Monday, February 28, 2011


What am I, 7? I have a tooth coming in. A tooth, you guys. I suspect that this does not bode well for my time in France.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


French children are precious. They are positively bursting with cuteness. Because of that, I get the vibe that they get spoiled, and that probably explains why all the teenagers I see look like my mom's worst nightmare (though I don't think the rebellious/obnoxious trend carries over into university students; all of La Catho's French students seem pretty chill).

One of Mme's younger sons was here with his wife and two children last night, and they slept next door to my room. I woke up this morning to "PAPAAAAAAAAAAAA!" "MAMAAAAN!" which would have made my ears bleed in English at 8:30am on a Sunday, but in French was really adorable. I saw the littlest grandbaby, and he was cuter than a speckled pup.

In church this morning, I sat behind a little family with three kids, one 1 year old, one 2 year old, and one 3-4 year old, and they were like kittens sneezing in a field of flowers with their little hoods tucked in around their chubby cheeks and tiny shoes sticking out of big, fluffy buntings. French parents seem to think their children will freeze to death at any temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and I think that also explains why French teenagers insist on dressing so scantily.

The oldest boy was coloring in a Bible coloring book, his little sister was trying to help him, and the baby was scooting across the chapel by sitting on one cheek and using her left foot like an oar. During the service, the 4 year old holds up a rainbow colored Jesus and whisper-shouts "REGARDE-JESUS!" to his mom. (look at Jesus!)

There was also an older boy of about 12 who was helping pass offering plates. He was dressed really snazzily, kind of a European private-school-weekend-chique, and he very obviously had Down syndrome. I noticed, though, that everybody in the church treated him just like any other kid, and when he got turned around on the rows, somebody would reach out to him and gently turn him to the right direction. During the 'Paix du Christe," where everyone shakes hands, I think he covered half the sanctuary, including me. But unlike Americans, who get very awkward and embarrassed at other people's actions, French people seem to take everything in stride, and no one seemed uncomfortable that he was wandering around the church shaking hands during the sermon. I like French people very much.

CASTLE NEWS: I saw Azay-le-Rideau, Chenonceau, and Chambord this weekend. I will post pictures from each of the lovely places (Chenonceau being the best) under "Faux-Pas" at the top of my blog.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Land of the Fee

My Dad and I like to joke about France's socialist system of government, but I am quickly discovering that whatever their political ideologies may be, the French are much better capitalists than Americans. For one thing, Americans are financially burdened by the quaint idea that some things should never be charged for, like potable water, use of a bathroom, and those big metal viewfinders in parks.

Another thing I see French people charge for that interests me is flavoring/color. When I go to the grocery store, I'll see a few boxes of the exact same cookie/biscuit in a row. Same brand, same net weight. But the apple flavor might be 3.43, the plain 3.23, and the strawberry 3.53. In the US, the prices are usually all rounded together. In stores, too, you can find the exact same pair of shoes in three or four different colors, and the most popular color (usually, but not always, black) will be a few euros more expensive.

Food for thought!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Every day I'm hustlin'

(click photos to enlarge. they're high quality)
Yesterday was the best travel day ever, probably in my entire life, but I don't like making superlatives without reflection. So just a probably. At 7:30 am, I departed Angers with les filles (Gabrielle, Liana, and Amy) on a charter bus for St. Malo and Mont St. Michel.

My favorite professor (and CIDEF director) M. Melin was our tour narrator, which meant I was vastly amused whenever he'd come over the PA to explain the various cabbage-based crops growing by the highways. Speaking of the highways, I discovered that the French are very fond of roundabouts and vague road signs.

St. Malo

St. Malo is a really old French town, currently a center of maritime commerce and ferry traffic to England. Back in the day, it was a center for naval activity, both for trade to Asia and as a base for French corsairs. The town is completely walled in, and we circled the town by walking on its huge, wide ramparts. Please refrain from dirty sheep jokes. It's soaked in the culture of its departement, Bretagne, and has tons of crepe shops, gallette restaurants, apple-based pastries, beautiful hand-painted ceramics, hand made lace, seafood, and cidre. I think I'd like to visit Bretagne for an extended period of time sometime someday, it's lovely.

I was pumped that we could walk down to the beach from the wall, thus satisfying my desire to see the Atlantic (though we were facing England, not North America) and smell the ocean. The girls and I got our touristy fix by taking lots of pictures and snacking. St. Malo is surrounded by rocky islands way off in the surf, most of those outcrops topped by eerie, box-like forts. It was a photographer's dream, and even though it was cloudy and windy, the water was a beautiful shade of blue-green.

Hopping back on the bus, we headed off to the Mont St. Michel. If you've checked out my other headings on this blog, you know that I have wanted to visit the Mont St. Michel for a long, long time, and would pick it over Paris if I could only choose one. Now that I've been, I think I can say that Paris might be a safer pick in terms of attractions, because the ancient Abbey on top of the mount is only marginally open to visitors, and was rather empty, though I suppose a guided or audio tour would have filled up the space nicely.

