paris (even though I’m really only familiar with about 1% of the things that Paris has to offer…) but it made me a little sad to think that we had to have a presentation specifically geared towards showing us the presence of Blacks in Paris because of how low under the radar they actually fly.  The ideas of race and racism have become much more important and relevant topics in my mind since the start of second semester and with my class on Black France so it was eye-opening to have this presentation, but the magnitude of it’s eye-opening-ness was also eye-opening! 

The second big thing that comes to mind was our night at the OPERA!!!!!! Kindof funny, but we saw a ballet at the Palais Garnier Opera House a.k.a. THE classiest place in Paris.  I’m talkin’ red velvet seats with gold trim and a ceiling painted by Matisse. I wore my suuuuper classy new heels with a black dress and looked AWESOME. My feet hurt like crazy but…pain IS beauty AM I RIGHT?!  I’m not gonna lie — when we visited the Palais Garnier in high school and I saw the ceiling, I was like um a child definitely painted that.  A talented child…but a child nonetheless. When we went this time and I actually got to sit in a chair (the seating chart is very confusing and the ushers are INCREDIBLY serious about you sitting in your own seat, even if you have an entire row reserved for the same group of people) I still looked at the ceiling and was like yeah a kid did that. Until my neighbor was like “Isn’t the ceiling beautiful? Matisse painted it.” I think I laughed out loud at that point. Enfin, bref we watched two separate ballets. The first one was about a murder that I read about on Wikipedia (which got me onto a long trail of Wikipedia clicking of murder trial research) which involved an axe and was kiiiiiinda violent. And the second one was about……I’m not actually sure because I did so much research on murder trials that I forgot to look at the second one! I think it was about this player of a man who had this thing for the super talented ballet dancer but still made his way through a bunch of other women.  I think he ended up with the classy cool lady but I am NOT sure and I do NOT remember what it was actually about. I can’t even tell you the title. This has been entirely unhelpful I am SURE, but the moral of the story is it was VERY classy and ballet dancers will continue to blow my mind with how quickly they can twiddle their legs in every which direction and by how amazingly muscular their legs are. Incredible. 

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We also did see an actual opera, but it was at the NEW opera house, the Opera Bastille. It was Madama Butterfly and I read the story before so I understood! Which was good because the opera was set in China (?), sung in Italian, and had simultaneous English and French translations.  Cross-cultural WHOA. My first impression of the place was HOW DO I FIND MY SEAT. There was a surprisingly low amount of attendants to help you find where you were going. Well actually, there may have been a lot but it was an opera so I couldn’t tell if the men in tuxedos were workers or fellow-opera goers….After eventually finding my seat, my next impression was If I even lean three feet forward right now, I WILL plummet to my death. I have never been in such a steep place in my entire life.  I took some pictures to try to get a feel for the place but they did not do it justice.  Margaret, the second-semester director, who I found my seat with, has an intense fear of heights and she had to go down to the main level because she was too scared.  It was crazy!!

(this was at intermission…it was PACKED)

Once the show started, I was initially intrigued, but I will be honest and say that I got a liiiiiittle bored.  Opera is obviously incredibly impressive as I don’t know how people can sing so loudly and with such incredible force in each other’s faces like that without breaking character, but it’s not my favorite. The show was three hours long and as I was reading all of the translations, while many of them were very funny, I thought the whole thing could have been done in an hour and a half.  I get it, rich people have a lot of time on their hands to fill with classy, culturally rich things like the opera but….I wasn’t too keen on sitting there for that long.  I did it, bien sur, and I was thoroughly impressed…but I was a little bored.  My favorite part, however, was the little boy (I can’t even imagine the life of an opera childstar) who played Butterfly’s son who at one point (for ten minutes) just skipped around picking up some sort of “objects” in the “field” on stage and eating them.  He was wearing what looked like a diaper and it was just GREAT. 

Another super classy (but in a different way) thing we did was go to a New Orleans jazz concert at the Duc des Lombards Club.  It was an American group with a man named Evan Christopher and the concert was called Django à la Créole. As in Django Reinhardt, not Django Unchained. Just so we’re clear. It was a nice little intimate setting, dark and swoony, and we each got to get a cocktail! My cocktail was called The Ella (which I ordered in honor of my dear friend Ella Flett) and was made with some fruits rouges and tequila I think. But the music was great too! I don’t know much about jazz and I don’t think I usually like it very much, but the ambiance in the club was so great that I just couldn’t help but love it! We spoke with him after the concert and he was very nice, as were all of the other members of the band (one was from Australia!) and it was overall a very classy and wonderful evening! (I [illegally] recorded some of the songs on my phone so I’ll see if I can upload one!) 

