Sunday, June 19, 2011

A bientot!

See you soon!

I have fallen in love with Paris despite myself. Or should I say, despite Paris. Despite its street schemes and bad smells and crowds and terrible expense, I found myself sad to come in this evening after a celebratory farewell dinner on Montmartre. Maybe it's just leaving France, and Paris happens to be where I am.

I was telling Zack earlier that even though America has all my loved ones and my preferred cultural bases, its cities and towns just can't compare with the beauty and simplicity of those in France. And that's all right, really, I'd hate it if the world was the same all over, and the U.S. has a whole lot to offer in the way of natural beauty and extremes.

I hadn't thought much of leaving France when all my friends in Angers were, because while they were soon leaving for home, I was only leaving for Scotland, which is about as close to France, time-wise, as North Carolina is to Georgia. I am not so unhappy to be finally leaving, but to be so far away. There aren't any trains from Raleigh to Nantes, I'm afraid, or cheap Ryanair Flights.

It's not a total loss, however, as I'm trading one beauty for another-- history and towns, easy transportation and lovely restaurants, for the hugs of friends and family, the comforts of the South and of hot summers. I also think that the travel bug has finally been cured from me. I would have never, ever, ever jamais believed myself, but I think that maybe travelling and seeing the world is not the be-all end-all of living or of my goals.

As wonderful as it's been to be in Europe, being an impermanent resident and full-time tourist is too transitory; I see all these wonderful places, and leave absolutely no impact. That's not much of a legacy, and frankly it's a bit un-Christian. If my new life with Zachary calls me to be tied to one place for a while, it'll be a blessing, and not a burden.

So, as I prepare to turn in for a final night in France, I bid you all adieu and I thank you for your support since January. I also ask for your prayers for my gentle return home tomorrow, patience for my family. I hope I've kept you amused on this website, and I hope that I've been able to share with you just a bit of a secret view of France and her people, as well as what it's like to be a stranger in a welcoming, if at times unusual, land.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Carmical of Carmichael

On the eve of my birthday, I was trying to decide how best to celebrate all by my lonesome in the middle of Scottish farm territory without any way to call or Skype my loved ones for a birthday wish. Suddenly, the phone rang. I almost didn't pick it up. That can't be for me, I knew. But I picked it up anyway, in case somebody was looking for a runaway sheep or something.

On the other end was the best birthday surprise ever. The caller was Sarah Carmichael-Smith, daughter of the current (30th) Chief of Carmichael, Richard Carmichael of Carmichael, inviting me to dinner. Complete surprise, and total blessing! I immediately accepted, having long wanted to meet the chief of our most noble bloodline. :3

So on the night of the 15th, Sarah picked me up and drove me to the Carmichaels' house, where we ate a delicious meal complete with local ice cream and raspberries for dessert. Richard and Trish are really wonderful and surprising people; they're into orienteering and skiing, and seem extremely fit and vivacious, well-suited to the many demands of both the agricultural Estate and the historical, genealogical half of the job. Sarah is headed to the States soon, having married a Tennessean. Maybe I'll see her for some hiking this fall.

I had the best time, and it was a really fitting end to my visit at Carmichael--

The Estate is gorgeous, with big rolling hills and lots of wild animals. I saw a wild stag, doe, squirrels, hares beyond number, an adorable stoat, and at least 10 pheasants. I saw the massive, impressive ruins of Carmichael House (abandoned in 1950, after a stint as a nursing home and station for Polish officers during WWII) on the site of an older castle, climbed (almost) Carmichael Hill, saw Carmichael village and its ancient little church with lots of dead Carmichaels tucked around it, cooked venison and free-range eggs from the Estate, and walked myself sore.

Scotland is so lovely. I'll post pictures of Carmichael soon under "Faux Pas," as well as some on this post. I'll be leaving Scotland for Paris tomorrow, then home soon. Sigh, it's about time.

Best birthday abroad.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thistle Do Just Fine

                 Despite popular belief, even for most Scots, the thistle is not the national flower of Scotland. It is, in fact, the tiny bluebell. The reason the thistle is so prominently featured in Scottish heraldry and symbols is from a story, I’m not sure how anecdotal it is, that during a period of Viking raids, Scottish soldiers were sleeping peacefully in their tents one night when roving, rabid Vikings decided to sneak upon them as they snoozed. To be extra sneaky, the Vikings took off their noisy boots and proceeded barefoot, only to stumble through a field full of thistle and fall apart screaming like “wee lasses.” This awoke the Scots, who had enough time to arm themselves and drive the Vikings away. Hooray, thistle!
              I had been looking hard for fuzzy, purple thistle blooms on my tour, but didn’t see any, and the guide informed me that they aren’t flowering quite yet. The thistle is a sneaky plant however, and I just found out its defensive principles firsthand. I’ve checked into my cozy, 250 year-old cottage at the Carmichael Estate, and I decided to go out to snag some evening pictures of Tinto Hill in the distance. With bare shins I hopped over a little stone wall to walk a ways out into a field to get a clear shot, and after about ten feet, hit a nasty patch of either nettles or thistle. It felt like thirty little bees stinging each leg, and I yelped and limped back to the road towards my cottage. Luckily, my mom raised me to be resourceful, and I had a freshly used tea-bag cooling in the kitchen. I slapped it on the new pink welts rising on my skin like little ant hills, and thought that the story of the mighty Vikings squealing like girls was more plausible than I had previously considered.

               Last night I was in Edinburgh, and met some girls I had befriended on my Orkney trip at the Black Bull, where I split an appetizer of delicious, homey nachos, and an order of haggis and neeps & tatties (mashed turnips and ‘taters). Haggis, in case you haven’t been grossed out by the idea of it before, is sheep offal mixed with lots of spices. Basically, when butchers chop up mutton, they take the leftovers and make sausage. Then they take the sausage leftovers and make haggis. Traditionally, haggis was cooked inside the stomach of the sheep, though I don’t believe that’s the case anymore. Sounds gross, but is so delicious. So delicious, in fact, that I had it on a hot, fresh roll with bacon this morning before I hit up the National Museum of Scotland, which was so huge I gave up about halfway through the Reformation.
         Caught a bus from Edinburgh south, then another bus in Biggar to the Estate. It was blissfully easy, since when I got off the bus in Biggar, completely at a loss as to where to find the following connection, the 191 had rolled up just before. Whew. It let me off about a half mile past the visitor center, but right at the majestic Eagles Gates of Carmichael. Nifty! That meant I had to roll my little suitcase down the road a bit to check-in, but I passed right next to the field of deer that the Estate raises for meat. They gave me a funny welcome, and all turned to stare at me as I passed. The pamphlet says they’re “semi-tame.” After them was a sheep-field, and a ewe and her three triplets watched me until I passed. When sheep stare at you, you feel dumb, even though they’re adorable.

                The two employees of the Estate that I met were really friendly. A little old Scotsman in a cap drove me to the cottage since I “haven’t got any transport, have you, then?” and a younger woman in the gift shop threw in lots of free veggies when I picked up groceries, including a pack of Carmichael Estate venison mince, which I put in my spaghetti for dinner. Tast-a-licious, as Dad is wont to say.

               It’s 10 pm and there’s a full moon over Tinto Hill, but it’s still bright outside, looks like 7:30 or 8:00. In Orkney a few days ago, it wasn’t dark even at midnight. Just dark-er. I’d like to go out again to take photos, but it’s a bit windy and nippy, and I’m maybe 38 pictures away from completely filling up two 2-gig memory cards. Sheesh! I thought I had internet here in the cottage, via a modem, but I’m not able to connect, so I’ll be taking this post with me to Biggar or Lanark tomorrow to upload it when I find internet.