 Mont Saint Michel

The Mt. St. Michel itself, as an island, is beautiful and incredible. We saw it from a few miles away from the bus, and it was very boggling to the mind to see a large, purplish pyramid sticking straight up from the flat, coastal landscape. This tiny town (year-round population c.30-40, half of which are monks/nuns) is walled as well, and very, very touristy. M. Melin reassured us to not be dismayed by all the tourist boutiques and cheesy souvenirs, since Mt. St. Michel has been that way for literally hundreds of years, as much of its commerce came from religious pilgrims. I found most of the souvenirs quite charming, myself, and in addition to some postcards for family, I bought two cheap prints to take home.

On the road, I saw some really cool things as well, and the bus-ride itself really added to the trip (well, outside the bus. Inside, I couldn't sleep because of the constant chatter of a group of sorority girls in front of me). In Normandy, I noticed that lots of the older houses had alcoves carved above the front door. Most of these contained statues of Mary, or sometimes of Jesus. In Cancale (Bretagne), the oyster capital of France, the tide varies greatly, and the actual sea is very far from the shore. So the fishermen and oystermen's boats have big tires on them. It's a very strange sight. They looked like tanks crossed with shrimp boats.

We also passed a large tower out the left side of the bus that M. Melin pointed out to us. He said that it was "surrounded on the ground by white." At first I couldn't find it, because it was very far away and I thought that I was looking at reflecting water. Then I thought "oh, I see. It's cotton," because the whole field around the tower was gray-white. I don't know why I thought there'd be cotton in France in February, but M. Melin told us that it was, in fact, an American cemetery. All the white was crosses, each cross for one dead soldier. It was very sobering for me; there was an awful lot of white. I suppose I'll get an even bigger dose of that when we go to Normandy next month.

All in all, I had a fantastic time. I came home completely beat and dying for some American food (all the girls and I want right now is nachos + queso. Be a hero and send us some). I've uploaded close to 90 photos, which you can see on my Facebook, and I'll put a few on this post and under "Faux Pas." Thanks for reading, and God bless you back home in the States!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A+ Day

At 5:45 am, I was wide-awake, having gone to bed super early in preparation for m 8:00 am class. Even though I woke up prematurely, I felt pretty good, considering I had gone to bed feeling like I was coming down with la grippe.

Today was excellent because a) Gabriella and I found the bibliotheque Anglophone, English library, and b) they had my favorite American authors. My favorite British author, Bill Bryson, was conspicuously absent, perhaps because of his nationalist sympathies. US author #1, Dave Barry, only had 3 books present, but it was enough to make me giddy, and Gabi and I both almost wet ourselves upon finding the 3-shelves Stephen King collection.

I got a sweet Valentine from my family today, featuring Disney Princesses (and saying that I was theirs), and last night I finally ate dinner with my French family, and it was the best food I have had all trip, hands-down. Unfortunately, I didn't know it was going to be a 5 course meal, and I stuffed myself on the first two. Like a true American, I fought through the pain to achieve my goal gourmande. I would tell you about the meal, but you would be sad.

BIG NEWS. Saturday = Mont St. Michel. MONT ST. MICHEL. I am GOING. If I don't cry tears of joy all over my camera, I promise to take lots of pictures for you, faithful friends and family!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Joyeuse fete de St. Valentin!

Even though I really missed being able to spoil my boyfriend and UNC-A friends, I had a really great Valentine's Day. My Dad managed to get a Valentine's card to arrive right on time for today, and I got it during my lunch break. I was so pleased! The second best part of today was that Liana told me I had a nice booty. That's probably my favorite Valentine's compliment ever.

Translation class was 6-7 tonight, and Grammar starts at 8 am tomorrow. No time for rambling! 

Avec amour,

Valentine's Day & Leah: just do what the cookie says.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Class is at 18 o'clock.

First week at CIDEF = complete. After the happy confirmation from Dr. Malicote that all my class credit hours come back (and don't get halved), I'm taking 18 hours. I fiddled with the idea of taking 21, which in America is a seriously over-loaded semester. Classes are a little different here-- on the one hand, at UNC-A, a 3 hour class really only meets 2 1/2 hours a week, 50 minutes x 3 days or 75 minutes x 2 days. Here, a 3 hour class is going to squeeze every last second out of your time-block, and they usually meet 1 hour x 1 day + 2 hours x 1 day, though I do have a class that meets 3 times a week for only an hour.