Also directly after we left that club, we wandered around on that same street because there are a billion bars there (it was actually the same street where we saw the jazz concert the first semester too! That one was at the Sunset Club woohooo) and chose a random one. The bartender was wearing a shirt with an American flag on it so obviously we were his favorites.  We ordered a few drinks but they loved us so much that we managed to get 7 free shots off of them! USA!

I can’t remember many of the other activities that we did as a group….but I do know that I spent a lot more time just wandering around this time! I visited a few flea markets (I tried to find one on a Wednesday…looked for around 15 minutes…..only open on weekends…) and spent a lot of time wandering around the 4th arrondissement which is my absolute favorite.  I ate dinner at a crêperie that I went to in high school and ordered the same thing that I ordered all those years ago (I’ve been thinking about it for three years… I had to) and I discovered the street with all the restaurants who claim to have the best falafel in the world….there are probably 4 of them…and I picked the one that I read about online and when I walked by the other one where there were a billion people waiting in line, the greeter from the restaurant was a liiiiiittle rude to me so I am very glad that I did not decide to go to his stupid restaurant! 

(crêpe with arugula/lettuce in general, goat cheese, walnuts, honey, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette!)

Oh! I almost forgot! One of the biggest themes of our week was climbing things!! On the way to Paris we stopped at the cathedral in Chartres which is very famous for its stained glass windows and three of us climbed the 300 steps to the top of that one.  We also climbed to the top of Sacre Coeur, but I forget how many steps that one was….but here’s the view!

We climbed the Eiffel Tower (DUH)….and finally we climbed Notre Dame! LOOK! 

(please take note of Sacre Coeur in the distance there!) 

I can’t think of much else to say….sorry for the abrupt ending! I have to catch up before it’s too late! 

À bientôt!

Episode 20: Université de Rouen

Within the first week of directly enrolling in the University of Rouen, I understood why places like St. Lawrence cost such a damn fortune.  Not only are our facilities top of the line compared to public European universities, but our basic organization systems are so much more developed and reliable! 

As I mentioned in my Repas Chauds post (which obviously you read), we did “internships” to fill the three week gap between the holidays and the start of second semester classes.  We had already talked to the assistant to the assistant to the director of our program (not a typo) and figured out a general idea of which classes we wanted to take.  So as the third week of our internships came around, we had to make sure we had found all the classes we needed to take.  

One of the most difficult parts of choosing classes was finding ones that were equal to one St. Lawrence credit.  All the classes I’ve taken at St. Lawrence have been three hours per week — either three one-hour sessions, or two one-hour-and-a-half sessions.  Plain and Simple.  But here in Rouen, we had to base the “credits” of classes on their overall time.  A 24-hour class is equal to a half credit and a 36-hour (I think) class is equal to a full credit class.  But as it turns out, a lot of classes here hover around the 28- or 32- hour mark, meaning they’re not quite enough to be considered a full credit. Oh but DON’T WORRY, we can still take those classes, that just means we have to take even more to fill the credits! NO PROBLEMO RIGHT? Wrong.  

At first I thought it would be super easy to find classes to go to.  It wasn’t.  It was practically impossible to find the PDFs of lists of classes on the university website. And for the ones that I did find, none of the lists gave the classrooms or the times for the classes.  WHAT?! Then the third week of our stages rolled around and we were told “if you want to take any of these sociology classes, some of them start tomorrow.” So again, I was like WHAT ARE YOU SERIOUS. And even though I had found 4 sociology classes, it turns out they were all in the half credit deal thing. Meaning I could take all four of them and only fulfill 2 St. Lawrence credits.  Now I don’t know who decided that a 28-hour class completely in a foreign language, built and designed for students whose mother tongue is said language, isn’t sufficient to give me a full St. Lawrence credit, but I would LOVE TO TALK TO THEM.