                So far, I’m seriously pleased with my ancestral homeland. It’s lovely, has rolling hills, gentle roads, and lots of furry, four-legged creatures. Tomorrow, I go out to find the ruined manor house, the ancient kirk (church), founded 1058 (though that building is certainly long-gone), and hopefully will pet some tame deer at the Carmichael Visitor Center. Since the 15th is my 21st birthday, I think I’ll use that day to hike Tinto Hill, if the weather’s nice. On the photographs I’d seen, it didn’t look so big, but now that I’m closer, it looks pretty intimidating, and I can only think of how frequently the weather changes here from warm to chilly and wet.

               I know this is ages long, but it’s a full update, and I don’t know when I’ll get another one! Be scanning my Facebook for photos and maybe even videos. Haste ye back!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Wee Cheeky Tour

Just back from a 5 day HAGGiS Adventures tour, woot! I want to upload lots and lots of photos for you, but my current hostel in Edinburgh is seriously, seriously ghetto. I'm afraid the computer will eat my memory card. Glad I'm only staying one night and I'm leaving early in the morning.

The tour was super sweet; we went all the way up to the Orkney Isles, staying in Inverness along the way. Saw some of Scotland's many (many, many, many) war memorials, including Culloden Battlefield and Glencoe. Saw a few puffins and seals in Orkney, Loch Ness (but no Nessie) earlier today, and last night did some serious Highland dancing in a place called Hootananny's in Inverness. I hadn't realized how close traditional Scottish music and bluegrass really are.

Tonight, I'll be meeting back up with two Canadian friends I made on the trip to try haggis for dinner. I'm a wee bit excited. Tomorrow I leave for Carmichael, where internet may be hard to come by. We shall see. In any event, I plan on finding a phone recharge card tonight.

Before I sign off, something I've noticed that's pretty ubiquitous in each and every country I've been to: not McDonald's, not Starbucks, not even Coca Cola. Claire's. Claire's, the little girls cheap nickel-plated accessory store where I spent approximately 1/4 of my developing years. There was on in Angers, Paris, Dublin, Brussels, Edinburgh, and I think Rome, too. They are everywhere.

I also want, before I sign off, to introduce my American compatriots to the Dyson Air Blade, a fantastic invention for swiftly drying one's hands:

pretty nifty.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mais quand reverrai-je?

Mais quand reverrai-je, de mon petit village, fumer la cheminée et en quelle saison? 

So this will be my last official "Leah in Angers" post, since I will be leaving Angers shortly, though I will continue to update until I get back home and settled in.

As promised, a little pro-con list for the US and France. Click to open in a new page, readable size.

One more night to sleep in my comfortable, on-the-floor bed (almost all of us students have on-the-floor beds), one more breakfast of yogurt, maybe one more tour about town, one more sunny hour in the garden where Zachary proposed to me, one more wistful look at the castle (I could totally have been a princess), and maybe, I suppose, a farewell to my host family. At least to Patrick, whom you know from our rugby conversation a few months ago.

I have a little Ready-to-Go-Home playlist that includes "Carolina on My Mind" by James Taylor, "Lucky" by Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait, "Home" by Michael Buble, and this song, based on a poem by an Angevine writer, that I'll post below.

Part of the lyrics and chorus translate as "But when will I see my poor house again? It’s a whole province to me, and more. The homeland my ancestors created is better than the Romans’ audacious palaces, fine ardoise (slate typical of Anjou) more than marble. My Gallic Loire is more pleasing than the Latin Tiber, my petit Liré more than the Palatine Hill, and Angevine sweetness more than ocean air. But when will I see my little village again, to light my chimney, and what season will it be? But when will I see it again?" 

And that's about as much sappiness as I'll tolerate over leaving Angers. I suppose when I quit France (in two weeks, in Paris), I'll write some something about what I've learned here and what I'll miss, but honestly, I am so ready to go. I hate that Liana and Amy are staying in Angers for a little while, and aren't coming with me on another adventure (to Scotland), but I'll see them again in the States. We'll have more Aventures des Filles.

As for now, getting out of Angers means I am just that closer to my Scotland dream, and to all those who love me and have missed me at home. Especially Zachary, because it irks me to no end that I wasn't home for his birthday, and that he isn't here to explore Europe with me. 

So long, Angers! Thanks for everything. Thanks for being too old to remember me once I leave, because I want you to stay just the way you are, with your 700 year old cathedral and castle, with your little shops and your slow-moving river. I probably won't ever be back, but that doesn't mean I won't remember you fondly.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

J'en ai marre!

J'en ai marre du chaleur, j'en ai marre des gens qui me demande qqch de manger ou de l'argent, j'en ai marre des millions des petits insectes PARTOUT, j'en ai marre des arguments dans la maison, et j'en ai marre des dragueurs. NON, je ne veux PAS sortir avec vous, monsieur, parce que vous avez 20 ans de plus que moi! Et non, autre monsieur, vous ne pouvez pas avoir mon 'mail' au lieu de mon numero de telephone. Non, non, non!

Angers, c'est pas un bon jour aujourd'hui. En fait, il fait trop chaud, trop de bruit, et j'ai toujours peur de E. Coli. Il me reste un jour et demi. C'est tout. J'espere que demain passera mieux.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sky Tracks

Lately, I've really liked watching plane tracks in the sky above Angers. There seem to be so many of them! Instead of making me sad about leaving France, they make me feel good that so many people are zipping around the world, exploring and moving (and that none of them have dropped out of the air above me yet).

I spent today poolside with Liana and Amy, and took a very long walk home, strolling down the impossibly long, tree-lined Avenue Jean d'Arc that I had somehow missed until today. Maybe it was all the time I was by myself, or maybe it was because I had too much sun, but I got the idea into my head that I might as well go ahead and quit Angers.

The fact is, I'm done with classes, so each day passes super slowly. I've been all over town, multiple times, and the temptation to shop is much too strong considering my current budget, which I've demoted from "intrepid, economical world traveler" to "hopeful vagabond." The idea of Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and part of Monday stretching out before me with absolutely nothing to do while my buddies start leaving was abysmal. So I went home, packed up, made a spontaneous hostel reservation, and now I'm in Paris.

Not. I wish. I still have one grammar exam to take, tomorrow at 10:15. But the idea is so nice..... And despite myself, Angers has somehow, sneakily, made itself feel like home. (Well, maybe not home, because I won't be unhappy to go, but made itself "normal life." When I get back, I'll have to re-normalize America). I think it started when I got back from Paris in March, and Angers felt so familiar after the hustle-bustle of the world's most glittering city. I don't know how it happened, though. It's certainly not like I have family here, or that my house has been especially pleasant or comfortable, and it's not like I know that many Angevins. Really, Claire is the only person I'll be leaving behind in Angers, as my other friends are all heading back to America (or China, Sweden, and Nova Scotia).

I won't be sad to say goodbye to Angers, necessarily, but I will be sad to say goodbye to living in France. I think I'll miss the familiarity of the streets and my habits, the easiness of finding a friend to have a picnic with, and the fact that there's an immense castle 20 minutes walking from my house. I won't post a sad, goodbye-Angers post on here, but I probably will do a Fraco-American pros and cons chart before I leave.