(there's a 18:00-19:00 class on Monday that doesn't show up here)

So even though for my 18 hours of class I'll be in class more, I won't have quite so much to do outside of class. None of my classes have final papers, mid-term papers, or any of the big projects I'm used to being assigned. Since CIDEF is more on an American system of scholarship than UCO, the full-fledged, normal French university, I'll still have homework and a few presentations, but it's definitely not going to be like at home, where I probably spend 2 hours each day or more on assignments. So, once I'm out of class for the day, I'm usually pretty free, and right now, it's really ennuyeux. I haven't quite fallen into a good routine, and I haven't received the Student ID card yet that will let me check books out of the library. Hence the temptation to take on another class.

Here's what I'm going to register for on Monday: a mandatory Language class (6), Grammar (3), Oral Expression (3), Phonetics (3), English-French translation (3). I think the last class is going to be my hardest. I met a girl who has been at CIDEF since October, and she told me that she's got a little job practicing English with two high school girls. That might not be a bad way to use some time and make a couple of euros. I think I'll look into the ads around school.

I went out last night with Liana, Amy, Gabi, and Nikki, and we had a really, really good time, even though our cheese party consisted of 3 stinky cheeses and 1/2 of a kind-of-tasty cheese. Oh well, we're learning. And we're all seriously hankering for nachos and queso dip.

Monday, February 7, 2011

La Catho

I cannot find the apostrophe, or I would tell you that I am updating my blog from school. I would say: bonjour1 Iù, updqting ,y blog fro, school1 the keyboqrd is qll zrong here:

or, the keyboard is all wrong here. I am displeased. So much for a free CIDEF computer lab; the m, a, z, q, w, comma, and period are all in new places. You have to press shift to enter a period. Typing has become, quite recently, a mental challenge, albeit a fun one. At first I thought it was some sort of prank; I would not put French college students above a keyboard switching prank, except I dont think they have the technological capacity. Not having an apostrophe is really bugging me. Where did they hide it!?

oh, it's where the 4 is.

So I placed Supèrieur in my placement test, the very top. But before you say "hooray Leah!" join me in sorrow that I was given almost zero instruction on how to pick classes, and all of my girlfriends were given differing levels of advice and timelines from their professors. I will never again complain about UNCA's wonderful, user friendly course catalog.

BUT it has been a good day, and I like my school, and I like my professors, and I still love Angers. Things are just different is all.

The only downside of today, other than a mild tummy ache, is that I overheard another American kid trying to explain to a Japanese student that Southern Americans talk like they're stupid and that's where all of America's racists are. Obnoxious. He's in the computer lab now, too. I think I'll go ask him why New York, Boston, and Chicago have such wonderful reputations for being friendly, welcoming places for people to live. I think I'll also ask him why, if it's not okay to pick on all people of a certain ethnic group, it's okay to pick on all people of a certain cultural group.

My first 'trial' class (socio cultural studies) starts at 14h30, or in 24 minutes. Hope the Super Bowl was fun!

Friday, February 4, 2011

"In Rugby, they just... BOUM!"

I got stood up tonight for an in-house Pizza Hut session, so I resigned myself to a can of ravioli at about 8:40. Mme. was so impressed by me doing actual cooking that I was hoping with all my heart nobody would be in the kitchen, as I didn't expect to buy groceries for another 24 hours. Instead, Mme. and one of her sons were in the kitchen, and, mortified, I prepared dinner using a stove and a pop-top. Mme B wanted her son to eat the dinner she made him, and he kept saying he wasn't hungry at the moment and would later (I noticed that he was apparently thirsty, as there was an empty glass bottle of beer or two on the table), and they involved me in a discussion on the merits of different types of foie, liver. Tonight's menu was apparently veal liver, and I mentioned that my Mom enjoys liver and onions from time to time, but nobody really eats veal anything aux Etats-Unis, and I myself had never had it, but would be willing to try it under the appropriate circumstances (this was a lie, because I knew I was safe from being offered any).

Maybe it was the foie veau, and maybe it was the biere, but Monsieur was quite excited to speak English to me, and we spent most of my dinner time discussing his 20 years in Ireland as a private French tutor. His English is, of course, excellent, and I think he was very eager to practice it after four months away, so he told me about the Irish people, switching back and forth between languages. I realized that if I listened to him speaking French, I could turn off my French-brain. It was a really uncanny feeling, because I could still understand what he was saying (by translating it rather than thinking French), but it was much, much more amusing, because I was able to see him like a non-speaking American person would be able to, with lots of hand gestures and faces and whistles that indicted 'non.'