Anywho, Emma and I went to the first Sociology class on the list.  We walked in and decided to sit apart from each other and I tried to immediately make a friend, as I had been told to do.  I sat next to a girl who looked really nice and I said “Salut!” and she said “Salut! Are you new?” I explained that I’m American and that I didn’t know what I was doing.  She was in the process of recopying some notes, and since I am a naturally curious and paranoid person, I asked if they had already had the class once before.  She said “well yes, we’ve actually had it twice so this is the third séance…” and I just about fell out of my chair.  WHAT? THE THIRD CLASS?! How is it possible that I just found out YESTERDAY where the classroom was for this? Then another girl came in sat on the other side of me. With a nice smile, she looked at me and said “….qui es-tu?” so I explained again what the hell I was doing there.  We were all pretty confused by my presence in that classroom, but they were very nice and offered to give me their notes for the classes that I missed.  Then the professor walked in. 

Now, I pride myself on being pretty good at understanding a lot of different accents within the French language. I’ve had French, Canadian, American, and Senegalese professors in the past and I was always able to understand what they were saying.  But this man was completely different. I’m not sure if he was Senegalese or not, but he was definitely from some country in Western Africa and I couldn’t understand a damn word he said.  He walked in, and took out a pile of papers and just started reading aloud. Most of the students started writing word for word what he was saying, but a group of five girls in front of me continued to talk and text and play on their iPads the entire time.   I understood maybe a tenth of everything he was saying and I was so scared.  At the pause halfway through, I turned to my new friend and asked if class was always like this.  She kind of shrugged and said ” well….yeah…” Emma and I then looked at each other across the room and immediately understood what the other was thinking.  For the second half, I didn’t even try to take notes because I knew there was no way I could stay in the class.  

The second girl who had come in asked me if I had my schedule yet. When I said no in a very stressed way, she offered to take me to some person’s office to have them print me a schedule.  She then showed me hers so I would know what it would look like.  That was the second instance in which I almost fell off my chair.  This was a class for first year students, and it turns out THEY ALL TAKE ABOUT 15 CLASSES AND ALL OF THEIR CLASSES ARE WITH THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE JUST LIKE IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. They didn’t understand when I told them that I just take whatever classes I want.

 In high school french class I learned a little bit about the French education system and how they have to pick a major to stick with right from the start, but I didn’t realize it was like this.  These kids, apparently in the “sociology” major, will take only sociology classes with the same kids (I think) for their entire university education…. They don’t pick and choose what they think will be interesting, they are handed a schedule and are told to go.  

They don’t have valedictorian or any of that stuff in these public European universities and since it costs basically nothing to go, most kids don’t show up to class anyway.  They aren’t competitive so most students make facebook groups for their classes and publicly share the notes that they take in class each day. Some professors make absolutely no effort to hold the attention of the class and most times I can’t concentrate because there is so much whispering around me that I can’t focus on the professor at the front who is speaking at a conversational volume.  Some professors give lectures without reading directly from a paper, some professors use a piece of paper as a guide for their lecture, and some professors read word for word off of a piece of paper expecting us to copy everything they say.  

So after the fiasco with the first sociology class, Emma and I attended a second one, hoping the professor would be easier to understand.  And she was! It was with the same group of sociology kids as the first impossible class, but the professor read much slower and repeated the sentences three times each to make sure everyone got them.   We decided to stick with this class because the professor said she would grade us on an easier scale and give us an extra essay assignment to boost our grade if necessary.  The class is called Modes de Vie et Reproduction Sociale, and although the subject matter is pretty boring and kiiiiindof common sense, it’s like a fun little game now when we sit there and try to write word for word what she says.  There’s no use understanding it fully the first time around because as long as you write the full sentence, you can read it again later! And to go along with the whole idea of people not coming to class, this was the first class that we had a test in.  Normally when we go to class, there are about 20 people and the classroom is half full.  But when we walked in the day of the test, the classroom was completely full and there were people in class that we had never even seen before. IT WAS NUTZ. 

So once we had decided that we could handle that one class, we had to start looking for others.  I wasn’t convinced that I could follow 5 classes where I just sit there and mindlessly write down every word that dryly slips out of the professors mouth, so I looked for things in the geography department. Why not right?! As it turned out the class on géographie de la santé, the class I wanted to take, was on Tuesday mornings, but I found out on Tuesday afternoon! I was super stressed to think that I was going to walk into the class the next week having missed 3 lessons! But we found another geography class to go to on Wednesday just to test out the waters in case the first one didn’t work out the next week.  