Thanks for sticking with me this far, family and friends! Monday I leave for the "land o' the Highland devil, land o' the shining river," and internet may or may not be available to me while I'm there. I'm finally getting excited to go; I hope my Carmichael cousins are nice. I'll recognize them by their big foreheads.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At A Loss

My host father passed away, and I'm not entirely sure what to do.

My host-uncle spoke to me about the anticipated possibility two days ago, and I mentioned that if it arose, the Chinese girls and I could seek lodging elsewhere to make things easier for the family. He was quick to tell me not to, however, because having us here would help keep life normal for his mom, and it would be very stressful for her to have us all leave.

But now we're in a pickle (at least, I am. I'm not sure if anybody's told the girls what's happened, yet, or if they've picked up on it. I was coming up the stairs with Kim when I saw the brothers in suits outside their father's room. "Fais pas de bruit"). I want to be as respectful as possible to the family, to make as little noise and fuss as possible, and to stay out from underfoot, but these are my last days here, and that's a little difficult. I need to shower downstairs, need to pack, need to pay rent, need to cook at night, and I have no earthly idea what to say to Mme. Bouhet if and when I bump into her. I'd barely know what to say in English, much less in French.

And should I buy flowers? I don't want to pretend like nothing's happened, because that's immature, but I don't know how to go about things. Even though I've lived here for five months, I'm not close to the family, but I can't go anywhere else to give them space, either. A death in the family is a very intimate affair, one in which I have no part, but can't escape. It's the equivalent and polar opposite of living with newly-weds; you empathize as much as possible, but then you want to be out and away because the emotions don't belong to you and are, frankly, a little stifling.

I leave for Scotland in six days. I don't want to leave France, but I will be very glad to leave this house behind. I only wish that I had somebody here to walk me to the train station so I can say goodbye to someone other than the empty platform with the ANGERS sign. Forgive me for seeming moody; it's conflicting to have such a beautiful day outside and somberness inside, on top of conflicting emotions on leaving France/returning home.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finalizing France

Today is the last day of classes for CIDEF students, so it's bitter sweet. Kim and I had expression orale this morning at eight, and the professor told us to bring breakfast snacks for a party. I made PB&J as a cultural exchange food, and our French prof and Chinese classmate each tried some, though I couldn't figure out what their consensus on it was; the French don't really do peanut butter. Kim, however, put away quite a few. Champ!

The only thing I have left is 2 hours of Grammar, yuck, then tomorrow starts exams (yes, Saturday tomorrow. The socialists who run the bureaucracy have no problem giving everybody 6 weeks of paid vacation, but apparently that doesn't apply to foreign students on a weekend). So I have to study, study, study, say goodbye to my wonderful parents (who are returning this evening from the Mont St Michel, hopefully bearing a wee giftie for their globe trotting yet financially-disadvantaged daughter), and try to squeeze in as much time with friends as I can before I leave.

Expect a nifty France pros and cons list sometime soon, now that I've begun to figure out how everything works. I think I made one shortly after my arrival, but I can now update it with a little authority and hopefully erase previous prejudices and misunderstandings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Parents Are Troglodytes

(meaning cave-dwelling peoples; has nothing to do with the level of embarrassment my dad might try to bestow upon me)

My parents are in France, and apart from a nightmarish experience on French highways, are supremely enjoying themselves. I am also supremely enjoying their visit, because I haven't had to buy a meal for myself almost all week! Hooray cheaps!

About an hour ago, we finished up a delicious meal at a soufflérie, a place that specializes in soufflés. Mine was basically a pizza-flavored egg cloud, scooped from a low-lying mass of fog above Sicily, I believe. It was delicious. This restaurant has obviously served Americans before, because they brought us carafe d'eau (pitcher of water) after carafe d'eau. After a long day in


we were ready for the hydration. In Saumur, a nifty town outside of Angers 20 minutes by train, we went to a wine cave. Saumur is built almost entirely on, of, and in tuffeau stone, a soft, limestone like material. This particular cave (2 km of cave, actually) dates from the 1500s, when the soft stone underground was needed to construct Saumur's castle and big houses. The cave had been storing wine for this particular wine family since 1859; the name of the company is Louis Grenelle, and makes sparkling wines (not champagne, as saying 'champagne' puts you under big copyright penalties with the EU).

We had a little bit of a time crunch, so the kind bilingual guide let us have the wine tasting first. She only poured us very, very narrow, small glasses, and I think we only tried four wines. I, however, had not had enough water this morning, and it was probably 80 plus degrees in Anjou today, so I had sweat profusely on the way to the cave. What's more, I drank them all one right after the other, so about two minutes after she took away our last glasses, I was thoroughly amused by all the nifty little wine how-to displays that you could sniff, touch, lift, etc. I don't think I was the only Carmical who was having an unusually good time, however, because I noticed my Dad was taking the rail-less stairs rather carefully.

After dinner, we met with my good friend Claire for about a half hour, and my parents and I marveled over how she is the sweetest person ever, and wondered how French people ever got the reputation for being unwelcoming to foreigners. Quite the contrary, at least outside of Paris.

But then again, are Parisians really French themselves? They're in a league of their own, I think, but it seems like they're the only team in it. Maybe they get together with New Yorkers on holidays and take turns wearing impossible shoes while blatantly smoking on the metro.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Maman et Papa

My parents arrived today! hooray!

I'm so excited to show them Angers. Now I've got to think about how to talk them into a little 21st birthday shopping. Dad will probably point out that I'm celebrating that birthday abroad, in France, a venture that is already funded by my parents. This is a minor detail.

Last week of classes before exams. Two weeks before departure to Scotland. Four weeks before return home to the the United States. The wedding bug is biting me really hard, and without specifying exactly where it's biting (this is a family website, after all), let's just use the French word: derrière.

Ready for action.
I have to shrug off that future for now, though. First, I plan on thoroughly enjoying this week with my Mom and Dad, having as much fun with my friends as possible before they go, and seriously studying for my exams. After, it's Scotland or bust, baby. I've already made reservations with Chief Carmichael of Carmichael to visit the Carmichael Estate. Life dream FULFILLED, or about to be. I've even got my tartan scarf ready to go and everything. Better work on my Gaelic before I go.

Correction: Better work on my French before exams. Bleaugh!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L'hostess avec le mostess

Remember when I wrote that post about how wonderful it is to be taken in by strangers? Well, neither do I. It might very well have been an assignment for Langue class. Anywho, you never really know a country until you've been taken in by its citizens in their homes, and France certainly wins the blue ribbon for Best Hosts Ever (including a sweeping landslide in the subcategories of Friendliest Invite, Most Thoughtful Gestures, and Most Welcoming Conversation).

My French friend Claire had me over to her apartment today for lunch, and was so wonderful to me. She made sure I had lots to eat, including bonbons and un gouter of an after-lunch red wine, loaned me lots of French poetry books, and even though to fill my water bottle up before I left. Mme. Soleil, whose family so warmly invited me to lunch a month or so ago, was the same, inviting me to play hide and seek (cache-cache) with the family, driving me all the way back to my house, and insisting that I come back at least once before I leave.

Our friends in Marseilles were equally generous, sending us off to see the city with lots of maps, tourist books, and advice, and seeing us off to Italy with way too many snack foods and hugs. Hooray!

So don't let anybody tell you the French are a distant or anti-guest people; it's just not the case. Sure, when you pass tons of strangers on the street and none of them smile at you, it seems very different, but it doesn't mean that if you suddenly found yourself without recourse they wouldn't jump to help you, or maybe even pour you a big glass of cidre and want to know whether or not you think that France is prettier than England (you always answer this yes).