M. invited me to watch rugby with him when I was done eating, and I had the best time. Rugby is pretty interesting, and easy to catch on to. This particular game was between the Welsh and the English, and between swallows of biere and cigarettes, he would call the English "baz-tarts" with an Irish-French accent. This amused me greatly. He told me that in the 6-nation professional rugby league, everybody hates the English (because, he said, of all the wars. I did not mention the most recent ones wherein the English were big winners), and that he wasn't sure why English people love France so much but hate the French the way they do (a valid point). He said that the French are too occupied with other things to worry about what the English are up to (like worrying about what Americans are up to). He then, and this amused me greatly in my mind, told me how the French had lost only one New-World battle to the English, the one at Montreal, and if it hadn't been for that, Americans would all be speaking French today. "You would have fought the French for the Revolution! Not the English!" and then asked, rather pointedly, who came to America's aid during our Revolution. Being the International Studies Major I am, I mentioned what a big fan I am of Monsieur LaFayette, Revolutionary hero, and did not mention that the French had pretty much waited until the tides were turning in the colonies' favor to lend a hand.

I also learned that American football is for more delicate men (here, Monsieur made a priceless face by sucking in his cheeks and fluttering his eyelashes) because they wear pads, helmets, and don't get all bloody. I had to agree that maybe there was less risk, but secretly I thought that American football looks a lot scarier. He invited me to watch the Scotland-France game tomorrow on the tele if I'm going to be at home, and I believe I will, as I have a vested genealogical interest in the match. Also, M. Bouhet (1/5) is very nice and supremely entertaining. I'm going to have to figure out a way to capture his antics on film.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bugs, ya'll

I just saw my first bug in France, after a whole week of being here. I remember my friend Rachel's parents telling me that they never saw bugs. Her dad said "I saw two lizards, and I couldn't figure out what they ate to survive." The one that ran across my desk was no bigger than a period, bright red with multiple legs. It looked an awful lot like a chigger, and if there's one place I don't want chiggers (other than the obvious), it's France.

So some American friends are coming over tonight to eat spring rolls, and I am pumped. I am so excited to be doing stuff with people again. I hope they don't get lost coming over here, even with maps. Why? I'll tell you.

Angers, France possesses a singularly distinct method of street naming. First, they rounded up all the obese history-buffs of the city, and had them jog as far as they could before collapsing. Some of these people made it three, four blocks. After resuscitation, they were allowed to name the distance they covered after their favorite personage from the mid 20th century.

Don't believe me? See this--
Rue Martin Luther King: 4 blocks
Rue Pablo Picasso: 3 blocks
Rue Anne Frank: 4 blocks
Rue Edith Piaf: 1/2 block
And others, including Gandhi, Saint-Exupery, Debussy, Marechal Foch, Edison, Mitterrand, and countless streets named after Angevine people who were "Mort Pour La France" around WWII, which is honorable.
...But basically, hitting an intersection or veering slightly to the left is reason to change the name of a street.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Il faut faire la cuisine!

Tomorrow is the day of my big placement test. Aiee! Bonne chance, Leah.

Other than numerous pastries (pain au chocolat, éclair chocolat, beignet, etc), I cook for myself. My new two American house-mates (Amanda and Maya, who hail from Notre Dame) have some sort of deal in their tuition where they eat 3 meals a week with Madame et sa famille. Unfortunament, I have not been invited to dine, so I've been getting down to business in the cuisine (kitchen). I guess it's for the best, because a meal with the family costs about 5 euros, I think. So far, I'm eating for about 1/3 to 1/2 that.

Breakfast, which is by necessity quite French, is just some fruit or bread + topping (fromage, buerre, confiture) or yogurt.
Lunch is either leftover dinner or a sandwich + fresh fruit/veggies. I bought a bag of clementines and a box of pears for really cheap, and they're holding up well.
Beverages: really just water. I have some jasmine tea bags, but I always forget them in my room. When the kitchen is 3 floors below, it's disheartening to go back up for a measly tea bag. Other drinks are trop chèr, but I think I'll splurge on a carton of juice once a week. Juice here is much more adventurous.

Dinner has been a little more interesting. So far, I've made the following cheap dishes

pâtes-verts (green pasta): spaghetti + pesto + haricots-verts (green beans). I couldn't eat just pasta and pesto two nights in a row, so I threw in the green beans. It looked gross but tasted alright, and I told the famille that it was an American dish. lul.

jambalaya : okay, I cheated on this, because I used a mix from home, but it's just rice mix + sauteed onion + sauteed pepper + a flavorful sausage. I accidentally bought a Moroccan sausage, and sweat like a pig the whole time. Those should come with warning labels.

spring rolls : Not gonna lie, everybody was uber impressed by this, especially Mme., who told me that most of her American students only ate prepared food. Heh. Not this one! rice wrappers + cucumber + carrot + lettuce AND THEN I made my own peanut sauce. peanut butter + soy sauce (+vinegar and sugar if you have any, I did not).

I couldn't help feeling "I did this all by myself!" which part of me thinks I'm too old to be feeling, but the other part feels that you're never too old to feel good about doing something 'all by myself.' Including international travel, oui? My French comprehension is getting better, and I think I'm prepared for tomorrows exam. On verra!