It was at a horrible time, 4:30 PM, but we had to go anyway.  When we finally found the right building and supposedly the right classroom, there was no one in it.  I obviously had a panic attack and was ready to give up on the whole school system right there, but naturally I couldn’t.  I stormed into a classroom where a class had just finished and attempted to ask the professor for help.  He asked if we had looked at the lists to find out which room it was in and I explained that we are American and therefore had no idea which lists he was talking about.  He nicely brought us to the secretary who I frantically asked where we could find the class espace français and she calmly responded “well you were looking in the right classroom, but the class starts next week. All geography classes start next week.” WHAT. We thanked her profusely and then left very relieved and confused. So the sociology classes start one week, and the geography classes start 3 weeks later? WHY CAN’T THEY ALL JUST START AT THE SAME TIME?! Because that would be too convenient wouldn’t it?

In the end, we managed to figure out our schedules, and I only have to take 5 classes as I found three one-credit classes! I’m currently taking Black France (class with the director of the second semester SLU program), Histoire des Idées PolitiquesGéographie de la Santé, Modes de Vie et Reproduction Sociale, et Expression Écrite. Each class is only once a week which means I’m still pretty bored because they don’t assign homework…………But I guess I can’t complain!! The weather is getting much nicer lately and most of my classes will by done by the second/third week of April so I will be footloose and fancy free to do as I please in Rouen! 

In conclusion, I will never be able to justify charging students over $50,000 a year for a college education, but I am happy that I have seen the other extreme to be able to appreciate just that much more what opportunities I have handed to me on silver platters at St. Lawrence!! (And if we’re paying that much, I expect the silver platters….)

Thanks Mommy and Daddy!! 

Episode 19: Repas Chauds St. Marc

OHMYGOD I AM SORRY. I have been quite inactive lately and I hope I haven’t lost all of your attention!! It turns out the European school system is much crazier than I imagined and I have been so busy either doing my work or filling my time with exercise classes that I have neglected all of you wonderful readers! I will talk about the school system later….but for now I need to update you on my “internship” aka experience d’immersion from January!! 

Part of the St. Lawrence program is that we do a not-technically-or-legally-called-an-internship internship (even though I DEFINITELY signed three separate copies of a convention du stage and stage DEFINITELY means internship in French… ahh bref) during the January break “in between the two semesters.” (I put that in guillemets and you will find out why in the post about European universities.) Before the first semester was over, we had to tell our program assistant’s intern what we would be interested in doing during the time.  I immediately thought FOOD because, obviously, who wouldn’t want to cook and make delicious food in France for three weeks….? Only crazy people. In the back of my mind, I just wanted to work at FLVM the whole time, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so I said food as my request anyway.  After some complicated searching and an interview where a woman told me I would be bored if I was an “intern” at their company, I finally fell upon a place that seemed to work.  My host parents know a man who works (in some fashion) for a soup kitchen called Repas Chauds St. Marc and he said that I would be welcome to join their team of bénévoles for the three weeks if I wished.  I did a trial run one evening to check out how the association worked and decided to stick with it.

To be honest, which I always am, I was initially absolutely terrified of everything and everyone, I felt incredibly uncomfortable in the whole place, and I felt like I was cheating on FLVM by working in someone else’s kitchen.  So I was pretty uneasy for the time in between my trial run and the beginning of my internship, a period of probably 2 weeks.  But when the time came to start working there, I slapped myself in the face and said ANNA STOP BEING SELFISH AND MAN UP WOULD YA. And I did just that.  

Repas Chauds St. Marc is an association made up of a president and a team of bénévoles who cook dinner 4 times a week for [mostly] SDFs (sans domicile fixe) from Rouen.  The kitchen, and the rest of the property of the association, is located in the sacristie of a condemned church in Rouen, about 5 minutes walking distance from my house. The church is called Église Saint-Nicaise if you care to look it up! (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89glise_Saint-Nicaise_de_Rouen that’s in French…sorry…good luck!) The association runs on food donations from  local commerçants and doesn’t have a very high yearly budget, so we only serve 4 meals per week : dinner on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.  There are about 10 bénévoles total, including me, who volunteer there, but each night is led by a different team of 4 to 5 people.  (For the sake of my later references, here is the list of names of people I worked with: Christian, Guy, Salah, Bruno, Réginald, Gwyndoline, Patrick, François, and Michèle. ) My apologies if you get confused by my verb tenses…I’ve forgotten how to write properly in English. Out of all of the bénévolesI was the only one who worked there every night, so I got to see everyone! 