I find as I get closer to leaving France, I get more sentimental. Today, I'm sad to be leaving the incredibly sweet people that have helped me acclimate to this lovely country.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Civilized Country

Dear Ireland,

Thank you for having accessible toilets that I never had to pay for. Thank you for not letting your dogs poo on the streets. Thank you for calling me 'love' and hiring only the friendliest bus drivers. Thank you for having gentle rain. Hope to see you again one day!

Don't throw things at Queen E-II when she visits this week.


St. Patrick's Cathedral
This weekend, Anna and I packed up our little backpacks, took a train to Nantes, and flew to Dublin. Hooray! First English-speaking country since I left the States, though English is the operative word here. I honestly thought that most of the Irish people around me were speaking Gaelic for a good, long while until I realized, that if I listened closely, it was English. Or at least the same vocabulary and sentence structure.

On Friday, we piddled around for the most part, checked into our hostel, and toured Dublin on foot. It reminded me a lot of Brussels, lots of brick and brownstone town houses, easy city-layout, not very touristy, so there were no obnoxious street vendors, and lots of double decker buses (not in Brussels, though). The food in Dublin ended up being much, much better than I could have hoped (sorry, I've eaten at lots of Highland Games with traditional Celtic fare, and it's blander than your grandma's trip to Martha's Vineyard). We ate fish 'n' chips in Dublin's oldest fish 'n' chips shop, delicious Victorian sponge cake, and my ultimate favorite, a massive, thick, Guiness 'n' beef (the Irish don't believe in ampersands) stew with soda bread. OM NOM NOM. (In Gaelic, nomma nomma omm).

Saturday was the game-topper, though. On the suggestion of a friend of Anna, we quit the city for the countryside, taking two buses out to Newgrange, one site of a long series of ancient passageway tombs. Easily the best decision I've made on a vacation in Europe. We got to see book-Ireland, and it was just as pretty as I could have dared hope. Lush green hills were sweetly parceled out between dark hedgerows, but with a wilder, more forested feel than the carefully manicured fields and woods of France. When we got off the bus at the tomb, we were way up on a hill, and could see out to the misty horizon. It was windy, fresh, and we could smells cows, green, and rain. Both of us girls were blissfully content. I think we would have settled down if some farmer had opened his house to us.

Entrance, Newgrange
Beautiful. Newgrange, the tomb itself, ought not be overlooked either. I wish I could take the time to describe it for you, because it surely doesn't look like much, but 5,000 years of staying power and ingenuity in the field of astrological engineering is quite impressive. Our group went way into the tomb to see a simulation of what happens on the day of the Winter solstice. The guide cut the lights, and it was the darkest dark I've ever been in, just like people describe when they go into mines. You open your eyes, and there's an altogether unnerving and exhilarating feeling of having absolutely no depth perception. I have lots of respect for my way-way-way-way back ancestors, now, who built all these megaliths even before the pyramids. You'd think they'd have enough to worry about what with mini ice-ages and all. Guess not.

Back in Dublin, we saw the National Gallery (got my Vermeer fix), ate too much (bliss), the Dublin Writer's Museum (in case you didn't see it while you were in Dublin, James Joyce wrote about it. Occasionally.) where C.S. Lewis was painfully absent (not Irish enough for you, Dublin?), lots of neat gardens, and your general European city sights, like churches, the castle, etc. Unfortunately did not get to see Trinity College, as it was closed for the Queen's upcoming visit. Sigh.

Finished reading The Poisonwood Bible on the trip. Excellent book. We landed in Tours to take the train back to Angers, and planned our trip to give us a few hours in Tours before making it back in time for translation class. After being in Tours, I came to a realization: if you have ever been in a French city, I can tell you exactly what it looked like, even without being there myself. See below:
Didn't look like that? Okay. See below:
Cities that fit this rubric: Angers, Paris (Louvre used to be the castle, remember?), Tours, Nantes, Nice, etc. Saumur, too, probably. It's at least handy, because when we got to Tours, we really wanted to see the castle, and I knew that if we could head towards the easily visible huge cathedral (gorgeous, too, PS), we'd end up by the river (we did) and the castle would be nearby (it was). So there you have it, you'll never get lost in France again.
Next week marks my last week at CIDEF before exams, and Sunday marks my parents arrival. HOORAY! Then, I'll be having one last grand adventure before readventuring in the beautiful, hot, summertime South (of the States, not France). Hopefully everything goes well, especially studying. Ick. One of my Chinese roommates was nice enough to come warn me not to get sick, because Clopinette's sleeping on my bed. Apparently, Clopinette was in the other girl's room, and sneezed a lot, and now the other girl is sick, too. I didn't laugh, but I wanted to. I knew that if I laughed at their cat-human transmissible cold, France's gypsy magic would strike me with an even worse cold. 

See the whole batch of photos via my Facebook. The album is labeled, surprisingly enough, "Dublin."

PS: Michelle from Texas, who will be arriving in Angers May 20, let me know if you'd like to get a coffee sometime! Or at least a croissant. I'm always down for a croissant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Les Tourists

Can you identify the two Americans?

I excited la Catho today via the front gate, where the city of Angers has thoughtfully placed a good number of benches, recycling dumpsters, and a public urinal for civilian necessities. Seated across from each other on two beaches were four American parents. How did I know? EASY. The women, though they weren't dressed in the typical "American tourist" stereotype, looked like maybe they were bank tellers or office ladies on break from somewhere in the South or Mid-West, and they also had bobs (not French) of lovely blonde hair (only bottle blondes here, and mostly in the younger set). 

Their men folk, seated across from them, were wearing Dockers shorts and tee shirts (green and safety orange, respectively). Mr. Orange shirt had on some sort of hiking shoes, maybe Merrils, and Mr. Green shirt was wearing white athletic shoes with white high socks. They were the #1 and #2 most casual men I've seen in France. 

Seeing the couples made me realize just what people mean when they talk about American garb making Americans stand out, and why people poke fun at us so much because of our white athletic shoes. But you know what? Je m'en fiche! I don't care! Lord bless them and their white socks and sensible shoes. Know why? Because they're comfortable. Why are they wearing tee shirts? Because it's hot out. Why the shoes? Because as tourists, they're going to walk a lot, and they don't want blisters to ruin their trip. Why the bank teller pants and coordinating top? Because they want to feel comfortable.

I understand that when you dress dressier all the time, that becomes normal, and maybe in a cultural way, it's equivalent to jeans and tennis shoes, but I just don't understand why French women aren't suffering from massive podiatrial issues, because the girls only wear flats (terrible, terrible for your feet) or high heels. Maybe it's why all the women over 60 have massive cankles (Megan and I have confirmed this). And when my feet are hot, I just want to wear flip-flops without feeling like a hobo.

So I salute you, American tourists of the world. Sure, you're making yourself more open to pick-pocketing and snickering, but you stand firm against the snobisme of society and you wear your New Balances with pride. So maybe your photos will look a little dated, at least you won't spend the evening with bags of frozen vegetables taped to your feet. (I do draw the line, however, at bucket hats and fanny packs. Some things just ought not be brought out in public.)

In a weird kind of way, you guys make me proud.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Summer Time (And the Choosin' is Easy)

Still on the fence about my rapidly approaching summer. I want to go to Carmichael so bad, but seeing as
a) I'm living on my personal funds currently (my parents will not miss the irony in how my weekly budget has dropped by 35%)
b) I've got a wedding next year
c) the cheapest lodge/cabin for rent at the Carmichael estates magically booked half the week I wanted RIGHT as I was looking at it, including my birthday date.
I might only be able to make it for a trip, or maybe not go at all. But if I don't go, why did I work so hard all last year to save up to go? And when will I go again? And what will I do with my nifty Scotland guide?

So maybe I'll just go to a cheaper place, a big city like Glasgow or Edinburgh, and only pay a visit to the family lands.

I'm also heavily considering WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for the week before my birthday. It's not that I've been in Asheville so long that I'm an organic freak, but in exchange for various types of help around a farm, a family will put you up and feed you for a week for free. Sounds like an excellent way to polish off my French before I head home.

Oh, and did you see the W word up there?? Wedding, wedding, wedding, wedding, wedding. I wish I could put little music notes around it.

This weekend, I'm headed to Dublin. I kind of forgot about it in all the Spring Break excitement (and ensuing shenanigans). The weekend following, Ma and Pa will be making the transatlantic voyage to Angers. HOO. RAY! I cannot wait to see them. Should be noteworthy.

In other news, the fiance is out on his long-awaited two-week storm chase extravaganza in the Great Plains. He's currently in South Dakota, I believe, and just met his storm chasing hero Reed Timmer who was staying at the same motel. I'm a little jealous, to be honest. I've never been out West, save one trip to Colorado. Makes no sense to be jealous while I'm still in beautiful France, though!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Promise to Keep

I promised all the wonderful friends who asked that I would update about my Spring Break journey, but I cannot and will not try to tell the whole entire story. I tried that with Zack over Skype, and before I was through talking about Sardinia, I could see anxious beads of sweat rolling down his forehead, and by the time I finished talking about how we missed our train to Angers because the Brussels connection was late, he was very politely hiding the fact that he was asleep.

So! In lieu of a novella, I'm going to post 2 photos and their accompanying tales from each city. S'il vous plait, profitez-vous!

NANTES & MARSEILLES (stop-over cities)
 In Nantes, there was a giant, mechanical elephant, steampunk ingenuity at its best. For a fee, you could ride it, but it moved about as quick as my sister on a school morning. We tromped all over Nantes trying to find it, and finally, there it was! A majestic man-made beast on the horizon.

We stayed an overnight in Marseilles after leaving Nice to catch our flight to Sardinia. We had a long time to wait the day of our flight, and some members of the group wanted to go see the infamous Chateau d'If of The Count of Monte Cristo fame. But I could tell that Megan wasn't too keen on the idea, and I wasn't so much either, because of the ferry fee, so we decided to split and take a day on the beach. This was our first and last sandy beach of the trip, as Nice was pebbly and Cagliari was a rainy mess. Though it was a Wednesday, lots of families were at the seaside, including these two cute little girls who remind me of my sisters.

If you remember, I got super sick the Wednesday before break. I was still sick by the time we got to Nice, and it was no fun at all. I'd get really hungry, but because I hadn't eaten anything but liquids for three days, my stomach had shrunk. I'd feel full quickly, and then hungry an hour later, and then sick an hour after that. But who do I see just a block outside the train station in Nice? A handsome Southern gentleman with a friendly smile and helpful demeanor. Yes, the Colonel himself had arrived in France. In a moment of weakness, I bought a chicken sandwich, breaking my vow to not eat American fast-food while abroad. It was surprisingly spicy, and cured me of all intestinal distress. I will not take Kentucky for granted ever again.

Okay, I know I promised only two pictures per city, but I couldn't pick for Nice. Instead of telling a story, here are three photos: Roman ruins, Veille Ville (Old Town), and the beach. Click to enlarge.

CAGLIARI, SARDEGNA (Sardinia, Italy)
 When we arrived in Cagliari (have I already told  this story?), we found a sketchy green box labled BUS that would, in theory, dispense bus tickets in exchange for euro coins. I looked at it, and intuitively knew it wouldn't work. After eating $2.70 of Liana's money, it quit. We approached the only English speaking person in the tiny airport, a tourism desk clerk, and he assured us that we could buy tickets from the bus driver. Then he called us back to the desk, because he wasn't sure the bus driver would speak any English. He wrote up this classy sign for us-- La macchina dei bigglietti e fuori servizio/the ticket machine is out of order. We took our humble sign and our 3 words of Italian (grazi, bongiorno, ciao) and stood out in the rainy, disappointing mist to wait for the bus that would hopefully take us to hot steaming plates of pasta in downtown Cagliari. It did, but we got charged a 2 euro bread tax, a 2 euro service tax, and a liter of water, because we were informed that even the locals don't drink from the tap in Sardinia.

Sardinia turned out to be a rainy, dreary mess, in what was supposed to be our tropical beach destination. I would like to direct you now to a map of Europe-- WorldEuropeCountriesMap Please note Belgium. Please note Cagliari, on the large pink island, and its proximity to Tunisia. Try, if you can, to imagine that Brussels, Belgium was much, much warmer and had 4 times the sunshine. As such, we had to amuse ourself with indoor, cultural activities. Luckily, it was Holy Week, and the Sardinians take Holy Week very, very seriously, with services and processionals every single day, sometimes multiple times a day, in traditional dress or liturgical costume. Here's a shot of a Good Friday processional during the afternoon::: Nikki and I attended an Easter Sunday Mass in Cagliari, and if I thought Catholic Mass in France was out of my element, I had much to be dissorted by in Cagliari's cathedral. It was lovely, though, and I wouldn't trade the experience.

Technically, we visited Monaco while we were in Nice, but I forgot to include it and I don't want to mess up the delicate positioning of my photos and text. Here's a shot from Monaco, where the toilets self-clean and rotate their seats, where you can park your SmartCar next to a Ferrari, where entrance to a snazzy poker tournament will run you one million euro, and where British tourists show a very unpleasant side of themselves when boarding buses.

AHHHHHHHHHHHH DREAM COME TRUE. I love, and have always loved, ancient history. I think it's probably the only childhood fascination that I haven't dropped as I've gotten older (lost contenders include dolphins, architecture, being marooned). As such, Rome was epic, despite the rain that followed us from Sardinia and deluged everyday promptly at 5:30. I already talked about my distressing (yet satisfying) incident in the Colosseum, so I won't go into that site, and I'll just say that the Roman Forum next door was full of neat surprises and much bigger remains that I could have hoped for.

I spent most of my time at the Vatican running around with my camera, breathlessly asking no-one in particular "They keep that here!?" I knew the Vatican had some sweet stuff in it, but there were so many surprises I had neglected to research! I was with Amy most of the time, and I'm sure she probably got exasperated with me saying "Woah, it's that! They keep that in the Vatican!" and frittering off in a new direction. Surprises inside: Laocoon and His Sons, School of Athens, and my all time favorite sculpture, La Pieta. Saw the Sistine Chapel, lots of other famousness, and St. Peter's Big, Beautiful Basilica. Was hoping to see more relics, maybe they keep those underground, like Dan Brown says.

Only 3 of us went to Belgium, and we were only there for two nights, but it ended up being my favorite city. It was the cleanest, the best laid-out, and the cheapest to eat in. The people were probably the nicest here, and it wasn't overly touristy, because, let's face it, a vegetable-named city isn't high on most people's bucket list. Pictured are all the Belgian specialties I ate; waffles with various toppings, frites, and delicious, delicious chocolates. Attentative (is that a francophone adjective?) readers will note that I have not listed Belgian beer, which is supposedly the best in the world, though we did go on a cheap brewery tour in the city. Each thing pictured cost about 2 euro. The chocolate on the far right was a violet-flavored concoction, delicieuse.