My favorite days to work were Wednesdays and Fridays because Bruno and Salah were there.  All of the bénévoles were really nice people, but Bruno and Salah were my favorites because I somehow managed to get super sassy and make jokes with them IN FRENCH which is quite rare! They were both very sweet to me and even though I didn’t understand eevverything they said (Salah talks REALLY fast, and Bruno kinda mumbles), they were a lot of fun to be around.  

My job as the intern was the same as all the other bénévoles, we helped prepare the different parts of the meal together.  Each night there was a soup or an entrée, a main dish, cheese, dessert and coffee. Much like my time at FLVM, I chopped a lot of vegetables….which I love! I discovered that my favorite thing to peel is a good MUSHROOM and I also discovered that I am SO WEAK compared to the powers of onions.  One day I had to cut six onions and my eyes actually felt like they were rolling back into my skull because they couldn’t function anymore.  It didn’t help that I was trying to stop myself from crying…but I genuinely felt for a second the way you feel when you go cross-eyed and someone tells you your eyes are gonna get stuck like that….It was terrifying. But aside from chopping vegetables, the biggest thing I did was THE DISHES.

I was the vaisselle girl! I once had to tackle two giant platters covered in the sticky oven remains of some boudin noir which was a pain in my rear, but also very satisfying to accomplish! 

 In general, the bénévoles wash the big things like the casseroles, saladiers, louches, plats…. while the clients have to wash their own dishes.  That’s part of the trade.  Since the meal doesn’t cost them anything, we require them to help clean up at the end.  They set up a little line of dishwashing and rinsing and drying and arranging and they manage to get everything done in about 10 minutes.  They also have to put the tables away, sweep and mop the floor, and clean the bathroom.  It gets to be a very hectic process as there are 25 people bustling around in a very small space trying to get the job done as quickly as possible.  There are the certain people who always do the same job each night, but there are always a couple men who just go out in the courtyard to smoke their cigarettes and let everyone else do the work.  It was SUPER frustrating to see that all the time, but the other bénévoles with a better grasp on French gave them a little talking to every once in a while…or just handed them a broom and said GO. The biggest problem was that there are food trucks that come to the nearby Place St. Marc to drop off free food a couple nights every week at 7:30 PM.  The meal generally finishes around 7 and they’re done cleaning by 7:25 or so, but it was very easy to tell when it was a food truck night because everyone ate very quickly and tried to rush to the best of their ability to get out of there.  

Overall, it was a great experience for me to fill my time with.  It was only three and a half hours each time and it was only 4 times a week.  I wish I could’ve spent a lot more time there to cure my boredom, but I was there as much as possible! During all the time that I wasn’t at Repas Chauds, I’ve literally never been so bored in my life.  And I know that being bored is for uncreative people, but I did so many things, I just couldn’t fill the time! It was crazy.  So I was very thankful for the time that I did get to spend there.  

It was definitely a very valuable experience for me.  I get a lot of pleasure out of helping other people and although I was initially afraid of all of the people who came to eat, I eventually really appreciated their presence.  They all come from different walks of life, each with a different level of poverty and resources, but it was so nice to see the smiles come across their faces when they walked in the door.  The dining room was a place of warmth (but it was actually SO COLD in there because the only source of heat was an old wood stove that only sometimes decided to work with the impossibly damp wood we were trying to feed it) compared to the rainy winter outside and the people always seemed so pleased to be among friends.  As the association doesn’t seem to be really well known, we had mostly the same crowd every night, with a few people who only came a couple times per week.  The people all seemed to be among friends, and besides one little passive-aggressive fight that happened, everyone got along just swimmingly! Each person that walked in shook my hand and said “bonsoir mademoiselle,” and just with that small act I could feel how thankful they were.

 I won’t credit the experience as giving me a brand new outlook on life, because I like to think I wasn’t completely ignorant before, but I will say it gave me a great, and pretty raw, introduction to a part of the population that I didn’t know much about.  As in every city in the world, there are constantly homeless people roaming around the streets asking for money or help.  Most people write them off and ignore them because that’s easier than smiling at them, because smiling at them would probably mean they’ll ask for more money. And I understand that sometimes it’s very irritating to be pestered by someone asking you for money, but I the biggest thing that I learned from Repas Chauds is that everyone in the world, rich or poor, just wants the minimum level of human respect.  They’ve been told “no” hundreds of times, but the least you can do is say no with a smile! No one wants to be treated like they don’t exist.  And although I can’t say that I’m the biggest philanthropist in the world as I don’t give money to every homeless person I see, I am incredibly thankful that I know, now on a more personal level, many of the homeless people in Rouen.  I get excited when I see them on the street and it feels even greater when they say “bonjour Anna!” with a smile.   

Since the end of my stage, I have returned to Repas Chauds on three separate Wednesdays to say hi to my buddies Bruno and Salah.  It’s great to see them and they are still just as nice as ever.  I would love to have the opportunity to go back and help out at least once a week there, but, as it always seems to go in life, something comes up that I have to be doing.  It would be much easier if it was more than four times a week, but I know the budget and the help for that just doesn’t exist.  So even though I haven’t gone back to help again, I haven’t forgotten the lessons that I learned or the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting! 

That’s Salah trying to make the oven work! 

Here we have Bruno’s backside and a glimpse at how we make coffee! 

And here’s a view of the dining room (connected to the kitchen); Guy and Réginald are setting up the tables.  And behind that giant door?

This horrible quality picture of the part of the church still in existence from the 14th century! 

And this better quality picture showing the construction that is condemning it! There is water damage on the ceiling, and that table you see there with the white tablecloth has been sitting there for twenty years! 

Eiffel Tower 2014!

Episode 18: Paris pour le Nouvel An

December 26th is the worst day of the year. (February 26th is pretty bad too- day after my birthday). In fact, the two/three weeks after Christmas are the most depressing weeks of the whole year, so New Year’s Eve as a celebration seems to suffer hardcore in my book.  I’ve never really liked the holiday, mostly because I imagine things as geometrical shapes in my head and…well it’s very hard to explain but New Year’s just doesn’t give me good vibes.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many romantic comedies where people find their perfect New Year’s kiss and I’m just bitter. Or maybe it’s because of Zac Efron’s appearance in the 2011 movie New Year’s Eve (he’s the most beautiful person and every time I watch a movie with him in it, I become immediately depressed that I don’t have the opportunity to look at his face in person.) ENFIN, I don’t really like it.  But I was not about to spend New Year’s Eve by myself in Rouen. So I went and joined Tim and his family (who came over for the holidays) in Paris to ring that sucker in.  

Not to sound ungrateful (as I am NOT), but Paris isn’t as glamorous to me anymore as it used to be.  I still like it a lot, but I’ve visited many times now and seen a lot of the touristy (and not-so) things, so it’s not as much of a magical wonderland in my mind as it might be in others’.  (However, I do feel like a player in some sort of board game when I go to Paris. I use the metros and stuff and I walk around and I just feel like everyone is on vacation and it’s very strange.) But Mommy told me that she was really excited to tell people that I was in Paris for the New Year so I decided to make the best of it. 

We joined a million other people at la Tour Eiffel for the big occasion.  As you may know, the Eiffel Tower sparkles on the hour, every hour, every evening and it is, in fact, quite glamorous.  So we walked to the Champs de Mars pretty early to make sure we had a good view.  We were there for the 10 o’clock  and the 11 o’clock light shows.  Woohoo!! Here was our view:

But as midnight started getting closer, I started panicking a little bit because I’m used to the comfort of knowing that most people in America are watching the ball drop in Times Square (on TV duh), and I was positive that everyone around me had a different time on their smart phone.  So I was like WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN. WILL THERE BE FIREWORKS. WHY IS NO ONE ALLOWED TO CLIMB THE TOWER. ARE THEY GONNA THROW STUFF. WHY IS THE BRIDGE BLOCKED OFF. WILL THERE BE FIREWORKS THERE. DO WE HAVE ENOUGH CHAMPAGNE. ARE THE LIGHTS GONNA CHANGE COLOR. I was quite uneasy. But I was excited for all the possibilities! 