Wait! Before you assume that I'm being crass, let me assure you that this is something exceedingly cultural. This kitschy little fountain is the Manneken Pis, probably the most famous toddler in Brussels. He has over 800 outfits (stored in the City Museum), is on almost every postcard and keychain, and no chocolatier worth his salt (cacao?) is without a box of miniature, edible, peeing boys. I even saw one enterprising shop that had constructed a larger than life Manneken Pis that, how to put this delicately... was equipped(?) to expel chocolate sauce. The Belgians don't seem to take themselves too seriously, and that's all right with me.

Ciao, for now!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gauls in Rome

Once again, I have only 30 minutes on the hostel computer, so I dont have time to tell you what I've actually been up to, only time for a short story. Two, in fact.

are for the most part very, very sweet, if peculiar. But so far, this rule does not hold outside of France.

When the girls and I were in a massive line for the Colosseum on Monday, a French couple ended up behind me and Liana. RIGHT behind us. It was very crowded in the line, but not Disney World crowded, yet this couple insisted on pressing up against our backs, using our shoulders as tables for their maps, and, worst of, constantly constantly constantly kissed each other. It was really noisy, gross, and obnoxious, especially because they stood so close that I felt like I was part of the action, only they weren't paying me.

We kept griping about how gross it was, and tried to push back against them without being rude, but nothing worked. After 15 minutes of having this couple all over my back and in my ear, I turned around and snapped "S'il vous plait, un peu d'espace!!" (A little space, please!)

They were taken aback, because they had assumed we didn't understand them, and I was taken aback, too, because they were in their 40s or 50s, way too old not to know better.

The man tried to offer me some lame excuse like "hey, it's really crowded, is this your first time in a line?" But I responded "Vous faites ca depuis quelque minutes!"  (you've been doing that for some time!)

Even though they were complaining under their breath in French, they were embarrassed and drifted away from our group, thankfully. Ugh.

No time for the other story, I'm sorry! It's equally annoying, and I had to get gruff in French. French people, like Americans, should not assume that nobody knows their language.

Today is our shopping day in Rome! HOOORAY! I plan on buying one dress and 10 cannoli.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Short Sardinian Story

while I get ready for the shuttle that takes me downtown Rome to visit the Vatican today, I want to tell you a brief incident from Cagliari. I have to dive straight in the middle, forgive me, because I know youll have questions. Will answer later!

In Cagliari, we made a friend named Giovanni, who invited us one night to an authentic home style meal. He also let us use his computer for a minute, which was a huge blessing, because Cagliari had no sun, no internet, and about as much English.

Im on his computer checking my email (sorry, there are no apostrophes or hyphens on this Italian keyboard) when Nikki walks in with something in her mouth.
"Im eating horse," she tells me.
"Well, is it good?"
"Its tough, but tastes all right" and she walks out.

Horse, I think, I can handle that. When we sit down at the table, Giovanni puts down a huge, enormous plate of pasta. He reaches into his fridge, and pulls out some sort of oil to drizzle over the pasta. It didnt look very sanitary. Then he artfully sprinkled on some parmesan and something red and grainy.

We all sit down to eat, and the pasta is delicious. Another traveler, Daniel from Miami, is also eating with us, and he puts a slab of horse on my plate. I was hoping to avoid it, but I figured that at least it was well done, so it wasnt going to kill me. It was pretty good, actually.

Were happily munching away on pasta when Giovanni thrusts the jar of red grainy stuff under Daniels nose and says "Smell dees"
"Smells pretty strong, what is it?"
"Eets feesh eggs."
And I break out in a cold sweat, because those fish eggs appeared to have been sitting in his fridge for quite some time, and were not properly heated before being added to our pasta. But it was too late, I had already eaten everything.

We begin to talk about traditional Sardinian food with Giovanni, and he mentions a very traditional cheese that has live worms in it.
"When eets fraish," he says, "the worms, they jump."
I had heard of this cheese before, even seen it on television, but I had misremembered it as being French. Daniel expressed great disbelief over this cheese, when suddenly, Giovanni remembered that he had a hunk in the back of his fridge. This should have been an alarm, and I would also like to take this time to note that the water in Sardinia is not potable.

He offers Daniel a piece with a little worm in it. Daniel does not want to eat, and is trying very hard to politely decline, but you cannot decline food from a Sardinian. He finally eats it, and declares that it is "2 to 3 times stronger than Roquefort". When Gio offers a worm free piece to Nikki, and she declines, I quickly snatch it up, in fear of having a wormy piece being offered to me.

It was indeed stronger than Roquefort, but less horsey. Not too bad. I say so.
"No," says Gio, "Eets not so good. Eets not fraish, eets old. Eet is from June."
Me: "WHAT?!"
"Yees, is from June. Eets okay, worms keep from being toxic."
And I was immediately sad because I had not told my mother I loved her before eating. I was positive I was about to reach the end of my culinary expeditions, along with all my other life expeditions, in some forgotten corner of Sardinia.

But, I made it to Rome, and so far, my stomach has been totally happy. Its probably all the cannolis.

Vatican time! Love you!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sardinia Part 2

Cagliari is better than originally expected. Am currently in Rome, with very limited internet. I wish I could update, I have so much to tell. Unfortunately, it hasnt stopped raining since we left Nice. Really annoying, but everybodys  chipper all the same.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nice Part Two

Brief update from the Villa St. Exupery Gardens hostel. 

Nice is gorgeous. The beach is really pebbly, but the pebbles are big and comfortable, and believe it or not, actually made my back feel much much better after 3 days of laying in bed and 2 days of traveling. The water is GORGEOUS, it's turquoise and shallow and inviting, but deceptively so, as it's still too cold to swim.

Yesterday, we saw Old Nice, laid out on the beach, ate too much ice cream, and, my favorite,explored Roman ruins. YEEEEEEEES. So happy. Ecstatic, even.

Getting tired of French food. It's delicious, but there's just no variety. Every sandwich shop has the same 8 sandwiches. Every restaurant has the same pizzas and salads. Every panini place has the same 8 paninis. I'm sure if I was willing to pay more than 20 euro for a meal, I'd change my tune, but that's not a good idea at the moment. 

I'm also really, really tired of French wait service. They take your order, they bring your food, and then they disappear for an hour. They don't even swing by where you can catch their eye. Because of this, I'm always thirsty, because my tiny little French glass of tap water never gets refilled, and the one, single carafe they bring for our table is gone in a few minutes between the five of us. Sigh. Megan says that's why tips are included in France, because otherwise waiters wouldn't get any money. They certainly wouldn't from me.

Caved the day before yesterday and I bought a chicken sandwich at KFC. Before you judge me, I haven't had a single bite of American fastfood or anything since I arrived in January, unless you count an ice cream. I was still off my feed, so to speak, all the way from Wednesday, Angers, to Sunday in Nice, and everytime I thought about a French meal option, I got queasy. I just couldn't take anything else diary, on a baguette, or with weird mustard sauce. So I ordered a small chicken sandwich, and it was fried, crispy, spicy, and everything wonderful about Colonel Sanders' fine establishment. Since that sandwich, I haven't been sick. Coincidence? Nay nay.

In a recent change of plans, we've decided to add another soveriegn nation to our destination list. Monaco is only a 3 euro bus ride away, so we're making it our afternoon day trip today. We won't be able to afford anything, we've already checked, but we can look for free. Between you and me, though, faithful readers, there's a 35 euro, 20 minute Ferrari tour that you can take around Monaco, 70 if you want to drive.  I would totally do that if I was solo.