So it got closer and closer and I had my phone ready to take a video (classic me not being able to live in the moment — actually I took the video just so I could put in on here.) THEN ALL OF THE SUDDEN — it just started sparkling again.  People yelled and champagne bottles popped and some random fireworks shot off in a couple places. But…it was the same light show that we had seen at 10 and 11.   We had made friends with a Scottish couple next to us who had come down for the occasion and the woman was incredibly upset.  It was a little hard for me to sense her sadness because her accent was so cool, but I felt so bad that they had made such an event out of it, and all they got was the normal light show.  So again, I sound ungrateful.  But you have to understand that the Eiffel Tower, a place with SO MUCH POTENTIAL for an awesome countdown show…..was kind of a dud. Yes, it was awesome hearing everyone screaming and seeing her sparkle sparkle sparkle, but I was a little disappointed.  

We heard louder fireworks coming from behind us and we figured they were coming from the Champs Elysées. In fact, we had had to make the choice between Champs Elysées and the Eiffel Tower for the countdown, and it turns out we chose the wrong one.  Tim and I ventured over there afterwards and we were just lost in the sea of people out walking on the Paris streets. Now, that was awesome.  I might not like New Year’s that much, but I do admire other peoples’ appreciation for it. People were honking their horns and cheering and saying “Bonne Année!” all over the place! The cars were hopelessly stuck in traffic because as we found when we arrived at the Arc de Triomphe, they had blocked all of the Champs Elysées off from traffic! ANNA NOTE TO SELF, GOOGLE “NEW YEAR’S EVE IN ___________” NEXT YEAR BEFORE YOU GO THERE SO YOU DON’T MAKE ANOTHER STUPID MISTAKE. 

It was so cool. I’ve never seen that many people before.  The pictures don’t do it justice (I was also running on 3% battery with NO 3G to snapchat what I was witnessing) because there is nothing like standing at the Arc de Triomphe and looking straight down the Champs Elysées and just seeing straight PEOPLE. 

We walked the whole length of the street, from the Arc to the Place de la Concorde.  Everyone around us was in great spirits and that in turn made me really happy.  The only issue was how badly I needed to go to the bathroom and how UNavailable public toilets were.  But I figured it out. DON’T worry. 

We kept making our way and we even saw some motorcycle firefighters who had fire extinguishers strapped to the back of their bikes — it was so cool I made Tim take a picture (my phone had died.) It was quite the sight to see : (This picture actually looks exactly like the picture on the front of the giant box of Lindt chocolates - Champs Elysées edition- that is currently tempting me from 15 feet away)

Around 1:30 the police officers told us to move to the sidewalks because they were opening the street back up to traffic.  We were like uhhhhhhhhh okay. But 50 meters down the road we hopped the fence and got back into the street because we knew that, based on how many people were still in the street, they weren’t going to succeed any time soon.  

I was all excited by lights and the sights and the people everywhere, but I did start to get tired.  And not only was I tired but I was scared that the metros wouldn’t be working and that we would have to walk for 45 minutes to get back to the apartment. Luckily enough, they were running and the metro people weren’t even there so everyone just got in for free. SWEET. So we took the #12 from Concorde to Sèvres-Babylone. Then when we got off and started walking up the stairs, we heard a woman come down and tell all the people still waiting for the metro that there were no more coming. We got the last one!!!!!!! YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY. 

I think what bothers me most about New Year’s is that when I wake up the next morning, I don’t feel remarkably different.  I feel very much so the same.  The only thing that really changes is the date I have to write on my papers.  And considering I’m not in school yet, that has yet to become a burden. 

Okay so overall Paris for New Year’s Eve was pretty great.  After all…who can’t have fun in Paris for New Year’s? You have to be quite the scrooge to be able to say that it’s stupid. That might seem contradictory to what I said before about being disappointed by the Eiffel Tower, but I got over that once I saw all the people on the Champs Elysées. And, my disappointment was merely fractional compared to how awesome it was to have the opportunity to watch the Eiffel Tower shine to bring in 2014. And I guess I’ll just know for later and life (and this works for all of you too!): go to the Champs Elysées!!!

BONNE ANNÉE TOUT LE MONDE!!!