Amy and I are headed to breakfast downstairs! More another day!


Sunday, April 17, 2011


Made it safely from Angers to Nantes to Marseilles to Nice. My hostel is wonderful, and all the girls arrived safely with me, but I am absolutely pooped. I woke up at 4:30 this morning and probably did 8 miles today.

Will update later. Love you!


Saturday, April 16, 2011


has arrived! be back in 2 weeks, faithful adventurers!


^what I plan to be doing during my break. plus beach reading and visiting Roman ruins. can't wait!

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Remember how I said I was so excited to make a big, American breakfast-for-dinner on Wednesday? Bad news, bears.

Wednesday, I was completely exhausted, probably because Tuesday and Wednesday are back-to-back 8:00 am classes days, and once I get up Wednesday morning (6:45), walk to school, and start class at 8:00, I have class for a solid 4 hours. I knew that I was kind of tired, but it didn't feel abnormal until the last 15 minutes of my Phonetics class, when all of a sudden I got really antsy and agitated that the professor was (to me) wasting time showing us Youtube videos of French slang (I think professors have a compulsion, here, to use up every single minute of alloted class time).

When I left class, I felt chilly, the chilly that you feel when you're really tired or about to catch a cold. I walked straight home and ate about a half bowl of soup. Madame B and I were due to walk to the bank to put my ring in a safe-deposit box, and luckily I squeezed in a nap before we had to go. When she called me, though, and I got up, I could tell something was wrong. Either I had woken up mid-nap cycle, or was coming down with a bug, but I felt really under the weather, and I could tell instinctively that the walk to the bank was going to hurt.

For an old lady, Madame B walks really fast. By the time we were in the bank vault, I could feel my body starting to shut down, and I just wanted somebody to show up in a car to drive me home, but I had to buy some sunscreen for my trip. I bought it as fast as possible.

I went home, collapsed into bed, and called Zachary like a pitiful weenie. He didn't pick up, so I texted him "Zack, I feel awful and I'm cold and tired and shaky and I have multiple people to feed in 4 hours!" I took two aspirin and tried to sleep. Everytime I'd wake up, I didn't feel much better.

About 5pm, I got a call from my Canadian guest, Laura, and she said that she was so sorry, and really really really didn't want to cancel, but she was feeling awful and knew that she just wouldn't be able to make it. I felt so relieved, and I confided that I felt awful, too, and I was so glad she had called and told me, because otherwise I would have tried to push on through. We laughed about it, and wished ourselves a get-well-soon.

I got on Facebook to see about telling my French friend, Abellia, that the dinner would be canceled, and then I saw that it was her birthday. I couldn't believe that she had agreed to spend her birthday with me, because we've only met once before, and I just couldn't cancel on her birthday, only 2-3 hours before she was supposed to arrive. Besides, I was feeling better, anyway, and it should have been less stressful with only one person.

I'm really tired, so I'll cut about two hours from this story: We're flipping the first pancake, and I just crash. I had to sit down. Then I had to open the outside door, because I was burning up. Then I couldn't catch my breath, and my hands were tingling, and there was an obnoxious whine in my ears. I told her, between breaths, that I was really, really, really sorry, because this was probably the worst-birthday ever, but I had to cancel right then and there. And she assured me that it was okay, not my fault, that she didn't want me to get sick and she wouldn't cry a river over it, but I felt so terrible that I just couldn't get my energy back. I had to leave all the mess in the kitchen, and she had to help me up the stairs, where I bumped into Madame and told her, wheezily, that I was sorry about the mess in the kitchen, but I got really sick really fast. Abellia said something in French about how I looked really pale, and Mme agreed, and Abellia helped me up to my room, where I flopped immediately on the bed.

That's where I've been since last night, drinking tons of water, not really sleeping but not really waking up, trying to figure out if my yogurt at the bottom of two flights of stairs is worth it (going down one flight to the bathroom makes me feel like puking. sorry, TMI), because I haven't eaten since yesterday lunch. I'm considering asking the Chinese girls for help, but it'll take forever to get the point across.

On the upside, I'm not missing many classes, but on the downside, I leave for Spring Break on Saturday. I absolutely have to get better. I've already bought all my plane tickets and train tickets. I think my fever is mostly gone, but if I wear myself out like I did yesterday, it'll come back with a vengeance.


Please keep me in your prayers, and if somebody has a free plane ticket from Raleigh to Angers, give it to my Mom, so she can come work her Mom-magic and make me better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

To Meet French, You Have to Eat French.

Tuesday, I get lunch with my French friend Claire. Tuesday night, I eat with the famille. Wednesday night, I invite my French speaking-buddy Abellia for an American style "breakfast-for-supper" dinner. It feels really weird to write dinner with two N's instead of "diner."

Wish me luck! I'm going all out, because my two freshly arrived Chinese house-mates might be eating with us, too.

Grits (hidden under the Yankee pseudonym, "polenta" at the grocery store)
Scrambled eggs
Fresh fruit
Real maple syrup (bottle cost 4 euro, I hope everybody is duly appreciative)
Orange juice

I think I should probably make coffee, but a) I don't drink it, and b) I don't know how to use the machine. Tant pis! I think Abellia is bringing a dessert, which is sweet. I also made chili earlier in the week, and froze a bag for Claire, because she was sweet enough to give me a ride to and from a French college-night worship service at the St. Madeleine. I hope she likes it!

Will update soon. Spring Break in T-minus 5 days.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Amie de Voyage

As summer approaches, so does my deadline to find a travel buddy.

With a buddy, I can go more places, stay out later, and laugh at mishaps. This is an artist's rendering of my summer adventures (hopefully in Scotland or around France) with a buddy:
that's right! I'll get taller, my hair will grow faster, and I'll have a natural tan. 

Unfortunately, most of my CIDEF friends (read: all the ones I wouldn't kill after a week together) are leaving pretty soon after school gets out. I've started branching out, asking if maybe they have friends, or friends of friends, who are hanging around Europe for a while. I plan on calling up my buddy Loran, who studied in Scotland last year, to see if she's got anybody she trusts that's looking for a fun break. So far, it's looking bleak, and all my US friends who would dearly love to come with me can't afford the plane ticket to Europe.

This is an artist's rendering of my summer adventures if I don't find a buddy:
at least I'll still be taller, right?

So if you know any nice lady under 30 (hey, I'll be lenient, 55) that would like to explore Western Europe this summer, give her my e-mail, won't you?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Great Day in Angers!

I had been told all week long that today would be hot "tres chaud!", so I left my house to retrieve rent money at around noon wearing my blue dress. French people have a weak idea of warm. I'm not sure why they even have weather reports, because it doesn't affect French dressing:

Météo: Rainy.
French: Dark colors. Preferably black. Boots. Scarves.

Météo: Partly cloudy.
French: See above.

Météo: Sunny, warm.
French: See above. Add sunglasses to 1/5 of population.

Since it was a bit breezier than I thought, I changed into shorts and a longer sleeved shirt before I went downtown to find the carnaval. I walked all over the centre-ville of Angers, and nothing. There were lots of small children in costumes and people selling balloons, but nothing was going on. Confused, I met Amy and Liana and we walked about 85.7 kilometers (or 3 gallons, 4 ounces) to the Parc Balzac to try to find the mysterious, adorable red Scottish cows.

Turns out, they're not in the Parc Balzac, at least not until May, but the park was beautiful, with daisies and huge dandelions everywhere, little streams and bridges cutting through shady trails, and lots and lots of green grass. We made it waaaaaaay over to the Lac de Maine, where we discovered a) a swimming beach, b) wind surfing, c) a strange black pyramid building, and d) lots of French enjoying the sunshine (they do this by going shirtless or playing bocce [men]).

After confirming the current location of the red cows, we drifted another mile over to the Lac de Maine park, where there were lots of French people. We saw a little farmhouse, and in its fenced-in field were donkeys, two of whom were HUGE and shaggy. They scared me, actually. They were as big as horses, and had long, dreadlocked fur with huge, heavy heads. Amy tried to say that maybe regular donkeys had mated with the furry Scottish cows. Whatever Amy, April Fool's was Friday.

We sat down in a shady spot and were promptly approached by two young French guys (one burre,or Arab, and one French-African). I guess I shouldn't say 'we' were approached, because it was obviously Amy they were interested in. For some reason, she attracts them. Can't say I'm jealous. They wanted to "talk for two minutes," and then proceeded to sit down, ask for our names, if we had MSN messenger or Facebook (we feigned ignorance) and about the US. They weren't creepers, but they were intruding on our grass-nappage.

Totally pooped (we had been out and about in the park for at least 4 hours), we headed back into town and parted ways. On my way home, I heard a huge commotion in the Place du Ralliement, a big, pretty square. I followed the noise, and found-

I'm still not sure exactly what Angers' carnaval consists of, other than it was the coolest, most exciting, best parade I have ever seen. There were tons of people pressed about, lots of drumming groups, every single kid was decked out in a spiffy Halloween costume, balloons, confetti everywhere, big puppets, stilt walkers, various ethnic groups, face painted adults, and people being generally silly.

I had the best time, squished in with all those Angevines. The parade had a real community feel, and was really laid back, with entertainers and sideline-watchers interacting, hugging, taking pictures, or being attacked by confetti. I had an older man dressed like a soldier through a fistful in my face, and I was secretly pleased, because I got to be part of the party, too, though I got it all over me.

I took too many photos, and got some absolutely precious ones of the kids. Being a kid in France must be sweet. Snack time at 4pm is almost mandatory, the playgrounds have really fun, dangerous looking installations, and you only go to school a half-day on Wednesday.

I'm going to upload a photo page of the parade on my "faux pas" page, if you want to see it. It was so nice to have fun like the French with the French. I haven't gotten a speck of homework done today, but I think having a fun, away-from-it-all weekend was worth it.

Big Day in Angers

Supposedly there's a carnival going on downtown. Time to go investigate.

I hope to conclude the day by petting Scottish cows in the Parc Lac de Maine.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What It Means To Go Home

  1. Home is a many faceted place.  Friday, my grandmother went Home forever. Yesterday, I went home in a way, too.
  2. I had been told by my family that Gran Rose wasn't doing well, and that she would pass sometime this weekend. It was hard news, and sad news, but she had been suffering for so long that it was only selfish to wish otherwise for her.
  1. Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
    But His smile quickly drives it away;
    Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
    Can abide while we trust and obey.
  2. Saturday was the excursion to Normandy, where we visited the American cemetery. For about an hour, I was legally on American soil, I left France and returned to the jurisdiction of my home country. Even though the landscape and trees were still foreign, the cemetery itself was very American, American in the best sense, when she has her act together-- not sad or disarrayed, but noble, hopeful, and full of deep honor and respect for the sacrifice of her sons.
  3. The white crosses stretched out like flowers in a garden, going on and on. They were beautifully crafted and maintained, and the sorrow we wanted to feel for the sacrifice of so many men was balanced by a deep pride and sense of gratitude.
  1. Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
    But our toil He doth richly repay;
    Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
    But is blessed if we trust and obey.
  2. Knowing what I did about my grandmother, death's absence seemed especially clear to me. I believe in the promise God gives His children, that death is just the doorway to the Home He has prepared for them, and for my grandmother, this gives me comfort. For the young soldiers, though, many of whom were younger than me, that comfort fought with the anger and sadness that they never got to return to their earthly homes, to give a final kiss to their mothers and sisters, to play baseball, to see their children, to say goodbye.
  3. Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
    Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
    What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
    Never fear, only trust and obey.
  4. My grandmother passed away surrounded by family. It hurts that I couldn't be there, but I know that she loved me, and she knew that I loved her, and I have hope in where she is now.
  5. The D-Day soldiers passed away on the sand in a foreign country, sometimes near a friend, sometimes alone. Some were never found, and some were never identified. I hope they can take comfort in the inscription upon their tombs: Here rests in honored glory A comrade in arms Known but to God.
  6. Death can be a gentle release, and it can be a tragic tearing asunder of a life not finished, but at least however it comes, on the other side is Peace, and He welcomes us home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quelqu'un manque quelqu'un

The verb "to miss" is "manquer" (mahn-kay) in French. It's a really beautiful word.

In English, we say "I miss you," "He misses me," or "I miss how America has free, clean toilets." It's more of an emotion or state of being than a verb. But in French, "Tu me manques" (You me miss) really means "You are missing from me," like you would describe a piece missing from a puzzle.

At first, it's really really hard to say "My fiancé (is missing from) me" when I mean "I miss him," because it comes out of your mouth feeling like "He misses me," which I suspect is true, but cannot confirm solely by grammar. But once you get used to it, it has a much more melancholy, heart-twinging feel to say "She is missing from me" than "I miss her." It implies an absence, a hole. It's very tragic and romantic, and therefore very French.

Today, I went on a second (and probably final) French essayage of wedding dresses. It was very fun, like the time before, and I found a dress that was incredibly beautiful, unique, and bride-like. The attendant had me put it back on at the end to try on some accessoires, and she brought in a long, lace-trimmed veil and stuck it in the back of my bun.

I looked in the mirror, and instead of looking like a young lady trying on dresses much too old for her, I felt that I looked like a real bride for the first time, and I got a little hot around my eyes (humidity, probably). I said that I miss my mom (My mom, she is missing from me). I'm trying not to think about growing up, since it happens when I'm not paying attention, anyway.

In other news, if someone wants to donate 1500 euro to the Leah Carmical French Wedding Dress Fund, please do so before May. It'll be worth it! (for me!)

I didn't look so p'oed when I put it on. :)

PS: When I put on the dress, I loved everything about it, except that the lace had all these long bits poking around the end. I ask the attendant if the ticklish ends could be trimmed shorter if somebody ordered the dress. FAUX PAS. Apparently, the lace (Alencon, I think) is very, very specific, and one of the traits is the long, scruffy-looking ends. Trimming it is not done in France. She said that it could be done, but I think it's akin to asking someone to make you a pair of undies using the French flag. She was visibly uncomfortable. You would have thought I had asked her to line the gown with plastic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Angers In Bloom

 Angers is absolutely lovely today; blue sky, low wind, warm sunshine. Hooray! To celebrate, I walked through my favorite park and accidentally doubled my grocery budget for the week. Oops. I'll be eating for 2 (or 4) until Monday.

the flowers here are beautiful, and the main streets are lined with blossoming white trees. it's very lovely.

Saturday, I saw this intriguing gentleman sloshing through Angers' big fountain. He was accompanied by about 15 costumed people in black, wearing yellow hearts on their chests and carrying a bullhorn. It was some sort of French coming-of-age Batman-themed ceremony, I think. Now, the tribe has accepted him as a full man, and he can smoke unfiltered Gauloises anywhere he pleases.

This Saturday is the CIDEF excursion to Normandy, my last school sponsored excursion for the semester. I can't wait to go, it should be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.